Category Archives: Yoga

The Bhagavad Gita (A Comprehensive Study)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the radiance of a thousand suns

Were to burst at once into the sky,

That would be like the splendor

Of the Mighty One…

I am become Death

The shatterer of worlds. (173).

 

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

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

 

If the light of a thousand suns

were to rise in the sky at once,

it would be like the light

of that great spirit…

I am time grown old

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

 

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

If a thousand suns were to rise

and stand in the noon sky, blazing,

such brilliance would be like the fierce

brilliance of that mighty Self…

I am death, shatterer of worlds

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

If a thousand suns were to rise in the heavens

at the same time, the blaze of their light

would resemble the splendor of that supreme

spirit…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Yogananda Paramahansa and the Self-Realization Fellowship

Yogananda’s Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Self-Realization Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kriya Yoga

Kundalini

Lahiri Mahasaya

Patanjali

Sri Yukteswar

Mahasamadhi

Moksa

Notable Websites Related to the Topic

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

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

 

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

Ahimsa (The concept of Non-harming in Hinduism)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Maitri

Samsara

Aryan Culture

Rgveda

Rta

Dharma

Mahabharata

Kstriyas

Bhagavadgita

Upanisads

Brahmanas

Dharma Sastras

Tipitakas

Dhammapada

Yajur Veda

Buddhism

Jainism

Moksa

Patanjali Yoga

Yamas

Alpadroha

Nirvana

Mahavira

Agamas

Tapas

Mahatma Gandhi

Satyagraha

Prana

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Article written by: Nicholas Urquhart (March 2015) who is soley responsible for its content.

Krishnamacharya and the Hatha Yoga Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED TOPICS

Dharmic

Moksha

Bramanas

Aranyakas

Asana

Pranayama

Sattva guna

Tamasic

Yogabhyasa

Nidre

Yama

Niyama

Pratyahara

Dharana

Dhyana

Indriyas

Jaganmohan

Swami Vivekananda

Vinyasa krama

Krishnarajendra Wodeyar

Maharaja

 siddhis

Samadhi

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES

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

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

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

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

 

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

Swami Chidvilasananda

“Gurumayi’s striking beauty rivets attention wherever she goes…[H]er energy seems inexaustible. Her grace, delightful wit, and respectful regard for the needs of each devotee have expanded Siddha Yoga’s appeal beyond what even Muktananda achieved.” (Brooks 136)

 Swami Chidvilasananda, often referred to as Gurumayi Chidvilasananda or simply Gurumayi is the current leading guru of Siddha Yoga. Gurumayi is a female Guru, who was born in India, who now resides in the United States of America. After studying yoga under the leadership of her own guru Swami Muktananda, she became the head guru of Siddha Yoga when he passed on his title to her in a five day fire ceremony called a yajna; which was celebrated during the time of his birthday in 1982 [Swami Muktanananda passed away later in that same year]. (Caldwell 27) Siddha Yoga is a form of yoga that is very much about finding energy inside one’s soul and discovering personal inner peace through meditation and connection with their guru.

Siddha Yoga has become a major trend in North America, and the SYDA or Siddha Yoga Dham of America that was created by Swami Muktananda, and has been carried on by Swami Chidvilasananda, is a non profit organization that has dealt with a great deal of controversy (Harris 92). Siddha Yoga’s claim to fame is an extremely intense meditative state known as guru”shaktipat“. Shaktipat is described as a cosmic orgasm that one feels after they connect with their guru (Neimark 60). There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the practice of Siddha Yoga, and the gurus that lead this spiritual activity. There is much controversy surrounding how much money the SYDA appears to have. The SYDA owns more than three hotels worldwide and has a variety of wealthy celebrity followers (Harris 92). Some have gone so far as to call it a cult; others have questioned the sexual integrity of the gurus; however there are valid arguments on both sides of the spectrum. Some criticize Swami Chidvilasananda of not living a truly pure and holy life; claiming that she, and other Siddha Yoga Gurus are simply concerned with money and fame, and others regard her as one of the most powerful and influential yogic gurus of her time.

Born in Mumbai India in 1955 under her given name Malti Shetty, Gurumayi experienced shaktipat at the age of fourteen and at age fifteen began studying under her guru Swami Muktananda. She moved to the ashram (a hermitage in which she studied religion and yoga) to study yoga seriously. Swami Chidvilasananda accompanied her Guru on many tours as his English translator, and in 1982, both Shetty and her brother, Subhash Shetty were appointed to be the successors of their guru; however in 1985 her brother stepped down, leaving Gurumayi to be the sole successor of Swami Muktanananda or Baba, as he was called by his students and devotees. [Baba meaning father.] Some have criticized Gurumayi for the “falling out” that she had with her brother, claiming that it is not spiritual or holy to have a relationship fall apart, and that it is just as it is in secular life; criticizing the way she dealt with the situation (Healey 12). Gurumayi is the current Guru of Siddha Yoga, which has two main ashrams for people to learn the practices in; one in India, and one in New York. There has been controversy surrounding the practice of Siddha Yoga, claiming that it has a likeliness to that of a cult-like religion, (Healey 5) however Gurumayi’s students seem to feel a deep appreciation for the fact that she not only lives her life purely, but truly tries to bring her teachings into every day-to-day life. She has many interactions with her students and spends a great deal of time with them to offer guidance and teachings (Brooks 159). Gurumayi is known for her kind heart, and her caring attitude towards all human beings. Her students respect her greatly and put her at the center of their spiritual lives. (Brooks 136). Siddha Yoga places emphasis on self-evaluation and tries to eliminate personal negativity, and negative tendencies within one’s life.

The practice of Siddha Yoga was first introduced to the West in 1970 by Swami Muktananda during his first excursion out of India. Siddha Yoga, the word Siddha meaning perfect master (Healey 6) is a practice of yoga in which its main purpose is to achieve shaktipat through the guidance, chants and presence of a Guru. Shaktipat is the ancient method of awakening the kundalini energy, which creates enlightenment at the base of the spine, and sends the body into an orgasm-like state, that causes the body to shake and pulsate upon achieving this sacred energy. When people experience shaktipat through the practice of Siddha Yoga they lose all control over their physical selves, often screaming, pulsating, or physically moving around the room. This energy can only be achieved through the presence and touch of the Guru; and through shaktipat it is said that one can truly achieve self-realization and Atman. Contrary to controversy about Siddha Yoga and its sexual nature; it is said that if one finds a true guru, one who is fully devoted to the art of Siddha Yoga, that it is not about sexual pleasure, but about losing touch between the inner and outer self, and experiencing a more divine power and ecstasy. Achieving shaktipat is said to be the feeling of “seeing the Divine in different forms” (Tymn 180). Gurumayi herself said that “When you experience it, you see light everywhere, you find joy in everything. You experience happiness in times of happiness, but you are also able to experience happiness in the midst of sorrow. This is the greatness of meditation.” (Chidvilasananda 46)

Another important aspect of Siddha yoga is the importance that its devotees place on grandiose ceremonies, such as yajnas. Yajnas are extremely important and have helped to characterize Siddha Yoga. Swami Chidvilasananda holds yajnas many times a year, that attract Siddha Yoga students and Brahmins from all around the globe. Brahmins travel from India to attend Swami Chidvalasananda’s yajnas, as months of hard work and preparation go into preparing for them. During these sacred fire ceremonies, Gurumayi sits and observes, while Brahmin priests adorn her with garlands and perform sacred rituals. Gurumayi holds herself with great dignity and always puts her position as great Guru first and foremost. (Brooks 135) In Gurumayi’s yajnas food and gifts are offered to the Gods and burned in a sacrificial fire. Yajnas and yoga are said to be alike in the sense that yoga offers sacrifices to the Gods as well; however the fire of the yajna; in yoga is an internal flame. Gurumayi has taught numerous courses in the ashram, which emphasize the importance of sacrifice in ones day-to-day life. She teaches that sacrifice is the secret to fulfilling a pure and whole life. (Brooks 136) Love, peace, patience and self awareness are very important aspects of Siddha Yoga, often taking a great deal of time and inner reflection to truly master.

Gurumayi places a great amount of importance on love, calmness, happiness, and inner peace. A young man that attended a retreat led by Gurumayi in Mexico said that “These two weeks were the happiest weeks of my whole life. They gave me a new vision of myself and the world we live in. Never in my life had I experienced so much love, nor did I know that so much love was possible. We just sat down to talk about the day and it was pure ecstasy. Or sometimes we just sat in silence looking at each other and we cried out of love” (Brooks 140). Siddha Yoga focuses on the simplicity of life and helps people to understand what happens within themselves to create pure ecstasy throughout any aspect of life. Another practice that is unique to Siddha Yoga is guruseva which helps a student to gain wisdom by working under the instruction of their guru. The idea of working to gain wisdom is important in Siddha Yoga. For example students of Gurumayi have volunteered to chop vegetables for hours at a time; while chanting throughout the whole process. The idea behind the work is that “unselfish action purifies the mind.” (Brooks 144) Guruseva can take form in any day to day activity; for example washing dishes, doing chores, creating art are all forms of Guruseva. The use of work to diminish ego and create a connection to the gods is extremely important to Siddha Yoga devotees, but only if the work is done with no thought or expectation of reward. The acts of Guruseva must be done selflessly in order to reap its rewards. Guruseva is comparable to the feeling of kundalini in that it creates a deep interior experience. Students who do guruseva experience realizations within themselves, and intense feelings of calmness and love (Brooks 144).

Much of Swami Chivalasananda’s time is spent traveling the globe, spreading the word of Siddha Yoga, through the use of chants, workshops and intensives. There are approximately three hundred Siddha Yoga meditation centers worldwide, located in Europe, North and South America, India and Australia to name a few (Brooks 143). Gurumayi is said to be such a powerful leader of Siddha Yoga, that her devotees do not have to be in her presence to feel her spirit and teachings. Many of her students have seen her through focused and intense meditation. Devotees have said that Gurumayi has appeared in meditation and in dreams where she has provided guidance to them. Many of Gurumayi’s students have felt her presence when she was not physically with them. For example a school teacher in Perth Australia was struggling with a young student’s behavior, when she saw Gurumayi walk through the door and smile lovingly at the boy, giving hope to the teacher (Brooks 147).

Regardless of where Gurumayi is in the world, her presence is honored by her devotees. When she appears at conferences, workshops or intensives often she is greeted with a great amount of emotion and joy from her students.   She works hard to prove that she is a strong leader, and tries to live her life in a way that shows example to her students of how to achieve peace and harmony with ones self. Gurumayi provides a realistic approach to her work in the fact that she also talks about inner turmoil. Siddha Yoga requires personal work and sacrifice to find oneself and she has displayed acts of sacrifice in her own life to teach her devotees.

“Where is heaven? Where is Hell? Within us. Each one can create a heaven, each one can create a hell…Look within. Meditate. It just happens. You find your own joy, you find your own inner peace.” (Chidvilasananda 49)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Caldwell, Sarah (2001) “The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Vol. 5, No.1:9-51

Haruni, Elisa Santos, Ferreira Dourado Rueda, Adriana Amelia Benedito-Silva, Ana Leite De Moraes Ornellas, Felipe Leite, Jose Roberto (2008) “Evaluation of Siddha Samadhi Yoga for Anxiety and Depression Symptoms: a Preliminary Study.” Psychological Reports, Vol. 103, No. 1: 271-274.

Healy, John Paul (2011) “Involvement in a New Religious Movement: From Discovery to Disenchantment.” Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, Vol. 13, No. 1: 2-21

Harris, Lis (1998) “O guru, guru, guru.” New Yorker, Vol. 70, No. 37: 92

Neimark, Jill (1998) “Crimes of the soul.” Psychology Today, Vol. 31, No. 2: 55

Mutananda, Swami and Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Durgananda, Swami Muller-Ortega, Paul E Mahony, William K Rhodes Bailly, Constantina Sabharathnam, S.P. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of Siddha Yoga Lineage. Muktabodha Indological Research Institute.

Tymn, Michael E. (2006) “Secrets of Shaktipat.” Journal of Spirituality & Paranomal Studies. Vol. 29, No. 3:179-180.

 Related Topics

PRASAD

Swami Muktananda/Controversy surrounding his practices

Siddha Yoga vs. other forms of Yoga

Gurumayi’s various projects

 Related Websites

http://www.siddhayoga.org/

http://www.siddhayoga.org/gurumayi-chidvilasananda

 

Article written by Jaimee Jarvie (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Samadhi (Contemplative Absorption)

Samadhi, or contemplative absorption, is the highest state of mental concentration thought possible by Hindus while still existing in the cycle of samsara, and is achieved through yogic meditation. Samadhi is a state undisturbed by all emotions and thoughts originating with the ego, and the achievement of such mental clarity is said to indicate significant progress in one’s meditation practices (Sarbacker 57). Samadhi, literally meaning “together—joining” (Kesarcodi-Watson 79), has been described as the means by which one “goes beyond the human condition” (Eliade 52) and is finally able to achieve the liberation that Hindus ultimately aim for. Some have described the objective of yoga as the development of a consciousness qualitatively different from one’s normal state of mind that is able to thoroughly understand metaphysical truth (Eliade 51); this new consciousness is samadhi. Other terms used to describe this mental state include “enstasis,” “ecstasy,” and “supreme concentration.”

The concept of contemplative absorption was first described as one of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutra written by Patanjali, who is sometimes equated with the famed Sanskrit grammarian of the same name, but was probably a different person (Eliade 13). The Yoga Sutra consists of four books, each of which is devoted to a unique topic: “yogic ecstasy,” realization, “miraculous powers” (siddhi) and isolation (Eliade 13, 100). One of the critical features of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is the description of the eight limbs of yoga as a path to liberation. These eight limbs (astanga) are discipline (yama), restraint (niyama), posture (asana), breath control (pranayama), sense-withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and ecstasy (samadhi) (Feuerstein 2002:324). The final three limbs are sometimes grouped together and called “constraint” (samyama) because concentration, meditation and ecstasy are considered phases of a single process of mental deconstruction (Feuerstein 2002:335). Patanjali understands this eight-limbed path of yoga as the path to achieving liberation, more often referred to by him as kaivalya, from samsara or the cycle of rebirth (Kesarcodi-Watson 78). An understanding of the eight limbs of yoga is important to be able to recognize the position of the attainment of samadhi in one’s journey towards liberation from samsara, because it allows one to recognize that samadhi can only be achieved once the turnings of the mind (vrtti) have been restricted through the other aspects of meditation (Feuerstein 2002:335).

The diversity of ways in which samadhi can be experienced is as varied as the multitudes of people who will experience it, and it has been said that no amount of description could convey the nature of this condition (Feuerstein 2002:335-336). However, samadhi can be defined informally (Feuerstein 2002:336) and there are certain generalizations that can be made about the experience of samadhi as a whole. Firstly, those who have actually experienced the various states of samadhi claim that mental lucidity is inherent to the experience, despite some perceptions of the experience as a state of trance or unconsciousness. In fact, spiritual teachers state that any instances in which unconsciousness is a factor cannot be considered a form of enstasis (Feuerstein 2002:335). Samadhi is also said to always include a feeling of “suprawakefulness” and is a progression towards the greater reality or good, despite some critics describing contemplative absorption as a “diminution of consciousness” (Feuerstein 2002:336). Physically, the experience involves bodily rigidity and a cessation of visible breath in the yogi (Feuerstein 1972:27). Other feelings described as associated with this experience of mental ecstasy include wakefulness, a “mood of bliss” or a sense of “pure existence” (Feuerstein 2002:336).

Although the concept of samadhi can be described as a whole, yogis also describe multiple types of samadhi and ways it can be experienced. Patanjali and his commentators differentiated among many types and stages of this supreme form of concentration (Eliade 93). The two varieties of samadhi discussed by Patanjali were samprajnata samadhi, that which is achieved with the assistance of an object or a thought, and asamprajnata samadhi, which is achieved without any relation to a physical or mental aid (Eliade 93). Asamprajnata samadhi is considered to be of a higher level of accomplishment than samprajnata because it is the only means by which one can recover awareness of the transcendental self (purusa) and its eternal freedom (Feuerstein 2002:337). While asamprajnata samadhi is said to exist in only one type, samprajnata samadhi can be experienced in various forms (Feuerstein 2002:336). As one achieves succession through the various stages of samprajnata samadhi, they begin to achieve the capacity for the absolute knowledge that will lead them to the accomplishment of asamprajnata samadhi, the achievement of contemplative absorption without the use of a meditation thought or object (Eliade 100).

Samprajnata samadhi, sometimes referred to as enstasis “with support,” is said to involve an inhibition of all mental functioning with the exception of the portion of cognition that focuses on the object by which samadhi was attained (Eliade 93). There are various forms of this type of samadhi, which bear the designation “coincidence” (samapatti) because the subject and the object on which they meditate are said to coincide (Feuerstein 2002:336). The least complex of these forms is vitarka-samapatti, which is said to occur when the subject unifies himself or herself with the “coarse” aspect of the meditation object (Feuerstein 2002:336). Once the subject is able to end all ideation about the object, they purportedly enter nivitarka samadhi (Feuerstein 2002:336). The next, deeper level of “ecstatic unification,” gurus claim, comes when the meditator is able to understand the subtle aspects of the object and experience themselves on a progressively less different plane of existence with the object. This condition has two forms, which are dependent on whether or not spontaneous thoughts are present. The two forms are reflective (savicara) and suprareflective (nirvicara) ecstasy (Feuerstein 2002:337). According to an interpretation of the Yoga Sutra outlined by Vacaspati Mishra in his work Tattva-Vaisharadi, four additional levels of this unification with the subtle aspects of the object exist. They are: coincidence with bliss (sanandasamapatti), coincidence with “I-am-ness” (sasmitasamapatti), coincidence beyond bliss (nirananda-samapatti) and coincidence beyond “I-am-ness” (nirasmita-samapatti) (Feuerstein 2002:337). Succession through each of the stages is marked by progressive loss of mental awareness as the participant begins to lose access to memory and abandons any attempts at reason or logical thought, accepting that their meditation object cannot be possessed and must be grasped as concrete fact rather than positioned in relation to the rest of the physical world (Eliade 95-96). It is questionable whether the scholar Mishra actually experienced these types of samadhi for himself or whether he inferred their existence, and it must be noted that the adept yogin Vijnana Bhikshu rejected the types of samadhi that Mishra described (Feuerstein 2002:337).

In addition to the types of samadhi discussed in the Yoga Sutra, some gurus have developed their own teachings on the different ways samadhi can be experienced. For example, the spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy used a system of classification that divided different experiences of samadhi into major and minor types (Chinmoy 257-260) and was based on Vedanta philosophy (Feuerstein 2002:336). This system, listed in order of increasing accomplishment, includes: savikalpa, nirvikalpa, and sahaja samadhi, which Chinmoy claims is the highest state of consciousness achieved by most spiritual masters (Chinmoy 257-260). Other sources explain that the attainment of nirvikalpa samadhi is synonymous with liberation itself (Feuerstein 2002:529), but according to Chinmoy it is the attainment of sahaja samadhi that indicates, “one has become the soul . . . and is utilizing the body as a perfect instrument” (Chinmoy 259). Within each of these levels of consciousness, there are varying “grades” of experience and each of the samadhi can be attained at “higher” or “lower” levels. Chinmoy differentiates between these different types of samadhi based on the varying degrees of consciousness and abilities to interact with the physical world experienced by the participant in each form of contemplative absorption (Chinmoy 257-260). Studying the teachings of gurus can be a very effective means of understanding the multitude of diverse ways that samadhi is experienced. [For information regarding other classification systems of various types of samadhi, consult individual discussions of yoga by spiritual teachers.]

Although some gurus claim that there are no specific methods to attain this supreme form of consciousness (Chinmoy 261), in the Yoga Sutra Patanjali discusses some of the challenges one must overcome in order to achieve samadhi. One of the primary obstacles preventing one’s attainment of supreme consciousness is the interfering mind (Kesarcodi-Watson 85). Certain scholars, such as Ian Kesarcodi-Watson (1982), state that it is difficult to explain the steps leading to samadhi because these steps occur at a level of being that is difficult for rational minds to grasp. The state which samadhi inhabits is considered one where there is no “making;” a state that is difficult to affect (Kesarcodi-Watson 89). However, it is stressed in discussions of this state of supreme consciousness that samadhi cannot be achieved through a mere exertion of will, but rather, requires the subject to empty themselves and become open to the higher reality beyond their own ego (Feuerstein 2002:337). Experts on the subject explain that actions taken to achieve samadhi can be attempted, but there is little to be said about how, or even if, they will work (Kesarcodi-Watson 89) because the extraordinary condition that is samadhi is one for which “there is no reference point in our everyday life” (Feuerstein 2002:336).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Chinmoy, Sri (1989) Meditation: Man-Perfection in God-Satisfaction. Jamaica: Aum Publications.

Dasgupta, S.N. (1979) Yoga Philosophy in Relation to Other Systems of Indian Thought. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Eliade, Mircea (1975) Patanjali and Yoga. New York: Shocken Books.

Feuerstein, Georg and Jeanine Miller (1972) Yoga and Beyond. New York: Shocken Books.

Feuerstein, Georg (2002) The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. New Dehli: Bhavana Books & Prints.

Fort, Andrew O. (2006) “Vijnanabhiksu on Two Forms of ‘Samadhi’.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 10 #3 (December): 271-294.

Kesarcodi-Watson, Ian (1982) “Samadhi in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.” Philosophy East and West 32 #1 (January): 77-90.

Osho (1976) The Path of Yoga. Pune: Tao Publishing Pvt Ltd.

Sarbacker, Stuart Ray (2005) Samadhi: The Numinous and Cessative in Indo-Tibetan Yoga. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Venkatesananda, Swami (2008) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

 

RELATED TOPICS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Asamprajnata Samadhi

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Guru

Nirvikalpa Samadhi

Nirvitarka Samadhi

Sahaja Samadhi

Samprajnata Samadhi

Savikalpa Samadhi

Vitarka-Samapatti

Yoga

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Yogi/Yogin

 

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

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

http://www.expressionsofspirit.com/yoga/eight-limbs.htm

http://religiousbook.net/Books/Online_books/Eco/ecopsychology_35.html

Enlightened Master Acharya Shree Yogeesh explains his understanding of samadhi:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yySC3ZLwGs

Spiritual Teacher Sri Chinmoy demonstrates his experience of samadhi:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv0_njLTfy8

 

Article written by Madison Martens (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

Samadhi In Yoga

Samadhi, or contemplative absorption, is the highest state of mental concentration thought possible by Hindus while still existing in the cycle of samsara, and is achieved through yogic meditation. Samadhi is a state undisturbed by all emotions and thoughts originating with the ego, and the achievement of such mental clarity is said to indicate significant progress in one’s meditation practices (Sarbacker 57). Samadhi, literally meaning “together—joining” (Kesarcodi-Watson 79), has been described as the means by which one “goes beyond the human condition” (Eliade 52) and is finally able to achieve the liberation that Hindus ultimately aim for. Some have described the objective of yoga as the development of a consciousness qualitatively different from one’s normal state of mind that is able to thoroughly understand metaphysical truth (Eliade 51); this new consciousness is samadhi. Other terms used to describe this mental state include “enstasis,” “ecstasy,” and “supreme concentration.”

The concept of contemplative absorption was first described as one of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutra written by Patanjali, who is sometimes equated with the famed Sanskrit grammarian of the same name, but was probably a different person (Eliade 13). The Yoga Sutra consists of four books, each of which is devoted to a unique topic: “yogic ecstasy,” realization, “miraculous powers” (siddhi) and isolation (Eliade 13, 100). One of the critical features of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is the description of the eight limbs of yoga as a path to liberation. These eight limbs (astanga) are discipline (yama), restraint (niyama), posture (asana), breath control (pranayama), sense-withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and ecstasy (samadhi) (Feuerstein 2002:324). The final three limbs are sometimes grouped together and called “constraint” (samyama) because concentration, meditation and ecstasy are considered phases of a single process of mental deconstruction (Feuerstein 2002:335). Patanjali understands this eight-limbed path of yoga as the path to achieving liberation, more often referred to by him as kaivalya, from samsara or the cycle of rebirth (Kesarcodi-Watson 78). An understanding of the eight limbs of yoga is important to be able to recognize the position of the attainment of samadhi in one’s journey towards liberation from samsara, because it allows one to recognize that samadhi can only be achieved once the turnings of the mind (vrtti) have been restricted through the other aspects of meditation (Feuerstein 2002:335).

The diversity of ways in which samadhi can be experienced is as varied as the multitudes of people who will experience it, and it has been said that no amount of description could convey the nature of this condition (Feuerstein 2002:335-336). However, samadhi can be defined informally (Feuerstein 2002:336) and there are certain generalizations that can be made about the experience of samadhi as a whole. Firstly, those who have actually experienced the various states of samadhi claim that mental lucidity is inherent to the experience, despite some perceptions of the experience as a state of trance or unconsciousness. In fact, spiritual teachers state that any instances in which unconsciousness is a factor cannot be considered a form of enstasis (Feuerstein 2002:335). Samadhi is also said to always include a feeling of “suprawakefulness” and is a progression towards the greater reality or good, despite some critics describing contemplative absorption as a “diminution of consciousness” (Feuerstein 2002:336). Physically, the experience involves bodily rigidity and a cessation of visible breath in the yogi (Feuerstein 1972:27). Other feelings described as associated with this experience of mental ecstasy include wakefulness, a “mood of bliss” or a sense of “pure existence” (Feuerstein 2002:336).

Although the concept of samadhi can be described as a whole, yogis also describe multiple types of samadhi and ways it can be experienced. Patanjali and his commentators differentiated among many types and stages of this supreme form of concentration (Eliade 93). The two varieties of samadhi discussed by Patanjali were samprajnata samadhi, that which is achieved with the assistance of an object or a thought, and asamprajnata samadhi, which is achieved without any relation to a physical or mental aid (Eliade 93). Asamprajnata samadhi is considered to be of a higher level of accomplishment than samprajnata because it is the only means by which one can recover awareness of the transcendental self (purusa) and its eternal freedom (Feuerstein 2002:337). While asamprajnata samadhi is said to exist in only one type, samprajnata samadhi can be experienced in various forms (Feuerstein 2002:336). As one achieves succession through the various stages of samprajnata samadhi, they begin to achieve the capacity for the absolute knowledge that will lead them to the accomplishment of asamprajnata samadhi, the achievement of contemplative absorption without the use of a meditation thought or object (Eliade 100).

Samprajnata samadhi, sometimes referred to as enstasis “with support,” is said to involve an inhibition of all mental functioning with the exception of the portion of cognition that focuses on the object by which samadhi was attained (Eliade 93). There are various forms of this type of samadhi, which bear the designation “coincidence” (samapatti) because the subject and the object on which they meditate are said to coincide (Feuerstein 2002:336). The least complex of these forms is vitarka-samapatti, which is said to occur when the subject unifies himself or herself with the “coarse” aspect of the meditation object (Feuerstein 2002:336). Once the subject is able to end all ideation about the object, they purportedly enter nivitarka samadhi (Feuerstein 2002:336). The next, deeper level of “ecstatic unification,” gurus claim, comes when the meditator is able to understand the subtle aspects of the object and experience themselves on a progressively less different plane of existence with the object. This condition has two forms, which are dependent on whether or not spontaneous thoughts are present. The two forms are reflective (savicara) and suprareflective (nirvicara) ecstasy (Feuerstein 2002:337). According to an interpretation of the Yoga Sutra outlined by Vacaspati Mishra in his work Tattva-Vaisharadi, four additional levels of this unification with the subtle aspects of the object exist. They are: coincidence with bliss (sanandasamapatti), coincidence with “I-am-ness” (sasmitasamapatti), coincidence beyond bliss (nirananda-samapatti) and coincidence beyond “I-am-ness” (nirasmita-samapatti) (Feuerstein 2002:337). Succession through each of the stages is marked by progressive loss of mental awareness as the participant begins to lose access to memory and abandons any attempts at reason or logical thought, accepting that their meditation object cannot be possessed and must be grasped as concrete fact rather than positioned in relation to the rest of the physical world (Eliade 95-96). It is questionable whether the scholar Mishra actually experienced these types of samadhi for himself or whether he inferred their existence, and it must be noted that the adept yogin Vijnana Bhikshu rejected the types of samadhi that Mishra described (Feuerstein 2002:337).

In addition to the types of samadhi discussed in the Yoga Sutra, some gurus have developed their own teachings on the different ways samadhi can be experienced. For example, the spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy used a system of classification that divided different experiences of samadhi into major and minor types (Chinmoy 257-260) and was based on Vedanta philosophy (Feuerstein 2002:336). This system, listed in order of increasing accomplishment, includes: savikalpa, nirvikalpa, and sahaja samadhi, which Chinmoy claims is the highest state of consciousness achieved by most spiritual masters (Chinmoy 257-260). Other sources explain that the attainment of nirvikalpa samadhi is synonymous with liberation itself (Feuerstein 2002:529), but according to Chinmoy it is the attainment of sahaja samadhi that indicates, “one has become the soul . . . and is utilizing the body as a perfect instrument” (Chinmoy 259). Within each of these levels of consciousness, there are varying “grades” of experience and each of the samadhi can be attained at “higher” or “lower” levels. Chinmoy differentiates between these different types of samadhi based on the varying degrees of consciousness and abilities to interact with the physical world experienced by the participant in each form of contemplative absorption (Chinmoy 257-260). Studying the teachings of gurus can be a very effective means of understanding the multitude of diverse ways that samadhi is experienced. [For information regarding other classification systems of various types of samadhi, consult individual discussions of yoga by spiritual teachers.]

Although some gurus claim that there are no specific methods to attain this supreme form of consciousness (Chinmoy 261), in the Yoga Sutra Patanjali discusses some of the challenges one must overcome in order to achieve samadhi. One of the primary obstacles preventing one’s attainment of supreme consciousness is the interfering mind (Kesarcodi-Watson 85). Certain scholars, such as Ian Kesarcodi-Watson (1982), state that it is difficult to explain the steps leading to samadhi because these steps occur at a level of being that is difficult for rational minds to grasp. The state which samadhi inhabits is considered one where there is no “making;” a state that is difficult to affect (Kesarcodi-Watson 89). However, it is stressed in discussions of this state of supreme consciousness that samadhi cannot be achieved through a mere exertion of will, but rather, requires the subject to empty themselves and become open to the higher reality beyond their own ego (Feuerstein 2002:337). Experts on the subject explain that actions taken to achieve samadhi can be attempted, but there is little to be said about how, or even if, they will work (Kesarcodi-Watson 89) because the extraordinary condition that is samadhi is one for which “there is no reference point in our everyday life” (Feuerstein 2002:336).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Chinmoy, Sri (1989) Meditation: Man-Perfection in God-Satisfaction. Jamaica: Aum Publications.

Dasgupta, S.N. (1979) Yoga Philosophy in Relation to Other Systems of Indian Thought. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Eliade, Mircea (1975) Patanjali and Yoga. New York: Shocken Books.

Feuerstein, Georg and Jeanine Miller (1972) Yoga and Beyond. New York: Shocken Books.

Feuerstein, Georg (2002) The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. New Dehli: Bhavana Books & Prints.

Fort, Andrew O. (2006) “Vijnanabhiksu on Two Forms of ‘Samadhi’.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 10 #3 (December): 271-294.

Kesarcodi-Watson, Ian (1982) “Samadhi in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.” Philosophy East and West 32 #1 (January): 77-90.

Osho (1976) The Path of Yoga. Pune: Tao Publishing Pvt Ltd.

Sarbacker, Stuart Ray (2005) Samadhi: The Numinous and Cessative in Indo-Tibetan Yoga. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Venkatesananda, Swami (2008) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

 

RELATED TOPICS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Asamprajnata Samadhi

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Guru

Nirvikalpa Samadhi

Nirvitarka Samadhi

Sahaja Samadhi

Samprajnata Samadhi

Savikalpa Samadhi

Vitarka-Samapatti

Yoga

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Yogi/Yogin

 

 

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

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

http://www.expressionsofspirit.com/yoga/eight-limbs.htm

http://religiousbook.net/Books/Online_books/Eco/ecopsychology_35.html

Enlightened Master Acharya Shree Yogeesh explains his understanding of samadhi:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yySC3ZLwGs

Spiritual Teacher Sri Chinmoy demonstrates his experience of samadhi:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv0_njLTfy8

 

Article written by Madison Martens (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is one of the most renowned and accessible texts written on the ancient practice of hatha yoga. Believed to have been written in the fourteenth century C.E. by Svatmarama Yogin, speculation surrounds the true authorship of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika since some of its elements coincide with hatha yoga guides attributed to other authors of the time (Burley 6). In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika Svatmarama melds together the practice of raja yoga and hatha yoga. A disagreement persisted in the early yogic scriptures about which form of yoga was more superior to the other, but by combining raja and hatha yoga practices as well as claiming their dependency upon one another in his work, Svatmarama disbanded this dispute (Birch 527). The Sanskrit word hatha originates from its two roots, ‘ha’ and ‘tha’. The root ‘ha’ refers to properties such as “passion, heat, and positivity,” the root ‘tha’ refers to elements like “cool, receptive, and negativity” (Sivananda Radha 3). Hatha is the incorporation of two extremes while yoga (meaning union) is the bringing together of these polarities (Sivananda Radha 3-4). The Sanskrit word pradipika ‘that which sheds light’, when put into a metaphor helps the reader better understand the context of the title and how it refers to shedding light on the subject of hatha yoga (Burley 6). One who practices hatha yoga would be considered a yogi and yogis are the main reader audience of this particular text. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika contains 389 slokas (Sanskrit verses) and is divided into four upadesas or chapters (Burley 7). The first chapter is titled “Asanas”. In this chapter proper etiquette is revealed for the practice of hatha yoga as well as the yoga postures or asanas. “Pranayama” is the title of the second chapter; it includes emphasis on ‘harnessing’ of fundamental energy and elucidates various techniques or kumbhakas of breath retention that can be utilized to achieve this discipline. Svatmarama also includes six different detoxifying acts called karmans that aid the practice of pranayama in this second chapter. The third chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika focuses on the subject of mudras, which are ritual gestures, and the final chapter entitled “Samadhi” centers on the ultimate goal of hatha yoga, the deepest level of meditation (Burley 7). Exploration of this classic text that is a part of the Hindu tradition gives one an understanding of the goals and regimens of the ancient practice of hatha yoga.

Svatmarama outlines in the first chapter of his text various imperative observances that the true yogi must adhere to in order to properly perform hatha yoga. The practice of hatha yoga is explained to be sacred and should be practiced in reverence and secret in order for it to maintain its purity; the full potential of this form of yoga is most accessibly achieved in this way (Svatmarama 4). The fulfillment of the hatha yogi is emphasized as to be completely individual and further instructions of how the practitioner should live and eat, as well as adherences and avoidances is explained to keep their practice on the right path. According to Svatmarama yoga flourishes under acts such as “enthusiasm, openness, courage, knowledge of truth, determination and solitude” and it succumbs to undertakings of “overeating, overexertion, talking too much, performing painful austerities, socializing and restlessness” (6). The first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika also includes important instructions on the proper execution of asanas or yoga postures. An example of an explanation of an asana called Bhadrasana is as follows: “grasp the feet, which are motionless on their sides, firmly with the hands and remain motionless,” this pose is claimed to be “the destroyer of all diseases” (Svatmarama 26). Enthusiastic, involved practice is emphasized in the first chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as to be the most important part of the accomplishment of asanas.

The practice of pranayama, according to Burley is the “control of ‘vital force’” (31). This act of harnessing energy is done through techniques of breath retention. The importance of this discipline as outlined in the second chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is that the result of pranayama is to create steadiness in the yogi and in turn, steadying their hatha yoga practice (Svatmarama 33). Svatmarama in the Pradipika alludes to the philosophy of breath and how it links life and death and highlights the importance of the control of breath (33). The mention of nadis, or vital channels, and ways of controlling them (kumbhakas), aids in the explanation of the process of pranayama (Burley 7). The practice of pranayama is explained to weaken diseases in the body; other techniques that contribute to the wellness of the body are karmans, purifying actions (Svatmarama 38). There are six karmans named in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka, nauli and kapalabhati. These karmans are for the most part physically trying and Svatmarama even mentions that the practice of them are not recommended by all hatha yogis (Svatmarama 42). Instructions on various kumbhakas through pranayama aim to enable the student of hatha yoga to achieve success in their practice.

The third chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika entitled “Mudras” includes guidelines on various seals or sealing postures. Svatmarama stresses the sacrosanct quality of mudras and that the practitioner must keep them to themselves as something to be revered (Svatmarama 54). Mudras, like pranayama, are to be utilized to prevent disease and bring physical and spiritual well being to the yogi undertaking them. In this third chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, soma ( “the immortal nectar”) is encouraged to be consumed (Burley 23). Along with the encouragement to ingest soma, a significant stress is placed on the importance of the yogi preserving his semen and keeping it within his body. This suggestion is based on the idea that semen is equivalent to life, so in order to avoid death, one must preserve the life or semen within them (Svatmarama 73). These different strategies are resorted to alongside mudras in order to employ authenticity to the hatha form of yoga.

The final chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika concentrates on the final goal of hatha yoga, “Samadhi,” it is the “state of unity” (Svatmarama 85). Samadhi is the collective intention of the yoga practice outlined in the Pradipika. With the combination of the practices of asanas, pranayama and mudras, Svatmarama illuminates the achievement of this deep state of meditation. This last chapter again focuses on the utilization of controlled breath to bring the yogi to their ultimate goal of Samadhi. Svatmarama repeats the importance of blending the practices of raja and hatha yoga gives instructions to follow for the proper execution of sound meditation. The focus for meditation is urged to be placed on nada, which refers to inner sound and leads to absorption of the mind (Burley 99). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika closes on this last speculation on the ultimate goal of its practice.

Yogi Svatmarama’s early work in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika continues to carry on meaning to practitioners of the modern day. The information it expounds in areas of yoga postures (asanas), breathing control techniques (pranayama), sacramental gestures (mudras) and the final goal of realization (Samadhi) gives the reader an explanation of the ancient practice of hatha yoga. Examination and understanding this classic text that is based on the fundamentals of one of the most common forms of yoga creates an interpretation of the mentality or intention attached to the practice of yoga in the Hindu tradition.

 

 Sources Consulted and Bibliography

Svatmarama (2004) The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Translated by Brian Dana Akers. Woodstock: Yogavidya.com.

Burley Mikel (2000) Hatha-Yoga: Its Context, Theory and Practice. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Sivananda Radha, Swami (1987) Hatha Yoga The Hidden Language: Symbols, Secrets, and Metaphor. Porthill: Timeless Books.

Birch, Jason (2011) “The Meaning of hatha in Early Hathayoga.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 131 Issue 4: 527-554.

 

Related Topics for Further Invesitgation

Raja Yoga

Jyotsna

Gheranda-Samhita

Goraksa-Sataka

Siva-Samhita

Tantra

Asanas

Pranayama

Mudras

Samadhi

Kundalini

Shakti

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.mahavidya.ca

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

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/hyp/index.htm

http://www.puroyoga.no/Hatha+Yoga+Pradipika+(en+del+av+pensum).9UFRfQWe.ips

http://jivamuktiyoga.com/teachings/focus-of-the-month/p/hatha-yoga-pradipika-1

 

This article is written by Kwynn Nelson (April 2013), who is solely responsible for its content.

Bhakti Yoga as Described by the Bhagavad Gita

One of the fundamental aspects of Hinduism revolves around the spiritual paths one must take in order to reach a state of Moksa or enlightenment. As Moksha is the ultimate goal for any practitioner of the Hindu tradition, it is obvious that concerns over the correct way to achieve this end are approached in a wide variety of ways. Bhakti Yoga is one such path to achieving enlightenment within orthodox Hindu teachings. Bhakti Yoga, also commonly known as the Path of Devotion, teaches that Moksha is achieved by means of selfless and utter devotion, love, and trust towards a particular deity. Those on the Path of Devotion often listen to stories about God, sing devotional hymns, recite mantras, worship at temples and shrines at the home, and undergo pilgrimages in hopes of becoming closer to God. The word bhakti is made up of two parts, the root bhaj, meaning service and the suffix ktr, which means love. However, bhakti is a very flexible word which also means to be attached to, to be devoted to, or to resort to (Michael 250). Bhakti Yoga is a multi-faceted practice which requires both a commitment to God as well as a commitment to loving fellowship of those around oneself in order to succeed. In order to achieve Moksha following this pathway, one must have a pure devotion to God, as having other desires leaves one incapable of fully devoting themselves to God. Bhakti is additionally dualistic in that the term may describe both the path by which one realizes enlightenment, as well as the ultimate goal of enlightenment itself (Michael 250).

The Bhagavad Gita is a part found within the epic the Mahabharata that introduces the concept of the Yogas [spiritual paths that worshippers may take in order to reach a state of salvation or unification with God]. The Bhagavad Gita takes place during the middle of the Mahabharata, when the third Pandava Arjuna is filled with doubt when forced to fight blood relatives in the war of Kurukshetra. Through the course of numerous philosophical and theological discussions between Prince Arjuna and Krsna, the concepts and application of the Yogas are introduced. Despite the very influential nature and important contents of the Bhagavad Gita, it is not considered Sruti [divine in origin], but as Smrti [remembered verses], as it is a part of the Mahabharata. As the introduction of the Yogas is a foundational aspect of many varying sects of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita is still seen as one of the more important Smrti in the Hindu tradition. These spiritual paths have become significantly prominent aspects of the Hindu tradition and in many ways serve to define many of the different sects of Hinduism in the modern day.

The concept of Yoga that was introduced in the Bhagavad Gita specifically refers to the primary ways in which practitioners of Hinduism may achieve unification between themselves and God. There are three main paths that are described within the Bhagavad Gita as ways to achieve enlightenment. The first is Karma Yoga, also known as the Path of Action. This Yoga consists of proper and selfless action, the control or suppression of selfish desires, and providing selfless services to those who require it. The successful completion of these deeds are thought to be transformed into worship. This is best characterized by the saying of Yogaswami of Sri Lanka “All work must be done with the aim of reaching God” (Veylanswami 10). The second path is Jnana Yoga, otherwise known as the Path of Knowledge. This path is based on the attainment of philosophical knowledge and discrimination between what is real and unreal (Veylanswami 10). To attain this knowledge, a combination of listening to scripture, thinking or reflecting upon that scripture, and then deep, meaningful meditation is often the course of action of followers belonging to this path. The ultimate goal of this path is to determine the differences between the real and the unreal, giving one an understanding of their true identity within true reality. Bhakti Yoga is the third path that is seen as a means to salvation, by committing yourself entirely to the love and devotion of a specific deity. [Krsna and Siva are two of the more commonly worshipped deities within the Path of Devotion]. Bhakti Yoga is brought to light in the Bhagavad Gita when Krsna explains to Arjuna that those who manage to remain concentrated on him, worship him with unfaltering faith, are rescued from the cycle of life and death. This escape from the struggle of life and death that Lord Krsna refers to is commonly known as Moksha or enlightenment. A more recently conceived spiritual path that has been gaining significant following in recent history is known as Raja Yoga or the Path of Meditation. The inception of Raja Yoga is not considered to be from the Bhagavad Gita, but from the Yoga Sutras credited to Patanjali. Raja Yoga follows an eight tiered system that focuses on ethical restraint, religious observance, proper posture, breathing control, withdrawal, meditation, and a sense of oneness (Veylanswami 10). These eight features are practiced in hopes of concentrating one’s mental awareness, which is deemed essential to the tradition.

The Yogas that are spoken of in the Bhagavad Gita are in many ways interconnected. A commonly practiced approach to the Yogas is to choose one primary path to follow, while still observing the practices of the other Yogas in a secondary manner. While those who seek Moksha shall undoubtedly lean towards one particular path, true knowledge cannot be attained without at least a fundamental understanding of the remaining paths (Veylanswami 11). An approach to the Yogas that has gained traction recently is undertaking Bhakti, Karma, or Raja Yoga prior to taking Jnana Yoga to ensure that one has a real understanding of what it is that they learn and speak of along the Path of Knowledge. This concept is best illustrated by the words of Swami Vishnudevananda: “Before practicing jnana yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths—for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for Self Realization can become mere idle speculation” (Veylanswami 11).

While there is a strong degree of interconnectivity between the varying Yoga pathways, there are a number of fundamental differences between each practice, which inevitably leads to strong differences between the practitioners of each yogic path. The way in which the personality of an individual meshes with the fundamental principles of each path are a strong determinant as to which path an individual will choose. For those who are emotional, Bhakti Yoga is commonly recommended, for the physically active Karma Yoga is frequently suggested, while Raja Yoga is considered most appealing to meditative personalities, and Jnana yoga is deemed best suited for a more intellectual individual (Veylanswami 10). In addition to differences in general doctrine and follower personality, the selection of each Yoga path is also strongly related to the deity that an individual worships. Those who are affiliated with Krsna worship will have different views and affinities towards one path than those who worship Siva. [Vaishnava sects tend to promote Bhakti Yoga for their followers, while some Vedantic sects promote Jnana Yoga as the dominant means of salvation] (Veylanswami 11).

There are many ways in which the Bhakti Yoga path may be followed, with a near infinite number of ways to devote oneself to, unconditionally love, and otherwise worship a deity. Some may choose frequent temple worship as a primary means of connecting with God, while others may feel that the utterance of sacred mantra is the ideal way to worship. As there are many differences between practitioners of Bhakti yoga, naturally there is a large degree of variation within Bhakti yoga itself. These variations may be the result of regional variability, the plethora of deities that are available for worship, or even socioeconomic and social differences that exemplify the traditional caste (jati) and class (Varna) system of Hinduism. These differences are not static, but instead dynamic, changing over time and space. The methodology and frequency of forms of worship change continuously over time.

There are very notable differences when comparing varying sects of bhakti worship. In Bengali Shakta Bhakti yogic rituals are designed to bridle the uncontrolled passion and emotion that followers. The yogic rituals performed are meant to provide appropriate times and places for practitioners to have encounters and experiences with the goddess. In Gaudiya Vaisnava Bhakti, yogic rituals in which worshippers relive mythical and historical occurrences of great emotion are performed in order to increase devotion and provide understanding of the worshipper role that each person has to Krsna or Radha (McDaniel 54). While both of these sects follow the Path of Devotion, they perform different rituals for different purposes. Each of these traditions provides worship to their deity uniquely, in large part to the personality type of those who follow each tradition. Within the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, members are taught and perform different ways of serving god. It may be entertaining guests, collecting water, or frequent prayer at a home shrine. A guru is often consulted to teach members what acts they can do to best serve their God, however once these methods have been learned and ultimately perfected over time, innumerable variations may be made to individualize the act of worship (Haberman 133). Thus, we can see variation not only between traditions but within traditions.

While many differences between bhakti traditions are relatively minor, there are occasions where practices can differ wildly from one group to the next; this can best be seen when comparing the diminishing practice of Sahajiya bhakti and the rituals of the Bauls with mainstream Gaudiya Vaisnava traditions. The Sahajiya believe that Krsna and Radha may come down from the heavens and enter the bodies of worshippers. As a result, the Sahajiya perform a sexual ritual so that members may experience the “love” of their deities. The Bauls, a group of wandering singers seek the love of Krsna and Radha and perform rituals involving the ingestion of taboo substances. By making the impure substance pure through the act of the ritual, members hope to become rasika (those who are able to see divine presences) (McDaniel 54). Both the Sahajiya and Baul traditions are subcultures of the Gaudiya Vaisnava bhakti, however the rituals, members, and ideals of the groups are in many ways opposed to one another. Historically, Bhakti Yoga became a popular choice for people to follow due to the open nature of the path. Any who felt that they could devote themselves to God were capable of following the path. This can be seen in the members of the bhakti movement previously in history; the heads of bhakti sects were not just Brahmin males as was custom for other paths, but those of high or low castes, male or female. The language used for bhakti literature such as doctrines and poetry were written not just in Sanskrit but in vernacular languages as well (Rinehart 51). This literature showed a great degree of variability between writers as well as regions; some wrote of gods not only reverently but negatively at times as well, while some questioned the appearances of the gods or their manner of speech (Rinehart 52). The large degree of differences found between traditions of various regions and sub cultures, both modern and historical serves to demonstrate the significant number of different manners in which Bhakti Yoga may be performed. Given the broad backgrounds from which members arise, the large amount of deities that are worshipped, and the incredibly broad manner in which an individual may choose to express his or her devotion to God. It is little wonder that the Bhakti Yoga tradition has become such a broad and encompassing division of Hindu tradition.

 

References and Further Recommended Reading

Bodhinatha Veylanswami, Satguru (2012) “Which Yoga Should I Follow?” Hinduism Today (Jul-Sep): 10-11.

Haberman, David (1988) Acting as a way of Salvation: A Study of Rāgānugā Bhakti Sādhana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

McDaniel, June (2012) The Role of Yoga in Some Bengali Bhakti Traditions: Shaktism, Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Baul, and Sahajiya Dharma. College of Charleston.

Mehta, Varun (2011) “The Need for Balance in Faith” Hinduism Today (Jan-Mar): 9.

Michael, Pavulraj (2011) Bhakti Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita — An Easy Way for all to Search and find the Will of God. Rome: Pontificia Universita Gregoriana.

Rinehart, Robin (2004) Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Rosen, Steven (2010) Krishna’s other song: a new look at the Uddhava Gita. Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Kumar, Shashiprabha (2005) Self ,society, and value: reflections on Indian philosophical thought. Delhi: Vidyanidhi Prakashan.

 

Related Topics for Investigation

Jnana Yoga

Karma Yoga

Samadhi in Yoga

Dharana in Yoga

Krsna/Krishna and Arjuna

Cuntarar/Sundarar

The Bhagavata Purans

The Nayanars/Nayanmars

Ramprasad Sen

Campantar/Sambandar

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to Topic

www.bhagavad-gita.us/chapter-summaries-of-the-bhagavad-gita/

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/devotion.asp

http://www.krishna.com/karma-jnana-and-bhakti-yoga

http://www.indianetzone.com/1/bhakti_yoga.htm

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2002-12-14/edit-page/27319455_1_astanga-bhakti-yoga-yogic

 

Article written by: Andrew Gunderson (March 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is one of the methods for attaining liberation and union with God, prescribed by the incarnate god Krsna to his friend and disciple Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Jnana Yoga literally means “the path of union through knowledge (Prabhavananda 124).

The Bhagavad Gita (often shortened to the “Gita”) is a highly influential text embedded in the Mahabharata epic. It begins with the armies of the Pandavas and the Kauruvas assembled and ready for battle. The Pandava warrior Arjuna asks his friend and charioteer Krsna to drive between the armies so that he may survey his enemies before the battle commences. Arjuna sees among the rival army his friends, teachers, and other kin and is faced with a severe crisis, caught between his dharma (duty) as a ksatriya to fight and his wish to not harm his those he cares for (Theodore 27). Krsna chastises Arjuna, reminding him of his duty, and telling him that he should not grieve for those who will die, since only the body dies, not the soul which is eternal (Theodore 30). Arjuna remains uncertain and asks Krsna to become his guru and instruct him on how he should properly act (Theodore 29). What follows is a conversation between Krsna and Arjuna on such spiritual topics as the nature of the soul, reality, God, and the attainment of moksa (liberation), which occupies the remainder of the Gita.

During the course of the discussion, Jnana Yoga is described as a method for attaining spiritual liberation, along with Karma Yoga (the path of action), Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion or love), as well as Raja Yoga (the path of meditation) (Prabhavananda 124). Jnana Yoga emphasizes focused contemplation, the object of which is the Divine (Theodore 106). The Jnana Yoga practitioner (jnani) must become adept at discriminating between the real and unreal. Our experiences and perceptions are impermanent and fleeting, having both beginning and end. The only abiding reality is that of Brahman (Absolute Reality), which is equated with the Atman, the Supreme Self (Prabhavananda 125). Krsna discusses what he terms “the Field” and “the Knower of the Field”. The “Field” includes the body, senses, and mind/ego. The knower of the field is the true Self, the Atman (Theodore 104). The jnani learns the true self through relentlessly analyzing, separating and distinguishing the elements that make up reality (Torwesten 90). Jnana Yoga is fundamentally the practise of proclaiming neti, neti (not this, not this), a concept seen in the Upanisads: the jnani comes to realize the true Self by defining what it is not, specifically the body, mind, senses, and any object or experience (“the Field”) (Prabhavananda 125).

As the jnani strips away these false notions of self, through self discipline he should restrain his senses and withdraw from the sensual world, likened to a tortoise withdrawing its limbs into its shell (Theodore 37). Having so withdrawn, the desire for sensual pleasures will remain; however, once the jnani attains a vision of the Supreme, this desire will disappear (Theodore 37). The jnani should become detached and indifferent to the world. Krsna describes the ideal sage as such:

One not agitated despite all kinds of distress, whose apsiration for happiness is gone, and who is devoid of pass, fear and anger…He who is not attracted to anything, and having attained this or that, good or bad, does not rejoice but is not averse either – his wisdom is firmly established (Bhagavad Gita 2.55-57).

Thus the jnani must strive to become indifferent to good and evil deeds, to all desires, to pleasure and pain. Instead, he attains the greatest happiness in the Self (Prabhavananda 125).

The end goal of all of the Yogas is the attainment of moksa, or liberation. Moksa is freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth, samsara (Theodore 3). When the yogi has realized Brahman and is fully absorbed in it, meditating on Brahman at the time of his death, he will be liberated from the endless cycle of samsara:

He who leaves the body while pronouncing the single syllable which is Brahman, the Om, while meditating on me, reaches the supreme goal. O Partha, I am easily reached by the yogi who always remembers me, is constantly and fully absorbed in me, and is thus ever yoked. Having come to me, these great souls do not undergo rebirth into that transient abode of misery, as they have attained the highest perfection (Bhagavad Gita 8.13-15).

Despite its emphasis of renunciation, practising Jnana Yoga does not necessarily mean withdrawing from all actions in life. Krsna advocates employing the methods of Karma Yoga even as one follows the Jnana path (Theodore 42). Under Karma Yoga, actions adhering to dharma (rituals, sacrifice, etc) are still performed, but are done without attachment to the fruits of their outcomes (Theodore 34). Indeed, Krsna repeatedly proclaims that while both Jnana and Karma Yoga lead to liberation, Karma Yoga is the preferable path: “Both relinquishing activity and yogic activity lead to the highest good, but of the two, karma yoga or yogic action exceeds renouncing altogether” (Bhagavad Gita 5.2). This is because the renunciation of worldly existence in Jnana Yoga is difficult to achieve without the support of Karma Yoga, as it requires the maintenance of a negative attitude of aversion which actually keeps the mind focused on the world (Theodore 55). This can lead to increased attachment to the world, hindering the development of true indifference (Theodore 55). Instead, through practising selfless action devoted only to Brahman, the yogi develops a sense of inner satisfaction which makes the attainment of true detachment much easier (Theodore 57). Furthermore, while the jnani should practise asceticism, extreme austerities are to be avoided according to Krsna:

The hearts of those who practise dreadful austerities not ordained by the scriptures, are filled with hypocrisy and egotism as they are motivated by lust and attachment. Those fools, who torture the aggregate of elements in their bodies as well as me, who dwell therein, know them to have a demonic resolution (Bhagavad Gita 17.5-6).

Instead, moderation in sleep, drinking, eating, and recreational activities is advocated in pursuit of the Jnana Yoga path (Prabhavananda 128).

Most of the ideas in the Gita and the practises of Jnana Yoga are substantially similar to those found in other Hindu schools of thought. Many of the verses about Jnana Yoga are taken directly from some of the middle and later Upanisads, including the Mundaka, Katha, and Svetasvartara Upanisad (Torwesten 89). The concepts of Brahman, the Atman, and the attainment of moksa are rooted in the Upanisadic tradition (Prahavananda 55). The Upanisads say that in order to realize Brahman/Atman and attain moksa, one must first renounce all selfish desires, with all thoughts of the individual self snuffed out by the oneness of Brahman, the same as the detachment advocated in the Gita (Prahavananda 65).

Elements from the Sankhya philosophy are also used extensively for the division and analysis of reality featured in Jnana Yoga. The Sankhya dualism of Purusa and Prakriti, supreme consciousness and material nature, are mirrored in the Gita conception of “The Field” and “The Knower of the Field” (Torwesten 90). The Gita also discusses at length the three gunas which make up Prakriti, specifically tamas (darkness, dullness, inertia), rajas (ego-driven activity), and sattva (lumosity, purity) (Torwesten 91).

Advaita Vedanta, one of the major schools of Hindu philosophy, advocates the practise of Jnana Yoga in order to achieve moksa (Deutsch 104). Advaita Vedanta outlines four general qualifications to be fulfilled by one seeking liberation, as well as three stages they must pass through: first, the aspirant must be able to discern what is real from what is only apparently real. Second, he requires a complete disregard and indifference toward sensual pleasure and petty desires, willingly giving up all that which distracts him and prevents his attainment of self-knowledge. Third, he must cultivate self-control (dama), endurance (titiksa), dispassion (uparati), mental tranquility (sama), intentness of mind (samadhana), and faith (sraddha). Fourth, he requires complete dedication to his quest for true understanding, focusing all his desire upon it alone (Deutsch 105).

The first general stage for the Advaita jnani is known as sravana (“hearing”), which involves the study of advaitic texts, listening to sages, studying the mahavakyas (great sayings) of the Vedas and thinking on their true meaning. This stage provides a framework which can be used for interpretation of the aspiring jnani’s own experiences (Deutsch 106). The next stage is known as manana (“thinking”), which involves prolonged self reflection, incorporating the advaita philosophical principals into himself. Facilitated by a guru, the jnani aspirant learns about the nature of Brahman, and how to discriminate between the different levels of reality (Deutsch 107). He must analyze the ways in which his knowledge of the world and of himself is constituted, realizing how he has falsely identified himself with mere partial expressions of his self (Deutsch 106-107). The final stage is nididhyasana (“constant meditation”). In this stage the jnani actively pursues self-realization, maintaining intense concentration upon his own self as Brahman (Deutsch 108). Detached from all egoism and distractions, he cuts away all lower level experiences and false identifications standing between him and the true Self (Deutsch 109-110). Upon the true realization that he is Brahman and Brahman is everything, the jnani achieves moksa, becoming a jivanmukta, one who is liberated while living (Deutsch 110).

A notable practitioner of Jnana Yoga was Ramana Maharsi (1879-1950). Born to a Brahmin family in South India, he was initially educated in Madurai, where he showed little interest in his studies or inclination toward spirituality (Sivaraman 362). A major transformation occurred when at seventeen he was suddenly struck with a petrifying fear of death. Rather than seek help, he decided to try and solve the problem himself: laying down and making himself stiff as a corpse, he contemplated his mortality. He realized that death only applied to the body and not the “I” within. Ramana lost all fear of death then and became engrossed in contemplation of the Self (Sivaraman 363). Subsequently a major change in Ramana’s behaviour was noticed by his brother: he had become totally indifferent to the world as a renouncer would (Sivaraman 363). Following his realization he left his home and travelled to Tiruvannamalai, taking residence in a cave on the sacred hill Arunachala where he remained for 16 years (Rodrigues 250). Ramana is considered to have achieved a state of sahaja-samadhi (effortless absorption) in the Self (Sivaraman 363). Being acquainted with neither the teachings of the Upanisads or Advaita, he was nonetheless able to independently attain the highest goal of those traditions (Sivaraman 364).

Ramana believed reality to be one and non-dual, regardless of the term used (eg. Brahman, Atman, etc). He used the Tamil term ullatu (“that which is”) to describe this singular principle of reality (Sivaraman 365). The perception of reality as a plurality of entities (eg God, man, and the world) was due to action of the mind or ego. When the ego ceases to function, the oneness of reality becomes evident (Sivaraman 366). Ramana advocated self-inquiry as the most direct means to ceasing the action of the mind/ego, relentlessly asking “Who am I?”, leading one to the source of the “I”, revealing the true Self (Sivaraman 371-72). This approach is different from introspection, where one takes stock of the contents of the mind, nor is it psychoanalysis, wherein the consciousness and unconsciousness are examined. The goal is instead to transcend the mind and discover its source (Sivaraman 374).

While Ramana thought self-inquiry was the most direct path to liberation, he acknowledged other methods as valid as well. Realizing that the same method may not work for everyone, he advocated paths such as Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, or Raja Yoga (Sivaraman 375). Ramana also did not think that living as a renouncer required giving up all of the activities of life. Rather, if these activities are performed with detachment, he believed that a householder could be considered a renouncer (Sivaraman 375). By following the path to enlightenment, Ramana believed that realization of the Self and liberation can be achieved here and now in life. Further, he believed the path of liberation is open to all, regardless of caste, class, race, or sex (Sivaraman 377).

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhaktivedanta, Swami (1968) The Bhagavad Gita As It Is. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Deutsch, Eliot (1969) Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. Honolulu: East-West Center Press.

Prabhavananda, Swami (1979) The Spiritual Heritage of India. Hollywood: Vedanta Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The E-book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online, Ltd.

Sivaraman, Krishna (1989) Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta. New York: The     Crossroad Publishing Company.

Theodore, Ithalmar (2010) Exploring the Bhagavad Gita: Philosophy, Structure, and Meaning.     Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited

Torwesten, Hans (1991) Vedanta: Heart of Hinduism. New York: Grove Press Inc.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Karma Yoga

Bhakti Yoga

Raja Yoga

The Bhagavad Gita

The Mahabharata

Moksa

Samsara

Krsna

Visnu

Arjuna

Advaita Vedanta

The Upanisads

Atman

Brahman

Samnyasa

Sankhya

Ramana Maharsi

Swami Vivekananda

Sankara

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

 

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

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

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

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

http://www.sivananda.org/teachings/fourpaths.html#jnana

http://www.dlshq.org/teachings/jnanayoga.htm

http://www.bhagavad-gita.org/index-english.html

http://www.bhagavad-gita.us/

http://www.asitis.com/

http://www.vedantaadvaita.org/

 

Article written by: Gordon Logie (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.