Thursday, January 8, 2009

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.

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