Chinese Canadian Turns Yoga Teacher
The Brampton Guardian
Tuesday June 5 2007
SUNIL RAO, Staff Writer
A Chinese Canadian geologist who today teaches Hindus and Sikhs yoga and spirituality, and explains to them– along with others who attend his courses, rendered gratis– why ahankaar (ego) is at the root of many problems… talk about cultural cross-overs.
But that’s Brian Lum for you.
“How did you find us?” he asked, with his characteristic toothy smile, then answered the question himself: “Well I suppose if you want to find us you will always find the way.”
People have found their way to this unpretentious house sitting inconspicuously among its fellows in their thousands, as they have sought to find answers to their own personal problems, to life’s several travails, or to that question which has hounded Man since the time he first walked Planet Earth: What is the purpose of Life.
Typically, he signs off his email messages ‘Om Shanti.’
Lum first started out his life as a geologist, to be at one with the great outdoors and to discover his spirituality. A chance course on spirituality and Raja Yoga at the University of Toronto– encapsulated in seven brief hour-long sessions (“I don’t know what I could have learnt about this vast subject in so short a period”)– led to several visits to India to learn about Vedic philosophies and more, and thence to his own classes in Brampton.
He’s now been at it for 27 years. His courses, offered free, today run for 30-35 weeks each. “I’m perhaps the oldest Canadian-born practitioner of Raja Yoga in the country,” he told South Asian Focus. “Sure, others after me have set up yoga centres all over the region, in Burlington and Hamilton and Ajax, Barrie, London, Mississauga and Toronto, and make a deal of money out of it– but frankly, I couldn’t put a price on this course.”
Lum makes the distinction that Raja yoga deals with spiritual matters that help discipline the mind, as opposed to Hatha yoga, which deals with physical postures and yogic asanas.
His journey into spirituality led him into astrology as well, and 10 years ago he started offering these services, for a fee.
In this free-wheeling interview, this Raja yogi spoke about a number of issues, including the true meaning of happiness, viewing religion as the ramp to a higher consciousness– rather than as the only true highway to the only true God– the evolution of male-dominated society into one where spousal abuse is unfortunately all too common, and the importance of wheat grass and sunflower seedlings in his daily routine.
What was it that first drew you to Raja Yoga?
I became a geologist seeking diamonds and gold since I wanted to find peace and spirituality in the great outdoors, but I realized I could find these treasures in my own mind. It was my sister who first pointed me in the direction of the U of T course, and after that I visited India several times to study Vedic philosophy.
It truly was a case of East meeting West (smiles).
I went to study about my self, my soul, consciousness and karma. Today I see everything as karma, as having a purpose. I believe things emanate from our own consciousness.
But what is it that ails us that we need to heal?
Given the situation in the world today, we are in a state of moral and spiritual bankruptcy. Take the environment: it is indeed an inconvenient truth that Man’s greed for power and money has combined with politics to bring us to this juncture in our planet’s evolution– and today we are realizing if we kill the environment we kill ourselves.
Take agriculture: in a bid to increase our food output we started using fertilizers indiscriminately, and today we find our water tables are polluted– but this is no more than a reflection of our own value systems.
And take our society here in Brampton: there is spousal abuse and violence towards women. But we’re setting ourselves up and sabotaging our own interests.
So how would Raja Yoga help us? What does it teach?
Just as both negatives and positives emanate from our own consciousness and our actions, so do we have the power to heal from our own consciousness and our actions, and from our subconscious.
What have your visits to India shown you?
The tolerance Indians display towards each other– as opposed to our own behaviour. Imagine, it’s a country of over a billion people, and it’s obviously crowded. When you drive on the roads you find the cars tearing along literally four inches apart– and they all proceed quite happily without complaining one is intruding into the other’s space. Here? Honking and road rage would be the order of the day.
Again, take the local trains: on a bench designed to seat six, you would find eight– and when a ninth comes up, you would be expected to move over to make room for the newcomer. Do you think that would happen on our TTC (or in our jobs market)?
Equally, when Indians and Chinese come to live here– trying to escape from their past, as it were– they eventually tend to do well here. This is best exemplified by their kids, who find school a cakewalk. But in their quest of what they perceive as ‘happiness’ they also buy into stress. They get separated from their own spirituality. And they have to learn how to integrate their value systems in India back into their lives here.
What is this thing called ‘happiness’?
Well, people from South Asia tend to come here in search of a better life for themselves. In other words, they come here in search of happiness. But when they come here, they trade in their extended family, which forms a strong social safety net in India. So they get involved in their busy social life, buy a house, get a mortgage– and get like hamsters treading their wheel in a cage. Because they get a job, pay their mortgage, pursue their careers, get stressed out because of a number of things– not least the behaviour of their kids, who often lack not only the social safety net that could have been provided by their extended family, but also their own parents’ attention while being pulled apart by differing value systems.
These tensions beget their own ills– spousal abuse, for one.
So are they happy?
In your experience, how widespread is spousal abuse in our society?
It may perhaps be that those who come to the Raja Yoga Centre already have a reason for doing so, but you’d still be shocked at the incidence of spousal abuse. I’d estimate it at 40, even 50 per cent– and from people you’d never have guessed.
My courses typically attract people of all ages and from all backgrounds– perhaps 20 per cent South Asians and another 15-20 per cent Indo-Caribbeans, with the rest from all over.
But yes, we do attract more women: perhaps a 70:30 mix in favour of women.
The women find it easier to become spiritual due to the nurturing side of their persona, so we have a higher percentage of women.
Men don’t do well with humility. They’re born and bred on a testosterone-rich diet, and find it difficult to become humble (laughs).
I guess the men come only because their wives get them here (laughs again).
So what does one need to do?
Raja Yoga teaches us how to connect– or reconnect– with our spiritual values, and how to improve our self-esteem, how to practise unconditional love, and how to discipline our ego. Among other things, it helps us use meditation.
All these paths are aimed at helping us connect with that Supreme Being that we call Parmatman.
You understand, Hatha Yoga helps us to discipline our bodies, freeing up our minds to practise Raja Yoga in search of our spirituality and, ultimately, Parmatman.
Does your quest of Parmatman mean you are a practising Hindu?
Ah-a, so now we come to religion (laughs delightedly, then grows serious). I feel at the beginning religion had spirituality, but down the ages smriti, vritti and kriti (in Sanskrit, awareness or remembrance, attitude and actions) got diluted or lost in the sands of time, and today we’re left with faith and rituals, with no element of spirituality.
When spiritual awareness declines we have blind faith, which leads to fundamentalism.
Coming back to religion: to me, just as everyone says, there is only one God– and it is the same God for everyone!
Do you know, Hinduism has no founder, the religion stems from Adi Sanatana Dharma (or ‘eternal law’), from its devtas and devis (gods and goddesses).
Now, humans adopt their own gods, and religion is the ramp that leads to their gods. All paths lead to God… but the issue arises when you say “I’m the highway.”
You’re also an astrologer?
Yes, I practise Western astrology, and here I offer my services for a fee.
Ten years ago I kind of hit a plateau with my quest into spirituality, and realized astrology would help me in this quest. So I went out and bought books worth $7,000 and really took to it like a duck to water. I was doing astrological charts within four months.