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Vivekananda & A Simple Practice January 13, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, January 12th. You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“…and he came out of it, and began to laugh, when he realised what a hideous dream he had had — he, the king of the gods, to have become a pig, and to think that that pig-life was the only life! Not only so, but to have wanted the whole universe to come into the pig-life!”

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– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Yoga is a simple practice. It’s not easy, but it is simple. Anyone can do it, if they really want to do it (and are willing to figure out the method of practice that is best for them). The first two limbs of the 8-limb philosophy make up an ethical component (similar to commandments and precepts found in other systems). The next two limbs make up the physical practice, which are a way to test out the ethics and also prepare for the higher levels of practice. The fifth limb is the segue between the first half of the practice and the second half and the last three limbs make up the meditation aspect of the practice.

See? Simple.

Yet, as simple as the practice is, it is not one-dimensional. It’s not even two-dimensional. This practice has a lot of dimensions – and sometimes it seems the deeper we go the more layers we find.

On a very basic level, it’s a physical-mental practice. Even people who say that it’s just an exercise, have to admit that you can’t exercise your body without using your mind. By that same token, we are sensational beings, which means there is an emotional component to anything that engages our minds and bodies – especially when it deliberately engages the mind-body. The works of the ancient yogis (and even the words of the modern yogis) tell us that our energy/spirit is engaged in the practice; but, let’s say you don’t want to get into that. Let’s say you just want to keep it as basic as possible. Let’s just start with the mind-body.

Although I started this post with a quote about a pig, I want you to think about a frog. Funny thing, as we know from the Yoga Sūtras, there’s a lot of space – a lot of ether – between you sensing a frog (or even the word “frog”) and your brain/mind-intellect communicating that there’s a frog. If we were to concentrate-focus-meditate on the idea of a frog, then we also have to acknowledge that there’s the word (or the thing), the meaning of the word (and the thing), plus the essence of the word (and the thing). We also have to acknowledge, and this again comes up in the sūtras, that at this given moment we are not all thinking about and/or visualizing the same frog.

Even if we only think in terms of the physical practice of yoga, there are lots of different asanas called “frog pose.” If a group is comprised of a people who all practice with the same teacher(s), who inevitable teach(es) the same set of poses and only one of them is “Frog Pose,” the likelihood that people will start moving into the same pose when it is suggested is fairly probable. However, the probability of the group immediately thinking about the same “frog pose” diminishes as people’s experience increases. I’ve actually seen this happen in a class in real time and it can cause some confusion and frustration. Sometimes people just laugh about the confusion and let the frustration go; it’s just a random pose after all. No big deal. But, imagine if people in the group thought it was a really big deal. Imagine if people were really attached to getting it “right.”

Spoiler Alert: Most of you already got it “wrong.”

“Now comes the practical knowledge. What we have just been speaking about is much higher. It is away above our heads, but it is the ideal. It is first necessary to obtain physical and mental control. Then the realization will become steady in that ideal. The ideal being known, what remains is to practice the method of reaching it.”

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– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.28 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Born Narendranath Datta, on January 12,1863, Swami Vivekananda was one of nine children born into a relatively wealthy and prestigious Bengali Kayastha family. He was known as “Narendra” or “Naren” until sometime after he took his formal monastic vows at the age of 23 (on Christmas Eve 1886). Similar to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, there were elders in the future swami’s family (particularly his grandfather) and he developed an interest in Indian philosophy at an early age. His interest was encouraged by his father, Vishwantha Datta, who was a lawyer and novelist, and his mother, Bhubaneswari Devi, who was a devout housewife. He had a quick mind, a phenomenal memory, and he grew up meditating to images of Shiva, Rama, Sita, and Hanuman; however, it also seems like he was very much a little kid who did little kid things.

He received high marks in school and earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1884, after studying everything from religion, philosophy, history, social science, fine arts, and literature to classical Indian music and Western logic and philosophy. I’m not sure which way his life would have gone were it not for a series of serendipitous incidences. First, he attended a lecture about William Wordsworth’s 1814 poem “The Excursion: being a portion of The Recluse, a poem,” which chronicles the life of man whose personal grief and social disillusionment causes his to choose isolation over society. In the ensuing discussion, the professor suggested that the students should visit with a mystic in order to better understand the state of a “trance.”

That mystic was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya). The two met around 1881, and while Swami Vivekananda didn’t immediately become a formal student – in fact, he disagreed with much of what Ramakrishna was teaching – he stuck around, listening to lectures and engaging in conversation. When his father died in 1884, Swami Vivekananda become a devoted and noted disciple, formally becoming a member of a newly-formed monastic order shortly before Ramakrishna’s death in 1886. By 1888, he was living the life of a “wandering monk,” surviving and traveling courtesy of the generosity of others and sharing Ramakrishna’s teachings throughout India.

“And the Yogi shows how, by junction with nature, and identifying itself with the mind and the world, the Purusha thinks itself miserable. Then the Yogi goes on to show you that the way out is through experience. You have to get all this experience, but finish it quickly. We have placed ourselves in this net, and will have to get out. We have got ourselves caught in the trap, and we will have to work out our freedom…. [Experience] leads, step by step, to that state where all things become small, and the Purusha so great that the whole universe seems as a drop in the ocean and falls off by its own nothingness. We have to go through different experiences, but let us never forget the ideal.”

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– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.18 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

As he was teaching, Swami Vivekananda was also learning. He learned about the poor and the suffering. He learned about the lived experiences of people whose fates and faiths were very different from his own. Ultimately, he was selected to share Indian philosophy with people outside of India. Beginning in the summer of 1893, he traveled to Japan, China, and Canada before reaching the United States. His primary destination in the United States was Chicago, which was hosting the World’s Fair that September. Hundreds of formal meetings, conferences, and congresses were organized in association with the fair, including the World’s Parliament of Religions – which was the largest of the associated gatherings and the first organized interfaith gathering. In addition to delegates sharing messages from spiritual leaders like the Japanese Buddhist reformer and priest Kiyozawa Manshi (Pure Land), there were representatives from new religious movements (NRM) and some of the oldest religious movements. Representatives included the Virchand Gandhi (Jain), Anagarika Dharmapala (“Southern Buddhism,” now known as Theraveda Buddhism), Soyen Shaku (Zen Buddhism), G. Bonet Maury (a Christian, Protestant, historian), Septimus J. Hanna (Christian Science), Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb (an American covert to Islam), and Pratap Chandra Majumdar (Brahmo Samaj, as aspect of Brahmoism). William Quan Judge and Annie Besant represented the Theosophical Society; Pung Quang Yu represented several Chinese religions; and the American Presbyterian missionary Henry Harris Jessup mentioned the publicly discussed the Baháʼí Faith.

Then there was the young Swami Vivekananda, who almost didn’t make the roster because he didn’t have credentials from a bona fide organization. After contacting a Harvard professor and receiving his recommendations, the 30-year old monk was allowed to speak about Hinduism and two of the six Indian philosophies: Vedanta and Yoga. By all accounts, he was a dynamic and engaging speaker. His first speech was during the opening ceremonies on September 11, 1893, and his first words, “Sisters and brothers of America,” were reportedly met with a 2-minute standing ovation from the thousands of attendees.

Once the applause died out, he said, “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.” He then went on to acknowledge various religious heritages, quote from a hymn he said that he said, “I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings;” quoted from the Bhagavad Gita; and condemned “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism” and the effects of those hateful expressions.

“Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask, ‘Is this real?’ To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment — even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, ‘Is this real?’ Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer. Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us, in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilisation, we find the same question was asked, ‘What becomes of this? What is real?’”

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– from “The Real Nature of Man” speech, delivered in London and published in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Volume 2, Jnana-Yoga) by Swami Vivekananda

Over the course of the conference, which ended on September 27th, Swami Vivekananda continued to speak (in public and in private sessions) about religions and philosophies prominent in India. His speeches had two common threads: universality and religious tolerance. That two-fold theme underscored the ironic fact that all the different religions had a similar goal – a deeper, richer relationship with the Divine or God (whatever that means to you at this moment – and yet, the different ways people pursued (and continue to pursue) their ultimate goal created strife, suffering, and wars. In other words, people’s methods were (and are) sometimes antithetical to their beliefs and therefore are obstacles along the path.

Swami Vivekananda’s lectures were well received by other religious leaders, lay attendees, and journalists. In fact, he and his words were so well received he was invited to tour the United States and then the United Kingdom. For years, he toured the U. S. and the United Kingdom, giving lectures and offering demonstrations. Just as before, Swami Vivekananda’s experiences slightly changed his focus and the way that he taught the lessons of his elders. He began to focus his efforts on establishing Vedanta centers that would continue and extend the legacy of his spiritual elders.

He founded the Vedanta Society of New York in 1894; the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta (1897), which included the Ramakrishna Math; two monasteries; two journals; and an English language monthly magazine. He also wrote several books, including Raja Yoga (which includes translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras intended for a Western audience), and translated some of the work that had inspired him, including the Yoga Sūtras and De Imitatione Christi (The Imitation of Christ), a Christian devotional by the medieval canon Thomas à Kempis. Swami Vivekananda inspired others live with an awareness of their interconnectedness. He also inspired others to teach and to practice their beliefs through action (karma yoga). He is considered a patriotic saint in India and, since it was declared so in 1984, his birthday is celebrated as “National Youth Day” in India. This year’s theme is “It’s all in the mind,” which like previous themes is based on Swami Vivekananda’s teachings.

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

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– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana*

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

*NOTE: The Wednesday practice included several (but not all) of the “Frog Poses” that we have done over the years. And none of those were originally mentioned “frog,” which appeared in a story Swami Vivekananda shared on September 15, 1893 at the World’s Parliament of Religions, as follows:

“I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker who has just finished say, ‘Let us cease from abusing each other,’ and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance.

But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not, but, for our story’s sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came and fell into the well.

‘Where are you from?’

‘I am from the sea.’

‘The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?’ and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

‘My friend,’ said the frog of the sea, ‘how do you compare the sea with your little well?’

Then the frog took another leap and asked, ‘Is your sea so big?’

‘What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!’

‘Well, then,’ said the frog of the well, ‘nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out.’

That has been the difficulty all the while.

I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world. I have to thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

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“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

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– quoted from the English translation of the portion of the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets) used as Tamil lyrics for the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

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### The aforementioned hymn: “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.” ###