Meditations on Stories 31

Meditations on Stories 31

31 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dg Dsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside Sankara’s Brahma Sutras.

What questions arise when I focus on “Brahman” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

Since 2013, I had been seriously involved with a style of yoga called kundalini. This method teaches many powerful techniques that use kriyas, pranayama, sacred sound current chants, and obedience to the Sikh guru as its means of transforming the body – mind complex to overcome psychoses and live with more freedom and ease. The yoga manuals in this method described great benefits of the kriyas: beautiful and convincing words effectively tried to “sell” these challenging exercises by claiming that practicing them can give anything from getting better sleep to improved digestion, to a glowing complexion, and even super human strength. And yes, I have enjoyed benefits from the practice, though not always the ones that were listed in the manuals. One thing the kundalini teachers always celebrated was living a heart-centered life. My teacher billed herself as a “heart-centered” teacher. And no doubt she is. I hold nothing against her and have the utmost respect. And the plea I make here is not necessarily directed at my teacher, but at the culture of “heart-centered.” Yes, be heart-centered, but please do so with equal respect for the head and love for knowledge and reason.  

The problem with this heart-centered approach is that too many people in that community vilify the intellect. They poo-poo the book worm. They resent the inquisitive mind (sure sign it’s a cult). I have heard too many teachers say, “get out of the head, and get into the heart.” But then when the venerated leader (yogi bhajan) of that so called “heart-centered” community turned out to be a criminal, it was high time to ask why and how we were all so ignorant about his secret scandals. Turns out ignorance flourished deep within that heart-centered community that claimed to teach “the yoga of awareness.”

It is time to seek the real “yoga of awareness.”

So many people who practiced kundalini, who had not been so encouraged before, finally started to ask questions. They started with “Where did kundalini yoga’s originator, yogi bhajan, get these yoga kriyas from? Did he make them up?” He had claimed the practice was ancient and the downloads came from the Akashic records. Nowadays the leaders of the method are simply removing yogi bhajan’s name from the books and still teaching the same stuff; but with all that scandal underneath, can the method still be effective? These months later, after studying in the Sanskrit-based tradition, I see that yogi bhajan is not mentioned or even known in the wider and deeper levels of yoga study and yoga history? He came from Northern India, a Sikh. He must have gotten his ideas from Indian traditions reaching back to the Upanisads, the Vedas, all the sutra literature; but he never mentioned this. Plus, yogi bhajan himself was not much of an intellectual powerhouse. Now we’ve heard that one of his secretaries wrote his Ph.D. dissertation for him(?). Most of yogi bhajan’s lectures that we listened to in the yoga teacher training are incomprehensible drivel. And no one in the Sanskrit or scholarship realms ever mentions him. On a YouTube recording of a lecture he gave in April 2020, Swami Sarvapriyananda mentions in passing, “I think I’ve heard there is even a style of meditation related to the Sikh tradition called kundalini yoga.” In other words, Swami Sarvapriyananda had never even heard of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. This makes all the veneration of that thug that we were encouraged to do in the trainings all the more farcical.   

So, I’ve abandoned kundalini yoga, burned my teaching certificates. Instead, I read Astavakra Samhita. It’s taking time, heartache, and further training and coughing up more resources to learn Sanskrit. Part of me wonders what is the point and complains I am too old and who has the time or resources to learn Sanskrit? But Edwin Bryant asks us, “What else are you going to do with your time? Watch TV? Socialize? Make svadhyaya your social life!” He’s right. Anyone want to create a svadhyaya group with me? So, it’s true, it doesn’t take much to study this stuff. The Astavakra Samhita costs $6 from Vendanta Press. Chant it in the morning. Enjoy the true “yoga of awareness.”  

I am so relieved to read Swami Vivekananda’s Jnana-Yoga, and I am grateful to be reading the Upanisads with Professor Edwin Bryant. Study with swamis and professors should help me get back on track.

Vivekananda writes, “There is room for an infinite amount of feeling, and so also for an infinite amount of knowledge and reason. Let them come together without limit: let them run together, as it were, parallel with each other.” And reading Sankara’s Brahma Sutras, where he talks about ways in which reasoning corroborates with heart truths through hearing the texts (Sravana), thinking about their meaning (Manana), and meditation on them (Nididhyasana). And then he writes, “This leads to intuition. By intuition is meant that mental modification (Vritti) of the mind (Citta) which destroys our ignorance about Barhman. When the ignorance is destroyed by this mental modification in the form of Brahman it is called Bramakara Vritti.” He goes on to say, Brahman, which is self-luminous, reveals Itself in ordinary perception. This means that the truth is arrived at through reasoning. Brahman is perceived as real or even more real than this cup of coffee that I am drinking. Brahman is mentally cognizable. Brahmakara Vritti is what made Sri Ramakrishna see the Goddess Kali as more real than he could see young Narendra standing beside him. Brahman becomes a perceived experience, not a belief, not an intellectual idea, but a lived reality.

Bramakara Vritti is a beautiful Sanskrit phrase that I shall slowly figure out how to write it in Sanskrit and then write it over and over in my notebook. Please forgive my errors, my life as a slow learner, my questions if they have offended.           

Meditating on Brahman, a Jnana yogi might ask: “If there is infinite room for feeling in the heart and for being heart-centered, isn’t there also infinite room for knowledge and reason? Can a yoga industry that seems too attached to platitudes, asanas, superiority complexes, and exploitation seek a truer balance of head and heart, seek an intelligent desire for Bramakara Vritti?”

Meditations on Stories 30

Meditations on Stories 30

30 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dg Dsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

What questions arise when I focus on “samadhi” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

Patanjali’s yoga sutras teach us that when we still the fluctuations of the mind, consciousness abides in its own nature. This is the goal of yoga, to abide in pure consciousness. It’s not easy to get there even with years of practice and strict adherence to the eight limbs. The yogi likes her cave because she can easily remain absorbed in pure consciousness (in nirvikalpa samadhi: absorption without an object). Evolved sages like to spend time in meditation, absorbed in this state.

One such sage was Swami Vivekananda, whose name was Narendra when he was a boy. Once upon a time, young Narendra was traveling with his family, and he saw a giant bee hive high up on a wall of a cliff. He wondered over how old that bee hive must be, and that wonder sent him into a state of super-consciousness, where his whole being was lost in wonder and awe at the Divine. Another time, he was meditating in Cossipore gardens and sensed a powerful light around his head. He entered deep samadhi, and when he came out of it, he did not feel that he had a body. He walked around for a few days after in  a very uneasy feeling  like he had no body.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a state of consciousness in which the relative reality dissolves into the Absolute. Patanjali’s yoga sutras teach that only after a yogi has stilled the fluctuations of the mind, then consciousness abides in its own nature, and this is the goal of yoga. Vedanta says that consciousness is always abiding in its nature and the only problem is to remove one’s ignorance of that ever-present, ever-pervading pure consciousness. A yogi in a cave who experiences hours and hours in deep samadhi may think that a swami who spends hours and hours reading books and doing philosophy is missing the experience. But that swami abides in consciousness through a philosophical understanding that Brahma is never separate from material reality. Instead, material reality is not as much with us as someone like William Wordswoth may have expressed in his poem “The World is Too Much With Us.” That’s Vedanta. The material world is not with us nearly as much as Brahma is with us. Pure consciousness, pure being, and pure bliss are the most real experiences in every moment, whether we are deep in meditation or deep in study or deep in ritual or deep in prayer or deep in service or deeply in love or dreaming or fast asleep. Brahma is most real in every experience. Once Sri Ramakrishna saw an umbrella open and close and it sent him into samadhi because it reminded him of the creation and dissolution of the universe. It can be as simple as that, and it happens to us all the time.    

Meditating on samadhi, a Jnana yogi might ask: “Vedanta says once we remove ignorance, it is easy to always realize we are immortal consciousness. Can social media help us see immortal consciousness? Keep wondering, daughter: for whom does scrolling and liking posts inspire nirvikalpa samdhi?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #Stories #NirvikalpaSamadhi

Meditations on Stories 29

Meditations on Stories 29

29 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dg Dsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside Caitanya’s Śikṣāṣṭakam.

What questions arise when I focus on “devotion” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

Long ago, Caitanya was a great sage, an incarnation of Krishna. He gave eight verses that teach seekers how to live as a lover devoted to service to the divine. The first verse describes the effect of chanting the maha mantra: Hare Krishna. It’s very poetic: “May Krishna sankirtana be supremely triumphant. The chanting of the names of Krishna cleanses the mirror of the heart. It extinguishes the great forest fire of samsara. It bestows moonlight on the white night-blooming lotus of supreme benefit. It gives life to the young bride of wisdom. It increases the ocean of bliss. It bestows the taste of the highest nectar at every step. It cleanses the mind completely.” (trans. Edwin Bryant).

Back in New York City, I used to visit Dharma Mitra’s yoga studio where Krishna Das would play his harmonium and chant the Hare Krishna mantra. This was in 2002 when Krishna Das was not as popular as he is today. It was an intimate setting. It was blissful. Those kirtan sessions started me on this path with a full and open heart. Since then, I have attended many of his kirtan sessions and witnessed his following grow so much larger. Eventually, I saw he was playing at a Bhakti fest in Joshua Tree, California in 2012. I attended. That festival is where I found Kundalini Yoga in a Kia Miller class. Then, I went to Sat Nam Fest 2013 in Joshua Tree where I felt that Krishna Kaur was my teacher. I felt an intense pull: I must train as a yoga teacher with her.

This past year, I abandoned my role as a yoga teacher. I have been studying Yoga Philosophy with embodied philosophy. The program offers a variety of teachers who are both scholars and practitioners of yoga, none practice kundalini yoga. Over these years, I have practiced hours of White Tantric yoga; I’ve attended Summer Solstice Sadhanas in New Mexico; I’ve visited the Himalayas; I’ve bowed at the Golden Temple in Amritsar; I’ve studied Gurmukhi and Sanskrit. After all this, I am happy to finally find Advaita Vedanta. I hope this philosophy can be my spiritual home. Advaita Vedanta feels so pure and straightforward for me. I am tired of whistles and bells. For now, I feel like saying this: forget yoga’s accoutrements: the music, the festivals, the trainings, the pilgrimages, lulu lemon, and cults of personality. Goodbye to all that!

I simply enjoy the Path of Knowledge. For now, I remain devoted to the Path of Knowledge.    

Meditating on devotion, a Jnana yogi might ask: “Yes, embrace cultural humility, practice sadhana, chant divine names, bow to sacred shrines, see god in all hearts; but doesn’t she still feel that the best way to inspire devotion within is through questions, through stories, through dialogue, through language study? Who says a path of inquiry cannot bestow nectar and make the hairs stand on end in ecstasy?”

Meditations on Stories 28

Meditations on Stories 28

28 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside listening to Swami Sarvapriyananda talk about Raja Yoga Meditation.

What questions arise when I focus on “the yogic mind” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

One summer, a swami and a yogi were sitting together next to the Ganges River, high up in the Himalayas where the river is narrow and the water rushes. Just the day before, a person had gone into the river to bathe, and he was swept off in the rushing current and he drowned. The yogi was explaining to the swami about the difference between a worldly mind and a meditative mind. He said, “You see this river water that is full of mud. It’s dangerous. It’s dirty. No one dares to drink from it, or they would be sick. Someone tried to bathe in it, and he drown. This is like the worldly mind that does not meditate. It rushes with dirty thoughts, and it is dangerous. But this same exact river, in winter, when some of the water freezes over, that slows the flow of the water. At that time, the water turns clear here. People can drink from it, and it brings happiness and refreshment. Though it’s cold, it is good for bathing, and it is easy to cross. This is like the mind that meditates. Such a mind contains fewer thoughts that are controlled and deliberately chosen. And this kind of mind brings happiness and even nourishment to people around it.” After he spoke, the yogi and swami sat together for the rest of the day watching the flow of the river, watching the flow of thoughts in the mind, and witnessing the silence of being-consciousness-bliss.   

Meditating on the mind, a Jnana yogi might ask: “Does this thought give me peace? Does this thought give peace to those around me? And before the next thought arises in the mind, can I repeat 108 times, aham brahma-asmi

अहम् ब्रह्मस्मि?”

Meditations on Stories 27

Meditations on Stories 27

27 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dg Dsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside reading Georg Feurstein’s The Deeper Dimension of Yoga.

What questions arise when I focus on “silence” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

When silence is a sacred expression and a sacred experience, our minds dissolve, and our beings meet. I like this wonderful exercise that my teacher, Krishna Kaur encouraged in me. Now and then, make a one-day vow of silence. For one entire period of twenty-four hours, press the tongue gently to the roof of the mouth, and let it sit there all day. Smile at your family members. The assumption is that you have prepared them for your Day of Silence by letting them know ahead of time. Practice this one day at a time, then maybe increase it to two days. A three-day Silence Retreat is so invigorating, and it is free of charge! You’ll notice the world as you hadn’t notice it before.

The word mauna in Sanskrit is sacred silence. There are sages called munis who vow not to speak. This allows them to refine their presence so that when they are next to you, you may feel directly connected to Brahman. Pure being, consciousness and bliss has a silent presence. As Georg Feurstein writes, “sacred silence leads us to and beyond the lustrous ‘golden orb’ in the nucleus of our own being.”  

Meditating on sacred silence, a Jnana yogi might ask: “Wow, realizing Being Consciousness Bliss is so ‘easy-breezy-lemon-squeezy!’ When mothering teen daughters presents its challenges, can I enlist the help of Muni Mama? Surely her message will be received? Why worry?”

Meditations on Stories 26

Meditations on Stories 26

26 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside reading Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.

What questions arise when I focus on “breath” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

For Advaita Vedanta, breath is an experience, an object of awareness. It is yet another object to see as lit up by pure consciousness. I am not the breath; I am the pure consciousness that illuminates the experience of breathing in this moment. That is the discernment part of this meditation. Then, see that Breath is something that cannot happen without pure consciousness. I am that pure consciousness. Thus, breath is contained within pure consciousness. It comes and goes.  

Advaita Vedanta meditation is not so much concerned with all the varieties of pranayama exercises found in yoga systems. An interesting book to read about Swami Vivekananda’s formulations of his Raja Yoga system is Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice by Mark Singleton. Singleton discusses Genevieve Stebbins as an influential pioneer whose 19th century harmonial gymnastics system of esoteric dance and movement impacted and enabled the popular explosion of yogasana today. Singleton’s book offers a detailed history of how modern postural yoga is a combination of Eastern and Western influences. Today’s popular yoga classes are the result of a cross-pollination of ideas, an East/West exchange. Vivekananda learned as much from Stebbins as she learned from the hatha tradition. He relied on the popularity, nomenclature, and spirit of Stebbin’s work to propagate hath yoga in the West.

There is always a conversation going on; there is always an exchange. Singleton’s book reveals how it is not so simple for Indian nationalists to claim modern postural yoga as its own ancient teachings.

Now, what about kriya? Let’s take my personal example: Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan didn’t claim to be asana based; it relied on methods combining many teachings from hatha yoga, Shakta Tantra, Kashmiri Shaivism, the Sikh gurus, and Vedanta.

Now get this: I was taught that kriya-based method by an African-American former Broadway actress in Los Angeles; her teacher was a Punjabi-born man who, at one point in his life, had attended an all-girls Catholic school in Northern India.

Right there that is already a whirlwind of subtle influences that embody a constellation of combinations and cross-pollinations. It feels impossible to try to squeeze into one lineage. Seems more fun to celebrate that diversity and exchange. That exchange is lit up by consciousness. We are beyond the exchange. We are that consciousness.  

Thus, it is impossible to pinpoint a pure lineage. So, as Professor Rambachan discusses that he wanted Vedanta to be having a conversation with a wider variety of conversation partners. Perhaps Vedanta is already having that conversation, and we merely need to breathe with it, acknowledge it, and observe.    

Meditating on breath, a Jnana yogi might ask, “Just as the history of yogasana is a history of exchange between East and West, the history of the breath is an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide through all beings. Pure Consciousness has observed every single exchange throughout time. If we are this Pure Consciousness, how can we not absolutely adore one another?”

Meditations on Stories 25

Meditations on Stories 25

25 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside listening to a discussion called “Vedanta for the 21st Century” hosted by Harvard Divinity School on March 11, 2020.

What questions arise when I focus on “renunciation” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

Three Hindu monastics visited Harvard Divinity School on March 11, 2020 and discussed the tradition of the Upanisads and Vedanta and its relevance to today. Yesterday’s blog post attempted to synthesize what the three monastics said. Now, here, I summarize what professor of religions at St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota, Anantanand Rambachan, said in response to hearing the three monastics deliver their talks.

Professor Rambachan discussed the humility he sees in the Upanisads, that it is a tradition that contains clear expressions of humility; yet, how is it that often Vedantins can tend toward elitism and arrogance? Of course, he was sure to mention that kind of arrogance was not expressed by these three monastics on this panel, and I agree that the three monastics displayed genuine humility with friendly erudition that I found comforting.

In my experience, I have witnessed how this arrogance the professor criticized plays out in a yoga community. In less careful hands, traditions that are influenced by Vedanta can make a teacher too pedantic, render the teacher too powerful. I have seen too many teachers in my yoga community always scolding their students and being abusive. We are witnessing the #MeToo in yoga reveal the problems of the guru/shishya dynamic. This happened to such a horrific extent in the Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan community. In the era of the 1970s when people were searching for strong teachers and clear guidance, yogi bhajan took advantage of vulnerabilities, enjoyed too much power, and abused his followers. Consequently, my own generation of genuine seekers has suffered tremendously. We were duped by a yoga program that is rife with this kind of systemic, internal arrogance that the tradition can suffer from if the teachers are not careful. I am fascinated to see how these three monastics were so eloquent and were able to avoid projecting that arrogance that I have seen in the yoga community. Is this because of the renunciation aspect of their path? Is this because they have studied Sanskrit more deeply?  

Humility needs its expression. What do expressions of humility look like when they are most genuine and can offer the groundwork for real conversation and dialogue to take place? Is it possible for the yoga communities to embrace critical thinking, erudition, and dialogue?    

I never assumed that my yoga practice put me on any kind of pedestal. So maybe it was due to this strain of arrogance that feels subtly ingrained in the tradition that I learned from that turns off some folks. For instance, my husband never liked for me to suggest any kind of yogic breathing or meditation techniques that might help mitigate some of the stress he experiences as a shareholder litigator. I was not making meditation suggestions because I felt myself better than him. I was merely trying to share what I was learning. How had my desire to share turned into such a struggle, like some kind of clash of superiority complexes? If this is the way family and friends perceived my behavior, I humbly beg forgiveness. A superiority complex was never intended, but I see so clearly the ways yoga practitioners get caught up in superiority complexes and spiritual egos. Professor Rambachan’s suggestions and questions open up a dialogue.

Professor Rambachan asks, “How do we articulate, from within the Vedanta traditions, a theology of humility for interreligious learning? What would be the core arguments of that theology? What is the Vedanta tradition’s theological need for other traditions? If a tradition claims it is full and final and true, does it have a need? How do we ground that need in the sacred texts that we study? How do we seek to enlarge conversation partners in our contemporary setting?”

This enlarging of the conversations, I suppose, is what these blog posts have set out to do and be. I am not a scholar, nor am I much of a social influencer. I am a curious student. I am a mother. I love to put words together. I work as a writer. I taught classes in a community center and a yoga studio for a few years, and people who came to my classes felt good afterward.

In spirit, I guess I identify more with the poetess, Lal Ded, than with the acharya, Shankara. I practiced yoga teachings the ways they were delivered at what Indology Professor Edwin Bryant refers to as “the high streets,” the mainstream yoga studios, though the style I taught (KYATBYB) was not mainstream. Going forward, I wish to witness interesting conversations that feel impossible, conversations I can have on the page. For example, I would love to see Kiprop Kumutai speak with Professor Rambachan. I’d love for Lal Ded to be in conversation with Padraig O Tuama. I’d love to see Shankaracharya in conversation with Elif Shafak. So this kind of awkward conversations is what I am about. What if we throwing a whole variety of personalities and life experiences into the ring and see how they would talk to each other? Often it is a pretty awkward conversation. Be that as it may, let’s hold space for awkward conversation.     

Professor Rambachan wonders, “How do we make Vedanta available to people who are in diverse relationships, who are not renunciates?” Is Vedanta only available to those who wish to renounce the world? Or is it available to those who engage head on with the world? Because the problem today are not just about ignorance, but also confronting the problem of socio-economic inequality. We have racism, sexism, casteism.  After his talk, I found myself still curious about his “constellation of questions.”  He says Vedanta needs to enlarge its understanding of “what is suffering?” Oh wow, I want to enroll in his course! I’ll have to read his books. Traditionally, Vedanta sees suffering as an inward condition associated with ignorance. We need an expansive understanding of both suffering and liberation. He says we have to push questions about what is the relationship between peace and justice? “What is the relationship between an inward state of joy and the injustice in the world?” What a good question! I am in love with this question! Thank you, professor. “The tradition has not asked all the questions that could be asked of these texts.” There is a lot to be mined here, still, but we need the stimulus. The metaphysics of oneness has not challenged the social hierarchies. How is it that we spiritualize oneness so you disconnect it from social realities?

Renunciation means many things. I have renounced fruitful outcomes of my actions. I have renounced wealth. I have renounced the need for affirmation from others. Meanwhile, I have not renounced a need to write. I have not renounced a need to feel that my writing has an audience. I have not renounced a need to feel heard and a need for respect. I do not wish to renounce the world, nor do I even want the disengaged or dispassionate. Instead of renunciation, want to call it spacious engagement or expanded engagement. A monastic way of life deeply attracts me because it seems to hold a promise that I will be left alone to read and write and meditate all day long. But I would only want to enter this way of being in the world if I know that is has a positive impact on humanity.   

“How can I act in this world such that our singular identity with one another is not skewed or hidden?”

Meditating on renunciation, a Jnana yogi might ask, “How shall the teachings of Vedanta dialogue with all wisdom traditions, engage social movements, science, academia, and everyday householders? Can Vedanta support enriched conversation between a mother and her teenage daughters in Southern California today?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 24

Meditations on Stories 24

24 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside listening to a discussion called “Vedanta for the 21st Century” hosted by Harvard Divinity School on March 11, 2020.

What questions arise when I focus on “consciousness” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

Three Hindu monastics visited Harvard Divinity School on March 11, 2020 and discussed the tradition of the Upanisads and Vedanta and its relevance to today. Sadhak Sahgar-Guru talked about the mental and physical instability that plagued Arjuna on the battle field in the Bhagavad Gita. The ways Arjuna overcame his dilemma can give us hope and insight today. Swami Sarvapriyananda talked about the hard problem of consciousness and the ways Advaita Vedanta offers a unique non-mystical, non-faith-based way to experience a knowledge of absolute consciousness. Brahmacharini Shweta Chaitanya talked about the ways the liberated consciousness not only discerns between the observer and the observed, but she also dissolves the seeming difference between the two—object and subject—to merge back into the subject. Without this observer who can do this with all states of consciousness—awakening, deep sleep, dreaming—there is no possibility of the phenomenal world. She says this is the heart of Vedanta, and it reveals how nothing is separate from the non-dual, infinite self. The joy we seek in objects is a reflection of the joy within. Complete fulfillment in the here and now is the outcome of this distinguishing-merging process. Yes, body and mind will have experiences, such as illness, aging, fear, anger, sadness; Vedanta never seeks to change our experience, simply change the way we know our experience. This panel discussion ends with clear confirmation that this ancient sage wisdom is relevant today.

It had been 164 years since Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his poem “Brahma.” It had been 166 years since Henry David Thoreau contributed his essays Walden to the American Transcendentalist movement. It had been 166 years since Walt Whitman published his Vedanta-influence Leaves of Grass. It had been 137 years since Swami Vivekananda merged his wisdom with the sisters and brothers of America at the 1883 Chicago Parliament of World Religions, and finally in 2020, Harvard Divinity School did welcome three Hindu monastics to give the first-of-its-kind talk on Vedanta in the 21st century. That is one long and beautiful narrative arc that seems to reveal the story of Vedanta Now is just beginning. Beloved seeker, keep asking!

Meditating on consciousness, a Jnana yogi might ask, “Now that I am happy to know my experiences need not be fruitful, nor mystical, nor faith-based, nor meditative in order to be fulfilling; and now that I know this world is an expression of my infinite Self, where goes all this happiness in a culture that loves its negativity bias?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 23

Meditations on Stories 23

23 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside the life story of the Kashmiri poet saint, Lal Ded.

What questions arise when I focus on “a naked mystic poetess” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

Lal Ded, also known as Mother Lalla, lived during the 14th century in what is now Kashmir. At age 12, she was married off to a family that mistreated her. Her mother-in-law would hide rocks in her rice. To escape cruelty, Lal would leave to retrieve water in the mornings and then spend whole days at the Shiva temples. That’s where she fell in love with Shiva and met her guru, Sidh Srikanth. By age 26, she left her abusive family and renounced all material life. She’d wander the villages speaking devotional poems that were all her own creation, as expressions of love for the divine. She wasn’t intending to create a literary genre, but her spoken verse soon became part of the Karhmiri Oral memory. Her utterances were able to make the lofty philosophies of the Sanskrit literary tradition accessible to ordinary people. People remembered her Vakhs, and they wrote them down. Lal Ded challenged the elitism of Sanskrit scholarship and the patriarchal authority of the Guru. She wore rags or no clothes at all. She never intended to enrich the Kashmiri language, she was just in love with the divine.  

Here is one of my favorite Lal Ded vakhs:

“Whatever my hands did was worship, / whatever my tongue shaped was prayer. / That was Shiva’s secret teaching: / I wore it and it became my skin.”

Thank you to translator Ranjit Hoskote, I met Lal Ded on the page in a collection of Bhakti poetry called “Eating God.” Then I met her again, in a dream: we sat by a shining pool of water, and she taught me to lactate at will.

God, I love mystical dreams!  Jai Sri Radhe Shyam!

Meditating on naked mystic poetess, a Jnana yogi might ask, “No I, no mine, no this, no mind, only That thou art Tat Tvam Asi तत् त्वम् असि. Now that One is so plain to see, and Infinity cannot be hidden, are clothes necessary?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories

Meditations on Stories 22

Meditations on Stories 22

22 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dg Dsya Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Seer and the Seen alongside Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown

What questions arise when I focus on “pleasure activism” as an object of Vedanta meditation?

This beautiful book is a collection of stories, essays, tools, art, poems, powerful gratitude spells, and much more. It offers an uplifting community of voices that engage the world through active enjoyment, bold creativity, and courageous attempts to communicate about pleasure. This book offers expressions of sexuality, celebrations of menstruation, intimacies with queer identity, pleasures after surviving sexual abuse, bad ass ways of coping with cancer, understandings of the magic of nipples, and much more. These expressions allow for often underheard voices and unspoken themes to scream and shout and laugh and cry and reveal what it’s like to live fully, experience fully, and express freely.  It is an enormous blessing to live in an era and a world where we can read Astavakra Samhita one day and Pleasure Activism the next! This life: what a wild ride!  

Meditating on pleasure activism, a Jnana yogi might ask, “Suppose I do not identify with the body and mind, but then pleasure activism arises in awareness, you mean to tell me that I am the ocean of consciousness in which all pleasures arise and dissolve? You mean to say Pure Consciousness makes it as easy to celebrate every being’s pleasures as it is easy to watch it all go? Oh Pure Consciousness, what’s your ineffable pleasure?”

#AdvaitaVedanta #stories