Tag 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

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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


vedic literature of ancient india

Secrets of ancient humanity and lost civilizations can be found all over the world. Yet they are perhaps most common in India, which even today the spiritual practices of the ancient world continue and its characteristic regard for the sacred. The same type of temples with similar forms of ritual worship that were known in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, or Greece thousand of years ago still occur throughout India today from Badrinath in the Himalayas to the north to Kanyakumari in the south. Indeed it seems that the ancient world never ended in India but has continually maintained and, at times, reinvented itself.

Spiritual and occult arts such as abounded in the ancient world – including Yoga, Vedic astrology, Ayurvedic medicine and the use of rituals (Yajnas) to improve all aspects of our lives – remain commonly used and are honored by the culture of India as a whole. Indeed we could say that India is a living museum of the ancient world and its lost civilizations. To understand the ancient world, it may be better to visit the holy places of India where the ancient traditions are still unbroken, rather than try to interpret ancient ruins through bricks and pottery shards, which scholars today usually do so according to their own modern mindsets, not recognizing the all-pervasive regard for the sacred that was the basis of ancient life and culture.

Most notably, ancient India presents us with by far the largest literature that has survived from the ancient world. The Vedic literature of India, by all accounts dating from well before the time of the Buddha (500 BCE) and by traditional accounts extending back well over five thousand years (3100 BCE), covers several thousand pages. This is with the four Vedas (RigYajur,Sama and Atharva), their various BrahmanasAranyakas andUpanishads.

The Vedas contain many ancient poems, commentaries, dialogues and teachings, of which the famous Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita – the bedrock of Indian philosophy and Yoga – represent only the last layer or a late summation. There is no comparable ancient literature remaining from any other country, much less an on-going tradition of its interpretation and application according to both ritual and meditation.

The Vedas are not directly concerned with history or with the mundane aspects of culture. Yet a mentioning of these does occur in a peripheral way in the texts. In the Vedas, we can find references to the names of peoples, places and to certain events. Beside the deep spiritual knowledge, there are indications of astronomical, mathematical and medical knowledge of a profound order. There are also indications of natural disasters like floods, earth quakes, the melting of glaciers and the shifting of rivers, with a cataclysmic sense of life based upon a long experience of Nature’s changes.

Yet, even by way of understanding their spiritual side, it requires a deeper vision to appreciate the Vedas. The Vedas are composed in a cryptic ‘mantric code’ that cannot be understood without the proper orientation and right keys. Vedic mantras were said to have been cognized by great yogis and seers from the cosmic mind. They reflect a different type of language in which the higher truth is deliberately hidden in a veil of symbols, sacred sounds and correspondences. What may appear outwardly as a seeking cows and horses, for example, can inwardly refer to a development of higher powers of the senses (cows) and pranas or vital energies (horses). In fact, Vedic words have many layers of meaning, of which the surface appearance can be misleading, particularly to the modern mind not used to such a multidimensional language. This is also a phenomenon that we find throughout the ancient world. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, abounds in similar symbols that unless we can grasp the spiritual meaning, which few may be willing to look for, can appear quite superstitious.

The Vedas say, “The Gods prefer the cryptic and dislike the obvious.” The higher powers speak in symbols, riddles, paradoxes or conundrums. The Vedas speak of four levels of speech, of which ordinary human beings only know and speak with one (Rig Veda I. 164.45). They refer to a Divine Word or imperishable syllable on which they are based (Rig Veda I. 164.39). They reflect a pattern of cosmic sound that underlies all the laws of the universe and has its counterparts on all levels of both individual and cosmic manifestation. For this reason, the Veda was called the Shruti, or ‘revelation’ behind the Hindu tradition.

The Vedas speak of secret meanings to their mantras that were veiled to protect the teaching from its application by the spiritually immature. To receive the key to the Vedic mantras required years of work of ascetic practices, mantras, yoga, meditation, special initiations and the special favor of a teacher who knows the tradition and has realized the teaching in his own deeper consciousness. We cannot expect such cryptic mantras to unlock their secrets to a casual reading, particularly done in limited or bad translations in a language and mindset quite alien to the Vedic or ancient world view.

Modern scholars, particularly from the West, have not been able decipher this Vedic code. Most have not even recognized that it exists. This is not surprising because scholars have largely failed to understand the deeper meaning of the symbols of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Mexico and other ancient cultures. Ancient cultures like India and Egypt were carrying on great traditions of spiritual and occult knowledge, not just the rudiments of technology, trade or empire building. Since modern scholars have little background in that spiritual knowledge, with its recognition of higher states of consciousness extending into the Infinite and Eternal, naturally they cannot find it in symbols in which it is specially encrypted.

Scholars look upon the Vedas, just like the Egyptian religion, as little more than primitive nature worship, though the nature symbols like Fire in the Vedas have a vast cosmic symbolism and connect to the fire of the breath, the fire of the mind, the fire of consciousness and the Cosmic Fire through which the entire universe exists.

Introduction to Article The Vedic Literature of Ancient India and Its Many Secrets By David Frawley

 


a bit about sanskrit (संस्कृतम्)

Sanskrit is the classical language of Indian and the liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is also one of the 22 official languages of India. The name Sanskrit means “refined”, “consecrated” and “sanctified”. It has always been regarded as the ‘high’ language and used mainly for religious and scientific discourse.

Vedic Sanskrit, the pre-Classical form of the language and the liturgical language of the Vedic religion, is one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family. The oldest known text in Sanskrit, the Rigveda, a collection of over a thousand Hindu hymns, composed during the 2nd millenium BC.

Today Sanskrit is used mainly in Hindu religious rituals as a ceremonial language for hymns and mantras. Efforts are also being made to revive Sanskrit as an everyday spoken language in the village of Mattur near Shimoga in Karnataka. A modern form of Sanskrit is one of the 17 official home languages in India.

Since the late 19th century, Sanskrit has been written mostly with the Devanāgarī alphabet. However it has also been written with all the other alphabets of India, except Gurmukhi and Tamil, and with other alphabets such as Thai and Tibetan. The Grantha, Sharda and Siddham alphabets are used only for Sanskrit.

Since the late 18th century, Sanskrit has also been written with the Latin alphabet. The most commonly used system is the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST), which was been the standard for academic work since 1912.

Popular culture in other languages

Recital of Sanskrit shlokas as background chorus in films, television advertisements and as slogans for corporate organisations has become a trend. The opera Satyagraha by Philip Glass uses texts from the Bhagavad Gita, sung in the original Sanskrit.

Recently, Sanskrit also made an appearance in Western pop music in two recordings by Madonna. One, “Shanti/Ashtangi”, from the 1998 album Ray of Light, is the traditional Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga chant referenced above set to music. The second, “Cyber-raga”, released in 2000 as a B-side to Madonna’s album Music, is a Sanskrit-language ode of devotion to a higher power and a wish for peace on earth. The climactic battle theme of The Matrix Revolutions features a choir singing a Sanskrit prayer from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad in the closing titles of the movie. Composer John Williams featured choirs singing in Sanskrit for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The lyrics of The Child In Us by Enigma also contains Sanskrit, latin and English verses.

The Sky1 version of the title sequence in season one of Battlestar Galactica 2004 features the Gayatri Mantra, taken from the Rig Veda (3.62.10). The composition was written by miniseries composer Richard Gibbs.
Sanskrit has also seen a significant revival in Mainland China. Musicians such as Sa Dingding have written pop songs in Sanskrit.

Computational linguistics

There have been suggestions to use Sanskrit as a metalanguage for knowledge representation in e.g. machine translation, and other areas of natural language processing because of its relatively high regular structure. This is due to Classical Sanskrit being a regularised, prescriptivist form abstracted from the much more complex and richer Vedic Sanskrit.

Excerpts from Omniglot and Wikipedia


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


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


how yoga came to america

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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