Category Archives: Significant Hindu Organizations

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

 

 

 

Dadu Dayal

Dadu Dayal is known as the saint of compassion. Dayal, meaning compassionate or merciful, is in part from where Dadu’s title as the saint of compassion stems (Gold 184). His compassionate actions and religious teachings earned him the title after death (Gold 184). The other reason for his title is from his divine birth and mysterious origins leading to the creation of his religious panth (Shomer and MeLeod 183). There are mysterious circumstances surrounding his birth and his unordinary beginning to life is very similar to other northern Indian saints such as Kabir and Nanak (Gold 221). Dadu Dayal was born in 1544 CE in Ahmedabad and lived in Narayana in the state of Rajasthan till his death in 1603 CE (Heehs 371). Dadu’s major religious teachings surrounded self-realization and japa along with the goal of unification of the divergent faiths (Sen 100). Dadu along with Kabir, Namdev, Nanak and Radias are considered the back bone of the Northern Indian Saint tradition (Zelliot 254). Dadu is the founder of the Dadu-Panth and is renowned for both his ability to compose hymns and his religious teachings. The main area in which his panth is presently established is Narayana in Rajasthan and is run by a disciple in the lineage of Dadu (Shomer and MeLeod 184). The Dadu-Panth has changed in contemporary times by adapting to the changing societal patterns and norms allowing it to maintain influence in its major centre (Shomer and MeLeod 184).

Rajasthan, a state in northern India, is where Dadu was born, lived and established his religious panth (Sen 100). Born in Ahmedabad in 1544 CE Dadu has several stories surrounding his mysterious birth (Shomer and MeLeod 182). The Dadu-Panth mostly recognizes the story in which Dadu was found in and taken from Sabarmati River near Ahmedabad (Gold 93). He was then raised by a brahmin family and received initiation from an old sadhu and that in his early adult life he worked as a cotton carder before beginning his religious journey (Heehs 371).The second most accepted within the panth is the story that he was born to a dhuni-woman which means a women of the river and was abandoned and was raised in a merchant family and pursued a career as a cotton carder until later becoming interested in religious life (Shomer and MeLeod 183). A cotton carder cleans and processes the raw cotton into lose strands to then later be further processed (Shomer and MeLeod 183). Most scholars, however, think that Dadu came from a Muslim family. This fact was concealed or changed to him being raised by a brahmin family or that he was adopted after being found in the river by a brahmin family (Sen 100). Although these origins are similar in nature, key differences are the source of much debate between scholars and followers (Shomer and MeLeod 189). One story describes Dadu’s divine birth to a woman and another his divine appearance upon the bank of a river. Many scholars theorize that the reason there are two conflicting accounts of his origins stems from the fourteenth verse of the Grantha Sadha Mahima (Shomer and MeLeod 185). The fourteenth verse can be translated in one of two ways, the first being “Dadu was born in the womb of a dhuni-woman” the second being “Dadu was found in a river” (Shomer and MeLeod 185). All tell the tale that his religious interest stemmed from a feeling of exclusion from the strict caste system and Vedic teachings (Shomer and MeLeod 6). In all accounts he was a cotton carder by trade and his renunciation and rise to religious power was not widely accepted by the Hindu caste system (Olson 182). His low caste birth but higher class upbringing made him an ideal teacher in the sant parampara tradition (Shomer and MeLeod 6). Like Kabir, one of his greatest influences was that he was born into a low class but with great religious knowledge which allowed him to form  his own opinions and beliefs outside of the strict Hindu tradition (Sen 101). Dadu died in 1603 at the age of fifty nine in Narayana city in Rajasthan. It is rarely speculated how Dadu died but some texts say he ascended to heaven from his shrine in Narayana when his work was done (Oman 133). In the same fashion as Kabir many sources speculate that his body miraculously disappeared after his death (Olson 182). Although his origins are mysterious he is only referred to under one incarnation unlike Kabir who in his panth is theorized to have appeared before (Gold 95).

Dadu’s religious teachings stemmed from his inability to find roots in the Vedas (Gold 49). Even though he was a man of great knowledge and devotion he struggled with some of the ideas and concepts within the Vedic teachings (Gold 49). In Dadu’s religious panth he rejected the concept that the Vedas held ultimate knowledge (Gold 49). In turn he believed in the power of self-realization and inner experience for achieving moksa (Heehs 371). Dadu believed that to fulfill this realization followers must surrender their lives entirely to god and subsequently reject their egotism (Kumar and Ram 99). He also rejected the class system and its social and religious conventions (Kumar and Ram 98). Dadu identifies himself as a house holder and believed that this stage was ideal for achieving self and spiritual realization (Kumar and Ram 100). Dadu encouraged his disciples to write in Hindi and to translate Sanskrit texts into Hindi to further the accessibility of these texts to everyone (Kumar and Ram 100). This he hoped would further his ideal of uniting the divided faiths.

The Dadu-Panth which was founded by Dadu himself, is a part of the Northern Indian sant parampara tradition (Gold 14). Its epicenter is located at its main temple in Narayana in Rajasthan (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 179). The Dadu-Panth is closely linked to Kabir’s Satguru Kabir panth and the Sikh tradition (Ralham 60).  In the Dadu-Panth Kabir is held in a revered position and his influence is noted in the Dadu-Panth text (Ralham 60).  In panth traditions the founder is often revered as the real guru, where as in the Dadu-Panth it is Dadu’s book of teachings and hymns, the Dadubani, and the Ram Mantra which receives the most attention (Gold 105). The repeated recitation of the Ram Mantra in considered a form of japa in the Dadu-Panth (Sen 100). Dadu did not initially seek to begin a panth but to expand his own concept of religious life (Gold 93). Dadu prohibited the eating of meat and all violence, but did not prohibit his disciples from marrying or still holding businesses in the world (Shomer and MeLeod 188). His disciples were allowed to pursue their religious life along with their social life within society to create a balance (Shomer and MeLeod 188). Dadu’s poetic aphorisms and devotional hymns were collected by his disciples and arranged in to a 5,000 verse bani (classical Indian music genre) titled the Dadubani (Gold 94). The book is revered as a sacramental object and a hand written copy is the most divine object within the panth (Gold 95).

The main center of the Dadu-Panth is still located in Narayana in Rajasthan where majority of followers in this panth live (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 179). Though the influence has dwindled through time the panth still is quite powerful within the area. The panth still holds some socioreligous roles in Narayana and surrounding area (Shomer and MeLeod 184). The panth has allowed makanvale (house-dwelling monks) to have wives and children unofficially (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 204). This breaks away from the tradition of monastic celibacy, previously seen as favorable within the panth, although it was never strictly upheld (Hawley and Juergensmeyer 204). The temple in Narayana is where Dadu was laid to rest in 1603 CE (Gold 94). Over time this site has been up kept by the lineage of Dadu’s disciples (Gold 95). In the present day an annual festival is held in Narayana on the anniversary of Dadu’s birth which is said to fall on the eighth day of the bright half of Phalgun (Shomer and MeLeod 186). The eighth day of Phalgun, which is the twelfth month in the Hindu calendar, falls in the end of February or beginning of March in the Gregorian calendar (Shomer and MeLeod 187). Though Dadu is not considered to have an important role in the Sikh tradition he is still respected as a great poet in his own right (Duggal 212). There is a story about Guru Gobind Singh in the Sikh tradition commenting on Dadu’s poetry and the Guru bowed his bow in front of a great shrine to Dadu out of respect (Duggal 213).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Duggal, K. S. (1980) the Sikh Gurus: Their Lives and Teachings. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd.

Gold, Daniel (1987) The Lord as Guru: Hindi Sants in the North Indian Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hawley, J. S. and M. Juergensmeyer (trans) (2004) Songs of the Saints of India. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heehs, Peter (Eds) (2006) Indian Religions: the Spiritual Traditions of South Asia- An Anthology. New Delhi: Pauls Press.

Kumar, R. and S. Ram (2008) Hindu Saints and Mysticism. New Delhi: Crescent Publishing Corporation.

Olson, Carl (2015) Indian Asceticism: power, Violence and Play. New York: Oxford University Press.

Oman, John Campbell (1984) the Mystics, Ascetics and Saints of India: a study of Sadhuism, with an accounts of the Yogis, Sanyasis, Bairagis, and other Strange Hindu Sectarians. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Ralham, O. P. (2004) Great Saints of India Vol. 2: Kabir the Apostle of Hindu-Muslim Unity. New Delhi: Anmol Publication Pvt. Ltd.

Sen, K. M. (1961) Hinduism. London: Cox and Wyman Ltd.

Shomer, K. and W. H. MeLeod (Eds) (1987) The Sants: Studies in a devotional Tradition of India. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Zelliot, E. and R. Mokashi-Punekar (Eds) (2005) Untouchable Saints: an Indian Phenomenon. New Delhi: Lordson Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

 

Related topics for further reading

Japa

Ram mantra

DaduBani

Bani

Grantha Sadha Mahima

Sant parampara

Kabir

Satguru Kabir Panth

Namdev

Nanak

Radias

Sikh Tradition

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://medium.com/sant-mat-meditation-and-spirituality/sant-dadu-dayal-the-poet-mystic-of-rajasthan-in-the-tradition-of-kabir-ba4b63a4ecbc#.q3tjm8ewd

http://ignca.nic.in/nl003204.htm

https://astrodevam.com/festivals-of-india-dadu-dayal-jayanti.html

http://www.britannica.com/biography/Dadu-Hindu-saint

 

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

Yogananda Paramahansa and the Self-Realization Fellowship

Yogananda’s Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Self-Realization Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kriya Yoga

Kundalini

Lahiri Mahasaya

Patanjali

Sri Yukteswar

Mahasamadhi

Moksa

Notable Websites Related to the Topic

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

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

 

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

Dalits and the Dalit Movement

Just as in any functioning society, Hindus in India are organized into groups, and the daily interactions that go on within the groups are facilitated by the social class to which one belongs. While outsiders studying the system may see it as extreme and difficult to understand, Hindu lives have functioned within the social system they know and participate in. The caste system in India dates back as far as around 1400 BC, when the Vedic Aryans migrated into Punjab, India and enslaved the groups already inhabiting the land, including the Dravidians. Before migrating to India, the Aryans already had a system of clan divisions, and when they conquered the people they met in India they segregated them from themselves by race, calling themselves the “Arya Varna” (meaning “master class”), and the slaves the “Dasa Varna” (meaning “slave cast”) (Raj 2-3). This simple distinction was the basis for the system that would grow and develop, eventually forming the modern caste system used by Hindus in India today. The social system, based on ethnic, economic, and religious segregation, divides the people into four main classes, or varna. In Sanskrit, varna means “colour”, and it was speculated that this emphasized the segregation of the coloured races, dating back to the Aryans and the conquered peoples. However, this has since been challenged, and it has been suggested that colour was simply used as a means to distinguish people, not relating to ethnicity at all, but more in the way that one could distinguish the color “pink” from “purple” or “white” from “black” (Varna 2016).

The class system is set up with a basis of four main classes (or varnas): the Brahmins, the Ksatriyas, the Vaisyas, and the Sudras. Each class functions according to the expectations they know to be true for their class; expectations which have both evolved and emerged as the history of Hinduism developed. The origins of the four specific varnas are unclear, and different myths and stories have arisen depicting their creation. In one hymn, the Purusasukta, the varnas are said to have developed from the parts and limbs of Purusa. In this depiction, the Brahmin are said to have come from the mouth, the Ksatriya from the arms, the Vaisya from the legs, and the Sudra from the feet (Davis 52). This imagery clearly demonstrates the places each class holds in society. The four classes are also mentioned in the Rg Veda (one of the most influential Hindu texts), but in the form of three classes called Brahma, Ksatra, and Visa (Ghurye 44). The Brahmin class is the uppermost class, consisting of the elite priests. The Brahmin are responsible for the upholding of dharma, as they themselves are held to a high standard of moral behavior. The Brahmins are distinguished from the Ksatriyas by their ritual knowledge. A Brahmin is able to perform rituals, and can offer up prayers for others, especially in the matter of protection of his king (Ghurye 47). The Ksatriyas form the militant class of India. They are able to carry weapons and it is expected that they would protect the rest of the people in this way. There are some stories of Ksatriyas acting as priests, and the tensions between the Brahmins and the Ksatriyas led to conflict every now and then as they each challenged the authority of the other class. Still, the two classes are known to work closely with each other in order to ensure the function and protection of daily society (Ghurye 50). The Vaisyas constitute the third class, known to be farmers and labourers. This class, best known as “the tenders of cattle”, are in a position of uncertainty. The two upper classes can easily be grouped together, as they both display their authority over Indian society, but the Vaisyas can be grouped either up or down, depending on the behaviour or the situation being analyzed (Ghurye 63). In some situations they are seen as an upper class, while in others they are grouped along with the lowest class, the servants. This makes the lines between the classes hard to distinguish at times, and certainly provides an insight into the complexity and difficulty that comes along with trying to understand the caste system. The fourth class is the Sudras, the lowest of the four. The Sudras are a class destined for tedious, unskilled labour, and service of the upper three classes (Davis 52). Participation and placement in the classes are determined by Jati, meaning one’s birth group, from the Sanskrit word “jata”, meaning “born” or “brought into existence” (Jati 2016). In this way, it is understood that birth determines one’s place in the caste system.

Not included in the four varnas are a fifth class, a class so low in the caste system that they are referred to as “Untouchables”, and therefore excluded from the four-varna system. This class, the Dalits, occupy the lowest of the low in Hindu Indian society, and are highly discriminated against in all aspects of life. They are segregated and given the label of poor status in the economy, politics, employment, and so much more (Kaminsky and Long 156-157). As an outsider analyzing the system, it is important to acknowledge the role that the Dalits play in the interactions among the groups, but from a Hindu point of view, the Dalits are totally unacknowledged (Sadangi 18). The people that occupy this class are viewed by the rest of the classes as polluting, and are therefore given the “polluting” tasks in daily life. Ritual purity is an extremely important concept in Hinduism, and tasks are typically assigned levels of purity or pollution. It is of utmost importance that the upper classes maintain their ritual purity, especially the Brahmins, as they need to be ritually pure in order to perform their rituals. The tasks that are too polluting for the four varnas to participate in are given to the Dalits, as they are already polluted in their fundamental status. Besides occupation, Dalits are excluded from all aspects of daily life of Hindus of the other classes, including social and sexual contact, and eating. Contact between the Dalits and the four varnas is controlled and regulated, and eating among the groups is completely and wholly separated (Shrawagi 2006).

While there are multiple terms used today to describe the “untouchables”, including Harijan, the term “Dalit” itself, although in existence for hundreds of years, was not always used to classify the excluded class, and was popularised fairly recently by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (Mohanty and Malik 114). Ambedkar effectively attacked the Indian caste system in his adult life, basing his entire campaign on the sole foundation of social equality (Jagannathan 2015). Born a Dalit himself, Ambedkar has successfully created a new definition for the term “Dalits” as a group of people who are “economically abused, politically neglected, educationally backward, and oppressed in religious and cultural ground because of caste discrimination in society” (Mohanty and Malik 114). The Dalit movement in India really began when India gained independence, but the Dalits were still denied any independence or equality in the new society (Sutradhar 91). This desire for equality urged members to begin pushing back against the upper classes. The upper classes traditionally starved the Dalits in social interaction, education, and the economy, believing that if they could maintain their powerless position in society and prevent them from furthering their education of equality and human rights that they could prevent any notions of dissent against the system, and continue to render the Dalits defenseless against the discrimination imposed on them (Sutradhar 94). However, the Dalits, after enduring centuries of abuse and oppression, began to feel angry about their position in society. They were working the land and serving the upper classes with no enjoyment of the fruits of their own labour. Thus, the Dalit movement was born, and fostered in the minds of those fighting for equality among the classes.

Jyotiba Phule was the first to emphasize the importance of the education of Dalits when it came to the Dalit’s movement, recognizing that with education would come the ability to reason and develop rationale, as well as the ability to carve out a place for oneself in politics and the socio-economic world (Sutradhar 96). This sentiment was carried even further by Dr. Ambedkar, who (along with another great thinker, Gandhi) fought for Dalits’ equality. While Ambedkar deeply desired equality among the classes, he recognized the importance of the caste system in daily social structure, and acknowledged the fact that a whole organization of society cannot change overnight without total chaos and disarray ensuing soon after. In this way, he recognized the need for separate-caste marriages, and pushed for smaller movements toward equality. By doing so, he hoped that eventually the Hindu caste system could gradually transition from one embedded in inequality to one with equality at the forefront, redefining daily interactions and social structures.

The Dalit movement is one that has been going on for years, heightening especially in the 1970’s, but is largely ignored in the grand scheme of things (Sutradhar 97). The feelings of exclusion and oppression felt by the Dalits in India continue to motivate them to keep quiet. The feelings of embarrassment and dedication to the caste system that is so deeply entrenched in Hindu thought and beliefs, and the acceptance of the way things are prove to be huge obstacles in the continuation and growth of the movement, not only in India, but on the world stage. Still, thinkers such as Phule, Ambedkar, and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan fed the fire that drives the movement. Radhakrishnan had spoken out against the caste system directly, attacking its values. He emphasized the need to abolish the system (and the idea of untouchability) in order to achieve a modern nation with democracy and human rights for all (Minor 386). Today, in a world so focused on human rights, equality, and liberty of all people, the Dalits movement begs for people all over the world to recognize the needs of their friends in India. In order to see change there must be pressure put on the Indian government both nationally and internationally, and Dalits must come together with non-Dalits in order to achieve a global movement to push for human rights in India to transcend the caste system (Bishwakarma 2015). Until then, over one-sixth of the population of India will continue to live in oppression under the caste system, born into the fate of a Dalit life (Overview of Dalit Human Rights Situation nd).

 

REFERENCES AND RELATED READING

Bishwakarma, Dil (2015) “ICDR President’s Opening Statement from First Global Conference.” International Commission for Dalit Rights. http://icdrintl.org/icdr-presidents-opening-statement-from-first-global-conference. Accessed February 6, 2016.

Davis, Marvin (1983) Rank and Rivalry: The Politics of Inequality in Rural West Bengal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ghurye, Govind S. (1969) Caste and Race in India. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd.

Jagannathan, R. (2015) “Rescuing Ambedkar from Pure Dalitism: He Would’ve Been India’s Best Prime Minister.” Firstpost. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/rescuing-ambedkar-from-pure-dalitism-he-wouldve-been-indias-best-prime-minister-2195498.html. Accessed February 28, 2016.

— “Jati.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Edited by Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/topic/jati-Hindu-caste. Accessed February 28, 2016.

Kaminsky, Arnold P., and Roger D. Long (2011) India Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic. California: ABC-CLIO.

Minor, Robert N. (1997) “Radhakrishnan as Advocate of the Class/Caste System as a Universal Religio-Social System.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 1.2. Springer. 386-400.

Mohanty, Panchanan, and Ramesh C. Malik (2011) Ethnographic Discourse of the Other: Conceptual an Methodological Issues. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. www.ncdhr.org.in. Accessed February 6, 2016.

 Raj, Ebenezer S (1985) “The Origins of the Caste System.” Transformation 2.2. London: Sage Publications Ltd. 10-14.

Sadangi, Himansu Charan (2008) Emancipation of Dalits and Freedom Struggle. Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

Shrawagi, Rohit (2006) Purity vs. Pollution. http://rohitshrawagi.blogspot.ca. Accessed February 28, 2016.

Sutradhar, Ruman (2014) “Dalit Movement in India: In the Light of Four Dalit Literatures.” IOSR Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences. 91-97.

 

Related Topics for Further Interest

Cardala

Dharma

Dharma Sastras

Duija

Harijans

Havik Brahmins

Jati

Laws of Manu

Madi

Mallige

Morathas

Muttchuchetu

Purusasukta

Rg Veda

Vedas

 

Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.ncdhr.org.in/

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

http://www.hrln.org/hrln/dalit-rights.html

http://www.countercurrents.org/dalit-george270405.htm

https://www.amnesty.org.in/about/what-are-human-rights?gclid=CP6F_vfmoMsCFYiVfgodwgsClg

http://philosophy.lander.edu/oriental/caste.html

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_caste.asp

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._R._Ambedkar

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

 

Article written by: Jennie Elder (February 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.

Swami Chinmayananda and the Chinmaya Mission

This account of Swami Chinmayananda’s life is derived from a single source, who may be a devotee, and therefore reflects the overly sympathetic orientation of the source.

Swami Chinmayananda, also referred to as Balakrishna Menon, who was born in Kerala, India during 1916. He earned an Undergraduate Degree in English Literature at Lucknow University in India. At the time of his studies, India was in a political dispute with Britain in order to gain their independence. Menon was a socialist and performed political actions such as, writing leaflets and give speeches in order to rile up the nation (Patchen 8). He was one of many students who demonstrated his differing ideologies against the colonial British, in the events leading up to India gaining independence during the 1940’s (Patchen 7). Because of this political uprising, many Indians were locked up and killed. Balakrishnan Menon came to realize that a warrant was issued for his arrest. He spent the next two years moving around, until he thought it was safe enough to come out. However, government officials soon found him and he was imprisoned (Patchen 10).

Menon caught typhus in prison because of overcrowding, bad ventilation and poor nutrition within the penitentiary. In the old country typhus was commonly known as jail fever because of the confined spaces in prison (Patchen 11). This allowed for the disease to spread rapidly among inmates. Menon was then later released on the side of a road, just out of Delhi, because of contracting typhus. A passerby rescued Menon and he later recovered from his illness. After several weeks he made his way to Baroda, where he stayed with his cousin, Achuthan Menon (Patchen 12).

When Menon was staying with his cousin, he started type writing. He chose articles such as, Mochi “Street shoe cobbler” (Patchen 14) to write on and expressed his socialist views. This marked the beginning of his journalism career. These short responses were then being published in Indian nationalist newspapers (Patchen 14). He was more interested in India’s social reforms than the Hindu religion at this time. Menon left Baroda and headed back to the University of Lucknow, where he achieved his Master’s Degree in English Literature. He became an editor at the local newspaper, but soon found through his work that something was missing.

“Each one of us is in the right atmosphere and environment for our evolution. Don’t try to be more intelligent than universal intelligence. Stay where you are and start opening!” stated Swami Chinmayananda (Patchen 23). Menon started to look deeper into the daily lives of the rich and poor within India. He soon became empathetic towards the poor, but also explored how the rich gained from their lifestyle (Patchen 23). Menon realized that he had to choose his own path and let religion back into his life. He had made a resolution for himself and moved onto a spiritual path for three years. After practicing spiritually, coming to know ones true self, for three years, Menon studied philosophy in order to gain more knowledge of life (Patchen 25). Through his studies, he came across the concept of the Eternal Truth, also known as Sanatana Dharma, within the Vedas. He wanted to achieve the divine goals that were marked in the scriptures because it would lead him to become a true teacher (Patchen 25).

Menon was inspired by the many sages who have attained these divine goals and soon followed their words that “truth cannot be disguised to a sincere seeker” (Patchen 26). He continued to study these wise sages and gained guidance from their words. However, he still had many unanswered questions and doubts. In order to find his answers, he journeyed to the Himalayas in hope of finding these great sages (Patchen 29). He set off to Rishikesh, the place to find a man full of wisdom which is a Swami, in order to find Swami Shivananda on the north bank of the Ganga (Patchen 35). There he spent a few days learning from Swami Shivananda, while gaining spiritual knowledge. For several years, Menon would travel to the Himalayas and continue to learn about spiritual matters from Swami Shivananda. It was not until the late 1940’s that Balakrishnan Menon received initiation into the sannyasa asrama, also known as the life of renunciation, from Swami Shivananda (Patchen 55-56). By being initiated into the sannyasa asrama, Menon was close to achieving the goal of self-realization (Patchen 56). Balakrishnan Menon formally became known as Swami Chinmayananda, meaning “one who reveals in the bliss which is pure consciousness” (Patchen 57-58).

A few days after his initiation, Swami Chinmayananda made his way to the small village of Uttarkasi, in the eastern valley of Varanavatha mountain, where he sought to meet another great sage (Patchen 69). There he met Swami Tapovan, the master of Vedanta, to teach him the scriptures of the Vedas and took him as his guru, (teacher). Swami Tapovan believed that one should not rush their learning process because the ideas already in one’s mind need to be clear before an individual moves on to the next stage (Patchen 70). Therefore, Swami Chinmayananda did not start his new learning right away. Swami Chinmayananda did not spend all his time learning about the philosophy of Vedanta, but he also took time to do chores in order to release natural energy and maintain his strength. He then traveled on foot for a few days with Swami Tapovan and other students in order to get to Gangotri, a place of meditation and peacefulness (Patchen 71). Swami Chinmayananda would chant early every morning before the teachings of the scriptures began. He learned the first Vedanta text which was the beginning of the scriptures that identified all the concepts of the Upanishads in Sanskrit (Patchen 72). These concepts included the nature of the true Self and information on the nature of Brahman. The information given in the first text of Vedanta gave Swami Chinmayananda the core concepts of the scriptures, but also allowed him to further learn the Sanskrit language. Swami Tapovan would slowly read the scriptures out and explain each Sanskrit term for the students to fully understand the meaning of the texts.

Swami Chinmayananda spent a few years of continually traveling from Uttarkasi and back to Gangotri to learn about the scriptures and philosophy of Vedanta. By the time Chinmayananda turned thirty years old, he was able to travel back to his homeland of Kerala, India (Patchen 80). He was able to see his family after a decade and enjoyed sharing with them what it was like to become a Swami. While Chinmayananda was home, he visited many temples and talked to spiritual teachers’ within the area. He was also asked to give many lectures to the public about his life as a Swami. After his visit home, Chinmayananda returned back to Uttarkasi and continued his learning with the guru. He was now ready for the final step in his religious journey, “the dive into Self-realization” (Patchen 84). Several more years of teachings with guru, Swami Tapovan, led Swami Chinmayananda to his greatest achievement of understanding the nature of the mind.

When Swami Chinmayananda reached his goal, he went on a tour of India and decided to do a series of Upanishad Jnana Yagnas, teaching concepts of true knowledge and the nature of absolute reality. Swami Chinmayananda taught these concepts in various cities around India (Patchen 155). He wanted to bring spiritual enlightenment to the people within these cities and educate them on their cultural roots. Chinmayananda wanted to use his knowledge of the Vedic concepts and bring benefit to all of society. He then started teaching right from the scriptures and made his way to the first city, Poona, where he performed his first lecture (Patchen 156). After his first lecture to the public on Vedanta, Chinmayananda decided to live life with the people and encounter the issues they had. He packed all his belongings up and the left the comfort of the Himalayas in order to start the “Divine Mission” (Patchen 158). He believed that the people of India deserved to know more about their Hindu religion, while applying these concepts to every life struggle they would have. He then lectured on the first Yagna, but not many people came. As Chinmayananda continued to lecture on Vedanta, more people would attend (Patchen 163).

Chinmayananda’s passion was to liberate people with his knowledge of Vedanta, which essentially brought happiness, “Maximum happiness for the maximum number of people that is our goal!” stated Swami Chinmayananda (Patchen 203). Groups of educated Brahmins, who went to listen to Swami Chinmayananda lecture wanted to create a program that spread the meaning of his teachings further, and the understanding of Vedanta. They then created the “Chinmaya Mission”, meaning “the true knowledge”, to carry spiritual concepts and discussions to the people (Patchen 203). People would gather from various cities just to hear Swami Chinmayananda talk and soon the group expanded. The “Chinmaya Mission” was now an organization that had grown into something great, while giving the people the knowledge and spiritual guidance they needed. Swami Chinmayananda was all about helping the people and through the “Chinmaya Mission” he was able to create the Chinmaya Mission Hospital during the late 1900’s (Patchen 241). Many more great projects came out of “Chinmaya Mission”, but Swami Chinmayananda died of heart issues in late summer of 1993 (Swami Chinmayananda 1). Through his studies and knowledge of Vedanta, Swami Chinmayananda changed the lives of many people and the “Chinmaya Mission” still carries on in his name.

 REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Patchen, Nancy (1989) The journey of a master: Swami Chinmayananda : the man, the path, the teaching. Berkeley, California: Asian Humanities Press.

Swami Chinmayananda (2000) Hinduism Today: Chinmayananda Up Close. Kauia, Hawaii: Himalayan Academy.

Noteworthy Websites on the Topic

Chinmayananda Saraswati

< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinmayananda_Saraswati>

Chinmaya Mission

< http://www.chinmayamission.com/who-we-are/swami-chinmayananda/#.VP3wKPnF9yU>

 

RELATED TOPICS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Vedanta

Jnana Yagna

Chinmaya Mission

Pancbadasi

Upanishads

sannyasa asrama

Rishikesh

Bhagavad Gita

Divine Mission

Atman

Brahman

 

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

 

The Arya Samaj

Arya Samaj: The Hinduism Reform Movement

Hinduism is a religion rich and diverse in terms of the culture, the language spoken, and the practices and traditions followed. Through its history, many reform and unorthodox movements have emerged that have attempted to modify its cultural practices. One of these reform movements that attempted to reinstate the sacrosanctity of the Vedas was founded by Dayananda Sarasvati in the late 1800s and was known as Arya Samaj (Jorden xiii). The characteristics of this movement, which is still thriving in the world today, are that it opposed many social evils existing in Hinduism at the time, and provided roots for Indian nationalism. (Rai 3-6).

Dayananda Sarasvati was the eldest child of a Saivite Brahmin family of the Samavedi branch of the Audichya caste in the state of Mourvi (Jordens 4). During his early years, he was strictly encouraged to participate in Saivite rituals. Throughout his childhood he started noticing, what he perceived as flaws and misbeliefs that were a very important part of his orthodox family such as idol worship and sraddha rituals (Jordens 14). After leaving his family and devoting most of his life to the study of Vedantas (particularly Yoga and Sanskrit grammar Vedantas), he was convinced that the deepest secret of religion and moksa were present in the Hindu scriptures, specifically the Vedas (Jordens 32). Eventually, between 1863 and 1872, this sanyasi became a social and religious reformer by being partially influenced by anglicised Bengalis and Marathas (Jones 34). Focusing solely on the Brahmin class in the earlier years as a reformer, he travelled across upper India attempting to reform others’ ideals (Jordens 34).  Additionally, learning from other reform movements like the Brahmo Samaj, he changed his mode of proselytization from Sanksrit to Hindi, and continuously travelled experimenting and attempting to form an organization (Jordens 34-35). Finally, in 1875, Dayananda Sarasvati first published his book the Satyarth Prakash, which summarised his ideas and beliefs in detail. However, his ideas about idol worship, caste system, etc., met huge criticism during these early years of the reform (Jordens 34-35).

Eventually, in 1875, he setup his first successful organization, the Arya Samaj, when he met with his followers in Bombay and created the ten principles(niyams) of the Samaj, which were finalized later on in 1877 in Lahore (Jones 35). Even though this movement failed to set its roots in southern India, it started to develop a bigger following in the northern states of Gujarat, Rajashtan, and mainly Punjab (Jones 36-40). Despite the criticisms and opposition from the leaders of the Brahmo Samaj about the sanctity of the Vedas, he held his ground. Not only did he believe that the Vedas were inspired by a divine body, he considered them prehistoric and pre-human, and thus considered them the ultimate source and guide for Hinduism (Rai 4). Dayananda Sarasvati aimed to revive Vedic religion and eliminate the abuses and misnomers that he believed had emerged in Hindu belief with time (Dhanpati 17).

The ten principles that were decided upon by the Arya Samaj are an exposition of the organization’s doctrines. The Arya Samaj’s teaching about the Vedas and its representation of God is explained in the first three principles. The Ten Principles of Arya Samaj are as follows:

  1. God is the primary source of all true knowledge, and of all that is known by its means.
  2. God is All-truth, All-knowledge, All-Beautitude, Incorporeal, Almighty, Just, Merciful, Unbegotten, Infinite, Changeless, Without a beginning, Incomparable, the Support and Lord of all, All-pervading, Omniscient, Imperishable, Immortal, Exempt from fear, Eternal, Holy and the Maker of the Universe. To him alone is worship due.
  3. The Vedas are the books of all true knowledge. It is the paramount duty of all Aryas to read them and to instruct others in them, to hear them read, and to recite them to others
  4. All persons should remain ever ready to accept the Truth and to renounce untruth
  5. All actions ought to be performed in conformity to virtue, i.e. after due consideration of right and wrong.
  6. The primary aim of Arya Samaj is to do good to mankind i.e. to amerliorate the physical, spiritual and social condition of all men.
  7. All ought to be treated with love, justice, and due regard to their merits.
  8. Ignorance ought to be dispelled and knowledge diffused.
  9. No one ought to remain satisfied with his own welfare. The welfare of the individual should be regarded as included in the welfare of all.
  10. In matters which affect the well-being of all, the individual should subordinate his personal likings; in matters that affect him alone, he is to enjoy freedom of action. (Jones 321).

Laid out in simple terms, these principles are thought to be free of controversy, and are organized so that the Arya Samaj could be made as “catholic” as possible without losing its Hindu character (Rai 3).  To become the member of the Arya Samaj, the requirement is the belief and obedience of the ten principles or niyams, regardless of the opinions on other matters (Rai 9). Dayananda Sarasvati refrained purposefully from including any particular doctrines or philosophical questions within the principles so as to make it more approachable by an average man (Rai 12).

Other than the ten principles, there are beliefs and religious teachings that the institution has come to be known for. One such belief is that some persons might be more divine than others, and even though they are not priests in the sense that they are in Christianity, they should be treated with higher respect as they are the benefactors of the human race (Rai 30). Furthermore, despite the fact that enlightenment is possible by being in contact with these divine humans, moksa or salvation can only be attained at an individual level and not by demonstrating faith and devotion to another human soul (Rai 30). In other words, being in contact with these divine humans can help one to be in a higher state of spirituality, but this alone will not be able to grant moksa (Rai 30). Another strong ideal of the Arya Samaj is that “to err is human”, and thus every individual is bound to make mistakes regardless of his spiritual state (Rai 30). The Arya Samaj’s only approved forms of worship are contemplation, communion, and prayer (stuti, prasthna and upasana) performed with pure thoughts, words and deeds (Rai 30). There is a strong belief in the doctrine of karma by the Arya Samaj, and thus it is maintained that all actions have a consequence which cannot be recompensed by any actions (Rai 30). Despite the strong belief in karma, the Samaj negates any belief in fate, unless it is presented alongside karma (Rai 31). As well, any ancestor-worship is not believed in by the Samaj, but respect and remembrance is considered to be a more appropriate sentiment towards them (Rai 31). Finally, the Samaj also encourages its followers to have a strong belief in the Vedas and to interpret their own personal meanings from them (Rai 31).

Along with these religious teachings, the Samaj advises some particular religious observances and practices. There are five mahayajnas that should be observed by the members of the Arya Samaj every day. These include the brahma yajna which is a bipartite practice including sandhya and swadhyae (Rai 32). Sandhya means worshipping god twice a day, in the morning and the evening, by the three ways contemplation, communion and prayer (Rai 32). Swadhyae means daily reading of the some part of the scriptures at least once every day (Rai 32). The second is the deva yajna which is more commonly known as the homa or the sacrificial fire where ghi (clarified butter) is burned in order to purify the household physically and spiritually and has very strong Vedic importance (Rai 32). Pitri yajna is the third of the mahayajnas which requires a daily act that serves the parents (Rai 33). The fourth is the athithi yajna which obliges the members to feed an ascetic or another learned man who has not been invited to the household before (Rai 33). Lastly, the bali vaishva deva yajna requires every member to give food to any one of the following beings according to one’s resources: poor, disabled, orphans, or animals (Rai 33). The Arya Samaj maintains that in combination with these five daily mahayajnas, the sixteen Sanskars (sacred ceremonies) that serve as the sixteen mile-stones in each individual’s life, must be performed. These rituals are common in Hinduism, but others that were superstitious in the view of Arya Samaj and that had eventually become the Hindu norm, are excluded. The Sanskar Vidhi is the book that defines these rituals in more detail and was compiled by Dayananda Sarasvati himself (Rai 34-35).

Moreover, the Arya Samaj maintains a strong social ideology along with the religious observances and practices. The ideology is based upon the ultimate fatherhood of God, the brotherly nature of man, the equality between the two sexes, justice and fairness between men and between different nations, availability of equal opportunities for everyone depending on their nature, merit and karma, and finally love for all (Rai 36-37). Dayananda was strictly against the caste system of the Hindus and believed in their salvation, and since there was no caste by birth in India during the Vedic times, the Arya Samaj believes in providing equal opportunities to all men and women (Rai 38). Due to this belief, many alienated castes started feeling more comfortable with the customs and attitudes of their surrounding societies after becoming members of the Arya Samaj (Jones xii). The Arya Samaj attempted to uplift the lower castes by allowing everyone to wear the sacred thread of twice born, regardless of the caste, and eliminating classes, such as the untouchables (Rai 122).  As well, the Arya Samaj emphasized a lot on gender equality. The conditions of Indian women at the time Arya Samaj was emerging were believed to be disgraceful. The society became one of the top most agencies providing education to Indian women in Punjab, Agra, and Oude regions (Rai 44).  Like Vyasa, Dayananda disapproved of multiple marriages, but he believed that couples who would like to remarry for the sake of having offspring should be allowed (Rai 46-47). As well, the Arya Samaj stood strongly in opposition to child marriage (Rai 49).

In combination with its social concerns, the Arya Samaj vigorously promotes education. Since it is part of the ten principles to impart knowledge to others, providing educational institutions for men and women of all castes and backgrounds was part of its agenda (Jones 67). Dayananda Sarasvati believed that the filtration theory of education that was in practice at the time was not going to solve the problem of illiteracy, and thus he believed in free and compulsory education for all, regardless of caste or gender (Yadav 10-11). As well, Dayananda believed that the curriculum should be widespread so that it represented all branches of knowledge and provided knowledge about languages, arts, sciences, technology and social equality (Yadav 11). The Dayananda Anglo-Vedic College was opened at Lahore, Punjab and Gurukula near Hardwar followed by many more colleges and gurukulas that followed Arya Samajic principles and Dayananda’s ideals about education (Yadav 10-11).

Apart from the religious and educational agendas, the Arya Samaj engaged in charitable efforts at a very grand scale, also known as the shuddhi (Rai 111). Some of this work included setting up orphanages and widow homes, participating in famine reliefs during many famine-stricken years, and social services like medical relief during times of calamities (Yadav 11-12 & Rai 111-120). Furthermore, lectures and educational information was provided in order to eliminate slavery and the caste system (Rai 122-133).

Dayananda Sarasvati also believed that national consciousness needed to be aroused in the country, especially since India was under British control at the time (Yadav 11). Thus, the Arya Samaj did not believe in using Western ideologies to reform Indian society, but instead turned to principles found in the Vedas (Dhanpati 21). Sarasvati strongly believed that if Indians became strong, religiously pure and simple, their freedom would not be very far (Dhanpati 21). The Arya Samaj stressed on the fact that swarajya was most important (Yadav 15). Two major leaders to the Indian National Congress who advocated for social reform, the swadeshi movement and political freedom of India, Lala Lajpat Rai and Swami Shraddhananda, belonged to the Arya Samaj (Dhanpati 175-194). By providing equal rights and education to so many of the estranged classes, the Arya Samaj was responsible for creating a sense of unity and promoting nationalism among its members (Dhanpati 58-62).

The Arya Samaj is a movement that targeted to reform not just the religious aspect of the nation, but the educational, social, and political aspects with it. It is still socially vibrant and continues to promote its agenda in modern India and around the world.

Bibliography and Related Readings:

Pandey, Dhanpati (1972) The Arya Samaj & Indian Nationalism. New Delhi: S. Chand Publications.

Kenneth, Jones (1976) Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 19th Century Punjab. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rai, Lala Lajpat (1991) Arya Samaj: an Account of its Origin, Doctrines & Activities. (Edited by S.K. Bhatia).  New Delhi: Reliance Publication House.

Jordens, J.T.F (1978): Dayananda Sarasvati: his Life and Ideas. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sarasvati, Dayananda (1978) Autobiography of Dayananda Sarasvati (Edited by K.C. Yadav). New Delhi: Manohar.

Related Research Topics:

The Brahmo Samaj

Dayananda Sarasvati

Yajna

The Indian Independence

Homa

Sanskara

Sraddha

Idol Worship in Hinduism

Widows and Widowers in Hinduism

The Caste System

Related Websites:

http://www.aryasamajjamnagar.org/

http://www.sanskrit.org/www/Hindu%20Primer/HinduPrimer.htm

http://www.aryasamajtoday.com/

Article written by Shuchi Talwar (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Divine Life Society

THE DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY

According to its mission statement, the Divine Life Society, founded in in 1936 by Swami Sri Sivananda, caters to the cultural and spiritual needs of all people irrespective of class, credo, nationality, or gender (Chidananda et al 15). The monastic and lay movement of Sivanada’s teachings are known throughout India and in many parts of the world (Miller 342). Seeking to achieve the noble mission of its founder, the Society strives to generate a spiritual transformation in humankind, to eradicate the animalistic behaviours of the human race and unfold the Divinity within each atman (inner-soul, or self) to perfection (Chidananda et al 30). The objectives of the Divine Life Society are accomplished through the publication of books, pamphlets and magazines which convey Sivananda’s beliefs concerning yoga (physical, mental, and spiritual discipline originating in ancient India) and Vedanta (ancient religious philosophy, translated directly as ‘the goal of knowledge’), the concept of universal religion and spiritual philosophy, and ancient medicinal practices (Chidananda et al 30). The Society also develops training centres for the practice of yoga and the revival of spiritualism and true culture (Chidananda et al 30). The Divine Life Society maintains the central objective of the dissemination of spiritual knowledge to all people of the world (Eilers and Eilers).

Sivananda Ashram, the Headquarters of the Divine Life Society, is located in Shivanandanagar, on the right back of the river Ganga. The ashram is three kilometres outside of Rishikesh town, twenty-four kilometres from the great pilgrimage centre of Haridwar, and serves as the ideal retreat for spiritual rejuvenation, wherein one may renew and refresh his or her Self physically, mentally, morally, and spiritually. At the ashram, a group of renunciates (Sannyasins) and spiritual practitioners (Sadhakas) strive to work with dedication to the service of all humanity, learning to practice the Yoga of Synthesis and to actively operate as centres of ideal spirituality (Chidananda et al 30). Visitors to the ashram are received at any time, although those intending a prolonged visit are obliged to make a written request and receive permission from the General Secretary of the Divine Life Society (Chidananda et al 31).

Membership with the Divine Life Society is open to all people of the world. A devotee must uphold the ideals of truth, non-violence, purity of atman and spiritualism (Chidananda et al 32). The Society is non-sectarian and embodies principles of all world religions and ways of spiritual life. Within the Society, there is no distinction between or disruption of varying traditions and religious affiliations (Chidananda et al 32). Ideally, the Divine Life Society endeavours to impart the mystery of spiritual action within the knowledge of the true Self and the effacement and transcendence of human ego; the primary teaching of Sivananda is that each soul maintains the potential to be divine and that the goal of every human being is to strive for the manifestation of Divinity within by “being good and doing good” (Chidananda et al 32).

The Divine Life Society aims to popularize the values of health, culture, and physical fitness as taught and established by Sri Swami Sivananda, through the daily practices of yoga asanas (postures) and surya-namaskara (sun salutation). The focus on health-building has set the Divine Life Society apart from most institutions devoted to spiritualism. From its inception, the Society has focused on the world-wide yoga practice of founder Sivananda, one of the earliest movements in the modern direction of yogic practice embedded in the heart of achieving Divinity. The spiritual teachers of The Divine Life Society have been welcomed internationally as cultural and spiritual ambassadors, whose dedication to service and authenticity in the field of yoga has enticed followers throughout the world. (Chidananda et al 32). Sri Swami Sivananda composed several texts on yoga, which have been translated into various international languages and propagate the dissemination of one of the most precious aspects of Indian spiritual heritage (Chidananda et al 33) [Sri Swami Sivananda composed hundreds of books on the practice of yoga and its relation to spirituality, culture, and religion. The most popular among these books is a collection of volumes named The Science of Yoga].

According to Sri Swami Sivananda and the Divine Life Society, daily meditation sessions are vital to the reconstruction of human spirituality (Chidananda et al 25). They permit the mind and soul of an individual to work toward the ultimate goal of Divinity within the atman (Chidananda et al 37). In the story of his attainment of spirituality and the Divine Life, Sivananda denied himself all food, company, and talk, dove deeper into Samadhi (superconscious state), wherein he remained behind closed doors for several days without relaxation from his devotion to meditation (The Divine Life Society 8). He renounced all contact with the outside world and stripped away all elements of duality in severe meditation (Miller 360). This piety resulted in his merging with the Divine, freed from all limitations and chains of materialistic life (The Divine Life Society 8). Dedication to meditation is important to Sivananda, who throughout his life meditated for eight to sixteen hours per day with great commitment (The Divine Life Society 10). The ideal of meditation is to aid the human mind in concentrating its energy, turning it within itself, and focusing it upon the Divinity that resides within the atman. It is through deep and devoted meditation that the human mind may realize the truth of Divinity: that he is and always has been God Himself, in the reality of the world (Chidananda et al 18).

In his teachings, Sivananda maintains that meditation and yoga practice, and devotion to the Divine Life may lead an individual to the discovery of true religion. His stress is upon the unity of all religions (The Divine Life Society 12). According to Sivananda, religion is the practical aspect of philosophy while philosophy acts as the rational aspect present in religious practice (Sivananda 315). His Divine Life establishes that religion is not merely speaking or displaying the beliefs of the individual, but living by the truths expounded by those beliefs. The religious affiliation one follows, the prophet one adores, the language or nation of the individual, or age and gender are not considered a part of true religion. With devotion to tapas (any form of self-control), one may be considered religious (Chidananda et al 2). Since real religion is deemed to be the religion of one’s heart, purification of the heart is viewed as the primary goal of seekers of the Divine Life. To discover the basis of true religion, one should strive to live a life of truth, love, and purity; demonstrating control over dishonourable or immoral behaviours, conquering and controlling the mind, and serving all of humanity in goodwill and fellowship (Chidananda et al 3). The discovery of true religion occurs within the heart.

Sri Swami Sivananda teaches his students that living in spiritual attainment is the highest goal of human life. Spiritual living constitutes the continual eradication of the animalistic nature within the human mind and heart, refining and purifying the education of the human nature so that consciousness begins a vertical movement toward the Divine (Eilers and Eilers). Considering that spiritual life is the elimination of the animalistic tendencies and awakening of the Divine, all spiritual practices such as brahmacharya (celibacy) become natural aspects of the achievement of true Divine Life. If the human heart and mind are consumed with the realization of pleasure and sense satisfaction, it is difficult to attain true Divinity within (Eilers and Eilers). Sivananda declares that spiritual realization must be achieved with committed and genuine prayer (sadhana), a vital endeavour for all of humankind. Through sadhana, the human mind achieves a realm above the baser instincts of animals and maintains the power of understanding and reasoning, which aids in distinguishing between such dichotomies as good and bad, true and false, right and wrong (Chidananda et al 10). In the eyes of the Divine Life Society members, Swami Sri Sivananda is a guru who envisions all of humanity as one in the Vedantic sense of unity and spiritual attainment (Miller 354). Sivananda teaches that through prayer and the striving for this realization, one may achieve Divinity within the soul. Spirituality transcends the worship of deities within temples, ritual performances, codes of behaviour and conduct, and the practices of any regular cult, creed, or religion. It is, rather, the comprehension of true values by which unity may be recognized within the self, the atman (Chidananda et al 29)

The Divine Life Society advances these spiritual teachings of Sivananda among its students and members by conducting classes on yoga, Vedanta and the traditions of Indian Culture including lessons in the Sanskrit language, music, and physical culture (Chidananda et al 34). The Society has developed intense training camps for its devotees in which participants are educated on yoga asanas, pranayama (extension of the breath), and meditation (Chidananda et al 35). Courses in yoga are offered throughout India, outside the ashram, and in other institutions and organizations, and remain inspirational to students, members, officials, and the general population. The Society carries the principles of Sivananda’s yoga through its instructors as they travel across the nation to conduct courses and maintain the practice of yoga among the people. The Divine Life Conferences, held regularly in varying locations throughout India, have become effective means of summoning the moral and cultural forces of people and gathering them for the sole purpose of achieving both individual and social harmony through meditation and seeking after The Divine (Chidananda et al 36).

The Society endeavours to live by Sivananda’s perpetual philosophy that “goodness is the face of Godliness” (Chidananda et al 3), and therefore induces the unity of all religions and goodwill among communities, promoting harmony and peaceful relationships throughout Indian society (Chidananda et al 32). At the ashram, no being that arrives in distress is turned away without aid; no hungry person is refused a meal; no homeless individual is denied shelter for at least one night (Chidananda 34). To endorse charity and goodwill among humankind, The Divine Life Society has created several sects within the institution which strive to serve Indian society and aid the poor, the derelict, the sick, and those lacking in spiritual practice. The founding of the humanitarian Social Welfare Project has assisted in the development of charitable sections within The Society (Chidananda 33). The Society provides assistance to government programs and national funds, such as the Small Savings Fund, the National Savings Certificates, Defence Bonds, and other collection drives such as relief funds for natural disasters, famine, and health epidemics (Chidananda et al 34).

As taught by Sivananda, education is a vital part of personal development and a means of attaining Divinity within the individual.  He propounds that education and culture are necessary elements to allow one to sufficiently grasp his or her position in the world, to allow the ideal and the real to live in close proximity within consciousness (Chidananda et al 4). Education of the jiva (empirical self) allows the human mind to recognize the notion of the self in reality and realize that although the self exists within the world, it is not actually of this world. It is this acknowledgement that allows the human mind to transcend consciousness and ultimately achieve unity with the Divine through devout prayer, meditation, and yoga practices (Chidananda 10). Education allows the individual to develop personality, knowledge of the physical world, an adjustment of the self within society, and a realization of true and permanent values (Chidananda et al 11).

Trained as a doctor prior to his induction into the Sankarachya order, Sri Swami Sivananda consistently extolled the benefits of providing medical assistance to the poor and sick of India. The Divine Life Society offers free medical services year-round through the hospital at the ashram, including Eye Camps for free surgical and medical treatment of the public, annual Women and Children’s Medical Treatment Camps, First Aid Training Courses, and Child and Maternity Welfare Camps (Chidananda et al 33). To provide further medical relief to the public, the Society also runs three specific sections within the ashram hospital: the Allopathic Section, the Ayurvedic Section, and the Leprosy Relief Section (Chidananda et al 35). The Allopathic Section is equipped with a clinical laboratory, x-ray machine, physiotherapy facilities, and twenty hospital beds. The hospital at the ashram treats more than 30,000 patients annually. The Ayurvedic Section offers care according to the science of Ayurveda (a medicinal practice native to India), in keeping with its injunctions. The medicines prepared in the Ayurvedic Section are manufactured from pure Himalayan herbs and distributed free of charge from the ashram dispensary to patients seeking treatment (Chidananda et al 35). The Leprosy Relief Section, through its work, is regarded as indicative of the love and charity extended by the Divine Life Society. Two hundred or more leprosy patients are rehabilitated and cared for at the ashram (Chidananda et al 37). Just as with membership within the Divine Life Society, all services of the ashram hospital are free to patients irrespective of caste, race, or wealth.

The Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy of The Divine Life Society trains those who seek greater knowledge of Indian culture and the practice of yoga as the discipline by which personal integration and human welfare may be maintained. The Forest Academy prints cultural and spiritual books, journals, and other literature of the Society, disseminating spiritual and cultural knowledge to the masses, which are then distributed by the Free Literature Section (Chidananda et al 36). The intentions of the printing and publication sections of the Divine Life Society are to carry out the educational programme of the Society and its teachings, and to propagate knowledge of Divinity and the importance of spirituality within each individual soul by contacting man through literary discourse on various topics: metaphysics, ethics, religion, mysticism, psychology, parables, stories, catechism, yoga, prayer, and ritual (Chidananda et al 13).

Within the ashram, there are several additional distinct sections that assist in the charitable efforts of the Divine Life Society. The Annapurna Annakshetra, the common kitchen of the ashram, feeds its 250 permanent residents, sannyasins and sadhakas, as well as visiting sadhakas and varying numbers of other guests and pilgrims to Rishikesh (Chidananda et al 36). The Guest House fulfils the needs of those who visit the ashram for spiritual guidance and training in the physical practice of yoga. Temples of Worship accommodate prayer services for world peace, conduct worship and the recitation of the Divine Name throughout the twenty-four hours of every day. The Library holds hundreds of volumes of the most precious and important books in yoga philosophy and practice, and Indian culture. The Correspondence Section of the ashram replies to the innumerable queries and requests from people throughout the world (Chidananda et al 36). The Social Service Wing of the ashram organizes the services of medical and financial aid to the poor and needy, relief works of India, and abundant gestures of charity by the Divine Life Society to ease the sufferings of all people from poverty, disease, and ignorance of spiritual realization (Chidananda et al 37).

The Divine Life Society continues to service the citizens of India and the world through the dissemination of its literature and propagation of the routes to achieving spiritual life and unity of the atman with Divinity. The Society maintains that the human is at once a physical embodiment, mental phenomenon, and spiritual entity which strives to attain Divinity and liberation from the material and animalistic world and achieve divine love based on proper understanding of the world (Chidananda et al 14). Divine Life is a system of religious life which is beneficial and suitable to all people, from all walks of life. It is practiced by the office-goer and the recluse alike, in all stages and phases of life (Chidananda et al 3). The mission of humankind is to realize that all people are the immortal Spirit, Divinity, in mortal form. The mind and intellect of the human being function in light of the Divine Spark dwelling within each individual (Chidananda 17). [For a listing of characteristics defining the Divine Life as taught by Sri Swami Sivananda, see Swami Sivananda and the Divine Life Society, pp. 16 – 19]. Since its inception, the Divine Life Society has endeavoured to maintain itself as a physical location for training of suitable devotees striving for the acquisition of higher knowledge of human life (Chidananda et al 30). The fundamental aims and objects of The Divine Life Society remain purely spiritual and cultural, non-sectarian, universally applicable, and flawlessly tolerant (Chidananda et al 37).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Chidananda, Krishnananda, Sivananda, Venkatesananda (2000) Swami Sivananda and The Divine Life Society. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. E-Book.

Eilers, Bill and Eilers, Susan (1998) “The Divine Life: An Interview with Swami Chidananda”. In Enlightenment Magazine. Cohen, Andrew (ed.). EnlightenNext, Inc.

Miller, David (1997) “The Spiritual Descent of the Divine: The Life Story of Swami Sivananda”. In Hindu Spirituality Volume II. Sundararajan and Mukerji (ed.). Delhi: The Crossroad Publishing Company. Print.

Sivananda, Swami (1981) Science of Yoga. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. Print.

The Divine Life Society (2000) Swami Sivananda: A Modern Sage. Shivanandanagar: The Divine Life Society. E-Book.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Atman

Yoga

Vedanta

Sivananda Ashram

Sri Swami Sivananda

Shivanandanagar

Rishikesh

Haridwar

Yoga of Synthesis

Samadhi

Tapas

Sadhana

Sankarachya Order

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

www.enlightennext.org/magazine/

www.dlshq.org

www.swami-krishnananda.org

www.yrf.org

www.vedanta.org

Article written by Krista Conrad (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ram Mohun Roy and the Brahmo Samaj

As the nineteenth century dawned, Western economic and religious ideals began to impact India as the British spread throughout the country. The establishment of the East Indian Trading Company by the British, as well as the spread of Christian missionaries throughout India, provided many Hindus contact with European education, religion and economics (Leneman 22). Although Christian missionaries were adamant in pushing the Christian religion upon those in India, there were many Hindus that opposed such attempts at conversion. They desired to remain loyal to their Hindu faith despite verbal persecution by the British (Leneman 22) [Many did not agree with the Western idea of an all encompassing law, as dharma and the belief in karma are the only real laws in traditional Hinduism. See Leneman (1980)]. Many individuals began to speak of reshaping their Hindu beliefs and political ideals to create greater economic advantage as well as social and religious comfort (Bhatt 24, Leneman 22). Among these individuals was Ram Mohun Roy, who was born a Rarhi Brahmin from Bengal (Killingley 5) [Many different spellings of the name Ram Mohun Roy occur due to translation differences. See Killingley (1993)]. Roy believed that India could develop only through learning from the Europeans, and consequently he looked to reform Hinduism (Kopf 313). The Brahmo Samaj is an Indian religious movement started by Roy in Calcutta in 1828 based on this idea of reformation that he saw as being necessary (Bhatt 24, O’Malley 224).

Ram Mohun Roy was born a Rarhi Brahmin in 1774 in Bengali in a Vaisnava family. Many of his ancestors held positions of high esteem among the Mughal rulers in Bengal (Killingley 5) [See Killingley (1993) for more on the debate as to the year Roy was born]. Little is known about Roy’s early life except that he was educated in a number of languages, both Indian and European, and opposed aspects of the Hindu faith such as Idolatry (Leneman 22) [Due to his opposition to idolatry and other Hindu practices, Roy was not allowed into his own house for four years from age sixteen to twenty. See Leneman (1980)]. He traveled through much of the area near Calcutta and Bengal where he first came into contact with the British through the East Indian Trading Company (Killingley 6). Roy was considered a political liberal, and opposed the East Indian Trading Company economic ideals as he favored free trade (Killingley 8). Although he opposed the East Indian Trading Company, Roy was receptive to Western ideas and incorporated them into his beliefs (Killingley 57). He became outspoken in the political world and was desirous to more fully empower the upper class of India by pushing European education and striving to get the East Indian Trading Company to grant privileges to Indians (Bhatt 24).

Although Roy turned primarily to the Hindu Vedic scriptures for his belief, he incorporated much of Christian and Islamic thought. He said that he would borrow books and ideas from other religions to “purify Hinduism” (Killingley 59). His primary belief was in the worship of the God of Nature who was the only true God and creator of the universe. He formed a small group in Calcutta based on this belief called the Atmiya Sabha, who in 1828 changed their name to the Brahmo Samaj (Killingley 10, O’Malley 224) [Brahmo Samaj has been translated as “House of God,” “society of the believer,” and “society of the worshippers of the One True God.” See O’Malley (1935), Bhatt (1968) and Leneman (1980)]. The Brahmo Samaj stated their objective as: “The worship and adoration of the eternal unsearcheable, and immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe” (O’Malley 224). They believed that God was a father figure and that all humans were in fact brother and sister (O’Malley 224). It was open to any who wished to join, no matter their caste, skin color, or previous religious beliefs, and attempted to strengthen the relationship between people of all religions (Bhatt 24, Leneman 23).

Although the beliefs of Roy and the Brahmo Smaj were predominantly based on the Hindu religion, they opposed many traditional Hindu beliefs and practices such as reincarnation, animal sacrifice, and sati [The practice of sati involves a widow throwing herself on the cremation fire of her husband, allowing herself to be consumed by the flames, and thus freeing her husband from his sins and moving on into eternity together]. The Brahmo Samaj believed that salvation was obtained through worship of God and that a person could have direct communion with God (O’Malley 225). In a type of afterlife, an individual’s soul would be punished or rewarded for their dealings in this life, although the traditional Hindu view regarding the transmigration of souls was not incorporated into the belief (Killingley 46-47, O’Malley 225). In his first writing, Tuhfat al-Muwahhidin, Roy speaks about that afterlife of the soul and the punishments and rewards received (Killingley 46-47) [For more on the teachings of the Tuhfat al-Muwahhidin, see Killingley (1993)]. Roy also became extremely vocal in his opposition to the practice of sati, and his persistence lead to the practice becoming illegal in 1829 (Leneman 23). Roy was also very concerned with the education and increased economic opportunities granted to women and this carried through to the beliefs of the Brahmo Samaj (Kopf 314, O’Malley 226).

Among the traditional Hindu practices that were most opposed by Roy and the Brahmo Samaj, was that of polytheism and the practice of idol worship (O’Malley 224). Roy argued that idol practice was extremely inappropriate because it gave God a visible form. As Roy and the Brahmo Samaj believed in the spiritual, yet unseen existence of God, this contradicted their belief (Killingley 74). Roy used the Upanisads, which he had previously translated into English, to validate his belief and opposition to idolatry (Killingley 74). He taught that one should turn to contemplation of the Eternal Being as the proper way of worship. This would lead to actions of charity, morality and virtue leading to salvation (O’Malley 224).

Upon the death of Ram Mohun Roy in 1833, the Brahmo Samaj which had flourished in Bengal began to decline. In 1843, Devendranath Tagore, who previously had adopted the beliefs of Roy, added further aspects of Orthodox Hinduism and Christianity to the Brahmo Samaj which led to resurgence in the movement (Leneman 23). A number of years later Keshab Chunder Sen joined the movement and aided Tagore in this resurgence. Sen was influenced by Christianity a great deal in his younger years and brought many of his Christian beliefs with him when he joined the movement. In 1867, Tagore felt that Sen had become radical and extreme in his Christian influences and a split in the Brahmo Samaj occurred (Leneman 23). Tagore held on to the more traditional aspects of Hinduism and started the Adi Brahmo Samaj, while Sen took his Christian influences and started the Brahmo Samaj of India (Bhatt 24-25, Leneman 23). The younger generation, who had grown up with heavy Western influence followed Sen, while others in the movement who could not give up the majority of traditional Hindu beliefs remained with Tagore (Leneman 23). Under Sen, the Brahmo Samaj of India turned to radical social reform, considered Christ an ideal Hindu Yogi, and held Sen in a type of deity status (Bhatt 25). Sen eventually adopted a greater belief in Christ and this led to a split in the Brahmo Samaj of India. This split led to the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, started by those who opposed Sen and the adoption of a belief in Christ as more than a yogi. Sen, and his followers founded the Church of the New Dispensation (Leneman 24).

Today, the Brahmo Samaj and the various branches that occurred through these divisions are considered to be more of a religious movement than a sect or group (O’Malley 225). It has mostly been confined to Bengal, and has never obtained full status throughout India (Bhatt 26). The political beliefs voiced by members of the Brahmo Samaj as well as the changes to the traditional Hindu religion have led many to believe that Brahmo Samaj is a socio-political movement that acted as a force in Indian nationalism (Bhatt 24, Leneman 30). Ram Mohun Roy and the Brahmo Samaj defended aspects of Hinduism while reforming other aspects that they felt would benefit India (Leneman 30). Although not popular throughout India today, the Brahmo Samaj and the work of Ram Mohun Roy were instrumental in Hindu Renaissance and reform in Bengal during the nineteenth century (Kopf 313).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhatt, Gauri Shankar (1968) Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, and the Church-Sect Typology.

Review of Religious Research, Fall 68 Volume 10.

Ghose, Jegendra Chunder (eds.) (1982) The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Killingley, Dermont (1993) Rammohun Roy in Hindu and Christian Tradition. Newcastle: Grevatt and Gravatt.

Kopf, David (1979) The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Leneman, Leah (1980) “The Hindu Renaissance of the Late 19th Century.” History Today, May 1980 Volume 30.

O’Malley, L.S.S. (1935) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. Cambridge University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Arya Samaj

Adi Brahmo Samaj

Brahmo Samaj of India

Church of the New Dispensation

Dev-Samaj

Debendranath Tagore

Dayanand Saraswat

Gayatri

Hindu Renaissance

Indian Nationalism

Keshub Chunder Sen

Orthodox Hinduism

Sadharan Brahmo Samaj

Vedanta

Notable Websites

http://www.chanda.freeserve.co.uk/brahmoframe.htm

http://www.thebrahmosamaj.org/

http://www.wmcarey.edu/carey/philnum/roy.htm

http://www.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/rajarammohunroy.html

http://dcwi.com/~uuf/Sermons/012305.html

http://nichirenscoffeehouse.net/gen/rajah1.htm

http://voiceofdharma.org/books/hhce/Ch8.htm

http://ram-mohan-roy.biography.ms/

Article written by Brett Steed (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.