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“Listen to everything I say.
Don’t believe anything until it is true for you.”

Wataru Ohashi, Director, Ohashi Institute, NYC

Free Will, Conscious Practice and Truth
Decoding Timeless Teachings

There are stages of protocol which unfold in each of our lives. Caretakers are the undisputed authority as we enter this planetary reality. “Do as I say, not as I do,” is my first recollection of protocol. A parent’s word is absolute when life’s container requires dependency on adults.

By age six, “Never question the word of God,” echoed through the halls of my mind as I walked in a single file to lunch, to recess, to the water fountain, and to the lavatory. The word of God was a Latin experience then, something a learned man of the cloth needed to translate. There was no permission to speculate as to interpretation; holiness was white and sins were black. There were countless illustrations of this. Our fifteen minutes of art class each Friday at 2:45 PM offered example. Precisely cut, white construction paper hearts began with one irregular, black crayon blemish symbolizing the mortal sin inherited from Adam, Eve, the infamous snake and the apple. Black marks multiplied as our first grade souls learned the severity of God’s word.

During my sophomore year of college, I completed my health and phys/ed requirements with a class called Contemporary Issues of Living and Dying. I anticipated a syllabus focused on current health threats and practical information regarding life expectancy. What I entered was a forum that required an exploration of belief systems, ethical perspectives, and arguments deliberating afterlife as a possibility. Of course, I had plenty of beliefs to contribute. For the first time in my life, I encountered spiritual contemplation and comparison. The experience welcomed psychological growth until theories of reincarnation were introduced. Suddenly, I found my Catholic spine ready to snap! What nonsense would I need to tolerate when I knew, without a doubt, that this concept was completely ridiculous?

Strangely, my forewarned resistance began to melt as a systematic introduction to life cycles unfolded. The mere consideration of living to learn through different bodies, times and relationships didn’t sound preposterous. However, something about the simplicity of heaven, hell, purgatory and limbo seemed unreasonably inadequate. Unspoken and unacknowledged questions incubated in this black and white vessel of mine.

Several years later my beliefs were further stretched. Learning shiatsu would prove to be an unanticipated invitation to broader thought. Developing the necessary skills to observe images, thoughts and behaviors without judgment would require patience, tolerance and infinite shades of gray. Diagnosis didn’t refer to detecting illness. Diagnosis indicated analyzing the true nature of something. Illness would be a small subset of vast territories for analysis.

Ohashi stressed quite fervently, “Use diagnosis as a tool. Never use it as a weapon.” That statement invokes many levels of awareness. Most prominently, it validates the power of knowing. Integrating acquired knowledge with conscious integrity is essential for healing.

Historically, knowledge has wielded tremendous power towards growth as well as destruction. Whether knowledge indicates scientific discovery, or insights of divine reality, the essence of knowing requires a practice of conscious integrity.

Religion, like politics, is a potent structure of authority. (Perhaps that’s a reason they interlock so often?) Religious structure is created to support learning, understanding and spiritual growth. Ideally, that structure would facilitate our refinement in a model of ethics and compassion. Unfortunately, scriptures are often used as weapons, as ways to validate righteous destruction. In other words, “God told me to force this correct truth.”

Many of us have foundations in Judeo-Christian scripture. Much of this content was interpreted by religious authority and given to us without permission to personally interpret meaning. Our belief structures were forged largely through our acceptance of this external authority.

As we enter our practice of yoga, we’re taught to explore through body/mind process. Eventually, we appreciate a certain simplicity of thought. Much of the excess anxiety we carry is able to fall away. When this happens we become clear in many ways. We can distinguish between our true needs and our unnecessary habits. We can also discern intuition as well as it’s caution against external authority. Our most intimate beliefs become clear.

Chances are high that we’ll stumble across the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Sutras. It’s unlikely that the exploration of these teachings will replace our Western foundations. However, we can employ our practice to refine spiritual exploration. How can our primary imprints of religious teaching be enhanced, clarified or modified as we consider the possibilities of Eastern ideals? By listening to everything, considering, practicing and believing when a lesson becomes true for us.

May we build amazing understanding employing scripture as tool rather than as weapon.

by Toni Zuper
Alternative Healing
Center City, Philadelphia

published in Yoga Living -- November 2006 issue