Hold It All

Category: India

“Renounce and Enjoy”

Mohandas Gandhi used the Bhagavad Gita as his go-to source for dealing with life’s daily problems and issues.  A short book of 700 verses, the Gita grounded and inspired Gandhi throughout his life.  Like other  Indians of  spiritual stature, he even wrote a commentary on the classic text in the 1920s.

I recently read Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda’s translation,  Bhagavad Gita:  The Song of God. Having once worked at a Jesuit university, I was intrigued by the Gita’s insistence on matters relating to action, which may strike some people as peculiar, if not terribly wrong-headed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Aiming for the Supreme Goal in Life

Dear Perry

I am sending out the following to a few of my friends, Bengali-Americans, who haven’t heard of Sri Anandamayi Ma. I think they’ll be open to her.

I’m grateful we read her before I went to law school.

Namaste forever,

Tanya

 

It was reported that various Indian philosophers and scholars said to the Bengali mystic Sri Anandamayi Ma: “We have studied dry scriptures. But, we now see before us, a living embodiment of all that is contained in our holy books of wisdom.”

Sri Anandamayi Ma passed from this life in 1982. Even though we no longer have the opportunity of darshan of her “living embodiment,” we still can learn something from Joseph Fitzgerald’s The Essential Sri Anandamayi Ma: Life and Teachings of a 20th Century Indian Saint.  Given the pace of our lives, the intense pressures to achieve success, and our nagging sense of being frequently adrift, an acquaintance with Ma is a step toward sanity.

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First, we can ponder reflections from Ma’s biographer, Alexander Lipski, like the following…

I felt as though I was mentally stripped naked. It seemed to me that she could see into the innermost recesses of my mind. I asked her to tell me what the chief obstacles on my spiritual path were. In response she revealed to me some glaring shortcomings of which I had been hitherto totally unaware. What She said was in no way flattering, in fact, painful, but Anandamayi Ma said it so compassionately, although firmly, that I did not feel condemned. I realized what true loving detachment was. Read the rest of this entry »

After Reading a 2002 Book by Arundhati Roy

What is happening to our world is almost too colossal for human comprehension to contain. But it is a terrible, terrible thing. To contemplate its girth and circumference, to attempt to define it, to try and fight it all at once, is impossible. The only way to combat it is by fighting specific wars in specific ways. A good place to begin would be the Narmada Valley. In the present circumstances, the only thing in the world worth globalizing, is dissent.

–Arundhati Roy, Power Politics, 86

 

What Roy Teaches Me:

You have to do research, as the neo-liberal devil is in the details.

You have to walk with people struggling and accompany and risk with them.

You have to incarnate your freedoms, lest they fall into rhetoric that is debased from desuetude.

You have to ask the fundamental questions—who benefits, who pays, who get marginalized?

You have to be SMART, with goals and targets, and relentlessness. Read the rest of this entry »

Gita/Gandhi

Not agitated
By grief nor hankering after pleasure,
They livs free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments,
They  are not elated by good fortune
Nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers.
–Gita, chapter 2

Strength of numbers is the delight of the timid.
The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone.
–Gandhi

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A man should reshape himself through the power of the will.
He should never let himself be degraded by self-will.
The will is the only friend of the Self,
And the will is the only enemy of the Self.
–Gita, chapter 6

Strength does not come from physical capacity.
It comes from an indomitable will.
–Gandhi

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Unerring in discrimination
Sovereign of the senses and passions
Free from the clamor of likes and dislikes…
–Gita, Chapter 18

Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt,
in the suffering involved,
not in the victory itself.
–Gandhi

 

–Translations by Eknath Easwaran

The Good News of Giving and Receiving Books, 6.26.2017

Ten years ago, because of a Social Justice theology class, I got to know Melissa Banerjee, a Bengali-American.  It made sense to me to give her a hardback edition of the The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  Later on, after staying several weeks in India, she brought back to me Letters of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna’s foremost disciple. Melissa inscribed the book this way: “Dr C., Hope this brings  you a small ‘piece’ of the peace I experienced at Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission and Math at Belur, Kolkata.”

This selection of Vivekananda’s letters  range from 1888 to 1902, and address members of his community as well as  Westerners eager to learn more about Indian spirituality.   The following is a small sample  of passages I noted of the swami’s observations, advice, exhortation, and insight…

On the Buddha: His greatness lies in his unrivaled sympathy. 18

Have faith in yourselves, great convictions are the mothers of great deeds.  64

Every soul is a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance, the difference between soul and soul is due to the difference in density of these layers of clouds.  69 Read the rest of this entry »

Spiritual Passage to India

Love everyone, feed everyone, and remember God.
Neem Karoli Baba

I recently gave Ram Dass’s Be Here Now to Laura,  an exceptional Maryville University  graduate  and psychology major. Previously,  I had mentioned to her that part early in the book about Richard Alpert’s growing disenchantment as an upwardly mobile psychology prof and his eventual breakdown/breakthrough with Neem Karoli Baba (“Maharajji”), who became his guru. I thought she might appreciate both the design of the book and some of the teachings, which she’d probably not come across in upper-level psych courses.

Like Ram Dass a devotee of Maharajji, Parvati Markus has recently compiled ardent testimonies  in Love Everyone: The Transcendent Wisdom of Neem Karoli Baba Told through the Stories of the Westerners Whose Lives He Transformed.  The influential psychologist Daniel Goleman was one of those Westerners, and his experience in India was crucial to developing a more holistic and powerful psychology:  “In the West I had been in the heart of American psychology, and here was a sea of love, totally off the map of Western psychology. It was so clear that we had missed something really important about human abilities, human potential, about the heart. Here was a being who was endless love and presence. It wasn’t some temporary state; it was who he was. That’s what really got me.”

Markus’s book covers the years 1968 to 1973. Many people went  to India at a young age (late teens, early twenties), and eventually returned to the U.S. to integrate what they had experienced in ashrams and following the guru around India. People went into the professions, raised families, got stuck,  got unstuck, achieved fame (e.g., Krishna Das).  All of them had been marked for life by  Maharajji, as the following remarks indicate… Read the rest of this entry »

I Beseech You, Orianne Aymard

Peace and harmony appear so closely woven in every cell of her being that the spirits of darkness would search in vain for a loophole.

–Melita Maschmann, Encountering Bliss: My Journey through India with Ānandamayī Mā

 

My PhD was in the area of Religion and Society, sociology religion and social ethics, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Previously, as Master’s student at the Maryknoll School of Theology, I studied with Venezuelan sociologist Otto Maduro, who had written a sociology of Latin American religion employing ideas from Pierre Bourdieu. It was an exhilarating study which made sense of that part of the Catholic Church that had been making a preferential option for the poor.

Over the last several years, I’ve read several works on the life and influence of the Bengali spiritual force, Sri Anandamayi Ma. I was delighted to read a new book by Orianne Aymard, who employs theorists like Bourdieu, Jurgen Habermas, and Max Weber to make sense of how a community and institution continue after the death of the charismatic leader. Her title reveals the stakes of this inquiry: When a Goddess Dies: Worshipping Ma Anandamayi after Her Death (Oxford University Press, 2014). The author investigate topics like the postmortem cult of the guru, the significance of relics, the meanings of the guru’s death, dreams and visions of the guru after death, and the future of the cult, given the struggle over the monopoly of religious power.

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Dr. Aymard interviewed devotees, both Indian and Western, old-timers and new enthusiasts, and I found fascinating what they had to say about her. Here is a small sample: Read the rest of this entry »

On the Street Meditation

The swami told me to make japam while I walked and to give everybody I met on a street a mental blessing. You weren’t to think of yourself with a feeling of superiority, as a holy man blessing worldlings; you were simply saluting the Atman within each fellow human being.

— Christopher Isherwood, My Guru and His Disciple

homeless-man-please-help
NYC; photo by Mev Puleo

Japam=repetition of the mantra

Saluting the Ātman

Dear Sunil,

Thought I’d share one of my recent reading binges with you. I read a book late spring called American Veda, about how Indian thought has influenced the USA (from Thoreau and Emerson through the Beatles and beyond).   In that work, I read a few pages on Christopher Isherwood, a British novelist and pacifist who came to the US in the late 30s (he was best friends with the renowned poet W.H. Auden). He couldn’t stomach NYC so he moved to Los Angeles where, through the acquaintanceship with a couple English expats (one of whom Aldous Huxley, who wrote the dystopian novel, Brave New World, and a spiritual classic, The Perennial Wisdom) he met Swami Prabhavananda, who was a member of the Ramakrishna Order in Calcutta (did I ever recommend  The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna? [am i too parenthetical?]).

So I’ve read several of Isherwood’s books and translations with the Swami of some Hindu classics.  I  offer you the following passages for your perusal and enjoyment.

Perry

If I had to use one single word to describe the atmosphere of the Gospel narrative, it would be the word Now. The majority of us spend the greater part of our lives in the future or the past—fearing or desiring what is to come, regretting what is over. M. shows us a being who  lives in continuous contact with that which is eternally present. God’s existence has no relation to past or future; it is always as of now. To be with Ramakrishna was to be in the presence of that Now.  Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples, 279

Narendra, who became Swami Vivekananda: Ever since our first meeting, it was the Master alone who always had faith in me—no one else, not even my own mother and brothers. That faith and that love of his have bound me to him forever. The Master was the only one who knew how to love and who really loved. Worldly people only feign love to gratify their own self-interest.  Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples, 216

We spend a very small proportion of our time thinking logical, consecutive thoughts. it is within the reverie that our passions and prejudices—often s terrible in their consequences—build themselves up, almost unnoticed, out of slogans, newspaper headlines, chance-heard words of fear and greed and hate, which have slipped into our consciousness through our unguarded eyes and ears. Our reverie expresses what we are, at any given moment. The mantra, by introducing God into the reverie, must produce  profound subliminal changes.  These may not be apparent for some time, but, sooner or later, they will inevitably appear—first in the prevailing mood and disposition of the individual; then in  a gradual change of character.  Isherwood, Ramakrishna and His Disciples, 107

Read the rest of this entry »

A Disciple and His Guru

Dear Max,

I never read Christopher Isherwood until this summer.  What drew me to him was not his  fictional  output but his spiritual journey.  My Guru and His Disciple is his engaging memoir of several decades living under the influence of Swami Prabhavananda in Los Angeles.  Having been introduced to  “intentional living” by one of the Swami’s British students, Isherwood had to overcome the hostility toward  religiosity he’d cultivated in England.  Eventually, after his long apprenticeship with this Hindu teacher, he came to see that “[m]y religion is almost entirely what I glimpse of Swami’s spiritual experience.”  As you’ve generously given me selected gems from James Baldwin’s essays, I thought I’d give you a sampling from this book: what Swami Prabhavananda said, what Isherwood thought about his guru, and  what were some particulars  of the writer’s own spiritual practice.

Present moment, only moment,

Perry

1.

“Whenever you think of God, He thinks of you.”

“Why do you read novels? All books that do not give the word of God are just a trash.” Read the rest of this entry »