Sunday, September 24, 2006

Michael Miovic

Back Next Home Initiation: Spiritual Insights on Life, Art, and Psychology Michael Miovic. - Prema Nandakumar
Initiation: Spiritual Insights on Life, Art, and Psychology Michael Miovic. (Sri Aurobindo Society, Hyderabad. 2004. xxiii +296 pages. Price Rs.250/- )
You could count the sand particles on earth but not the human beings who have entered this planet and exited from it after a brief stay. Down the ages, those who looked beyond their sustenance and dwelling, what did they think about? What do people who have a minute to spare beyond their food, residence and clothes think of now? Sri Aurobindo gave the answer in the opening sentence of The Life Divine:
“The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation - for it survives the longest periods of skepticism and returns after every banishment, — is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality. The ancient dawn of human knowledge have left us their witness to this constant aspiration; today we see a humanity satiated but not satisfied by victorious analysis of the externalities of Nature preparing to return to its primeval longings. The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last,
God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.”
Among the westerners who have peregrinated towards the east in search of Pure Truth in the last century and who were visible in the print media, mention may be made of Annie Besant, Sister Nivedita, Mirra Richard and Paul Brunton. Some of them like Sister Nivedita and Mirra Richard have not only scaled the heights of spirituality but have also been acclaimed as gurus. Subramania Bharati, the great poet of Tamil Nadu considered the former as his acharya who showed him the pathway to patriotism and social work. He dedicated his first two publications of patriotic songs to her and has indited a powerful poem about this Irish lady who became a disciple of Swami Vivekananda and dedicated herself for the cause of women’s education and political liberation in India:
“Nivedita, Mother,Thou, Temple consecrated to Love,Thou, Sun dispelling my soul’s darkness. Thou, Rain to the parched land of our lives, Thou, helper of the helpless and lost. Thou, offering to Grace,Thou, divine spark of Truth.My salutations to Thee!”(Tr. Prema Nandakumar)
Buddhism exploded in the western consciousness with The Light of Asia; theosophy created waves with the theory of Mahatmas; the Avatara statement in the Bhagavata has been the source of devotional ecstasy and Vedic ritualism in the west with the coming of Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada who founded the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. Explorations by the westerners satiated with materialism continues and so it did not surprise one to read the pointed review of Michael Miovic’s Initiation in Triveni in an earlier issue. What surprised me when reading the book was the readiness of the author to experiment, to accept, to deny, to draw closer or move away from the varied Paths in India. He has imbibed well the ancient Indian dictum about there being various ways of attaining one’s spiritual goal.
Dr. Miovic being a psychologist is a great help in this adventure in the realms of the spirit. For, it is one’s psyche that turns one towards light, as the sunflower towards the sun. Our author’s psyche has obviously been carefully nurtured from the dangers of pomposity and self-righteousness. Where there is eagerness to learn, sincerity to practice and firmness to go on forward to reach the aim, success is ‘an assured gift of grace. But not before the aspirant is put through the wringer. Both Prof. LV. Chalapati Rao and Prof. M.V. Nadkarni use Sanskrit terms to describe the anabasis of Dr. Miovic. The former speaks of anubhufi and darsana. The latter of shraddha. Initiation is all this and much more, a busy mixing of various emotions of which humour is one. For as Sri Aurobindo said pithily: “Without a sense of humour the world would have gone to blazes long ago!”
What makes Initiation so special is the perfectly circular movement of the aspirant whose journey inwards began when he was still in his teens. He read Sri Aurobindo and the Adventure of Consciousness by Satprem and at one kick-start the staunch atheist had become a pilgrim in search of God. However, the transformation was not so simplistic. What had attracted him first was Sri Aurobindo’s mastery of western poetry and so he decided “to give this most literate of all Indian mystics a chance.” A description that would have annoyed Sri Aurobindo himself. But the Mahayogi would have realized that what Dr. Miovic meant was that he was “the most literate in the English language of all Indian mystics”, and would have enjoyed the joke with his amanuensis.
For Miovic, the spiritual adventure with the Aurobindonian stream had to wait. Still in his teens, Miovic anxiously looked around for a living guru of Indian sadhana. This was how he came to the Kriya Yoga center at Santa Cruz which was headed by the absentee-guru, Yogi S.A.A Ramiah. Based on the tradition of the eighteen spiritual siddhas, the Kriya Yoga is primarily one of breath-control. Miovic dressed and chanted like a Tamilian. Obviously, he followed the systematized programme of the center that included the Ayyappa Sadhana though, according to Miovic, one needs guts to follow the rituals which includes worshipping a coconut bound in cloth: “After thus carrying out the cult of the crucified coconut in this continuous cacophony to clamoring completion, I turned over my much-worshipped nut, which was beginning to rot and stink, to the president of the local ashram.” The coconuts were offered by Yogi Ramiah into a yajna fire. Before long, Miovic found that Kriya Yoga was not his plate of pizza. Nor was the Sai Saba movement his mug of cappuccino. After taking a few of such ballet steps, Miovic wisely completed medical school and entered the widening sphere of Integral Psychology. Since then there has been no distortion of the spiritual mirror for him. He does not deny any of the mysticism he had encountered in the earlier experiments. How do you generalize a land where a Tantric yogi (Oharmananda Swami in this instance) predicts the marriage of an Indian girl to a westerner years and years earlier? Miovic has married the Telugu girl Madhavi and Varun has completed his domestic bliss and given him an assured base to deal with the analyses required for integral psychology.
Sufficiently divorced from all that is frivolous, Initiation gives us an idea to get back to our own first impressions of peoples and places. Pondicherry, for instance. What do we expect to find in an Ashram in India? Footpaths through wooded land, silently murmuring streams, palm-frond cottages, bearded sages with kamandalus in hand, chanting, the homa fire ... We do have an excellent first view of Ppndicherry in 1939 from a Punjabi of the N0l1h West Frontier, Surendranath Jauhaf. In his essay,
‘My Supreme Discovery’ he .speaks of his first impressions: “We saw no such distinctive feature in the design and architecture of the building which could even faintly suggest that it was an Ashram. When we got into the building, we saw a number of people, all in simple and neat dresses, and some even in pants, coats and neck-ties but no saints or sannyasis, no monks or mahants, no shaven heads or jafadharis, no bare-bodied bhaktas or saffron-robed sadhus, no tilak dharis or kan-phatas. Neither did we spot any temple, moortis or granfhs (scriptures).”
Jauhar proceeds further till he sits in the meditation hall and watches the Mother coming down the stairs. In those moments an extraordinary change comes over him, this Divine Mother being his Supreme Discovery, “the miracle of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, where I lost my heart and won the soul and the real life.” A like change comes over Miovic as he sits in meditation near the Samadhi: “The vibration in the area was overwhelmingly powerful, almost unbearable; it felt as heavy as lead, a buzz in my very bones that blotted out my mind, emotions, bodily sensations, everything. Only that crushing vibration existed.” For the rest it remains a chatty day for him as he goes round the Ashram and Auroville with the Gujarati couple, Kartick and Deval. At the same time the friendship with the Ashramite Ashesh reveals to him the right approach to the Mother and his own spiritual progression, for Ashesh rejected Satprem’s works on the Mother as too mental and western.
“It was a simple observation, yet profound. Ashesh was right. I had mentalized Mother, jumped to the idea of some grand bodily transformation without developing the rudimentary sense of devotion to the Divine upon which the entire superstructure of Sri Aurobindo’s supramental yoga is based. In that instant I felt liberated from my past, as if a great burden of spiritual failure had been lifted from my shoulders.”
However, if Pondicherry is here for Miovic, can Ramanashram be far behind? He goes to Tiruvannamalai, “the Indian India, the real thing.” It is of course sparkling fun to watch him eat his first meal off a plantain frond and equally sobering to learn of the supra-physical pull Mount Arunachala exercises on Miovic. He circumambulates the hill, salutes the cow Lakshmi”s samadhi and helps Valli. The next expected stop is Puttaparthi. Unspecified miracles are in the air but they leave Miovic unimpressed. Was there more experimental running around? Whatever that, with the Matrimandir experience of 1997, the wheel of Belier had come full circle for him:
“Since that initiation to Auroville, the supramental force has never returned to me so physically, however, there have been little reminders along the way of the great, Solar living into which we must all eventually emerge ... Progress is often painfully slow, but now I have no doubt that the Supermind is real and that everything Sri Aurobindo has said about the evolution of consciousness is in fact, true.”
The rest of Initiation is a clustering and chirrupy flight as of sparrows, essays and poems that give us a glimpse or the Delight of Existence. Setting foot in the Howing waters of the Ganges at Dhakshineshvvar dissolves all tension, and everything becomes an “undulating vastness and peace, perfect clarity”~ of Cezanne who suffered from psychological complexes reaching an exalting mood akin to “theme in his last Ste. Victoire; overmind’s global sweep of a\Vareness”~ of Jefferson’s Monticello which is shaded by “a glow from some realm of the Ideal”, in keeping with his visionary character that was “touched by the promise of a New Creation”~ of Sunil “whose unschooled but highly intuitive use of the electronic synthesiszer to set Savitri to music explores new vistas of consciousness.” Miovic can find good in Hollywood too, and why not? When he finds Pleasantville to be “a symbol of the manifestation of the psychic being on a collective scale”, his arguments are perfectly ratiocinative.
When such a fine gazer of the skies above and the earth below enters the grove of creative writing, he remains as interesting and star-spangled as ever. A bit of archaeological exploration in the Mayan Palenque that ought to set our nerves a-tingle~ reciting passages from Ilion in Apollo’s temple at Basses during an imaginary travel to Greece would certainly make us reach out for this unfinished epic in hexameters by Sri Aurobindo; giggles a-plenty through the adventure of a boy acting as a Kelly girl~ and all of such stories garnished with a bit of Japan in conclusion. There are also poems of Aurobindonian inspiration. A charming sonnet to Madhavi. Ever since the ancient Tamil poet wondered about the different paths he and his wife had taken only to meet and merge now as the rains from above and the red earth below, the miracle has been recurring all the time.
Somewhere in the middle of Initiation is the solid chunk of essays on integral psychology which bring us to a better understanding of therapies and miracles, of memories cutting across birth and death and of faith as a power by itself. Allopathy stands revealed now as a cure that only creates new complications. The time is come for exploring alternative medicines in a big way and practitioners like Michael Miovic surely hold the key to the secret cave where the East and the West meet as a creative helix. Not mere anllbhllli, darsalla and shraddha then: Initiation is adhula and ananda as well.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Direct experience, sound reasoning, and intuition

From self to Self Tuesday, September 19, 2006 Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Ramakrishna
These personalities play a very important role in my life. They profusely inspire me to discover my inner being, my spirit, my peace, my divine nature. I'm just fascinated even at the suggestion that in reality I'm not the body and the mind, that all this while I have been erroneously identifying myself exclusively with them, and that they are mere instruments of my true being. I'm very much open to these ideas. I believe that there may be something really useful coming out of spiritual practice. I'll postpone my judgment until I do the spiritual experiments, and directly experience for myself!
I feel fortunate to have come into touch with Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Ramakrishna in the last 7 years or so. I'm trying to follow the spiritual path as exemplified and inspired by their lives, teachings, writings. I'm in general interested in ancient Indian philosophy, the Vedanta in particular. Many a times we hear of Vivekananda as a Vibhuti, Aurobindo as a Maharshi and Ramakrishna as an Avatara! Different people revere them differently, as per their faith. I sometimes ask myself what do I think about them? Frankly, I feel at this stage I'm not competent even to think about measuring their Divinity? Avatara is usually understood to be the highest manifestation of the Divine that is possible within a human body. Was Sri Ramakrishna an Avatara then? I don't know. Realisation, as I understand, has many levels of attainment ranging from a non-Avatara (Asura may be!) to an Avatara. My conviction for now is that the above trio were at definitely much, much higher levels of realisation when compared to average human beings. Would I disseminate their spiritual contributions?
First of all, I will never claim or help spread anything with exclusivity. I'll only talk to others about them only to the extent I'm convinced through direct experience, sound reasoning, and intuition in that order. I believe that the methods which work right for me may not be well-suited for another person. I also believe there are many ways to approach the same Truth. My idea of Truth is that by which one knows everything, fears nothing, becomes free of all limitations. I theoretically have problems with anybody fanatically professing just one path, who endorses and/or accepts blind faith, and who follows intolerance and discrimination of any kind. posted by Jiva at 1:16 AM

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Four Events in the Life of Vivekananda that Shaped his Thought

Vivekananda, i.e., Narendranath Datta, was born in 1863 in Calcutta. He was a member of the kayastha, a scribe caste that viewed itself as a sub-caste of the kshatriyas. In 1879 he entered Presidency College in Calcutta, and later he studied at Scottish Church College. In 1884, he received a B.A. degree.
During his time at college, Narendra became acquainted with European philosophy. He studied the positivism of John Stuart Mill and Auguste Comte, the scepticism of David Hume, and the agnostic thought of Herbert Spencer. The works of these European philosophers had been exerting their influence in Bengal for some time. Comte was particularly well known in Bengal. Enthusiasts in Europe had sent positivist "missionaries" to Bengal at one time to spread the word, and Comte came to have a dedicated following there. Thomas Paine's Age of Reason (1794) had, over a period of time, been translated into Bengali. Hume was taught at the Hindu College in Calcutta. And the empiricism and Utilitarianism of J.S. Mill were well known among Bengali intellectuals. Rammohan Roy himself had corresponded with Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart's mentor.
Throughout most of his youth, Narendra maintained a belief in God, a belief that was in part shaped by the teachings of the Brahma Samaj. But as a result of his study of European positivism, in particular Mill's Three Essays on Religion, his faith in theism collapsed. This shattering of his faith was a significant event in the life of young Narendra, and it eventually helped orient him away from theism and motivate him to move toward the Vedanta and Yoga. We find evidence in his later writings of the perceived effects of the Enlightenment critique of religion:
Modern science and its sledge hammer blows are pulverising the porcelain foundations of all dualistic religions everywhere. "The Vedanta," Selections, p. 229
Under the terrific onset of modern scientific research, all the old forts of Western dogmatic religions are crumbling into dust; ... the sledge-hammer blows of modern science are pulverising the porcelain mass of systems whose foundation is either in faith or in belief... "In Defence of Hinduism," Selections, p. 419.
Some time after these events, one of Narendra's friends, Bajendranath Seal, introduced him to the metaphysical monism of Advaita Vedanta and to the Hegelian concept of reason ("the real is the rational, and the rational is the real"). With Bajendra's help, Narendra was able to construct a philosophical perspective that allowed him to ameliorate the effect that positivism and scepticism had exerted upon him. This perspective combined Vedanta with elements of rationalism. This amalgam remained with Narendra throughout his life, and he eventually came to understand Advaita Vedanta as particularly capable of resisting the Enlightenment critique of religion. On the Vedanta, he later writes:
We have seen how here alone we can take a firm stand against all the onrush of logic and scientific knowledge. Here at last reason has a firm foundation.... Therefore, preach the Advaita to everyone so that religion may withstand the shock of modern science. "The Vedanta," Selections, pp. 220; 230.
The influence of empiricism can also be discerned in his later writings; we will return to the question of how he adapted classical empiricism to the Indian tradition by fusing it with yogic mysticism. For now, we can note that he did not agree with the classical empirical view that experience is primarily sensory experience. Concerning empiricism, he asks rhetorically, "Who dares say that the senses are the all-in-all of man?" "The Sages of India," Selections, p. 235
In the years immediately following the death of his spiritual master in 1886, Narendra lived in a small monastery in Baranagore with others disciples. But he grew restless, and so he began wandering the country as samnyasin. During this period, we find Narendra continuing to seek out knowledge and spiritual experience -- meeting with various religious leaders and teachers, receiving instruction in Sanskrit from pandits, and living life as a traditional ascetic.
Narendra's letters from this time display a concern that his growing interest in the welfare of others might be hampering his own quest for spiritual enlightenment and liberation. But sometime during 1893, a change in his attitude begins to take place. A letter written in 1894 reveals that his interest had grown to the point where he had become alarmed by the despair and impoverishment of the people of India. This experience of Indian humiliation was another determinative event in his life, and it proved to be something of a turning point for him.
Other Hindu modernists and Neo-Hindu thinkers had experienced this sense of humiliation as well, and there was a general feeling among them that India, and Hinduism in particular, had grown too accustomed to its spiritual resignation and political inertia. S. Radhakrishnan describes the state of dejection he experienced as a student at Madras Christian College:
I was strongly persuaded of the inferiority of the Hindu religion to which I attributed a political downfall of India.... I remember the cold sense of reality, the depressing feeling that crept over me, as a causal relation between the anaemic Hindu religion and our political failure forced itself on my mind. ("The Spirit of Man")
No doubt, this feeling of inferiority was directly related to India's years of political subjugation. But it was also related to the Indian encounter with European civilization and culture. To an extent, this involved its confrontation with European science, technology, and rationality. But it also involved the social and ethical challenge presented to Hinduism by the Christian missionaries and others. Vivekananda refers to this challenge at various points in his writings; he writes:
Look at the books published in Madras against the Hindu religion. If a Hindu writes such a line against the Christian religion, the missionaries will cry fire and vengeance. "In Defence of Hinduism," Selections, p. 416
This critique of Hinduism took particular aim at Advaita Vedanta. In their attack on the Vedanta, the Christian apologists enlisted the aid of the principle of utility. An article from the Calcutta Review of 1852 reads, "Let Utility then answer if she prefers Vedantism to Christianity." When referring to the superiority of Christianity, the Christian apologists often pointed to the social and ethical consequences of adopting Vedanta. The implication was that the Vedanta lacked the ability to address properly ethical and social concerns.
This idea, that Advaita Vedanta suffers from a kind of "ethical apathy," is traced by its critics to the doctrine of the witness (sakshin), that is, to the teaching that the soul is, in its essence, merely a passive spectator and never truly an active agent (kartr). This is the familiar charge of "quietism," the accusation that contemplative traditions are negligent of the needs of society and theoretically inadequate to the task of social activism. Again, we find evidence that Vivekananda was aware of this critique:
"Oh" they say, "you Hindus have become quiescent and good for nothing, through this doctrine that you are witnesses!" "The Vedanta," Selections, p. 217
The critics of Vedanta also related this doctrine to another problem: Under the auspices of eternalism, any action becomes possible since any action can be rationalized. Bhagavad Gita 2.19 reads, "Neither he who sees the Self as a killer, nor he who sees the Self as killed, sees things correctly. For the Self is not a killer and nor is it killed." Surely, they argued, this sort of teaching is anathema to ethically justifiable conduct. Many centuries earlier, the Jains and Buddhists had raised a similar objection. They pointed out that any doctrine that teaches that the real can only be the permanent (nitya) and unchanging (avicalita; kutastha) reality will teach the akriya-vada, the teaching that nothing can be done, since all action is impossible.
Another way that monism was viewed as ethically challenged was related by its critics to its inability to provide an adequate frame of reference for morality. Again, it is worth noting that the Indian tradition itself had noticed this problem well before the appearance of Christian missionaries in India. The classical critics of Vedanta posed the problem thus: If we are all one Self, then moral retribution in the case of individuals is senseless; and if we are all essentially one with God, then our sins will attach to God. The modernist critique of Advaita continues this line of thought, if in a less sophisticated manner: If duality is illusory, then good and evil do not exist; and if we are all God, then we can do no wrong. In his later writings, Vivekananda also shows an awareness of this type of critique; he writes:
Our boys blithely talk nowadays, they learn from somebody -- the Lord knows whom -- that Advaita makes people immoral, because if we are all one and all God, what need of morality will there be at all! "The Vedanta," Selections, p. 222
With regard to the question of Hinduism, and religion in general, some Indian reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had come to the conclusion that Hinduism itself was to blame for India's political and social stagnation. But there is little indication in his writings that Vivekananda ever seriously entertained this idea. Since his discovery of Vedanta, and his encounter with Ramakrishna, he appears convinced that Hinduism, and Advaita Vedanta in particular, is not the problem, but the solution. For Vivekananda, "spirituality" is India's strength. This meant that, "religion was not to blame; men were to blame."
Determined that he should seek to find a way to improve the lot of the people of India, Narendranath, who at this time begins calling himself Vivekananda, decided to leave India in search of the resources needed to improve the well-being of India's masses. And so, in 1893, he set sail for America. He remained there until 1896, taking occasional excursions to England and Continental Europe. While in the West, he experienced American and European civilization and culture. This exposure to Western lifestyles, and culture in general, was another formative factor in the thought of Vivekananda.
Throughout Vivekananda's writings we find stereotyped descriptions of the "West." Most typically, the West is "materialistic" and dominated, as he puts it, by the ideals of "eating and drinking." But he acknowledges that Europe and America have mastered the "outer world," and he contrasts this with the Indian mastery of the "inner world." Like Keshab Chandra Sen, Vivekananda speaks of the value of an exchange of learning between the two "complementary" cultures:
I would say, the combination of the Greek mind represented by the external European energy added to the Hindu spirituality would be the ideal society for India.... India has to learn from Europe the conquest of external nature, and Europe has to learn from India the conquest of the internal nature.... We have developed one phase of humanity, and they another. It is the union of the two that is wanted. Interview from "The Hindu," (Madras) 1897, Selections, pp. 290-291
At the same time, however, Vivekananda is not as conciliatory toward the West as Rammohan Roy or Keshab Chandra Sen. He insists that India should resist Western social norms and cultural attitudes, and make no concessions to Christianity. It must discover its own hidden potential and recover its forgotten greatness; if anything, it must follow the lead of Japan, which found and maintained its own identity even while learning from the West:
There in Japan you find a fine assimilation of knowledge, and not its indigestion, as we have here. They have taken everything from the Europeans, but they remain Japanese all the same, and they have not turned into Europeans; while in our country, the terrible mania of becoming Westernized has seized upon us like a plague. "Conversations," Selections, p. 386
Nonetheless, there are a number of features of American and European civilization that Vivekananda comes to admire. He admires its technical expertise and science; he admires its industry, vigour and work ethic; he admires its social order, in particular the organization of its educational systems; he admires its ideals of equality and liberty; he admires its traditions of philanthropy, altruism, and cooperative action; and perhaps above all, he admires the self-confidence of the West, to which he attributes its strong sense of national identity.
Upon returning from his travels abroad, Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission, the principle aims of which were to be practical philanthropy and education. In his speeches, Vivekananda himself says that his establishing of the Ramakrishna Mission was directly influenced by his life in America. His opening statement at the inaugural meeting of what will become the Ramakrishna Mission begins thus:
The conviction has grown in my mind after my travels in various lands that no great cause can succeed without an organization. "Conversations," Selections, p. 343.
But the most significant event in the life of Vivekananda was undoubtedly his encounter with Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna (i.e., Gadadhara Chattopadhyaya, 1836-1886) was a temple priest at Daskshineshwar, Bengal, and devotee of the goddess Kali. An ecstatic and mystic, he viewed Hinduism as an organic whole comprised of several different, yet equal, paths to the divine. For Ramakrishna, this equality was a demonstrable truth, and for periods of time, he was alternately a devotee of Rama and Krishna, receiving religious visions of both while practising as their devotee. At the same time, Ramakrishna was also a universalist whose inclusivism went beyond the various forms of cultic Hinduism. He believed that Islam and Christianity were equally paths to God, to the "one water that we all drink," and he thought he could demonstrate, experientially, that this was the case.
We find present in the person and teaching of Ramakrishna the familiar themes of "experience" and "inclusivism." But Ramakrishna was no Hindu modernist, and nor was his teaching, strictly speaking, a form of Neo-Hinduism. He distanced himself from modernist Hindu movements; his negative view of the Brahma Samaj was closer to that of the traditional pandits. Like some of his contemporaries, Ramakrishna referred to the Hindu tradition as the "sanatana dharma," "the eternal religion," and for him this meant that Hinduism was in no need of "reform." Nonetheless, Ramakrishna's universalism, and his conception of Hinduism as a unity, was also a response to the situation of modernity and to the Indian encounter with the West. His teaching can thus be seen as a form of a Hindu self-assertion in that it implies that Hinduism is capable of absorbing the foreign while retaining its self-identity.
Narendra first met with Ramakrishna in 1881, while he was a student at college. At first, Narendra was reticent toward Ramakrishna. He was sceptical of Ramakrishna's "visions" and suspicious of the idolatry practiced around him; nor did he did not share Ramakrishna's emotional and ebullient religiosity. But after several years of association with him, he acquired a fondness for Ramakrishna, and became one of his disciples. He was soon Ramakrishna's favourite, and he would become the best known apostle of Ramakrishna's gospel of universalism. In time, Vivekananda came to share some of his master's fervour for the religious life, though he continued to distance himself from religious sentimentality and emotionalism.
While Narendra did not seek to relive the various devotional experiences of his master, Ramakrishna did immerse him in mystical spirituality, and under his tutelage, Narendra underwent a series of mystical experiences. For Narendra, such experience was the final proof of religion, the refutation of scepticism, and the answer to positivism.
As a mature devotee, Vivekananda came to regard Ramakrishna as an incarnation of God. He viewed him as a kind of "living commentary" on Hinduism, as the embodiment of its vitality and truth, and the fulfilment of its potential. While there is no reason to doubt that Vivekananda's devotion to his master was real, he also made use of the traditional cult of the guru to forward his own agenda and to propagate his own teachings. After the death of his teacher in 1886, Vivekananda believed that the spirit of Ramakrishna was working through him. But while Ramakrishna may have been a source of inspiration and grounding for Vivekananda, he was not the primary source of Vivekananda's ideas. Ramakrishna was not a Neo-Vedantin; nor did he share Vivekananda's later interests in "practical Vedanta," philanthropy and education. Nonetheless, when confronted by these differences, Vivekananda presented himself as the "instrument" of his master. posted by kelamuni at 11:35 AM

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Where we come from and where we are

Teaching Hinduism in America can be a challenge The Associated Press SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006-->Published: September 9, 2006
"To be Hindu in America is much more an intentional choice than it is in India," said Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies and director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University. "Even if you're first generation, you have to decide if you perpetuate it or if you just kind of let it go." ...
When Indian immigrants started coming to the United States in larger numbers, after the 1965 revamping of immigration laws, they carried their religious traditions on as best they could, meeting for prayers and worship at one another's homes, or renting public spaces, said Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.
The first temples started being built in the late 1970s — the Ganesh Temple among them — and construction continues to this day, as Hindu communities around the country continue to grow. But while those temples are designed like temples in India, the founders realized over the years they would have to operate differently than they do in India, Rambachan said.
That's because religious culture is different in the United States. The various Christian denominations separate themselves from each other and define themselves by the doctrines they follow, he noted, but Hinduism in India doesn't operate the same way. There, a single religion covers a wide spectrum of gods and beliefs. In America, Hindus "are increasingly being challenged to articulate the Hindu tradition in a manner that places more emphasis on doctrine," Rambachan said. "People will ask, 'What do you believe?'"
Faced with that, temples and cultural organizations that had been working to make outsiders understand more about the faith realized they needed to help young Indian-Americans know what they believed, if the religion was going to be passed on. "If we don't do our part, we will lose these youngsters," Mysorekar said. "There was a lot of foundation we had to lay even to exist as Hindus among non-Hindus," she said. "Now it is for us to do the job within our own community."
They looked for inspiration at the institutions here, like the formal religious education of Sunday school classes, Rambachan said. That wasn't the only inspiration, though. Around the country, some organizations have decided to use the method of that most American of summer pastimes — camp. Shivraj spent a couple of weeks this summer helping her mother, a classical Indian singer, run a weeklong camp on Indian heritage, which included sessions on religion. And in Rochester, New York, more than 150 children between the ages of 8 and 15 took part in the Hindu Heritage Summer Camp, where lessons in philosophy and religious practice were followed by swimming sessions and arts and crafts.
With a heavy emphasis on having college-age Indian-Americans leading the camp and teaching the younger attendees, camp organizers hope to pass on a solid understanding of Hindu philosophy and culture while still giving the children a fun summer experience. "If we don't know where we come from and where we are," said Dr. Padmanabh Kamath, president of the camp, "we are lost."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Intuition: The Faculty of the Future

Way to learning: Bookish And Mechanical System Must End Mohit Chakrabarty The Statesman
Education today is under stress and strain. Learners are burdened, teachers bewildered, parents and guardians perturbed. Apart from the fact that Sri Aurobindo has spoken of integral education for the future, his primary concern was education to kindle consciousness which would bring a vibration in the mind. Sri Aurobindo observes: “The intellectual understanding is only the lower buddhi; there is another and a higher buddhi which is not intelligence but vision, is not understanding but overstanding in knowledge, and does not seek knowledge and attain it in subjection to the data it observes but possesses already the truth and brings it out in the terms of a revelatory and intuitional thought.
Intuitive mind“The nearest the human mind usually gets to this truth-conscious knowledge is that imperfect action of illumined finding which occurs when there is a great stress of thought and the intellect electrified by constant discharges from behind the veil and yielding to a higher enthusiasm admits a considerable instreaming from the intuitive and inspired faculty of knowledge. For there is an intuitive mind in man which serves as a recipient and channel for these instreamings from a supramental faculty.” (The Writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother).
This “instreaming” in education refers to the fact that our true teacher is neither knowledge nor understanding but careful, judicious, foolproof, scientific, objective and dynamic application of intuition which, according to Sri Aurobindo, is “our first teacher”. He asserts: “Intuition always stands veiled behind our mental operations. “Intuition brings to man those brilliant messages from the Unknown which are the beginning of his higher knowledge. Reason only comes in afterwards to see what profit it can have of the shining harvest. Intuition gives us that idea of something behind and beyond all that we know and seem to be which pursues man always in contradiction of his lower reason and all his normal experience and impels him to formulate that formless perception in the more positive ideas of God. Immortality, Heaven and the rest by which we strive to express it to the mind”. (Intuition: The Faculty of the Future).
Apart from the fact that the future of education depends on a total overhauling of the stereotyped system of bookish and mechanical learning and teaching, the three things that, according to Sri Aurobindo, are necessary are elimination of the so-called schools in the name of educational institutions, the replacement of teachers with those from the immediate community who would voluntarily and spontaneously contribute to creativity, aesthetic advancement and critical thinking, and finally, the replacement of education itself making room for an evolving, thrilling and a new way of life. Nevertheless, what is of absolute importance in creating a new future of education is revelation.
  • What sort of revelation does Sri Aurobindo consider significant and apposite?
  • Should a teacher or a learner be satisfied with inspiration alone?

The world of education or, more prominently and meaningfully, the world of the way of life now and for centuries to come, looks forward to nurturing of direct knowledge and vision with freshness and spontaneity leading to intuitive inspiration and crystallised action. Not suggestive intuition but quick and judicious discrimination between right and wrong, the genuine and the artificial, the core and the superfluous. In the words of Sri Aurobindo, ”The action of the intuitive mind must complete the action of the rational intelligence and it may wholly replace it and do more powerfully the peculiar and proper work of the intellect itself; it may explain more intimately to us the secret of the form, the strands of the process, the inner cause, essence, mechanism of the defects and limitations of the work as well as of its qualities.

“For the intuitive intelligence when it has been sufficiently trained and developed, can take up always the work of the intellect and do it with a power and light and insight greater and surer than the power and light of the intellectual judgment in its widest scope. There is an intuitive discrimination which is more keen and precise in its sight than the reasoning intelligence”. The crisis of education lies in our inability to identify the loopholes that stand in the way of a new future. The education of apathy and ignorance must be replaced by the education of harmony and sympathy. True to his vision of the new education of the future, Sri Aurobindo wanted us to create a new global village of humanity where education stands for an all-embracing effort to build an integrated personality.
In creating a new future of education, exploring, experimenting and disseminating the education of the heart is not only essential but also obligatory. The ideal of human unity, as Sri Aurobindo advocates, is entirely based on how to revitalise education that promises ascent and excellence of man. A new approach to creating a new future in and through education will always welcome a regeneration of consciousness of the beyond that has its starting point with excellence leading to further excellence that beckons beyond humanity. Learner’s attitudeThe emergence of a new future in education ought to be rooted in the attitude towards the learner. This is particularly relevant to the child who looks forward to catholicity of attitude, love and understanding, appreciation and feeling.
As regards the principles of true teaching, Sri Aurobindo’s invaluable observation might serve as a permanent guideline to the future teacher: “The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not a task-master, he is a helper and a guide. His business is to suggest and not to impose. He does not actually train the pupil’s mind, he only shows him how to perfect his instruments of knowledge and helps and encourages him in the process. He does not impart knowledge to him, he shows him how to acquire knowledge that is within; he only shows him where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface. The distinction that reserves this principle for the teaching of the adolescent and adult minds and denies its application to the child is a conservative and unintelligent doctrine. “Child or man, boy or girl, there is only one sound principle of good teaching. Difference of age only serves to diminish or increase the amount of help and guidance necessary; it does not change its nature”. (A System of National Education).