Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dr Anantanand Rambachan on Pujya Swami Dayananda

Few teachers have fulfilled their obligations to their tradition as Swami Dayananda Saraswati did. He has left our world richer with teachers.
In 1973, after graduating from the University of the West Indies, I made a long journey from my home in Trinidad to study at the Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, the aśrama in Mumbai, India, founded by Swami Chinmayananda (1916-1993). This was my first visit to India, the birthplace of my Hindu ancestors. It was a time when few from my country traveled to India.
I was a teenager when Swami Chinmayananda first visited Trinidad in 1965 and I avidly read his available writings. In 1969, I wrote to him for permission to join his aśrama. His sage advice, after rebuking me for my undated letter, was to complete my college education before coming to Sandeepany.  In 1973, Sandeepany Sadhanalaya launched its first intensive multi-year course of study in Vedānta and Sanskrit.  By then, I had fulfilled Swamiji’s advice and I was accepted as his student.
Mumbai was drenched in monsoon rains when I made my way from the airport to Sandeepany. I was introduced to Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who I learned was the prinicipal ācārya and the designer of the course of study that I came to pursue.
When I arrived at Sandeepany, I discovered that the course had already started.  Swamiji, in fact, had completed his teaching of one of the foundational texts, Śaṅkara’s TattvabodhaTattvabodha offers concise definitions of the major terms and concepts of Vedānta and is a necessary preliminary to further study. Realizing that I would be at a learning disadvantage for his Upaniṣad classes, Swamiji offered to teach the text again and did so in intimate sessions in his kutir. Though he had recently completed the text, his instruction was patient and thorough. These were features of his teaching that never wavered. There were never signs of impatience or haste.
This was my first and indelible experience of the one who would become the most influential teacher in my life. For the next three years, with rare breaks, I sat at his feet studying the Upaniṣads and the Bhagavadgītā with the commentaries of Śaṅkara.
When Swamiji was ready to begin the teaching of the Bhagavadgītā, he wanted a location where the ancient ṛṣis themselves taught and where their memories were still alive.  He took us all to Purana Jhadi in Rishikesh. There was no accommodation at Purana Jhadi. Swamiji had a tiny one-room cottage, and so we stayed in the spartan rooms of Andhra Ashram. On early mornings and late afternoons, we sat in the open on the banks of the Ganga, breathing the cool air and listening to his meticulous verse by verse exposition of the Bhagagavadgītā. The Ganga roared unceasingly in the background and Swamiji often spoke of it as symbolizing thesampradāya or flow of knowledge.  Swamiji delighted in the simple and unencumbered ascetic setting of Purana Jhadi . It seemed a perfect setting, singing Ganga and silent Himalaya, for Swamiji to do what he loved beyond all else – teach.  It does not surprise that Swamiji chose Rishikesh, a sacred space where he lived as both student and teacher, to be the site of his mahāsamādhi.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati was an abundantly gifted human being and these gifts found fruitful expression in a variety of achievements and initiatives.  A proper and detailed assessment of his legacy is a necessary task for scholars of religion in the future. For his students across the world, however, the heart of this legacy is not in dispute. They have discovered it in his extraordinary gifts as a teacher of Vedānta; this is the image that is lovingly and gratefully alive in their hearts.
At the heart of Swamiji’s passion and creativity as a teacher was his foundational commitment to the Veda (śruti) as a source of valid knowledge (pramāṇa). The understanding of the Veda as a pramāṇa, though central to the methodology of the classical teacher, Śaṅkara, did not come easy to Swamiji. He spoke often to us of his early challenges as a student of Vedānta before he understood the Veda as a pramāṇa. His students, he would say, “do not know the magnitude of the discovery that the Veda is a pramāṇa. They did not suffer as I did.”  He attributed his transformative understanding to the teaching of a Telugu-speakingsaṃnyāsin, Swami Pranavananda. Through the teaching of Swami Pranavananda, Swamiji came to see Vedānta as a direct means of knowledge for knowing the truth of oneself, even as the eyes serve as the instrument for the knowledge of forms and colors. “That was enough for me,” said Swamiji. “I never looked back. I had already studied theUpaniṣads – Vedāntaḥ. So, what was needed was only to rearrange – to look at the Upaniṣads, the whole teaching in the light of Pramāṇam.”
Any description of Swamiji’s skillful teaching is incomplete without grasping this fact. This is where he always started his unfolding of the Vedānta vision. The human problem, as Swamiji tirelessly taught, is one of incorrect understanding of the nature of oneself that is full and whole, but erroneously taken to be incomplete and lacking.  Ignorance is dispelled only by knowledge and knowledge must be derived from a valid source.
The Veda-pramāṇa consists of words. The potential of these words to dispel ignorance depends on their handling by a skillful teacher. Swamiji brought to his teaching a deep understanding of the possibilities and limits of language.  He exercised meticulous care in his choice of words and used these with marvelous dexterity and deftness to instruct about that, “from whom all words, along with the mind, turn back having failed to grasp.” (Taittirīya Upaniṣad). He knew well the dangers of linguistic indiscipline and imprecision in speaking of brahman and sought always to use words with caution, and consistency. He was fresh and chaste in his teaching. Words can liberate and words can imprison; he tapped deftly into the liberating potential of the words of the Upaniṣads and taught his students to do the same.
As a teacher, Swamiji’s attention was unwaveringly centered on the end-purpose of his teaching- the freedom of the student sitting at his feet. He made mokṣa, an end that is too-often clothed in mystery and made to seem remote and difficult, real and accessible.  He universalized the human problem as a sense of inadequacy and incompleteness, making it one that is validated in the experience of every human being. He presented mokṣa as freedom from self-inadequacy that is attained through understanding a teaching that dispels ignorance.  He enabled us to see that the full being we want to become is immediately and always available. The presentation of the human problem and its resolution in these terms means that the Vedānta pramāṇa deals with a recognizable human issue.  As a teacher, Swamiji clearly wanted to present the Vedānta  pramāṇa in a manner that overcomes cultural or religious alienation and to make it accessible and relevant to a recognizable problem. I recall that in every class, at some point or the other, he imparted the vision of Vedānta in its entirety. To transmit the vision of the whole in this manner is no small accomplishment for a teacher, and Swamiji always did it with an irresistible relevance, charm and intimacy.
One of the eloquent statements about Swamiji’s impact and effectiveness as a teacher is his ability to nurture and produce capable teachers.  He understood himself as belonging to an ancient lineage (sampradāya) of teachers and students. This lineage had both a teaching to transmit as well as a distinctive methodology to ensure proper transmission and continuity.  He fulfilled his indebtedness to this tradition through his own earnest study, his commitment to teaching, and his founding of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam as a place of teaching and learning. Few teachers have fulfilled their obligations to their tradition as Swamiji did.  He has left our world richer with teachers, monastic and lay, who will contribute to the vitality of this tradition and produce new teachers.
Swamiji’s teaching was essentially an invitation to inquire. One cannot prove that the Vedānta, as a valid source of knowledge, works unless one is willing to give it a try by exposing oneself to a qualified teacher. As a teacher, he never demanded that his students assent to anything apriori. All he asked for was a willingness to try the teaching with an open mind. One must be willing to suspend judgments about the pramāṇa until it is given an opportunity to prove itself.
When I visited Swamiji for the last time in December 2014, forty-one years after we first met, his health was failing and he was frail in body. Each evening, however, a few of us sat around him in the lecture hall to listen to the transcript of his lectures on Taittīriya Upaniṣad.  Between periods of listening, we would support him to exercise by walking around the room. He was attentive to each word, occasionally correcting the transcript, ensuring that his meaning was accurately communicated.  His eyes and face lit up whenever a passage from the commentary of Śaṅkara was cited. He delighted in the clarity and logic of the argument. Commitment to the Veda-pramāṇa was the beginning and end of his self-understanding as a teacher.
One night, at the end of the session, he turned to me and spoke words that I will never forget, “Śastra pramāṇa does work.” 
Jaya Gurudeva

Shri Kalyan Vishwanath Writes About Pujya Swamiji

Kalyan Viswanathan, President, Sanatana Dharma Foundation
Executive Vice President, Dharma Civilization Foundation

In the passing away of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the divine has given up one of its most excellent forms of its myriad manifestations – the form and spirit of an extraordinary Guru. On a Gurupurnima day in a year past, Swamiji made the following observation – “There is no Guru without a Sishya”. In other words, the Guru and Sishya arise together, in relationship with each other. The readiness of the student, and the willingness of the Guru, is what makes the relationship flower. In Pujya Swamiji’s own words, the Guru is one who brings light into an area of darkness in the Sishya’s life. In the presence of a Guru, a Teacher, what was previously vague and unclear to the student, lights up with a brilliant clarity. Bharat has been blessed with many Gurus from many different Sampradayas, throughout its ages. And each Guru has addressed himself or herself to the needs of the people of their own time and age. In this lineage, some Gurus stand out, for their brilliance and eloquence, and Pujya Swamiji will be remembered as one of the finest among the Gurus of the various paramparas of Sanatana Dharma. 
I began my association with Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati in the year 1994 in earnest, when I attended a series of his lectures titled – “Relationships and Freedom”, in Mumbai. At a time when I was a graduate student at Ohio State University, and dealing with existential questions about my own life – such as “Who am I?”; “What is my life for?”; “What is the purpose of this existence?”; and so on – I encountered Pujya Swamiji, and have maintained a close association with him, for over 21 years now. Every encounter with him, whether it was for a short period of time, under an hour, or for a protracted period of time, over several days or weeks, has been a meeting of transformational significance. What made this possible?
Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s unique gift lay in his constant seeking of how to communicate truths known to ancient Rishis to modern minds, pre-occupied with modern complexes and challenges. And perhaps even more importantly, his greatest gift was in his ability to speak to each person, in a manner that was most relevant and appropriate to that individual that addressed his or her most pressing spiritual need of the moment. At least, he seemed to speak to me, personally, whether he was addressing a whole audience, or just me in a private room, where there was no one else but just the two of us.
I arrived at the Ashram, in Saylorsburg, in 1994, somewhat bewildered by Hinduism, its seeming incoherence, and its seemingly myriad and often conflicting expressions, and its relevance to the questions that were engaging my mind at the time. It was a time in my life, that science and engineering held primacy of place, and everything had to be scientifically and logically explained and better still, empirically verified through experimentation and demonstration. For over a year, I challenged him, intellectually, rationally and scientifically. I was not prepared to accept him as a Guru, unless he met my own internal standard of acceptability, even though I myself was not clear what that “test” was. I was mostly skeptical; not willing to believe; not willing to accept anything at face value; I was irreverent; I was not filled with a manifest Shraddha in the traditional manner appropriate to a young Brahmin man; I was not even sure what it meant to be a Brahmin in today’s age and time. I had a deep disillusionment with the whole domain of Ritual and its pomp and circumstance - It lacked meaning and significance for me.
I had already deeply studied J. Krishnamurti, (1895-1986) whose austere life had held a special place in my heart. J. Krishnamurti’s singular and dramatic rejection of all tradition and Sampradaya, also held a tremendous value for me. I found Krishnamurti addressing himself to the moment, in current time. He seemed fresh every moment at every occasion – and nothing of the past seemed to cling to him. He seemed to be speaking from his own enlightenment, not from the authority of a scripture that codified someone else’s enlightenment. He was almost constantly mocking the lack of value of someone else’s enlightenment to one’s own life and its challenges.
The private dialog that I began with Pujya Swamiji, first took the shape of interrogating J. Krishnamurti, and to my tremendous surprise, I discovered that Swamiji himself had been a great admirer of J. Krishnamurti in his younger years. One would not discover this easily, because Swamiji has spoken very little of J. Krishnamurti publicly. I would take passages from Krishnamurti’s speeches into his room, where he and I would privately engage with that passage for 30 to 40 minutes even as a crowd of people gathered outside his room, patiently waiting for his Darshan. We spoke about Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharishi, Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Mahatma Gandhi, and Swamiji would patiently answer my questions and engage with me, as though it was the most important thing to do at the moment. This kind of accessibility and relationship with a teacher had never existed for me, until this moment. Even as we were dealing with abstract ideas, a personal relationship was also taking shape.
The Shastra is a Pramana – A Shabda Pramana, and must be understood as that – he would say. I knew not what a Pramana was, let alone a Shabda Pramana. A Pramana is a means of knowledge; a means of communication – he would say, that allows a Guru to communicate to a Sishya. Without a Pramana, and the ability to utilize the Pramana, communication will always remain vague and unclear – he said; and we discussed the lack of a Pramana manifest in the life of teachings of J.Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharishi, and many others like them. I became intensely curious about what is a Pramana?  Pramana is what makes a Parampara possible – he would say; it is the building block of reliable inter-generational transmission of the knowledge i.e. the Atma Jnana or the Brahma Jnana which was the subject matter of the Shruti. It is not a surprise that neither J. Krishnamurti nor Ramana Maharishi have a Parampara of any significance.
What is Jnana? Does knowledge not need the validation of personal experience? I would ask. In fact, it seemed to me, the personal experience of a J.Krishnamurti or a Swami Vivekananda, or a Ramana Maharishi, held a greater value for me at that moment, than the conceptual framework of Vedanta, once I began to grant the possibility that there was such a thing called “enlightenment”. So many times, we discussed the distinction between concept and experience, and how our experience validates our concepts, and how our concepts in turn give rise to our experiences. For those who have taken courses with Landmark Education, this is a central proposition in their programs – By simply transforming our concepts, we can bring into being entirely new experiences. However, Pujya Swamiji, insisted that our experiences can be deceptive. In fact, what we experience as solid, liquid and gaseous in the physical world, is nothing more than groupings of atoms and molecules, organized together in various densities – in fact the entire reality of this world as we experience it, is subject to re-interpretation. Even our physical bodies are mere assemblages of compounds and chemistry, subject to change and disintegration. What is real here? He would ask. Even the Sun only seems to rise in the east and set in the west. What is really going on is entirely different!  I would come away from the conversation more bewildered about “Reality” – Satyam.
Little by little, he introduced me to the concept of “Mithya”, an order of reality that is intermediate between that which is wholly real (Satyam) and that which is wholly unreal (Asatyam); He gently questioned my attachment to scientific verification;  Science concerns itself with objects that it can apprehend through the senses; Vedanta deals with the Subject who wields the senses and since the Subject cannot objectify itself – therefore the whole quest for scientific proof was illegitimate since it does not apply to the realm of the Subject; he would say. And I would come away reeling with a whole new dimension of inquiry. Vedanta and Science are orthogonal to each other – he said. The domain of Science is not the domain of Vedanta; (or the Veda); the domain of the Veda is nor accessible to Science; he would say. The people who are trying to demonstrate that the Veda is scientific, are missing the point – he would say. And I would walk away with a sense of awe about these conversations.   
Vedanta was an investigation into the realm of Reality – Satyam. In that sense, its approach was more or less similar to the approach of a Scientist. However, the methods of science did not go far enough. As I listened to his discourses on “Reality”, different orders of Reality came into existence for me - the Ultimate Reality, the “Paramarthika” order; the seemingly Real i.e. the “Vyavaharika” order; and then there was also the imaginary reality – the “Pratibhasika” i.e. all that one imagines to be true, but is not really so. Science and the Scientific method was useful in distinguishing the Vyavaharika and the Pratibhasika orders – in fact much of the scientific critique of Hinduism as superstition arose from its commitment to empirical verification of propositions, which were largely confined to the Vyavaharika order of Reality. Science almost had no access to the realm of the Subject, the Spirit or Consciousness i.e. the Paramarthika order of reality. It could not comprehend it, measure it, and make observations about it. Science even today is unable to grapple with the phenomenon of consciousness, and assumes that it is merely a by-product of the physical body. If the Veda says something that is contradicted by scientific verification, then we must reject the Veda – Pujya Swamiji would say. That made sense. But on the other hand, if the Veda asserts something that cannot be disproved by Science, you must at least entertain the possibility of the Vedic propositions being valid – he would say.  As this began to sink in, I gained a new measure of regard for the Veda, Vedanta and the Teaching tradition embodied in the Shruti, as it related to the domain of Science.
One day, he looked at me with great compassion, and said to me “I want to draw your horoscope and see what is in store for you”. I responded by saying “I don’t believe in horoscopes”. He asked me “Why not?” I said it is not reasonable to assume that the positions of planets and stars at the time of my birth somehow influence the trajectory of my life. It is in fact so absurdly unscientific that it seems to me only the extremely superstitious would believe in such things. He smiled at me, and said to me, “the planets and stars do not cause how your life turns out. But there seems to be a correlation between the positions of the stars and planets and the way a person’s life unfolds”. As I looked bewildered at him, he said “you know there is a difference between correlation and causality”. Even as I pondered that sentence, he said “These correlations are a matter of the Rishis’ knowledge – We may not understand it, but we must respect it – It is in fact Arsha Vidya – the knowledge of the Rishis”. That sentence rang in my ears for years to come. On the same day, in the classroom during Satsang, he proceeded to tell the story of how he himself at one time did not believe in horoscopes and how he came to believe in their power, through the predictions of a brother Swami who lived near Purani Jhadi in Rishikesh during his days of seclusion.
On another occasion, he said “Why don’t you start a Bhagavad Gita Class in Columbus, Ohio?” And I did. And this class went on for some six years or so. I went deep into the Bhagavad Gita, and began to enter into the mind of Adi Shankara. Since Adi Shankara wrote everything in Sanskrit, and we live in a time and age, where Sanskrit has largely gone out of fashion, Adi Shankara has become inaccessible to our current day humanity. The other Sampradayas, keep contending with Adi Shankara, without adequately either understanding or representing his positions and perspectives accurately. Through Swamiji’s words and teachings, I gained a new respect and regard for the brilliance of Adi Shankara.
On another day I asked him, what is the value of knowing something without being it?  He replied that the word Jnana represents both knowing and being – it is in fact an ontological word. He proceeded to deliver a talk that day that the Teacher is the Teaching. Jnana fuses knowing and being together. The talk was so brilliant, that for the first time, I began to sense that Jnana is not knowledge, in the sense that we understand the word knowledge in English. There is more to that word. Sanskrit has many layers of meaning – often veiled by our own rendering of that word into English. He said that there are many lamps, and many flames – but there is only one Agni. Similarly, while there are many waves, puddles, lakes and rivers, there is only one water. Even as there are many electrical appliances such as a TV, Microwave, A light bulb, a fan and an air-conditioner, there is only one electricity that brings them all to life. Thus even as there are many bodies, the Atma is one. Thus your Atma and my Atma are non-different. And the Atma is untainted by the content of our minds and their afflictions, just as the Sky remains untainted by the clouds that gather within it. The Clouds and the Sky belong to different orders of Reality, just as the physical body and its shadow belong to different orders of Reality. One can enter into an argument with another man or woman, but not with their shadows. I would go home, with the words “different orders of Reality” ringing in my ears. Shravanam and then Mananam.
I had loved the ‘Being-ness” of J. Krishnamurti. He was a being with a great presence. But so was Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati. One abhorred the Shastra, and the other embraced it fully. And I began to see that the Shastra had nothing to do with it. But I also began to see, that without the Shastra, the medium of communication that generates clarity for the student, is somewhat impaired. But even if the Shastra provides the medium i.e. the pramana, the individual Guru also brings something to the Party. The extreme degree of fun and amusement that Pujya Swamiji could generate, even while unfolding the seemingly profound verses of the Upanishads, was extraordinary. I once took my father to a talk by Swamiji, and we laughed non-stop for ninety minutes. Pujya Swamiji was better than any stand-up comic that I have listened to – and far cleaner with his jokes. And boy, could he deliver a good story with a terrific punchline!
As our relationship evolved, I observed him launch a variety of new initiatives - the Aim for Seva movement, the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha; and many other projects. I saw his close involvement in the Rama Sethu Court Case; his angst at the condition of the Hindu temples in India; his involvement in ensuring that the seven hills of Tirumala remained with Tirumala; his engagement with the Saraswati River conference and so on. I started going to him with my own propositions. Shall I help you launch the Web Site for the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha? Of course, he said. And for a while, we managed that web site. I am going to launch an organization called Sanatana Dharma Foundation and a program called Vidya Daanam. Swamiji blessed it, and even gave a few words of blessing. One of the most remarkable aspects of our relationship is that Swamiji never imposed anything on me. He never asked me to do something, that he wanted me to do. In fact, it was almost always the other way around. I would ask him, “May I do this?” and he would readily bless the endeavor. In the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 63, Bhagavan Krishna says to Arjuna – “yathecchasi tatha kuru– Do as you please.This has been Pujya Swamiji’s governing philosophy. After all the teaching, after all the hours and hours of discourse, and questions and answers and Satsang – these have been his final counsel – “Do as you please”. I must regard this as his greatest gift to his students – he has never imposed his own choice or will on his numerous students, but rather allowed each one’s life to unfold and flower in its own unique way.
In the last two and a half years, I have been very involved with Dharma Civilization Foundation, Los Angeles, California, and the project that Pujya Swamiji initiated at the Graduate Theological Union, (GTU) Berkeley. I have discussed this initiative with him, on five different occasions in both Coimbatore and Saylorsburg, and on each occasion, he has grown more and more enthusiastic about this initiative. He has provided specific counsel, and very specific direction on how to move forward. His last wish to me was that we establish an “Adi Shankara Institute for the Study of Vedanta and Sanskrit” at the GTU, as an affiliate institution under the auspices of an independent, autonomous Graduate School of Hindu Dharma Studies which would function as the equivalent of a Hindu Seminary in the west. Evoking the same spirit with which Arjuna said “Karishye Vachanam Tava” i.e. “I shall act according to your word”, I too shall rededicate myself to the fulfillment of this vision, i.e. the creation of a Graduate School for Hindu Dharma Studies, and the Adi Shankara Institute within it. I can see no more fitting a tribute to the singularly committed life that Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati lived, than the dedication and devotion of our own energies to an initiative that he envisioned as worthy of our effort.