Category Archives: Swami Vivekananda

yoga’s trip to america

Image

Vivekananda in Pasadena, California, in 1900

“In America is the place, the people, the opportunity for everything new,” wrote Swami Vivekananda before he left India in 1893. Vivekananda had learned from his guru, Sri Ramakrishna, that the world’s religions “are but various phases of one eternal religion” and that spiritual essence could be transmitted from one person to another. He set about to bring that transmission to our shores. His first speech was at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. “Sisters and brothers of America,” he began, and the audience was on its feet, giving him a standing ovation. Our love affair with the East was born, and so began a steady stream of Eastern ideas flowing west.

Introduction to Yoga Journal Article Yoga’s Trip to America By Holly Hammond

Advertisements

yoga and buddhism

image

Yoga and Buddhism are sister traditions which evolved in the same spiritual culture of ancient India. They use many of the same terms and follow many of the same principles and practices. For this reason it is not surprising that many of us born in the West, particularly after an initial exposure, are apt to regard Yoga and Buddhist teachings as almost identical.

However, the tendency to find commonality between these two great spiritual traditions is not limited to the West. Swami Vivekananda, the first great figure to bring Yoga to the West, examined the Buddhist Mahayana scriptures (Sutras) and found their key teachings and those of Vedanta that he followed to be ultimately in harmony. In recent years with the influx of Tibetan refugees into India, including the Dalai Lama, there has been a new dialogue between the two traditions that is bringing about greater respect between them. Tibetan Buddhists often appear at Hindu religious gatherings and partake in all manner of discussions.

Nor is the attempt to connect the two traditions limited to modern times. Various synthetic Hindu-Buddhist teachings have existed through history. Buddha himself was born a Hindu and some scholars have argued that Buddhism as a religion apart from Hinduism did not arise until long after the Buddha had passed away. A Shiva-Buddha teaching existed in Indonesia in medieval times, and for many Tantric Yogis it is difficult to tell whether they were Hindus or Buddhists. Buddha became accepted as an avatar of Vishnu for the Hindus during the medieval period, and most Hindus still consider that we live in the age of the Buddha-avatar. Most Hindus accept Buddha as a great teacher, even if they do not accept all Buddhist teachings.

Yet, similarities and connections aside, the two traditions have had their differences, which have not always been minor. Such synthetic trends did not exclude disagreements and debates between the two traditions. Nor did they ever succeed in fully uniting them. Their traditions and lineages remain separate to the present day. Generally the Hindu Yoga tradition sought to absorb Buddhism into itself by reinterpreting Buddha in a Vedantic light. Buddhism however strove to maintain its separate identity by stressing its disagreements with Vedic theism or the Vedic recognition of a higher Self. Most Hindu and Buddhist teachers, including those of the different Yoga schools of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhists, have found it necessary to discriminate their doctrines, particularly on subtle levels of practice and insight. Refutations of Buddhist teachings are common in yogic texts and refutations of yogic and Vedantic teachings are common in Buddhist texts. So while we can honor the connections between these two systems, we cannot overlook their differences either.

Excerpt From American Institute Of Vedic Studies Article, Yoga And Buddhism: Similarities And Differences, By David Frawley


how yoga came to america

image

For decades before Vivekananda’s arrival here, the yoga teachings of India had been percolating in the minds of many influential Western writers and spiritual figures. Their first contact with India’s scriptures came through the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita, considered by historians the world’s oldest surviving holy books. Around 1815, a friend and fellow scholar gave the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer translations of these two sacred texts. Schopenhauer was intrigued. He incorporated his understanding of these yoga teachings into his groundbreaking philosophical treatise, The World as Will and Idea. In the preface, he wrote, “’I believe that the influence of the Sanskrit literature will penetrate not less deeply than did the revival of Greek literature in the fifteenth century.” He made the startling prediction that the scriptures of India “… are destined sooner or later to become the faith of the people.” The influence of Schopenhauer among Western intellectuals was vast. Through him, philosophers, writers, and composers such as Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Tolstoy, Mann, Wagner, and Jung were introduced to Indian philosophy.

Among the first Americans to embrace Indian philosophy with its “supreme task of transformation” were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, the co-founders of American Transcendentalism. In 1836, Emerson wrote an essay that probably included the first reference to the Bhagavad-Gita in a book published in America. In 1854, Thoreau, in Walden, one of the most beloved of all American essays, wrote, “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial.” Through the efforts of Emerson, Thoreau and others, the fertile ground of American soil had been well tilled and fertilized in preparation for the arrival of the first yogis in the West. Among this group was Swami Rama Tirtha, a student of Vivekananda’s, who, following the advice of his teacher, was the next yogi to land in America. He arrived in San Francisco in 1902-1903, and lived and lectured there for about 18 months before returning to India.

During this time, Rama Tirtha gained a sizeable local following and started several yoga societies. Not until 1919, when Yogendra Mastanami arrived in New York, did another sage of India come to America. Mastanami stayed for three years, and taught his system of yoga postures to Benedict Lust, the founder of naturopathy. Lust, in turn, was among the first to champion this early version of hatha yoga as an alternative healing technique, rather than a purely spiritual science, as it was originally conceived by the rishis, or ancient yoga masters of India. The visits to American shores by Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha, and Mastanami were true historic events; yet they stayed here for only brief periods. None expressed that their primary mission was to live and teach in the West. That remained the destiny of one who is arguably the most honored and influential of all Yoga masters to arrive here before or since.

In 1920, a young yoga master born at the foot of the Himalayas received an invitation from the American Unitarian Association to serve as India’s delegate to the International Congress of Religious Liberals meeting that year in Boston. A disciple of the legendary Sri Yukteswar, and ordained in the 1,200-year-old swami order founded by Shankara himself in the ninth century, he was given the name Paramhansa Yogananda. In Sanskrit param is defined as “highest,” and hansa as “swan.” The sacred white swan is a symbol of spiritual discrimination. Yogananda means literally, “One who achieves bliss (ananda) through the practice of yoga.” Yogananda arrived in Boston, in August of 1920, and on the sixth of October, presented his first speech in America as planned. He later told of an intense inward vision “which contained a vast panorama of Western faces,” and wrote: “I am going forth to discover America, like Columbus. He thought he had discovered India – surely there must be a karmic link between our two lands.”

Excerpt From Ananda Los Angeles Website, How Yoga Science Came To America