Category Archives: Bhagavad Gita

vedanta

Sankaracharya

Shankara, also called Shankaracharya (born 700?, Kaladi village?, India—died 750?, Kedarnath), philosopher and theologian, most renowned exponent of the Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy, from whose doctrines the main currents of modern Indian thought are derived. He wrote commentaries on the Brahma-sutra, the principal Upanishads, and the Bhagavadgita, affirming his belief in one eternal unchanging reality (brahman) and the illusion of plurality and differentiation.

Vedanta, one of the six orthodox systems (darshans) of Indian philosophy and the one that forms the basis of most modern schools of Hinduism.

The name is a morphophonological form of Veda-anta = “Veda-end” = “the appendix to the Vedic hymns”. It is also said that “Vedānta” means “the purpose or goal [end] of the Vedas”.  Vedanta can also be used as a noun to describe one who has mastered all four of the original Vedas.

In earlier writings, Sanskrit ‘Vedānta’ simply referred to the Upanishads, the most important and philosophical of the Vedic texts. However, in the medieval period of Hinduism, the word Vedānta came to mean the school of philosophy that interpreted the Upanishads.

Vedānta is also called Uttarā Mīmāṃsā, or the ‘latter enquiry’ or ‘higher enquiry’, and is often paired with Purva Mīmāṃsā, the ‘former enquiry’. Pūrva Mimamsa, usually simply called Mimamsa, deals with explanations of the fire-sacrifices of the Vedic mantras (in the Samhita portion of the Vedas) and Brahmanas, while Vedanta explicates the esoteric teachings of the Āraṇyakas (the “forest scriptures”), and the Upanishads, composed from the 9th century BCE until modern times.

All sub-schools of the vedanta propound their philosophy by interpreting the Prasthanatrayi, literally, three sources, the three canonical texts of Hindu philosophy, especially of the Vedanta schools. It consists of:

The Upanishads, known as Upadesha prasthana (injunctive texts), and the Śruti prasthāna (the starting point of revelation)
The Brahma Sutras, known as Nyaya prasthana or Yukti prasthana (logical text)
The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sadhana prasthana (practical text), and the Smriti prasthāna (the starting point of remembered tradition)

The Upanishads consist of twelve or thirteen major texts, with total 108 texts. The Bhagavad Gītā is part of the Mahabhārata. The Brahma Sūtras (also known as the Vedānta Sūtras), systematise the doctrines taught in the Upanishads and the Gītā.

All major Vedantic teachers, like Shankara, Rāmānuja, and Mādhvāchārya, have composed often extensive commentaries not only on the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, but also on the Gita. While it is not typically thought of as a purely Vedantic text, with its syncretism of Samkhya, Yoga, and Upanishadic thought, the Bhagavad Gita has played a strong role in Vedantic thought.

No single interpretation of the texts emerged, and several schools of Vedanta developed, differentiated by their conceptions of the nature of the relationship and the degree of identity between the eternal core of the individual self (atman) and the absolute (brahman). These range from the nondualism (Advaita) of the 8th-century philosopher Shankara to the theism (Vishishtadvaita; literally “Qualified Nondualism”) of the 11th–12th-century thinker Ramanuja and the dualism (Dvaita) of the 13th-century thinker Madhva.

The Vedanta schools do, however, hold in common a number of beliefs; transmigration of the self (samsara) and the desirability of release from the cycle of rebirths; the authority of the Veda on the means of release; that brahman is both the material (upadana) and the instrumental (nimitta) cause of the world; and that the self (atman) is the agent of its own acts (karma) and therefore the recipient of the fruits, or consequences, of action (phala). All the Vedanta schools unanimously reject both the heterodox (nastika) philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism and the conclusions of the other orthodox (astika) schools (Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, and, to some extent, the Purva-Mimamsa).

The influence of Vedanta on Indian thought has been profound, so that it may be said that, in one or another of its forms, Hindu philosophy has become Vedanta. Although the preponderance of texts by Advaita scholastics has in the West given rise to the erroneous impression that Vedanta means Advaita, the nondualistic Advaita is but one of many Vedanta schools.

Excerpts from Vedanta Articles on Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica


essays on the gita – sri aurobindo

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“The thought of the Gita is not pure Monism although it sees in one unchanging, pure, eternal Self the foundation of all cosmic existence, nor Mayavada although it speaks of the Maya of the three modes of Prakriti omnipresent in the created world; nor is it qualified Monism although it places in the One his eternal supreme Prakriti manifested in the form of the Jiva and lays most stress on dwelling in God rather than dissolution as the supreme state of spiritual consciousness; nor is it Sankhya although it explains the created world by the double principle of Purusha and Prakriti; nor is it Vaishnava Theism although it presents to us Krishna, who is the Avatara of Vishnu according to the Puranas, as the supreme Deity and allows no essential difference nor any actual superiority of the status of the indefinable relationless Brahman over that of this Lord of beings who is the Master of the universe and the Friend of all creatures. Like the earlier spiritual synthesis of the Upanishads this later synthesis at once spiritual and intellectual avoids naturally every such rigid determination as would injure its universal comprehensiveness. Its aim is precisely the opposite to that of the polemist commentators who found this Scripture established as one of the three highest Vedantic authorities and attempted to turn it into a weapon of offence and defence against other schools and systems. The Gita is not a weapon for dialectical warfare; it is a gate opening on the whole world of spiritual truth and experience and the view it gives us embraces all the provinces of that supreme region. It maps out, but it does not cut up or build walls or hedges to confine our vision.”
― Sri AurobindoEssays on the Gita


sanatana dharma

sanatana dharma, in Hinduism, term used to denote the “eternal” or absolute set of duties or religiously ordained practices incumbent upon all Hindus, regardless of class, caste, or sect. Different texts give different lists of the duties, but in general sanatana dharma consists of virtues such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity, and asceticism. Sanatana dharma is contrasted with svadharma, one’s “own duty” or the particular duties enjoined upon an individual according to his or her class or caste and stage of life. The potential for conflict between the two types of dharma (e.g., between the particular duties of a warrior and the general injunction to practice non-injury) is addressed in Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gītā, where it is said that in such cases svadharma must prevail.

The term has also more recently been used by Hindu leaders, reformers, and nationalists to refer to Hinduism as a unified world religion. Sanatana dharma has thus become a synonym for the “eternal” truth and teachings of Hinduism, the latter conceived of as not only transcendent of history and unchanging but also as indivisible and ultimately nonsectarian.

Excerpt from Encyclopaedia Britannica Article Sanatana Dharma


asanas old and new

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Ujjain Manuscript – Yogacintamani (photo: Jason Birch)

Why are so few asanas mentioned in the traditional Yoga texts, such as the Yogasutras and the Hathapradipika, and yet so many are practiced today in asana based systems like K. Pattahbhi Jois’ Ashtanga Yoga and B. K. S. Iyengar Yoga?

It has been difficult to ignore the absence of historical evidence on the development of later Haṭhayoga.  Modern practitioners have clung to the hope of finding the long lost and mysterious Yoga Kuruṇṭa (a purported Sanskrit text allegedly used by Krishnamacharya) in the hope that it will validate the practice of vinyasa and Surya Namaskar as well as provide precedents to the ropes and props used by B. K. S. Iyengar.

A recent academic conference Yoga in Transformation held in September 2013 at the Vienna University was an extraordinary event that highlights the importance of this conversation and the efforts of scholars to provide a historically accurate picture while attempting to predict the future trajectory of this global phenomenon.

Jason Birch’s presentation on the Unpublished Manuscript Evidence for the practice of Numerous Asanas in the 17th and 18th Century is a helpful piece in attempting to solve this complex puzzle.  Jason presents evidence to suggest that there were well over 100 āsana being practised in India before the British arrived.  He states:

“Generally speaking, there are very few seated, forward, backward, twisting and arm-balancing poses in modern yoga that have not been anticipated by these seventeenth and eighteenth-century sources.”

Jason’s research involved the detailed study of several 17th and 18th century manuscripts found in various library around India.  These particular findings are significant as they offer a window into the types of āsanas practiced in India at that time.  Some of the Haṭhayogic techniques were prominent enough to catch the inquisitive eye of the Mogul Court and are recorded in a Persian manuscript.

It contradicts the assumption made by Scholars and Yoga Teachers alike that the physical āsana of modern Yoga have no precedent.  Jason states that in the manuscript evidence:

“The majority of these āsana were not seated poses, but complex and physically-demanding postures some of which involved repetitive movement, breath control and the use of rope.  When these manuscript sources are combined, the assemblage of āsana provides antecedents to most of the floor and inverted postures in modern systems of Indian yoga.”

Jason confirms that moving āsana, rope āsana and standing āsana were all part of the picture long before the revival of physical yoga in the 20th century.  He also points out that Haṭhayoga had been appropriated by orthodox Brahmins before the 18th century, moving it away from the renunciant traditions, and they wrote yoga texts that blended Haṭhayoga with Patañjali’s yoga, the Upaniṣads and Bhagavadgītā, much like we see today.

Excerpt from Article ASANAS Old and New: Unpublished manuscripts and hints of the missing Yoga Kurunta By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES


hiranyagarbha – the gold embryo

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SUN 268 by Roland van der Vogel

Many people today look to Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, as the father or founder of the greater system of Yoga. While Patanjali’s work is very important and worthy of profound examination, a study of the ancient literature on Yoga reveals that the Yoga tradition is much older. This earlier Yoga literature before Patanjali can be better called the Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana as it is said to begin with Hiranyagarbha. In fact, most of the Yoga taught in Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Mahabharata and Puranas – which is the main ancient literature of Yoga – derives from it. Such ancient Pre-Patanjali texts speak of a Yoga Shastra or the ‘authoritative teachings on Yoga’ and of a Yoga Darshana or ‘Yoga philosophy’, but by that they mean the older tradition traced to Hiranyagarbha.

While no single simple Hiranyagarbha Yoga Sutras text has survived, quite a few of its teachings have remained. In fact, the literature on the Hiranyagarbha Yoga tradition is much larger than that on Patanjali Yoga tradition, which itself represents a branch of it. We cannot speak of a Patanjali Yoga tradition or of a Patanjali Yoga literature apart from this older set of Yoga teachings rooted in the Hiranyagarbha tradition. The Patanjali Yoga teaching occurs in the context of a broader Yoga Darshana that includes other streams. There is only one Yoga Darshana that existed long before Patanjali and was taught in many ways. It is the Yoga Darshana attributed to Hiranyagarbha and related Vedic teachers.

Who then was Hiranyagarbha, a human figure or a deity? The name Hiranyagarbha, which means “the gold embryo”, first occurs prominently as a Vedic deity, generally a form of the Sun God. There is a special Sukta or hymn to Hiranyagarbha in the Rig VedaX.121, which is commonly chanted by Hindus today. The Mahabharata speaks of Hiranyagarbha as he who is lauded in the Vedic verses and taught in the Yoga Shastra (Shanti Parva 339.69). As a form of the Sun God, Hiranyagarbha can be related to other such Sun Gods like Savitri, to whom the famous Gayatri mantra is addressed. Therefore, the Hiranyagabha Yoga tradition is a strongly Vedic tradition. We can call it the Hiranyagarbha Vedic Yoga tradition.

It teachings are found not only in the Yoga Sutras but in the Mahabharata, including the Bhagavad Gita, Moksha Dharma Parva and Anu Gita, which each contain extensive teachings on Yoga from many sides. The Hiranyagarbha Yoga tradition is the main Vedic Yoga tradition. The Patanjali Yoga tradition is an offshoot of it or a later expression of it. Besides looking at Patanjali in a new light, we should work to restore the teachings of the Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana. Many of these can easily be compiled from the Mahabharata, Upanishads, and other ancient Vedic teachings. Through it we can gradually reclaim the older Vedic Yoga it was based upon. In this way, we can restore the spiritual heritage of the Himalayan rishis. This is an important task for the next generation of Yoga aspirants, if they want to really reclaim the origin and depths of the teaching.

Excerpt from American Institute of Vedic Studies Article The Original Teachings of Yoga: From Patanjali Back to Hiranyagarbha by David Frawley


upeksha

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One way to experience upeksha (equanimity) is to experiment with mindfulness meditation. Rather than fixing attention on a single object such as the breath or a mantra, mindfulness meditation involves the moment-to-moment awareness of changing objects of perception. Mindfulness is like a floodlight, shining awareness on the whole field of experience, including sensations, emotions, and thoughts as they arise and pass away in the dynamic, ever-changing flux that characterizes the human experience of body and mind. Mindfulness allows you to see the nature of the unfolding process without getting caught in reactivity, without identifying with your sensations, emotions, and thoughts. This insight changes your relationship to the mind-body. The waves keep coming, but you don’t get swept away by them. Or as Swami Satchidananda often said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf!” This ability to remain balanced amidst ever-changing conditions is the balance of equanimity.

There’s an old story that illustrates the wisdom of this state of mind. A farmer’s most valuable asset is the one horse he owns. One day it runs away. All the townspeople commiserate with him, “Oh, what terrible luck! You’ve fallen into poverty now, with no way to pull the plow or move your goods!” The farmer merely responds, “I don’t know if it’s unfortunate or not; all I know is that my horse is gone.”

A few days later, the horse returns, and following it are six more horses, both stallions and mares. The townspeople say “Oh! You’ve struck it rich! Now you have seven horses to your name!” Again, the farmer says, “I don’t know if I’m fortunate or not; all that I can say is that I now have seven horses in my stable.”

A few days later, while the farmer’s son is trying to break in one of the wild stallions, he’s thrown from the horse and breaks his leg and shoulder. All the townspeople bemoan his fate: “Oh, how terrible! Your son has been so badly injured, he’ll not be able to help you with the harvest. What a misfortune!” The farmer responds, “I don’t know if it’s a misfortune or not; what I know is that my son has been injured.”

Less than a week later, the army sweeps through town, conscripting all the young men to fight in a war…all except for the farmer’s son, who is unable to fight because of his injury.

The fact is you can’t know what changes your life will bring or what the ultimate consequences will be. Equanimity allows for the mystery of things: the unknowable, uncontrollable nature of things to be just as they are. In this radical acceptance lies peace and freedom—right there in the midst of whatever pleasant or unpleasant circumstances we find ourselves in. When we open to the truth that there is actually very little we can control other than our own reactions to circumstances, we learn to let go.

Your asana practice offers a good opportunity to become better at recognizing where, when, and how you get caught in or swept away by reactivity, and to observe your attachment to results… But fixating on the results can cause you to miss key aspects of the process. As you continue in your asana practice, at some point it’s likely that factors outside your control—anatomical realities, injury, aging, or illness—will affect your practice. When they do, you have a chance to practice equanimity by letting go of your attachment to the results you had been seeking. Equanimity gives you the energy to persist, regardless of the outcome, because you are connected to the integrity of the effort itself. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that this attitude of focusing on the action without attachment to the outcome is yoga: “Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga.” Similarly, Patanjali tells us in chapter 1 of the Yoga Sutra, verses 12 through 16, that abhyasa, continuous applied effort, coupled with vairagya, the willingness to observe experience without getting caught in reactivity to it, will lead to freedom from suffering.

When you cultivate metta (the friendly quality of kind regard), karuna (the compassionate response to the suffering of others), and mudita (the delight in the happiness and success of others), it is upeksha that ultimately allows you to truly expand your capacity to experience this kind of boundless love for those beyond your immediate circle of friends and family, opening to the infinite capacity of your heart to embrace all beings.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Calm Within: the third of a three-part series on the Brahmaviharas By Frank Jude Boccio


kalarippayatu

Boys Learning Martial Art (Gusthi and Kalari) – Kerala 1905

In the well-known Bhagavad Gita section of India’s Mahabharata epic, Krishna elaborates a view of duty and action intended to convince Arjuna that, as a member of the warrior caste (ksatriya), he must overcome all his doubts and take up arms, even against his relatives. As anyone familiar with either the Mahabharata or India’s second great epic, the Ramayana, knows, martial techniques have existed on the South Asian subcontinent since antiquity. Both epics are filled with scenes describing how the princely heroes obtain and use their humanly or divinely acquired skills and powers to defeat their enemies: by training in martial techniques under the tutelage of great gurus like the brahmin master Drona, by practicing austerities and meditation techniques which give the martial master access to subtle powers to be used in combat, and/or by receiving a gift or a boon of divine, magical powers from a god. On the one hand, there is Bhima who depends on his brute strength to crush his foes, while on the other, we find the “unsurpassable” Arjuna making use of his more subtle accomplishments in single point focus or his powers acquired through meditation.

Among practitioners and teachers of kalarippayattu, the martial art of Kerala, southwestern coastal India, some. . . model their practice on Bhima, emphasizing kalarippay attu’s practical empty hand techniques of attack, defense, locks, and throws. Others. . . follow Arjuna and emphasize kalarippayattu as an active, energetic means of disciplining and “harnessing” (yuj, the root of yoga) both one’s body and one’s mind, that is, as a form of moving meditation. As comparative religions scholar Mircea Eliade has explained, “One always finds a form of yoga whenever there is a question of experiencing the sacred or arriving at complete mastery of oneself . . .” (Eliade, 1975:196).

From the early Tamil Sangam “heroic” (puram) poetry, we learn that from the fourth century B.C. to 600 A.D., a warlike, martial spirit predominated across southern India. . .

Each warrior received “regular military training” (Subramanian, 1966:143144) in target practice, and horse riding, and specialized in the use of one or more of the important weapons of the period, including lance or spear (vel), sword (val) and shield (kedaham), bow (vii) and arrow. The importance of the martial hero in the Sangam Age is evident in the deification of fallen heroes through the planting of hero-stones (virakkal; or natukal, “planted stones”) which were inscribed with the name of the hero and his valorous deeds (Kailaspathy, 1968:235) and worshipped by the common people of the locality (Subramanian, 1966:130).

The heroes of the period were “the noble ones,” whose principal pursuit was fighting and whose greatest honor was to die a battlefield death (Kailasapathy, 1968; Hart, 1975, 1979). The heroic warriors of the period were animated by the assumption that power (ananku) was not transcendent, but immanent, capricious, and potentially malevolent (Hart, 1975:26, 81). War was considered a sacrifice of honor, and memorial stones were erected to fallen heroic kings and/or warriors whose manifest power could be permanently worshipped by one’s community and ancestors (Hart, 1975, 137; Kailasapathy, 1968, 235).

Like their epic and purist counterparts, for traditional kalarippayattu practitioners attaining power in practice is still a composite, multi-dimensioned set of practices. There is the power to be attained through repetition of mantra, each of which must be individually accomplished; the power inherent in discovery and control of the internal energy/breath (prana-vayu); the strength of mental power (manasakti) manifest in one-point focus and complete doubtlessness; the elemental discovery and raising of the power per se (kundalini sakti); and the powers of the divine gained through worship and rituals (puja), meditation, devotion, and/or magic.

However, to gain access to the majority of these types of power, one must begin with the body and its training in actualizing particular powers. A Muslim master once told me, “He who wants to become a master must possess complete knowledge of the body.” As assumed in traditional yoga practice, knowledge of the body begins with the physical or gross body (sthula-sarira), discovered through exercises and massage. Together they are considered body preparation” (meyyorukkam). The exercises include a vast array of poses, steps, jumps, kicks, and leg movements performed in increasingly complex combinations back and forth across the kalari floor. Collectively, they are considered a “body art” (meiabhyasam). Individual body-exercise sequences (meippayattu) are taught one by one, and every student masters simple forms before moving on to more complex and difficult sequences. Most important is mastery of basic poses (vadivu), named after animals and comparable to basic postures (asana) of yoga, and mastery of steps (cuvadu) by which one moves into and out of poses. Repetitious practice of these outer forms eventually renders the external body flexible (meivalakkam) and, as one master said, “flowing (olukku) like a river.”

Exerpts from Actualizing Power(s) and Crafting A Self in Kalarippayatu: A South Indian Martial Art and the Yoga and Ayurveda Paradigms by Phillip B. Zarrilli