31 of 31 Questions for Reflection. Today’s question is inspired by reading Dṛg Dṛsya 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?”