Taking a Stand: Activity Yogas — Alternatives to “Seated” Meditation: Dance, Stand, Drum, Chant, and Move Your Way to Active Enlightenment

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    In Buddhism, we tend to use the word “practice” for our meditation sessions. Contrary to the cliche of the seated vajra-posture, eyes half-closed in contemplation, most “practices” involve activities: prostration, sutra or mantra recitation (speech), drumming, chanting, chiming, performing mudras — even dancing.

    In Zen, these activities might include sutra recitation, fish drum, and gong, walking meditation, or a good “whack” with a stick by the teacher. In other forms of Mahayana Buddhism, the activities are even more diverse: Chod practice, martial arts, music, dance. In Vajrayana Buddhism there are countless activities: mandala offerings, thangka painting and sand mandalas, water bowl offerings,  circumambulation of stupas, prayer wheel spinning, karma yoga (volunteer activities for charity, etc) and more.

    This may come as a relief to those of us who suffer from issues such as arthritis, injuries or just, simply, aging.


    The highly respected Gelug master, Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen, (1619-1657) — an incarnation of Manjushri and Mahasiddha Virupa — advised that we should all practise the sadhanas of Vajrapani, Hayagriva and King Garuda and make offerings to the Nagas. The Naga offerings are important because our world is suffering through ignorance, greed, politics and lack of respect for the environment. We make offering to the Nagas to help to heal our water systems which are contaminated; we all suffer from long droughts, abnormal rainfall, and a shortage of good water. There are all kinds of climate problems and the world weather patterns are changing rapidly. Who are the Nagas? According to Sutras and Shastras Nagas are classified as beings of the animal realm. For most Nagas, the upper half of the body is human and the lower half is like a serpent or fish. They have beautiful human faces and wear jewelled crowns and beautiful ornaments such as earrings, necklaces and so on. Male Nagas can be powerful and handsome looking and female Nagas are beautiful and attractive. Some N agas possess great powers , similar to the gods. The Naga realm is said to be under the oceans and seas. As well, Nagas can live in lakes, rivers springs, creeks, or marshland. Nagas also reside in trees called Naga trees. According to the famous Tibetan scholar, Dungkar Losang Thinley Rinpoche’s encyclopedia, most of the Nagas are wealthy. They wear most expensive jewels and ornaments and silk scarves; they have a good life. The Nagas are divided into different classes and have various kings and queens and chieftains. There are eight great Nagas: Blue Thaye sits in the east; Red Jokpo sits in the south; Green Tob Gyu sits in the West; multi-coloured Rigden sits in the north; Norgye sits in the southeast, Pedma sits in the northwest, Dung Kyung sits in the southwest, and Varuna sits in the northeast. Many Nagas are very intelligent and they are able to practise Dharma , some have obtained Dharma realizations. Some of the Naga kings and queens vowed to the Lord Buddha to provide the right causes and conditions of Dharma practice for human beings. They provide the conditions for the preservation of Dharma so that Dharma can flourish. It is difficult to imagine that the Nagas 2 3 are classified as beings of the animal realm considering their intelligence and devotion to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. When Lord Buddha was practising on the path to enlightenment for six years under the Bodhi tree, the Nagas made snake umbrella hoods above his head to protect him from the sun and rain. According to Mahayana sutras, when Mahayana Buddhist teachings were declining in India due to Karmic circumstances, the Naga Kings took the teachings and texts to Nagaland to save them until the right teachers emerged who could reveal the teachings on earth again. Nagarjuna (c.150–c. 250) was a great Indian Buddhist philosopher who composed and taught six major texts on emptiness (Shunyata) and is traditionally regarded as the founder of the Madhyamika (Middle Way) school, an important tradition of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. He is considered one of the most important of all Buddhist philosophers. According to tradition, he was born in south India, and then travelled to the land of the Nagas and re- introduced Mahayana teachings to humans on earth. We as human being should support Nagas and help them by protecting the natural environment which is home for human and Nagas; we are all dependent on each other for our survival. If we harm the environment, and cause pollution due to our greed and ignorance, then Nagas will get sick. They may also become angry and while they won’t harm us directly, the harm could come to us because of pollution of water and food sources. It is important we humans respect the environment for the benefit of all beings. My father told me and my brother that if you find copper or gold nuggets while hiking in the mountains, don’t just take them without showing gratitude to the spirits of the earth. You must offer food like grain, as a replacement, and show appreciation to the Zidak mountain spirits and Sadak earth spirits. If you feel you harmed the Nagas then make special offerings called Lu Men, Naga You can obtain Lu Men - Naga medicine from the traditional sources. Torma offerings for the Nagas There are two kinds of Tormas: regular Tormas you place on the altar and the second kind, which are dough balls you can arrange on the table in front of you. The Naga Tormas are made with Tibetan Tsampa (roasted barley flour) 4 with the addition of the three whites: yogurt (curds), milk and butter. Then add the three sweets: honey, sugar, molasses or brown sugar. Do not use any animal flesh or meat products, and don’t use spices such as chilli or garlic. Special Torma dough balls are placed in a small bowl on a tripod placed inside a larger bowl. Fill the bottom of the larger bowl with water. Offer water by pouring it onto the dough balls in the small bowl. The overflow will remain in the large bowl. (See the photo of Kyabje Zong Rinpoche making dough ball Torma offerings with water on Page 1.) Requirements for the Naga Puja offering Torma offering and dough balls made with pure water, three whites and three sweets, as explained above. A tripod on which is placed a plate or a small bowl. A pitcher to fill the water bowls. Two sets of seven offering bowls for the altar. Action vase - Bumpha - with saffron water consecrated previously Five-coloured cloth of silk or cotton as a decoration Tingsha (small cymbals) for the music offering Preparations for Naga Puja Firstly, we practise the sadhana of Avalokiteshvara, guardian and patron Buddha of the six realms, the most compassionate Buddha. Torma Offering to the Nagas - Lutor By First Panchen Lama Translated and adapted by Zasep Tulku Losang Tenzin Gyatsen Namo Guru Avalokiteshvara Offerings to Avalokiteshvara should be placed on the altar, Torma and two sets of seven bowls, cakes, fruits and flowers, incense and so on. Special Torma offering for the Nagas should include two sets of offering bowls, and offerings such as three whites (curds, milk, butter) and three sweets (molasses, honey and sugar ) five different colours of silk, jewel, grains, medicine for the Nagas inside a tray, set up on a nice altar. Preparatory Practice: Sadhana of Avalokiteshvara Taking Refuge and generating Bodhichitta I take refuge in the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Supreme Sangha, Until I attain Enlightenment. By the merit I accumulate from practising generosity and the other perfections, May I attain Buddhahood in order to benefit all beings. The Four Immeasurable Attitudes May all beings have happiness and its causes May all beings be free from suffering and its causes May all beings never be separated from the joy transcending sorrow May all beings dwell in equal love for those both close and distant. [x3] Now confirm the Emptiness of all phenomena in and beyond cyclic existence by means of the following mantra: OM SVABHAVA SUDDHA SARVA DHARMA SVABHAVA SHUDDHO HAM Everything becomes empty. Self-generation as Avalokiteshvara 5 Within the sphere of Emptiness appears the letter PAM. It transforms into a white lotus upon which is the letter AH. AH becomes a moon-disc. At its centre is my own mind in the form of a white letter HRIH. HRIH emits light-rays, which work for the benefit of living beings, transforming them to the state of Arya Bodhisattvas. The light-rays return into the letter HRIH. The HRIH transforms, and I arise from it as the Arya Avalokiteshvara. I have a snow-white body, one face and four arms. My front pair of hands is clasped together at my heart. My second right hand holds a crystal jewel mala of one hundred and eight beads. My second left hand holds a lotus which blooms beside my left ear. I sit in full lotus posture. I am adorned with eight precious ornaments on my head, ears, throat, hands, and feet. I wear silk garments and have an entrancing, serene smile. A white OM syllable marks the crown of my head, a red AH my throat, and a blue HUM my heart. Also a white HRIH syllable sits at the centre of a moon-disc in my heart. DZA HUM BAM HOH Inviting and Absorbing the Wisdom Beings into Oneself The HRIH radiates lights, inviting the mighty Arya Avalokiteshvara and his retinue of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from their southerly abode. They absorb into me and thus we become one. DZA HUM BAM HOH Requesting and Receiving Empowerment Again lights go forth from the HRIH at my heart, inviting the Empowering Deities. I request them: ‘Please grant me empowerment’. Thus requested, they raise aloft vases of wisdom nectar. Saying OM SARVA TATHAGATA ABHISHEKATA SAMAYA SHRIYE AH HUM They initiate me with their nectars. The nectar fills my body, purifying all my defilements. The excess nectar overflowing on the crown of my head transforms into Amitabha Buddha, who becomes my crown ornament. Now make outer offerings to oneself as Avalokiteshvara which clears interferences, purifies, and invokes blessings: 6 Presenting Outer Offerings to Oneself as Self-generated Avalokiteshvara OM ARYA LOKESHVARA SAPARIVARA ARGHAM PRATICHA HUM SVAHA OM ARYA LOKESHVARA SAPARIVARA PADYAM PRATICHA HUM SVAHA OM ARYA LOKESHVARA SAPARIVARA PUSHPE PRATICHA HUM SVAHA OM ARYA LOKESHVARA SAPARIVARA DHUPE PRATICHA HUM SVAHA OM ARYA LOKESHVARA SAPARIVARA ALOKE PRATICHA HUM SVAHA OM ARYA LOKESHVARA SAPARIVARA GANDHE PRATICHA HUM SVAHA OM ARYA LOKESHVARA SAPARIVARA NAIVIDYE PRATICHA HUM SVAHA OM ARYA LOKESHVARA SAPARIVARA SHABDA PRATICHA HUM SVAHA Praise to Oneself as Avalokiteshvara White in colour, untarnished by faults, Amitabha Buddha embellishing the crown of your head, You look upon living beings with overwhelming compassion, To Chenrezig I humbly bow down. Mantra recitation and meditation OM MANI PADME HUM x108 water for drinking water for washing flowers incense light perfume food music Visualising myself as Avalokiteshvara , at my heart appears a circular white moon-disc, upon which is my own mind in the form of a white HRIH syllable. At the edge of the moon-disc stand the six syllables of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM. They are resplendently white like the rays of the rising sun. Light comes forth from the mantra syllables, filling my whole body, purifying all my negativities and obscurations. The light-rays then leave through the pores of my body and purify the negativities and obscurations of all living beings. They are transformed into mighty Arya Avaloketishvara. My threefold manner of perception involves seeing all external appearances as rainbow-deity forms of the mighty Arya Avalokiteshvara; all sound is heard as the six syllable mantra; and mind is imbued with essence of method conjoined with wisdom, which is the great compassion focused on all living beings and the wisdom understanding Emptiness, the wisdom which clearly perceives that all phenomena in and beyond cyclic existence lack even a particle of inherent existence and are mere imputations. 7 8 Thus visualising oneself as Avalokiteshvara, melded within this threefold perception, one recites the MANI mantra. From the energy of the practice living beings of the six realms of samsara obtain the Enlightened form of Arya Avalokiteshvara. Moreover, in the manner of a full sesame pod, the entire earth, air, and sky are filled with the form of Avaloketishvara.Their combined chanting of OM MANI PADME HUM releases the sound of the MANI mantra like a crescendo of thunder. Yet just OM, having the threefold aggregate of A-U-M, signifies the three indivisible adamantines of my body, speech, and mind. This mantra is called The Jewel Holder, for a single recitation with such understanding is meritorious. Thus OM begins the mantra. MANI means jewel. PADMA means lotus, whereas PADME denotes supplication. So with my heartfelt entreaty to Avalokiteshvara, the Jewel in the Lotus, I recite the mantra while dwelling on contemplations such as the fusion of the mighty Arya Avalokiteshvara’s qualities within me. Furthermore, the respective six syllables cut off the doorways to rebirth in the six realms of samsara. The six syllables are also the consummation of the six perfections. Thus the MANI mantra, having these and other excellent qualities, is held to be of endless advantage and significance. Moreover the mighty Arya Avalokiteshvara is said to be in general the quintessence of all the Buddhas’ compassion, and in particular, the patron Buddha of Tibet. Therefore one should strive with enthusiasm in the recitation, cultivating Avaloketishvara as a most excellent meditational deity with these special characteristics. The main Sadhana of Naga Torma offerings Blessing the Torma and offerings to the Nagas OM VAJRA AMRITA KUNDALI HANA HANA HUM PHAT OM SVABHAVA SHUDDHA SARVA DHARMA SVABHAVA SHUDDHO HAM . While in the sphere of voidness, from BHRUM syllables arise vast and deep vessels made of precious materials, within which are the eight offerings, the Torma, and all conducive sacred ingredients, along with the syllable OM and a syllable formed by the initial syllables. They all transformed into wisdom nectar. They become medicine that purifies pain and suffering. Also multitudes of wish-fulfilling jewels provide us whatever we wish for —a marvellous secret landscape of palaces. In short whatever sublime 9 enjoyments the Naga Kings and queens and their children and attendants desire. OM SVABHAVA VISHUDDHE DHARMATE VAJRA SIDDHI HUM NAMAH SARVA TATHAGATE BHYOVISHVA MUKSHEBHYAH / SARVA TAD KHAM UDGATE SPHARANAHI MAM GAGANA KHAM SVAHA OM AMRITE HUM PHAT OM AKARO MUKHAM SARVA DHARMAH NAM ADYANUDPANNE HA TA NAMAH SARVA TATHAGATA AVALOKITE OM SAMBHARA SAMBHARA HUM OM RURU SPHURU JVALATIKSHTHA SIDDHI LOCHANI SARVA ARTHAM SADHANI SVAHA OM ARGHAM AH HUM OM VAJRA PUSHPE AH HUM OM VAJRA DHUPE AH HUM OM VAJRA ALOKE AH HUM OM VAJRA GANDHE AH HUM OM VAJRA NAIVIDYA AH HUM OM VAJRA SHAPTA AH HUM Invitation for general guests In the space in front of me, visualize a natural stone made of jewels with a large or small golden coloured caves, below which are Naga palaces and Naga pleasure groves, lakes, ponds, pools, meadows adorned with flowers, springs, wells, waterfalls, flowing water in the lakes, and grassy plains and parks, as well as a jewel palace, everything arranged naturally most beautifully. Inside is the N aga king Varuna, their chief, the eight Great Naga Kings, and Queens, the entire assembly of Nagas and Bumi Putras and Putiris of the earth lords and earth caretakers, along with their retinue. Bless the Tingsha-cymbals by reciting OM PADMO USHNISHA VIMALE HUM PHAT (7x) Then play cymbals three times Now make invocation to the Naga Kings by emanating lights from HRIH syllable for my heart The light rays shine, From your fabulous jewelled hood, Dispelling all the darkness of the underworld; You who delight in the Teaching of Lord Buddha, incomparably powerful ones, Naga kings without exception, come here with your retinue! Actual offerings OM NAGA RAJA SAPARIVARA EH HYE HI SAMAYA JAH JAH / JAH HUM BAM HO / PADMA KAMALA E STVAM NAGA RAJA SAPARIVARA ARGHAM /PADYUM /PUSHPE / DHUPE / ALOKE /GANDHE /NAIVIDYA /SHAPTA) PRATICCHA HUM SVAHA Make the Torma ball and water offering to the Nagas while chanting the following paragraph While I am self generated as Avalokiteshvara, from the palm of my hand, nectar merged with milk flows continuously like a stream transformed into the Torma materials and precious holy substances of various medicines, generated by transcendental wisdom like a great ocean of desirable objects visualized in front of me. The guest Nagas enjoy this. The effect of the healing is tremendous, it renewed limbs, and organs are healed. Pain and suffering are eliminated, and minds experience fulfilment with uncontaminated bliss. Thus while visualizing my self as most compassionate Arya Avalokiteshvara pour the holy water from the vase onto the offering Torma balls inside the bowl with the right hand at the same time snap with the fingers of my left hand once for each mantra recitation. Mantra to bless the Mala OM RUCHI RAMANI PRAVATAYA HUM [x7] 10 Main Mantra !" #$%&%'%()%*+%,%-" OM VASUKI MAM SVAHA [ x 108] You are the lord of the assembly of Nagas Light shines from your jewel hood Bestow the supreme siddhi of everything desirable I bow down to you, Varuna. Ananta and Takshaka (Thaye and Jogpo) Karkotaka and Kulika (Tob kyi gyu and Rigden) Vasuki and Shankhapala (Norgye and Dung Kyung) Padma and Varuni (Pedma and Chu Lha) Nanda and Delight ( Gawo and Nyer Ga wo) Ocean and Great Ocean, Glorious light and Great Radiance, Great Bodied One, good serpent Mahabala, Naga Kings and your retinue, Come here to enjoy this decorated Torma. The offering of the exquisite three whites and The three sweets, a swirling ocean of milk And beautiful jewelled stairs. May this become whichever conducive substance Protects for the suffering of the nagas. Enjoy the offering gifts and Torma, For us practitioners, the benefactor and retinues. All four hundred and twenty four diseases and The diseases of Nagas due to their own Karma Visible poison and touchable poison, Poison caused by bad thoughts and of vapours arising from the mouth, Intentionally caused by humans, and so forth, May all be soon pacified without exception. I offer these treasured substances from us: Cause and condition of all Naga disease to be eliminated, The four-siddhi actions of enlightenment, Increased wealth and prosperity. 11 If you wish to practise this sadhana on a daily basis for the healing of sick people then visualize an ocean-like medicinal nectar arising to cure all the diseases of Nagas and earth lords and earth owners. In this way it will be providing healing modalities for human beings and the Nagas at the same time. May injury of the inner organs, stomach, flesh, and blood Be healed by the King of Medicines, the six fabulous medicines for maintenance of the body (nutmeg, clove cubeb, cardamon, saffron, and bamboo pith). May deteriorated teeth, bones, and tongue Be healed by using cowrie shells and red silk. May our bones’ lustre be restored By magnificent peacock feathers with the eye design, Also five-coloured silks used as part of the ritual, Fruit of Kyema Shosha will purify and Heal disease of heart, kidneys, and lungs. May damage of the limbs and other parts of the body be healed By herbs of Latifolia like Oxalis, Ulmus minor and Vitisvinifera, Powerful hand-claws of fresh water or salt water Crocodile. May impaired arteries, nerves, tendons, and muscles Be healed by using powerful herbs and minerals like The fragrant root of andropogon muricatus, and Medicinal stones such as gray antimony. Incense made with sage and juniper and so on, Polygonum aviculture, Ji-thangka medicinal fruit (effective against worms) The three fruits and assortment of medicines, and Bubbles from the ocean waves, will restore skandhas and dhatus. By the five precious minerals and varieties of grains, Your treasure house will be restored. The three whites (curds, milk, and butter) and the three sweets (molasses, honey and sugar ) will restore bad complexions. In short, may the power of conducive medicinal substances Heal the sickness and sorrow of Naga and earth owners. 12 May their sense faculties be clear and properties increase, And love and compassion fill their minds. May their crops and livestock increase Perfect rain fall annually, and May the essence of fruitful nectars Increase in this troubled world of ours. Then, in order to purify the wrongdoings and obscurations of all the Nagas, recite the following: Mantra of Akshobhya NAMO RATNA TRAYAYA / OM KAMKANI KAMKANI / ROCHANI ROCHANI / TROTANI TROTANI / TRASANI TRASANI / PRATIHANA PRATIHANA / SARVA KARMA PARAM PARA NI ME SARVA SATTVA NANCHA SVAHA [ 7x or more] Offering of Dharma All phenomena arise from a cause, The Tathagata taught those causes. What is it that stops the cause and action: The Great Monk Buddha did explain this. Like stars, distorted vision (of hair), butter lamps Mirages, dew and bubbles Dreams, lightning and clouds: Thus one should see compounded things. Final requests Nagas and owners of the earth, with your entire retinue, Your own bodies as an example, Please do not cause harm for others. The result of beneficial acts toward others is happiness, And the result of harmful actions towards to others is suffering. 13 For example, all pungent seeds produce pungent fruits, And from all sweet seeds, sweet fruit will arise. Likewise, by remembering your Samaya vows, Abandon the mind of anger and wrath, Spread the minds of Metta-Karuna. The objects of experience of the five senses, All desirable, enjoyment, perfection and excellence, Having healed all diseases of Nagas, And liberated from all suffering, May we able to see the holy face of Vajrapani, And with the healing power of the Garuda, May we be liberated and released from the lower realms, And achieve the longevity of Vajrasattva . Say the Garuda Mantra (while doing the Garuda Mudra) SARVA NAGA RAJA SAPARIVARA GATSSHA Mantra and Requests Purifying Mistakes and Omissions OM PADMASATTVA, SAMAYA MANU-PALAYA. PADMASATTVA TVENO- PATISHTA, DRID-HO ME BHAVA, SUTO-SHYO ME BHAVA, SUPO-SHYO ME BHAVA, ANURAKTO ME BHAVA, SARVA SIDDHI ME PRA-YACCHA, SARVA KARMA SUCCHA ME CHITTAM SHRI-YAM KURU HUM, HA HA HA HA HOH, BHAGAVAN SARVA TATHAGATA PADMA, MA ME MUNCHA, PADMA BHAVA, MAHA-SAMAYA-SATTVA AH HUM PHAT. Whichever aspects of this practice I have neither carried out Nor completed because of my ignorant mind, I request your forgiveness. Please help me and all sentient beings To cultivate the supreme realizations And experience the results of all contemplations. Request the departure of the Nagas to their own Abodes OM VAJRA MU 14 The Naga kings and their retinue return to their natural abode in the Naga realms. Dissolution The entire visualized universe and its inhabitants, who are in the form of Arya Avalokiteshvara, dissolve into me. I dissolve into the HRIH at my heart. HRIH dissolves into HA. This vanishes like a rainbow vanishing in the sky. Contemplate this with conviction Once more, within the sphere of Emptiness, I instantly arise in the form of Arya Avalokiteshvara , possessing the threefold attitude described, and at once engage in extensive deeds to benefit others. Dedication of merit May I develop the peerless Bodhichitta mind which is latent within me, and May that which I have already generated go from strength to strength. May I enjoy success, both spiritual and otherwise. and Never parted from my perfect Guru in all of my lives, By comprehensively amassing the qualities of the paths and levels, May I attain speedily the state of Arya Avalokiteshvara. Verses of Auspiciousness May the heavens and earth be filled With hosts of Noble Goddesses reciting benedictions, And flowers raining through the skies, As oceans of auspicious signs fill all three worlds. Through the presence of the countless Dakas and Dakinis, And the assembly of the Sangha community, The holders of this tradition of practice, May all virtues and goodness reign, Let all be auspicious. 15 Final dedication from Zasep Tulku Rinpoche I dedicate the composition of this Sadhana of Avalokiteshvara and my translation of First Panchen Lama Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen’s beautiful Naga Puja text, for the eight Kings of Nagas and their attendants, to repay his great kindness. I dedicate the merit and virtues I have obtained from being able to compile and make adaptations of this text, for the preservation of pure water system, oceans, lakes and rivers: May they always remain pure, and provide the source of goodness, for the benefit of all sentient beings. Love and Blessings for all Nagas Zasep Tulku Rinpoche July, 2021 (Thank you to Amanda Buckley for editing this beautiful sadhana)
    His Holiness Kyabje Zong Rinpoche makes ritual water and dough offerings to the Nagas for the benefit of all sentient beings. This is a form of activity, in this case, outdoors, with various activities and mudras. For a feature on Naga water bowl offerings, see>>

    The Majority of Buddhist Practice Does Not Involve Sitting

    The vast majority of Buddhist practice does not involve “seated” meditation, despite phrases such as “just sit” for Zen Buddhists, or “vajra posture” during Sadhanas in Vajrayana. Seated practice can be a “pain in the meditation cushion” for some people with disabling conditions. Although I’m quoting out of context, it can be helpful to remember the words of Buddhist teacher Anne Carolyn Klein[3]:

    “Too often we stand in the way, and worry and obsess. It becomes a real interference with practice.”


    Buddha Weekly Buddhist Prostrations and circumambulation of Stupa in Katmandu Nepal Buddhism
    Activity Yogas, such as Prostration and circumambulation — both shown in this image from the great stupa in Katmandu, Nepal — are ways that Buddhist practitioners can remain active while meditating and visualizing.

    Typical activities include mudras, mantras, stupa or Holy Object circumambulation, prayer wheel spinning, walking meditation, prostrations, blessing objects, offerings — for example: pouring tea offering, water bowl offerings, mandalas. Many of the “foundation practices” for example, in Vajrayana Buddhism, involve activity yogas, such as mandala offerings, making tsa-tsas, prostrations, and mantra recitations.


    Buddha Weekly mandala offering Buddhism
    Mandala offerings are very active forms of veneration and meditation. For a feature on Mandala offerings, see>>


    Movement and Buddhist Meditation

    Although there are various meditation “modalities” such as “walking meditation” and “standing meditation” these are not necessarily core practices. For some people, such as myself, debilitating physical conditions such as arthritis, may necessitate alternatives to “just sitting.”  Instead of full lotus, half lotus, quarter lotus, Seiza, Burmese or Vajra postures — various forms of somewhat uncomfortable seated postures — many ancient practices not only sanction motion, drumming, standing and dancing activities, they encourage them.

    Mantra, for example, is active meditation with voice and breath, which can be performed while walking, standing, sitting, or any activity. Prostrations are active practices of devotion.


    Buddha Weekly Prayer Wheel Practice and Prostration at a Temple Tibet Buddhism
    Prayer Wheel practice is a major daily “activity yoga” in Tibetan Buddhism. The wheel contains thousands of written mantras. The practitioner walks or stands or sits while rotating the wheel and visualizing the mantras going out to all sentient beings, blessing them. For a feature on Prayer Wheel Practice, see>> and here>>


    Many practices deliberately incorporate all of body-speech and mind, such as a combination of motion (walking or circumambulating), speech (for example reciting mantras or sutras) and mind in the form of visualization.

    The meditator able to do all three at the same time is managing a complex meditative modality. In the Highest Yoga Tantra practices, notably the 11 Yogas of Naropa, even our daily activities are meditation. In this highly advanced practice, which typically requires a teacher, we are taught to view all sounds as mantras, all sentient beings as Buddhas, and all visual phenomenon as Pure Lands.


    Buddha Weekly Prayer Wheel spinning at Labrang Monastery in Xiahe Tibetan Buddhist Gelugpa Buddhism
    Spinning the giant prayer wheels, filled with hundreds of thousands of mantras each is a daily practice for many. Here, a devotee -meditator spins the wheels at Labrang Monastery, Tibet.


    Activity — a More Complete Practice

    Activity, standing, or dancing meditation, in other words, can be a superior method — not just a compromised alternative to sitting. If you can manage three activities of body-speech and mind together, you involve more concentration, which can be invaluable in our busy, modern lives. As Larry Mermelstein said, in a feature on modern-day Vajrayana:

    “Our world is moving a lot faster than it probably was back in those days and so, yes, the stresses and complexities seem to be much greater than centuries ago. But so what? The very choicelessness of it is good for us. We have to do everything we can to incorporate the teachings on a continual basis in our lives.” [4]


    Buddha Weekly Shakyamuni Buddha before his enlightenment practicing martial arts Buddhism
    Siddartha Buddha was an expert in martial arts. It developed mental discipline, focus and good health — all needed for meditation practices.


    One of the methods we can incorporate the teachings into our lives is to adopt “no guilt” alternatives to traditional “sitting.” Walking has a long history in Buddhist practice, for example, circumambulating stupas while reciting mantras, but what about alternatives to formal seated methods — for example, during pujas and sadhana practices? Activities are already a part of these practices, albeit in restrained demonstrations such as prostrations, mudras, and mandala offerings. What if, however, a serious practitioner simply cannot “sit” during? What are the alternatives?


    Buddha Weekly Walking Meditation at Monastery Buddhism
    A monk meditates while walking at a monastery. In any environment, teachers often recommend walking meditation as an alternative to sitting meditation, especially to offset physical issues with long seated practice.

    No Guilt Alternatives to “Sitting”

    There can be a sense of “guilt” or inferiority for someone who practices traditionally, but is unable to sit still due to infirmity or debility. There needn’t be. Here, I argue, with support of various practices, that “motion, dance, and stance” are equal to sitting practice — not compromises or inferior methods. Notable among these methods, are various meditative martial arts, exemplified in Shaolin Kung Fu or Zen Archery or Yogic exercises. In fact, motion and activity can enhance practice, even for people who could quite comfortably sit zazen all day.


    Buddha Weekly Repetitive fish drum and concentrated chanting in Zen teple Buddhism
    Chanting and drumming are activity meditation methods in many schools of Zen. Here, Zen students chant with the famous “fish drum” or Mokugyo. This practice is about “drumming for a Wakeful Mind.” The Wooden Fish Drum’s unique sound is virtually iconic of Zen. For a feature on Fish Drums see>>


    Drumming, walking, standing…

    Stillness of the mind (mindfulness) and or even visualization may seem to align naturally with “just sitting and breathing” but the opposite can be true for people where activities are the breakthrough method for overcoming conditioning. For example, active drumming is a powerful “mindfulness” meditation. Walking, listening, or even sports such as archery can be powerful “mindfulness” methods.


    maxresdefault 4
    Chod practice by many monks. This active form of practice drumming is an advanced practice, combining activities with chanting mantras and visualizations.

    “You can meditate walking, standing, sitting or lying down,” said Buddhist monk Noah Yuttadhammo. “Each requires a different degree of effort as opposed to degree of concentration. Walking meditation having the highest degree of effort, lying meditation having the highest degree of concentration.” [2]


    Zhang San Feng once said, “the chi goes where the mind goes” which was later paraphrased by body-builder Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Where the mind goes, the body follows” [1] This principle can be applied to our activities while meditating. Instead of simply visualizing without activities, we can help reinforce our visualization with a motion — especially for those of us who aren’t advanced Yogis or Yoginis.


    Buddha Weekly Shaolin monk training in martial arts kung fu Buddhism
    Shaolin kung fu is almost synonymous with the Buddhist monastic discipline. For a feature on martial arts as a Buddhist practice, Dharma in Motion, see>>


    There is an added benefit. One of the reasons the great Bodhidharma introduced martial arts into practice is to offset the damage to the health of monks and nuns who sit all day. However, in Shaolin practice, Kung Fu wasn’t just about making sure “monks stayed healthy and safe”; it was considered a core meditation practice and discipline.


    Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh leads walking meditaiton at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya India.
    Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh leads walking meditation at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya India. For a feature on Thich Nhat Hanh, see>>


    Vajrayana: Standing, Dancing and Flying to Enlightenment

    Especially in Vajrayana Buddhism, Enlightened aspects of Buddhas are often depicted dancing, standing, or riding in Thangkas. Most of the “Higher Yoga” aspects of Enlightened Beings are moving, not simply standing — which connotes activities. Nearly every Highest Yoga Tantra visualized Yidam is standing: Chakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, Yamantaka Vajrabhairva, Hevajra, Kalachakra, Ekajata, and so on. Activities become even more important when visualizing completion practices and yogas that prepare us for those practices.


    Buddha Weekly Wangdu Thangka Amitabha Hayagriva Vajrayogini Buddhism
    In this Wangdu Thanka, the entire Padma (Amitabha) family — all aspects of Compassion — demonstrates different poses. Only some, notably Amitabha, Vajradharma and Avalokiteshvara are seated. Hayagriva (Amitabha’s fiercest emanation as a meditational aspect) Vajrayogini / Vajravarahi, Kurukulle, and the other “red” Yidam aspects are standing or dancing. Meditating on Compassion in its various forms is one of the powerful aspects of Vajrayana visualization.


    In Vajrayana Buddhist practices, even when we do sit, we are often instructed to visualize activities. In breathing meditation, we might visualize prana or chi interacting with our “inner bodies”. Body mandala practice is the ultimate “inner activity” visualization, which can manifest tangibly as generated body heat known as Tummo. [For a feature on Body Mandala practice, see>>]


    tummo 1200
    Tummo “inner fire” meditation is a Vajrayana high practice. The control over the body is similar to that achieved by great masters of “chi” in kung fu. Although the practitioner here is seated, he is enabling inner activities in the inner body. The heat generated keeps him warm even in the sub-zero weather. (NOTE: Only under the guidance of a teacher!) For a feature on Tummo, see>>


    In deity practice, which is an ultimately very empowering wisdom practice, we visualize ourselves in symbolic poses and appearances, and activities. As Vajrayogini or any of the Dakinis are inevitably depicted flying or dancing. Dakini can literally translate as “sky dancer.”


    Buddha Weekly Narokachu Tilopa Dakini flying by Ben Christian Buddhism
    Stunning thangka detail of Tilopa visualizing a flying Dakini Enlightened deity. These great Mahasiddas and yogis reputedly could fly, walk through stone walls, and many other activities symbolic of Enlightened Mind. See more of Jampay Dorje’s stunning art at his website>>


    The great biographies of the Enlightened Yogis more often describe them walking, flying, shooting arrows into rocks — often more akin to martial arts than classical “seated” practice.

    Even during seated meditation, Vajrayana practices are filled with choreographed movements, such as mandala offerings, mudras, and other repetitive activities.


    Buddha Weekly Zasep Tulku Rinpoche Chod Practice Drumming Cemetary Buddhism
    Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche practicing Chod in a cemetery — from the movie “Come Again.” “The Chod practice dispels negative mental states, which are our “demons.” The Chod practice transforms mental defilement into the wisdom of Bodhichitta and Shunyata.” — from a description of an Chod initiation event and teaching from Zasep Tulku Rinpoche at Gaden Choling in Toronto. For a feature video Buddha Weekly documentary on Chod, see>>


    In Zen or Chan, drumming repetitively on the “fish drum.” In Zazen, our guide-instructor may occasionally whack us with a stick to “wake us up.” Of course, various yogas have always incorporated poses, positions and activities in practice. When working with the “energetic” body” many extraordinary activities can manifest, such as Tummo heat, where a naked yogi can actually comfortably meditate in the middle of winter. Even the “formless” meditations, such as Mahamudra and Dzogchen, still involve some ritualized activity.


    Buddha Weekly Walking Meditation Buddhist Monk in Forest Buddhism
    A Buddhist monk performing formal walking meditation on a forest path. For a feature on “walking meditation” see>>

    “You can meditate walking, standing, sitting or lying down,” said Buddhist monk Noah Yuttadhammo. “Each requires a different degree of effort as opposed to degree of concentration. Walking meditation having the highest degree of effort, lying meditation having the highest degree of concentration.” [5]

    There is even a full Sutra, taught by Buddha, instructing on walking meditation. Full feature here>>


    Practice for Arthritis: Standing or Moving

    Recently, I re-arranged my little meditation area to allow for standing, posing and moving practice. I still have a chair, but rarely use it now, even for Highest Yoga Tantra Visualization Sadhanas. Fortunately, in my case, the practice I visualize is an Enlightened form who is always standing — actually dancing (Thangkas are misleading since they are a static moment in time) — so it feels natural for me to not just visualize myself standing and moving, but to actually “do it” while reciting the practices and visualizing the activities.


    Woman standing in meditation with hands held in prayer
    Standing meditation is a helpful technique for those who can’t “sit still”—people with the “monkey mind” or people suffering from painful conditions such as arthritis.


    I rarely, if ever, sit now. Although I began this practice due to pain and arthritis (particularly knees), I now find it enhances my practice. By adding the activates and motion I find it easier to visualize — in the same way as a hand mudra can symbolize an offering activity.


    Zen Mindfulness can be achieved many ways, including concentrated activities
    Zen Mindfulness can be achieved many ways, including concentrated activities such as skateboarding or martial arts. To see this feature on the Zen of Skateboarding, see>>




    [1] Body mandala practice in Vajrayana Tantric Buddhism — and riding the winds of the inner body “Where mind goes, the body follows” https://buddhaweekly.com/body-mandala-practice-in-vajrayana-tantric-buddhism-and-riding-the-winds-of-the-inner-body-where-mind-goes-the-body-follows/

    [2] From feature on Standing Meditation: The Better Way: Standing Meditation? For those with injuries, arthritis or a sleepy mind, standing can help us achieve mindfulness

    The Better Way: Standing Meditation? For those with injuries, arthritis or a sleepy mind, standing can help us achieve mindfulness

    [3] In the quote, she was actually referring to visualization. Anne Klein

    is founding director and resident teacher at Dawn Mountain Tibetan Temple, Community Center, and Research Institute in Houston, Texas. Quoted from:

    “Forum: The Myths, Challenges, and Rewards of Tantra” in Lions Roar https://www.lionsroar.com/forum-the-myths-challenges-and-rewards-of-tantra/

    [4] Larry Mermelstein, executive director of the Nalanda Translation Committee, and an acharya, or senior teacher, in Shambhala International, from “Forum: The Myths, Challenges, and Rewards of Tantra” in Lions Roar https://www.lionsroar.com/forum-the-myths-challenges-and-rewards-of-tantra/

    [5] Standing meditation, the better way



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    Lee Kane

    Author | Buddha Weekly

    Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
    Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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