Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Some Christian Prayers in Sanskrit

The Lord's Prayer in Sanskrit

The Lord's prayer was translated into Sanskrit a long time ago. When I discovered this version on the internet, I at first thought that it was good, simple, straightforward Sanskrit, even though (like any translator) I thought I may well have done it differently.

On looking closer, however, I started to get the same kind of feeling I get when I read the Bible in Hindi or Bengali. The vocabulary, the cadences, the syntax all seem somewhat out of kilter. The word for word comes out more or less correct, but the spirit of the language is missing.

It is possible that this foreignness was a result of a too literal translation by someone with weak knowledge of the language and its literature, or perhaps it was done deliberately.

The apparent awkwardness might have been intended to preserve a kind of "otherness" in the religious language, much in the way that the King James Bible, which today has a rather distant relation to modern spoken and literary English, has a kind of formal elegance that sets it apart from day-to-day language. Had this translation such elegance, I might have though that this is what was happening here.

On the other hand, the translator may have been seeking to deliberately distance this Sanskrit from its traditional Hindu flavors, as a too close cultural similarity might have misled the poor Brahmin-convert to Christianity into thinking that it was just another variety of Hinduism.

Neither of these reasons seems particularly good. Translation is only possible because parallel concepts exists in different languages. Hinduism and therefore Sanskrit abound with subtle religious terminology that could, in my opinion, produce a far more effective version of the Lord's Prayer. To not make use of such potential precision is to fail the translator's task.

The text as given:

भो अस्माकं स्वर्गस्थ पितः तव नाम पवित्रं पूज्यताम्। तव राज्यमायातु।
यथा स्वर्गे तथा मेदिन्याम् अपि तवेच्छा सिध्यतु। श्वस्तनं भक्ष्यम् अद्यास्मभ्यं देहि।
वयं च यथास्मदपराधिनां क्षमामहे तथा त्वमस्माकमपराधान् क्षमस्व।
अस्मांश्च परीक्षां मा नय अपि तु दुरात्मन उद्धर , यतो राज्यं पराक्रमः प्रतापश्च युगे युगे तवैव।

bho asmākaṁ svargastha pitaḥ ! tava nāma pavitraṁ pūjyatām| tava rājyam āyātu| yathā svarge tathā medinyām api tavecchā sidhyatu | śvastanaṁ bhakṣyam adyāsmabhyaṁ dehi | vayaṁ ca yathāsmad-aparādhināṁ kṣamāmahe, tathā tvam asmākam aparādhān kṣamasva| asmāṁś ca parīkṣāṁ mā naya api tu durātmana uddhara, yato rājyaṁ parākramaḥ pratāpaś ca yuge yuge tavaiva |


(1) svargasthah pitah: Technically this is correct, but svarga has too many connotations related to Indra, Apsaras and Nandan gardens. This is most certainly an error that would be quite misleading. The actual meaning of "heaven" is "sky," so even though that is the etymological origin of svarga, I would have gone with "vyoma" or “parama-vyoma,” words used in the various traditions to distinguish their heaven from Svarga. It does not have the sectarian connotations that Vaikuntha or Goloka would have.

(2) tava nama pavitram pujyatam: The attempt to translate "hallowed" with pavitram pujyatam, an unorthodox expression, is weak. If it is "your holy name be worshiped" then it should be tava pavitram nama pujyatam, which is better, except that the translator obviously sought to add meaning for "hallowed" that he felt Sanskrit could not provide. There is no reason why pujyatam alone would not suffice.

(4) At best medinyam seems to lack the proper contrast to svarga. I would go with prithivi-tale, which gives the definite sense of "down here on earth." iccha for "will" seems completely inadequate. sankalpah is the obviously correct word.

(5) svastanam bhakshyam adyasmabhyam dehi : Two complaints: svastanam why “tomorrow’s”? bhakshyam = food, but doesn’t have the same resonance as bread. The obvious equivalent is annam, which is "rice", but also food generically.

(6) vayam ca yathasmad-aparadhinam kshamamahe: Forgive + genitive?

(7) tatha tvam asmakam aparadhan kshamasva: I find the construction of this entire sentence awkward. By switching the clauses around, the effect of the original is weakened. Why not keep something closer to the original construction? asmakam aparadhan kshamasva yatha vayam svaparadhinah kshamamahe

(8) asmams ca pariksham ma nayah pariksham = temptation? Without modification, this is not conventional usage.

(9) api tu duratmana uddhara. duratmanah = evil? dauratmyat is better.

(10) yato rajyam parakramah pratapas ca yuge yuge tavaiva; The introduction of this final sentence with yatah “for” seems disjoined. How is there a causal relationship with what precedes? Some additional link is needed.

Proposed alternative

So here is my proposed alternative translation. I have deliberately used anustup meter, because Sanskrit is a language whose literature largely evolved through metrical rather than prose or conversational usage. Many people would have had the Mahabharata’s or Panchatantra’s verses ringing in their ears rather than spoken prose. Certainly it is the liturgical language.

The use of verse here has entailed a little lengthening of some phrases, but I think this is justified for the rhythms and the additional words that flesh out the meaning of the original.

देव भोः पितरस्माकं परस्मिन् व्योम्नि तिष्ठसि।
त्वदीयं कीर्त्यतां नाम तस्मिन् प्रीतिः सदास्तु नः॥
स्थाप्यतां तव सम्राज्यमत्रैव पृथिवीतले।
भवेह सिद्धसंकल्पो यथासि स्वस्य धामनि॥
अन्नं दैनन्दिनं दत्त्वा पालयास्मान् दिने दिने।
क्षमस्व चापराधान् नो ज्ञात्वाज्ञात्वा तु वा कृतान्॥
यथास्माभिर्हि चान्येषाम् अपराधा हि मर्जिताः।
हे प्रभो न तथैवास्मान् गमयाधर्मवर्त्मनि॥
लोभात्पापप्रवृत्तिश्च दौरात्म्याच्चैव मोचय।
युक्तमेतत् यतस्तेऽस्ति राज्यं प्रभाववैभवं।
अत्र परत्र सर्वत्र अद्य श्वश्च युगे युगे॥

deva bhoḥ pitarasmākaṁ parasmin vyomni tiṣṭhasi|
tvadīyaṁ kīrtyatāṁ nāma tasmin prītiḥ sadāstu naḥ||
sthāpyatāṁ tava samrājyam atraiva pṛthivī-tale|
bhaveha siddha-saṁkalpo yathāsi svasya dhāmani||
annaṁ dainandinaṁ dattvā pālayāsmān dine dine|
kṣamasva cāparādhān no jñātvājñātvā tu vā kṛtān||
yathāsmābhir hi cānyeṣām aparādhā hi marjitāḥ|
he prabho na tathaivāsmān gamayādharma-vartmani||
lobhāt pāpa-pravṛtteś ca daurātmyāc caiva mocaya|
yuktam etat yatas te'sti rājyaṁ prabhāva-vaibhavaṁ|
atra paratra sarvatra adya śvaś ca yuge yuge||

A literal translation:
Lord, you are our father who lives in heaven;
Let your name be sung, and may we have love for it.
May your reign also be established here on earth.
May your will be fulfilled here, as it is in your own abode.
Giving us our daily bread, maintain us day after day.
Forgive us our offenses, which we have knowingly or unknowingly committed,
just as we forgive the offenses of others.
O Lord, do not lead us on the path of irreligion,
and save us from greed, the propensity for sin and evil.
This is all proper, for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory
in this world and in the next, everywhere, today, tomorrow and for all the ages.

An important document like the Lord's Prayer requires a precision and deliberate theological profundity in each syllable. Nothing can be wasted and nothing superfluous added. No doubt, this is a feeble attempt by a single individual. Nevertheless, I do feel that it is a considerable improvement on what seems to be the currently approved version.

Hail Mary in Sanskrit

Tim Bruns asked me to do this for Christmas 2007 when I first came to SRSG. (I added a couple of pictures of Swami Veda's pretty sweet marble statue of Mary at SRSG. He recently said, though, that he felt the ashram was missing a temple to a "generic" Mother Goddess.

हा मारीये कृपापूर्णे ईशोऽस्ति तव सन्निधे
धन्यासि विश्वनारीषु धन्यस्ते गर्भज इसुः
नमो पवित्रे मारीये ईश्वरजननि नमः
अस्माकं पापिनामर्थे प्रार्थयस्वेसुसन्निधे
इदानीमप्यन्तकाले च प्रार्थनां कृपया कुरु

hā mārīye kṛpā-pūrṇe īśo'sti tava sannidhe
dhanyāsi viśva-nārīṣu dhanyas te garbhaja isuḥ
namo pavitre mārīye īśvara-janani namaḥ
asmākaṁ pāpinām arthe prārthayasvesu-sannidhe
idānīm apy anta-kāle ca prārthanāṁ kṛpayā kuru

Oh Maria, full of grace, the Lord is by you
you are blessed amongst the women of the world
and blessed is Jesus, born of your womb.
I bow to you, Holy Mary, mother of God, I bow to you,
Pray to Jesus for the sake of us sinners
now and at the time of death, please pray for us.

A couple of NT verses

I gave a paper at the McGill Sanskrit Conference a couple of years ago on bhakti-rasa in Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ." I amused myself by translating a few New Testament verses into Sanskrit.

ईश्वरस्य यत: प्रीतिर्बृहती जगत्यामभूत्।
ततः स्वनन्दन एकः कृपयात्र हि प्रेषितः॥
अथास्मिन् यस्य विश्वासो दृढोऽस्ति नात्र संशयः।
स कदापि न नश्येत शाश्वतं चापि जीवति॥ युहन्न ३।१६

īśvarasya yataḥ prītir bṛhatī jagatyām abhūt|
tataḥ sva-nandana ekaḥ kṛpayātra hi preṣitaḥ||
athāsmin yasya viśvāso dṛḍho'sti nātra saṁśayaḥ|
sa kadāpi na naśyeta śāśvataṁ cāpi jīvati|| yuhanna 3.16

As God had great love for the world
he mercifully sent his one own son
thus one who has strong faith in him, there is no doubt,
he will never perish and will live forever.
(John 3.16)

यदि भुवि दृष्टे ह्यत्र नरे प्रीतिरसंवृत्ता।
तवादृश्ये भगवति प्रेमा सम्भवतात् कथम्॥

yadi bhuvi nare dṛṣṭe atra prītir asaṁvṛtā |
tavādṛśye bhagavati premā sambhavatāt katham||

If you do have love for the man you can see on earth
how can you have love for the God you cannot see?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My room in Rishikesh

Just took these pictures with my new camera. Here you can see my Giridhari, sometimes known as Radha-Gokulananda after the place where he first came into my life, namely Gokulananda Ghat in Nabadwip. Shambhu Narayan Ghoshal, a Gadadhar-parivar bhakta with rasika credentials, took mercy on Madhusudan Dasji and myself in around 1981 and gave us the service of Giriraj. Dandavats to Shambhu Narayan's memory. He was one of a kind, as they say.

This is my room's northeast corner. There is plenty of light. Actually, I have two rooms, of equal size, plus a bathroom and a kitchen.

Swami Veda Bharati suddenly decided to give me this beautiful marble statue of Radha and Krishna a couple of weeks ago. They are carved out of a single block, and so they are not really deities in the classical sense. But I cannot treat them just like a work of art, so I have put them on my altar where I can drink in their Yugala-madhuri.

Another picture of the same Divine Couple. Dhameshwar Mahaprabhu and my Gurudeva are the other residents of the altar. My old Gaura-Gadadhar picture had to be moved for want of space.

This is one of three framed pictures I picked up last week in Delhi, quite serendipitously. This is an old illustrated manuscript, which from the handwriting I judge to be early to mid-19th century. The themes of the paintings are pretty standard, but they have been done with finesse and are easily distinguishable from the mass-produced knockoffs that are all over the place these days.

The text strangely has nothing to do with the pictures. This page has some commentary to subhashita verses that I do not know. The others have three subhashitas per page, from no collection that I know of. I found one of the verses in Sanatan's commentary to the Brihad-bhagavatamrita (2.7.14) and is also quoted in Haribhakti-vilasa (10.259). In both places it is attributed to Vasistha.

शून्यमापूर्णतामेति मृतिरप्यमृतायते ।
आपत्सम्पदिव भाति विद्वज्जनसमागमे ॥

zUnyam ApUrNatAm eti mRtir apy amRtAyate |
Apat sampad iva bhAti vidvaj-jana-samAgame||

Association with the wise turns emptiness into plenitude, death into immortality and calamity into good fortune.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Indian Independence Day

This was posted on Facebook by Acharya Pundarika Goswami

A.R. Rahman, who won the Academy Award for music for Slum Dog Millionaire, produced this video of the Indian national anthem, with many of the greats of the Indian classical music scene. The list comes at the end, but it is literally a who's who.

It starts with a slow instrumental intro and then is sung.

I like the Indian national anthem because it is so different from most of the military-themed anthems of other countries. It is actually a prayer of hope more than anything. Sung by Indian classical musicians really brings out something in it that really brings out its "Indianness."

Someone wrote the following on Daily Kos today:
Despite all the things going against India, a very multi-ethnic society has managed to form a national identity, which is remarkable in and of itself. No other country can claim a couple of dozen languages spoken by its people, who rally together as one nation. Any other country that diverse usually tears itself apart along ethnic or regional lines.

This video shows both how and why.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Radha Krishna temple in Cambridge, ON

This is me with Amit Airi. I stayed at his house for a couple of days in June and spoke at the Cambridge, ON, Radha Krishna temple.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Doris Jakobsh

At my talk at the University of Waterloo last night, I met Doris Jakobsh, professor of religion at the University. Today she came over to Shivji's house and we had breakfast together.

She is principally a student of Sikhism and specifically of women in the Sikh tradition. Her publication on the subject, Relocating Gender in Sikh History has stirred up quite a bit of controversy.

When I was in Toronto in the 90's, Lou Fenech was also involved in another Sikh controversy. So I was a little dismayed to hear that the thin-skinned element of that community has taken the "scientological" approach of using blunderbusses to kill mosquitoes.

So the three of us had quite a discussion on various aspects of this super-defensiveness on the part of religious groups in response to criticism. She told of how when in India last year, she went to Potiala, where she had learned Punjabi, etc., and was told by professors she had thought were her friends that she was not welcome there because of what she had written. When she pressed these "friends" about whether they had even read her book, they admitted they hadn't. I could see that she was even now quite emotional about it.

I also had my stories to share, but I have done this kind of thing too many times to hurt any more, nor think it worthwhile to share. But it is a constant source of amazement how delving into the history of a religious sect or any other kind of close-knit, sensitive community, can raise so many hackles. What comes as a surprise, too, is that they often fail to recognize that those they ostracize are in truth allies. Truth should never be seen as an enemy. Does it really hurt that badly to recognize that our religious communities and even their founders and saints are human and may have very human flaws?

To support this, Doris cited the testimony of some of her own students, who wrote to her or told her personally that they had become better Sikhs after taking her course. She spoke very enthusiastically of the doctrine of grace in Sikhism and compared it to Martin Luther. She herself is a Protestant in the United Church and the above subject only came up after she and Shivji were praising the Sikhs' commitment to charitable works and I suggested that the United Church, which is known for its own commitment to such activities would form a natural ecumenical partnership. She said, "That's interesting, but the fact is I don't have many Sikh friends anymore." Sad.

Another thing Doris said that I liked came up when she started talking of a proposed tour of India that she is planning for next year with a group of religious studies students. She is indeed intending to bring them to SRSG, which I highly recommended. But in this connection she enthusiastically championed the idea that teaching religion or the liberal arts in general should never be seen as a purely academic exercise. She recognizes that most of the students in her courses are there as a part of their search for meaning and purpose in life, and she feels that she should teach with that in mind. She joked, "I have tenure now, so I can do it." At any rate, I approve wholeheartedly.

Radhe Shyam.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Swami Satyamitranand Giri

On Monday, I had the occasion to meet and hear Swami Satyamitranand Giri Maharaj of Haridwar speak at the Brahmarishi Mission in Kitchener. Funny how you go around the world to meet people who live just next door. But then, I don't get out that much in Rishikesh.

As usual, when listening to sadhus speak, I feel the great gulf of difference in the quality of speech of a native Hindi speaker and my own stumbling and bumbling mode of expression. I know I say this every time, but I had just spoken the day before--stumbling and bumbling.

I was extremely please to hear Maharaj begin his mangalacharan with a verse to the Holy Name--

kalyāṇānāṁ nidhānaṁ kali-mala-mathanaṁ
pāvanaṁ pāvanānāṁ
pātheyaṁ yan mumukṣoḥ sapadi para-pada-
prāptaye procyamānam |
viśrāma-sthānam ekaṁ kavi-vara-vacasāṁ
jīvanaṁ sajjanānāṁ
bījaṁ dharma-drumasya prabhavatu bhavatāṁ
bhūtaye kṛṣṇa-nāma
The name of Krishna
is the fountainhead of all auspiciousness:

it is the destroyer of all the ills of the Age of Kali;
it is the purifier of all purifiers,
and the provisions the pilgrim must take
on his quest for liberation;
it can instantly give the supreme attainment,
on simply being properly uttered;
it is the one place
where all the finest words of the poets find refuge;
it is the very life of the pious and saintly
and the seed of the tree of religion.

May it forever bring you all good fortune.
(Padyavali 19)

Of course, he said Rama-nama instead of Krishna-nama. But that was no less a source of joy.

The subject of his talk was sat-sanga, which was the way that Didiji introduced him, thanking him for bestowing his saintly association on the devotees.

He quote many other favorite verses from the Gita and Bhagavatam, though he was mostly citing Goswami Tulasidas. Nevertheless, on the whole he was very bhakti oriented.

Some other verses that you don't hear very often that I will remember here are:

ananya-cetāḥ satataṁ yo māṁ smarati nityaśaḥ
tasyāhaṁ sulabhaḥ pārtha nitya-yuktasya yoginaḥ
I am easily obtained, O son of Pritha, by the yogi who is always disciplined and unceasingly remembers me without deviation. (Gita 8.14)

Also, Swamiji used Gita 3.11 in a way I had never heard before, using it as a description of the relation of devotees: By mutually nourishing one another, you will attain the supreme good." (parasparaM bhAvayantaH zreyaH param avApsyatha) This verse is actually on quite a different topic, so perhaps he was thinking of these sweet slokas from the Bhagavatam, 11.3.30-31:

parasparānukathanaṁ pāvanaṁ bhagavad-yaśaḥ
mitho ratir mithas tuṣṭir nivṛttir mitha ātmanaḥ
smarantaḥ smārayantaś ca mithoghaugha-haraṁ harim
bhaktyā sanjātayā bhaktyā bibhraty utpulakāṁ tanum
Devotees talk to each other about the sanctifying glories of the Lord. They find pleasure and satisfaction in each other’s association, teaching each other about how all their distresses can be brought to an end, remembering and reminding each other of Krishna who takes away all sins. From this devotional service in practice they develop a higher devotion which makes them ecstatic and the hairs on their bodies stand on end.

In any case, it certainly brings great pleasure to the ears and heart when one hears Hari katha nicely done, and it certainly inspires me to try to do better myself in glorifying the Divine Couple.

Talk at Ram Dham temple in Kitchener, ON

First let me thank you all for giving me this opportunity. I would especially like to thank Shiva Datta Talwar and Chandrakant Kothari for inviting me. I also offer my most respectful pranams to Didiji, Swami Chaitanya Jyoti Parivrajika, and Swami Hari Priya Parivrajika, who have been such kind hosts.

I cannot help but be amazed at this situation, as a white man who has been living in Rishikesh, speaking here in Canada on spiritual subjects to Hindus of various backgrounds. And doing so in Hindi, to boot. But that is really no more amazing than having two sannyasinis leading a Hindu congregation.

Yesterday, Didiji was telling me that she will be conducting a sacred thread ceremony for a young brahmin boy in someone's home. This is such a departure from traditional Indian culture that one has to face the fact of evolution in society, religion and spirituality. For a woman to take sannyas, and for a sannyasi, man or woman, to play this kind of priestly role, is something that even fifty years ago would have been practically unheard of.

It is a testament to Brahmarshi Vishvatma Bawraji that he had the foresight and the courage to engage and encourage women to play this kind of priestly role. And the fact that this community is flourishing here in Kitchener is a further testimony to the brilliance of his intuition.

A Canadian friend of mine in India, Pierre or Pyari, has learned fluent Hindi. He wanted to marry an Indian girl and went about it the Indian way: He had an arranged marriage. But first he had to go through many rituals, even taking the sacred thread himself in a classical upanayan ceremony. To marry a brahmin girl, he became a brahmin. But what is amazing again is the acceptance of the possibility of such a thing happening.

So the idea of caste consciousness is gradually falling away and the Hindu reformers’ interpretation of the Gita verse, chaturvarnyam maya srishtam guna-karma-vibhagashah (“I created the social system of four classes in accordance with their qualities and work”), finally being accepted.

Didiji said that this was a necessary step, and that it has not yet gone far enough, either where caste or gender is concerned, and I agree. The universal underpinnings of Hinduism are only realizable when this narrowmindedness drops away. The Gita tells us that the atma is transcendental to the body, and that the learned person (the pandit) sees all, whether a learned brahmin or an outcaste, a dog or a cow, as equal because of the spiritual spark that resides within them. We may discuss forever whether socially the difference is more important than the underlying unity, but if the goal is spiritual knowledge and transcendence, and all the individual qualities that go with them, then that is what we must cultivate and that is what we must teach our children.

And we must also teach that whatever one’s beginnings, through the powerful processes of spiritual life, of sadhana, we can all be transformed and become genuine spiritual leaders.

apavitraH pavitro vA sarvAvasthaM gato'pi vA
yaH smaret puNDarIkAkSaH sa bAhyAbhyantaraH shuchiH

Whether one is pure or impure, or in whatever state of life one finds oneself, by remember the lotus-eyed Lord, one is sanctified within and without.

Another thing about these developments is in the form that Hinduism is taking. Here in this temple are a Shiva linga, murtis of Shiva-Parvati, Durga, Sita-Rama, Radha-Krishna, Hanumanji, Ganeshji and Gurudeva. But the temple is named for Rama, and it is clear that Brahmarshi Vishvatma Bawra had a special place in his heart for Ramachandra and Ramacharit Manas. His own verse goes:

rom rom men Ram ki jab gunje runkar
tab jano tu bawra bayo Ram se pyar

When every pore of your body reverberates with Ram’s bija mantra, then you will know, O Bawra, that you have attained love for Ram.

Every Hindu knows that the genius of Hinduism lies in its realization of the one underlying truth, ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti: “There is one Truth, but the realized souls describe it in many different ways.” And how many versions of this verse can be found throughout the scriptures.

Even the Bhagavata, the sacred text of the Krishna bhaktas, says

vadanti tattva-vidas tattvaM yaj jJAnam advayam
brahmeti paramAtmeti bhagavAn iti zabdyate

There is only one Undivided Consciousness, say the knowers of the ultimate truth, who is named either as Brahman, Paramatman or Bhagavan.
God may be all-pervading, in everyone and in everything, but to experience him, we need to find a doorway by which we can enter this world of universal vision. There are many such sadhanas, but all the scriptures tell us that the best way is bhakti. And bhakti is built on nishtha. Bhakti that is spread too thin loses its strength.

A woman who says, “I love ALL men,” or a man who says, “I love ALL women,” does not really know what love is, because one can only understand the meaning of love by entering deeply into the experience through one person. It is the same with guru and the same with the ishta devata. So, Bawraji has shown this and it is symbolized by your altar: We show respect to all the gods as symbols of the supreme truth, but the devotees’ nishtha should be to one form. The Padma Purana says,

harir eva sadArAdhyaH sarva-devezvarezvaraH
itare brahma-rudrAdyA nAvajJeyAH kadAcana ||
Hari is to be worshiped always, for he is the supreme overlord of all the gods. But the other gods like Brahma and Rudra should never be insulted or diminished.

And this applies of course to believers in other religions and other forms of the divinity. And this is one of the reasons Krishna says in the Gita that one should not disturb the minds of those who worship God for a lesser reason than pure love by telling them to change the external form of their religion. Rather they should be encouraged to continue on their path in the spirit of pure love.

So I like this verse by Bawraji,

rom rom men Ram ki jab gunje runkar
tab jano tu bawra bayo Ram se pyar

When every pore of your body reverberates with Ram’s bija mantra, then you will know, O Bawra, that you have attained love for Ram.

So Hinduism is spreading through the world with the Hindu diaspora, and as it does, it is taking so many forms. But the underlying genius of unity in diversity should always be remembered, even as we seek single-minded devotion in the particular path that has been revealed to us by God and guru.

And that brings me to one last thing I want to say. In the congregation here today, there are people from many parts of India. Bawraji himself was from Benares and Ayodhya in U.P., but most of the members of this congregation are Gujaratis or Punjabis. And there are many who are from the South and some from Bengal and other parts of India.

Globalization has meant that so many people from different parts of India have been thrown all over the world and thrown together to form communities that may resemble very little the ones they grew up in. Indeed, for many Hindu emigrants, the temple is a natural place to find some social life and community.

But what is interesting is that this community is not uniquely language or culture based. Naturally, everyone is looking for a community that is familiar—familiar food, familiar deities, familiar stories, etc. But many of the people who gather at a temple like this may not even have had any kind of spiritual impetus in their lives before they realized that they needed this kind of community. But this kind of familiar socializing is hardly the end goal of spiritual life.

Actually, every one of us is living out a great drama. A lila, if you will. It is like we are watching the drama of our own lives in a film or reading it in a book. Many people like to turn to the last page of a book to find out how it ends soon after they have started, but usually we can guess very early how a story will end: The hero vanquishes the evil enemies. The lovers are finally united and get married. How many times we have heard the Ramayana? We all know what happens, and yet we go on hearing it, again and again.

Similarly, I can tell all of you how your story ends. It is like the stories of the Buddha in the Jatakas: He took 500 births in which he performed pious works and austerities until finally he attain Nirvana under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. You are all living so many adventures—many came from Africa after Idi Amin expelled the Indian community. The lives of emigrants are always challenging and heroic in so many ways. But the end of this story, just as it finds you here in this temple listening to Hari katha, is that you all find God. That is the last page of this novel.

This is our answer to the “theodicy” problem. There is a good English word I am sure many have never heard before. But it means trying to account for the evil in the world. God is sac-cid-ananda, but this world is full of suffering. The Buddha said the first noble truth or Arya-satya is duhkham: this world is a place of misery. Krishna also says in the Gita: janma-mritya-jarA-vyAdhi duHkha-doshAnudarshanam, “Wisdom means to recognize that this world is a place of suffering: birth, old age, disease and death.”

So, why is there suffering in this world if God is eternal, wise and blissful? And if God is One, and in his oneness is eternal, wise and blissful, then why does he say, "I am one, but I shall become many" (eko’ham, bahu syAm)?

Well, the answer is that in fact, all creation comes out of bliss; it remains in existence due to bliss, and it returns to bliss in its conclusion. We may look at the world as suffering, or we may look at it, through a vision of God as its underlying ground of being, as a place of joy. The truth is that since everything is a transformation of the Supreme Bliss, it is joy.

The secret is in the story. We are all on the path to God (mama vartmAnuvartante manuSyAH pArtha sarvashaH), and we will all return to God. That is the last page of the book, and every page of life that we go through, every experience, every challenge, every up and every down, is meant to carry us forward to that ultimate conclusion. And, the added secret of this story is, in fact, that is goes on eternally and without any end, for as we experience the love of God and as we learn the art of loving God, the story become everlastingly blissful in ever newer and newer ways.

Though many acharyas have said this same thing, Shankaracharya briefly recounts in his commentaries to the Upanishads the story of a prince, who in his childhood was separated from his family and brought up by poor farmers. He grows up and is brought up by them, and neither he nor they know his true identity. Only later, when the king’s ministers recognize him and tell him the truth—even though he first refuses to believe—does he find out who he really is.

So, this is our story, too. All of you, all of us, will one day know who we are and will be reunited with our eternal lover, God. But the interesting part is really the story as it unfolds. Like a real novel, turning to the last page does not really add all that much to the fun of reading the book.

So, I ask you to think about this: Think about your life as a journey in which you return to your true identity as a servant of God, and enjoy the manifestations of God’s mercy and revelation as they come to you bit by bit. Relish the path and you will understand what is meant by AnandAd imAni bhUtAni jAyante.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sanskrit Bharati Visits SRSG

A group of Sanskrit teachers from the Sanskrit Bharati organization came to the ashram for a 7-day retreat. Most of them are from the Uttar Anchal or northwestern Uttar Pradesh. They are trainers who are preparing other teachers who will lead 18-month Gita study groups to be given to graduates of the basic their spoken Sanskrit course and starting later this year.

I was told that this course will be given in 10,000 locations in 16 countries. The purpose is to familiarize students with the Gita as well as to deepen their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.

This is a picture of Chandramani Acharya, who was trained up at the same Arya Samaj school that Sanjay Shastri went to, Prabhat Ashram near Meerut. A pretty nice place by the looks of it, where everything is conducted in Sanskrit. Children who join the school are obliged to speak Sanskrit or miss a meal. It is learn or starve. They also do things like recite Panini's sutras while in a headstand and other memorization feats.

Chandramani is now the Gurukula's head teacher. And quite deservedly so. Here he is welcoming the Sanskrit Bharati group.

This is Dr. Sanjiva Kumar, the leader of the Sanskrit Bharati group. They have been giving a basic course in spoken Sanskrit to the Gurukula students who wish to attend. Unfortunately, that group has dwindled to only a handful. Dr. Sanjiva is very charismatic and very good at what he does. I asked him what their relationship with RSS and VHP is (besides that they all sit in orderly rows), and he was open in stating that they have the same philosophical goal of advancing pride in India and its culture, as well as helping it progress, etc.

Here Dr. Sanjiva is giving a set of the Gita books to be used in the above-mentioned course to Swami Veda. Swami Veda addressed the group in Sanskrit, but due to general poor health and fatigue has not been giving the regular classes he originally intended to.

I gave one class to the group in Sanskrit on the five pillars of sadhana. As mentioned on my other blog, that has inspired me to go into silence for a week before leaving for Canada. My intention is to be back here in September, unless something else comes up. I should write this up in Sanskrit, but I probably won't have the time.

Radhe Radhe!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Photos from Aug. 22, 2008

Sujit took these photos of me in my office around Janmastami time.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sanskrit Classes Resume

Well, almost. At least we got the AC working.

The students had a busy week with the yoga camp, which they executed very well. Swamiji then gave them three days' holiday as a reward. But now, holiday is over...

Ahh, but it is 40 degrees out there and even 3 o'clock is too soon after lunch in this heat. So only three students showed up. We will try to do better tomorrow.

Back when I was a boy... well not exactly... but when I was living in Nabadwip, I studied for a while at the Nabadwip Sanskrit College. I would eat early and walk through the midday heat to get there at 12, because for some reason, the college was open from 12-4. The reason, I believe, was because the brahmins need all that time in the morning to get all their various pujas performed. Or so I heard it said.

Of course, NO students were ever there before 2 at the earliest, and the few teachers who showed up would be lolling on their gaddis. Even if some students did appear early, they and their teachers spent the time fighting off sleep. How anybody learned anything, at least in the summertime, is beyond me.

Luckily, for the few months that I went, my teacher, Kanailal Adhikara Panchatirtha, was very conscientious and always there. I went through Jiva's commentary on Brahma-samhita with him and a little of Vedanta-sara, but that was about it.

Only one month left before I leave for Canada. Not really looking forward to it. But I would like to accomplish something with these students before abandoning them for the rainy season.

In the meantime, this blog and the other have taken separate lives. I have split off all the non-Vaishnava related posts and put them here. The other blog will now have the main purpose of only discussing Vaishnavism-related concerns.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Teaching Sanskrit in Rishikesh

Sujit took these photos of my Sanskrit class yesterday.

Gita class in Rishikesh

Someone took this picture recently and sent it to me.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Deva Prayag

We yesterday went by bus to Chandrabadni temple and then Deva Prayag. It was one of those bus rides where you seem to be constantly coming within inches of a thousand foot drop. The first leg of the journey followed the Ganga from Rishikesh to Deva Prayag where the Bhagirathi and Alakananda meet. The road is being repaired in that piecemeal fashion that seems favored by Indian engineers--a half-finished culvert to snake around here, a torn and deserted piece of primitive dirt road sprinkled with avalanche remnants there. But the places where the road has been widened and refinished are obviously a huge improvement.

This segment of the road is through a fairly well-preserved forest, though the valley walls are quite sheer and probably do not permit much inhabitation. There are some rafting and kayaking campsites along the river, and occasionally hotels or ashrams on the hilltops, but generally Nature seems to be protected here.

As you approach Deva Prayag, the forest starts to thin and look a little more desertlike. Cactus and aloe-type plants are common, the earth looks yellowish and rocky, the trees seem to be predominantly on the upper parts of the hills. There is more and more terracing, and as you pass from Deva Prayag towards Chandrabadni (Wikimap), you keep climbing and the terraced sections descend down both steep and sloping hills to thousands of feet below, where you can occasionally catch glimpses of the Alakanandi River.

Deva Prayag is a small town, very picturesque, though this does not seem to be its high season. There are two suspension bridges and its main advantage, it seems to me, is that there are no cars anywhere. You just can't get them in there. So there are staircases up and down the steep inclines on all three sides, but the roads have to go around.

The Omkarananda people have built a school right at the confluence and a nice new ghat has been constructed there. The Alakanandi comes in gently, but the Bhagirathi is lathering and frothing madly. I was a bit tired and rather foolishly did not bathe, though most of the students did. I sat down on and talked to some local children. Taught them to chant raso'ham apsu.

The old temple you can see in the picture is of Ramachandra. It contains a single blackstone murti that looks more than 500 years old. The priests say it is 2000 years old.

As usual, it was difficult not to become irritated at the neglect of cleanliness. It seems that people would understand that some other solution besides throwing the garbage out of your windows or over the side of the fence needs to be found. So the natural scenic beauty of both the gorges and the village at Deva Prayag are marred.

The same is apparent at Chandrabadni. Because Chandrabadni is so highly placed and is comparatively easily accessible, it was a naturally attractive spot for the telephone companies to put up their towers. Now the temple is wrapped tightly in cables, tubing and satellite dishes of various shapes. Does no one think of the aesthetics? Would that really be too much progress?

Even so, neither place is so badly damaged that it could not be saved. Hopefully someone will see the light before it is too late and "progress" completely destroys everything.


This is the top of the mountain.
We walked the last kilometer, and there were stairs,
so no alpinist heroics, but the air is thin
enough to make our heads all spin.

We look down on freewheeling falcons
flying far above the terraced slopes.

Wisps of cloud cling to neighbor peaks
like Kalidas's doot, resting weary from his trip,
waiting maybe for another word to bring
the beloved, who wanes within the snowy summits
that trim the not-too-remote horizon.

Devi mantras, dhaks and dhols,
sussurating Sapta-shati, bellows and bells.
I buy my coconut and bring it to you,
Devi Chandravadani.

Pierre and Meena.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Snow on the mountains

I noticed the following picture on Vikash's blog from Feb. 11 just before I left for Kathmandu. It was the first time I saw snow here, though it was from a considerable distance. In Rishikesh the day before we had a big rain storm, but that was obviously snow higher up and further north.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Back on the blogit

I just got back from Kathmandu with a three month visa. It is a bit of cold water dashing my long term plans to stay in India. So it is really back to the drawing board. It takes two to write this story--one is Thou, the other is That.

So for this morning, in which I have gloriously slept in until past 7.30, I have decided to walk through the park to Svargashram and bathe in the Ganga.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Monday and Tuesday in Calcutta


The day started out with a very pleasant walk with B.R. Sharma, whom I quite like. We walked up Gariahat Road to the Birla temple, about a 15 minute walk. They have nice Radha-Krishna deities in the main garbha mandir, Durga and Shiva in the two flanking temples.

Sharma came into my room afterwards, just before leaving, and sang a Shiva bhajan for me. He has a very sweet voice besides his other talents. He says that he taught Sanskrit at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mumbai before going to Lonavla, where he is only paid 20K Rs a month, which seems astonishingly low for a person with his credentials and responsibilities. Nevertheless, his two children are both going through university and doing well.

After breakfast I walked to Kalighat towards the Metro, but made a detour to the Kali temple, which I had never visited before. The actual area around the temple has all the characteristics of a traditional tirtha sthan, with hundreds of stalls selling souvenirs like beads, pictures, pint size Shiva lingas and other sacred mementos. I could feel a kind of spiritual tingle as I approached the temple, and there is no doubt that this is Calcutta’s spiritual center.

Kalighat is one of the 52(?) Siddha Piths, where if I remember correctly, part of Sati’s foot fell. I was shown around by a stuttering young panda and ended up giving generously to both Ma Kali and the panda, all for the welfare of my family members—ex-wife, son, daughter, grandchildren. I guess Ma Kali wanted to bless them. I more or less went through it as if in a dream, with no attachment to any part of it.

The temple itself was built by Man Singh, who built half the Hindu temples in North India, it seems. It is covered in what looks like bathroom tile. The deity itself is nothing more than a decorated black stone, much like a Shiva linga. It has the trademark huge silver tongue and four arms—a sword in the upper left, the lower left for holding severed heads, the other two in vara (blessing) and abhaya (bestowing fearlessness).

From there I visited two Gaudiya Maths that are nearby—Chaitanya Gaudiya Math and Chaitanya Research Institute. I was given a friendly reception in the latter; I passed unnoticed in the former. Neither was particularly impressive as an institution. It is clear that the Ramakrishna Mission has gained greatly by remaining solidly dedicated to Vivekananda’s mission without excessive political infighting—at least not to the point of a significant schism. They certainly have benefited from the single successor acharya system they adopted. The last eight or ten “presidents” have all been aged men in their 80’s and 90’s, most of them with very high scholarly credentials, like Ranganathananda and Gambhirananda.

From there I went to the Bangla Sahitya Parishad to pick up a copy of Sri Krishna Kirtan by Boru Chandidas. They have published a new edition with an expanded introduction, so that will be well worth perusing. I also picked up a copy of Bankim’s Ananda Math, which was probably the first “secular” Bengali novel that I ever read.

From there I walked to Vidhan Sarani along Sahitya Parishad Street. Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar has reprinted Haridas Das’s BRS, UN and Madhava-mahotsava. They have made the margins a little bigger and the quality is even better than the original editions. I forgot to pick up a copy of Vivarta-vilasa, though. Completely slipped my mind for some reason. Sanskrit Book Depot has reprinted Caitanya Caritera Upadana, also in a nicely done edition.

Across from the Sanskrit Pustak Bhandar is Vivekananda’s “ancestral home,” which has been done up in great style by the RKM. It is all full of marble, glass and light and is a cultural center, offering courses, etc. This is really the historical part of Calcutta. Scottish Church College, which is celebrating 150 years of existence is a bit north of there, the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj just south. Jora Sanko, where Rabindranath lived, is a bit west of there. A little further south is Calcutta University. Not as many book stalls as there used to be. Vidhan Sarani was more like Delhi’s Daryaganj-Naya Sarak when I was here last. No longer.

Got on the metro at Mahatma Gandhi Road and just headed straight back to RKIC.


I was waiting for the internet place to open—Calcutta in general seems to open around between 10.30-11. No change there from the old days.

Went to the Asiatic Society on the corner of Park Street and Chowringhee. The highlight, I guess, was meeting Ramakanta Chakravarti. I asked some qeustions about the Kheturi date. So his opinion is after 1600 because Rasikananda’s name is there and Rasikananda’s birthdate is known to have been from the 1580’s or so. He said something about him being at least 19 at the time. Dinesh Chandra Sen says 1602 to 1606. But that does not clear up the mystery too much. Even so, I really do have to revise my dates up, as the 1570’s does seem way to early. Whatever the case, some information has to be rejected, particularly where Srinivasa Acharya is concerned. He clearly could not have been in Puri and met Gadadhar Pandit and still have attended Kheturi in 16-hundred whatever. And what about Kavi Karnapur. There is no chance he could have been there. There were other Chaitanya parshads present, and even if you say that the youngest parshad was, say, seven years old, i.e, born in 1527, that makes early 1600’s possible.

The problem is that Prema Vilasa, if written in 1612, would likely not have recounted a so recent event in such a past tense. This question really needs to be looked at again in depth.

I also asked RKC about the Rasaraja philosophy, which he says had taken on characteristics of the Sahajiya doctrine. I pressed him on this, and all I could get was that the idea of svakiya rasa was what he considered sahajiya! I said that would make the Radhavallabhis sahajiyas and he said no, they were deviants but not sahajiya. Then I asked whether any sexual practices were there in Vamshi-siksha and he said, no, no “orgiastic practices” in the Baghnapara line. “Otherwise, how would Bhaktivinoda Thakur have accepted the Rasaraja concept?” And he quoted the exact line from Sajjanatoshani.

I checked the ASB manuscript catalogue, which I understand from Bibek Bannerjee is being upgraded. And it certainly needs to be—it attributes Gopala Champu to someone called Jivaraja and assigns Govinda-lilamrita to Raghunatha Das, even while quoting the colophon which clearly says that GLA arises from the blessings of Raghunath Das (raghunAtha-varaje). They have two MSS of Danakelikaumudi, none of Mukta-charita, and two of Gopala-tapani, but I did not have time to check the details. Besides these, they seem to have a number of still unpublished works— I noticed a couple of commentaries on the Sruti-stuti, and Bhagavata shloka collections, some Nimbarki works I have never seen before, etc.

Since I knew that the Iskcon temple is not too far from there, I walked down Park Street, asking for directions until I got there, just in time for arati. Mayapur may have grown exponentially in the last two decades, but Calcutta Iskcon is pretty much in a time warp. Probably something to do with ritvik politics. Quite a few people came to arati, however, including a large number of young Bengali men, who danced through the kirtan from beginning to end. I left before the end of the kirtan, but was quite happy at the chance to chant in front of the deities. Iskcon is in a well-to-do and hip area of town—lots of American franchises like Pizza Hut and their knockoffs.

On my return, I was paid a visit by a gentleman named Pravir Kumar Hui, a former professor of English with whom I talked a bit about rasa philosophy. He gave me a gif of a book about Gopinath Kaviraja written by Paritosh Das, who has written three rather (I am sorry to say) unsatisfying books about Sahajiyaism. Gopinath Kaviraj’s commentaries about

Valedictory session

The Valedictory session

Panel discussion. Sarvabhutananda Swamiji

vimathya sarva-çästräëi
vicärya ca punaù punaù
idam eva suniñpaëëaà
yoga-çästram param matam

Well philosophy is supposed to be a reflection on the findings of philosophy. VV Just as you would take up any science, take up yoga as a subject of study.

Yoga is practical, which is what makes it probably
Vedanta is the only living tradition, yoga gives it life.
räja-vidyä = räja-yoga ?

Yoga a “broad religion”
RKM committed to spreading the cultural heritage of India.

Prof. of philo. Temple University. Special guest. Observations.
What is the relation between philosophy and yoga? Ask questions “how we see color and hear sounds.” Color blind does not even understand the question. Deaf hearing sounds. Most of us must be able to do it.

Other kinds of knowledge. Requires some such knowledge accepted by many people. Philosophy theory, Yoga puts into practice. Relation between theory and practice complicated. Back and forth. Yoga older than systems of philosophy. [Well they must have had some reason for doing it in the first place.]

Things about which we can think rationally. Experience to possibility of an experience of knowledge which is not open to all of us. Kant “things about which we can think but cannot know.” Halfhearted and unsatisfactory answer. If rationality leads us to surmise something to be possible, then it must be open to experience.

Falling back on faith. Kant limit scope of faith
India has no concept of faith?

Experience. anubhüti, etc. really mean that?

Knowing the absolute possible

Hegel all knowledge lead to absolute knowledge.
Sensory experience  thinking about it 
Thinking will end there and faith takes over.

As a philosopher I cannot accommodate any idea that I cannot substantiate from my own experience.

Yoga leads to a certain kind of knowledge or experience. How much philosophically I can understand it.

Blind person may understand physical concept of color, but not experientially. Without the experience merely repeat words. Always check with own experience.

Case of color very peculiar. Case of yoga something different. I don’t yet understand “pure consciousness.” Always consciousness of this or that. Yogaç citta-våtti-nirodhaù. Returning it to itself.

Consciousness is svaprakäça even when I am most engaged in the world, I still have awareness of myself, not know perfectly clearly, I have awareness of my consciousness. Even without practicing yoga, I know where yoga will lead even

Goal implicitly in everyday consciousness purify it by withdrawing it from immersion in the material world.

Western philosophers does not deny this consciousness but says we cannot attain it. So concentrate on everyday consciousness.

Self-illuminating character. No matter how lost still aware of my own being.

Follow theory to attain the goal, which is promised to be true.
çraddhä-vérya-småti-samädhi-prajïä upäyäù.

Swami Atmapriyananda

We already heard from Swami Atmapriyananda, at the end of the plenary session. He here answered a couple of questions that came from auditors. The questions are of some interest, though unfortunately I did not make a perfect note of them, as they reveal the concerns of the auditors, which are more practical than theoretical.

(1) The first was a question that comes up in all religious traditions and the Swami’s answer was right on. Someone asked about a contradiction in the statements of several transcendentalists on where to meditate on the heart. Maharshi Raman says it is on the right rather, others say the left. And Brahmananda, Maharshi’s guru, says the center.

Atmapriyananda disposed of this avuncularly by saying that where the Mandukya Upanishad says that the purusha is “thumb size,” Shankara says that such statements are made only to facilitate meditation. The core content of the experience is the same. This is because the human mind thinks in physical terms.

He mentioned another difference that is present in Raman Maharshi’s teachings, i.e. that the “final realization” is from the heart, looping back to the heart after reaching the sahasrara.

This is not the first time I have heard this, and I will comment on it later in my own summary, which will follow in another post.

Another question centered on ultimate causes of bondage. Swamiji said that how and why cannot be asked about certain fundamental things. The example he gave came from the life of the Buddha who was asked a similar question. He said if a man was shot with an arrow and spent his time trying to establish who shot it, he would probably die before he found out.

Vivekananda said in practical terms that spiritual life begins when one experiences “deep dissatisfaction with one’s present state.” For most, the time has not come, because they do not have such dissatisfaction. But he concluded on a hortatory note, again echoing a Vedantic metaphor that originates with Shankara (I vaguely recall): “You are caged lions; caged lions should roar. Your cage is made of bamboo, not iron. You are lions, not sheep any more.”

Gerald James Larson

The last word or “presidential overview” went to an American scholar. Gerald Larson, who has been peppering the conference with cheerful questions for all the presenters. He is almost an archetype of the American Indologist professor, of those I have seen and known, jovial, sharp, friendly, humane. And he knows his subject from a vantage point of impartiality that sets him apart from many of the Indian thinkers, who tend to wallow in a kind of apologetics that makes their scientific credentials suspect. Even the Vivekananda project itself has that kind of mission statement, though I would not say that it has been unproductive. After all, all scientific discovery does ultimately come from intuition and faith. Nevertheless, it is rather provocative when one considers that the external superstructure, entirely Westernized, seems to have the purpose of “proving,” as much to Indians as foreigners, that the internal, underlying essence of India is at least “as good as” that of the West.

Larson’s summarizing statements were extremely brief, as “time was short.” That was true enough, as we had listened to ten papers and about an hour’s worth of concluding statements and summaries already. The thrust of Larson’s comments were that the conference had shown, by virtue of the different standpoints presented, that yoga has become many things. How does one go about evaluating them? He used the analogy of evaluating contrasting languages, which of course echoes Ramakrishna’s own analogy of pani, water, jala.

Larson proceeded by the via negativa to establish what Yoga is not: Yoga is not indology, i.e., not just something from India. It is not philology, as it cannot be reduced to words. It is not a particular religion, as various other religions can make use of it, nor is it mysticism. This last one seems to be Larson’s personal bugaboo: He says that some look for union with Absolute, whereas yoga is really viyoga—the separation of spirit from matter, purusha from prakriti. In fact, he is correct and wrong at the same time: though yoga has its roots in dualist Sankhya philosophy, it has been totally assimilated by Vedanta. But Larson himself admitted elsewhere that much of Patanjali’s terminology has been influenced by Buddhism, whereas no such influences can be detected in the Sankhya.

At the same time, Larson said it is not a philosophy, though it makes use of Sankhya, it is primarily, as always stated, a practical application that can be made use of or adapted to other philosophies, just as was the case with religion. His conclusion was that yoga is the search for spiritual clarity. And here, no doubt to Swami Veda’s delight, he said that Yoga is samadhi, an altered state of awareness.

But Larson then could not resist making a normative statement, for which he, clever diplomat that he is, adopted the Bengali technique of quoting a rather well-known Rabindranath poem. I am not sure of Tagore’s own title, but Larson presented it as “The samadhi of a common man.” I don’t have the entire text, but copied down the essence as he read it:

There was no sign of my servant this morning. The door stood unlatched, my bath unprepared, the bed unmade. Time passed and the rascal still did not show up. Irritation pricked me increasingly. At last quite late he came and addressed me in the usual manner. But by this time I was so angry that I just said, “Go, get out. Don’t come back.” The servant looked hurt and tears came to his eyes. He said, “During the night, my little girl died.” And then he went about his days work, cleaning and so on, leaving not a task undone.

I don’t know what that poem says about Tagore that he would insist on his servant spending the day working after a traumatic event like that, nor how this shows a state of transformed consciousness. Is that all yoga is, stoicism? The Gita has two definitions of yoga in chapter 2: yogaH karmasu kaushalam and samatvam yoga uchyate: “Yoga is expertise in activities” and “Yoga is equanimity.” Though the last may apply here to some extent, how can we truly know the state of the servant’s mind. Perhaps he spent the entire day cursing his unfeeling master and the destiny that forced him to sweep floors when he should have been at home providing comfort to his wife and family members. Were he a president and his work so important that the fate of millions hung in the balance, he would have to overlook the loss of a child, but running the bath of a pampered prince? Not in my book.
Open Ends

Why should we not disgree? In response to Gerald Larson asking about what scientists believe.

Open ends. There was quite a bit of talk about grace. The Maharishi is a Shakti bhakta, we heard. Aurobindo also talks about the importance of the descent of grace. Yogananda even mentions about Krishna being God. We heard a bit about ishvara-praNidhAnAt. The relationship between effort


The conference came to an end last night and we ate supper at a long table, on porcelain dinnerware, with the compulsory number of forks, knives and spoons laid out. A bearer came to make sure that we put the serviettes in our laps and served, from the left, each preparation, making sure that we knew the name of each. All in keeping with Ramakrishna’s mission to bring Western feasting methods to India. The feast began with the brahmärpaëaà prayer and a word of thanks from Debbrata Sen Sharma and the director, Sarvabhutananda Swami.

It was completely vegetarian, although one grim looking sannyasi, whom I later saw receiving pranams, his feet being touched obsequiously while he fiddled with a telephone, told me rather pointedly that I would have to make it clear that I was vegetarian. But I did rather think that wine was missing. When the end of the feast was suddenly announced by some brahmacharis chanting a Vedic mantra, it felt like the conversation was incomplete, something that would never have happened if this table had been in Italy and the wine had flowed freely.

Walking the streets of Calcutta afterwards, I felt the kind of letdown that comes after intense activity. It will take longer to digest everything.

Plenary Session, Part I

Bhajanananda Swamiji Maharaj

Bhajanananda Swami gave a very insightful paper into the Yoga-sutras. His presentation took quite a different and, for me, novel, global approach to Patanjali. His basic point was that though the main theme of Patanjali is usually seen to be the promotion of ashtanga-yoga, the control of the chitta-vrittis and the attainment of samadhi, but "the truth is that ashtanga-yoga does not play a major role in Patanjali's total scheme." The real goal is not to control the mind, but the attainment of liberation, or kaivalya.

What Bhajanananda says here is not particularly astonishing, but he was extremely clear and many of his explanations shed light on areas I had not previously understood very well. For instance, he explained the word klesha (YS 2.3) as the conative-affective aspect of the mind: impulses, desires, emotions, etc., along with egoism (asmita) and avidya or ignorance, which is the root cause. Klesha roughly corresponds to bhoga-vasana in Vedanta. It does not have the prima facie meaning of pain, affliction, distress, anguish, etc. The term is in all likelihood derived from Buddhism, though here again the meaning differs.

Karmashaya is another important term that means the unseen and long term effects of action, which also has direct effects on the mind (samskara) and externally (the most direct and visible effects of an action). It is equivalent to sanchita-karma in Vedanta and is the cause of future births and the continuation of the wheel of samsara. For Patanjali, liberation comes when we stop the fructification of karmashaya that has already been deposited through the destruction of the kleshas. (YS 2.13)

In Vaishnavism, I guess this roughly corresponds to Bhag. 10.22.17--

na mayy Avezita-dhiyAM kAmaH kAmAya kalpate
bharjitAH kvathitA dhAnAH prAyo bIjAya neSyate

I suppose I could go on here, but it would take far too much of my own time, so I am going to stop.

Kriya-yoga by Dr. Ramarao V. Komaragiri

Dr. Ramarao is a follower of Yogananda Paramahamsa, Shyamacharan Lahiri, Yukteshwar. He supplied the requisite glorification of Yogananda in his contributions to the spreading of yoga in the Western world.

According to him, the main feature of his system is that it is scientific, in the sense that it is experiential not experimental. This is perhaps the primary theme of the conference as a whole, the conceit that yoga is scientific and not merely religious. Here is Yogananda's own statement:

Kriya is a psycho-physiological method by which human blood is de-carbonated and recharged with oxygen. The atoms of this extra oxygen are transmuted into life current to rejuvenate the brain and spinal centers. By stopping the accumulation of venous blood, the yogi is able to lessen or prevent the decay of tissues. The advanced yogi transmutes his cells into energy.

And of course, this calls de rigueur for a reference to Einstein's E=MC2.

Yogananda followers are notoriously secretive about their kriya-yoga, but it basically seems to consist of breathing exercises like kapalabhati as well as mantra meditation. It is not the same as the kriya-yoga of YS 2.1, which is generally said to be a kind of karma-yoga.

One thing that was interesting was the role of the "personal god Krishna." Rao says, "The second great achievement of kriya yoga is to make God real and tangible. God is a loving, lovable personal being with whom one can easily relate, and on whom one can confidently depend for daily needs and daily help. God is not a vague idea, nor is He confined to the temple or church or to a distant corner of heaven." Unfortunately there was little elaboration here. As with most yoga systems, the procedures emphasized were more technical than devotional and Ramrao's paper was light on theology.

Ramrao has a very good singing voice and sang several poems written in English by Yogananda. These are called "cosmic chants" and "innovative japa methods."

I will be a gypsy,
Roam, roam and roam.
I'll sing a song that none has sung.
I'll sing to the sky,
I'll sing to the wind,
I'll sing to my red cloud.
I'll roam, roam and roam.
I'll roam, roam with Om.
I'll be the king of the land
Through which I roam.

This has an "esoteric" meaning refering to the devotee's journey in the inner realms, roaming with Om along the spinal pathway, through the different chakras.

Ramrao's conclusion is that the spirit of Kriya Yoga is classical, but the language and idiom are modern.

I particularly enjoyed the quote from the Mundaka Upanishad (2.4)--

praNavo dhanuH zaro hy AtmA
brahma tal lakSyam ucyate
apramattena vedhavyaM
zaravat tan-mayo bhavet

Om is the bow, the arrow is the individual being and Brahman is the target. With a tranquil heart, take aim. Lose thyself in Him, even as the arrow is lost in the target. (Pranavananda's translation).

Smriti-upasthana or Sati-paTThAna by Swami Veda Bharati

This is the paper I read. It was rather an odd feeling, as I have already said, to read something that was not my own, and though the audience was polite, it was hard to gauge the extent of rapport and communication.

The paper could basically be divided into several parts. First of all, Swamiji highlights the use of the term smrita-upasthana in Vyasa's commentary to YS 1.20 and equates it to the sati-paTThAna of the Pali canon. He then asks what are the similarities and differences between the practices in Buddhism, which are well known, and those of yoga, which are less so. He goes into a long analysis of the word smriti from the commentaries to the Gita, and comes up with some ten meanings, slightly different from each other, which go a bit beyond simple memory (which is one of the vrittis mentioned in YS 1.13).

Since smaranam is an important aspect of bhakti-yoga also, this discussion was certainly useful and a paper discussing the various aspects of smaranam in the bhakti-yoga tradition would no doubt be quite an important contribution.

The most important part of the paper was the practical description of the Buddhist anusattis and their equivalent yoga practices.

Sri Sraddhalu Rannade
complementary systems
common psychological principles
conscious self surrender
ascent and descent

Integral Yoga of Aurobindo.

Trip to Kolkata

I am presently in Kolkata at a conference being sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission at the Ramakrishna Institute of Culture. It is called the National Seminar, a biennial event, the topic of which this year is “Some Responses to Classical Yoga in the Modern Period.”

Swami Veda for health reasons could not come and sent me in his place to read his paper. It is a rather strange position to be in, but the circumstances are, as usual, educational. In fact, I am being rather flooded with intellectual stimuli that are already threatening to shortcircuit my almost always overloaded circuitry. Only relaxing into the Holy Name and mantra are a recourse, even though processing everything and then sharing it publicly is always in the back of my mind.

Last night was the inaugural session, prior to which all the principal participants were present and introduced to one another. I was already chuckling to myself as I was the only one in traditional Indian dress besides the swamis—everyone else was in suits and ties—and we were sitting in a very Western style drawing room sipping tea and munching on cake and cashews.

The inaugural session was held in the Vivekananda Hall, which is a large auditorium, much like what you would expect to see in a North American high school with a high stage on which a table was set up for the speakers, a podium, a screen for Powerpoint presentations, etc.

Throughout the session, I was constantly wishing that I could sit on the floor, or at least samaM kAya-ziro-grIvam as Gita tells us. It seemed most ironic that the entire event was being conducted in a way that catered to the Western intellect, with all the trappings of Western culture, and with seemingly only a nominal concession to the culture that it was presenting, i.e., the introductory prayers, which were chanted with what seemed like considerable discomfort, at least at first, by the brahmacharies of the Math.

The most interesting of the main speakers at the inaugural session was B.R. Sharma, who is the assistant director of research and head of the department of Philosophical Reasearch in Yoga at the Kaivalya Dham Yoga Research Institute in Lonavla, which I may or may not have to tell you is a very well established and prestigious institute. Founded by Swami Kuvalayananda in 1924, it has done a great deal of scientific work in studying the benefits of yoga as well as applying them in a therapeutic manner. Dr. Sharma is a Sanskritist and his main interest is in studying, preserving, and publishing the yoga texts in a scholarly fashion and some of the most reliable and authentic yoga texts are coming out of Lonavla.

We had an enjoyable talk afterward also. Sharma (I never found out what B.R. stands for) himself is from Badrinath. He is a very productive writer and has published many papers. It seems that everything you say elicits the response, “I have written a paper about that.” In particular he came to my room afterward and downloaded an article on Yoga-sutra 1.23 about the use of the word vA, arguing against the contention that worship of God (ishwara-pranidhana) is an optional and that its removal from the Yoga-sutras would have no negative impact on the work as a whole. I will read it through as soon as I get a chance.

The other two speakers of interest were Swami Prabhanandaji, the current general secretary of the RK Mission. He impressed me in the way that highly placed Catholic priests and bishops, etc., tend to. His paper was learned, but did not draw any deep lines in my consciousness. Of course, the main thrust, as is to be expected, is centered on Vivekananda’s contribution to the topic.

There is so much to digest. It will be days before it really sinks in. Mostly such a conference results in one or two impressions being made on the mind. I kind of wish that I had been there in my own name speaking about something quite different. I have to do my work. I have to do my work. I cannot be a parivrajaka all my life, flitting like a butterfly and not stinging like a bee, or rolling like a stone and not gathering any moss, to mix a metaphor.

So here I am for two more days. I went down the street yesterday . Feeling a little downward turn in consciousness after the intensity of the day. This is Ballygunge, what seems to be a high end part of town. In the dark I saw little, but I have decided to walk through town to the more central part of town and see what is to be seen. I did neti after my walk, as the nose is starting to feel smog-clogged.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jagat Jindagi

For good reason, I have decided to split my current English blog into two sections, one dealing with theology, etc., the other with more current events. Let's see how that goes.