Why is it advisable to keep fit and healthy
A dharma practitioner should always keep in mind that a human birth is rare, and as such a wonderful opportunity to practice the Dharma. It is only those born into the human realm that have the mental ability to advance beyond the suffering of samsara. Those born into the other 5 realms of samsara, the realms of animals, hungry ghosts, gods, asuras and the hot and cold hell realms, can only wait until the self generated karma that put them there is exhausted. Consequently, the longer you have in this human life, and the healthier you are, the more chance you have to progress on the path to liberation.
It is also vital that we also keep in mind that we have been fortunate enough, due to our own past karmic efforts to be born at a time when the teachings of the Buddhas and patriarchs are available. But, a word of warning. It has also been stated by many of the past teachers, that time is running out, that the true Dharma teachings are slowly disappearing. Finding truly enlightened teachers who can genuinely guide you on the path is becoming increasingly difficult.
Methods of training
Firstly you should keep in mind that whatever form of fitness training you choose, it should be approached as a method of “Meditation in action”, a physical aspect of your Dharma practice, and not some sort of body beautiful keep fit. I will say more about this under the “no-self training” section.
I highly recommend that you chose a form of training that pushes your body and mind in unison. I would recommend any of the martial arts such a karate, aikido, kendo, judo etc. I also recommend weight training, as this can be done alone in the gym without the need of partners, as in the martial arts. I doubt very much if you will be able to find a Dharma teacher, who can also train you in martial arts or weightlifting, or a martial arts/weightlifting instructor who will be qualified to teach you the Dharma. So you will no doubt have to seek out separate teachers for each of these practices.
Whatever method you chose, make sure it requires plenty of spirit.
I personally do heavy weightlifting at the gym three mornings a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for approximately 2.5 hours at a time. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings I do various karate exercises, including stretching, various kicks, punches and blocks to keep myself flexible.
Keep in mind that whatever method of training you take up, to be of any use to you either for your fitness or as an aspect of your Dharma practice, it needs to be at least three times a week.
It is very easy, if not advanced in your Dharma practice, when doing any kind of physical fitness training to start to get attached to the body. I have seen this many times, especially with many yoga practitioners and teachers. Working purely on the body without any meditation training to counter the attachment to the self can lead to an arrogant, better than others, almost puritanical ego based attitude.
If you are new to Dharma training, and you become aware of any aspect of pride or bodily attachment arising, then ask your teacher to instruct you in one of the vipassana based meditation techniques for overcoming attachment to the body.
There are also four states of mind you should adopt during your training. These come from the Zen tradition, and are developed by serious martial arts practitioners. They are
No mind, empty mind, no self
Total focus on your energy
I will not go into these aspects here as you need to receive details instructions and training in person from a teacher.
Training with a mantra
An excellent aid to help you develop strength and focus in your training is the use of a mantra. A mantra should always be given to you by a teacher. Mantras should not be taken lightly, and not obtained from books or recordings.
A transmission should take place between teacher and student. This happens when the teacher goes through the mantra, its correct meaning and pronunciation etc. The transmission of the meaning, as with all Dharma teaching, will be on the outer level, inner level or secret level, depending on your experience and ability as a Dharma practitioner.
I personally work with one of the secret mantras of “Hanuman” (illustrated above). Hanuman, normally associated with the Sanatana Dharma tradition, represents strength, valour and humility. He is heroic and brave. All qualities that a Dharma practitioner should be making efforts to develop.
If you are taking up any method of physical training, you must take into account the need to fuel the body sufficiently. People sometimes tell me that being vegan makes them tired. RUBBISH! Not getting enough food to fuel the energy that is being put out makes you tired. As a monk in the Tibetan tradition I do not eat after my mid day meal, so I have breakfast at 5am a snack at 8am if I am going to the gym, and my main meal at 12 noon, and no food after that. As you can see from above, I train 5 days of the week, as I write this (Sept 2018) I am 70 years old, and I do not get tired.
Having said all that, I could of course drop dead tomorrow!
Do not get bogged down taking supplements. I am not a nutritionist, so can’t advise people on what to eat. But in my own case, the only supplement I use is one scoop of vegan protein powder on my breakfast muesli. I take nothing else, no tablets, pills, potions etc.
Just eat proper food. Do you remember proper food, it was very popular before i-phones, when people still had a life!
Dharma practitioners do not worry about the taste of the food, or indulge in food as a sense experience. Always keep in mind:
"Today's tasty food is tomorrows shit"
There are many good books available now on vegan sports nutrition, and stacks of advice on the internet. So do your research and you will not have a problem.
Do not procrastinate, do it now
None of us knows how much time we have left to practice the Dharma, we may have 20 years, we may have 1 year, so do not waste a minute.
As Krishna points out in chapter 11, verse 32 of the Bhagavad-gita, in his no punches pulled teaching method:
“I am the mighty world destroying time, engaged herein annihilating all beings”
So do not waste any time, be a true Dharma warrior.
In true Zen-Gym language