Thursday, January 8, 2009

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.

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