Category Archives: F. Indian Philosophical Schools

Gaudapada (and Advaita Vedanta)

Legendary Life

Of the many philosophers in the history of Hinduism, Gaudapada is one of whom little is known, although he had a large effect on the tradition as a whole. His origin is the most prominent feature in legends concerning him; however, due to liberties taken in the oral tradition, they are rarely a strong source of factual information (Pande 96). For example, some legends state that Patanjali himself taught Gaudapada, and due to his disobedience, had cursed him until Gaudapada could find a suitable student (Pande 96). Of course, there is great scepticism surrounding this story, as the timelines in which Patanjali and Gaudapada are proposed to have lived are separated by hundreds of years (Pande 96). Other sources seem to believe that he was, at some point, the student of a sage named Suka. However not much is known about Suka, other than he was believed to be the son of the legendary Vyasa (Comans 2). As such, Gaudapada emerges as more of a pseudo-legendary person, than a concrete historical figure. There is virtually no indication of his existence other than his works, or reference to him by his students later in history (Comans 1).

The estimated periods when Gaudapada lived varies greatly, according to different sources. Generally, it is calculated in relation to the dates of his distant student Sankara, who was believed to live around 780-820 CE. This placed Gaudapada at around 680 CE, although it shifts based on estimation of Sankara’s life time (Isayeva 15). Scholars also examine motifs used by Gaudapada in his works, which seem to reflect particular Buddhist values. They thus propose that Gaudapada had lived during the time when certain Buddhist philosophies flourished (Isayeva 15).

Similarly, we are uncertain as to where Gaudapada came from or lived. Some propose that he lived in northern Bengal, near the Hiraravati River, where a tribe known as the Gaudas resided. As such, some propose Gaudapada lived as a master, taking his name from the tribe of which he was a part of (Isayeva 15).

Although we know little about how, when, or where he lived, we know more about whom he influenced via his philosophical ideas. The most well-known of these is the great thinker Sankara, whos strong influence from Gaudapada is evident in his own work (Isayeva 14). The time gap between Sankara and Gaudapada leads scholars to generally agree that Gaudapada perhaps taught a man named Govinda, who went on to teach Sankara (Isayeva 14).

 

Philosophy

Gaudapada is most well-known for his commentary on the Mandukya Upanisad. Of the ten Upanisads, the Mandukya is the shortest, and deals with cosmology as well as absolute truth known as brahman (Isayeva 16). His works, known as the Mandukya-Karika, is made up of four chapters: “treatise concerning the scriptural text”, “treatise concerning unreality”, “treatise on non-duality”, and “treatise on the quelling of the fire brand” (Comans 2). Of the four chapters, only the first is tied to a text, which Gaudapada discusses, namely the Mandukya Upanisad. The other three chapters are not involved directly with any other text, but expand on the ideas developed in the first chapter (Comans 2).

The basis of Gaudapada’s philosophy, which makes up Advaita Vedanta, is concerned with the illusory nature of things. In particular, this stem of Hindu philosophy focuses on absolute reality, brahman, the inner self, atman, and maya, which is the illusion that holds us in the cycle of samsara, rebirth (Rodrigues 94). Gaudapada explains four stages, or steps, that one would go through in order to achieve the state of absolute reality. As well, he holds that the concept of absolute truth or reality is already in each individual (Isayeva 23).

The first stage, called vaisvanara, means waking self or waking state (Comans 3). This stage pertains to the self as it lives within the illusion of maya, unaware of its illusory nature (Isayeva 21). In essence, it is the spiritual ignorance of the self that this stage speaks of. The Mandukya Upanisad describes atman here as having “seven limbs, nineteen mouths, and who experiences gross objects” (Comans 3). Gaudapada explains that it is these extremities that the atman uses to experience illusory existence. In this waking state, the atman is unaware and so it thrashes about, attempting to experience everything it can. In this way, the consciousness of the atman is seen as external here (Comans 3).

The next stage pertains to the dream like state, taijasa, where the atman notices the illusory nature of everything (Comans 4). In this state, Gaudapada would maintain that consciousness begins to move inward as it starts to realize the nature of itself (Comans 4). It is essentially at this stage that one could say the atman, previously external and ignorant, begins its journey inward towards truth, as it begins to see the existence of maya (Isayeva 21).

Prajna, stage three, speaks of deep sleep, or slumber (Comans 4). In this stage, Gaudapada holds that one is saved from illusion, though not truly liberated (Isayeva 22). In contrast to the previous two states, in which the self is separated due to its interaction with illusion, self, illusion, and consciousness all become one here; just one “lump of consciousness” (Isayeva 22). Instead, he cautions about this stage because those on their way to truth may get caught up in the bliss of freedom from maya, thinking they are liberated just because they have become aware that they were ignorant before. He says that although it is a wonderful state to be in, even greater bliss comes from full understanding of the nature of the atman, which cannot be obtained whilst in this stage (Isayeva 22).

Finally, the last stage is where the main concept of advaita emerges. Advaita means non-dualism, and refers to absolute truth, or brahman (Isayeva 23). In essence, brahman is seen as the only thing, rather than multiple aspects of reality, as described in more dualistic philosophies of Hinduism like Sankhya (Rodrigues 199). This stage is called turiya, although Gaudapada would argue that even giving this state a name undermines the very idea of it (Comans 5). Examples such as, “brahman is neither here nor there”, “living nor dead”, “waking or asleep”, are all given by Gaudapada to illustrate this view. As an absolute truth, there is nothing but it, which in turn means it is all, and it is nothing (Comans 5). This is the essence of what advaita means as well, which conflicts with the general dualistic orthodox view of brahman and atman (Absolute Reality, and Self) being two different things (Rodrigues 71).

 

Later Influences

Hundreds of years after his time, Gaudapada’s philosophies live on through his students. The most noted of these distant students was Sankara, whose teacher was taught by Gaudapada. Within Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, we see many parallels between the two philosophers. A major similarity is that Sankara proposed that the only absolutely real thing is brahman, which is the only thing in existence (Rodrigues 374). Although this may seem completely identical to Gaudapada’s belief, the emphasis Gaudapada put on the paradoxical nature of brahman varies slightly with Sankara’s viewpoint. Instead Gaudapada held that brahman neither exists, or exists, among other examples of his extreme non-dualistic viewpoint or darsana (Comans 5). Sankara still held many other core values that were quite similar to Gaudapada’s viewpoint. The concept of neti-neti­, meaning not one or the other, in regards to absolute truth (Rodrigues 374). This is more aligned with the idea that Gaudapada seems to be conveying in regards to brahman, as well as the abstract concept of understanding brahman. It is in this unification of brahman that causes Advaita Vedanta to be considered so radical. Many other philosophies, such as Sankhya, propose that brahman is made up of many aspects that make up our reality. In the particular example of Sankya, prakrti and purusa, the creator and observer (Rodrigues 199). Although Advaita Vedanta seems to undermine philosophies such as this, the Vedas themselves are not openly criticized, and as such Advaita Vedanta is accepted within the Hindu orthodoxy (Rodrigues 376).

 

References

Comans, Michael (2000) The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta: A Study of Gaudapada, Sankara, Suresvara and Padmapada. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Isayeva, Natalia (1995) From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Pande, Govind (1994) Life and Thought of Sankaracarya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism: the EBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books Ltd.

Tenzin, Kencho (2006) Shankara: A Hindu Revivalist or a Crypto-Buddhist? Atlanta: Georgia State University.

 

Related Topics

Atman

Avaita

Brahman

Govinda

Mandukya-Karika

Maya

Prajna

Sankara

Suka

Upanisads

Vedanta

Vedas

 

Noteworthy Websites / Additional Readings

Banerji, Sures (1989) A Companion to Sanskrit Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Dvivedi, Manilal (trans.) (1894) Mandukya-karika. Boimbay: Tatva-vivechaka Press.

Karmarkar, Raghunath (trans.) (1953) Mandukya-karika. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Lochetfeld, James (2002) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism. The Rosen Publishing Group.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2011) Studying Hinduism in Practice. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wilson, Horace (trans.) (1837) Samkhya-karika. London: Valpy.

http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=rs_theses

http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/sanskrit-texts-3/sanskrit-hindu-texts/

 

Article written by: Jordan Wingfield (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Avidya (Ignorance)

Avidya is a Sanskrit word most commonly defined as ignorance. This can be misleading if we think of ignorance as a lack of knowledge. Avidya is not simply a lack of knowledge; it is a lack of  what Hindu philosophers sometimes refer to as true knowledge (Singh 394-395). The knowledge we have of the material world around us, our minds, thoughts, bodies, and emotions is worldly knowledge. Avidya is our mistaken belief that these things make up reality, or our true self (Puligandla 218).  Avidya, then, is not simply ignorance, but spiritual ignorance (Lipner 246). It is ignorance of our true selves and of the true nature of reality (Puligandla 244). “It is no accident that light and the reflection of light are common symbols in Hinduism of vidya and the knowing process, respectively. Avidya is spiritual ignorance, symbolized by darkness” (Lipner 247).

Frequently in literature on Hinduism, avidya is said to be synonymous with, ajnana, prakrti, and maya (Nikhilananda 43). There are fine distinctions that need to be made between these words in order to better understand Hindu literature and philosophy. Ajnana is a Sanskrit word that can also be translated to ignorance or without knowledge. More specifically, without true knowledge, or knowledge of one’s true self. Avidya is also a lack of higher knowledge. Both terms allow for lower, or worldly knowledge. Avidya and ajnana can be used synonymously (Chatterjee and Datta 49).

The Sankhya or Samkhya system of Hindu philosophy is based on the dualistic principles of purusa and prakrti (Singh 75). Purusa and prakrti are separate and distinct. Purusa is pure consciousness, spirit, or self. Prakrti is nature or matter. In Sankhya, prakrti is the cause of our minds, bodies, thoughts, and feelings (Puligandla 115). The elements that make up the universe as well as all the physical properties in the universe are prakrti (Chatterjee and Datta 257).  The air we breathe, sunlight, our physical as well as mental composition are all prakrti. Our bodies and minds, and our interaction with the finite, ever-changing world in which we live cause us to have a perception of ourselves and the world that is not true reality. The way we look, feel, and behave is not the true essence of who we are.  In this way, prakrti is the same as avidya, as these are the causes of our false knowledge, or false sense of reality; our ignorance of purusa, the true self. The only way to know purusa is to rid one’s self of avidya (Puligandla 123).

The Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism can be traced to the Upanisads, which are the last part of the Vedas.  Advaita means oneness or non-dualism. It is here that the concept of avidya is explored and tied to the concepts of maya, Atman, and Brahman (Puligandla 244). Unlike the separate and distinct entities prakrti and purusa in the Sankhya system, Atman and Brahman are identical. In Advaita Vedanta, the non-dualism comes from the belief that Atman (the true self) is Brahman (reality, pure consciousness). They are not separate, but one (Puligandla 244). That is to say, we are always Brahman, but because of the delusion caused by maya, or avidya, we are ignorant. Avidya is our ignorance to the fact that we are Brahman. When avidya is extinguished, we recognize Atman, which is Brahman (Puligandla 244).

Maya is most often translated as illusion. Maya is also sometimes referred to as magic, magical power, and even fraud. Much like prakrti, maya presents us with a material or false reality that keeps us from seeing our true self or Absolute Reality (Atman and Brahman) (Deutsch 28-29). “Maya generally signifies the cosmic illusion on account of which Brahman, or Pure Consciousness, appears as the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of the universe. It is under the influence of avidya that Atman, or Pure Consciousness, appears as the jiva, or individual self. Prakrti is the material out of which the universe is evolved. But Vedantic writers do not always strictly maintain these distinctions” (Nikhilananda 43). So prakrti is to purusa as maya is to Brahman, they are both illusions that keep us from seeing our true self.

Dualist or non-dualist, avidya is what keeps one from seeing one’s true self. Avidya is the cause of samsara, the endless cycle of death and rebirth that keeps us trapped in a worldly existence (Chatterjee and Datta 18). In order to be freed from samsara, avidya must be destroyed. Samsara is caused by illusion and once the illusion is destroyed, moksa, or liberation from samsara is achieved (Deutsch 75-76). Once you realize that worldly existence is not reality, there is nothing tying you to it. Avidya is the antithesis of vidya, which is the Sanskrit word for knowledge, or insight.       According to all Indian schools of philosophy, humanity’s state of suffering is due to ignorance (avidya) of his true being and nature (Puligandla 22-23). The Upanisads teach that a person’s true being is Atman (Brahman), which is infinite, eternal, and immortal (Nikhilananda 35). But in ignorance (avidya), one identifies themselves with perishable things such as their mind, body, ego, and thereby develop attachments to them and suffer sorrow when they inevitably lose them (Puligandla 22-23).

Buddhism also recognizes avidya, and it is also defined as ignorance. Buddhists believe that there are four Noble Truths. These are: 1) Sorrow/Suffering: All living, sentient beings experience suffering; 2) Origin/Cause: The major cause of suffering is craving or desire for the illusory; 3) Cessation/Ending: The ending of suffering is the ending of the craving that causes it. This ending of craving, which is an ending of the condition of ignorance at its root, is described as nirvana. 4) Path: The Noble Eightfold Path is prescribed in Buddhism as a means of attaining nirvana (Robinson and Rodrigues 192).  The ignorance referred to in the third Noble Truth is avidya, and its cause is also the illusory. In Buddhism, the ending of the illusion is nirvana, or enlightenment. Just as in Hinduism, liberation from samsara comes through the ending of avidya.

The fact that the end of avidya is the path to liberation (moksa), or enlightenment (nirvana) does not mean that these can only be achieved at the end of one’s life or after death. Ideally, it can be achieved in this lifetime and then one can live without the suffering caused by avidya (Puligandla 23). Siddhartha Gautama achieved nirvana in his lifetime and this is how he came to be known as the Buddha (Enlightened one) (Chatterjee and Datta 115).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Chatterjee, S., & Datta, D. M. (1968) An introduction to Indian philosophy. Calcutta: University of Calcutta.

Deutsch, E. (1969) Advaita Vedanta: A philosophical reconstruction. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.

Indich, William M. (1995) Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Kumar, R., & S. Ram (2007) Hinduism-religion and philosophy. New Delhi: Crescent Publishing Corporation.

Lipner, J. (1994) Hindus: Their religious beliefs and practices. London: Routledge.

Murthy, B. S. (1985) The Bhagavad Gita. Long Beach, CA: Long Beach Publications.

Nikhilananda (1963) The Upanishads: Katha, Isa, Kena, Mundaka, Svetasvatara, Praśna, Mandukya, Aitareya, Brihadaranyaka, Taittiriya, and Chhandogya. New York: Harper & Row.

Puligandla, R. (1975) Fundamentals of Indian philosophy. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Robinson, T. A., & H. Rodrigues (2006) World religions: A guide to the essentials. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

Singh, S. P. (2004) Vedic vision of consciousness and reality. New Delhi: Centre for Studies in Civilizations.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Advaita Vedanta

Atman

Brahman

Moksa

Maya

Nirvana

Prakrti

Purusa

Sankhya

Upanisads

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.indiadivine.org/content/topic/1393680-prakriti-maya-avidya/

http://www.advaitayoga.org/AdvaitaPhilosophy.html

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/advaita.asp

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/essays/knowledge.asp

http://www.hinduism.co.za/ignoranc.htm

http://www.iep.utm.edu/adv-veda/

http://www.swami-krishnananda.org/moksha/moksh_04.html

http://sivanandaonline.org/public_html/?cmd=displaysection&section_id=808

 

Article written by: Robin Wilcox (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hindu Monasteries (Matha)

Hindu monasteries or mathas are any residential monastic establishments or educational centre for renouncers or sannyasis; even though, the ideal monk is classified as a wanderer. A matha can also refer to a single hut with only one ascetic or a large community of ascetics and their disciplines and students. They were founded by Sankara, a great teacher, in the 8th century. The original four mathas were strategically placed in India to be used as bulwarks for the missionaries and centres for Sankara’s ten religious groups: on the east coast, in Puri, the Govardhana matha for the Aranyakas and the Vana orders; in the Himalayas, near Badrinath, the Jyotih matha for the Giri, Parvaya, and Sagara orders; on the west coast, in Dvaraka, the Sarada matha for the Tirtha and Asrama orders; and lastly, in south India the Srngeri matha for the Bharati, Puri, and Sarasvati orders (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Later a fifth matha arose in Kancipuram, near Madras, called the Saradaptha matha (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

Each matha that was founded by Sankara is led by either a teacher or a spiritual leader also known as a Sankaracarya or a Jagadguru. Individual mathas and their history are directly associated with the succession of its spiritual leader; therefore each matha operates completely independent to any other matha. Typically, the current Sankaracarya appoints one of his followers to become the new spiritual leader in the event of his passing; however, issues can arise if no successor was named and the Sankaracarya passes away unexpectedly. Eventually gurus were even given the responsibility of providing social and economic services to the community. Each Sankaracarya has their own set of followers and their goal is to meet their own religious needs such as “focus on ritual activity and devotional worship rather than renunciation or meditative realization of non-dual brahman” (Fort 613).

There are several important initiations rites to the ascetic life. According Miller and Wertz the first being that after one has determined they want to enter the ascetic life they need to acquire a guru who is willing to take them as his discipline (84). The guru can either be an ascetic from one’s village, a religious teacher or in some cases an uncle (Miller and Wertz 84). Then the discipline must cut all his family ties by performing death ceremonies with his parents (Miller and Wertz 85). After the death ceremony the discipline will no longer be allowed to perform any household services (Miller and Wertz 85). The head ascetic of a monastery will then administer a ritual called diksa (Miller and Wertz 84). The head ascetic must be a man who has already performed his last vows of renunciation (Miller and Wertz 84). The two forms of diksa are when the guru administers the ritual to a lay disciple and the other is only given to ascetic disciples (Miller and Wertz 84). This recognizes the “would be” ascetic and that he is permanently separating himself from his former life (Miller and Wertz 84). Finally, the discipline must acquire a religious name that ends with his sub-order’s name (Miller and Wertz 84). After performing these basic initiation rites a man can enter the ascetic life.

According to Guru Saccinananda the main function of a matha is to give ethical advice and moral teachings to the disciples in hopes of creating “honest, peace-loving, independent, moral, and well behaved” people (Miller and Wertz 25). However, according to Saccinananda several other functions are “to provide education in Sanskrit, to feed guests, to give money to the poor, shelter to the helpless, and the burial to the dead who have no family’ (Miller and Wertz 25). He also claimed that there are ten daily practices that are basic steps to liberation. The first is that the discipline must get up before sunrise each morning (Miller and Wertz 26). The second is that they must pay respect every morning and evening to the sun God Savitri (Miller and Wertz 26). The third is each day while bathing the discipline must recite sacred mantras or verses to a deity of their choice (Miller and Wertz 26). The fourth is that they must perform daily sacrificial fire offerings and yoga postures (Miller and Wertz 26). The fifth is that they must service all their guests (Miller and Wertz 26). The sixth is that the funeral offerings to one’s ancestors must be performed at noon (Miller and Wertz 26). The seventh is that they must take sacred food in the  afternoon and before each evening (Miller and Wertz 26). The eighth is that each evening the disciples’ deity of choice must be worshipped (Miller and Wertz 26). The ninth is that each evening before they go to bed they must perform meditation for the welfare of humanity (Miller and Wertz 26). Lastly, they are only allowed to sleep from the hours of 11pm to 4pm (Miller and Wertz 26).

According to Jagadananda, in a Hindu matha, there a ten precepts of ethical behaviour that one must follow. The first is that you must act kind towards a harsh and unpleasant man and by doing so you have the ability to change him (Miller and Wertz 34). The second is that even if others do not like you that does not mean you have to dislike them back. Eventually these people will lose their power and someday feel bad for their negative actions (Miller and Wertz 34). The third is that you need to ensure you are using the appropriate dialogue when conversing with others as this is a main factor when determining if they will be an enemy or a friend (Miller and Wertz 35). The fourth is that you must respect others when it is their turn to talk as everyone was created equally and by God (Miller and Wertz 35). The fifth is that you should not be disrespectful to people in lower classes as you might be born into that class or position on your next rebirth (Miller and Wertz 35). The sixth is that only ignorant men are prejudiced to one’s caste and skin colour (Miller and Wertz 35). The seventh is that you must consider your “superiors as well wishers and your inferiors as blessed” (Miller and Wertz 35). The eighth is that you need to be independent but also care for your parents needs at the same time as they were the ones who made you into the man you are by giving up their money, time and resources (Miller and Wertz 35). The ninth, is that when you pray to a deity you should be praying for the greatness and happiness of humanity  and not for yourself; the deity will only listen and respond to a man who is concerned about the welfare of others (Miller and Wertz 35). Lastly, “do not grasp onto things” or be materialistic; Brahman, the Vedic creator god, is always around and is everywhere in the universe (Miller and Wertz 35).

Even though numerous mathas have been established over the years as either additions to other institutions or by an individual guru, the original four mathas created by Sankara are still the main ones. Srngeri, Dvaraka, Badrinath and Puri are special and are also known as the amnaya mathas as they are connected with the four Vedas, the matching Upanisad Mahavakyas and Sankara’s four main followers (Sundaresan 110). The most famous and influential matha is Srngeri, in Karnataka State, in South Asia. It is also known as the centre of the Sankaran Vedanta tradition and was originally used as a place to stay and study for samnyasins. In the Srngeri matha the samnyasins who reside there highly regard the Vivekacudamani (Sawai 22).  However, since the fourteenth century it became a place for pilgrimage, worship and philosophical study (Fort 613). The main goddess that is now worshipped at Srngeri is Sri Sarada (Fort 613). The lay adherents of the Vedic tradition or smartas also now visit Srngeri for advice and boons from the Sankaracaryas (Fort 613).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Fort, Andrew (1994) The Faith of Ascetics and Lay Smartas: A Study of the Sankaran Tradition of Srngeri. Journal of Asian Studies 53.2: 613. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.

Isaeva, Natalia (1993) Shankara and Indian Philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Matha (2016) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web. 07 Feb. <http://www.britannica.com/topic/matha>.

Miller, David M., and Dorothy C. Wertz (1976) Hindu monastic life: The monks and monasteries of Bhubaneswar. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Prasad, Leela (2006) Text, Tradition, and Imagination: Evoking the Normative in Everyday Hindu Life. Numen 53.1: 1–47. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Sawai, Yoshitsugu (1987) The Nature of Faith in the Sankaran Vedanta Tradition. Numen 34.1: 18–44. Web. 5 Feb 2016.

Sears, Tamara (2008) Constructing the Guru: Ritual Authority and Architectural Space in Medieval India. The Art Bulletin 90.1: 7–31. Web.7 Feb 2016.

Shankara (2016) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web. 07 Feb. 2016 <http://www.britannica.com/biography/Shankara>.

Sundaresan, Vidyasankar (2000) Conflicting Hagiographies and History: The Place of Sankaravijaya Texts in Advaita Tradition. International Journal of Hindu Studies 4.2: 109–184. Web. 7 Feb 2016.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Sankara

Guru

Samnyasin

Smarta tradition

Jadadguru

Advaita Tradition

Srngeri matha

Amnaya mathas

Sankaracarya

Diska

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://www.himalayanacademy.com/monastery/about

http://indiafacts.org/the-hindu-matha-a-introduction/

http://indology.info/papers/sundaresan/shank-jyot-ascii/

http://www.sringeri.net/history/sri-adi-shankaracharya

http://www.bhagavadgitausa.com/sringeri.htm

http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/avhp/sankara-life.html

 

Article written by: Hailey McLean (March 2016) who is solely responsible for the content

 

 

 

Prakrti: Material Consciousness

The Sankhya Hindu philosophy is one of the six orthodox darsanas (world outlooks). It is considered orthodox because of its adherence to the Vedas and the caste system. In the Sankhya philosophy, prakrti is part of a dualistic philosophy that explains the states of consciousness by listing the components of reality. The Sankhya darsana explains the creation of the world with the intertwining of purusa and prakrti, resembling explanations in the Vedas. The materiality of the world is the workings of prakrti (Larson 167-168). The identification with all material things is what the Sankhya darsana explains as material consciousness. This sense of consciousness cannot be the true self because it is corrupted. Purusa is the true self and can only be achieved when all senses of prakrti are removed. Yoga is applied to the Sankhya darsana to attempt to reach moksa (full liberation) (Burley 36-38).

To list the components of reality that make up the cosmos, Sankhya philosophy begins by dividing pure, real consciousness from the illusion of consciousness that is within all entities of the cosmos. These separate states of consciousness are purusa and prakrti. Purusa is pure consciousness that can only be attained when prakrti returns to it dormant state. To achieve complete consciousness, the Sankhya philosophy promotes the advancement through the different elements of prakrti to realize that the material consciousness is false. Once all false identifications are let go, prakrti is dissolved and purusa is achieved. Reaching the state of purusa is to be free of all false identification (Jacobsen 8).

Prakrti is composed of twenty-three tattvas. Tattvas are elements that can be listed ranging from their coarseness to how subtle they are. As the progression from the coarse tattvas to the subtle ones occurs, the proportions of the three gunas changes (Parrot 60-63). These gunas (qualities) are tamas, rajas, and sattva; each guna is attributed a different set of qualities. The sattva guna is the quality of enlightenment, intelligibility and clarity. The tamas guna is classified as vague and dull, and the rajas guna is passion and activity (Ramakrishna Rao 64-65). Within one’s life, they will experience all three gunas in different proportions. When one is not distracted with the tamas and rajas gunas, the clarity that is the sattva guna is able to dissolve the illusion of consciousness created by prakrti (Jacobsen 8).

The twenty-three tattvas of prakrti can be divided into five categories. The mahabhutas are the coarsest elements; they are; earth, fire, water, air, and space. All materiality of the world is based on these five elements, so the manifestation of prakrti relies on the identification with these elements. The subtle tattvas are what is absorbed through the senses (odor, flavor, texture, sound, shape and color) (Larson 236-237). The tattvas that are necessary for the continuation of material life are the five action tattvas; reproduction, excretion, motion, communication, and accumulation. The five knowledge senses allow one’s ego to identify with the grosser tattvas; these elements of knowledge are the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell). These twenty tattvas make up the materiality of the world. Without the identification and connection that one has with these tattvas the manifestation of prakrti would not be able to occur. Because materiality is intertwined with purusa in the creation of the cosmos prakrti is an evitable part of life. The last three tattvas, that compose citta are essential to the separation of material consciousness and the internal liberation that lies hidden amongst the tattvas that are prakrti.

The material consciousness that is made up the twenty tattvas must be combined with of the last three tattvas is called citta. Citta is attributed to the mind and thought; it is the perceived enlightenment of prakrti. Without the mind to identify with the world there is no consciousness, perceived or real. Citta is comprised of three elements manas, anhankara, and buddhi (Larson 236). Manas is the inner agency that persuades one to believe in the material consciousness that is prakrti. Anhankara is one’s ego. The ego identifies with the heavier tattvas making full liberation a difficult concept to believe. Anhankara generates a false sense of self that is based solely on the materiality of the world around (Parrot 70-72).

The buddhi is the subtlest tattva. This part of citta allows one to realize that the manas and anhankara use the grosser tattvas to create material consciousness and that is not its true self. The ability to discriminate between the false sense of self that is prakrti and the ability to gain true consciousness is what makes buddhi the greatest tattva [Buddhi is often referred to mahat, which means the great or highest intelligence]. To achieve purusa, the sattva guna must be in its highest proportion. In this state of clarity one is able to wish to achieve pure consciousness. The awareness that buddhi has of material consciousness allows one to escape from the false identifications made by manas and anhankara. When one stops falsely identifying they are released from prakrti and are able to achieve the pure consciousness that is purusa. Purusa never stopped functioning when prakrti was present; it acted as an observer, waiting for the right moment to be revealed (Sharma 149-153). The Sankhya darsana promotes that advancement through the different elements of prakrti to the so that the identification of the true self is not another false identification. One must experience the material consciousness so that when it is time to identify the true self it will not mistaken it for something else (Ramakrishna Rao 61-63).

When purusa is realized all traces of prakrti disappear. The tattvas engulf into themselves and essentially disappear; this is possible because the Sankhya darsana presents both purusa and prakrti as transcendental, but real entities. When the material consciousness that is prakrti is gone, one is then left with their true self. Liberation is widely known as moksa in Hinduism, but is also referred to as kaivalya in the Sankhya orthodox philosophy. When kaivalya is attained one is fully liberated for all materiality. When one is advancing through the tattvas that make up prakrti it is important that they do not become consumed in them; the ultimate goal is to become liberated from prakrti, not to master living in a world of it. The Sankhya darsana adopts this philosophy while other sects of Hinduism focus on the mastery of the tattvas. Prakrti is escapable if one wishes to find true liberation. Sankhya darsana tells of the difficulty that is prakrti, but encourages and supports that finding one’s true self is much more fulfilling than the materiality of prakrti (Widgery 234-237).

 

Bibliography

Burley, Mikel (2006) Classical Samkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysics of Experience. Online: Taylor and Francis.

Larson, Gerald James (1998) Classical Samkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning. London: Motilal Banarsidass.

Parrot, R. J. (1986) “The Problem of the Samkhya Tattvas as Both Cosmic and Psychological Phenomena.” Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 14: 55-78.

Ramakrishna Rao, K.B (1963) “The Gunas of Prakrti According to the Samkhya Philosophy.” Philosophy East and West, Vol. 13, No. 1: 61-71.

Sharma, Chandradhar (1997) A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Widgery, Alban (1930) “The principles of Hindu Ethics.” International Journal of Ethics Vol. 40 No. 2: 234-237.

 

Related Research Topics

Sankhya Philosophy

Purusa

Citta

Kaivalya

Darsana

Rajas

Tamas

Sattva

 

Related Websites

http://hinduwebsite.com/gunas.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prakṛti

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Tattva

http://www.yinyoga.com/ys1_4.1.1_purusha_prakriti.php

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Sankhya_darsana

http://hinduonline.co/Scriptures/SankhyaDarshana.html

http://www.mahavidya.ca/sankhya-philosophy/

 

Article written by: Jillian Koenen (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Bhagavad Gita (A Comprehensive Study)

The Bhagavad Gita remains, to this day, one of the most influential books of the Hindu religion, estimated to originate as far back as roughly the third or fourth century BC (Davis 6).  The Gita, or Song of the Blessed One or Lord is a long dialogue between Krishna (a Supreme Deity) and a warrior, Arjuna (Edgerton 105).  The event takes place on the battle field of Kurukshetra, during a war between two rival families, finding the warrior-Prince Arjuna steeped in doubt and dejection (Edgerton 105).  Through the dialogue, Krishna teaches and reveals the mysteries of existence to Arjuna, convincing him to perform his sacred duty and fight the impending war (Edgerton 105, Stoler-Miller).  The Bhagavad Gita’s malleability has survived the ages and continues to have a profound effect on those who read it (Davis).  This essay will examine the content of the Gita, in addition to various commentary of both individual chapters, and the work as a whole.  In addition, this paper will supply further context of specific passages, and provide a moderate history of the book to substantiate its existence and importance in regard to Hindu tradition.

To begin, the actual content of The Bhagavad Gita shall be examined chapter by chapter.  In the initial chapter of the Gita, Sanjaya, an overseer, or chorus of sorts, reports the setting to the blind King Dhritarashtra, which is made apparent by listing the warriors assembled on the “Kuru Field” (Edgerton 3).  Near the end, we find Arjuna slumped in his chariot between the two sides, steeped in misery at the thought of going to war against his kinsmen, riddled with a lowness of spirit, physically crippled, in the presence of the imminent war before him.  He foresees in the war “… omens of chaos” (Stoler-Miller 25), finding “…no good in killing [his] kinsmen” (Stoler-Miller 25).  This chapter is known as Arjuna’s Dejection (Stoler-Miller 21) or Discipline of Arjuna’s Despondency (Edgerton 8).

Commentary from the viewpoint of the average Hindu, as provided in this paper by Eknath Easwaran, titles this chapter “The War Within”, and points out the first detail the reader must pick up in order to understand the actual purpose of the text – this is not Krishna’s fight, it is Arjuna’s own internal battle (Easwaran 47).  The author points out some interesting insights here about the significance of the setting of the Gita, that may explain the seeming paradox of the lessons Krishna is trying to deliver in the context of a war.  As the incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, Krishna is sworn to be noncombatant and impartial, and as Arjuna’s charioteer in the middle of a battlefield, this role becomes possible (Easwaran 47).  Easwaran also explains some of the other people mentioned in the opening chapter, giving more context to the non-Hindu reader.  The blind king, Dhritarashtra, is Arjuna’s uncle, and has been blind since birth (48).  He was never actually supposed to rule, but ended up assuming power when his brother, Pandu, whom he co-ruled with, died (Easwaran 48).  Dhritarashtra tried to eventually install Duryodhana, his own son, as King.  However, the grown up son of Pandu, Yudhishthira, is the rightful heir, thus leading to the war and its imminency (Easwaran 48-49).  Other people worth mentioning according to Easwaran are Drona, a brahmin-turned warrior specialist, who taught all the warriors including Arjuna, who was his prized student (Easwaran 49).  Bhisma, “the grandsire”, a respected elder statesman, is also Dhritarashtra’s advisor, and worth mentioning according to the translator (Easwaran 49).  Easwaran also discusses the two main viewpoints about the setting of war as a backdrop for the Gita.  Firstly, there is the orthodox Hindu view that “…condones war for the warrior” (Easwaran 50), claiming war for a warrior is simply dharma playing out.  War is tragic and honorable at the same time, and is an evil that simply cannot be avoided.  War is in accordance with divine will to the orthodox viewpoint (Easwaran 50).  The second view of this setting is the mystic standpoint, which claims an allegory of cosmic struggle between good and evil (Easwaran 50).  Gandhi famously said by placing too much stock in the setting of the Gita “…gives importance only to its opening – its preface – ignoring the scripture itself” (Easwaran 50).  Chapter one of the Bhagavad Gita “…bridges a rather perilous bridge between the warrior’s world,…and the really important part of the Gita – Sri Krishna’s revelations of spiritual truth” (Easwaran 51).

The second chapter, known as Philosophy and Spiritual Discipline (Stoler-Miller 29) or Discipline of Reason Method (Edgerton 17), lets the colloquial discourse of Krishna begin.  Arjuna is so beside himself, his “…eyes [are] blurred by tears” (Stoler-Miller 29).  Krishna urges Arjuna to rise to the occasion of his sacred duty, even though to Arjuna  is clearly torn between “…conflicting sacred duties” (Stoler-Miller 30).  Which is better?  To not fight and be silent?  Or to go into battle, and surely have to slay kinsmen?  In this moment of the dialogue, Arjuna has settled on stepping aside from the fight that confronts him.  Krishna begins with telling him that you “…[cannot] grieve for those beyond grief” and that “learned men do not grieve for the dead or the living” (Stoler-Miller 31).  The deity is speaking of rebirth and reincarnation of spirit, beyond the realm of the human body.  Krishna also reminds Arjuna that the senses are fleeting, the human body is impermanent, and that the embodied self is indestructible and immeasurable, and when one finds the infinite spirit within, one is freed from delusion (Stoler-Miller 34-39).   The analogy used is of changing of clothing and the body, in that the cycle of life is inevitable. Arjuna questions what defines a man deep in contemplation and Krishna informs him that he has to give up desires, and be content with oneself.  One must also free himself from attachment and desire.  This chapter lays the foundation for further understanding of Krishna’s teachings to Arjuna, confirming he has no cause to grieve, since through self control and discipline, one finds serenity (Stoler-Miller 32-39).

According to Easwaran’s commentary, “The Illumined Man” is the title of the following chapter, chapter two of the Gita.  Krishna’s task as Arjuna’s spiritual teacher is set out, to raise him out of despair and put him on his way to salvation (57).  He points out that Arjuna has always been a man of action, and has not given much thought to spirituality at this point of his life, but as Krishna points out, active life alone is not enough (Easwaran 57-59).  Thus Arjuna asks the perennial questions to give the Gita its purpose and mandate – Is there a soul?, What happens to the soul after death?, and Is there a deeper reality? (Easwaran 57-60).  Interestingly, as the author points out, Krishna begins with an “ultimate premise”  of the atman to answer his students principal questions (Easwaran 58), rather than leading Arjuna stage by stage. The main point is that the immortal soul is more important than the passing world (Easwaran 57-60).  Out of his comprehension, Arjuna knows he needs Krishna as his Guru (in Hindu thought, one needs an experienced teacher to seek spiritual enlightenment) (Easwaran 57-60).  This chapter also introduces the concept of samsara, and seeing past the dualities that exist in life (Easwaran 57-60).  Also touched upon in this overview chapter are the different types of yoga and their importance for spirituality (Easwaran 57-60).  One of the Gita’s most cited and famous quotes is found in this portion when Krishna answers Arjuna’s question about what difference spiritual wisdom makes in everyday life (Easwaran 59).  The warning of sense objects, yet shying from austerity is also introduced (Easwaran 57-60).

The third teaching in the Gita expands on the notion of discipline regarding action.  It is known as Discipline of Action (Stoler-Miller 41) or Discipline of Knowledge (Egderton 27).  This chapter focuses on disciplined knowledge of the discipline of men themselves when in action.  Arjuna questions whether understanding is more powerful than action and queries his mentor to”…speak one certain truth” (Stoler-Miller 41).  His mentor replies by first explaining that one cannot escape the force of action, neither by abstaining by it or acting for fruits (Stoler-Miller 41-45).  Krishna reaffirms that performing necessary action is far more powerful than inaction, and that actions must be performed without attachment, uttering words spoken by Prajapati (Stoler-Miller 42).  Prajapati said “By sacrifice will you procreate!  Let it be your wish-granting cow!” (Stoler-Miller 42).  Perhaps the most important point in this section is when Krishna declares that “Your own action  done imperfectly is better than doing someone else’s duty perfectly” (Stoler-Miller 46).

The third section of the scripture is called “Selfless Service” according to Easwaran.  He explains the meaning of “karma yoga”, which translates in Sanskrit as “the way of action”, and this takes a sharp turn away from the previous chapter (Easwaran 71).  While Krishna begins to try and teach his student, Arjuna can only find himself concerned with his immediate predicament (Easwaran 71).  Krishna explains: we must all act selflessly and out of a sense of duty, doing our part in the grand scheme of things, which cannot be avoided (Easwaran 71-72).  Here, the Doctrine of Karma comes to the forefront as Krishna tries to convince Arjuna to fight his battle, which is one of the most basic Hindu teachings (Easwaran 71-72).  Put quite simply by Krishna, actions determine destiny, reminding him not to avoid work, but to perform them without selfish attachment (Easwaran 72).  Arjuna’s next question deals with what binds us to our selfish ways, and his teacher answers that is the qualities of anger and selfish desire (Easwaran 73).  The Gita refers to the Sankhya philosophy of the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas, warning of the pitfalls of the latter two (Easwaran 72-73).  An example of a noble king by the name of Janaka is given as an example of how to conduct oneself to Arjuna (Easwaran 73).

Knowledge (Stoler-Miller 49) or Discipline of Renunciation of Actions (Edgerton 31) are the titles of the fourth teaching.  Perhaps in this part of the Gita Arjuna better understands his sacred duty of action as a result of how Krishna clarifies true knowledge.  The deity explains that when sacred duty decays and chaos prevails, he must then re-create himself to restore order, much the way sacrifice in the world of man (ie: Arjuna’s sacred duty to fight) is equivalent to action, even though action can easily be obscured (ie: wrong action, inaction) (Stoler-Miller 50-52).  In other words, existence must keep going, and we must do our duty, even when it may not be desirable or ideal (Stoler-Miller 50-52).  When one has true knowledge, which is the mastery of oneself, the totality of all action emanates in it, and if one recognizes this, one can never descend into delusion (Stoler-Miller 52-52).  “The fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes (Stoler-Miller 54).

Chapter four, in reference to Easwaran’s treatise of the Gita is referred to as “Wisdom in Action”.  Arjuna is informed he will be privy to “secret teachings” (Easwaran 81).  The process of re-birth is again raised, and Krishna’s greatness is implied when he informs Arjuna he can recall his past lives unlike mortal men (Easwaran 81).  Roots of the Sanskrit words avatar (avatara=descent) and krish (“to draw a plow”, “to draw to oneself”) are also explained by this author (Easwaran 82-83), which gives some insight into the Hindu thought about God.  The latter part of this chapter turns back again to Arjuna’s problem, and Krishna makes a new point in the final verses, in that wisdom is the end of selfless action, knowing is the fruit of doing (Easwaran 83).

Chapter five is called Renunciation of Action (Stoler-Miller 57) or Discipline of Meditation (Edgerton 37), and focuses on which is superior: renunciation of action or discipline.  Krishna teaches discipline in action is better, and that by mastery of one correctly, one will find the fruit of both, and that renunciation is impossible without discipline (Stoler-Miller 57).  He further explains that undisciplined men are in bondage, attached to the fruit of desire (Stoler-Miller 58).  Through “…exist[ing] in the infinite spirit, [men will find] flawless equilibrium” (Stoler-Miller 59).

The fifth chapter, according to lay Hindus, is titled “Renounce and Rejoice”, and contrasts complete renunciation (sannyasa) and detachment in the working world (Easwaran 91).  Siddhartha Gautama’s quest, for example, is a prime illustration of trying to maintain balance yet avoiding austerity through a middle way (Easwaran 91).  The translator points out that the word “yoga” presents difficulties in the Gita, as it means different things at different times (Easwaran 92).  Generally speaking, it is fair to say that yoga=practice and sankhya=theory (Easwaran 92).  The Gita could indeed be the first Hindu scripture to combine karma yoga and the pursuit of self knowledge together (Easwaran 92).  The true goal of action is knowledge of the self, and in that the example of the lotus flower is given – it spends its life floating in water, yet is waterproof (Easwaran 92).  Krishna’s point is that a life of work cannot be fulfilling without self knowledge, also known as the knowledge of Brahman (Easwaran 93).  The last three verses, as the author points out, deal with Samadhi, and how once established, can come and go, yet always be resilient (Easwaran 93-94).

The Man of Discipline (Stoler-Miller 63) or Discipline of Meditation (Edgerton 41), the name of the sixth teaching of Krishna to Arjuna, outlines what proper discipline in living is.  Declaring that discipline is renunciation, only one who is mature in this has tranquility as a means (Stoler-Miller 63).  For Krishna, discipline is equal to renouncing and detaching from all intentions, sense objects and actions being renounced and detached from (Stoler-Miller 63-69).  Men need to “elevate not degrade oneself” (Stoler-Miller 63).  The self is both ones best friend and worst foe, and a man without self-mastery is in internal war (Stoler-Miller 64) and by controlling the mind, diet, breath, demeanor, senses, sleepfulness, desires and cravings, the disciplined man is “…unmoved, even by deep suffering” (Stoler-Miller 66).  The man who’s self is in God and who “…acts with honor, cannot go the wrong way” (Stoler-Miller 68).

The sixth chapter, according to Easwaran, is called “The Practice of Meditation”, and is one of the most interesting chapters of the Gita according to this author.  Krishna delivers a detailed explanation of meditation for the layperson very simply (Easwaran 99).  Easwaran points out how the western notion of a yogi is inconsistent, in that what a true yogi is is a person who does his or her job without attachment to rewards (100).  Great depth is gone into by Krishna in his explanation of the practice of meditation, and he uses a mountain top analogy to explain to Arjuna that his spiritual path will not be easy, but a constant struggle right to the top (Easwaran 100-101).  A famous verse in this chapter has Krishna comparing the mind to a flame, while Arjuna says his mind is more like the wind (Easwaran 101).  The teacher reinforces to the student that through practice, the mind can be trained, in the proper mindfulness, in the proper way physically (Easwaran 101-103).  Arjuna questions what happens to a person who is spiritual but does not pursue this goal.  Krishna reaffirms that any practice will not got to waste, and that spiritual enlightenment can take as many lives as it needs to (Easwaran  102-103).

The seventh teaching in the Gita is entitled Knowledge and Judgment (Stoler-Miller 71) or Discipline of the Theoretical and Practical Knowledge (Edgerton 45).  Arjuna’s teacher tells him that by practicing discipline in God’s protection, one can know God without doubt (Stoler-Miller 72).  God teaches the totality of knowledge and judgment, and that nothing else needs to be known (Stoler-Miller 71-72).  In both versions, Krishna clearly states God’s lower and higher natures.  The lower  natures are eight-fold and include earth, water, fire, wind, space, mind, understanding, and individuality, and the higher nature of God is the “…life force that sustains the universe” (Stoler-Miller 72).  Nature’s triad of qualities, spoken further of in the fourteenth teaching, lucidity, passion and dark inertia also come from God (Stoler-Miller 72), and in turn produce four types of virtuous men devoted to God: the tormented, the seeker of wisdom, the suppliant and the sage (Stoler-Miller 73).  Krishna reminds Arjuna that “unwaivering faith [maybe granted] to any devoted man to worship in any form”  (Stoler-Miller 73).  The overwhelming tone of this teaching is devotion to God and the love one will endure in return.

Easwaran explains, in the seventh chapter, the problems with the translations of certain words from Sanskrit, such as jnana (wisdom, roughly) and vijnana (realization, roughly) (Easwaran 111).  These words can be left up to interpretation, and can mean many different things.  This chapter follows several trails, sometimes losing a unifying theme – which as Easwaran points out is knowledge of the supreme reality underlying nature (111).  Two natures, important to the Sankhya school of Hindu philosophy, are discussed in this section, which are prakriti (mind and matter) and purusha (pure spirit) (Easwaran 112).  The word “maya” (from the Rig Veda) also appears here as the three gunas are brought forth, swirling within maya, hiding Krishna’s true nature (113-114).  Moha (delusions) are contrasted with jnana and vijnana (113-114).

The eighth teaching, perhaps one of the most difficult chapters in the Gita to decipher, is entitled The Infinite Spirit (Stoler-Miller 77) or Discipline of the Imperishable Brahman (Edgerton 45), begins with a question from Arjuna concerning what the infinite spirit is, what its inner self is, what its inner being is, and what its inner divinity is (Stoler-Miller 77).  Krishna answers respectively with that the inner spirit is eternal and supreme, its action or creative force is the inherent being, and its divinity is man’s spirit (Stoler-Miller 77).  There is an overall focus on God and how man will always be one with him.

“The Eternal Godhead” is the title of the eighth chapter by Easwaran, and alludes to several important concepts presented more fully in the Upanishads (119).  The very ancient ideas discussed and taught by Krishna in chapter eight explain the soul’s journey after death, and how to die (Easwaran 12-13, 119).  Arjuna questions how God can be known at the hour of death.  Krishna replies that anyone who remembers God will, since the mind directs the soul (Easwaran 119-120).  First, consciousness is withdrawn from the senses, and then the mind is placed (locked up) in the heart (chakra), at which time the mind can go north (released from karma) or south (not, and reborn) (Easwaran 120-122).  This chapter also alludes to the “days and nights of Brahma”, which is strikingly similar to modern expand and collapse theories of the universe, yet Hindu thought believes in a higher state of being (Vishnu), or avyakta (the unmanifest) (Easwaran 124).

The Sublime Mystery (Stoler-Miller 83) or Discipline of Royal Knowledge and Royal Mystery (Edgerton 49) is the title of the ninth chapter.  Krishna divulges to Arjuna “…the deepest mystery” “…since he finds no fault and will realize it with knowledge and judgment” (Stoler-Miller 83).  The deep mystery is that God is everything, yet does not exist within men, and that any man devoted is not lost (Stoler-Miller 84-85).  If men act in resolve through sacred duty, they are one with God, regardless of what they do. (Stoler-Miller 86).

Chapter nine of the Gita is called “The Royal Path”, in average viewpoints, and praises Krishna as the supreme being, while exalted nature is stressed, and warning is given to those who think God is limited or to be underestimated (Easwaran 129).  This would definitely speak to the average follower about the importance of loyalty to God.  A lot of this chapter is dedicated to bhakti, or real love and devotion to God, reassuring God’s impartiality toward all living things (Easwaran 129-131

The tenth teaching, called Fragments of Divine Power (Stoler-Miller 89) or Discipline of Supernal Manifestations (Edgerton 54), has Krishna trying to explain that regardless of diverse attitudes about God among men, God is the source of everything, and everything proceeds from God (Stoler-Miller 89-90).  Arjuna asks him to recount his divine powers.  The deity explains that he is the beginning, middle and end, a number of Gods including Vishnu, Indra, and Shiva, he is the great mountain of Gods, Meru, he is OM, the great Himalayas, the sacred fig tree, chief of divine sages, the immortal stallion, the king, etc., sustaining the world with a fragment of his being (Stoler-Miller 90-95).  The purpose of this teaching is a segway of demonstration of Krishna’s greatness into the next chapter that includes the actual vision of Arjuna.

“Divine Splendor” is the title of chapter ten according to Easwaran’s explanation, and goes deeper into revelation of the divine being of Krishna, the source from which all comes, encompassing all dualities, and incomprehensible beyond thought (Easwaran 137-138).  The author points out that this can be a difficult chapter for non-Hindu reader, for there are many unfamiliar names.

The vision teaching, or eleventh chapter titled The Vision of Krishna’s Totality (Stoler-Miller 97) or Discipline of the Vision of the Universal Form (Edgerton 61), is perhaps the climax of the Gita itself, and it is explained by the outside voice of Sanjaya.  After Arjuna asks Krishna to “…reveal himself…”(Stoler-Miller 97), the great vision of God’s totality begins, intense and foreign.  Arjuna is so affected by this that he has a clearly written physical reaction to the intensity of his experience.

“The Cosmic Vision” in Easwaran’s version is claimed to be the most exalted chapter of the Gita.  Arjuna sees the divine vision of Krishna as his full nature as God himself (Easwaran 147).  Some critics have questioned why the vision is granted to Arjuna, and the reasoning probably is because in the Mahabarata, the two have been companions for many years.  The rest of the chapter describes Arjuna’s Samadhi, a word used by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra (Easwaran 147-148).  For Arjuna, there are two forms of Samadhi experienced during his vision, savikalpa (God in human form), and nirvikalpa (all forms disappearing into God, supernatural fire consuming the entire phenomenal world) (Easwaran 148).  It is here, and has been described by many mystics as “a thousand suns” (Easwaran 148).    There is definite entertainment value for the lay follower in this chapter.

The twelfth section of the Gita is called Devotion (Stoler-Miller 111) or Discipline of Devotion (Edgerton 64).  Arjuna questions who best knows discipline.  Krishna answers that men who worship, with true faith, the imperishable, the ineffable and the un-manifest.  He explains that men are bound by bodies, and therefore the un-manifest becomes hard to comprehend (Stoler-Miller 111).  Therefore, meditating with singular discipline, and attaining knowledge gives one faith in devotion (Stoler-Miller 111-113).

Easwaran refers to this chapter as “The Way of Love” (159).  It is brief and focuses on the supreme importance of devotion and faith in spiritual development (Easwaran 159).  As the author points out, all world religions would probably agree with the Gita at this point, as it stresses a way of devotion, and stresses the efficacy of devotion (Easwaran 159).  The approach found in this text is one of incomprehensibility of everything, and faith from love, as love is a sure path to God, and can be cultivated through practice (Easwaran 159-160).

Knowing the Field (Stoler-Miller 115) or Discipline of Distinction of Field and Field Knower (Edgerton 68) names the thirteenth teaching.  Krishna first explains what “The Field” is, being the great elements: individuality, understanding, un-manifest nature, the eleven senses, and five sense realms (Stoler-Miller 115).  He continues by clarifying that dispassion toward sense objects, an absence of individuality, and seeing the defects in birth, death, old age and suffering will help a man attain the infinite spirit (Stoler-Miller 116).  The self is not an actor, and everything is born from the field and its knower (Stoler-Miller 117-118).  “Just as the sun illuminates the world, so too does the master illuminate the entire field” (Stoler-Miller 119).

“The Field and the Knower”, according to Easwaran, is the title of chapter thirteen, and gives the reader two sweeping categories: the field (the body and mind, all components of prakriti – mass, time, energy, space and strata of mind) and the knower (the Self that resides within) (Easwaran 165).  This section focuses in on the dualities (prakriti and purusha) of all things (Sankhya philosophy), and how the “field of karma” defines the whole of existence.  The interesting comparison of akasha (space itself as an element) is used as an analogy (Easwaran 168).

The fourteenth teaching in the Gita is entitled The Triad of Nature’s Qualities (Stoler-Miller 121) or Discipline of Distinction of the Three Strands (Edgerton 72).  Krishna tells Arjuna he will teach him “…the farthest knowledge one can know” (Stoler-Miller 121).  The triad of nature’s qualities are lucidity, passion and dark inertia, which all bind the self in the body (Stoler-Miller 121).  Lucidity binds one to joy, passion to craving and attachment, and dark inertia to ignorance and delusion (Stoler-Miller 122).  Arjuna proceeds to have Krishna explain these aspects and how they work for and against men.  Arjuna questions what distinguishes a transcendent man from others, and Krishna explains that no desire, disinterest, knowing qualities of nature, being self-reliant, impartial and resolute serves God faithfully and becomes the basis for perfect joy (Stoler-Miller 124-125).

Easwaran titles chapter fourteen “The Forces of Evolution”, and contends it deals greatly with the nature of prakriti, the basis of the world of mind and matter in which we exist (175).  The gunas, do not translate perfectly from Sanskrit, but are likely to be present, and constantly shifting, in all people, as they are thought of as the “mix that colors our experience” (Easwaran 175-176).  Krishna tells Arjuna that all three must be transcended for the soul to attain peace.

Chapter fifteen, or The True Spirit of Man (Stoler-Miller 127) or Discipline of the Highest Spirit (Edgerton 75), gives an analogy of the tree of life: unchanging, nourished by nature’s qualities, budding with sense objects, we must take an ax, sharp like attachment, and free man to return to the original spirit (Stoler-Miller 127-128).  The seer of truth though knowledge will see God and in turn conquer self-mastery (Stoler-Miller 128-131).

An average Hindu would probably call this section “The Supreme Self”, and recognize it is a fairly difficult section of the Gita – essentially, it deals with questions of theology (Easwaran 181).  The nature of God and that which transcends everything including Atman and the world of matter is explained to Arjuna, even though a paradox is found here: Krishna says he is Atman yet transcends it (Easwaran 182).  An upside down Pipal tree is given as an analogy to Arjuna this time (Easwaran 182).  This section also speaks of Krishna’s abode of light: avyayam padam (pada=foot or step), in reference to how Vishnu took three steps to measure out the cosmos (Easwaran 182-183).  Krishna is the prana or breath or vitality, which refers to ancient scripture of the five pranas, the Gita dealing with the two most prominent: breath and digestion of food (Easwaran 182-183).

The sixteenth teaching of Krishna to Arjuna, called The Divine and the Demonic Man (Stoler-Miller 133) or Discipline of Distinction between Divine and Demonic Lots (Edgerton 78), lists the different traits of both a divine man and a demonic man.  Demonic traits led to bondage and divine traits lead to freedom put simply (Stoler-Miller 133-135).  While all creatures are one or the other, demonic men cannot comprehend activity and rest, have no clarity, morality or truth residing within them, landing them in the three gates of hell, desire, anger and greed (Stoler-Miller 135).

Easwaran refers to this chapter as the “Two Paths” (187).  It is a most unusual chapter, as it departs from the view of human nature and describes two tendencies among men: the higher or divine and the lower or demonic, and describes in great depth the differenecs between a desirable man and the opposite (Easwaran 187).  This section also mentions the three doors to hell: lust, greed and anger.  Demon and divine are not to be taken too literally, as they more imply the battle between good and evil (Easwaran 189).

The second last chapter of the Gita, before the dialogue concludes, called The Three Aspects of Faith (Stoler-Miller 137) or Discipline of Distinction of Three Kinds of Faith (Edgerton 82), finds Arjuna questioning Krishna about which quality “…men who ignore tradition, but sacrifice in full faith…”(Stoler –Miller 137) have.  The deity explains that a man’s faith depends on lucidity of mind, giving examples to Arjuna, such as food choices of men (Stoler-Miller 138).  He says that one must not violate norms, one must practice bodily, mental and verbal penance, and one must also practice proper acts of charity (Stoler-Miller 138-140).  Krishna also expands on the notion of OM TAT SAT in this section.

Commentary by Easwaran also addresses the question about what happens to those who do not follow orthodoxy.  According to him, Krishna goes into greater detail of the gunas and stresses the importance of shradda (faith, or the sum of all that’s held in the heart) (Easwaran 193).  According to Krishna there are different kinds of faith depending on the gunas present and potency.  Om Tat Sat is also mentioned in this chapter, which means “only the good really exists”, and Krishna explains how evil is transient and therefore does not actually exist (Easwaran 194-195).

The final and concluding chapter of the great discussion between Krishna and Arjuna entitled The Wondrous Dialogue Concludes (Stoler-Miller 143) or Discipline of Renunciation unto Salvation (Edgerton 91), answers the student’s question about the “…real essence of renunciation”(Stoler-Miller 143).  This can be achieved, according to the deity, by giving up actions based on desire and relinquishing all fruits of action, through the three kinds of relinquishment: action in sacrifice, charity, and penance (Stoler-Miller 143-145).  However, he clarifies that renunciation of prescribed action is inappropriate and becomes a way of dark inertia (Stoler-Miller 144).  Krishna further explains five causes for success for all actions, including the material basis, the agent, different instruments, the various behaviors, and fate (Stoler-Miller 145).  The dialogue concludes with a basic over view of Krishna’s lessons, about sacred duties, relinquishment and detachment, the infinite spirit and our own intrinsic being and our bounding to it (Stoler-Miller 146-153).  Krishna enforces with Arjuna, to “…keep his mind on God”(Stoler-Miller 152), and the conversation ends with a small commentary from Sanjaya.

The closing chapter in the text is titled “Freedom and Renunciation” according to Easwaran’s viewpoint, and it roams over many subjects.  The Gita is aimed at those who “live in the world”, yet desire fulfillment, and therefore Krishna recommends the path of tyaga over the path of sannyasa, a middle route to enlightenment (Easwaran 201).  Moksa (liberation) comes from renunciation of the gunas, Krishna tells Arjuna, since in life you can never be sure things will turn out as planned (Easwaran 202).  The Gita offers a more practical application of some of the Sankhya teachings, such as the three kinds of happiness (Easwaran 202).  Krishna explains caste in this conclusion, and points out it is better to do one’s own work imperfectly than to do another’s perfectly (Easwaran 202), but the returns to his favorite topic: devotion and faith in God, to wrap up the diologue, giving the analogy of a toy mounted on a machine (Easwaran 202-203).  Arjuna is asked if he understands and he confirms, attending to his divine duty.

The Gita is problematic to translate perfectly from its initial writing in Sanskrit to other languages, as demonstrated by Easwaran.  This contributes to the subjectivity in interpretations already available in individual passages, chapters, and work as an aggregate.  In order to demonstrate the partisanship that one can interpret from The Bhagavad Gita, a comparison of several versions of the text regarding “…two verses with unmistakable resonance for modern society” could provide further evidence (Davis 172).  In Richard H. Davis’s biography of the Gita, he provides comparison of “…four distinct approaches to the task of translating [it]” (172).  This paper will summarize one of those in comparison with several others from my research.

The two notable and descriptive passages that easily expose the subjectivity of the translations are in the eleventh teaching, during Arjuna’s grand vision, when Krishna describes himself and the greatness of God to the warrior prince (Davis 172).  As Davis recounts, “on July 16, 1945, J. Robert Oppenheimer (a brilliant physicist and gifted amateur student of Sanskrit) watched the first human-controlled atomic explosion at Los Alamos, New Mexico…[he] later recalled [this] passage from the Bhagavad Gita…” (172):

If the radiance of a thousand suns

Were to burst at once into the sky,

That would be like the splendor

Of the Mighty One…

I am become Death

The shatterer of worlds. (173).

 

It is not surprising that Oppenheimer compared the intensity and God-like force of an atomic bomb to these passages, and the description Krishna gives as God himself (Davis 173).  Drawing from the two more poetic and easy reading versions I came across during my own research of the Gita, it can be demonstrated how these passages can be delivered more gently, and taken in a completely different context.

In Barbara Stoler-Miller’s translation, the passages read:

 

If the light of a thousand suns

were to rise in the sky at once,

it would be like the light

of that great spirit…

I am time grown old

creating world destruction (pp. 99, 11:12, pp. 103, 11:32).

 

And in Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation of the translation, the matching segments announce:

If a thousand suns were to rise

and stand in the noon sky, blazing,

such brilliance would be like the fierce

brilliance of that mighty Self…

I am death, shatterer of worlds

annihilating all things. (pp. 134, 11:12, pp. 138, 11:32).

 

These two translations clearly show, when juxtaposed against Oppenheimer’s version,  the poetics that can be drawn from the text.  It can be made more gentle, with milder words – especially in the latter passage speaking about the inevitable fate of death and destruction in the human world.

Interpretation of the passages according to both a lay/average Hindu viewpoint, and a consecrated Hindu Guru will also greatly expose the variability available in the Gita.  Swami Prabhupada, who “…established a following of Krishna consciousness” (Davis 7), interpreted these passages this way:

 

If hundreds of thousands of suns rose at once into the sky,

they might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal               form…

Time I am, the destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people.      (pp. 181, 11:12, pp. 183, 11:32)

 

Obviously, from this explanation, one can draw out words such as “effulgence” and “engage”, to see how the passage is being used as an instrument of piety.  In contrast to Swami Prabhupada, an average interpretation of these sections by Eknath Easwaran read:

 

If a thousand suns were to rise in the heavens

at the same time, the blaze of their light

would resemble the splendor of that supreme

spirit…

I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come

To consume the world. (pp. 151, 11:12, pp. 154, 11:32).

 

The lay read of this section is much more toned down and simple, expressing the greatness and incomprehensibility of God, without any distinct push in the direction of piousness whatsoever.  By comparison of several versions of specific passages in the translation of The Bhagavad Gita, it is easy to realize the extreme subjectivity and personal sway that can be placed on the text for individual purposes.

To further demonstrate this, it is advantageous to now turn to The Bhagavad Gita’s biography and historical background, with regard to the work as a whole.  The physical place of the believed setting of The Bhagavad Gita, was in “Kurukshetra,…[which is] both a particular field of battle and perpetual field of dharma, as Dhritarashtra’s opening question suggests” (Davis 4), found near the town of Jyotisar, India (Davis 4).  This being said, most researchers agree that the text was written in northern India, sometime during the classical period between the reign of the Mauryan king Ashoka (r. 269-232 BCE) and Gupta dynasty (320-547 CE), as part of a much larger opus, the epic poem Mahabharata (Davis 6).  The Mahabharata, which was originally composed in ancient Sanskrit, tells the legend of a devastating enmity between two clans of the ruling class for control of a kingdom in India (Davis 10).  From an early date, the Gita circulated as an independent piece, and found itself as a “…self standing work of religious philosophy”, giving it a binary identity (Davis 11).  But in order to appreciate its full “…rhetorical power” (Davis 11), the story found within the Gita is better understood in the full context of the larger epic in which it is found, the Mahabharata.  The background of the two rivaling sides of cousins is explained more clearly in the complete epic, and the point at which we find Krishna and Arjuna in the beginning of the Gita seems more fitting, than to a reader who may just be exposed to the Gita alone.

Krishna’s battlefield teachings addressed two of the main causes of philosophical distresses being discussed by religions at the time of the Gita’s composition, moral questions and psychological insight (Davis 15).  Rebirth, or samsara, was a widely accepted premise in classical India (Davis 16).  The Gita took on a more liberal note of practice of religion during its time of emergence as well, in that anyone could engage in yoga while still being active in worldly affairs, which was very attractive and more practical for the everyday masses (Davis 20).  The Gita discusses two important systems of thought, Samkhya (dualist approach) and Vedanta (monistic approach) (Davis 22).  Thus, one of the appeals of the script may be its “…heuristic validity”, with either path seen as correct (Davis 22).  The path of devotion, or bhakti, is new in Sanskrit literature, and makes its debut in the Gita to religious audiences (Davis 22-23).

Krishna’s teachings are widely speculated to provide a convincing justification for Arjuna to fight, and the Mahabharata does not shy away from the calamitous consequences of that choice (Davis 33).  The Gita embraces the message of the greater epic as a whole (Davis 33).  The war, as found in the Mahabharata, is not sensationalized as it is in the Gita, ending with very few survivors of the warrior class, extreme grief and ethical failure (Davis 33-34), better supporting the eschatological belief of “Indian cyclic time, [and great dissolution followed by new creation]” (Davis 35).  “Later Indian tradition uses the Mahabharata as transition from one era to another…[taking us from the Dvapara era to the Kali-yuga era]” (Davis 35).

The belief of the authorship of the Gita is especially fascinating, proclaimed by both a “divine authorship of God” (Davis 36), and Vyasa, the physical author of the work (Davis 36).  Vyasa was a brahmin sage, and appears as a character within the Mahabharata, playing a pivotal role, who was actually a genetic grandfather to the Pandava and Kaurava fraternities (Davis 36).  While it is believed that Vyasa was the author of the Mahabharata, “…few historians accept a single genius as an author”,  and was probably complied over a lot of time (Davis 39).  The great poet Jnanadeva “…composed a lengthy new work that translated and expanded on the Sanskrit Gita in Marathi language” (Davis 44).  During this time, Gitas of other deities were also produced with The Bhagavad Gita as a model in the writing of these,  and while Krishna’s significance was always recognized, rivalry always wanted to oust him, indicating the characteristics of medieval theistic Hinduism (Davis 53).

There were also many commentators of the Gita in classical India, “…seek[ing] to determine the true meaning of [the] difficult text” (Davis 54-55).  Shankara was among them, but not the first or the last, claiming “…[the] concentrated essence of the Veda [within the Gita itself]…”, giving it a permanent and universal meaning (Davis 54, 59).  In contrast, another commentator of the same time period, by the name of Ramanuja, who disagreed with Shankara, demanded “…[the] path of knowledge alone will not suffice for higher ends” (Davis 63).   He also maintained that Krishna came to the battlefield to “…reveal the new path [of devotion]”, bhakti, a new concept found in the Gita (Davis 63-64).   These two views reveal only the tip of the iceberg of commentary in classical India and beyond that the Gita received in its early days.

In 1866, the transatlantic under-sea cable was laid under the Atlantic Ocean, linking the North American and European continents in an unprecedented way, and in 1869, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific rail lines joined, forming a transcontinental railway, linking homeland North America in the same fashion, and the French Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean (Davis 72).   With the new and rapid form of communications taking place in their infancy stages to what we know today, inevitably the movement of information suddenly became faster and more efficient across oceans, formerly a huge obstacle to such flow of ideas (Davis 72).  Just before this, the Gita would see its first translation to English  by an British man and employee of the East India Company, by the name of Charles Wilkins, in 1785 (Davis 75-76).  His translation of this,  the first Sanskrit text, fascinated European erudite circles, helping along a demand for a new influx of eastern literature (Davis 76).  This version also saw the Gita’s first notable political use – vis a vis British control in colonial India (Davis 76).  The success that the Gita would find among this new audience would be exponential, especially in the midst of the Romantic movement (Davis 83-84).  From the late eighteenth century onward through the early nineteenth century, those who read or interpreted the Gita “…did so in a political context” (Davis 93).  While certain attitudes and approaches, such as those of Governor General Hastings, “…advocated for [a better] understanding [of Indian] culture, others such as James Mill used the Gita to “…criticize and judge…” the history of India (Davis 96).  Mill used the rhetorical value available to the apt purveyor in the Gita to his full advantage, portraying the Indian civilization as problematically primordial, further calling for radical change (Davis 96-99).  During the latter half of the nineteenth century, new versions of the Gita began to appear, with scholars in Germany wanting to “…get to the bottom of the Indian antiquity…”(Davis 100), with the most popular and perhaps notable by Edwin Arnold called “The Song Celestial” (Davis 104).

Along with the new wave of antiquity texts flowing into Europe and North America, the first Hindu sannyasin, Swami Vivekanada, would also find his way to America in 1893, to speak to the World Parliament in an impromptu manner, that would both introduce Western thought to a living breathing knower of Eastern faith, and fascinate many more (Davis 105-112).  Perhaps the most famous reader and commentator of the Bhagavad Gita was Gandhi, the Mahatma (Davis 136).  First read by the young Gandhi, in London around 1888-1889, he called it a “…spiritual reference book” (Davis 136).  What set his interpretation aside from all others up to this point was that he “…approached the Gita as not specifically Hindu…”, but as universal knowledge and truth for all (Davis 137).  Throughout Gandhi’s career, the text was “…made a constant point of reference” (Davis 137).  Another way in which Gandhi’s interpretation of the Gita differed from others before him was that he was indifferent to any historical context, placing more importance in allegory, in that the war in the book represents “…[the] battle within all…”(Davis 139).  He was well educated and able to effectively argue skewed views of the text by both past and contemporary commentators, promoting ahimsa over violence (Davis 141).  The Gita was last in Gandhi’s discussion three days before his death in 1948, killed by an assassin who ironically was also an avid reader of the text (Davis 138-143).  Prayers are still held at Gandhi’s ashram in India daily, with the recitation of the Gita practiced daily (Davis 181-185).

In 1923, Jayadayal Goyandka opened The Gita Press in northern India, publishing “…expansive editions with Hindi translations” (Davis 154), making the Gita widely available.  After the Holy Bible, the Gita is the most frequently translated religious work to this day (Davis 155), and as of 1982, there were 1891 versions of the text circulating in 75 languages around the world, giving context to the importance of the book (Davis 155).  Just as it is believed that the Gita was originally delivered through an oral performance, the text finds itself in contemporary acts as well (Davis 177).  Nowadays, audio incarnations are available through multi-media, a sixties rock group named themselves The Bhagavad Gita respectively, and Jimmy Hendrix’s album cover “Axis” featured a picture of Krishna and Arjuna (Davis 180)     Just as the Gita speaks of existence being nothing more than a mere changing of our clothes as we change bodies during reincarnation, the book itself has undergone much the same process (Davis 156).  The text remains, to this day, one of the most significant books of the Hindu religion, and is repeatedly politically and ideologically contorted to suit.  The Bhagavad Gita’s variability and flexibility has survived the ages and continues to have a profound and philosophical effect on those who read it.

 

Works Cited

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, A.C. (1968). Bhagavad Gita as it is. Los Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Davis, R.H. (2015). The Bhagavad Gita: A biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton  University Press.

Easwaran, E. (1985). The Bhagavad Gita. Tomales, CA: The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation/Nilgiri Press.

Edgerton, F. (1972). The Bhagavad Gita. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Mitchell, S. (2000). Bhagavad Gita: A new translation. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Stoler-Miller, B. (1986). The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s counsel in time of war. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

 

Article written by Laura Gunn (2015), who is solely responsible for it 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.

Dasanami Samnyasins

The development and the components of Hindu monasticism may appear complex. Sankara, the famous Indian philosopher, founded a Hindu monastic federation referred to as the Dasanami Order (Wade nd). Hindu monks, known as samnyasin, were divided into ten lineages which trace back to Sankara and compose the Dasanami Order. The ten different monk/renouncer groups were then divided up among the four monasteries founded by Sankara (Clark 2). The four monasteries (mathas) are located in the east, west, south, and north of India and they are respectively called Govardhan, Sarada, Srngeri, and Jyotir (Clark 115). This order is the most respected and influential in the Hindu tradition (Werner 148).

Historically, it has been viewed that the four monasteries are representative of Sankara’s travel and his spiritual authority. Sankara’s life is regarded as somewhat legendary. He lost his father at a young age and he was an admirer of the samnyasin life style. Sources claim that at the age of eight, Sankara was captured by a crocodile while he bathed in a river. Sankara told his mother that if he did not receive her blessing to become a samnyasin the crocodile would have taken his life (Pande 31). Historians believe that three factors contribute to why Sankara is held in the highest regard. It is said that Sankara was an incarnation of Siva (Pande 73). His strong connection to and the belief in his embodiment of Siva could be due to Sankara’s connections to miracles. Secondly, the implementation of authentic practices was to emphasize the social and spiritual claims of the reorganized monasteries. The final aspect which made Sankara legendary was the expansion of the Advaitic and non Advaitic schools (Pande 73). The rationales behind legends of his incarnation have been to fortify the Vedic faith and help spread the spiritual way of living across India (Pande 82).

Samnyasin (renouncing) is the final stage of one’s life. One may renounce after they have completed the householders’ stage grahastha (Miller 3). However, some Hindus enter renunciation earlier, once they have completed their education, though such young renouncers are less common. A renouncer is considered to be a wise holy man. He is expected to withdraw from society. From that point on, his life is dedicated to the attainment of moksa (Werner 147). A renouncer’s withdrawal from society is theoretical because, he may live in close proximity to society and interact with its members however, physical detachment is essential (Olivelle 272). One must leave their family and possessions in order to discover the meaning of life and gain inner peace (Burghart 635). Renouncers are placed outside of the caste system and are highly valued. A renouncer who receives offerings and praise from Hindus is not uncommon.

Once Hindu monks formally renounce, they are categorized in relation to the method of initiation and their way of life (Wade nd). Renouncers may fall into one of three distinct categories: the dandis, nagas, or paramahamsas. However, all Dasanami consider themselves as Siva (Clémentin 2). Many Dasanami renouncers decorate themselves with rudrāka beads and put three white horizontal stripes on their forehead to embody the symbolism of Siva and Visnu (Clémentin 3). Each type of renouncer group is affiliated with one of the four monasteries. To formally renounce, a monk must attain a new identity. He is given one of the ten surnames which made him a part of that particular spiritual lineage. The name one receives is linked to the monastery they are associated with and reflects their caste as well as their renouncing lifestyle. The monasteries from the south and west are mainly composed of dandi renouncers. The lineages commonly assigned to these monks, once they formally renounce include: Bharati (speech), Sarasvati (learning), Tirtha (sacred bathing), and Asrama (hermitage). Puri (town) and Giri (hill) are lineages linked to naga renouncers. Other names, sometimes received by all types of renouncers include: Vana (woods), Aranya (forest), Parrata (mountain), and Sagara (ocean) (Dazery na). Receiving a new name is significant because it symbolizes the relationship one has under a guru which acts as an investiture. An opportunity for the new renouncers to teach and ordain followers is given (Clémentin 16). Once a name is received, one is able to initiate another person into the samnyasin stage of life. All three branches of the Dasanami (dandi, nagas, and the paramahamsa) have networks of mathas (monasteries) spread across India.

The dandis traditionally come from a high caste background and hold knowledge of the Sanskrit language. They are the wanderers who usually carry a staff. The staff may be embellished with a saffron cloth with an axe head under it (Clark 28). Generally, dandi renouncers were previous householders, have short hair, and believe that they are the true samnyasin (Clark 41). Their initiation ceremony is completed by a guru and the name given depends on what matha one is affiliated to (Clark 41). One of the four brahmacari names is given at the ceremony either being Svarup, Prakasa, Ananda or Caitanya (Clark 42). The second ceremony a dandi partakes in is called the viraja home (Clark 89). A short sacred utterance that presumably encapsulates the essential wisdom of Vedanta from the monk’s monastic lineage is spoken (Wade nd).

Renouncers, who fall under the paramahasa grouping, discard all belongings including their staff, perform the most asceticism and obtain the highest amount of respect (Clark 102). They more frequently live in mathas and are affiliated to an akhara. However, paramahamsan monks are not deeply connected to the akharas life compared to the nagas (Clark 42).

Lower caste members form the naga renouncer group (Clark 39). Some scholars refer to them as “naked fighting monks” (Wade nd).  The naga have been known to travel nude and they cover their entire bodies (sometimes just their private areas) in ash, especially on festive holidays (Clark 35). The nagas are organized into seven akharas (Clark 48). To be initiated into the akhara as a naga, one must go through a third process referred to as the tang tode (Clark 98). This is a unique initiation among the three groups.

Typically, males are the ones who enter the stage of renunciation. However, women renouncers have recently been reported. About ten percent of female renouncers belong to the Dasanami (Clark 31). However, women may become brahmacarini, but they cannot enter the second stage of initiation in becoming “full” samnyasin (Clark 33). Women remove all jewelry as a symbol of their renunciation. The majority of women belong to the paramahamsa renouncer group. Two known monasteries exclusively admit women. The least number of women belong to the naga group (Clark 34).

A life apart from society cultivates detachment through a community which shares similar perspectives (Clémentin 2). Some renouncers may choose to join a monastic community (Tambiah 300). Monastic communities provide a shared living space between many samnyasin monks. It is where asceticism is ingrained through tradition (Clémentin 2). This concept of communal settlement was introduced by Sankara, and is referred to as the matha system (Miller 4). The purpose was to create a sense of solidarity through group support. The matha was a larger unit comprised of temples, a traditional Sanskrit school, a library, and a shelter for lay followers (Clémentin 4). The caste system was embedded into the institution. Individuals were born to specific gurus. Gurus raised money to support children’s education for their caste (Aya 58). Donations from patrons allow for monks to teach, provide medical care, and help feed the community (Miller 5). Service to the community was viewed as important and resembled Hindu cohesion. Monks may continue traveling, but if they remain in a community for an extended period of time they are less respected, except if it is the rainy season (Olivelle 271).  Clémentin addresses that, “the important point to stress is that they do not owe their allegiance to a monastery, but to a lineage of spiritual succession” (3). Sankara’s successor, a Sankaracarya (head of 1 of the 4 monasteries) essentially becomes “the teacher of the world” by representing the founder of his lineage (Clémentin 6). Sankaracaryas have substantial spiritual power and settle disputes within the matha by helping with court cases (Clark 79). For example, cases may include initiation and personal affairs, adultery, abuse, and caste pollution. Sankaracaryas help decide the punishment of a fine, a fine, forms of social exclusion, and sometimes even excommunication ceremonies (Clark 80).

The origins of the Dasanami Samnyasin illustrate the prominence of Sankara’s philosophical influence in creating the order. Spiritual lineages of the samnyasin monks are traced back to Sankara. The samnyasins aquire a new religious identity in which they abide by certain roles, codes, and practices (Clark 2). The different groupings of renouncers across the four cardinal directions are symbolic of Sankara’s spiritual journey and the prominence of Brahman (Wade nd). The caste system is significant to the Dasanami Order because it allows for different renouncer groups to exist. Subtle differences exist among the samnyasins such as, their appearance, initiation process, status, and their affiliation to a distinct lineage (Clark 39). The matha system was important for the development of education and philosophical ideas for the samnyasin and their lay followers (Clémentin 4). Life consisted of days of expressing bhakti in prayer, meditation, and lectures (Werner 147). Overall, evidence suggests that the Dasanami Order has been very influential and is a representation of Sankara’s philosophy. 

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Burghart, R., (1983) “Renunciation in the Religious Traditions of South Asia”. Man18(4), 635–653. http://doi.org/10.2307/2801900

Clark, Matthew (2006) Dasanami Samnyasis. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers.

Clémentin-Ojha, C. (2006) “Replacing the Abbot: Rituals of monastic ordination and investiture in modern Hinduism”. Asiatische Studien, Etudes Asiatiques, Vol.60, 535- 573.

Ikegame, A (2012) “The Governing Guru”. The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives, London & New York, NY: Routledge 5, 46.

Miller, D. M., & Wertz, D. C (1976) Hindu monastic life: The monks and monasteries of Bhubaneswar. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

 Olivelle, P. (2001)”The Renouncer Tradition”. In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism,  G. Flood (Ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing  271-287.

 Pande, G. C (1994) Life and thought of Sankaracarya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

 Tambiah, S. J. (1982) “The renouncer: his individuality and his community”. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 15(1), 299-320.

Wade, D. (2012) “Dasanamis.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, Vasudha Narayanan. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of hinduism/dasanamis-BEHCOM_9000000043>

Werner, Karel (2013) Love Divine: Studies in bhakti and devotional mysticism, London & New York, NY: Routledge 147-152.

 

Topics for Further Investigation

The Ramanadi Order

Bhakti

Guru

The Four Monasteries

Akharas

Pitha

 

Noteworthy Websites

http://dashnami.blogspot.ca/2009/11/history-of-dashnami.html

http://www.amritapuri.org/14530/sampradaya.aum

http://www.dlshq.org/saints/sankara.htm

http://www.mahavidya.ca/hindu-asceticism/

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

 

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

Female Ascetics in Hinduism

Women in Hindu society generally take on a role of and are identified as householders, thus providing for a husband and family. However, some women, though a clear minority, choose a different life path which is the life of the ascetic. An ascetic is regarded as someone who abstains from worldly pleasures often in search of spiritual goals through renunciation (Denton 2). Ascetics seek to free themselves from the cycle of rebirth entirely and thereby reach salvation. Although there are a variety of ascetic forms such as celibacy and tantrism, renunciation and the sannyasas or sannyasinis are the most recognizable.

The term sannyasa (male) or sannyasini (female) means ‘abandonment’ or ‘laying aside completely’. Entry into this lifestyle involves a dramatic ritual to symbolically discard the world in which they currently live. To take on the role of a sannyasini one must establish their ritual death. This is done by figuratively cremating oneself or performing their one’s own funeral rites and also by uttering the phrase “None belongs to me, to none do I belong” or a simpler yet no less powerful phrase “I leave absolutely everything behind” (Denton 94). Initiation ceremonies into ascetic life differ from one ascetic to the next, but ritual details such as offering balls of rice to ancestors and creating grass statues of themselves which they later burn to symbolically represent cremation, remain consistent elements to the initiation process (Leslie 219). This initiation ritual into asceticism marks the rejection or separation from householdership; a commitment to a particular path towards ideals such as liberation (moksa), acquiring knowledge of the Absolute (Brahman) or salvation (mukti) through union; and the admittance into a community of fellow ascetics. This initiation process completely relieves a woman of their original social identity and alters the former relationship they had with householder women. They thereby embrace a new set of values far different than those of the ideal woman, wife and householder in Hindu society (Leslie 214). As the practice of world renunciation is seen as a primarily masculine way of life usually for male twice-borns, females who take on the path of renunciation are seen as ones who have left the orthodox norm behind. However, they may often be found to say what is in the minds of many orthodox housewives in regards to their disagreement with family life, ties and what is expected of women at the householder stage (Clementin-Ojha 1988). Some ascetic women have declared nothing but relief over their choice to leave householdership. As one renouncer-ascetic (sannyasini) stated, “In the householder life, you know great pleasure and sorrow, but you cannot know peace. That life is in a state of constant change and so your mind cannot become still. In the ascetic life, you are single-minded and so you can achieve salvation” (Leslie 215). Each sannyasini is different in their pursuit of activities or religious path in that some focus on study, meditation and wandering, where others are found to focus on preaching and teaching ascetic values, hymns and sermons to householder disciples who visit (Denton 95).

An interesting fact about ascetic women and girls is their variation in appearance. One may choose to wear a white sari while others wear red; some tie ochre (gerua) cloth around their torso whereas others may choose to wear white or bright yellow (kesar). In regards to hair, some ascetics choose to have their heads shaven, others with loose and flowing hair; some will trim the hair at earlobe length and oil it and others form it into matted strands (jata) by rubbing ashes into the hair (Leslie 218). The vast majority of ascetic women fall in a cluster around the age of 60, but in the city of Varanasi there is a diversity in the age group of ascetics which correlate well with two types of asceticism, celibacy and renunciation (Denton 122). Since the majority of younger ascetics are unmarried and from high-caste families, it suggests that their families cannot afford dowries thereby leaving their daughters unwed and undesirable. This causes families to send their daughters to Varanasi where young girls will enter brahmacarya or celibacy, which guards their purity and guarantees them a ritual standing higher than that of an ordinary orthodox householder (Denton 123). While the younger ascetic females are free to leave Varanasi and ascetic life at any time, most choose to stay in the city or frequently travel to other city centres where ascetic festivals and feasts occur (Leslie 220). Cities such as Varanasi give proof that although ascetics may give up traditional values of the Hindu social world, they do not necessarily give up society and can actually be found to be comfortable with and accepted by others.

Ascetics tend to put forward a religious reason as to why they chose this life path of worldly renunciation to find their salvation (Clementin-Ojha 1988). However it is difficult to describe a religious practice of a female renouncer because in choosing the life of the ascetic one is no longer committed to a specific path (Leslie 22). A female renouncer-ascetic may follow a “path of knowledge” (Leslie 221) by engaging in the repetition of a mantra or “sacred utterance” (Rodrigues 70) and focusing on meditation. Some may also choose to devote the hours in the day to yoga or sitting in the lotus posture, while others may offer rituals of worship to a goddess such as Durga (Leslie 221). Since renunciation itself bestows such large amounts of freedom upon each individual that one can choose how they devote themselves to a religious path and how they explain their beliefs as well.

The life of a renouncer-ascetic may cause orthodox Hindus to put these women under criticism and scrutiny. Dharma is righteousness, duty, morality, law, social obligations or particular religious teachings (Rodrigues 546) that an individual is expected to follow in Hindu society. To not live according to one’s dharma is considered to be a main offense in Hindu tradition. Women who renounce the life of the householder and the orthodox traditions expected of them are considered to be adopting ‘adharmic’ behavior. They can be seen as rebels, as renunciation from the world is considered to be an effort at achieving their own individual freedom instead of following the life that the orthodoxy had prescribed for them (Clementin-Ojha 1988). Female renouncer-ascetics have strong beliefs, but do not use these beliefs as a way to criticise traditional aspects of Hindu society. By living amongst orthodox Hindus, ascetics show and encourage other members of society to respect their svadharma (one’s own dharma) as they respect the orthodox traditions and its stri-dharma (woman/wife’s code of righteous behavior (Rodrigues 564). Not only do these ascetic women respect the traditions of Hindu society, they often discourage other females to do what they themselves have done by leaving householdership. In research conducted by Catherine Clementin-Ojha, the late Svami Karapatri, a supporter of orthodoxy but also an ascetic, upheld that women could obtain a higher state of consciousness and could become ascetics and guides. However, he did not allow women into his ascetic order and denied that there have never been a “single real sannyasini in India” (Clementin-Ojha 1988).

Although not as common or influential, two other types of female asceticism exist: celibacy and tantrism, both different phenomena from renunciation. Celibate asceticism or a celibate student (brahmacarya) is often one of the first stages of life (asrama) prescribed for twice-born males. It can also occur in a number of other ways, such as a female choosing an institutionalized lifestyle of celibacy and regarding themselves as brahmacarinis, like the classical rite into studentship, or the first twelve years prior to initiation into sannyasa (Denton 96). Celibacy is the intention to remain pure for as long as possible and avoid pollution. Tantric asceticism on the other hand relies mainly on oral tradition. However, there is no ritual of initiation into tantric asceticism as there is for orthodox renunciation and celibacy. Those who define themselves as tantric undertake a “fierce discipline” (Leslie 225) and are said to have achieved powers (siddhi) by practicing difficult acts. It is believed that these acts include sex rituals (maithuna) and a disciplined relationship between themselves and their teacher (Leslie 225). Unlike renunciation, tantric asceticism acknowledges full liberation but also full divinization, putting emphasis on finding a state of bliss (ananda) or madness (pagalpan).

Evidently the life of a female ascetic in Hinduism is a complex, underappreciated and understudied phenomenon in Hindu society. With only little research conducted on the life of female ascetics, mostly over the past few decades, it is hard to determine what truly prompts a Hindu woman to leave the orthodox life of a householder, wife and mother, but it is exceptional to see that these women are willing to defy the norms of traditional Hindu female expectations and let themselves become equal with their male sannyasa counterparts and live out their svadharma and find liberation at their time of physical death.

 

References and Further Recommended Readings

Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu Tradition: Rules, Roles and Expectations. New York: Routledge Hindu Studies Series.

Chowdhry, Prem (1996) “Marriage, Sexuality and the Female ‘ascetic’: Understanding a Hindu Sect.” Economic and Political Weekly 31.34 2307–2321.

Clementin-Ojha, Catherine (1988) “Outside the Norms: Women Ascetics in Hindu Society.” Economic and Political Weekly. 23(18): WS34-6

Leslie, Julia (1991) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Cranbury: Farleigh Dickinson University Press

Mitra, Kana (1983) ‘Women in Hinduism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies. 20(4), 585

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Hinduism – the eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Teskey Denton, Lynn (2004) Female Ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 

Related Topics

Celibacy

Dharma

Moksa

Sannyasa

Women in Hinduism

Women’s Roles in Hindu Society

 

Related Websites

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/essays/ascetics.asp

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

 

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

Ahimsa (The concept of Non-harming in Hinduism)

Ahimsa, which literally translates as “non-violence” or “non-injury”, refers to non-violence towards both human and non-human beings physically, mentally, and spiritually (Ghosh 13).  The idea of Ahimsa had been educed from two related yet unique sources; among traditional Hindu thinkers, rather than the idea of non-violence, it was the idea of not hurting living beings as all living beings were divine (Parekh 196).  Another source where Ahimsa may have derived is from one of the 10 Buddhist Parami (perfections), namely metta (benevolence).  Both ideas present a similar concept; that all life is sacred and no harm should be done unto each other (Parekh 196).  Ahimsa also has its roots in the belief of samsara (eternal cycle).  Traditional Hindu thinkers believe that the soul of an individual can be reincarnated into an animal, thus the killing of an animal would in actuality be the killing of a person.  This belief is particularly in reference to cattle, whom they claim are sacred animals (Schneider 87).

Although the exact origin of the term is unknown, Ahimsa is found in many Hindu scriptures, and predates Aryan culture.  Its earliest known origin in texts can traced back to the Rgveda conception of rta (that which is properly/excellently joined; order, rule; truth) (Heimann 331).  Rta is closely affiliated with dharma (duty), demanding that every living and non-living being follow the cosmic order of their existence in such a way that it does not avert others from being able to follow their own laws of existence (Heimann 331).  In the Mahabharata, the concept of Ahimsa does have exceptions to the rule of non-violence; ksatriyas (warrior caste) who would fight in battle would have their sins dissipated by their acts of heroism in battle in order to secure the advancement of all beings.  A king may also destroy those who may deserve to be destroyed, in order to protect the people of his kingdom. (Ghosh 47).  The Bhagavadgita, in the Mahabharata, is a significant scripture in the Hindu tradition that regards the concept of Ahimsa.  In the epic, Arjuna’s refusal to fight his former allies and loved ones in battle was from the desire for Ahimsa (Ghosh 52).  Ahimsa has multiple variations of its name and definition in many Hindu scriptures, although not all scriptures mention or contain much insight on the concept itself, they do appear in the Upanisads, Brahmanas, Dharma Sastras, Tripitakas (Buddhist canonical literature), Dhammapada (Buddhist scripture), Yajur Veda, and other Hindu scriptures [For more information concerning the concept of Ahimsa in the Rgveda, Upanisads, Bhagavadgita and Mahabharata, see Klostermaier (1996) and Ghosh (1989)].

Traditionally, Ahimsa in Hinduism was not the highest ideal, as animal sacrifice in some rituals was, and still is, part of Hindu tradition.  The later traditions of Buddhism and Jainism would eventually hold the concept (in particular, the Jains) as one of its most important virtues, with complete abstinence from harm necessary in order to reach their ultimate goal of moksa (liberation) (Klostermaier 228).  Although Ahimsa was not considered the highest ideal in Hindu tradition, it was still encouraged among Hindus because the avoidance of harm to both humans and animals would bring the individual closer to moksa (Framarin 286, 288).  Historically, it was not until Emperor Ashoka (268-233 BCE) popularized the concept of Ahimsa through his conversion to Buddhism and by stressing the sanctity of animal life that the concept truly spread through India and Asia (Sharma 60).  Again, the concept of Ahimsa does not refer only to the act of physical non-violence, but mental and spiritual non-violence as well.  Spiritual non-violence, which is making peace with one’s self, is of the utmost importance in Hindu religious tradition to achieve.  Once spiritual non-violence is attained, the body and mind follow effortlessly (Sharma 58).  Ahimsa is also an important part of Patanjali Yoga, in which Ahimsa is the first of five yamas (moral restraints), along with satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (sexual abstinence), and aparigraha (freedom from covetousness).  All five yamas must be practiced in order to achieve a state of inner peace (Klostermaier 232).  Ahimsa is considered an important and universal concept in the Yoga Sutras as well, and asserts that Ahimsa should not only be observed towards certain circumstances in time, but that it be observed universally (Klostermaier 234).  Though Hindu tradition acknowledges the concept and practices of Ahimsa, classical Indian tradition scholars believe that Ahimsa did not mean a total abstinence from harm for them, but rather to encourage alpadroha (minimum violence possible that one is responsible for).  Likewise, in Buddhist and Jain tradition, minimal violence as possible is an accepted reality, and those tolerant of minimal violence typically were also tolerant of war and the justifiable treatment of criminals (Parekh 197).

In Buddhist tradition, Ahimsa is not considered a doctrine, nor is it a theory.  It is not a doctrine, as it is not adopted, discussed or defended in Classical Indian Buddhism literature.  It is not considered a theory, as the act of Ahimsa does not enable a better understanding of the nature and structure of the cosmos.  Although Buddhism does not define Ahimsa as a doctrine or a theory, it is indeed considered a cardinal virtue (Chinchore 103).    A Buddhist will recognize his relationship to living beings as being so essential and symbiotic that any act of violence towards another being will certainly harm themselves.  Additionally, the act of non-violence in a Buddhists life is one virtue that contributes in bringing them closer to their ultimate goal of nirvana (a state of perfect happiness) (Ghosh 58).  Although there are some differences in the concept of Ahimsa among the three traditions, the idea of Ahimsa itself stays relatively the same.  As such, all three traditions believe that in order to achieve Ahimsa, one must begin at the mind, as the determination for doing anything begins at the mental level first (Ghosh 59).  In contrast between the Hindu and Buddhist tradition, a notable difference in the concept of Ahimsa is in regards to animal sacrifices.  According to scripture, Lord Buddha claims animal sacrifices are undesirable and unnecessary in order to perform sacrifices, and rather than doing harm to animals, one can instead offer clothing or food such as rice as offerings (Ghosh 64) [For more information regarding Buddhist practices of Ahimsa, see Ghosh (1989)].

Jainism, founded by Mahavira in 5th century BCE, holds the concept of Ahimsa as its most important concept, and base their traditions around this fundamental principle.  Multiple agamas (Jain canonical literature) emphasize that any act of violence towards any living being will increase their sins in the next life, and to eliminate these sins, one must not commit any acts of violence whatsoever (Sharma 61).  Jainism considers Ahimsa as both a doctrine and an elaborate theory, and consider Ahimsa as a vrata (vow, promise).  In addition to their dedication to the practice of Ahimsa, Jains typically perform tapas (asceticism) in order to achieve moksa (Cort 721).  Because Jainism holds the concept of Ahimsa as a much more important and complex idea than either Hindu or Buddhist tradition, Jain tradition adopts the concept quite literally, and as a result, some of its practices of asceticism are considered more extremist or obsessive in nature in dedication to this concept (Chinchore 105).  Jainism practice also involves strict dietary restriction; the killing or eating of an animal would bind one to karma, which keeps one tied to the cycle of rebirth (samsara).  Certain plants may not be consumed in order to avoid the possibility of killing microscopic organisms that may further bind them to karma, and retract them from moksa [For more detail regarding Jain philosophy and its practices of asceticism, see Cort (2002)] (Cort 723-724).

Outside of the religious traditions of Buddhism and Jainism, Ahimsa holds importance in civil and religious law as an ethical doctrine in Hindu tradition, and re-emerged in popularity during the beginning of the 20th century through Mahatma Gandhi.  The concept of Ahimsa, in essence, “sows the seed of tolerance” among others, promoting a sense of equality (Heimann 333).  Mahatma Gandhi coined and developed the term satyagraha (truth) derived from his principles of Ahimsa, and came to popularize and modernize the concept of Ahimsa in ethical and political terms (Parekh 198).  Through his popularity and political influence, Gandhi gave the concept of Ahimsa multiple definitions under different circumstances; a thief that would attack a man was committing an act of Himsa, but a surgeon using a knife in order to save a human being was not committing an act of Himsa, as the act was attempting to alleviate the pain the individual felt (Parekh 198).  Rather than practicing Ahimsa through the literal translation of what it means, Gandhi emphasized that Ahimsa has both ‘narrow’ (negative) and ‘broad’ (positive) categorical definitions of the term.  In its narrow sense, Ahimsa was the literal practice of non-violence, but in its more broad definition, it meant the promotion of well-being to all living things (Parekh 198).  This difference in definition of the concept was brought forth because rather than being concerned with the direct harming of another being, Gandhi was more focused on the daily suffering that occurs around the world that was a result of social, economic and political exploitation (Ghosh 118).  Gandhi was not without criticism and controversy, however; Indian scholars considered Gandhi’s concept of Ahimsa as a radical redefinition and distant from the traditional Hindu concept of Ahimsa.  For this reason, critics would argue that Gandhi was hypocritical of his concept through his own actions; an injured calf in Gandhi’s possession was euthanized at Gandhi’s request in order to alleviate the calf of suffering.  In turn, this caused Gandhi’s critics to reiterate the Indian doctrine of Ahimsa in which any act of killing was unjustifiable, regardless of how much pain the creature was in, and that Gandhi’s Western influence of the alleviation of pain was a more vital concept to Gandhi rather than the absolute preservation of life that held true to the classical Hindu traditional thinking of the definition (Parekh 203).

The concept and practice of Ahimsa is dynamic in its source, and the religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism contribute their own understanding of how non-violence is defined (Sharma 64).  The definition of Ahimsa is truly broad in its context, but there is an important similarity in the concept of Ahimsa among the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions: that the prana (life force) is universally sacred and vital to the cosmos for all living beings (Walker 149).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Amore, Roy C. (1996) “Peace and Non-violence in Buddhism.” In Harvey L. Dyck, ed. The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  p. 240 – 259.

 

Chinchore, Mangala (2005) “Conception of Ahimsa in Buddhism: A Critical Note.”  Annals of  the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute Vol. 85 No. 1: 103-109.

 

Cort, J. E. (2002) “Singing the Glory of Asceticism: Devotion of Asceticism in Jainism.” Journal of The American Academy Of Religion Vol. 70, No. 4: 719-742.

 

Framarin, Christopher (2011) “The value of nature in Indian (Hindu) traditions.”  Religious Studies 47 #3 (September): 285-300.

 

Ghosh, Indu M. (1989) Ahimsa: Buddhist and Gandhian.  Delhi: Balaji Enterprises.

 

Hay, Stephen (1996) “Gandhi’s Non-violence: Metaphysical, Moral, Political and International Aspects.” In Harvey L. Dyck, ed. The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  p. 278 – 295.

 

Heimann, Betty (1932) “Substance of the Lecture on the philosophical aspect of Ahimsa.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute Vol. 13, No. 3: 331-334.

 

Klostermaier, Klaus K. (1996) “Himsa and Ahimsa Traditions in Hinduism.” In Harvey L. Dyck, ed. The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 227 – 239.

 

Parekh, Bhikhu (1988) “Gandhi’s Concept of Ahimsa.”  Alternatives XIII: 195-217.

 

Ravindra, Ravi (1995) “Ahimsa, transformation, and ecology.” ReVision Vol. 17, No. 3: 23-34.

 

Schneider, Burch H. (1948) “The Doctrine of Ahimsa and Cattle Breeding in India.” The Scientific Monthly Vol. 67, No. 2: 87-92.

 

Sharma, Satish (1999) “Peace and nonviolence in the Indian religious tradition.”  Peace Research 31 #1: 58-65.  Winnipeg: Canadian Mennonite University.

 

Walker, Claire (1994) “What do we mean by non-violence?” Journal of Religion and Psychical Research Vol. 17, No. 3: 146-150.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Maitri

Samsara

Aryan Culture

Rgveda

Rta

Dharma

Mahabharata

Kstriyas

Bhagavadgita

Upanisads

Brahmanas

Dharma Sastras

Tipitakas

Dhammapada

Yajur Veda

Buddhism

Jainism

Moksa

Patanjali Yoga

Yamas

Alpadroha

Nirvana

Mahavira

Agamas

Tapas

Mahatma Gandhi

Satyagraha

Prana

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/10041/ahimsa

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

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

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

https://www.himalayanacademy.com/readlearn/basics/ahimsa-nonviolence

http://www.baps.org/Spiritual-Living/Hindu-Beliefs/Compassion-and-Nonviolence-Ahimsa.aspx

http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=1662

http://fore.research.yale.edu/news/item/practicing-ahimsa-nonviolence-toward-humans-animals-and-earth/

http://www.madhava.net/as-i-think-mahatma-gandhi-concept-of-ahimsa-in-hinduism-rama-killing-of-vali/

http://www.fsmitha.com/h1/india3.htm

 

Article written by: Nicholas Urquhart (March 2015) who is soley 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.