Thursday, 16 April 2015

Approaching the Bhagavad Gita - Lost in translation, the looting of Yoga

This is fun.... and timely, a critique of picking up a text from another culture and (re)interpreting it willy nilly,...., deinstructing it, oops did I mean deconstructing... (nope right the first time), without first studying the text closely with a suitably qualified and capable teacher immersed in that culture. It can be done perhaps but there are dangers that one should be very much aware of, as well as how qualified the person is to take up such a destruction..... oops again, did I mean deconstruction.... (nope, right the.... well you get the idea).

I have enough concerns every time I pick up the Greeks (and I went to Uni originally to study Classics... before switching to (Continental) Philosophy in the 2nd year following a stunning Greek Phil. lecture).... different Worldview Heidegger said, all awe and emerging.

Here's an outline then of some of the dangers of approaching the Gita ( there's mention of a fb link to the discussion which will allow you to read rebuttal https://www.facebook.com/sean.feit/posts/10206076878465096?hc_location=ufi), enough to give you pause perhaps and approach with caution as well as delight and wonder.






And yet the Gita fascinates and infuriates me and it's oh so achingly beautiful ...and terrible ( not in the sense of bad) at the same time. A couple of years back I had the audacity to post on it with this post on seeking the original Gita, 

The Gita as it was

I struggled with it then and struggle with it now in relation to my limited understanding of Samkhya and poor old yoga stuck somewhere in the middle.

Help is at hand, my teacher Srivatsa Ramaswami is coming to the UK  ( for the last time supposedly) to teach a ten day (TEN DAYS! not just a couple of hours if you're lucky on a yoga Alliance 200hr TT). Ramaswami studied the Gita verse by verse with his teacher T. Krishnamacharya over something like three years. 

Krishnamacharya would supposedly go through the text word by word line by line without any commentary, then when you had a grasp of the text, he would look at the major commentaries and only then introduce his own cautious reading. How different that is from now when so many teachers seem to begin with their own reading.... and book tour. 

I was lucky enough to attend Ramaswami's two week course on the Yoga Sutras in which he took this word by word, line by line approach and was in awe of how he wish fish out and translate relevant related verses from other texts as well as related stories his grandmother taught him, a reading immersed in the culture.

Unfortunately I'm in Japan and wont be able to attend but if there is any possibility of your attending and your wavering have a watch/listen to the video above and then sign up.

Here are the details.


Ramswami studied with Krishnamacharya for over thirty years
"This is the only picture taken of me with my Guru. And it was the only time I sat alongside my teacher. On all the hundreds of times I met him, it used to be me standing or sitting in front of him". Srivatsa Ramaswami

THE BHAGAVAT GITA
16th – 28th May, 2015, 70 hours, 13 days.
NEW! You may now attend for just part of this programme if you book consecutive days, starting on 16th May. Contact Steve to discuss. Bookings close Friday 1st May, 19:00hrs (BST). Ramaswami has let us know that this will be his last teaching visit to the UK.
Wells Museum Conference Room, Wells, Somerset.
Sri Krishnamacharya was a versatile teacher. In addition to yogasanas he taught vedic chanting and taught several texts like the Yoga Sutras, Brahma Sutras, and of course the Bhagavat Gita.
He truly lived up to his given name Krishnamacharya, meaning Krishna the teacher/preceptor.
His teaching of the Gita had a unique depth and flavour as he was a practicing yogi, not just an academician.
In this program the Bhagavat Gita (The teachings of the Lord) will be gone through verse by verse, as I studied with my Guru. It deals with the entire range of human experience and endeavours and the Lord’s guidance to everyone to go through life fruitfully and reach the ultimate spiritual state of Yoga.
Cost £750 (non-residential)
- See more at: http://www.harmonyyoga.co.uk/ramaswami-uk-visit-2015/#sthash.QPQId7T0.dpuf


*

See my Srivatsa Ramaswami resource page


Appendix



And this post from a couple of years back where I came home to find the Gita had jumped out of my bookcase and was lying by my mat, freaky LINK

Here's Ramaswami mentioning the GIta and other texts worthy of study from the excellent Wildyogi interview

"Any other books, besides essential scriptures, that should be studied?

As yoga teachers you must be familiar with various texts. Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Yoga Yajnavalkya – these three texts... Yoga Upanishads are there, but they are not very accessible, some of them are repetitive. You can still have a look at them. This is all with respect to Hatha Yoga. There is also other text – it is not a text, it is part of the Purana – it is called Sutra Samhita. It is not very important, just an additional material.

Then you can probably think about Samkhya Karika. It is work of 75 shlokas or so, like Yoga Sutras it is also very concise, and a beautifully written text. Lot of things that are taken for granted in Yoga Sutras can be found there. For instance, the three Gunas, the evolution from the Mulah Prakriti explained very well, Transmigration; number of other concepts that are taken for granted by yogis can be found there. English translations are available; English commentaries are also available. Samkhya is one of the six traditional Indian Philosophies. Samkhya, Yoga, and Vedanta form a compact group. They  all talk about Nivriti Shastras – how to stop the Transmigration.

Go through the Yoga Sutras, get a good outline of that, then try to support it by Bhagavad Gita from one side, and Samkhya Karika on the other side. Bhagavad Gita will be very helpful, because it is very “user-friendly”, not like the Yoga Sutras. Yoga Sutras are very dry – Bhagavad Gita tries to explain. In fact, you don't need any commentary for it, because same ideas explained over and over again. Arjuna was a warrior, not an intellectual.

Then once you are familiar with these texts, then you can read some of the Upanishads, Upanishad Vidyas. 
Vedas per se might not be of much importance to us. It contains lot of rituals, things like this. More important thing for people who study Yoga is to study Upanishads. The Upanishads portions is the Thought, philosophical ideas are contained there, and there are many.

Can you give some advice on approaching Upanishads study?

There is one called Chandogya Upanishad, another one called Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. Katha Upanishad is another Upanishad that is very important. Another important Upanishad is Prashna Upanishad. It is a series of questions and answers. 

Smaller ones are Taittiriya Upanishad -  Panchakosha Vidya discusses 5 koshas (sheaths): Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Anandamaya, Vijnanamaya, Anandamaya. They are dealt with in Taittriya Upanishad. Again, it is the same subject, but approached in a different way: body made of 5 koshas, like in Yoga Sutras we have 24 Tattvas (principles). Then there is another Upanishad, called Mandukya Upanishad; it talks of the meaning of Pranava Mantra, Om. Om divided to 3 phases, states (Avasthas), A-U-M. Akara related to a waking state (Jagrat), Ukara – dream state (Svapna), and Makara is a deep sleep state (Sushupti). Omkara, AUM is the state that is beyond all three, called Turiya-avastha, or Turiya-samadhi. These ideas are taken up in the  Mandukya Upanishad, and commentaries been written. This is another important Upanishad Krishnamacharya taught. 

In Chandogya Upanishad there is a Vidya called Sat Vidya. Sat means “that which is true, unchanging, permanent, or that which exists”. That refers to anything that exist forever - Brahman or the Ultimate Reality, according to them. The way they go about explaining it, it is all anecdotes – it is a nice story. It is a dialog between father and son. The son goes to the teacher and excels, after studying for a number of years. Then he comes home proud of this knowledge, thinking his father doesn't know anything. His father gets upset of his attitude, and teaches him a lesson, teaches him. It is a beautiful story. In that they say main Mahavakya (great pronouncement), called “tat tvam asi”. Tat is the Ultimate Reality, Tvam “you are one of the same”. There is another Vidya called Bhuma Vidya. There are number of them. Same idea, but they are trying to put it in so many different ways. I asked my teacher, “There is only one Brahman, why are there so many different Vidyas?” He said, it all depends on attitude of different people. Different people – different questions arise. They tried so many ways to put across the idea... If you like, go and buy a book on Upanishads, and then look for these Vidyas. Otherwise what happens, you give it a general reading, there are a lot of things that may not be of much interest to us. 

There is also another Upanishad I told you about, Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. It has another Vidya, Madhu Vidya. Madhu means the sweetest part of the flower, nectar. In that, they try to tell you what is the sweetest thing – again they go to the Brahman. It is where Sage Yajnavalkya tells his wife he was going to partition  his property and become a recluse. I've told you this story. So there are stories, sometimes direct discussion between a teacher and the student, that way they made it very interesting.
Take some of the Upanishads, try to find out which interpretation you like, whether it is Vashishtadvaita, or Advaita, or Dvaita. Advaita seems to be most popular, more and more books has been written on that.
So like that, you take one of these, and then when time permits, try to go understand. You can interest yourself by studying Upanishads, doing one Upanishad after the other. Because you may not find teachers straight away, it may be a good idea to read them, try to find a book that explains them in easily understandable terms. Just don't go to the scholarly/academic works, they are going to make it difficult".


And here's the first of four parts one of Ramaswami's lectures on Yoga


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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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