Catalina Vaage: variations on the body according to Buddhism

- through Fabrice Groult

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It is no longer necessary today to go to the other end of the planet to have access to the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. A quick search on the internet allows you to find Buddhist documents and books or spiritual masters living in France. Some, however, still feel the need to immerse themselves in the original environment to find its essence, this is the case of Catalina Vaage. Born in Romania, this citizen of the world has traveled Asia since the year 2000 in search of a Buddhism able to combine spiritual elevation and flexibility of the body, the well-being of one nourishing the other.

You have lived in many countries, including India, Korea, Thailand, and now Japan. Has your approach to Buddhism evolved during your travels?

My first contact with Asia and buddhism was India. In 2004, I had been teaching yoga for about ten years in Scandinavia, but I had the feeling that yoga remained on the surface of things on a spiritual level, that it did not make it possible to put an end to the causes of suffering. So I looked for a tradition that would go deeper. Buddhism made it possible for me. I had planned to stay only one year in India, but I ended up staying there for four years, because I quickly realized that to get to the heart of the practice taught by Tibetan Buddhism, you also had to learn the language. A translation, no matter how good, loses some of the essence of the teachings. So I stayed in Dharamsala, where, among other things, I met Korean nuns. They impressed me with their rigor and aroused in me the desire to immerse myself in this particularly demanding monastic discipline. Before joining them in Korea, I stopped in Thailand to train as an English teacher, not for Buddhism which I perceived then – in a very subjective way, I conceive it – as correct in form, but emptied of its meaning. My stay in Korea had to be interrupted after a few months due to health problems, and I returned to Europe. Dancing brought me back to Asia, to Japan, where I quickly felt at home.

“According to the principle of communicating vessels, a free and relaxed body offers the ideal support for an open mind. Conversely, the liberated mind allows greater flexibility of the body. »

What struck me the most during these trips was the difference in perception of the body that the different traditions have. For me who comes from yoga, I quickly had the impression that the body is rather discredited in Tibetan Buddhism, even if it is of course important as a support for the spirit for the practitioner. In Korea and Japan, the approach to the body is significantly different. Perhaps it is due to the fact that martial arts are present in these two countries… In yoga, the connection between body and mind is particularly highlighted, and that is what I was looking for. In Korea, the temple in which I spent some time insisted on the importance of the body, but to detach oneself from it.

What is your analysis of the body-mind relationship in Buddhism?

Through these experiences that took place over several decades, and to which I associated yoga, Buddhist teachings, a vegetarian or even vegan diet, I became stronger, and I now understand the link that unites them as if they were communicating vessels: a free and relaxed body offers the ideal support for an open mind. Conversely, the liberated mind allows greater flexibility of the body. I have come to the conclusion that one cannot have an effective practice by privileging only the mind; mind and body are two sides of the same coin, they cannot be separated. This is obviously my feeling, that of someone who begins in the practice. It is certain that when you reach a certain level of understanding and experience, the body becomes above all a tool on the way to realization, but I am not there yet...

What does Buddhism bring you in everyday life? Have you observed a change taking place in you, in your relationship with others?

Following a code of conduct towards others, whether human or not, on all three planes (body, speech and mind), has become obvious. This reinforced in me the commitments made to not commit certain faults. So the more I try my best to keep them, the less I try to live up to them, because those vows have become an essential part of who I am today. For example, I realized that even in my dreams, I can no longer lie! (Laughs)

Has Buddhism had an influence on your professional activity as a yoga teacher?

Before I encountered Buddhism, I considered yoga my spiritual path. Following my encounter with the teachings of the Buddha, my relationship to yoga evolved; it has become a tool, a means and not the way itself. In addition, I felt that yoga for Westerners was more of an object to be consumed than a spiritual path per se, I felt completely out of step with this approach. So, no, Buddhism didn't influence my yoga practice, but it certainly changed how I came to perceive it and what I could convey about it, especially in the West.

You are more in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, who are the personalities whose teachings affect you the most?

The two main people who inspire me and who pushed me to follow this path are the Dalai Lama and the Venerable Dagpo Rinpoche. Each meeting was special. I met the Dalai Lama during a teaching given in Varanasi, where I happened to be by chance, while I was enjoying a leave that I wanted to be anything but spiritual. He walked past me and his mere presence touched me to the core of my being. In the case of Dagpo Rinpoche, I first saw him in a dream without knowing who he was, and without paying much attention to it. However, my curiosity was piqued the day I saw this master again, in a photo this time, at a friend's house. I jumped on the first plane to meet him in France. The third person who particularly touches me is Khandro Rinpoche, the daughter of Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche, one of the most eminent masters of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Thanks to them, I am fortunate to be able to study the teachings of the Gelug, Kagyu and Nyingma schools, and to be able to say that I am a non-sectarian practitioner. (laughs) I also really like Dogen's Zen teachings. All these teachings – interdependence, law of causality, emptiness – help me in everyday life: the knowledge of these principles has greatly contributed to changing my perception of phenomena. I couldn't imagine my life today without them...

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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