The written canon of this knowledge and wisdom has at its heart classic texts including
(1) the main Upanishads
(2) the Brahma Sutras, that summarise and reconcile possible confusions within the Upanishads
(3) the Bhagavad Gita.
These texts are considered to be the core and heart of ‘Vedanta’. Most yogis also follow the teachings of these texts along with the more specific technical advice in Yogic texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. We now say that all of these texts and teachings are part of Hinduism, but bear in mind when they were all given as oral teachings, and later written in Sanskrit, there was no Hinduism. Hinduism is a much more recent terminology and concept. In that millenium before the AD period, and before, there were the people who followed the Vedas, the Vedic religion and philosophy. The Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita were the heart of the mystical or metaphysical arm of the Vedic way, for those who wished to go beyond ritual and daily observances. Meditation, various ways of meditation are a mainstay of these texts.
Through the last four to five months of the Covid-19 pandemic ‘Stay at home’ orders I found myself taking to an intensive re-study of this Vedanta lore. I began studying it with my first yoga teacher in the 1970s; he ran a Sivananda Ashram connected to the original Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India. In the 1980s I studied vedanta in greater depth and intensity with Sri Ramamurti Mishra, at his ashrams in California and the New York countryside. He taught us Sanskrit and the texts were studied by chanting them in the Sanskrit and then his touching, personalised, moving commentaries in a lilting, Indian-English that still rings musically in my mind when I think of those times. Finally, in 1984 and ’85, in India I spent time at the Sivananda Ashram at Rishikesh. One of Swami Sivananda’s chief students, and a recognized Sage of Vedanta in his own right, Swami Krishnananda was present there. After all the morning meditation, ritual and prayer my wife helped us find our way to Swami Krishnananda’s small office room and there we would sit with a dozen or so other followers as he attended to Ashram correspondence. Letters came from followers all across the world. As he answered them he would talk to us about what he was drawing upon in answering their personal and spiritual troubles and enquiries. And he would answer our questions, and sometimes launch into discourses on the deep topics that arose.
It was a wonderful privilege and memorable opportunity to sit close to this living, breathing master of all of the wisdom of the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita. Not that I understood a quarter of what he was imparting to us, but even that much was enormous. And now, in this time of Covid-19 enforced retreat, it is the writings of that same Swami Krishnananda (dec. 2001) that I have discovered anew. I have been devouring them every day as the centre of my personal meditation retreat over this time. It was less than a year ago that I discovered that hundreds of his talks and his books have all been posted on a website. From there I have printed his Philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita and dozens of his commentaries on Upanishads and Brahma Sutras. As I read them on winter days in our north facing window, looking out on a small garden of flowers and baby trees, I find that discovering these wisdom texts anew throws me into profound meditation. It is a wonderful thing. It is like the experience 40 years ago sitting in the chanting, teaching and meditation sessions with Sri Ramamurti, and 35 years ago sitting with the Venerable Swami Krishnananda in India. Often I can only read one paragraph before needing to drift away from the reading and into the domain of consciousness that the text is pointing the reader towards.
After 1985 I became a teacher of meditation, mostly in healthcare settings. I became part of that early wave of ‘Natural and Complementary healthcare’ that included a spiritual/meditative dimension, that preceded the modern surge of interest in ‘Mindfulness’. Teaching in healthcare settings meant downplaying the ancient, Vedic (and Buddhist, for that matter) roots of meditation. It meant keeping it simplified, practical and non-aligned. Now is my time of life to return to my original motivation, seeking the deepest dimension of where meditation can take us in our cosmic existence. For everything there is a season. It seems that the season of Covid-19 is such a season for me. And for how many other people, I wonder?
More on what is in these wonderful teachings of Vedanta, of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and the rest, in coming posts.
OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTIH