Category Archives: R. Hinduism and the West

Autobiography of a Yogi (Paramahansa Yogananda): Review

Paramahansa Yogananda is said to be one of the most influential spiritual figures reaching people in both eastern and western societies (Goldberg 4). Yogananda wrote many books, but arguably the most powerful and well-known was his personal memoir: Autobiography of a Yogi, written in 1946. Although many have written about Yogananda as a yoga guru, less has been said about his unique approach to spiritual guidance or the influential life events that directed him on his path of enlightenment. I plan to focus on these two distinct aspects of Yogananda throughout the following literature review. In addition, I will provide an overview of his life and spiritual journey that took him from his coastal hometown of Gorakhpur, in the north-eastern area of Uttar-Pradesh (India), to America, and back again to visit a few prominent spiritual leaders including his Hindu guru, Yukteswar Giri. Of particular interest is the degree of influence Hinduism itself had in shaping Yogananda’s life and consequently the lives of his supporters.

Paramahansa Yogananda was born on January 5th, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India to a well-off Hindu Bengali family. The book begins with a recitation of Yogananda’s childhood and specific spiritual events which sparked his interest in spirituality. He describes his memories of being a fetus in the womb of his mother, Gyana Prabha Ghosh, where he knew all the languages of the world but selected the one in which he heard spoken to be his mother tongue. From the beginning, Yogananda described having an acute awareness of the spiritual world far beyond the average child. The many mystical phenomena that he experienced in his youth set Yogananda on an early path of spiritual devotion in search of self-realization. In his younger years, he sought out many Indian yogis in hopes of finding a virtuous guru that could guide him on his religious pursuit of enlightenment. Finally, at age 17, he found his guru: the esteemed, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri in the city of Varanasi. Not long after, Yogananda became his disciple and went on to spend the next decade living in his Serampore ashram alongside other devotees under the guidance of his master. Yukteswar was a strict guru who showed great spiritual discipline, something he expected from all of his disciples as well. Despite Yogananda’s opposition, Yukteswar insisted it was necessary for him to finish school to prepare him for his foreseen future journey to America to be a spiritual leader for thousands of people. Following his graduation in 1915 from Calcutta University, he took his formal vows to become an official monk of India’s monastic Swami Order.

In 1917, Yogananda founded Yogoda Satsanga, a school for boys which merged modern education with spiritual teachings and yoga training. Three years later, Yogananda left India to fulfil his master’s envisioned prophesy: to travel to America and teach west society the sacred Kriya Yoga practice. As predicted by Yukteswar, Yogananda went on to lecture to thousands of people on the Hindu lifestyle and further established the Self-Realization Fellowship—a spiritual organization for the conservation and dissemination of his knowledge and philosophies. During his time in America, Yogananda became fast friends with a renowned botanist named Luther Burbank. Yogananda admired Burbank’s humble, generous, and loving character so much that he actually dedicated Autobiography of a Yogi to him.

In 1935, Yogananda returned to India for a year-long quest, giving Kriya Yoga classes all around the country. Along the way, he met many well-known individuals including the internationally famous social reformer, Mahatma Gandhi; the Nobel Laureate physicist, Sir C. V. Raman; the Indian guru who encouraged the practice of atma-vicara, Ramana Maharshi; the great female Hindu saint, Ananda moyi Ma; and Giri Bala, a yogi woman who was known not to eat anything, , among other notable figures (Yogananda 1946: 737). This visit was also the last time Yogananda saw his beloved guru, Yukteswar. After saying his final goodbyes, Yogananda departed back to America where he continued to practice, teach, and share his spiritual wisdom with all. In 1946, he wrote the famous book, Autobiography of a Yogi which acknowledged the influential people and events that fuelled and shaped his relationship with spirituality.

Yogananda was known for being completely devoted to his God and his guru, Yukteswar. Indeed, throughout the book, he attempts to share with the reader just how genuinely faithful and God-loving all the Hindu saints that he encountered were. The many ways in which individuals showed their love for God were tremendously diverse. Devotion was demonstrated throughout the book through prayer, meditation, and the dedication of one’s life to helping others (Yogananda 1946). Among all these methods the underlying feature was the loving of God above all else, including themselves. Yogananda’s aim with his training and literary work was to illustrate to those who desired enlightenment (regardless of their faith) that anyone could grow their love for God.

Unlike Christianity, Hinduism has been described to be a religion that is all-encompassing, woven throughout the everyday life of every Hindus (Lipner 3). In this general regard, Yogananda’s legacy is a powerful example of the pervading Hindu spirituality incorporated into his existence. To appeal to the West, Yogananda explained the unification of Hinduism, and he advocated for a spiritual synchronicity between the East and the West. The rhetorical methodology used by Yogananda included the emphasis of harmony between the teachings of Jesus Christ and Yoga taught by Bhagavan Krishna (Yogananda 2004: 1566). Indeed, Yogananda believed the core values of Hinduism were, in fact, true for all religions. Every religious belief system has the foundational element of devotion. He emphasised that there was a single unifying trait amongst all religious groups: the worship of the same almighty God. Yogananda also wanted to appeal to the science-minded individuals by emphasizing the similarities between science and religion in their fundamental principles.

Correlating with the sacred Vedas and Upanishads, Yogananda stressed the importance of disconnecting one’s self from their physical body, ego, material possessions, in exchange for self-realization. Echoing traditional Hindu scripture, he explained the cosmos as God’s project, where humans are simply actors who have the ability to change their role via reincarnation (Yogananda 1946: 453). This is akin to Rta in Vedic scripture, which is the cosmic order of things that must be preserved and maintained through having compassion for all creation, simple living, and higher thinking. Also, in accordance with sacred Vedic scripture is the principle of Ahimsa. In the book, Yogananda recounted a time when he was about to slap a mosquito that had landed on his leg when Yukteswar reminded him that all life forms have an equal right to the air of Maya, which, prevented him from killing the mosquito (Yogananda 1946: 190-191).

Ultimately, Yogananda’s teachings accurately reflected many traditional Hindu beliefs using methods that would particularly appeal to western society. For example, he evaded mention of the controversially sexist Hindu traditions associated with the caste system and Vedic culture as a whole, which would likely deter many westerners. One prominent example of a positive method for disseminating Hindu beliefs that Yogananda utilized was through Kriya Yoga—a meditative technique that inspires spiritual growth (Miller 178). Kriya Yoga was passed down through Yogananda’s guru line—Mahavatar Babaji taught Kriya Yoga to Lahiri Mahasaya who taught it to his disciple, Yukteswar Giri, Yogananda’s guru (Yogananda 1946: 232). Kriya Yoga, as Yogananda described it, is unification with the infinite through action or rite (Yogananda 1946: 393-394). Yoga is very popular in western society now, with Yogananda’s teachings being a founding influence of the initial appeal of Hinduism to the west. Autobiography of a Yogi taught people all over the world the core Hindu values, while the reader fell in love with Yogananda’s humbly devoted character.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 Goldberg, Philip (2018) The Life of Yogananda: The Story of the Yogi Who Became the First Modern Guru. Carlsbad: Hay House.

Lipner, Julius (1994) Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. New York: Routledge.

Miller, Timothy (1995) America’s Alternative Religions. Albany: SUNY Press.

Yogananda, Paramhansa (1946) Autobiography of a Yogi. New York: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Yogananda, Paramhansa (2004) The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ      Within You. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Self-realization

Swami Order

Yogoda Satsanga

Kriya Yoga

Vedas

Upanishads

Rta

Ahimsa

Maya

Caste system

Atma-vicara

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://www.ananda.org/free-inspiration/books/autobiography-of-a-yogi/

http://www.yogananda-srf.org/Kriya_Yoga_path_of_meditation.aspx#.W9nb8npKi-U

http://www.babajiskriyayoga.net/

https://www.crystalclarity.com/yogananda/

http://www.yogananda-srf.org/ay/Autobiography_of_a_Yogi.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobiography_of_a_Yogi

 

This article was written by: Hilary Williams (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Kirtana

THE ECSTASY OF KIRTANA

Kirtana is a Sanskrit word that means “to praise” or “to glorify.” Kirtana is primarily used in a form of call and response chanting of sacred Sanskrit names of Hindu deities (LaTrobe 10). Through the centuries, kirtana metamorphosed into devotional hymns and mantras extensively glorifying the great deity Krsna (Kinsley 1979:176). It is also known as sankirtana which encompasses group acting performances, storytelling, singing and dancing, accompanied by drums and various exotic instruments (Delmonico in Bryant 549).

Kirtana has historical roots in the 6th century when a new form of devotional worship arose in the Tamil speaking part of southern India. The two main groups of Tamil poet-saints were the Alvars and the Nayanars who attributed special devotion to their gods Visnu and Siva respectively. These poets traveled from temple to temple or village to village singing ecstatic hymns and praises in adoration of their gods. They promoted the use of all the senses and the body to enhance a fuller experience of divine bliss (Dehejia 13). Tamil saints not only walked the path of love themselves but through their songs they promoted love and devotion toward God. They attracted many followers because their message was simple; all that was required was an intimate and constant abiding love of God. Followers did not require a deep knowledge of the scriptures or need to be learned in philosophy or religious tradition (Dehejia 13).

Tamil hymns composed by the saints were often set to the music of traditional ballads so that everyone could join in singing the responses (Dehejia 30). Hymns were expressly designed to move the hearts of the listeners to a passionate love and devotion to God. Followers of Tamil poet-saints were encouraged to engage in ecstatic and emotional singing, dancing and worshiping of the gods. This newly created culture became known as bhakti – a passionate and personal love relationship between the Beloved and the Devoted (Bhattacharya 47). Sensuous, erotic, and ecstatic personal experience with God were prominent characteristics of early Tamil bhakti saints and their followers.

Bhakti had its main source already in the first century from the Bhagavad-Gita, a dialogue between the god Krsna and his friend Arjuna. The Bhagavad-Gita, or simply the Gita, was handed down orally in the form of hymns, ballads, and folk-songs. The philosophy of the Gita was a religion of love that embraced God’s creatures as brothers of the same family; it did not recognize classes, castes, sexes, or races (Bhattacharya 49). The bhakti movement was a resistance to ritually oriented orthodoxy dominated by priests. It took mantras out of the temples and into the streets where all peoples could engage and connect with their deities through singing and dancing. Thus, promulgated by the Tamil poet-saints who sang songs of total devotion for their God that disregarded caste distinctions and other hierarchies of orthodox Hinduism (Peterson 9), the bhakti movement is about deep social reform and liberation for the masses (Hawley 8).

Kirtana was the outcome of the bhakti movement. In the bhakti tradition, communion with a deity was described as blissful, intoxicating and overwhelming and often culminated in weeping, singing, and impulsive dancing. An early proponent of kirtana was Sri Caitanya, a 16th century Bengali mystic who is said to have introduced kirtana as an exceptional way of attaining and expressing bhakti (Kinsley 1979:177). So great was his intoxicating love for Krsna that he often appeared to be a lunatic as much of his life was spent in continual fits of uncontrollable weeping and wailing, laughing, singing, and dancing in ecstatic love (Kinsley 1974:291).

Kirtana was used by Caitanya and his followers as an effective medium of communication and proliferation of emotional bhakti (Chakrabarty 18). When orthodox Brahmans attempted to ban kirtana, Caitanya organized a massive demonstration where thousands came out in the streets. Led by kirtana singing and dancing groups, the people soon began to sing, dance, cry and weep. “Men grew almost insane in ecstasy…the kirtana sounded like an earth-shaking roar, the impact of which was very much enhanced by the continuous sounds of drums, cymbals, and clapping” (Chakrabarty 19). The Caitanya tradition proposes that kirtana is the proper form of religious worship for the current age, the Age of Kali, the Age of Quarrel (Delmonico in Bryant 549). Kirtana leaders will occasionally remind participants that chanting the names of God prepares one for salvation during Kali Yuga which is a period of dishonesty and spiritual degradation (Cooke 24).

While there is no structured pattern followed in the performance of kirtana, chanting and singing praises to Krsna is often followed by ecstatic and frenzied dancing. It is common for the whole kirtana group, including the musicians, to get up and dance as they play their instruments or clap their hands. Some kirtana singers will smoke marijuana before they sing to enhance the intensity of the experience (Henry 36). When the devotees sing and glorify Krsna a celebratory excitement permeates the gathering, and many will fall into trances or become giddy like children. Even grave, old men with perfect manners will succumb to the powerful crescendo of sound and movement and engage in blissful devotion to Krsna (Kinsley 1979:181).

Kirtana is often held in the evenings along a riverbank or at the centre of a village. To the villagers, it is a religious and social event. The leader of the kirtana, known as the kirtankar, can capture the hearts of illiterate listeners and encourage them towards a deeper spiritual life (Naikar 96). Although most kirtanas are meant to glorify God, they also provide opportunities for the kirtankar to teach, expose social injustices, and even provide entertainment in the form of plays. Participants become active players in the poem being sung by the kirtankar and strive to communicate with the deity. For example, if the theme is Krsna playing with the gopis (milkmaids), devotees will get up and dance in circles, often culminating in an ecstatic frenzy of jumping, clapping of hands, beating of thighs, and rolling on the ground (Kinsley 1979:178). It is written in the Caitanya-bhagavata that a kirtana held at the home of a companion of Caitanya became so exuberant that some devotees could not keep their clothes on and others passed out in an ecstatic trance. (Kinsley 1979:177).

Musical instruments are an important characteristic of kirtana. Hindu scriptures such as the Vedas and the Upanisads consider music and musical instruments as sacred sounds closely identified with the Hindu Gods and Goddesses (Beck 20). For example, Lord Brahma, creator of the universe, is portrayed as playing the hand symbols. Lord Krsna plays the flute, prompting the gopis to dance ecstatically with him in the moonlight. Lord Visnu plays the conch shell and Lord Siva the damaru drum. Each of these instruments represents Om, which is Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. The notion of sacred sound expresses the connection between the human realm and the divine (Beck 20).

Kirtana events typically include flutes, drums, cymbals, harmonium, and various stringed instruments. One of the oldest and most popular musical instruments used in traditional kirtana is the bamboo flute, including a bamboo nose flute (LaTrobe 111). These flutes have since been replaced with the more vigorous clarinet. The clarinet provides musical reinforcement for the singers and can be heard above the clashing cymbals and robust drum rhythms.

The kohl drum is a double-sided drum made from a piece of jackfruit wood which has been hollowed out and covered with pieces of goatskin leather (Beck 23). A black paste made from a mixture of rice flour and stone dust is pressed layer upon layer on top of the skin. According to ancient literature, the black paste represents the crying eyes of Radha after her painful separation from her lover Krsna (LaTrobe 107). The kohl drum, and the kartal, small wooden clappers with six cymbals inside, are central to the kirtana performance as they provide the rhythmic foundation of the music. Exotic sounding stringed instruments include the sitar, ektara, and the ananda laharii, which means “waves of bliss” (LaTrobe 111).  Single stringed instruments such as the ektara and the ananda laharii are symbolic of single-mindedness towards spiritual goals (LaTrobe 110).

Music was viewed as a personal journey toward moksa (liberation). The bhakti movement emphasized that moksa also depended on one’s emotions and the deepness of one’s personal relationship with the deity (Beck 24). Singing and chanting, accompanied with musical instruments connected deep religious ecstasy with spiritual self-realization for participants of kirtana.

Chanting became popular in the western world when a charismatic Indian monk named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought kirtana to North America in the mid-1960s (Ketola 312). Challenged by his guru to preach Lord Caitanya’s message of devotion to Krsna and bhakti yoga throughout the world, the penniless samnyasi travelled to New York on a cargo ship where he soon attracted a group of devotees, mostly hippies (Ketola 312). One day he took his followers to a local park for a public kirtana. The dancing, singing, and chanting attracted significant audiences and soon kirtana became very popular. Shortly after his arrival in America, Swami Prabhupada formed the International Society for Krsna Consciousness (ISKCON), commonly known as the Hare Krsna movement which pushed kirtana into the public limelight. Converts to the Hare Krsna movement became known for their public chanting of sacred Vedic deities specifically the mahamantra (the great mantra):

Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

As the sound vibrations of repeating the holy names of deities are sacred, singing and chanting kirtana benefits the listener, performer and the environment where the names are sung. Participants who sing kirtana and repeat the mahamantra claim to experience both a transcendental connection with the Divine and physical sensations of bliss that has even resulted in healing of physical and emotional ailments (Cooke 124, 125).

Kirtana serves to unite spirituality through bhakti yoga – the yoga of love and emotional attachment to God and can be found in many yoga studios today. Kirtana is sound vibration and chanting mantras invokes the presence of God himself. Participants who combine kirtana and bhakti yoga claim to experience peace and happiness (Brown 2012:77).

Kirtana has influenced modern-day styles of popular music such as reggae, hip-hop, and dubstep (Brown 2014:458). Hare Krsna festivals all around the world feature popular kirtana artists. Kirtana experienced through call and response chanting, singing, dancing, or yoga is likened to a divine love affair between the devotee and God. It is a religion of the heart, a process of pursuit, continuously changing, full of surprises and hidden delights, delicate and yet passionately ecstatic, all in the quest of a perfect union with God and self.

Bibliography

Beck, Guy L. (2007) “The Magic of Hindu Music.” Hinduism Today, 29 (4): 18-27. (October/November/December 2007)

Bhattacharya, B., and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2003) Bhakti: The Religion of Love. New Delhi: UBS Publishers’ Distributors Ltd.

Brown, Sara (2012) “Every Word is a Song, Every Step is a Dance: Participation, Agency, and the Expression of Communal Bliss in Hare Krishna Festival Kirtan.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Accessed on October 28, 2018.

Brown, Sara Black (2014) “Krishna, Christians, and Colors: The Socially Binding Influence of Kirtan Singing at a Utah Hare Krishna Festival.” Ethnomusicology 58 (3): 454.

Chakrabarty, Ramakanta (1986) “Vaisnava Kirtana in Bengal” Journal of the Indian Musicological Society 17 (1): 12.

Cooke, Jubilee Q. (2009) Kirtan in Seattle: New Hootenanny for Spirit Junkies. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Accessed on October 28, 2018.

Dehejia, Vidya, and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2002) Slaves of the Lord: The Path of the Tamil Saints. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

Delmonico, Neal (2007) “Chaitanya Vaishnavism and the Holy Names” In Krishna: A Sourcebook, edited by Edwin F. Bryant and MyiLibrary, 549-575. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hawley, John Stratton (2015) A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Henry, Edward O. (2002) “The Rationalization of Intensity in Indian Music.” Ethnomusicology 46 (1): 33-55.

Ketola, Kimmo (2004) “The Hare Krishna and the Counterculture in the Light of the Theory of Divergent Modes of Religiosity.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 16 (3): 301-20.

Kinsley, David R., and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (1979) The Divine Player: A Study of Krsna Lĩlã. 1st – ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Kinsley, David R. (1974) “Through the Looking Glass: Divine Madness in the Hindu Religious Tradition.” History of Religions 13 (4): 270-305.

La Trobe, Jyoshna (2010) “Red Earth Song. Marāī Kīrtan of Rāṛh: Devotional Singing and the Performance of Ecstasy in the Purulia District of Bengal, India.” PDF. Accessed October 09, 2018.

Peterson, Indira Viswanathan (1989) Poems to Śiva: The Hymns of the Tamil Saints. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Ramaswamy Sastri, K. S., and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2003) The Tamils: The People, their History, and Culture. Vol. 1-5. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Alvars

Nayanars

Bhakti

Bhagavad-Gita

Sri Caitanya

Krsna

Brahma

Kali Yuga

Visnu

Siva

Om

Moksa

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Hare Krsna

International Society for Krsna Consciousness (ISKCON)

Mahamantra

Bhakti Yoga

Hare Krsna Festivals

Popular Kirtan Artists

Dubstep

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/07/spiritual-ecstasy-through-the-ancient-art-of-kirtan-steven-j-rosen-satyaraya-das/

https://kripalu.org/resources/beginners-guide-kirtan-and-mantra

http://www.historydiscussion.net/history-of-india/bhakti-movement-causes-hindu-society-and-features/3166

http://www.krishna.com/phenomenon-sankirtana

http://www.iskcon.org/festivals/

http://newworldkirtan.com/kirtan-music/kirtan-artists/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZmv1YJnszw

 

Article written by: Joey Grace (Fall 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

Kriya Yoga

Paramahansa Yogananda, born in India in 1893, devoted his life to helping everyone he possibly could to realize the beauty, nobility, and true divinity of the human spirit (Yogananda 1946: 161). In 1946, he published his book titled The Autobiography of a Yogi, where he discussed the yoga science of meditation, the art of balanced living, and the underlying unity of all great religions (Yogananda 2007: vii). The spiritual book has circulated worldwide and it discusses the remarkable life story of Yogananda as he explores the world of saints and yogis, science and miracles, death and resurrection (Yogananada 1946: vii). The autobiography has allowed the spread of eastern spiritual thought on a global scale, opening up a discussion on yoga, meditation, and self-exploration. Kriya yoga is significant part of the Hindu tradition, and it integrates central concepts of the religion.

In Chapter 26, Yogananda gives a detailed account of his knowledge on the science of Kriya yoga and its involvement with karma, pranayama, concentration, and meditation (Yogananda 1946: 263-273). He looks to Patanjali, a philosopher and author of the Yoga Sutra on their study of Kriya yoga. Patanjali claims that Kriya yoga “consists of body discipline, mental control, and meditating on aum” (Yogananada 1946: 265). The chapter provides a detailed explanation of who should consider studying Kriya yoga and the effects that it will have on a yogi during this life, as well as in their next life.

Kriya yoga came to be widely known in India through the teachings of Lahiri Mahasaya, Yogananda’s guru’s guru (Yogananda 1946: 263). The Sanskrit word kriya comes from the root kri, which means to do, to act, and to react; the word yoga means the union of soul with God (Mangla 67). The concept of Kriya yoga is much more complex than most people believe it to be; it is a spiritual path of yoga, meditation, and ethical living. It was not until Yogananada set out across the world to enlighten and teach the ways of Kriya yoga to Westerners that his wisdom began to have an impact on millions of people.

The eventual goal in devoting one’s life to practicing Kriya yoga is to attain an uplift from human consciousness to cosmic consciousness; however, many do not achieve this goal because their life ends before they can reach it (Mangla 67). Kriya yoga is not for everyone; rather, it is only for those who are interested in seeking their soul and unifying it with God (Mangla 67). Unlike the Western concept of yoga which has been modernized over time and become popular for its physical aspects rather than for the spiritual growth, Kriya yoga is the complete devotion of oneself to their practice. When practicing and dedicating one’s life to Kriya yoga, an individual will experience joy, bliss, peace, happiness, and a soothing sensation in the spine (Yogananda 1946: 267).

Within Chapter 26, Yogananda explains the science behind Kriya yoga and why such feelings are created; he examines the science of breath and the effect that it has on the body: “it is a simple, psychophysiological method by which human blood is decarbonated 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” (Yogananda 1946: 263). When a yogi is advanced in their practice and have mastered breathing and meditation, they are then able to turn the cells into energy. It is very rare for an individual to completely master their practice, and many yogis dedicate lifetimes to achieving cosmic consciousness.

Yogananada discusses how a yogi who faithfully practices the techniques of Kriya yoga is generally freed from karma or the lawful chain of cause-effect equilibriums (Yogananada 1946: 263). The concept of karma plays an integral part in the Hindu religion. Bad deeds, words, thoughts, or commands lead to harmful effects that may not occur immediately, but may follow you into future lives through reincarnation. Karma represents the ethical dimension of rebirth, also known as samsara, within the Hindu religion (Olivelle). The doctrine of karma directs devotees of Hinduism towards the common goal of moksa, which is the release from the cycle of birth and death (Olivelle). Moksa provides the motivation to behave righteously according to dharma, and to live a moral and ethical life. A yogi who dies before achieving full realization carries the good karma of their past Kriya effort, and in their new life, they are naturally propelled toward their Infinite Goal (Yogananada 1946: 267).

As individuals continues to advance in their Kriya yoga practice, they come closer to reaching samadhi (Yogananda 1946: 266). Samadhi comes from a Sankrit word that is used in yoga to refer to the state of pure awareness when all mental functions have ceased, except for consciousness (McGovern 1). Yogananada describes it as a state of God-communion, where the devotee’s consciousness merges in the Cosmic Spirit (Yogananada 1946: 266). Reaching samadhi is not common among yogis, and even those that dedicate their entire lives to practicing Kriya yoga may never reach it.

Ancient yogis of India have discovered that the secret to self-realization and cosmic super-consciousness are linked to the mastery of breathing known as pranayama (Mangla 68). Pranayama is a breathing technique that helps a devotee tune their consciousness into the six higher centers of perceptions in the spine (Mangla 71). The breath that is responsible for keeing the heart pumping must be freed for higher activities through a method of calming and controlling the constant demands for breath (Yogananda 1946: 267). Yogananda claims that sleep is rejuvenating because the body becomes unaware of breathing, which allows them to recharge themselves by using the cosmic energies; they unknowingly become a yogi in their sleep (Yogananda 1946: 269). Breath rate has been linked to a person’s lifespan, and depending on a person’s emotional state, their breath rate can cause a short or long lifespan. Yogananda uses animal’s breath rate in comparison to humans to explain how it can impact the longevity of one’s life. A restless monkey breathes at the rate of 32 breaths per minute, in comparison to a humans 18 times (Yogananda 1946: 268). An elephant, tortoise, snake, or other animals that are known for their longevity have a respiratory rate of 4 times a minute (Yogananda 1946: 268). Yogis have associated the rate of breath with lifespan, and by slowing their breath, they come closer to reaching consciousness.

Along with discussing pranayama and its relation to Kriya yoga, Yogananda also examines concentration and meditation. He claims that introspection, or sitting in silence, is a way of forcing the mind and senses apart, but it is not successful because the contemplative mind has a way of constantly being dragged towards the senses occurring in real life (Yogananada 1946: 270). A person does not realize the skill and practice required for concentrating for ten seconds, much less meditating for hours and hours. The individual practice of meditation can take a lifetime to master, and even then, an individual still has space to grow.

According to Yogananda, the most successful way to reach the Infinite is through Kriya yoga, by controlling the mind directly through the life force (Yogananda 1946: 270). Being able to have control over one’s mind and senses takes years of experience, but if a yogi is capable of this, they can begin to rid their soul of egoistic actions. Yogananada claims that an individual must disengage oneself from negative physical and emotion identifications in order to achieve soul individuality (Yogananada 1946: 271). In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, klesa is defined as the fivefold: avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (aversion), and abhinivesa (body attachment) (Yogananda 2007: 41). In order for a yogi to seek union with God, they must first rid their consciousness of these obstacles (Yogananda 2007: 41). Individuals do not often consider that what they think, feel, wills, and digests reflects onto their karma, but it does, and at time goes on, the negative karmic actions accumulate and will after a person’s next life. According to the Hindu religion, reactions, feelings, moods, and habits that people experience on the daily are merely effects of past causes, whether in a past life or not (Yogananda 1946: 272). By freeing oneself from the cyclicality of birth and death, one can achieve moksa, which is the liberation and release from life. Yogananda details the fog that unenlightened people live in, and when they begin to practice Kriya yoga, they work towards rising out of the fog into self-realization and enlightened thinking (Yogananda 1946: 263).

Yogananda’s book on his self-realization journey is important to the Hindu religious culture. He brought global awareness to the enlightened thinking that has existed in India for centuries, and influenced many to study and take up the yogi lifestyle. His description of Kriya yoga provides readers with a detailed insight on the elements that constitute it, such as karma, pranayama, concentration, and meditation (Yogananda 1946: 263). Kriya yoga, unlike Karma yoga or Jnana yoga is about the union with God, and cleansing the soul and spirit. Yogananda says:

Kriya yoga is the real “fire rite” oft extolled in the Gita. The yogi casts his human longings into a monotheistic bonfire consecrated to the unparalleled God. This is indeed the true yogic fire ceremony, in which all past and present desires are fuel consumed by love divine. The Ultimate Flame receives the sacrifice of all human sacrifice of all human madness, and man is pure of dross. His metaphorical bones stripped of all desirous flesh, his karmic skeleton bleached by the antiseptic sun of wisdom, inoffensive before man and Maker, he is clean at last (Yogananda 1946: 273).

Those that commit their lives to the practice of Kriya yoga master their mind and body, and they achieve victory over the last enemy, Death (Yogananda 1946: 270). Through the perpetuation of Kriya yoga throughout time, yogis have experienced a sense of disconnection from the world and a unity with the divine realms, which has brought peace, nonviolence, and liberation to the world.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bapat, Sarita (2016) “Pyschophysiological Analysis of Kriya Yoga as per Patanjala Yoga Sutra.” Yoga Mimamsa 48:18-25. Accessed October 27, 2018.

Foxen, Anya (2017) “Yogi Calisthenics: What the ‘non-Yoga’ Yogic Practice of Paramhansa Yogananada Can Tell Us about Religion,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 85:494-526. Accessed October 27, 2018. doi:10.1093/lfw077.

Mangla, Dharam Vir (2003) Kundalini & Kriya Yoga. Geeta Colony Delhi: Geeta International Publishers.

McGovern, Una (2007) Samadhi: Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained. London: Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd.

Miller, Christopher (2018) “World Brotherhood Colonies: A Preview of Paramhansa Yogananda’s Understudies Vision for Communities Founded upon the Principles of Yoga.” Yoga Mimamsa 50:3-15. Accessed October 28, 2018.

Olivelle, Patrick (2018) Karma: Britannica Academic. https://academic-eb-com.ezproxy.uleth.ca/levels/collegiate/article/karma/44745. Accessed October 27, 2018.

Yogananda, Paramahansa (1946) Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa (2007) The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India’s Universal Science of God-Realization. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Zope, Sarneer and Rakesh (2013) “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga: Breathing for Health.” International Journal of Yoga 6:4-10. Accessed October 28, 2018. doi.10.4103/0973-6131.105935.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Aum

Bhagavad Gita

Dharma

Karma

Kriya Yoga

Krshna

Meditation

Moksa

Patanjali

Pranayama

Reincarnation

Samsara

Self-realization

Yoga-sutra

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.yogananda-srf.org/Paramahansa_Yogananda.aspx#.W9jvtS8ZPX8

https://www.ananda.org/about-ananda-sangha/lineage/paramhansa-yogananda/

https://www.expandinglight.org/meditation/kriya-yoga/

https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/essays/karma-hinduism

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Patanjali

http://www.vedanta-seattle.org/articles/hindu-concept-of-reincarnation/

 

Article written by Jaylyn Potts (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental Meditation is a modern movement consisting of a particular style of meditation invented and practiced by Maharishi Yogi in the 1950s. Initially only practiced by a small group of Maharishi’s followers, after the Beatles took their well-known trip to India, over a hundred thousand people learned to practice Transcendental Meditation (Forem 15). In fact, Transcendental Meditation has gained many celebrity endorsements including Clint Eastwood, the Beach Boys and Merv Griffin (Lowe 60). Transcendental Meditation has origins in Tantric traditions, and is practiced by silently repeating a mantra given to a student by a registered teacher of TM based on the student’s age (Lowe 56). Transcendental Meditation is intentionally done with little effort (Balaji, Varne, and Ali). If the practitioner’s attention wanders off, it is allowed to roam until it naturally returns to repeating the mantra (Balaji, Varne, and Ali). Transcendental Meditation also has roots in Vedic traditions, with Maharishi Yogi embracing “the absolutist and ultra-orthodox interpretations of the Vedas” (Lowe 55). The purpose of TM is to enjoy the benefits of a state of relaxed alertness (Yunesian et al. 2). There are also many medical and health benefits of TM. It has been shown to be an efficient method for improving cardiovascular conditions and treating mental health issues such as anxiety, by way of improving an individual’s overall sense of clarity, happiness and life satisfaction. The Western world has many concepts of meditation, notably prayer, but also including Mindfulness meditation, Zen meditation and yoga (Films Media Group). Maharishi Yogi said that “TM has nothing to do with religion, and people of all religions practice TM” (Films Media Group). There is a course fee to learn to practice TM, which costs around $1000 (Films Media Group). Proponents of the movement argue that it is a health investment and it is hard to get anything for free nowadays; critics argue that there are many cheaper resources available, such as books and CDs (Films Media Group). To help share their ideas with the public, the TM Organization [TMO] still conducts studies on meditation, and presents both new and old findings from their research (Lowe 60).

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born in Jabalpur, India in 1918, and he lived to the age of 91 (Films Media Group). He obtained a degree in Physics from Allahabad University, before starting his career with Transcendental Meditation (Lowe 56). According to Forem (2012), an individual who studied with Maharishi, he was “a happy man, serene, and at peace with himself” (Forem 13). Forem also refers to him as “brilliant, wise and compassionate,” and explains that the word rishi means ‘sage or seer,’ and that the word maha means great, a title only reserved for great sages who not only ‘see’, but are the embodiment of true knowledge and compassion (Forem 18-19). He started teaching his technique in 1957, defying the deeply ingrained rules in Hindu society. Because he was not born of the Brahmin varna or caste, he was therefore considered to be an illegitimate guru (Lowe 55). Although he borrowed methods of talking and writing like a guru, he never claimed to be a guru himself, even though that was how Westerners largely saw him (Lowe 56). In fact, he was a supporter of Hindu “hereditary caste-assigned occupations” (Lowe 57). Although Maharishi’s teachings were a departure from traditional, orthodox Hinduism, he drew much inspiration from the ultra-orthodox teachings of the Vedas (Lowe 55).

According to Lowe, Maharishi believed that Vedic teachings provided complete and total knowledge of everything in the universe (Lowe 54-55). He interpreted the Vedas as undoubtedly correct, and the “eternal source of all true knowledge about the universe” (Lowe 55). The movement also acknowledges that if one is able to interpret the Vedas, one can obtain all the knowledge that modern scientific investigation holds (Lowe 55). One important example of Transcendental Meditation’s Vedic origins is the concept of the mantra. Maharishi was clearly influenced by the mentioning of aum or om, the cosmological principle that the world is made of vibrations, and that the word is the source of said vibrations, found in the Rg Veda (Lowe 57). He applied the technique of repeating the mantra, and used words drawn from lists built in Indian Tantric traditions to form what is now known as Transcendental Meditation (Lowe 56). Maharishi invoked certain laws of nature synonymous with ancient Vedic deities or devas found in the Rg Veda when inventing TM (Lowe 57).

Another example of TM being built on Vedic foundations is Maharishi’s assertion that Vedic principles are more “complete and accurate” than modern science because “unlike scientific claims, they can not be falsified” (Lowe 57). Maharishi thought knowledge found in the Vedas was more trustworthy than modern science because it provided direct contact with devas rather than relying on empirical evidence (Lowe 58). He also claimed that Vedic texts are “scientific documents containing all knowledge” (Lowe 59). As TM spread around the world, Maharishi’s followers began to demand more empirical evidence of the effects of practicing Transcendental Meditation, and in response to such queries, studies were conducted by the TMO; these were the first studies to prove that any form of meditation has an effect (Lowe 59-60). It is worth noting that “evidence of the negative side effects of TM was not reported,” however, practitioners of TM were reporting improved sleep, stress reduction and better overall health (Lowe 60, 63).

A final example of the influence of the Vedas on Transcendental Meditation is the use of sidhis, a trademarked misspelling of the Sanskrit word siddhi, which refers to Patanjali’s description of powers obtained through meditation in the Yoga Sutras (Lowe 63). In 1976, Maharishi introduced the TM Sidhi Program, meant to teach advanced techniques of levitation, mind-reading and invisibility, among others (Lowe 63). The practice is highly controversial and often mocked for being “just people jumping around” (Films Media Group). Despite “warnings in classical texts”, it was decided that anyone who had been practicing TM for more than six months may spend several thousands of dollars to learn the abilities (Lowe 64). This is perhaps a major argument for critics of the movement. A final example of TM being influenced by information found in the Vedas is its inclusion of yajnas or sacrifices. Lowe illustrates that “Vedic astrology, architecture, medicine, music, fire sacrifices and gem stone theory are purported as science by the TMO” (Lowe 65). In TM, yajna is referred to as yagyas, and is meant to bring material blessings and ward away malevolent cosmological influences in an individual (Lowe 68). Members of the TMO still pay Brahmin priests to perform yagyas for them (Lowe 68).

When an individual practices TM over an extended period of time, they can expect to see many medical benefits. In Transcendental Meditation, Hocus Pocus or Healthy Practice, Films Media Group discusses the results of 146 different medical studies done on TM. They found that TM was twice as effective at reducing anxiety than other prescribed methods (Films Media Group). More specifically, Balaji, Varne and Ali (2012) found that the gray matter in the right orbito-frontal cortex, right thalamus and left temporal gyrus inside brains of individuals that practiced TM for a long period of time was significantly larger than individuals who did not meditate at all (Balaji, Varne and Ali). Another study, The Effects of Transcendental Meditation on Mental Health, confirms that in areas of mental health and anxiety, TM is an effective method to treat such disorders, and TM practisers see this effect independently of age, sex and marital status (Yunesian et al. 1,3). In that study they also found that meditation is an effective treatment for the four areas of mental health they assessed: anxiety, somastication, depression and social dysfunction (Yunesian et al. 2). Transcendental Meditation is also an effective treatment method for individuals with cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Ross Walker from Films Media Group states “TM’s effects on blood pressure are impressive, and Studies have shown there’s a significant reduction of blood pressure comparable to a blood pressure pill” (Films Media Group). They also mention that TM should not be used as a replacement for heart medications, but can have extraordinary benefits when used in conjunction to typical Western medicine (Films Media Group). Another study, Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, confirms Dr. Ross Walker’s views. The study found a 48% risk reduction in the overall sample of subjects performing TM, and a 66% risk reduction in subjects who regularly practiced TM (Schneider et al. 755). The study concludes that TM may be a clinically useful behavioural intervention in preventing cardiovascular disease (Schneider et al. 756). Since the World Health Organization (2016) states that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world, these findings show that TM can have enormous medical benefits for the general population (WHO, 2016).

Transcendental Meditation is an organization filled with history, drawing inspiration for much of its concepts from Vedic tradition and the personality and influence of Maharishi Yogi. Transcendental Meditation is also very controversial, but boasts numerous claims about impacting and improving the well-being of an individual who practices. Some of said claims are backed by western science and medicine while others are rooted in religious traditions, despite TM being a non-religious movement. For example, it is shown to improve mental well-being, improve cardiovascular health, sleep patterns and the general well-being of an individual.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Balaji, P., Smitha Varne and Syed Ali (2012) “Physiological effects of yogic practices and transcendental meditation in health and disease” North American Journal of Medical Sciences 4.10:442. Accessed February 5, 2017. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=HRCA&sw=w&u=leth89164&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA309101558&sid=summon&asid=b985adeeba2d30466b2596a5e90bf03c.

Films Media Group, Films for the Humanities & Sciences (Firm), and ABC International 2012. Transcendental meditation: Hocus-pocus or healthy practice?. New York, N.Y: Films Media Group.

Forem, Jack (2012) Transcendental Meditation: The Essential Teachings of Maharishi Yogi. Carlsbad, California: Hay House, Inc.

Lowe, Scott (2011) “Transcendental Meditation, Vedic Science and Science.” University of California Press (May) 54-76. Accessed February 1, 2017.

Schnieder, Robert H., Clarence E Grim, Maxwell V Rainforth, Theodore Kotchen., Nidich, Sanford L Nidich, Carolyn Gaylord-King, John W Salerno, Jane Morely Kotchen and Charles N Alexander (2012) “Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: Randomized, Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation and Health Education in Blacks” Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 5:750-58. Accessed February 5, 2017. doi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.112.967406.

World Health Organization (2016) “Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs) Fact Sheet” (September). Accessed March 27, 2017. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs317/en/

Yunesian, Masud., Afshin Aslani, Javad Homayoun Vash and Abbas Bagheri Yazdi (2008) “Effects of transcendental meditation on mental health: a before-after study” Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health. 4.25:25. Accessed February 5, 2017. doi:10.1186/1745-0179-4-25.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Aum/Om

Caste

Deva

Guru

Mantra

Meditation

The Rg Veda

Siddhi

Yajna

Noteworthy Websites Related to Topic

www.tm.org/

https://www.mum.edu/about-mum/consciousness-based-education/transcendental-meditation-technique/

http://www.gq.com/story/gq-transcendental-meditation-guide

http://caic.org.au/eastern/sydda/free-tm.htm

http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/10/14-things-you-need-to-know-to-talk-about-tm.html

Article Written by: Grayden Cowan (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Transcendental Meditation

Meditation can be viewed for traditional Hindus as a vehicle to moksa. Additionally it has been taken up in the West for various psychological and physiological health benefits. There are many methods and techniques that promote this state of relaxed awareness, such as yoga and breath control. Meditation aims to achieve a relaxed alertness during a state of rest (Trotter 376). These forms of meditation have traditionally been associated with semi-religious means to obtain moksa (liberation) and Atman (self-realization) in Hindu society. Transcendental Meditation (TM) offers a simple approach to attaining these goals by using mantras (Trotter 377). It has been widely popularized because it requires no lifestyle alternations (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 430). Transcendental Meditation offers a way to encourage stress management and wellness enhancement through the use of a simple technique (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 434). This movement caters to changing values of demanding societies internationally and has stood the test of time to provide both spiritual and heath-based benefits to followers.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi founded the Transcendental Meditation Movement in 1957 (Lowe 55). He began teaching his form of mantra meditation following the death of his guru, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati (Lowe 55). Mahesh is considered radical because he identified as a spiritual teacher (guru) which violated his jati (caste) where he was designated to be a scribe (Lowe 55). His movement was equally as radical as his challenge to the Hindu status barrier. Maharishi believed that the Vedas contained all the knowledge that scientific investigation could reveal (Lowe 55). This connection between religion and scientific knowledge guided the TM Movement. The movement required him to challenge religious and western science barriers. Eventually, his movement in the form of Vedic Science carried out his visions in an accessible and negotiable way. His vision for world peace resulted in the expansion of the TM Movement throughout India and into Western cultures (Lowe 63). The interacting relation between tradition and science allowed his movement to prosper and adapt to vast cultural values.

History

The Transcendental Meditation Movement has three distinct phases through history. The first phase relates most closely to the Indian-based religious aspects that can be associated with meditation. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi started teaching and promoting his interpretations about the Vedas in 1957 (Lowe 55). Along with other Hindus, Maharishi viewed the Vedas as the source of all knowledge and, if interpreted properly, they could lead individuals to attaining moksa (liberation), which is one of the Four Goals that Hindus pursue (Lowe55). The early years of the TM movement are influenced by Vedic Science. The Vedas outlined the key components of Maharishi’s goals for the future, including, behavior, physical well-being, societal harmony and world peace through spiritual development (Lowe 58). Maharishi presented the importance of having a cognitive understanding of the Vedas in order to gain mystical insight into reality, leading to enlightenment and the revelation of Absolute Truth (Lowe 59). This religious perspective was not widely rendered outside of India. Maharishi recognized that most Western communities were less interested in moksa than other components of meditation, such as, relaxation (Lowe 59). The late 1960’s concluded the missionary phase of Maharishi’s TM Movement.

The second phase to the Transcendental Meditation Movement began in the 1970’s (Lowe 54). The movement focused on science based psychological and physiological aspects of mediation. TM practisers were typically counter-culture youth supporting a sociocultural phenomenon (Woodrum 93). In this phase, supporters began providing experimental scientific evidence. The scientific benefits of TM popularized the movement. In the mid-1970’s celebrity endorsement from the Beatles, The Beach Boys, and others promoted the movement’s growth in the West (Woodrum 94). Maharishi established a course called the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) which provided videotaped lectures for those looking for a deeper involvement in TM (Lowe 60). SCI was institutionalized in high schools in the United States of America; students were able to practice TM which focused on “creative intelligence” a secularized version of the Hindu concept of Brahman (Absolute Reality) (Lowe 60). The movement also included the founding of Maharishi International University. TM growth in the mid-1970’s also included TM Initiators that looked specifically at the physiological benefits of TM (Lowe 61). Maharishi emphasized the connection between modern Western science and the claims from the Upanishads in the second phase of the Transcendental Meditation Movement (Lowe 61). The connection to religion caused controversy regarding where TM could be studied (i.e., not in public schools) and was criticized by scientists because the studies done by the Transcendental Meditation Movement could not be replicated (Lowe 64). The “Maharishi Effect”, describes part of the TM-Sidhi program that was critiqued because this program claimed to the practicality of “yogic flying” which contradicts western science (Lowe 64). The relations between the TM organization, its counter-culture youth followers and scientific disproving caused a strain to the movement, causing a re-evaluation of the goals and audience it was aimed at.

The third phase of the Transcendental Meditation Movement emphasized the superiority of Vedic science (Lowe 64). Maharishi introduced a range of traditional Indian practices during this time and accentuated spiritual and scientific aspects of meditation. The practices engaged spiritual awareness that resulted in measurable change in the physical world (Lowe 65). The science of Vedic texts attributes the human body with the cosmos as revealing knowledge (Lowe 67). This period of the movement compromised the previous two phases to create a religious Vedic-science technique aimed at the individual level to gain spiritual and physiological well-being (Rehorick 355). Knowledge generation is based on the concept that scientific and objective means serve to legitimize the observer (Rehorick 345). This concept aids institutions to validate the portrayed importance of TM.

Practice

Transcendental Meditation is based on the principle of repeating bija or “seed” mantras, which are designated to the meditator by the TM instructor (Lowe 56). These mantras are originally found in Vedic knowledge and are specialized for the individual (Rosenthal 279). The technique requires the meditator to sit comfortably with closed eyes, repeating the mantra for 20 minutes, twice per day (Trotter 377). The mantra is supposed to be experienced freely without any particular concentration; other thoughts that enter the mind may be evaluated and discarded without being followed by any associations (Trotter 377). When attention is focused the experience and object coexist (Rosenthal 288). The mantra is used to bring self-awareness as other thoughts become primary. While the mantra takes a secondary role, the meditator finds them self (Rosenthal 288).The technique does not involve physical activity or cognitive control (Wallace 1752). The goal of TM is to experience pure consciousness or restful alertness (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 431). Advance practices of TM have been referred to as “TM-Sidhi”, “flying-Sidhi”, or more generally, the “Maharishi Effect” which entails being filled with energy that the individual levitates off the ground (Rehorick 343).

Transcendental meditation has been recognized for its psychological and physiological effects. It has been reported that TM practisers have experienced improved sleep, stress reduction and better health (Lowe 63). Additionally, reports suggest that TM has a therapeutic value in relieving mental and physical tension, as well as, decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption (Wallace 1754). Overall, the development of one’s consciousness through TM has shown to enhance concept learning, creativity, intelligence, moral reasoning, decreased neuroticism and increase brain efficiency (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 431). These outcomes have been utilized in collective social settings, such as workplaces, to enhance dynamic qualities of employees and improve well-being and productivity (Schmidt-Wilk, Alexander and Swanson 437).

Current Configurations:

The TM movement has current international configurations. The movement maintains an arrangement of training programs, research, and schools through institutional TM organizations to cater to various groups. The Foundation for the Science of Creative Intelligence adapts programs to target business and professional audiences (Woodrum 95). The Maharishi International University, in addition to the Maharishi European Research University, trains TM representatives, develops curricular and publicity materials, and generates scientific research of TM (Woodrum 95). Additionally, The World Plan Executive Council aims to develop the full potential of the individual resulting in improved relationships and productivity). This outlook coincides with Maharishi’s world peace motive by incorporating TM practice into corporate organization through the influence of others (Lowe 54). Maharishi’s goal is pursued, utilizing a means that shift between the “spiritual” or religious aspects of the original ideology and scientific validity of the benefits (Rehorick 350). The interactive shift between these typically conflicting ideologies allowed Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation Movement to cater to, and encompass a broad range of people.

Maharishi’s lasting impression of world peace through Transcendental Meditation has been withheld internationally. The Transcendental Meditation Movement is a flexible and adaptable practice that is suitable for everyone. The TM Movement involves aspects of both traditional Vedic religion as well as Western science validity. Over time, these aspects of TM worked together in favor of Maharishi’s goal to develop world peace through individual reflection and wellness and the effects it has on others.

 

Bibliography

Lowe, Scott (2011) “Transcendental Meditation, Vedic Science and Science.” Nova religio:The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 14:54-76. Accessed January 31, 2017. doi: 10.1525/nr.2011.14.4.54.

Rehorick, David A. (1981) “Subjective Origins, Objective Reality: Knowledge Legitimation and the TM Movement.” Human Studies 4:339-57. Accessed January 31, 2017.

Rosenthal, Norman E. (2012) Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation. New York: Penguin.

Schmidt-Wilk, Jane, Alexander, Charles N., and Gerald C. Swanson (1996) “Developing Consciousness in Organizations: The Transcendental Meditation Program in Business.” Journal of Buisness and Psychology 10:429-44. Accessed February 15, 2017.

Trotter, Robert J. (1973) “Transcendental Meditation.” Science News 104:376-78. Accessed January31, 2017.

Wallace, Robert K. (1970) “Physiological Effects of Transcendental Meditation.” Science, New Series 167:1751-1754. Accessed January 31, 2017.

Woodrum, Eric (1982) “Religious Organizational Change: An Analysis Based on the TM Movement.” Review of Religious Research 24:89-103. Accessed January 31, 2017.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigations

Meditation

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Yoga

World Plan Executive Council

Moksa

Atman

Maharishi Effect

Science of Creative Intelligence

Maharishi International University

The Maharishi International University

Mantras

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://ca.tm.org/

http://www.meditationtrust.com/transcendental-meditation-mantras/

http://www.prevention.com/health/this-is-your-brain-on-transcendental-meditation

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2585558/

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-exact-technique-for-Transcendental-Meditation

http://www.gq.com/story/gq-transcendental-meditation-guide

Article written by: Tienna Chang (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Yogananda Paramahansa and the Self-Realization Fellowship

Yogananda’s Life

Born January 5, 1893 in Gorakhpur, India, Yogananda grew up with the name Mukunda Lal Ghosh (Yogananda 1971:4). He would later take upon the name of Yogananda as a result of his pledge to his spiritual teacher, Sri Yukteswar, to become a swami (teacher) in the philosophies of kriya yoga. Raised by his father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, who was a mathematician who worked for the Bengal – Nagpur Railway, and mother, Yogananda grew up in a ksatriya family (Yogananda 1971:4). As the son of disciples of a renounced religious figure, Lahiri Mahasaya, Mukunda was introduced to the traditionally demanding practice of kriya yoga at a young age as a student of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51; Segady 189). According to his devotees and himself, Yogananda was able to recall many transcendent events that led him towards the pursuit of liberation or moksa at a young age. Below are summaries of these events found in his autobiography.

When he was a small child, Yogananda was overcome by Asiatic cholera. As reported in his autobiography, his mother being a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya told Mukunda to pray to the Cosmic beloved and Lahiri Mahasaya for bettered health. He recounts remembering the physical weakness he felt during this time in which he could not “lift a trembling arm”. Instead he was tasked with bowing mentally to pray for a cure. With repetitive mental prayer Mukunda was cured from a usually terminal sickness (Yogananda 1971:10).

As a baby fresh from his mother’s womb, Yogananda was able to recall the troubles of being an infant he was quoted in his autobiography as saying: “I was resentfully conscious of being unable to walk and to express myself freely. Prayerful surges arose within me as I realized my bodily impotence. My strong emotional life was mentally expressed in words of many languages. Amid the inward confusion of tongues, I gradually became accustomed to hearing the Bengali syllables of my people. The beguiling scope of an infant’s mind! adultly considered to be limited to toys and toes” (Yogananda 1971:1).

Yogananda was educated in the traditional Indian school system while studying the philosophies of Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51). While studying under his guru (teacher), Sri Yukteswar, he pursued an A.B. degree at Serampore College, a branch of the University of Calcutta (Yogananda 1971:219). Yogananda was not as studious or dedicated in his pursuit of academic knowledge as he was in his pursuit for spiritual realization. According to his autobiography, throughout his education, Mukunda was a seen as the “Mad Monk” and was generally an outsider in the academic world (Yogananda 1971:223). He would apply religious ideas he learned from Sri Yukteswar to academic fields such as philosophy. In doing so Yogananda was not perceived as a “good” student by his professors and colleagues. According to Autobiography of a Yogi, during his final year of study he was set to fail his final examinations but for another transcendental event (Yogananda 1971:220). As exams approached, Mukunda was aware of his failing grades and he knew if they persisted he would not obtain his degree, to the disapproval of his father. Through the guidance of his guru, Mukunda approached his friend for help. Mukunda was able to pass all of his exams as every question he studied was on the exams he wrote (Yogananda 1971:221-226).

After obtaining his A.B. degree at Serampore College, Yogananda decided to set up his own organization with the purpose of educating students in a comprehensive format, both spiritually and intellectually (Yogananda 1971:254). Described in his autobiography, Yogananda was “averse” to the concept of traditional organizations as they distracted people from serving the “true organization” the Cosmic Beloved (Yogananda 1971:254). Originally set up in Ranchi, India in 1918, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya has grown increasingly with the objective of providing students with an education in agriculture, business, industry and academics along with spiritual practices (Yogananda 1971:254). Run alongside his western organisation known as the Self-Realization Fellowship, or SRF, Yogananda prescribes that the school’s environment resembles an orthodox ashrama. According to orthodox Hindu philosophy, during the student stage of life, also known as brahmacarya [also defined as a stage of celibacy], children are tasked with the pursuit of proper dharma or knowledge. Yogananda developed a traditional ashram set in nature to allow students to properly pursue this life goal. It was at this campus that where Yogananda began to develop his yogoda techniques of meditation with the purpose to “recharge life’s battery” (Yogananda 1971:255). The guru took the originally rigorous demands of kriya yoga, taught by his predecessor Sri Yukteswar (Farge 51), and transformed them into a practice designed to move one from “self to Self” (Farge 55). Yogananda used postures or asanas to create a science for the attainment of moksa (liberation). Currently, the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya supports four ashrams in Ranchi, Noida, Dwarahat and Dakshineswar. Today many of these sites are held in sacred regard for his devotees as Paramahansa Yogananda experienced the Divine there.

Once the setup of the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidylaya, or now known as the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, was complete, Yogananda decided to travel to the United States of America as the delegate for Brahmacarya Ashram of Ranchi at the Congress of Religious Liberals (Segady 188; Farge 51). In August of 1920, he set off for America on the “City of Sparta.” Yogananda, having been raised and taught speaking Bengali, had troubles with lecturing in English to an English speaking audience. Recounted in his biography, his devotees believe Yogananda went through a transcendental experience at the beginning of his lecture on the ship where God granted him the ability to speak fluent English (Yogananda 1971:357).  His presentation of the “Science of Religion” to the Congress of Religious Leaders in Boston was met with great success and led to Yogananda staying in Boston and Philadelphia for several more years (Farge 51; Segady 188). In 1924, the Yogananda embarked on a transcontinental tour to promote the Yogoda philosophies. His presentations were attended by thousands, and by the end of 1925, he had set up the international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 189).

On August 22, 1935, Yogananda returned to India to check on the progression and affairs of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India as well as confer with his guru, Sri Yukteswar. Upon his arrival he was met with great fanfare and applause (Yogananda 1971:377). When he did make it to Ranchi, he found his school in dire need of financial support as Sir Manindra Chandra Nundy, who had donated large amounts of money to the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, had passed away. Once Yogananda had publicized his need for financial support, money came flowing in from his disciples in the West saving the original school (Yogananda 1971:381). Yogananda toured around the country visiting many temples and notable people. Before his guru, Sri Yukteswar, passed away, he bestowed on Yogananda the sacred title of Paramahansa (Yogananda 1971:401). In Sanskrit, the word Paramahansa can be broken down into the roots parama, meaning “highest” and hansa meaning “swan” (Yogananda 1971:401). It is the white swan that is said to be the mount of the Creator, Brahma (Yogananda 1971:401). By 1936, Paramahansa Yogananda had returned to the West to continue his mission of spreading the word of kriya yoga. On March 7, 1952 the freed Yogananda Paramahansa passed away after a presentation to his disciples in California. In Hinduism, it is said that a realized or freed being can voluntarily “exit” their body once their mission has been completed. Yogananda’s disciples believe that he had attained that state of liberation. It was on March 7, 1952 when Yogananda Paramahansa entered his mahasamadhi or last conscious exit (Yogananda 1971:498). Twenty days after Yogananda “exited” his body, the mortuary reported no signs of biological decay. This report was published throughout the popular world, and Yogananda’s devotees believe this affirms his connection with the divine (Yogananda 1971:498).

 

The Self-Realization Fellowship

After the first center for the Self-Realization Fellowship was set up in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1922, Yogananda began a transcontinental tour to further disseminate his teachings of kriya yoga. By 1925, he had finished his tour and set up an international headquarters for the Self-Realization Fellowship on Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California (Segady 190). At its creation and until the present the Self-Realization Fellowship has followed a specific set of ideals and aims, which according to their website, include: “To disseminate among the nations a knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God. To unite science and religion through realization of the unity of their underlying principles.”

Following these ideals, the SRF experienced substantial growth throughout the 1920s. By the mid-1930s, the Self-Realization Fellowship had grown into a nationwide organization built around Yogananda’s aims and practices (Segady 190). As a result of the popularity, the organization decided to publish their own magazine, East-West, in the West promoting Eastern philosophy. This publication further increased SRF’s popularity as it applied Eastern religious practices and to Western society (Segady 190). In 1935, the SRF had become an active member of the Parliament of World Religions and an official non-profit religious organization, the first eastern religious organization to do so, in the state California (Segady 190). By 2008, the SRF had grown to recognize 500 SRF or Yogoda Satsanga temples, centres or groups in 50 countries. Its members spanned over 178 countries staking its claim as a permanent global spiritual organization (Segady 190).

The SRF and Yogoda Satsanga Society both follow kriya yoga philosophies set up by Yogananda and his preceding gurus. The Sanskrit term kriya can be roughly translated to mean “action”. As described by Yogananda, the yoga-meditation techniques used by the SRF are a developed science used to reach Self-Realization (Farge 63). In Yogananda’s form of kriya yoga the goal is to combine bhakti (devotion), jnana (knowledge) and karma (action) within the meditations to help devotees realize samadhi or realization [for further reading see Yogananda (1986)] (Segady 191). Yogananda believed that once a person had perfected this art, then it was at this time the said person achieved moksa.

Yogananda further explain his teachings and the attainment of realization using the force called kundalini (Farge 62). According to Yogananda, kundalini can be described as a snake at the base of the spine (Farge 62). When a person is “clouded” in his or her realization the snake would be “asleep”, feeding on the person’s senses and pleasures. The snake’s venom would then dictate the feelings of lust the person would feel (Farge 62). Through asanas or posture and the practice of yoga, a person can awaken the snake and allow it to travel up the spine to the brain, where they would experience true realization. This awakening is known as vasuki (Farge 62).

As is a common occurrence in the works of Yogananda, he uses both science and religion to explain his philosophies. The ascent of consciousness can be described in turn with the spinal centers (Farge 62). Based on a person’s enlightenment, the force or kundalini will reside in one of the centers. The centers can be categorized by the level of self-realization. In an ordinary person, the kundalini will remain in the lumbar, coccygeal or sacral center (Farge 62). Whereas in an enlightened being, the kundalini has travelled up towards the cerebral center and exited through the ajna or the “single eyed passage” (Farge 62). In-between the top and bottom, the believers of the divine reside in the heart center, the calm yogi’s kundalini sits in the cervical center, where a yogi who understands the Cosmic Vibration is centered in the medullary center or Christ center (Farge 63). As stated previously, it is when the kundalini has travelled the entirety of the spine that one will achieve realization [for further reading on kundalini and the ascent of consciuousness see Yogananda (1995)].

Through the explanation of kundalini and the practice of kriya yoga, Yogananda developed his philosophy on the attainment of moksa, but he also used seven of Patanjali’s traditional steps to realization (Farge 64). As Patanjali noted in his Yoga Sutras, Yogananda also prescribes the steps to realization as: yama, the actions which not to take; niyama, the actions in which to take; asana, body stillness; pranayama, control of breath and body; pratyahara, the disunion of the mind and the senses; dhyana, concentration on the cosmic consciousness and samadhi, attainment of realization  (Farge 64).

Yogananda invoked the language of science in his techniques (Segady 194) and tolerance of all religions (Segady 191) to promote the Self-Realization Fellowship’s ideals and aims. One of SRF’s more unconventional features was comparison of orthodox Hinduism philosophies to Christian philosophies. In promoting the SRF, Yogananda claimed it to be a “Church for All Religions” (Segady 190). He enforced this by not forcing people to dismiss their original belief when joining the SRF. He believed the goal of all religions was the same and that was to realize and become one with God or the Creator (Segady 191). In one of his original works, The Second Coming of Christ, Yogananda Paramahansa compares the Hindu idea of the Cosmic Vibration to the Christ or the “Son” and the Cosmic Consciousness to the “father” or God [for further readings on Yogananda and Christianity see Yogananda (1982)] (Farge 58). It was these comparisons with popular culture in the West and the acceptance of all religions that aided Yogananda in the expansion of the SRF’s ideals (Segady 191).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Farge, Emile J. (2009). “Going East with Merton: Forty years later-and Coming West with Paramahansa Yogananda Today.” Cross Currents 59:49-68. Accessed on February 6, 2016. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-3881.2009.00049.x.

Segady, Thomas W. (2009) “Globalization, Syncretism, and Identity: The Growth and Success of Self-Realization-Fellowship.” Implicit Religion 12:187-199. Accessed on February 5, 2016. doi: 10.1558/imre.v12i2.187.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1995) God Talks with Arjuna – The Bhagavad Gita. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1986) The Divine Romance. Dakshineswar: Yogoda Satsanga Society of India.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1982) Second Coming of Christ. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. (1971) Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kriya Yoga

Kundalini

Lahiri Mahasaya

Patanjali

Sri Yukteswar

Mahasamadhi

Moksa

Notable Websites Related to the Topic

Self-Realization Fellowship website: https://www.yogananda-srf.org/

Yogoda Satsanga Society of India website: http://www.yssofindia.org/

 

Article written by: Sean Gaiesky (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Swami Muktananda

Swami Muktananda was a renowned religious leader in Hinduism; he is reputed to have achieved complete self-awareness, the highest level of awareness possible. He started out as a highly respected swami in India, and eventually gained followers/devotees across the world for his views on meditation, self-reflection, self-realization, and his teaching of Siddha Yoga.

Swami Muktananda was born in the early 20th century, there is some dispute as to his exact year of birth. May 16th, 1908 is a generally accepted date (Brooks et Al 26).  According to biographies written by his devotees, from whom a majority of this information is derived, Muktananda was born to a wealthy family near the town of Mangalore. Originally, his parents had longed for a son but had not been blessed with one. Then, one day they went to the temple of Manjunath Mahadev, where they visited a holy man. This holy man decided to give Muktananda’s parents a mantra to chant that would aid them in the birth of a son (Brooks et al 25).  When he was born his parents named him Krsna. Only after his initiation into the Sarasvati Order was he given the name Muktananda (Brooks et al 29); this will be discussed later in the paper. From a young age Muktananda felt that being a sage was his calling. When he was very young he had an encounter with a holy man named Nityananda that forever changed his life. Muktananda wanted to be more like Nityananda, so he  left home in his pursuit of God (Brooks et al 26). It is interesting that Nityananda was the Guru who influenced Muktananda at such a young age, seeing as Nityananda later became his Guru (Brooks et al 32-33).

After leaving home Muktananda’s first stop was the Ashram of Siddharudha Swami, he then studied under Muppinarya Swami after Siddharudha passed. During the years Muktananda spent under these Gurus he learned many things about himself and the way of the life of a disciple(Brooks et al 27-30). One of the most important things that happened to him in these years however, was his initiation into the Sarasvati Order as he officially became a monk. It is a part of this initiation for the participant to be given a name that reflects who they are.  After his initiation his name was changed from Krsna to Muktananda, meaning “bliss of spiritual liberation” (Brooks et. al 28-29).  After his initiation, Muktananda wandered India visiting saints and pilgrimage sites. The journey was not an easy one, he put himself through many trying situations. At points he would have to face extreme circumstances such as sleeping in uncovered places and drinking filtered mud water for sustenance(Brooks et. al 31).  But regardless of his trials Muktananda was still in search of God, in fact it was the only thing he was worried about. Later, Muktananda would say that he hardly noticed his hardships and what he was experiencing, because all he could focus on was his quest for God (Brooks et. al 31). During his travels he met many great teachers, but never the Guru he sought after, the Guru who would show him God. But, finally, he met Siddha Zippruanna, who sent him to Nityananda, for Nityananda was to be the Guru that showed him God (Brooks et. al 32).

Muktananda was lead to Nityananda and studied under him in his search for self-realization. Throughout his studies, other devotees claimed that Nityananda was very hard on him, and Muktananda reported that it made him respect Nityananda even more (Brooks et. al 34). Muktananda appeared to have adored his Guru, Nityananda, as they say all disciples should. His love was so great for his Guru that Muktananda claimed he constantly appeared in his meditations. Muktananda stated that even when he did not think of his Guru, he was still constantly in his mind (Muktananda 1978: 46). This shows how committed to his Guru Muktananda was, and how strong their bond was. In 1947, Muktananda was given Shaktipat initiation under Nityananda, which is the transmission of spiritual powers from Guru to disciple (Muktananda 1978: 284).  Sometime after this occurs, Nityananda claimed that Muktananda had achieved what he said was perfect brahma (Brooks et. al 41) because he had completely given up his human body. Even after Nityananda claimed he had reached perfect brahma, Muktananda still followed Nityananda, even though it was not necessary for him to do so. This shows how dharmic Muktananda was.  Because of his good actions, devotion, and perfect brahma; Nityananda passed the power of the siddha lineage to Muktananda when he took mahasamadhi (passed away). Muktananda stated it was a life changing event for him. He claimed that, “You experience perfection when you are already perfect, and you lose yourself in that perfection. It fills you completely. You experience your all-pervasiveness, and your individuality is destroyed” (Brooks et. al 47).

Muktananda then began his own mission. He appointed his own trustees to the Shri Gurudev ashram, later known as the Siddha Peeth. He devoted this ashram to Nityananda. What made this ashram so remarkable was the fact that it was open to all people, it belonged to everyone (Brooks et al 48-51), even westerners. This ashram was one of the few that believed everyone should be able to find God, no matter who they were, and regardless of religion. Muktananda believed that his duty was, “not to teach Hinduism, but the self; not to live in a cave wearing orange robes, but to see God in oneself as one is, and to see Him where one is, as a Christian, Jew, or Moslem, as a business man, a parent of a worker” (Muktananda 1987: vii). People from all over the world came to meet with Muktananda, and all reported that they had never experienced such radiance or love (Brooks et al 54-56). During this time  Muktananda developed and named his style of yoga as Siddha yoga. This was not a yoga that could be described by a type of movement, but rather a type of spiritual yoga that is taught by an accomplished yogi, and is passed down through these yogis as a lineage (Brooks et al xxv).

Muktananda talked about what it is like to truly meditate and what it is like to gain Shakti. From Muktananda’s point of view when you meditate consistently and love to meditate, eventually Shakti will awaken inside of you with the help of your Guru (Muktananda 1991:33). Muktananda states that Shakti created the outer universe, when it awakens within you it creates an inner universe of bliss and happiness (Muktananda 1991:33). When an individual’s meditation begins to deepen, they will eventually see what Muktananda calls a blue pearl. This blue pearl is where he claims God lives, where the form of the self is within us, and it contains the entire universe (Muktananda 1991: 35). This pearl allows us to feel love for ourselves and others. Eventually our individuality is no longer there. There is no longer any difference between things, and Muktananda believes that we come to this realization once we realize the whole universe dwells inside of us (Muktananda 1991: 36).  To him this a good thing, we are on our way to realizing that we and everything we see, are in fact God (Muktananda 1991: 37).

Despite the growing popularity of Siddha yoga and of Swami Muktananda, there were still a few critics of the Guru. Muktananda disliked materialism, as we can see from his works. He emphasized being free from attachments, which are the source of misery.  Muktananda wanted people to live free of desire and attachment, which you are not born into this world with (Muktananda 1980: 21).  He emphasized this over and over again, telling his disciples to wash away jealousy which causes filth, and to eat and live moderately (Muktananda 1980:29).  Through remaining free from attachment and enjoying things in moderation, only then he claims a person can begin to find happiness and self-realization. Muktananda’s continued stress on these things may be one reason that some westerners were not very fond of his teachings. Western culture puts emphasis on things such as material items and dedication to work, so you can afford even more material items. However, Muktananda believed that God and only God is what is truly important; he believed in continuous worship to God, and that we should immerse our minds in Him [God], because without God our mind would fail to function and think. Because of this, we should make God our one true focus (Muktananda 1980:33).  Some westerners may not like the thought of having to completely commit themselves and their minds to God, especially to such extremes as Muktananda does.

In 1970, when Muktananda was 62, he made his first trip to the west due to the many invitations from his devotees there (Brooks et al 74).  Many were uncertain how this trip would go, due to the fact that he could not speak English and only knew a couple dozen people in the west (Brooks et al 74).  However, even though he could not speak English, that did not stop him from connecting with people. The people he interacted with claimed that he connected with people through the heart (Brooks et al 75). Throughout this trip people learned a lot of new things about Muktananda. For instance people saw that Muktananda did not see himself as anything but an instrument for God and his own Guru, he never asked for help, and although he adapted to new environments easily he never changed his teachings (Brooks et al 74).  The first world tour of the Swami went extremely well and he went on his second tour in 1974. At this time Siddha yoga was becoming much more popular worldwide (Brooks et al 80). Muktananda stated his purpose of this tour was to start a revolution. The revolution he referred to was a meditation revolution. He sought for people to regain their prestige which he claimed had been tainted with evil. This thought of a meditation revolution became the foundation of the Siddha Yoga expansion (Brooks et al 82).  Throughout his second world tour there were over 150 new meditation centres and three ashrams founded around the world (Brooks et al 83).  In 1978 he took his third world tour, which lasted three years and is said to be the peak of his career. Around another twenty ashrams were formed and he had eight books published. It was also on this tour that dislike and the suspicion of cults arose (Brooks et al 109).

Some people believed that Muktananda was the leader of a cult, and that cult was Siddha yoga. Muktananda apparently called for conformity within his ashram, to some people this seemed like something a cult would do (White 315). People felt strongly compelled to be with and please Swami Muktananda. Not only that but many people longed to be exactly like Muktananda (White 316-317).  Unusually, many people have had similar experiences in Siddha yoga, both emotionally and physically. These people do things such as shriek, cry, writhe, and make strange movements. Not only this but they would hardly be able to remain conscious or carry our conversation without going into a trance,  being conscious was actually considered a hindrance to gaining self-realization (White 319).  To many people who were not familiar with the practices and aim of Siddha yoga, this seemed unnatural and made them feel very uncomfortable with the above mentioned happenings.  Muktananda addressed the talk of cults on his third tour when he landed in California. Challenging the people, he encouraged the government to visit every ashram and see what they could find, and he encouraged people to test their spiritual leaders and to watch for false Gurus who were appearing claiming to be like him (Brooks et al 110).

Swami Muktananda was a widely recognized leader, not only in India but all over the world. His followers emphasized his kindness, love, and warmth. While it appears that most people he came in contact with loved him, there were those few who doubted his teachings and were quite critical of him and his followers. Muktananda took mahasamadhi in 1982 (Brooks et al 124) leaving behind his legacy with his two successors, Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda (Brooks et al 124).

 

REFERENCES AND OTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Brooks, Douglas and S.P. Durgananda, et al. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage. India: Muktabodha Indological Research Institute,

Muktananda (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Muktananda (1978) Play of Consciousness. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.

Muktananda (1980) Reflections of the Self. New York: SYDYA Foundation South Fallsburg.

White, Charles (1974) “Swāmi Muktānanda and the Enlightenment Through Śakti-pāt” History of Religions (1974) Vol. 13, No. 4,  p. 306-322. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1062089

 

Other Related Topics For Investigation

Shakti

Meditation

Influential Swamis

Spread of Hinduism

Renouncers

Sarasvati Order

Self-realization

Swami Nityananda

Swami Chidvilasananda

Brahma

 

Article written by: Sonja Simmelink ( March 7, 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was an English woman who would come to be an advocate for the Hindu religion and women’s educational rights in India. Born in 1847, Besant grew up in a home where her father valued science over religion and her mother was a devout Anglican. Her parents’ differing views on religion would come to impact Besant’s beliefs and work as she grew up. She came to associate England and India by gendered terms. England being male and paternal in its rationality and materialism, and India as female due to its spirituality and mysticism. Besant’s father died when she was only five years old, thus, she grew up mainly influenced by her mother’s Christian beliefs. She received a good education from a wealthy woman who agreed to privately tutor her because her mother could not afford public education. Besant married a clergyman, however, her marriage quickly became tumultuous as she began to denounce her Christian faith. Besant would refuse to take communion and unsurprisingly this angered her clergyman husband. This led to a fractious marriage and an eventual separation (Anderson 2002:28).

More and more Besant began to question the Christian faith. The illness of her young daughter Mabel was one such event which drew Besant towards an atheist mindset. She eventually joined the National Secular Society which was lead by Charles Bradlaugh. Besant and Bradlaugh formed a strong friendship and he helped foster her free-thinking ideas.  Besant also became acquainted with George Bernard Shaw at this time (Oppenheim 13). With her new secularist mindset, Besant did not deny the presence of God but rather attributed consequences to human action. Before, her Christian faith had led her to believe that the universe revolved around God as the one true deity. In contrast, secularism allowed humans to be accountable for evil and for the consequences, whether it be rewards or punishment (Oppenheim 14).

In the year 1874, Annie Besant went to London and there she became known as ‘Red Annie.’ She supported such issues as women’s suffrage, use of birth control, secularism and socialism. Besant made it very clear that she was against the imperialism of England. She became a rebel figure because she went against the Victorian ideals that existed at the time in England. A series of articles written by Besant in the 1870’s demonstrated her discontent over England’s control of India. At this time, Besant identified herself as an atheist socialist but in 1889 she turned to the religion of Theosophy (Anderson 1994: 565). This particular religion was new at the time Besant converted to it and was based on discovering the hidden meanings or mysteries behind divinity. It sought to explain the relationships or bonds between the universe, humans, and the divine. Her conversion to Theosophy was met with consternation from her fellow secularists and from Indian theosophists. She had been a woman who did not believe in God and wanted the separation of religion and the state, and now she was affiliating herself with a religion where “all major creeds are paths to God” (Anderson 2002:28). Oppenheim (1989) suggests that her conversion to Theosophy was not as surprising as many thought. She had been questioning the secularist and atheist thoughts for some time, and had found that they did not allow for brotherhoods to be formed, but rather pitted different groups against each other (15). Besant remained a follower of Theosophy for the rest of her life and based much of her work on its ideologies.

1907 was an important year for Besant as she became the president of the Theosophical Society.  By this time Besant had already become quite assimilated into Indian culture. The base for the Theosophical Society was in India and Besant tried to participate in Indian life as fully as possible. She moved to India permanently and wore a white sari, as widows do, because it demonstrated mourning over the wrongdoings Britain had committed in India (Anderson 2002:29). She explained her affinity for India by claiming that she felt she had been Indian in another lifetime [Ingalls (1965) mentions how Besant discovered that many of her incarnations took place in India]. Whilst in the Theosophical Society, Besant focussed much of her work on supporting the domesticity of Indian women. Besant believed that it was important that Indian customs be upheld and this included women carrying out their traditional roles in the home. She received some criticism for this viewpoint because she had been so against the Victorian idea of a private sphere for women in her native land of England. Indeed many ambiguities arose with Besant’s ideas. One such ambiguity or criticism Besant faced was her lack of political conviction. In the year 1885 the Indian National Congress, composed of British members, was attempting to include more Indians in the governance of India. Besant had long been known to be against the Imperial supremacy of Britain yet she did not seem to have any qualms with British involvement in India’s government. She was quoted once as saying that “an Indian does not resent being governed; for he thinks the duty of a ruler is to rule, but he does resent the insolence often shown by the very juvenile civilians” that Britain was sending to India (Anderson 2002:30). Rather, Besant chose to focus mainly on the spiritual nature of India as she believed that this was the most vital part of its essence. She was concerned that western ideologies were crippling to India’s traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.

Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bust of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society headquarters (Adyar, Tamil Nadu, India)

In order to preserve India’s Hindu background, Besant turned her efforts towards education. She felt that it was important to educate the young males on the religion, and history of India in order that they may be proud citizens of India in the future. In this way, Besant was trying to ensure that the western ideals of the British did not permeate into India and eradicate its important history and spirituality. Besant tried to distance herself from social reforms, wanting to focus mainly on the preservation of India’s Hindu culture. However, in the early 1900s she did become involved in advocating against child marriages and the seclusion of women. It is important to note that her support of these issues in no way negated her belief that women should still be domestic. When she began a school for young girls, the goal was that their education would help them to be better wives, not to help them achieve independence (Anderson 2002: 31). Tradition held that the men dealt in public affairs outside of the home and that women were mothers and wives who concerned themselves with domestic affairs. It is clear that Besant did not believe Indian women to be suppressed because of this (Anderson 1994: 567). To her, they seemed quite content in their societal roles and thus no change needed to be made. In the Central Hindu School (Besant’s school for boys) and her school for girls, Besant ensured that Sanskrit was taught as vigorously as the English language. Just as in the schools run by the British, her schools also taught important morals. However, Besant had more success than the British run universities in India because she tailored her curriculums to Indian culture. Figures such as St. Paul would be replaced in a lesson with Sri Rama; King Alfred was replaced by Sivaji. Besant’s devotion to Hindu tradition and custom in the education of India’s youth won her over with her pupils and their parents (Ingalls 86).

The year 1913 was significant for Besant because it was then that she turned to political pursuits. Having been distant from involving herself in issues of a political nature, Besant was thrown into the realm of politics when she was taken to court by a man whose sons were under her guardianship.  Accusations about one of her colleagues were made and this cast a shadow on the Theosophical Society. As a result, Besant felt an increasing need, in her own words: “to enter more than I have hitherto done into the social life of Madras” (Stafford 62-63).  After her negative experience in court, she formed ‘The Brothers of India.’  This was a group committed to looking out for India’s best interests with a focus on Hinduism as the mode towards their means. The men in this group were from the Theosophical Society and they had seven guidelines, which they were to follow in order to serve India’s best interests. The first six guidelines reflected many of Besant’s early beliefs. For example, these men were to only have their daughters marry when they were seventeen years of age to promote the education of the masses and to not ostracize widows for remarrying. The seventh guideline was most significant which “committed all members to a combined programme of spiritual, educational, social and political reform, and the placing of the programme under the guidance and direction of the Indian National Congress” (Stafford 64). Before, there had been reforms for each of these areas individually, but Besant wanted to unite all of these areas and to place equal importance on all reforms together. The Indian National Congress was asked to take the programme under its direction but they felt that it was not their place to interfere in these reforms because they were focussed solely on political ventures. However, Annie Besant was not deterred. She sought to bring the different groups and movements into one strong voice.

Home Rule for India was brought forth by Besant. She believed that both India and Britain would be better off if India was permitted to be self-governing. Stafford (1983) suggests that Besant’s Irish background influenced her decision to have a Home Rule for India. Besant wrote many articles which stressed how India would be a much more valuable ally as a nation free from colonialism as opposed to being a colonial state. She discussed the many grievances that India had suffered under British rule. According to Besant, Britain continuously benefitted more from India than India did from itself. Britain prevented India’s capital from remaining within the nation. As well, in terms of education, missionaries wanted Indians to convert, and the British geared education towards their own means; the cultivation of more clerks and junior officials was often the British goal (Stafford 66-67).  With the approaching war (World War I), Besant asserted that it was important for India to recognize her own nationhood. In 1916 Besant was finally successful in achieving a Home Rule for India. A meeting between the Congress and the Moslem League occurred.  As Ingalls (1965) suggests, this was very significant because an agreement called the Lucknow Agreement determined that in the event of Indian self-government, “two-thirds majority of either religious community would hold a veto power” (87).  Unfortunately, the Congress did not honor this agreement. Being the strong-willed woman that she was, Besant continued to give speeches to gain support. She was then placed under house arrest by a governor of Madras [see Anderson (2002: 39) for more information on the Governor’s actions against Besant]. Much to the dismay of the Congress, Besant had many devout followers, and her house arrest only served to make her a martyr for her cause. Gandhi was amongst her supporters, as well as other male Indian nationalists. People were dismayed to hear of the treatment of Besant. She was called Mother Besant by many and had won over the hearts of the people with her passionate belief in Indian nationalism. Significantly, Besant’s internment brought forth many Indian women activists for women’s rights. Others who normally would not have supported an English woman as a nationalist leader also protested her internment. When she was released after three months, she became the President of the Indian National Congress in December of 1917 (Ingalls 87-88).

Now as president, Besant was able to induce change for women’s rights in India. As she had done in the past, Besant did not denounce the important role in the home of the women, but rather suggested that women had an ancient importance and that their emancipation was needed so that they could fulfill their ancient position. In this way, Besant appealed to the traditionalism of Indian women and men, while still implying that some changes needed to be made. In late 1917 Besant formed and presided over the first feminist organization in India. It was called the Women’s Indian Association (Anderson 2002:47). Many women looked up to Besant as someone who had defied the odds and demonstrated that women could have a voice and the power to affect change in a male-dominated world. After 1917, her influence began to decrease. Gandhi was at the forefront of India’s nationalism and many saw him as a more appropriate leader for the Indian cause because he was a swadeshi or home made nationalist. Besant disagreed with many of Gandhi’s ideas and she lost favor with many because of this. To many, it seemed that she had become pro-government despite her original Home Rule intentions for India, however, she had simply altered her views because the political climate of India had changed. Besant had once been deemed an incarnate goddess, but at this time she was being referred to as a demoness and some called her Putana [this is a demoness from the epic Ramayana. She is known to have put poison on her breasts and suckled the child Lord Krsna, thus killing him (Anderson 2002:50)]. Interestingly, Gandhi, though he had many qualms with Besant’s views, stood up for her against the harsh words she was receiving from those who once supported her.

The last years of Besant’s career were difficult times for her. She resigned from the Home Rule League she had founded and Gandhi took her place as president. Moreover, she also resigned from the Indian National Congress. Besant was embittered by the way in which she was disregarded, but she continued to persevere. She formed a new National Home Rule League and eventually rejoined the Indian National Congress, though not in a leading position. Besant died in the year 1933 at the age of eighty-six. Towards the end of her career she was marginalized, however, many still fondly remembered her as Mother Annie Besant. She was the English woman with the Indian soul who fought for a more free India (Anderson 2002:49-51).

 

 

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (2002) “Mother Besant and Indian National Politics.” The Journal of        Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol. 30, No. 3: p.27-54. London: Frank Cass

 

Anderson, Nancy Fix (1994) “Bridging Cross-cultural Feminisms: Annie Besant and women’s   rights in England and India, 1874-1933.” Women’s History Review, Vol. 3, No. 4: p.       563-580. New Orleans: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

 

Ingalls, Daniel H.H. (1965) “The Heritage of a Fallible Saint: Annie Besant’s Gifts to India.”         Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 109, No. 2: p. 85-88.     Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

 

Mortimer, Joanne Stafford (1983) “Annie Besant and India 1913-1917.” Journal of      

            Contemporary History, Vol. 18, No. 1: p. 61-78. London: Sage Publications, Ltd.

 

Oppenheim, Janet (1989) “The Odyssey of Annie Besant.” History Today, Vol. 39, No. 9: p.        12-18. Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company.

 

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Atheism

Central Hindu School

Charles Bradlaugh

Commonweal (newspaper)

Home Rule League

Indian National Congress

Madame Blavatsky

Madras

nationalist movement (India)

National Reformer (newspaper)

New India (newspaper)

‘Red Annie’

Secularism

‘The Brothers of India’

Theosophical Society

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/besant_annie.shtml

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/content/annie-besant-1847-1933

http://spartacus-educational.com/Wbesant.htm

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophical_Society

 

http://www.ts-adyar.org/

 

https://theosophical.org/the-society/history-of-the-society

 

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/285841/Indian-National-Congress

 

Article written by: Haley Kleckner (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Krishnamacharya and the Hatha Yoga Movement

Yoga has been practiced for centuries, with alternative meanings and health benefits as it has moved into modern day. The Vedas are the primary source of ancient Indian traditions and practices of worship that allow people to live life in a dharmic manner. These texts refer to the attainment of moksha (liberation) and yoga is one of the modes to attain this goal. Traditional Vedic yoga is connected with ideas that revolve around ritual sacrifices for the purpose of connecting the material world with the spiritual world (Feuerstein 5).  The successful yoga practices create focus for a long period of time as a way of transcending the limitations of the mind in order to reach spiritual reality (Feuerstein 5). The preclassical period of yoga was approximately 2,000 years until the second century C.E when it closely followed the sacrificial culture discussed in The Brahmanas and Aranyakas, which re genres of Sanskrit texts. It is the Upanishads, which teach the unity of all things, that ultimately expanded the practice of yoga (Feuerstein 6). Post classical yoga first demonstrates the shift of focus from contemplation with the result of developing a spiritual conscious, to practices that rejuvenate the body and influence a prolonged life. (Feuerstein 6).  Hatha yoga or “yoga of force” is a practice that utilizes posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama) as a way of transforming the body’s energy to influence spiritual transformation (Starbacker 105). The physical nature of hatha yoga is what influenced its appeal in the 19th century as calisthenics became popular in India and around the world.

Tirumalai Krishnamacharya is widely considered the father of modern yoga as he developed movement-orientated postural systems that have been presented internationally by his disciples (Starbacker 103). Krishnamacharya documents the purpose of yogabhyasa (the practice of yoga or abstract devotion) and why it is an important practice that influences the welling being of the mind and body in his book Yoga Makaranda, which is one of many of his publications. He explains that it is the philosophy of yoga to draw the minds focus inwards to reach deep concentration to develop a form of mental strength. The benefit of this process is comparable to how sleep rejuvenates the mind, in which sleep is of a tamasic nature. The mental strength that is developed through yogabhyasa is called yoga nidra, and it by far exceeds the amount of strength and concentration that sleep or meditation may offer (Krishnamacharya 7). The benefits of yogabhyasa are separated into eight parts: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi (Krishnamacharya 8). There are benefits at every stage of practice; it is not that there is a final stage that reveals all the benefits at the same time. Yama develops compassion towards other living beings, while niyama is a state of peace and tranquility with the environment and internally. Asana practice causes correct blood circulation and internal functions; pranayama develops strength in the bones and bone marrow, heart, brain, muscles and tendons. Pratyahara is to bring ones own indriyas (five senses) under control in order to have a focused mind. Dharana is to stop the mind and hold it in one place, while dhyana is to focus the mind in one direction and to attain whatever form is though about. Samadhi is to have stopped all external movements of the mind and have reached a state of happiness about the physical and spiritual world (Krishnamacharya 8-16).

Krishnamacharya was most influential during his residency at Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore from 1930-1950, when he developed a very physical and acrobatic system of asanas that are most similar to yoga today (Heerman 20). It remains unclear if Krishnamacharya stayed true to his teaching from his guru Rama Mohan Bramachari with the transition of his yoga teachings in India, and the conflicting western views that have greatly influenced the way yoga is received from his students (Heerman 20). Once Krishnamacharya completed his teachings, he set out to teach this spiritual system of yoga throughout India. The traditional system of yoga practices was becoming outdated and was not received well by most people. Because of his unsuccessful pursuit to make a living as a yoga teacher, Krishnamacharya traveled around India giving lectures and demonstrating siddhis (supernormal abilities of the yogic body) (Heerman 21). In order to gain attention and interest in yoga, he demonstrated suspending his pulse, lifting heavy objects with his teeth and performed difficult asanas (Heerman 21). Krishnamacharya was then recruited by the Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnarajendra Wodeyar to teach at the Jaganmohan Palace for young male royals (Heerman 21). The Maharaja was very committed to promoting cultural, political and technological innovations for Mysore, as well as encouraging physical education, which was known as the “Indian physical culture movement”, that was designed to created the strength necessary to reclaim India after so many years of colonial rule (Heerman 22). Krishnamacharya’s yoga teachings were greatly influenced to be aerobic and physical due to the Maharaja and the popularity of exercise. As a result, hatha yoga gained wide popularity compared to the traditional yoga practices, which ultimately led to the vast arrangement of yoga forms that are present in India and North America today.

Hatha yoga is mainly the methods of doing asanas (yoga postures). The circulation and strength of the body is only one of eight parts that contribute to the whole of yogabhyasa, while the mindfulness and focus of yoga has not maintained its aesthetic appeal. Krishnamacharya explains his distaste for the way practitioners of yogabhyasa ignore vinyasa krama and worries that the Vedas from which yoga practice has originated will be ruined (Krishnamacharya 26). The form, metre, syllables, and verses that form the entirety of the Vedas are comparable to the way in which yoga should be practiced. The combination of the eight elements of yogabhyasa is what provides the beneficial integrity of yoga practices. From the perspective of Krishnamacharya in Yoga Makaranda, yoga has a deep spiritual meaning and benefit that has deteriorated with the Westernization of hatha yoga. To Krishnamacharya, yoga is a form of Vedic ritual that develops more than toned muscles and flexibility. Although the Yoga Makaranda provides much information on the traditional Hindu practice of yoga with regards to the Vedas, Krishnamacharya is recognized as a figure who influenced the separation of religiosity of yoga from the growth of modern yoga. Other organizations, such as Christian yoga, argue that spiritual expression can still be reached without the Hindu dimensions of yogabhyasa. The interest in yoga in North America encouraged the streamlined approach of simplifying yogic concepts in a way that was acceptable to Western and Christian spiritual views (Heerman 13).

Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting a yogic posture, utilized in ascetic practice (Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India).
Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting a yogic posture, utilized in ascetic practice (Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India).

Christian opponents of yoga hold that Hindu traditions are in conflict with Christian doctrine (Jain 4). The contemporary Western view of modern yoga is as a mode physical fitness, separated from its historical origins. Similarly, Hindu opponents of this disconnect of yoga from its historical spiritual origins, believe that yoga has been corrupted by the profit driven popularization of contemporary yogis (Jain 4). Prior to Krishnamacharya, there where other yoga masters involved with the popularization of Hatha Yoga. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is widely known to have used a combination of existing yoga with modern ideas and practices (Jain 5). As postural yoga remains without a Hindu signature in modern western society, alternative spiritual connotations have been attached to it. For example, Christian Yoga emphasizes postures and breath control as a way of focusing on Christ (Jain 6). The differing opinions and techniques associated with yoga is what allows it to be appealing to many different groups, but also contribute to the opposition that both Christians and Hindus have towards modern postural yoga.

Krishnamacharya demonstrated exceptional strength and flexibility that encourages the appeal of yoga for its physical benefits, but his teachings in Yoga Makaranda, suggest that he taught with the intention of encouraging anyone to practice yoga. He has extensive teachings on the spiritual origins and the responsibility of the guru to teach a student in such a way that all aspects that contribute to yoga are recognized in order to receive the benefits of yoga. Yet, it can also be seen that Krishnamacharya did not maintain a traditional yoga system that is true to the teachings of his own guru as his career was greatly influenced by Maharaja of Mysore and popularity of physical exercise. The tendency that Krishnamacharya had for tailoring his instructions so that each of his students could maximize the physical benefits, also demonstrates the stray away from the traditional yoga system (Heerman 30).

Besides the conflicting viewpoint of modern yoga and Hindu traditions, Krishnamacharya designed a form of exercise that is unique and modifiable to anyone who wishes to participate. Hatha yoga can build strength, and cause an overall benefit to health as well as encouraging concentration and focus that can be interpreted as spiritual, self reflective, or religious depending on how the participant want to approach a yoga practice. Krishnamacharya may have influenced the separation of Hindu tradition from modern forms of yoga but made yoga accessible to everyone who wishes to participate.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Burley, Mikel (2014) ‘A Purification of Ones Own Humanity’ Nonattachment and Ethics in Yoga Traditions. The Journal of Religion. Vol. 94, No. 2, P. 204-228. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Feuerstein, Georg (2006) “A Short History of Yoga”. The Yoga Tradition. P. 1-10. Hohm Press.

Heerman, Grace (2014) “Yoga in the Modern World: The Search for the ‘Authentic’ Practice.” Sociology and Anthropology Theses. Paper 5, P. 1-45, Tacoma Washington: University of Puget Sound.

Jain, Antrea R. (2012) “The Malleability of Yoga: A Response to Christian and Hindu Opponents of the Popularization of Yoga”. Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies: Vol. 25, Article 4. P. 1-8, Indianapolis, Indiana: Butler University.

Krishnamacharya, Sir T. (1934) Yoga Makaranda: The Essence of Yoga (Part One). Kannada Edition, Madurai C.M.V. Press. P. 1-159.

Starbacker, Stuart R. (2014) “Reclaiming the Spirit through the Body: The Nascent Spirituality of Modern Postural Yoga”. Entangled Religions; Oregon: Oregon State University, Article 3, P. 95-114.

Singleton, Mark (2007) “Yoga, Eugenics, and Spiritual Darwinism in the Early Twentieth Century”. International Journal of Hindu Studies; Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 125-146. Springer.

RELATED TOPICS

Dharmic

Moksha

Bramanas

Aranyakas

Asana

Pranayama

Sattva guna

Tamasic

Yogabhyasa

Nidre

Yama

Niyama

Pratyahara

Dharana

Dhyana

Indriyas

Jaganmohan

Swami Vivekananda

Vinyasa krama

Krishnarajendra Wodeyar

Maharaja

 siddhis

Samadhi

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tirumalai_Krishnamacharya

http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ananda_Bhavanani/publication/241276617_UNDERSTANDING_THE_YOGA_DARSHAN/links/0046351fcf7cb2a45b000000.pdf

http://www.academia.edu/638083/The_Development_of_Modern_Yoga_A_Survey_of_the_Field

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indriya

 

Article written by: Monica Johnson (March 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.

Auroville

Inaugurated in 1968, the city of Auroville began with the goal to promote future unity and understanding among people of all backgrounds. At the time of its development, architecturally speaking, the city was modern and innovative. The founder, Mirra Alfassa, – better known as the Mother – had a vision for the basic concept of the city and chose architect Roger Anger to make this vision come true. This resulted in the “galaxy concept,” named for its appearance of having everything fanning out from the city center. At the center of Auroville is the Matrimandir, a ball shaped structure “representing the soul of the city” (Kundoo 51), as well as some surrounding gardens and waters. From there spirals the four zones: cultural, industrial, international, and residential. Each of these represent aspects of life the Mother deemed important to creating a universal city and are connected through a circular road called the Crown, which cuts through all the sections while housing the important buildings for each zone (Kundoo 51). Branching off of the Crown are twelve roads which provide accessibility for all residents to the city center. Finally, surrounding the city is an area of green space called the Green Belt, which holds the necessary settlements and land space for activities involving green work.

One of the most important structural components of Auroville is also one of the smallest. In 1968, young people representing 124 countries placed a handful of their native soil in an urn shaped like a lotus bud to represent the establishment of the city (Kapoor 633). Also placed inside the urn was the Auroville charter as prescribed by the Mother, which set out the four main goals for which the city will strive to achieve. [See Shinn 241 or Kapoor 633 for an English-translated version of the charter]. This urn remains in the center of the city, near the location of the Matrimandir, as a reminder of the message and objectives laid out for the citizens of this unique city.

While the Mother was the person who implemented Auroville and made it a reality, the following philosophies for which the concept was built upon came from the revolutionary Sri Aurobindo. His core contributions to the foundations of Auroville can be attributed to four insights, which relate and connect to one another. First, Aurobindo claimed the existence of a divine feminine energy at the core of reality to which he called a Shakti or The Mother. When Aurobindo met Mirra, he sensed that she was the incarnation of the Divine Mother which contributed to her title as “The Mother,” given to her when she developed Aurobindo’s ideas into a city. Second, Aurobindo believed that all beings were involved in a process leading them towards a transformed consciousness that will reflect their Shakti. His third insight was that for the evolution of humankind, there must be a joining of the physical and conscious worlds such that a transformation of both body and mind can occur together. As his fourth insight, Aurobindo proposed integral yoga as a way of quickening the evolution of humankind into its final and inevitable end of human transformation (Shinn 239-240).

From Aurobindo’s insights, it was up to the Mother to apply these to the planning and building of a community. In one of her writings from 1954, she described a dream she had of a utopia that is believed to have led to the creation of Auroville. [For a description of her dream, see Shinn 240]. She envisioned a place where money would be obsolete as citizens’ work would be considered a form of integral yoga, one of the insights Aurobindo believed would hasten the evolution of humans. Education would be voluntary for children in order to allow for individual growth. Social titles and positions would be based on the respect of others and the service of Shakti. Ultimately, every aspect about this dream city emphasized the goal of unity and transformation of humankind.

In 1966, the Sri Aurobindo Society was granted support from the United Nations to begin building the utopian society imagined by the Mother. A spot was chosen near Pondicherry in southern India and on February 28th, 1968, Auroville was established. The Mother constructed the Auroville Charter, which as previously mentioned, resides in the urn which holds handfuls of soil from multiple nations. While the ideal human transformation set out by Sri Aurobindo is the ultimate goal, the city was designed as a sort of experiment in developing a society that could eventually attain the goals set out by the Mother in the Charter. It was not expected that the city will immediately achieve perfect unity among peoples and nature, but that it would shape a process by which the individual and the collective can obtain perfection (Shinn 241).

Almost 50 years after its creation, Auroville is still thriving and progressing towards an enlightened future. As Sri Aurobindo claimed, the path to transformation involves both the physical and the conscious worlds, so the city has spent a lot of time focusing on improving the environment around them. Before the city was implemented, the land in that area was barren and covered in red laterite soil but has since been regenerated and stabilized. Over two million trees have been planted in the area and thanks to similar green works projects, the Green Belt is actually green and full of life. Preservation of the environment is very important to Aurovilians so constant progress is being made with water and soil conservation. A couple of Auroville centers that are involved with environmental work have been recognized as Medicinal Plant Conservation Parks and maintain botanical parks and plant gardens within the area (Kapoor 635). There has also been effort put into reestablishing the original ecosystem of the area by conserving natural species of vegetation and propagating them.

Renewable energy is also a main focus in Auroville. The first source of renewable energy was windmills used for pumping water, which came into the possession of Aurovilians after the Government of India discarded them following a failed project. As of 2004 over 200 residences in Auroville were using solar energy to power their homes and heat their water. One of the most impressive renewable energy projects developed for Auroville was the Solar Bowl. This spherical solar concentrator was installed at Auroville’s collective kitchen, the Solar Kitchen, and could generate enough steam to cook about 1200 meals on a clear day, and was built with two diesel heaters for the cloudy days (van den Akker 27). A solar power plant was built at the city center, and at the time of its installation, this power plant was one of the first of its kind in India and continues to provide clean energy for the Matrimandir and surrounding gardens. Any research and knowledge developed in Auroville is made accessible to the outside world in accordance with maintaining the city’s goal of progressing towards a better future for all humans. Many of the buildings in Auroville were constructed using environmentally friendly building technologies such as compressed mud bricks, recycled materials, or other natural substances (Kapoor 635).

Although it is often referred to as a city, the population of this utopian society is less than 3000 citizens. This is nowhere close to the 50000 person goal but the slow population increase allows for the settlement and adaption of the city for each new resident it welcomes. Anyone may become a citizen of Auroville as long as they are willing to participate in reaching the final goal of human unity as set out in the Charter. However, an entry group that regulates the acceptance of new residents will determine the final admission status based on spiritual inclinations and legal requirements (Kapoor 635). Most people visit Auroville first and once they have made the decision to join the community, they must get legal papers to apply for an entry visa. For the first year of their duration, an individual works and participates in the community but is considered a newcomer until their full citizenship is established. Newcomers and Aurovilians both contribute a monetary amount towards the maintenance of Auroville roads, services, facilities, and existing infrastructures. Also, newcomers are expected to provide financially for themselves and their accompanying persons for at least the first year of their residence. It is estimated that the basic cost of living is around 6000 Indian Rupees per person per month. [For more information on living requirements, see auroville.org]. Once one has been granted the title of Aurovilian, it is very unlikely that this status will be withdrawn.

An Aurovilian may choose to work based on whatever they have an inclination for even if they do not have the formal training for the job. This socio-economic organization allows for individualism at the same time as considering the collective as a whole. It works towards balancing the work required for transforming oneself and reflecting one’s Shakti while providing for the needs of everyone in the community. Although never stated as such, the principles outlined by the Mother can be easily connected to communist ideals. The idea of abolishing money and private property as well as ensuring the fulfillment of every citizen’s needs falls in line with left-wing political systems. Auroville is supposed to be self-supporting but most of the production and commercial units responsible for providing funds do not produce enough profit. Instead, most funds for Auroville are provided through donations and grants received from people and organizations around the world.

As envisioned by the Mother, there is no compulsory schooling in Auroville. The Mother stated that “education would be given not for passing examinations or obtaining certificates and posts but to enrich existing faculties and bring forth new ones” (cited in Kapoor 637). This concept is difficult for a lot of new Aurovilians, as it differs so much from the mainstream school system evident in most of the world. There are still schools within the city but they are also open to children in the neighbouring villages. Most people living in these surrounding villages are Dalits and many are illiterate, and while the Auroville Village Action Group has worked towards providing programs for these people, it is difficult due to their socio-economic background (Kapoor 640).

For those wishing to visit Auroville, it is recommended to give oneself plenty of time to fully experience and participate in the lifestyle. There is no entrance fee to get into Auroville and to maintain the ideal of no money circulation, guests must purchase an Aurocard to which they can deposit money onto and later use in exchange for goods and services. Just like any other destination, it is recommended to book housing and transportation in advance. It is important that travelers abide by the cultural lifestyle present in Auroville, such as learning appropriate body language, dressing modestly, and behaving in a suitable manner. English is the most commonly spoken and written language in Auroville but many other languages may be spoken there as well so translation facilities exist if one requires assistance.

For a long time, the possibility of human unity was only a dream; however, through the leadership and foundations laid out by Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa this dream is closer to becoming a reality. “The City of Dawn,” as Auroville has often been referred to as, still has a long way to go before achieving unity and understanding among people of all backgrounds but as it develops innovative systems and faces new challenges, it progresses that much closer to becoming to the utopian society imagined by the Mother. Citizens of Auroville continue to uphold the same ideals prescribed in the Auroville Charter and as the city receives more support and more residents, it will hopefully allow for the final transformation of humankind into the enlightened being described by Sri Aurobindo.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Kapoor, Rakesh (2007) “Auroville: A Spiritual-Social Experiment in Human Unity and Evolution.” Futures Vol. 39, May: 632-643.

Kundoo, Anupama (2007)Auroville: An Architectural Laboratory.” Architecture Design Vol. 77, No. 6: 50-55.

Shinn, Larry D. (1984) “Auroville: Visionary Images and Social Consequences in a South Indian Utopian Community.” Religious Studies Vol. 20, No. 2: 239-253. Cambridge University Press.

 

van den Akker, Jos and Judith Lipp (2004) “The Power of Human Unity.” Refocus Vol. 5, No. 3: 26-29.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Sri Aurobindo

Mirra Alfassa

Shakti

Utopian Societies

Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry

The Mother

Matrimandir

 

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to Auroville

www.auroville.org

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auroville

www.auroville.com

www.aurovilletv.org

http://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Auroville

 

Article written by: Erin Hunter (April 2015) who is solely responsible for its content.