Saturday, February 28, 2015

The story of this translation, Part III

My last night in Rishikesh, Swamiji called me upstairs. He had called me up earlier in the day, but was unable to talk as he was undergoing another hypoglycemia attack. He was rolled out in his wheelchair onto the balcony. Bhola, the manager of AHYMSIN's publishing department, was also there. Swamiji wanted to talk about how long the Yoga-sūtra work was going to take and would I get it done “before I die”?

The scenario, no doubt staged, but still a reminder of the urgency with which Swamiji is approaching this work. Swamiji may live another twenty years, but he takes each health crisis to simply push harder to get certain things done before he quits the world. On top of that, he seems to keep finding new stuff he wants done. At least, as he deals with major priorities, he feels free to start pushing on other projects.

Not that I am not also feeling a great need to be done with these yoga texts so I can get to the business of tending to my own life's work! My life is also coming to an end, Swamiji, I am 65!

As I had to go to give a lecture on the Yoga-taraṅgiṇī and was already late, I was a bit distracted, but Swamiji wouldn’t let me go until he had said to me, again with some sadness, “I made a big error with Yoga-taraṅgiṇī. This is a yoga shastra. But it also needs a prayoga shastra. That I didn’t do. I will do for the second edition.”

Prayoga means implementation. In other words, Swamiji was implying that perhaps my own insights into the practices spoken of in the book were lacking. Which I did not take as an insult, since I had from the beginning realized the limitations that I had in understanding due to my fairly recent exposure to this text and due to the lack of close association with others who had such experience.

When Swamiji dropped the bomb on me about my singing, I decided that now, in order to be able to finish the introduction, in which I felt that a coherent understanding of the text as a whole and of its individual parts had to be provided. This meant reviewing the finished translation and analyzing the effects of the sādhana by applying myself even more assiduously to it.

It is not that I had been entirely inactive prior to that, but as I did the introduction, it became clear that there were many subtle things about the very basics of yoga anatomy that required meditating upon. I had already recognized the nature of the book as a paddhati which required a sequential treatment. In some sense, since the Gorakṣa-śataka is a foundational text of the haṭha-yoga school, it could be viewed as the meru-daṇḍa or backbone of the entire body of haṭha practices, into which all other practices are subsidiary and meant to assist in their accomplishment. I went back to the beginning and started working on āsana with the view to being able to do the siddhāsana and padmāsana properly (āsana-siddhi) and to master the five bandhas.

To some I had already been doing extent these practices, and especially I was doing a large number of kapālabhāti and bhastrikā, along with bandha-traya and kumbhaka in a cycle for an hour each day, and had been doing this in Vrindavan also. As a matter of fact, in Vrindavan I had been following a fairly rigorous program of āsana and prāṇāyāma, and to some extent that program had taken more and more of the Goraksha method, but even a year or two could hardly be a match for a lifetime’s experience. Some other practices, in particular khecarī and viparīta-karaṇī promised benefits on gross and subtle plains that required careful attention. Anyway, I did the best I could!

So I blurted out, “But Swamiji, I was asking you at the very beginning!” Swamiji smiled and acted as though he hadn’t heard and then started talking about collaborating on the Bṛhad-yogi-yājñavalkya, with me doing the translation and he doing the prayoga commentary. I let out an groan of protest and ran off to my lecture.

I have given many lectures at SRSG and I will confess that not many of my previous ones have been satisfyingly successful. It has been a great test for my mastery of communication skills and a challenge to understanding what communicating bhakti consists of. I have always approached speech from the intellectual and academic side, that is to say, what it provides in terms of knowledge as opposed to feeling, and from my own personal perspective rather than for consumption by a general audience. I have not been thinking from the point of view of the entertainer, to plan and direct the effects of speech on an audience, and so it could be said that my lectures are in general unprofessional. Impromptu rather than well thought out. Rather like my writing.

Perhaps my most successful program at SRSG was when I read passages from the Upanishads in the candle-lit hall to a group of teacher training students from all over the world. These were passages that are popular in Vedanta. I chose the edition by Juan Mascaro, one of the most poetic renderings I know of, read them with flair and it worked well.

I prefer everyone sitting close in a circle on the floor, with the candle providing the focus of attention, even more than the speaker, in a kind of involuntary trāṭaka. I had been influenced by a section of Eliade’s Images and Symbols and wanted to recreate an ambiance from the pre-electric age, a throwback to the past when natural circadian rhythms were maintained and the village elders would tell the ancient stories of wisdom around a community campfire.

The effect of creating and using this ambiance was immediately noticeable as it helped bypass the purely critical and intellectual faculties and seemed to strike something more profound in the audience. I recognized this as rasa, without which there is no communication.

I had tried so many ways to communicate the riches of the bhakti tradition, but it never seemed to be able to click. I also tried giving Rasa Lila classes to candlelight, and it worked to some extent, but generally whenever I tried to present some aspect of Rupa Goswami’s philosophy in any format, it fell flat. This was mystifying to me and still remains a bit of a challenge, but today of course bhakti was not on the menu, but Yoga-taraṅgiṇī. And the format was classroom: lots of lights, people sitting in chairs, with a chair set up front for me. With a whiteboard to scribble on.

After completing the maṅgalācaraṇa I of course started by telling the story of how the manuscripts were gathered and how Swami Veda had commissioned me to do this work at the behest of his guru, and how it had been finished last year on Guru Purnima in a confluence of time and sacred time. But I also told the audience that when I had asked Swamiji for guidance in the work, he had said, “as you like,” which I had taken to mean that I was being given full responsibility to understand the meaning of the text through personal application of the sādhanas contained therein, and to take it as far as my scholarship and practical understanding could take me.

So not altogether surprisingly, I found myself speaking rather authoritatively about the text. Simply by virtue of building on what I knew and by experimenting with the practices on my own, as well as by consulting other sources, I had been able to come to certain conclusions about the merit and purposes of different practices. Interestingly, many of these are familiar to yoga students who have progressed beyond elementary stage, but still, taken as a whole and also explored in depth to the exclusion of too many other practices, certain insights were available.

The things that came out in the talk:

(to be continued...)


Paul Emerson said...

However, many parts "The story of this translation" will have, you might wish to consider publishing it at some point as something to accompany the text. Even if it doesn't rise to the level of a formal commentary it does allow the scholarship to be much more tractable (I say this not having yet purchased a copy of the text but having some idea of how others in the same vein sound). The semi autobiographical comments even including the digressions into bhakti theology provide a kind of authenticity which is not always present with technical works. Thanks. I look forward to ordering it.

I remember Swamiji mentioning 20+ years ago the numbers of hatha texts which had never been translated (often because they were in old Hindi rather than Sanskrit) so its good to see some come to light.

Anonymous said...

My person keeps returning here to read, re-read and read again the pages of this blog; it is because of the straight-forward style of writing and open honesty of the author.

Jagadananda Das' introduction, English translation and commentary of the Gorakṣa-śataka is very much like this blog, uncomplicated, honest and true (as it should be).

(I) only hope in practice that (I) am able to realise the truth within the words of the Gorakṣa-śataka.