Introducing The Sacred Thread Zine

sacred thread #1 cover

If you were a teenager in America in the 1980s or 1990s, and if you belonged to the punk or indie subcultures, chances are you or a friend had a zine (short for magazine, appropriate for a small magazine) that you made with a typewriter and old school cut-and-paste techniques.  Blogs have largely replaced zines, but there are still a lot of good ones out there. My favorites from the nineties were Cometbus and Pants That Don’t Fit.  Shout-outs also go to Fizgig, Henry Fanclub Maga, The B.O.A. Constrictor, and Window Copy. Cometbus, which always had great writing and artwork, is still around and has expanded into Microcosm Publishing. I don’t know what happened to Pants That Don’t Fit, but someone drop me a line if you know anything. Zines render that down-to-earth feeling that, yes, I too have have something to say, and no, I will not be hindered by the lack of an advertising budget.  Zines were ahead of the curve on LGBTQ issues and feminism, they reviewed bands from small and nonexistent labels, and they gave expression to idiosyncratic, first person points of view.  Reading a zine was like sitting down for a cup of coffee with a friend.  They were, and are, traded on a person-to-person basis or sold in independent bookstores and record shops.

In the best of that tradition, I offer you The Sacred Thread, a dharma punk zine for the 2010s.  The zine will be distributed on a very limited basis in physical form, via mail and at a few shops in Augusta, GA and Aiken, SC.  Or you can download it here. In this first issue:

EAT: GREENS AND BLACK-EYED PEAS

CONFESSIONS OF A MIDDLE-AGED SKATEBOARDER

KALI PRANAM MANTRA

NON-ADVERTISEMENTS FROM AWESOME PEOPLE WE SUPPORT

This was a whole lotta fun to make, and there will hopefully be new issues quarterly, for starters.  Here are two versions that you can download.  First, for the hardcore dharma activist, who can make copies, fold, and distribute:

sacred thread #1 print, copy, fold

And if you can’t be bothered with print and just want to read online:

sacred thread #1 onscreen version

In the future, I hope the zine will feature more vegan recipes, more about skate/punk culture, and more mantras and spiritual practices.  Enjoy!

Save the Date!

For those of you who can come to the Southeastern United States, we will be holding a wonderful Kuchipudi dance event at the University of South Carolina, Aiken on November 20th, from 3-5 p.m.  The event is free, but there are opportunities for sponsorship/donation.  See the flier below for details.

Experiencing Shri Ganesha

Two Books on Liberation

Sabrina MisirHiralall recommended Krishna Dass’ autobiography, Chants of a Lifetime,  a wonderfully positive and uplifting book about the celebrated kirtan singer’s journey from jaded Western young person to lifetime devotee.  Like Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now and many other teachings, Krishna Das is a disciple of Sri Neem Karoli Baba, viewed by his followers as an incarnation of Lord Hanuman.  I can relate to Ram Das and Krishna Das when they speak about their beloved guruji:  I often had the feeling when listening to Swamiji’s talks that he also had the energy of Sri Hanuman.  There was just something about the intensity of his voice and his untiring nature that made me think of the monkey god.  And my tradition, too, is steeped in devotional songs, drawn from Shree Maa’s Bengali tradition.  I often think about how Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna would go into ecstasy just from hearing a kirtan singer in the precincts of Dakshineshwar.

chants of a lifetime

Krishna Das, in recounting his journey from what often sounds like self-loathing to contemplative release, recommended another book called Radical Acceptance, by psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. I found Brach’s book to be a welcome break from the flood of new age literature that recommends a sort of bootstrapping approach to self-improvement.  She leads the reader through a series of exercises in which, rather than trying to escape from our flaws, we simply look at them, as they are, without judgement.  This is a difficult discipline that is so much more kind to the ego self than the usual advice to just muscle through our shortcomings to a supposedly better state of being.  Buddhists and Hindus agree that the ego self is essentially fictitious and illusory, but that doesn’t mean we should run roughshod over it.  If we further shame the inner child, we may just make the situation worse.  Brach offers a gentle path out of the trap that is close to the Buddha’s original teachings.

radical acceptance

To just speak in a casual and off-the-cuff sort of way, we usually have in mind some sort of Ideal Life for ourselves, whether that Ideal is working as a stockbroker on Wall Street or meditating in a cave somewhere.  So far so good: we probably need some sort of goal in order to get out of bed in the morning.  But then it gets more pernicious.  We compare the life that we want to the life that we have now and perceive a massive gap between the real and the Ideal.  This gap or lack is so disturbing that we immediately set about trying to rectify it through mental and emotional gymnastics.  Blame and anger come into the picture.  If I am not living as I think I Should, there must be someone to blame.

The blame and anger can be directed inwardly or outwardly.  We can blame our parents, our children, our life partners, God, or the government.  This is a great trick because it gets us off the hook, but it comes at a tremendous price.  We walk around feeling disgruntled all the time, swearing and muttering under our breath at the slightest provocation.  So peace goes out the door right away, and it is even worse if we direct the blame inward, at ourselves.  This is where self-hatred comes into play, leading to depression and even suicide if it goes unchecked.  All of this is so painful that there is likely to be some self-medication along the way.  This is likely some form of addiction, ranging from mild and socially acceptable to severe and socially censured.

But maybe the real tragedy lies in missing the beauty and joy right in front of our faces.  We are so busy blaming and hating and medicating that we lose sight of the present moment, those little flickers of divine brilliance in everyday life.  We lose the ability to actually pay attention.  We buy into our own propaganda so much that we don’t actually make very much contact with reality.  Our filters, our sh*t-tinted glasses (pardon the expression–I can’t think of a better one) get so convincing and habitual that we can’t take them off.  We mistake our self-written scripts for reality itself, and that becomes a very difficult cycle to break.

So this is why we foolish people who still believe in the spiritual life practice sadhana.  We want to see the world as it is rather than believing in the very convincing (and very depressing) alternate realities that we have constructed for ourselves.  But the old Ego is very wily and can play the spiritual game as well, manipulating most any tradition into blame and anger.  So we must be very alert and pay attention very closely to the game being played between our ears.  The Hindu tradition views that game as a war between the demons and the devas.  Think about the Bhagavad Gita or the Chandi Path.  These are basically texts that teach us how to quell those ugly voices, those dark thoughts.  They are such simple texts in some ways, and yet they are the work of a lifetime.  We have to keep learning their lessons over and over again.

So I suppose it’s okay to have a goal in life and it is okay to fall short of that goal.  We must let the matter drop there and not crank up the blame engine.  We must have a moderate amount of ambition in life in order to function as human beings, but we must not let our shortcomings gnaw at us.  That was one of Ramakrishna’s only criticisms of the Christian tradition, that he felt it led people to concentrate on sin, sin, sin rather than the inner divinity.  Perhaps if we are more gracious with ourselves and with each other, we can find a less tortured way to liberation.

Is “Christian Yoga” Offensive to Hindus?

Is “Christian Yoga” Offensive to Hindus?

Image: Hindu Human Rights

Some Christian groups have taken yoga asanas and attached Bible verses to them.  Rather than a traditional murthi, there might be a cross at the front of the studio.  Certainly this is an appropriation of Hinduism, but is it offensive?  Should Hindus fight against these appropriations or simply “live and let live”?  In this article, which was published on the Hindu Human Rights website, Janyananda explores the phenomenon of Christian yoga and asks about its implications for the future of dharma.  Feel free to share to social media and get a conversation going.  Universal love and compassion does not mean that we should not discuss controversial topics.  Honest and open debate is the only way that we can move society forward.

http://www.hinduhumanrights.info/is-christian-yoga-offensive-to-hindus/

Patches are here!

patch

The new patches have arrived and are available for members, new and old!  The patch features the anahata mandala with its seed sound.  The year, 1633, refers to the trial of Galileo by the Catholic Church.  It reminds us to protect the life of the mind, including empirical science, even as we pursue our spiritual quests. The year, 2012, refers to the founding of the society.  Shree Maa and Swamiji gave their blessing to the Society on April 27, 2012 from Delhi, so the organization is about to have its third birthday!  The three dots after each letter of the initials are a convention in esoteric societies.  In our case, they refer to the nine gates of spiritual progress and the nine gates of the body, among many other meanings.  The somewhat Americanized spelling of “satsanga” refers to Sri Ramakrishna’s prophecy that he would live in the subtle body of his devotees for three hundred years, and that he would have many devotees in the West.

The patch is an outward sign of an inner transformation, that one commits oneself to the mission of the Society.  We affirm that the life of the mind must be balanced with the intuitions of the heart, that the masculine and feminine forces must find union, and that human society should find its proper place within the rest of nature.  We believe that all people, no matter what race or ethnicity, no matter what economic status or background, sexual orientation or gender, have access to the divine within the shrine of the heart.  We take the tradition handed down to us and propagate the teachings to the next generation of seekers from all walks of life, bringing the Sanatana Dharma one step closer to the crack of the ages at the dawn of Satya yuga, the Age of Truth.

To claim your patch, please contact David or Sabrina.  They are offered free of charge: donations for postage are welcome.  Put the patch on a hoodie, on your yoga bag, on a prayer shawl, or wherever you like.  Let it remind you to uphold the values of the Society and to also remember the other members in your devotions.  Jaya vijaya bhava!

Reading Your Own South Indian Style Jyotish Chart

Jyotish or astrology forms a part of traditional Hindu practice.  Whether you consult your astrological chart just for entertainment, to find auspicious days, or to find guidance in life, you will need a birth chart first.  The easiest way to obtain a birth chart is to send your birth data to a professional jyotish kovid.  You will need the place, date, and time of birth, correct down to the minute if possible.  If you don’t have complete information, just do the best you can.  Your jyotish advisor should provide you with a complete reading and interpretation for a nominal fee.

Supposing that you are willing to undertake some work and study, you can download free software on the internet and interpret your own chart.  To begin, you will need to read some books on the subject.  The following are highly recommended:

Behari, Bepin.  Fundamentals of Vedic Astrology, V. 1. Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 2003.

Frawley, David (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri). Astrology of the Seers: A Guide to Vedic/Hindu Astrology.  Twin Lakes, Wisconsin: Lotus Press, 2000.

Harness, Dennis M. The Nakshatras: The Lunar Mansions of Vedic Astrology.  Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, Lotus Press, 2009.

The Behari and Frawley books both provide a good overall introduction to Jyotish, and they agree on the main points.  It can be useful to consult both when wanting a more in-depth explanation of a particular planetary influence.  The Nakshatras or lunar mansions described by Harness are most often used in marital charts, but they can also be a good guide to understanding your personality.  You could view the Nakshatras almost like a separate system to the Navagraha (the nine main planets of jyotish).

Okay, supposing you have done some background reading and are ready to go, you need the actual chart, which is best done by computer.  I recommend the Jagannatha Hora program, available here.  The program works best on PCs, but some people have had luck with Windows simulators on Macs.  After installing it, open the program and click File/New.  Then click this icon, which stands for edit birth data:

birth data

Then you’ll get a pop-up dialogue box that looks like this:

enter birthdata

Use the boxes and drop-down menus to enter your birth data (Gregorian).  The built-in atlas does not have every town and city in the world, but it will have a nearby city.  If you know the latitude and longitude, you can enter that information as an alternative.  After entering this information, hit ‘OK,’ and your birth chart will appear.  This will be the upper left-hand chart that says, ‘Rasi,’ under the ‘Basics’ tab.  As a beginner, you will not have to worry about the other divisional charts that appear along with it.  By focusing only on the Rasi chart, you will not be intimidated by the wealth of features that Jagannatha Hora offers.

I will use my chart as an example in what follows.  Each jyotish kovid will have a differing interpretation, but there are certain constants.  First, the Ascendant house is regarded as the most important, followed by the sun sign, followed by the lunar sign.  This is in contrast to Western astrology, in which the Sun sign is considered the most important.  The Ascendant is conveniently labeled for you in the program.  Take a look:

rasi ddw

The ‘As’ stands for the birth ascendant, the constellation on the horizon at the time of birth, in this case Aquarius, which will henceforth be treated as the first house, which governs the soul and self-understanding.  From there, we count inclusively, and the Sun house ends up being the eighth house, Virgo, which is the Vedic Sun sign.  This will normally be close to the Western astrological sign, perhaps a house away or sometimes aligning.  The eighth house governs occult wisdom as well as sex: it is a house of tantra more generally.  The moon sign in this case is the fifth house (here Gemini), which governs creativity and the soul.  The ascendant acts almost like its own planet, and is the most important, followed by the Sun and Moon.

The birth ascendant is Aquarius, associated in the West with the Age of Aquarius or New Age, with connotations of self-sacrifice and commitment in Vedic astrology.  Note also the strong Saturn (Shani) in the sixth house, which produces nervous disorders like anxiety and epilepsy.  The Mercury in house eight is a Mercury bhadra yoga (Mercury in its own house), indicating skill in communication and other Mercury-based qualities.  Note also the craziness in house nine, with Venus, Mars, and Rahu coming closely together.  This indicates a strong interest, perhaps obsession, with religion, philosophy, and ethics.  Jupiter is weakened (indicated by parentheses) by Mercury from five houses away (succedent or panapara position).  All of this makes perfect sense to me (as it is my chart!) and probably to those who know me the best.  It is a bit odd to put my information out here like this, but it is also more revealing than a fake example.

One can easily dismiss all of this as superstitious nonsense, but I think the chart can be a powerful tool for meditation and self-understanding. It shows one’s strong and weak points and gives a total life picture.  In addition to the chart, one needs to know the primary associations with each house, planet, and sign, along with a few rules for combinations.  These can easily be obtained by a close reading of the above books and a lot of practice.  The result will be a picture of the self that is at least as valid as any inventory taken by a psychologist.  Interpreting one’s own chart for oneself is a great exercise in contemplation and will have an impact on how one chooses to use the planetary energies.

Free will should absolutely be emphasized, as past and present karma will affect how the planetary energies affect us.  The blessings of gods and gurus also trump the nine planets, as many scriptures insist.  It is also important to get oneself in the right frame of mind before attempting a reading.  At the very least, one should do some silent meditation and mantra practice before beginning to get rid of the mental noise that could skew the results.  That’s all for now.  Future posts will provide quick and easy methods for jyotish that anyone can understand.

 

Consumerist Meditation vs. Vedic Meditation

Dr. David Dillard-Wright (Janyananda Saraswati) will be discussing the chakra system from two points of view: that of consumerist, lifestyle-enhancement meditation and Vedic, lineage-based meditation.  The talk will be part of the Department of History and Social Science Mindfulness Meditation Series at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ.  The live streaming will be followed by a Tai Chi presentation by Shenne Dugtong. The event will take place on Tuesday, April 14th, from 12:30 to 1:30 PM.

MCC Mindfulness Meditation 4-14-15 flyerMCC Mindfulness Meditation 4-14-15 flyer

Bhagavad Gita Wisdom: Chapter Eighteen Commentary

Sanskrit verse from Bhagavad Gita

niyatasya tu saṁnyāsaḥ karmaṇo no’papdyate

mohāt tasya parityāgas tāmasaḥ parikīrtitaḥ

Giving up one’s duty is not proper.  The abandonment of obligatory work is due to delusion and is declared to be in the mode of ignorance (18.07 Trans. Prasad).

Chapter eighteen is a reflection on the proper role of work in life.  It is not uncommon for beginning spiritual aspirants to abandon regular work in the thought that more time devoted to devotional activity will produce quick results.  Such individuals do, indeed, quickly attain lofty spiritual states.  They may have visions of divinity and experience various occult powers.  Unfortunately, these quick realizations will not last, since the earnest seeker has not yet incorporated spirituality into the whole of life.  His or her work and relationships will suffer from a lack of attention, and crises will begin to develop, which will eventually result in abandonment of devotion.  The seeker who abandons work will end up more or less like a drug addict, looking for a “quick fix” of God-realization but not thinking about the consequences.

In order to reach stabilization in the spiritual life, in order to practice long-term, one must attend to all of the responsibilities of life while also undertaking spiritual practices.  The chapter discusses two paths, that of the sannyasin and the tyagi The sannyasin takes formal religious vows and devotes his or her whole life to spiritual practices.  This would seem to be the obvious way to eliminate the conflict between worldly and spiritual existence.  We should note, however, that even sannyasins must work, whether that work is begging for food, running a religious institution, teaching lay devotees, or simply practicing austerities.  By no means does the sannyasin escape the life of action.  Great perils also come with this life, as the sannyasin must avoid the temptations to pride that come along with wearing the cloth.  The same law that applies to the lay devotee also applies to the sannyasin, in that he or she must work without regard for the fruit in order to obtain liberation.

The second path mentioned in chapter eighteen is that of the tyagi.  The tyagi continues to work in the world but performs all action as worship, renouncing the fruit of action.  The tyagi is a sort of “secret sannyasin” and renounces the world in his or her heart.  The tyagi has abandoned likes and dislikes and performs all work out of a sense of duty alone.  The tyagi also faces great spiritual danger, chiefly the danger of living among worldly people and the possible temptation to abandon the disciplined life.  The inner renunciation provides protection to the devotee living in the world, as the tyagi no longer cares about the status symbols and accolades that entrap so many people.  The tyagi stands outside the law of karma, since, by the action of worship he or she cancels out the past sinful actions.  The path of the tyagi is very efficient and guides the sincere devotee down the path of liberation.  The tyagi works, all the while saying “Hari, Hari” in his or her heart.

The Gita recommends that we avoid both overwork (stemming from a rajasic constitution) and underwork (stemming from a tamasic constitution).  The sannyasin and the tyagi alike must work with great energy and enthusiasm, cheerfully and without regard for the result, offering up every action as worship.   In this way, confused and wavering consciousness can be replaced with a single-mindedness that conquers all anxiety.  This chapter in the Gita reveals a course of action that allows for continued engagement in the world while simultaneously seeking God, welcome advice for the spiritual seeker facing many responsibilities.

Secular society often views religion as a crutch for broken, neurotic people, a coping mechanism for those who simply can’t hack it in the competitive world.  Indian philosophy, beginning with the Vedas and continuing through the Upanishads and epic poems, regards religious practice as the crowning touch on an already good life.  Spiritual practice is not a prop for a broken life: it is rather the rays of glory streaming through a fully functioning life.  The renunciate does not practice because she cannot do anything else well: the renunciate fully engages with the world and has become hyper-responsible, to God and gods, to guru and lineage, to family and work.  Such a person comes alive as a result of renunciation.  Such a person becomes unstoppable through no longer caring about rewards and recompense, or, conversely, about punishments and condemnation.  Such a person rises above the crowd and becomes a refuge for others, transcending even time and death.

This applies to both sannyāsins and tyāgīs.  The householder disciple, Mahendranath Gupta, known simply as ‘M,’ recorded the masterwork, Ramakrishna Kathamrita (The Gospel of Ramakrishna), the great work of Bengali devotional literature.  Ramakrishna himself remained married, even though he took on many of the aspects associated with monastic life.  Without ‘M,’ we would not know the teachings of Ramakrishna, and without Ramakrishna, ‘M’ would not have been inspired to write.  Many great saints, like Sant Tukaram of Maharashtra, the great bhakti poet,  were married and did not take monastic vows.   This is to say that the sannyāsin path and the tyāgi or grihastha path converge at a point beyond ordinary experience, and both have their part to play in living the dharma.  Although sannyāsins are generally called renunciates, these are really two different types of renunciation, centering around the core idea of detachment from the fruits of action.  Chapter eighteen returns to this central theme of the Bhagavad Gita, as one more reminder to act according to duty without regard for the fruit.

Kuchipudi Dance Presentation and Lecture

sabrina kuchipudi

The Anahata Chakra Satsanga welcomes Dr. Sabrina MisirHiralall to the Advisory Board! Sabrina studies classical Indian dance in the Kuchipudi style and analyzes her experiences through postcolonial studies.  She will be telling us more about her work on this site, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, she will be giving a dance performance and lecture at Middlesex Community College in New Jersey on April 9, 2015 for those who can attend.  The event is part of the 2015 Journeys and Passages Grant Series, and the formal title is “Religious Epistemology through a Kuchipudi Dancer’s Journey to Shri Krishna.”

MisirHiralall flyer 4-9-15 (1)

 

MisirHiralall-flyer-4-9-15-1.pdf