Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Therefore Be a Yogi, Arjuna

One of the many projects that I have on my desk right now is a translation of a French book on Krishna's teachings in the Bhagavad-gita by a longtime and very worthy Prabhupada disciple named Vishnurata Das. Practically speaking, it is a simplification of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, seen through the eyes of the author.

I recently went through his sixth chapter, which as you know is the one on raja-yoga. According to Madhusudana and Vishwanath, this is the last verse of the first set of six, which presumably deal with karma-yoga.

In Vishnurata's version, the instructions on mind control, etc., have been reduced to practically nothing more than the merest skeleton, and the bulk of the chapter is focused on the impracticability of the practices described in the age of Kali. This is coupled with frequent references to the superiority of bhakti-yoga.

Yoga is seen as an exercise in mind and sense-control, but since there is no practical engagement of the mind and senses in the meditational school, only disengagement, it seems most unlikely that any success can be achieved. Indeed, Arjuna protests near the end of the chapter that controlling the mind is more difficult than capturing the raging wind. Nevertheless, Krishna assures him that with practice and detachment, it is possible. These words, abhyasa and vairagya, are echoed near the beginning of the Yoga Sutra (1.12) and indicate a certain universality of application that is relevant for the practice of all yoga systems.

This is certainly the philosophy that I have adopted in coming here. I know it sounds a bit arrogant to talk about kanisthas and madhyamas, etc., for which I beg forgiveness, but I cannot help but see that this approach is something that urgently needs to be added to the bhakti culture that is current in the West. By this I especially mean japa meditation.

The techniques of raja yoga should be applied to chanting Harinam on beads, as well as to the sadly neglected sadhanas related to the diksha mantras. All of these things really form a part of the sadhana stage of sahaja-bhakti-yoga, in which the yogic aspect of sense and mind control come to the fore. Despite the use of the word sahaja, there is no reason to think that the sadhana stage does not require mental and sensory discipline. It simply confirms that the best of yogis is the bhakta; rather, the yogi who is most yukta, or connected to God, is the one who has faith and worships Krishna with the inner being has been entirely consecrated to Him (mad-gatenāntarātmanā ):

tapasvino'dhiko yogī jñānibhyo'pi mato'dhikaḥ
karmibhyaś cādhiko yogī tasmād yogī bhavārjuna
yoginām api sarveṣāṁ mad-gatenāntarātmanā
śraddhāvān bhajate yo mām sa me yuktatamo mataḥ

Swami Veda is leaving for his annual world tour and will be visiting North America and Europe (Partial itinerary. Before leaving, he gave a couple of classes, of which the first was a lecture. He gave three new instructions to his gurukula students, one of which caught me a bit by surprise. This was a protracted manasa-puja meditation to a Jyotir Linga in the cave of the heart.

Of course, we have been promoting the use of yogic visualization techniques already, and I am now getting regular newsletters from Tungavidya Devi who is also developing this technique in yoga classes in America. However, I was a little surprised to hear such a nice meditation in the present context. Indeed, the next evening, in the question and answer session in Swamiji's quarters, one sannyasi asked, "What does this have to do with yoga?" Swamiji laughed and answered, "What does your finger have to do with Tattvananda Swami?"

I also asked a question about the relationship of mantra-japa to the manasi puja and the answer was interesting. Swamiji gave the analogy of medieval fortress defenses, when the besieged army with an inferior force would make a pretense of having many more defenders than thought by moving the bowmen from one arrow loop to another very rapidly. So too the mind is capable of many actions at once. It is processing the activities of all the senses as well as internal organs, pleasures, pains and memories, as well as subconscious impressions all at once. It is not really that these are going on simultaneously, but rather that the mind is so quick that it seems like simultaneity. Furthermore, he said, the visualization exercise he had given was simple and not overburdened with detail, so there is no reason why the mantra japa could not go on simultaneously.

Another thing that he said in the other day's lecture cum dhyana exercise was that everyone should practice 1:2 breathing, i.e., exhale for double the length of the inhalation. This is common enough yogic practice, and a count of 1:4:2 is the customary formula for anuloma-pratiloma pranayama. Here in the Himalayan tradition, kumbhaka (holding the breath) is not practiced. But Swamiji said, "The secret of meditation is that the concentration increases on the exhalation. This is why the 1:2 ratio should be cultivated."

I spent the next day attempting this. I had previously been practicing chanting the two mantras, which are of almost equal length, on the inhalation and exhalation (See Meditation Discovery). Chanting longer mantras to a single breath is generally discouraged for beginners, but though it was somewhat difficult for me at first, I had more or less arrived at the ability to do it naturally for a sustained period of time. I decided to try doing it to a 1:2 ratio and found it challenging. Nevertheless, I intend to continue with it.

There seemed to be a slight contradiction between this particular practice and the manasa puja, as well as the instruction Swami Veda gave his disciples to chant five rounds a day of Gayatri mantra along with whatever other practices he had given. Five rounds, he figured, would be the average amount one person could do in one hour. In the course of the ensuing discussion, however, he talked about the progression of mantra meditation. There are different approaches to mantra meditation and breathing, especially where lengthier mantras like the gayatris are involved, including the personal one that I was describing above. On the other hand, he said, when counting mantras other disciplines are involved. For instance, one brahmachari asked about what should one do if one becomes so absorbed in meditation that one forgets to move the hand on the beads, or the beads drop from his hand. Swamiji answered that normally this is good and desirable, but when doing a purascharan type of practice, one should avoid it.

Swamiji said the difficulty came when one was chanting the mantra mentally as though it were being done with the tongue. He said that when one reaches a certain level of internalization of the mantra, it ceases to be internalized physical sounds and becomes rather more akin to an electric wave (vaidyutik tarang -- I really enjoy his parallel Hindi-English talks) that pervates the mind and body. He demonstrated that he could do a round of gayatris in one or two minutes by this method, though he did not recommend it to beginners.

All this reminded me of Lalita Prasad Thakur, who claimed to chant 8 or 9 lakhs of Harinam a day, to the arrogant disbelief of some mocking Iskcon sannyasis, who saw him slide his hand along the tiny, shiny tulasi mala as though he were stroking a kitten. But even when we asked him about it, he said much the same thing that Swamiji said. Indeed, unless one comes to this kind of assimilated Harinam practice, there is really no possibility of lila smaran, which is conducted on the waves of the internalized Name.

A big realization that came to me through Sridhar Maharaj was his interpretation of the Chaitanya Charitamrita verse (see Mantra and the Holy Name:

kṛṣṇa-mantra hoite hoy saṁsāra-mocana
kṛṣṇa nāma hoite pāi kṛṣṇa-pade prema-dhana
From the Krishna mantra, one is liberated from samsar. From Krishna's name, one attains prema for his lotus feet.
Sridhar Maharaj (in Guru and His Grace) develops Sri Jiva Prabhu's point about the necessity for initiation in the Bhakti-sandarbha, which also brings up the important point about the intersection of the Bhagavata and Pancharatra paths. The Holy Name here represents the Bhagavata path, which is really the main theme of CC Adi 7 (making the Sridhar interpretation debatable--Is this really what Kaviraj Goswami meant by "Krishna mantra"? But anyway...)--

evaṁ-vrataḥ sva-priya-nāma-kīrtyā
jātānurāgo druta-citta uccaiḥ
hasaty atho roditi rauti gāyaty
unmādavan nṛtyati loka-bāhyaḥ
Taking up this vow, when one's love for Krishna awakens through glorifying his dearmost names, the mind melts and one loudly laughs, cries, shouts, sings and dances like a madman with no concern for what anyone thinks.
This is the stage at the end of the bhakti practice, when the Name can finally act on the purified heart and mind. In the beginning, the Name penetrates the cloudy consciousness of the pravartaka and drags him or her kicking and screaming onto the spiritual path. But for the person who is on the path, the real question is what happens in the middle, sadhana stage, when the struggle is to purify the heart and make it a worthy asan for the Divine Couple to sit on.

This is the concern of all yoga practices, and therefore we must seek whatever techniques are helpful to bring the Divine into contact with the mental instruments that are the crossroad to the soul. We must not lose sight of the goal of prema: love for the personal God in possession of his full potencies, effulgent in full contact with his hladini potency, the very central manifestation of his most intimate being. We must not let the practice take primacy over the goal of the practice, but nevertheless, we must not neglect the means by which we attain that goal. That is called yoga, with all its subdivisions ultimately not in mutual opposition, but in mutual harmony. Therefore, O Arjuna, become a yogi.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing.

Is there a literal definition of sahaja, or multiple definitions?

The teacher I just became aware of Swami Sivananda Saraswati founder of Divine Life Society, said,

"My goal is Sahaja Samadhi Avastha or natural, continuous, Superconscious state."

Does it mean "natural", or is that one definition?


Anonymous said...

re: Vaidyutik tarang -

it sounds similar to a state described in the Shum-Tyeif language as nalif:

NALIF - 1) meditation, holding the vibration from one meditation to another,

2) continuity between meditations,

3) after any type of meditation practice, pilgrimmage or temple puja, a vibration fills one and remains with one long after: this vibration or current is called nalif,

[once you were telling us that the ashram and Rishikesh had a special that, I suppose]

4) nalif should be held from meditation to meditation,

5) it can be likened to a phrase in music; each time the nalif wears thin we should reconstruct that area through meditation or puja,

6) to get into a detailed [non-devotional] discussion or argument or reminisce about the [non-devotional] past breaks the nalif, it then must be re-established

If it is not the same, it seems similar: a state of mind like an electrical current, that once we plug in keeps going. We recharge it with [whatever sadhanas we do] meditation and strive to keep the nalif all through the day.

Or, to me, a layperson: it just feels nicer to be in the nalif and if I feel it wearing thin then I do some adjustments to get it back.

Then more and more you feel that you hate to have it wear thin, so you just try to set up your life so you can be more and more in the nalif, cuz it's a good feeling.

That's cool now I know a Sanskrit name for it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Pranams! I hope you were kidding about making the students write 50 times...?

I was talking to a young man today and I asked him, "If your teacher was going on a trip, should everyone say goodbye or just stay in the classroom?" and he said, "Go say goodbye".

Then I asked him, "If nobody said goodbye, should they write lines about it, or should they all make a really nice card for the teacher and then give it to the teacher when he comes back?" The student thought the kids should all each make a very nice card.

So that is one idea: the kids can make nice cards. Is up to the kids what they present. Some can write out slokas or mantras. Some write out their thoughts of gratitude and affection or compose a poem. Some can do art and sign their name. Some can draw auspicious designs like Aum, Swastika, etc.

Then can make a nice souvenir book for the teacher when he returns. I am sure the teacher would enjoy looking through it and the kids would enjoy it alot more than writing lines.

Also there is some research to support that kids who write lines as punishment develop an aversion to writing, they come to associate writing with punishment.

Anyways sorry if you think it is a bad idea, I just could not stop thinking about those kids.

Also, in the vein of "There is not one wrong thing", I once read an article by David Frawley, Vamana Shastri [sp?] in Yoga Journal "All Gurus Great and Small".

It was very insightful, one idea he addressed was there is so much corruption in the various orgs and Mathas and it is very difficult to get things to change. You mentioned this also: the people have a habit of pollution and littering over there and is very difficult to get things to change.

Dr. Frawley said that in his opinion part of the problem comes from the overly reverential attitude that is a cultural component of Indian society: "Mother, Father, Guru is God to you". Plus the overly formal ways of addressing others, the extreme etiquette of fully prostrating on the floor, the use of many superlatives, etc.

He said that as long as these conditions exist, it makes it very difficult to speak up about wrongs and injustices.

So, just to be the devil's [gasp] advocate for a moment: may I ask you [respectfully] were the students acting up and insubordinate? Or were they engrossed in meditation, perhaps even seeing the teacher on the inside, as you mentioned they were all in the meditation hall?

Because while it can be fun to have a big scene like a rock star's entourage at airports and such for old Indian men, on the other hand: I am just thinking that you are training up the next generation. And I agree with you that etiquette is important.

But is it also okay, and maybe even valuable, to have a generation with less aiswarya mood towards their teachers? Because it would change the entire society.

I have thought about this alot: why am I not as angry at my mean professors in college as I have been at some of my past mentors in Hinduism? And one reason is why even my meanest college profs, akin to the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, would not ask me to grovel as much as the etiquette requires in some Hindu traditions.

In an earlier thread someone mentioned that there was some past corruption in this lineage where you now teach. And the head of the lineage now said, "Oh but my mentor is like God to me, even when the girls complained I could not listen to them" [paraphrased].

So when you make your students do their prayaschitta, I hope you will please think about the benefits of not making people overly kowtow to authority figures.

Some lineages in Hinduism do not have this tradition of rank-ordering and kowtowing, the lineages are more service oriented where the leader feels and acts like a servant to the disciples.

For example in the Radha Soami tradition the leaders remained in their humble professions and actually supported all of their disciples, not the other way around. Or in the Divine Life Society the founder was a doctor and he gave medical treatments to everyone and free medical care.

Well just something to think about. Because when people are put too high on a pedestal then later people become very bummed out when they crash and burn. So maybe is better to not put people on a pedestal to begin with.

We can be polite, there's nothing wrong with that, we can showcase our talents and knowledge we have gained from our teacher in order to thank our teacher, that's all fine.

But the rock star treatment, I don't know: for every nice memory of Prabhupada at the airport then there are one thousand creepy memories of some creep demanding the exact same treatment because of the precedent set that "this is the maryada".

In a way I think the kids are lucky they can be so nonchalant and the teacher is not ripping into them for their "offenses" of not giving him a big send-off.

Thanks for considering it...

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Dhira said...

Dear Jagadananda prabhu,
dandavat pranams.

I was very delighted reading your posts about Swami Rama's ashram. Actualy there is ISKCON program called Atma Yoga, set up by Atmananda prabhu on the order of HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami. This program has powerful Sadhana for the mind, which relies mostly on the teachings of Swami Rama, as the mother of Atmananda prabhu was already connected to Swami Rama.
The core of it is to feel the weight of the body and surrender to gravity, then pranayama, then internal dialogue and making the mind your friend, then chanting bija mantra ham in 4 vaks (speech centers in the 4 spaces in our body), then chanting Gauranga and finaly manasika japa. The next level is to chant Maha-mantra the same way. I personaly had great experiences of mind becoming "sticked" to the mantra and wanting nothing but to bathe in the sound of the mantra. I wish I could be more sincere in this practice, often I am distracted by stressfull life and then I come back to the bad habit of spaced out japa again because I think that don't have time for all this preparation. Although with the time and constant practice it takes only 15 minutes before the japa. It is also very useful for diksa mantras.

Das Dhira Nitai