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Friday, August 10, 2001


well, i certainly hope the weather breaks as it's supposed to this weekend because i've got cookies to bake!

yes, dear readers, i asked for the definition of tapasya, an undefined sanskrit term plopped in the middle of one of sri aurobindo's essays on the gita. and i got email! it's amazing! thank you all for responding. but please someone tell me where this sanskrit glossary you're using is! i think i need one -- i can't count on this cookie trick forever. . .

anyway, the context of the word was:

For all dynamic action, all kinesis of Nature, involves a voluntary or involuntary tapasya, an energism and concentration of our forces and capacities, which helps us achieve our highest potential in yoga. All action involves a giving of what we have or are, which is the price of that achievement -- an achievement, in yoga, not for ourselves but for others. In the Gita, Krishna insists that we not renounce but rather must altogether do, for action is the work before us, our kartavyam karma, our yoga.

at this point in the essays, sri aurobindo appears to be arguing that a true understanding of the gita forces us to realize that we ought not just meditate in a cave but that we should act boldly in the world and do yoga to benefit the world. that instead of becoming monks who give up everything we should stay where we are and, well, do more yoga. i think. maybe. . .

at first i interpreted tapasya here as force, which works in some sense i guess since hatha yoga is called the yoga of force. but my correpondents point out that the origin of the word is tapas or heat, but has acquired several nuanced meanings, including desire, renunciation, or even mortification.

what's great about this is that first one to write in, frank jude boccio, a yoga teacher, had a quote i have to share:

My Sanskrit teacher says "Tappan Range" ovens (do you remember "Let's Make A Deal?) got its name from Tapas.

i love that! the second person to write in, paula carino, also a yoga teacher, gave us the word's grammar:

My understanding of tapasya, grammatically, is analagous to:

sat = truth
satya = observing the truth as a practice

tapas = heat, austerity
tapasya = observing tapas as a practice.

You know what tapas means, right? That purifying heat of concentration that burnishes you and burns away obstacles and distractions? When you do ashtanga vinyasa, the tapas is the heat of the movement and also the heat of the ujjayyi and holding the bandhas.

although technically frank was first, i find paula's answer closely explains the passage. therefore, it's a double batch of cookies, to be delivered or mailed shortly after the weather improves. i hope you all agree.

anyway, both of these answers lend new meaning to this passage. aurobindo mentions "all kinesis of nature," which sounds to me as if he is talking about physics -- heat as the movement of molecules, heat that shows motion and change. and he is equating this principle with moral and personal action. it is the same heat, i think he means. this energy and change propels to improve our yoga. but improved yoga doesn't come for free -- we must sacrifice something for it -- time, etc. then he somehow relates our willingness to put in the time to do yoga as something that will expand in our lives to benefit others. and finally, i think he concludes that doing yoga is a profound form of human work, it is almost a destiny.

while there's no doubt in my mind that sri aurobindo is mega-hegel -- he's constantly talking about the World-Spirit, Nature, Time, Becoming, synthesis, dialectic, and Heraclitus -- i think i can deal. i mean, i love heraclitus myself. so in some way, reading aurobindo is like taking the old country road that runs roughly parallel to the highway; every now and then through the trees, you see the familiar flow and know you're not as lost as you might feel.

posted by fortune elkins | 12:20 PM | top | link to this |


Thursday, August 09, 2001


as you may recall, i have come to grief now attempting to read both the gita and patanjali's yoga sutras.

while i realize that the gita is a metaphor for one's internal struggles, still i'm disturbed by krishna's advice to prince arjuna. arjuna is standing in the middle of a bloody civil war when he realizes he doesn't want to kill anyone. he's tired of fighting. so he sets down his magic bow and weeps, begging his friend krishna for advice. and krishna basically tells him that as a warrior it is his fate to kill all these people and that he should act to fulfill his duty without attachment or concern for the consequences.

this upsets me, because of course i want krishna to tell arjuna to go make peace between the two sides. perhaps this is naive! i always thought of krishna as a cute blue guy with a cool flute and fun cowgirl friends. so it's sobering to see the so-called "supreme consciousness" counsel wholesale destruction; it makes krishna seem evil.

i mentioned this puzzlement to several people, one of whom said that it was this very problem that endeared buddhism to him. since buddha isn't a god, you don't have this problem of theodicy. the problem of evil and destruction is covered in the four noble truths.

another friend suggested that i was too hung up on the particulars and was missing the universal, timeless metaphors. after all, in life we really often have to act, and often those actions can result in destruction. wrong actions often result in harm to other people, while many right actions can result in the destruction of our own bad habits. this person encouraged me to understand that arjuna's civil war is the war against the hall-too-human qualities of laziness, complacency, ambition, unconcern for others, etc.

one of my yoga teachers thought the gita was too difficult to read by itself. she suggested the weighty and ponderous tome by sri aurobindo, essays on the gita. i have to confess that i'm a tad terrified of aurobindo too. his prose style is pretty high german; for example, take this passage from one of the essays --

"It is the Timeless manifest as Time and World-Spirit from whom the command to Just Action proceeds. . .What then is Man to do when he finds the World-Spirit turned towards some immense catastrophe. . .?"

uh-oh, World-Spirit. i've got the hegelian shivers, no doubt. i'm afraid later i'll run into Authentic Being or something even worse -- that buddhist alternative is beckoning!

but seriously, the first of these essays isn't bad at all and appears to make plain sense without Any Major Nouns or Important Historical Ideas. the book itself is a pleasant aubergine leather volume on 800 rice paper pages. they feel nice when turning, and somehow have been imbued with the strong scent of sandalwood. when you read it, the book literally envelops you with itself. it does have an index but sadly, like all these books, lacks a sanskrit glossary for the terms sprinkled through the text.

so what the heck is tapasya? i have no idea whatsoever! first person to write in with the answer receives a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

posted by fortune elkins | 11:02 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, August 08, 2001


while yesterday was an ode to our inner children, today's no-cook chocolate dessert is elegant enough to serve your snobbiest friends.

let's face it -- it's going to be 100 degrees all week, so we're not cooking any thing any time soon.

you'll love these charming european-style chocolate and chestnut pots. get out your little ramekins and lightly grease them with butter. also hop by the grocery store and pick up some fancy little cookies, like pirouettes or langues de chat, tho actually you probably could also fake it even with nilla wafers. hey, why not? retro food is a trend, right?

let's even go so far as to reassert our slow principles on this one by using artisanal, organic products, ok? don't be put off by the chestnut puree. it's easier to find than you think; almost any "gourmet" type store's going to have some. all you need are:

1 15 oz. can unsweetened chestnut puree
1/2 c. (4 oz.) plugra/keller's european style butter
1/4 c. sugar
8 oz. unsweetened chocolate (scharffenberger 99%), broken into pieces
2 tablespoons brandy or liqueur of your choice

put the softened butter in the bowl of your stand mixer, attach the paddle beater, and cream on speed 6 for 5 mins. until fluffy and nearly white. add the chestnut paste 2 tablespoons at a time and beat on speed 4 until well-mixed after each addition.

put the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on med-high for 1 min. stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. if necessary, heat again for another 30 seconds.

let chocolate cool for a minute or two. stir into the chestnut mixture and add the brandy. pour into the buttered ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and chill 2 or 3 hours until firm. serve with whipped cream, a sprinkle of cocoa, berries, and fancy cookies on the side.


posted by fortune elkins | 7:00 PM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, August 07, 2001


this heat is just ridiculous now, isn't it? it's time to throw off all constraints and helplessly plunge into the pool of childish desserts -- the kind of thing your inner 4-year-old would love but which you'd personally die before you admitted liking it to any of your present-day friends.

i mean, isn't this what the current trend for retro-desserts is all about?

so here goes: a no-cook childish dessert, the chocolate ice cream pie:

4 oz. chocolate chips (try to use callebaut)
2 oz. crispy rice cereal
1-1/2 oz. plugra/keller's european style butter
1 quart (4 cups) ice cream flavor of your choice

line a 9-in pie plate with foil and then line the bottom of the foil with baking parchment or waxed paper.

combine butter and chocolate chips in a microwave-proof bowl. set power on med-high and heat for 1 min. stir to melt chocolate and butter smoothly. if necessary, heat again for 30 seconds.

mix the rice cereal into the chocolate until well combined. thickly spread this mixture into the pie plate, all across the bottom and up the sides. give yourself a nice big rim, say 1-1/2 in. this will be the crust. chill for an hour, until hard.

when cold, remove the crust from the pan; peel off the foil and waxed paper. replace the crust in the pan. now spoon the ice cream of your choice into the crust. smooth it out and decorate with extra chocolate chips, whipped cream, and berries.

eat with guilty pleasure.

posted by fortune elkins | 7:06 PM | top | link to this |


Monday, August 06, 2001




another scorching day. in fact, this whole week is set to be a furnace. what to do? make more chocolate no-cook desserts!

if in fact you can stand to turn the oven on for even 10 minutes, then make the chocolate graham cracker crust from the famed banana cream pie.

i think it's waaay too hot for even this right now, so, buy a frozen crust or a pre-made graham cracker crust. i know, i know, it's against all my slow food principles, but --- this blazing august is a reality check!

ok, let's compromise; use phyllo dough. buy some frozen and carefully press the sheets into a greased pie plate. bake according to the package instructions, or line the phyllo with greased baking parchment, set another pie plate inside, turn the whole thing upside down, and bake upside down for 5-7 minutes. this upside down business help keeps the phyllo shell from shrinking.

got a crust? great. let's make a chocolate truffle filling for a cute tart:

1-1/2 c. heavy cream
12 oz. 55-70% chocolate, chopped fine
1/4 c. (4 tablespoons) Plugra/Keller's European style butter, cut into small squares
2 tablespoons brandy or liqueur of choice

place the cream in a large microwave-proof bowl. heat on high for 2 minutes, or until simmering hot. quickly stir in the chocolate until melted and smooth. if necessary, heat cream and chocolate mixture for 30 seconds on med.-high heat to melt chocolate fully. stir in butter and brandy.

pour filling into baked shell, and carefully tilt pan to smooth. don't touch the surface or the chocolate could lose its glossy finish!

chill for 2-3 hours. before serving, let warm at room temperature for 10 mins. to make it easier to cut.

serve with chilled berries or tiny dollops of ice cream.

posted by fortune elkins | 7:55 PM | top | link to this |


Sunday, August 05, 2001


woke up today with a start -- realized i'm worried about the plan to start ashtanga in the little yoga program i run at my job. and the worry is -- someone's going to get hurt. i'm not concerned about a couple of the people who are interested -- they have experience in ashtanga and know how to protect themselves. they don't have the "fitness mentality" for yoga.

i am however concerned about a couple of others. i definitely fear that if someone pulls a muscle in ashtanga, the yoga will be canceled. in fact i was so frazzled about this, that i actually called one of my wiser colleagues and asked her opinion. she offered the excellent advice of simply explaining to people exactly what the risks are. it's hard to disagree with this advice.

still i wonder about the human tendency to believe "won't happen to me." because of course if i tell them the risks and they think to themselves "won't happen to me" -- then naturally, since they are not going to be vigilant, it will happen to them, soon and hard. as the time approaches for the sample ashtanga class i've scheduled, this is on my mind more and more and more. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 9:22 AM | top | link to this |

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