“The real merit of music on the global stage is the ability to teach the listener about the qualities of the maker”

Musicologist Bob Gilmore describes American born Ned Mcgowan’s music as one which “strives for an idiom in which various musics – American popular, European classical and avant-garde, Carnatic, a fascination with proportionally intricate rhythms, the use of microtones in the search for new subtleties of melody – and many others, rub against each other and generate new meanings.

Ned McGowan was a part of the Center for Soft Power’s Yoganiyoga project. He is a composer, teacher, flautist, improviser and curator. His works have been performed throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia. Ned McGowan teaches composition at the College for Arts, Media and Technology in Hilversum, Netherlands.

Ned studied to play the Carnatic flute for several months in Bangalore, with MK Pranesh and it influenced him to learn more about the Gamaka or the ornamentation on a note. “However, to play Carnatic flute is as climbing a very tall mountain and I had already climbed several other mountains in my life, so I stopped practicing.”

However, he did take back Indian rhythm with him. As a professor of Advanced Rhythm and Pulse at the Utrecht Conservatory, and the creator of the International Rhythm Course he says his methods all start with the South Indian syllable system to learn subdivisions and groupings. “Carnatic music has a great method for combining composition and improvisation. I love the approach to ornamentations and rhythm.”

Ned McGowan was a part of the Center for Soft Power’s Yoganiyoga project. He is a composer, teacher, flautist, improviser and curator. His works have been performed throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia.

For his PhD research he is exploring the ‘identity of speed in music, from the compositional, performative or pedagogical perspectives.’ “The speed of rhythms in live acoustic music, literally the velocity at which notes are sounding, can be defined in absolute terms based on clock time. But there is also the perceived speed that, in the simplest terms, states that musical material can seem fast, slow or some other relational quality.”

“Speed is articulated by sounding rhythm. Rhythms, however, manifest themselves through a myriad of various implicit and explicit frames, depending on the musical context, including tuplets, meters (traditional and’irrational’), tempo, polytempos, pulses, polypulses, polyrhythms (superimposed frames), additive frames, divisive frames, metric modulation, time brackets and other structures.” In his PhD he is researching the current practice, precise identities and possibilities of the various time frames in music and the bearing they have individually and in combinations on the speed of the music.

In 2016, he released his album The Art of the Contrabass Flute, an album dedicated solely to this amazing instrument. “A phenomenal technique and flawless feeling for rhythm and sound, he knows how to use it perfectly in his compositions,” said Luister Magazine.

A strong facet of Ned’s influence is Carnatic music. He believes that his instrument works well for South Indian music. “Contrabass flute has a full low expressive tone, but it can also play fast articulate rhythms.”

Over the past decade, he has collaborated and performed regularly in India and Europe with Indian musicians Dr Mysore Manjunath, Mysore Nagaraj, Dr Suma Sudhindra, Pravin Godkhindi, Jahnavi Jayaprakash, Ronu Majumdar, B.C. Manjunath, M.K. Pranesh, Anoor Anathakrishna Sharma and Giridar Udupa. “What fascinates me is the Carnatic use of rhythmical complexities developed through a tradition of performance.”

Works exploring Indian forms from a European perspective include Chamundi Hill, for flute and harp, Alap for voice and ensemble, Stone Soup for jazz ensemble, Tusk for ensemble and Three Amsterdam Scenes for voice, viola and keyboards. About his association with India, he says, “I love India, it’s people, it’s food, and the musicians from there are some of my best friends!”

In a research paper on whether music is a universal language, he questions whether the same piece of music can the same thing to people from different cultures?

“The answer, in my opinion, is a clear no. To give a small example, I’ve taken friends from India to classical concerts in Europe and watched them fall asleep while the European audience was elated. Vice versa, I’ve watched Europeans fall asleep during Indian classical concerts while the Indian audience remained in rapt attention.

Further, music isn’t universal even to all the people from the same culture. Not everyone in India understands or appreciates Indian classical music and the same is true for Europeans of European classical music. Think about the common observation that the youth don’t attend many classical concerts, if at all. So if music cannot communicate the same to people within the same culture, how can it communicate equally across the globe?

“What fascinates me is the Carnatic use of rhythmical complexities developed through a tradition of performance.” – Ned McGowan

Of course, these examples are not based on scientific research but merely observations. There has been in depth research, though, done on the ability of music to communicate across cultures. In a study carried about in Montreal, groups of Canadians and Congolese Pygmies were played music from each other’s cultures. The results indicated that while there were similarities in how the two groups responded emotionally to the basic musical elements of tempo, pitch and timbre, there were also broad differences in the preference of music, the judgement of quality (good or bad) and extra-musical associations. This goes to show that perhaps the question of universality does not receive a simple a yes or no answer, that the truth lies somewhere in between the two.”

In order to understand which aspects of music are universal and which are not Ned suggests that we break music up into three parts: the universal, the cultural and the personal.

“The universal elements of music are indeed the ones mentioned in the above study: tempo, pitch and timbre, and they each relate to physiological processes. For example, music in a faster tempo will inspire more movement in the listener than a slower tempo, just as reflected in dance music around the world. Further, human ears are calibrated for the range of the human voice and thus music in that octave will speak more clearly to any human, such as how one can understand the excited quality of a singer even while not understanding the lyrics. Similarly with timbre, a shrieking sound will be dramatic to anyone.

Relating to tempo, the use of rhythm in different cultures provides an interesting analogy to this question of universality, I believe. Think of the common square rhythms in 4 of European classical, jazz and pop compared to the Indian classical rhythms making regular use of lengths of 3, 5 and 7. Or of rhythms in 12 of Africa to the gestural rhythms used in Japanese traditional music. They are all very different in character yet make similar use of sparse or dense rhythms, slow or fast tempos to create lower or higher energy levels in the music. There are indeed universal truths to rhythm, I believe, which are explored differently by each culture.

The 2nd component inherent to all music is cultural context, and it is precisely that context which defines its contained influence. For example in India there are some ragas which are only played at certain times of the day. If one grows up listening to these ragas at their designated times, the association becomes strong. Hearing a morning raga, even in the evening, will still evoke images of sunrise and birds chirping. One who did not grow up or learn these associations will likely not have those same images. Likewise organ music often has religious associations in Europe because organs mostly exist in churches. But for someone from one of the many countries where there are few churches, the sound of the organ would not necessarily bring the worship of god to mind. Lastly, another clear example of the musical barriers between cultures is the lyrics of vocal music. In this respect music clearly mimics the regional quality of spoken language. If only Google translator could also translate musical meaning!”

“The 2nd component inherent to all music is cultural context, and it is precisely that context which defines its contained influence. For example in India there are some ragas which are only played at certain times of the day.” – Ned McGowan

He adds that an intensification of the cultural context is found in the musical element of ornamentation, due to its geographical and historic specificity. “The way jazz in the United States is ornamented today is different than 80 years ago and also different between the east coast and the west coast. Likewise, Carnatic gamakas have also evolved over the last eighty years and there are certainly differences in their execution throughout local traditions in southern India. Perhaps the differences in ornamentation occur similarly to differences in accent of spoken languages, which vary locally and over time.”

At the third level, he says music exists on the personal level. “Every individual musician has grown up with a set of experiences which are his or her own. Even two musicians of the same age within the same culture will still have their own unique perspectives, feelings and thoughts. Their identity is exclusive and this is the reason why new voices in music always sound fresh, even within standard repertoire. Just as no two humans are alike, so is every musician unique and that comes out in their music, whether as performers or composers.

This component also refers to listeners, whose perspectives are also coloured by their individuality. To experience this fact, just ask your neighbour at any concert what they thought and understood from the music. While there may be some common opinions, there are always also some differences in perspective. So when we multiply the individual expressions of the musician with the individual experiences of the listener, it is no wonder that music is often considered to be subjective in nature.”

Ned stresses that the more one learns about the music of a different culture the more one can understand and appreciate it. “This, I feel is the real merit of music on the global stage: not its ability to speak the same to everyone, but its ability to teach the listener about the qualities of the maker.”

Ayurveda’s healing juices

Singapore’s Ega Juice Clinic is making life easy for the health conscious. Detox juices to have on the go, beat the slump, energise and revitalize. Founder Sumit Nanda is an Ayurveda aficionado and is very conscious about what he fills in the bottles that people rave about

Sumit Nanda’s personal favourite juice is the Natural immune-booster power shot which is a potent dosage of turmeric (anti-inflammatory), lemon (metabolism), ginger (digestion), amla (anti-oxidants) on a daily basis. 

In terms of fruit juice, his favorite is GLOW which is fresh Pomegranate juice. It is full of anti oxidants and helps in the formation of new blood in the body. It has an astringent taste which is good for vata (air), sour which is good for pitta (Fire) and sweet taste which is good for kapha (earth). It is best for all times of the day and all body types as it balances all the three doshas in the body.

Sumit’s juice concoctions are based on Ayurvedic principles. An Ayurvedic diet insists that one must eat only when one is hungry and only eat what one likes. So what does Sumit think of the clash between Ayurvedic diet principles and of Western notions of eating every two hours and eating healthy even if it seems detestable.

An ancient Ayurvedic proverb says that anything we eat will either cure disease or cause disease, freshly cooked food combines the energy of the fire and air to nourish our body, frozen or packaged food cannot be digested easily and takes away energy from the body and is a source of disease for the body.” – Sumit Nanda

“This is a very interesting question and we get this question a lot. This basically highlights the difference between Ayurveda and a modern approach to diet. Ayurveda focuses on an individual and prescribes different diet and lifestyle for different people. The main focus of Ayurveda is on the digestive fire which helps to transform the food that we eat into fuel for the cells in the body. Our human body is a colony of trillions of cells which get nutrition from what we eat. If the food is not digested well, it remains in the body as toxins which is the main cause of all disease.

The human digestive system is like a machine which once activated takes a complete cycle for digestion and absorption of food. Fruits and vegetables which contain mostly water are fastest to digest and take about 2-3 hours, grains take about 5-7 hours to digest, most processed food and meats take about 12-16 hours to digest. It is important to eat only once the food has been completely digested and we feel hungry as the digestion process has been completed and body is ready for digestion again.

Snacking in between meals disturbs the process of digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food in the body and leads to formation of toxins in the body. Even if we eat the healthiest of super foods but if they are not digested well in the body, it is of no use to the body. An ancient Ayurvedic proverb says that anything we eat will either cure disease or cause disease, freshly cooked food combines the energy of the fire and air to nourish our body, frozen or packaged food cannot be digested easily and takes away energy from the body and is a source of disease for the body. 

The process of digestion starts with the taste buds in the mouth and the saliva is produced which is the first step of digestion. We  start salivating at the sight of good and tasty food. Taste is important for the digestion in the body and detestable things should be avoided unless taken as a medicine to cure any imbalance. 

The western notion of eating every two hours comes from a diet given in cases of extreme obesity with very low metabolism, a very small meal of easy to digest food is given which can be digested within 2 hours like one apple, handful of nuts, bowl of porridge, soup etc in a meal. It was never meant to be 3 proper meals along with 3 snacking meals in between.” 

One wonders if juicing vegetables and fruits is an Ayurvedic practice or a modern day practice in times when one cannot sit down for a proper meal.

“Drinking vegetable and fruit juices is an Ayurvedic practice of giving a high dosage of raw enzymes and nutrients and used to be generally given during sickness because of weak digestion. In old days, we used to work in the fields and walk in the sun however. Today all of us have weak digestion because of a sedentary lifestyle. We are mostly moving from air-conditioned homes to cars to offices and have a sitting job throughout the day. Since our digestion is generally poor, it is better to consume nutrients as juices. 

It is not easy to eat 2-4 kg of fruits and greens everyday but it is easier to consume that amount in form of juice so that we can get the nutrients. It is also important to eat raw fruits and vegetables daily for the fibre which helps the digestive system to function well.”  

“The western notion of eating every two hours comes from a diet given in cases of extreme obesity with very low metabolism, a very small meal of easy to digest food is given which can be digested within 2 hours like one apple, handful of nuts, bowl of porridge, soup etc in a meal. It was never meant to be 3 proper meals along with 3 snacking meals in between.” – Sumit Nanda

Colourful juices that look and taste delicious. Deep green, mellow turmeric yellow, lively orange… how does one come up with a new recipe every time?  

“All the recipes are based on the Ayurvedic principles of food combination. We are all part of nature and regional and seasonal fruits and vegetables help us to maintain our balance with the nature around us. To give an example, we get melons, watermelons and mangoes in summer when the weather is very hot and these help to cool down the body. Similarly, we get oranges in the winter which help to heat up the body. Ayurveda has classified each and every plant and fruit according to its effect on the body and we follow these principles to make the combinations. We add turmeric and ginger to most juices as it helps with digestion and absorption of nutrients.”

Drinking turmeric requires a whole new shift in thinking. How is it better than putting it in food?  

“We all need to consume about 5-10 grams of turmeric on a daily basis, it has the best anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral effect on our body. It improves our liver function helping our digestion and cleans the blood. We use fresh turmeric juice as it is relatively easier to digest and can be consumed by people of all ethnicity and background who are not used to the taste of turmeric and are not consuming turmeric in food. 

Indian cooking uses a lot of turmeric powder so that we get our daily dosage of turmeric from food. Powdered turmeric has very low absorption in the body and has to be mixed with some natural fat and penetrating spices like black pepper to increase absorption which is the reason it is consumed as curry. 

As per Ayurveda, turmeric should never be exposed to any heat to retain its medicinal properties. It has be harvested at night to avoid exposure to heat from sunlight and should be dried in the shade. Most of the turmeric available in the market is dried in ovens and ground in machines generating heat so the medicinal effect is almost destroyed. It is safer to use fresh turmeric because of adulteration in the market.” 

How does one avoid changing the chemical composition of ingredients?  

“Normal centrifugal juicers use blades and grinders to shred the fruit or vegetable to extract the juice, the blades cut the cell walls and cause oxidation of the juice.  The shelf life of the juice is very low and it gets spoilt very fast. The pulp or residue in these juicers is very wet and most nutrients are lost in the residue. 

In the cold pressed juicers, the pressure is used to extract all nutrients at cellular level and no oxidation takes place, the shelf life is more and most nutrients are extracted as the residue is very dry almost like wood.” 

One of India’s favourite satvik juices is Panakam, made during Ramanavami. Is that on the menu?

“Panakam is very cooling for the body. It is associated with Ramnavami which falls in the summer months and is very good to consume in hot season. We have a pipeline of new product offerings and panakam is on the list. We are experimenting with taste and ingredients and shall be adding it in the future. 

Disease manifests itself last in the body. Before that it manifests in the mind. We think we are not well before we start feeling unwell. Can we can invert this and say if we feel physically well, we will also experience mental wellbeing.  

Drinking vegetable and fruit juices is an Ayurvedic practice of giving a high dosage of raw enzymes and nutrients and used to be generally given during sickness because of weak digestion.

“This is a very important aspect to understand as mind and body are completely interrelated. Stress is one of the major cause of health issues in modern day life as our digestion is completely compromised when we are in stress. We cannot digest or absorb when mind is in stress which shows up as many lifestyle disease and symptoms like hypertension, diabetes, migraines etc. Similarly if we are sick, our brain function is affected and we cannot think straight or perform well. 

The definition of good health as per Ayurveda is ‘One is in perfect health when the three doshas (vata, pitta, kapha) are in balance, Digestive fire (digestion, absorption, metabolism) is working well, the excretory functions to eliminate toxins are in perfect order, and also be contented in the mind, senses and spirit. The physical body and mental state work in complete harmony, so it is important to keep the body clean for the brain to function well.”   

Juices in India are restricted to single fruit juices. How does mixing of different ingredients help?

“It is best to have single fruit when eating fruit as the digestion of each fruit is different from another. It is easier to digest and absorption of nutrients is better when consumed as a mono fruit. When it is in juice or liquid form it is easier to digest without the pulp.

Fruit juices can be combined however one needs to understand the compatibility of fruits when mixing fruits even for juice. Vegetables can be mixed together to eat or in juice. Mixing ingredients helps to get all the wide spectrum of vitamins of minerals available in different fruits and vegetables at the same time in a form that is easy to digest.” 

I was the ART ACHARYA at the ART-IN-ACTION festival at Oxford,UK for 17 years!

Shri. Ganesh L.Bhat is a seasoned sculptor with many special awards and unique collection! Carving stones, chiseling minds and creating the next generation of sculptors has been his dedicated journey. 

Shri. Ganesh L.Bhat, the legendary sculptor and Karnataka state awardee.

“Shilpa Kala is a visual art.You see what is carved and chiseled in silence to understand its significance . If they are carved in a sequence, evidences of the whole story and their meaning  reflects right in front of you. I was invited for 17 years to the Art-in-Action festival at Oxford,UK. They went beyond my limited English grammar into the limitless world of learning the sculptural work of art.”, said Shri. Ganesh L. Bhat, the legendary sculptor and Karnataka state awardee in a telephonic interview with CSP.

 When were the first sculptures discovered in India, what fascinated you to sculpt and take it up as your profession?

The first sculptures in India date back to the Indus Valley civilisation, where stone and bronze carvings were discovered. This is one of the earliest instances of sculpture.Later, as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism developed further, India produced some of the most beautiful bronze statues in the world as well as unrivalled temple carvings. Some huge shrines, such as the one at Ellora were not actually constructed using blocks, but instead carved out of rock, making them perhaps the largest and most intricate sculptures on  earth.

My father was a professional priest in one of the oldest Maha Ganesha temple in a village called Idagunji , located on the West Coast of India in Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka state, India. As a child I used to assist him in cleaning the premises, and doing alankara (decorating ) the deity . That’s how my fascination began and continues till date, am happy that it turned into my profession also.

 What are the different styles of sculpting? Is there any style you have specialized in ?

Karnataka has the maximum number of Indian traditional styles. Some of the ancient styles are : Hoysala, Chalukya, Chola, Ganga, Rashtrakuta, and Vijayanagara. In other Southern states of India like Tamizh Nadu, Pallava and Chola styles are widely known, Chera and Pandiya are common styles in the state of Kerala, and Kalkatiya style is established in the state of Andhra Pradesh. I studied Sandalwood carvings from Shri. K.G Shantappa, Indian stone carvings from Shri. Devalakunda Vadiraj, and Iconography from Shri. S.K Ramachandra Rao. These Gurus were master sculptors and I am ever grateful to them.Especially under Shri.Devalakunda Vadiraj, I studied for 10 years as an apprentice in the Gurukula System of education( where the student lives and learns from the teacher). Most of my sculptors are in Hoysala style.

What are the ancient classics for the study of Shilpa shastra ( शिल्प शास्त्र /Science of art and craft)?

Kashyapa Shilpa shastra, Rupadhyana Ratnavali Shilpa shastra,Tantra Saara Sangarha Shilpa shastra, Saraswatiya Shipa shastra are some of the ancient classics of Shilpa Shasta ( शिल्प शास्त्र ). All these describe the process, techniques, rules, standard, proportions, measurements, compositions, the meaning  and the design of the art and craft of making statues, stone murals, icons, painting, textiles, carpentry, pottery, jewellery, etc.

Its great to know that you have  delivered  lectures to more than 30, 000 foreigners in ART-IN – ACTION festival at Oxford, UK. What was it about, how was the response?

My Acharya Shri. Devalakunda used to take my sculptures and exhibit them in my name.So my name was known to the committee members of the festival even before they saw me! In 1997,I was invited to demonstrate for the foreigners and explain about Indian tradition, sculptures, drawings and Iconography. I literally became an “Art-Ambassador” of India for the ART-IN-ACTION festival. They did not mind the errors in my English grammar but were so keen and earnest to learn from me the art of making sculptures at the Shoot Farm Studio at Somerset, England. On a western stone I carved with Indian tools. More than 200 artists have participated every year. I was their Art Acharya for 17 years!

What makes  Indian sculptures attractive internationally? Whose works inspire you?

Indian sculptures are grand and have a  profound character to them. They are enhanced with carvings that describe their heroism.For example Krishna as a Supreme being is portrayed along with carvings of cows, Gopikas, saints , the Govardhana mountain,the flute etc. Foreigners are amazed by Indian perspectives of sculptures. They find it divine. They are in awe and wonder of our temple architecture too.

Temples in India are world class Universities for sculptors. The architectural principles of Hindu temples in India are described in Shilpa Shastras.

Its a great study of  aesthetics, culture, science, civilization etc that help in understanding the designs, geometries,mathematical principles and intricacies in creative construction of sculptures.

Ajanta and Ellora caves, adorned with beautiful sculptures, paintings and frescoes, are considered to be one of the finest examples of ancient rock-cut architecture. Located near Aurangabad in the state of Maharashtra,India, they are declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites attracting several international tourists.

I greatly admire the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, the icons in the history of Western art and craft.Michelangelo’s  fresco painted on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel is stunning & Mona Lisa, the famous of Leonardo’s works seems to be most valuable paintings in the world! How much these prolific sculptors & painters must have toiled year after year to have made such a monumental influence during the Renaissance!

Which other countries have you been invited, to showcase and teach your craft?

I have been invited to Ireland, France, Paris, and Germany. I have also conducted workshops at the British Museum,Victorian &Albert Museum in London. Some of them have even bought my sculptures.

What is the  difference between Indian and Western style of sculptures?

In my knowledge, the most important difference is that in Western styles modelers – person or material like clay are used, that aids them in making the sculptures. In the Indian way, creativity first happens in their mind, and then they set out to carve and chisel based on their inner visualization.

Western sculpting happens mostly on white marbles as it seems closest to the color of the human body. In Indian sculpting, various types of stones such as sandstone, shell stone, slate stone, granite are used even though marbles are also used in some places.

Saraswati on Veena
Lime stone sculpture of Mother & Child installed at Chalice Well, Somerset, England.

Aroma, colors, and even music/dance is considered therapeutic . How is sculpting a therapy for you?

Sculpting is medium to mould your expressions, your inner thoughts and feelings. Your understanding and imagination of particular subject takes on an external visible form. This creative process itself is therapeutic.You stare fixedly for a few minutes at a sculpture of an angry bull, you can vent out all your frustrations!Looking at a beautiful flower sculpture melts your heart and makes you appreciate beauty. Therefore every sculpture can influence your mind and heal your soul.

What has been your most beautiful sculpture, any thing specially made for people abroad?

I have carved many Ganeshas. In theVII century, Ganesha was popular in Indonesia, Java, Bali, Japan, Nepal , Burma, Srilanka, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan. There where”Gaanapatya Pantha”,a strong group of followers who made the murtis of Ganesha widesspread. India was a larger country then.

Later India became geographically smaller and when different religious groups occupied the country we lost these Ganeshas. They became “abroad Ganeshas”. Even today, Kangiten is worshipped as a deva ( god) in Japan .

It is represented as an elephant-headed male and female couple, venerated as giver of joy and prosperity and remover of obstacles. Saraswati, Krishna Radha, Dancing Shiva, Hanuman are some of the other dieties I have completed my work on.

Kamadenu Sacred Cow on Bath stone, assisted by Paul Fry, Installed at Shoot Farm Studio, Summerset,UK.

I have carved a 9 feet long 5 feet high bull out of a single limestone as a tribute to the thousands of cows that were lost in the Foot-and-Mouth disease in UK.It became a historical memorial underlying the sacredness of cows! My sculptor on Mother and Child on a limestone has also been installed at Chalice well, Glastonbury, UK.

When people see your sculptures, what do you hope they understand and appreciate ?

I sculpt keeping the purpose of the art form in mind. I don’t wish to confuse or give them difficult guesses. I want them to enjoy the beauty, the intricacies, the contours, the geometry and what the image stands for.My sculptures should not be a question paper, but an answer sheet!

How many sculptors have you made till now. Do you have your own school here where you impart training ?

I am blessed  to have made more than a 1000 sculptures! I used to train many students at KPG Prabhu Artisan Training Center at Bidadi, Bangalore sponsored by Canara Bank for 18 years. More than 700 students have learnt at the Center. Nearly 50 foreign students have received training from me abroad.Now I have my own studio in“Deva Sculpture” in Sakalavara, Bangalore. My  journey in teaching continues. I was a member of the advisory committee for National Gallery of modern art. I also serve as a Director for the Art Institute for Children.

A brief video of Shri. Ganesh’s carving style

How do you see your art as science ?

In recent times the raw materials  used for sculpting are plaster of Paris, wax, plasticine, reisen, concrete/cement etc. These materials are non organic and have certain chemicals that can be toxic and hazardous.

Whereas teracotta, wood, metals such as gold, bronze copper, silver these are organic. But the ultimate media is stone!Throughout history, stone has been the principal material of sculpture.Stone has the longest life,exceeding any other life forms. Hence working on the stone gives a sense of comfort and strength just as a child feels happy and healthy in the presence of the mother.

From your rich experience what do yon think the future generations need to carry on this great art form?

The new generation must be taught the techniques of sculpting in a Sampradaya (community) way, with a curriculum that has a standard structure.

Study on how temples were built, the encouragement it received from great kings and patrons is a must in the academic syllabus of an education system. Funding for tuition from private and Government organisations can transform the talents of earnest learners into very sustainable employment opportunities in future

Link to Shri Ganesh’s website:

India enjoys a strong, positive image in Brazil

June 17, 2019: At India Foundation’s Center for Soft Power in Chennai, we hosted Mr. Shobhan Saxena and Ms. Florencia Costa from Brazil for an interaction on “From Soft-Power Influence to Economic and Political Gains: India’s Engagement with Brazil and the South American Region”.

Mr. Saxena is the President of Indian Association of Brazil. He is a scholar and cultural entrepreneur. He is the founder of BRIC Street, a Sao Paulo-based organisation working on creating a cultural communication, bridging the knowledge deficit and building people-to-people contact while promoting trade between Brazil and India. He is also the founder of Bloco Bollywood, the first and only Indian street carnival in Brazil.

Ms. Florencia Costa is a journalist and cultural curator. Costa has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has worked as foreign correspondents in Moscow, London, Mumbai and New Delhi. She is the co-founder of Bloco Bollywood and the co-founder of BRIC Street. She is also the editor of a Brazilian website on Indian culture.

In the sidelines of the interaction, we spoke to them on understanding more about their initiatives towards enabling India in Brazil through Bloco Bollywood and in other ways.

The interview with Shobhan:

When did you move to Brazil? What are some of your areas of work and initiatives towards enabling India’s image in Brazil and South America?

I moved to Brazil in the year 2012, as a journalist.  In the past six years, I have reported extensively for various Indian and foreign publications about Brazil and South America, including the FIFA World Cup 2014 and Rio Olympics 2016. I have also focused on India’s bilateral engagement with Brazil and multilateral forums like BRICS, G-20, IBSA, G-4 and WTO, etc. Besides reporting, I have taught courses on Indian foreign policy, politics, society and cinema at the University of Sao Paulo. I regularly give lectures on Indian economy and foreign policy at Brazil’s top universities, think tanks and other institutions. In the past six years, I have given many lectures on the Indian Constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar, Sardar Patel, Yoga and Meditation, at the Indian Cultural Centre of ICCR at Sao Paulo.

As the president of Indian Association (2016-2020), I have been organizing Indian festivals like Holi, Diwali, Onam, Durga Puja, Independence Day and Yoga Day events in Brazil, which all attract a large number of Indian expats and our Brazilian friends.

Image source: Bloco Bollywood

My biggest contribution to the promotion of Indian culture in Brazil has been the creation of Bloco Bollywood, an Indian street Carnival in Sao Paulo where we play traditional Indian and Bollywood music. In just four years, our Bloco has become one of the top carnival parties in Sao Paulo, with huge media coverage in Brazil’s top TV channels, newspapers and magazines. This year, we attracted more than 8,000 people – Indians, Brazilians and other expat communities. Today, the Bloco is the biggest Indian gathering and festival in South America, with Indian associations from other countries asking us to take Bloco Bollywood to places like Argentina and Chile. The Bloco has helped in creating a very positive image of India and our vibrant and colourful culture. 

What are some of the key areas of work for your wife, Florencia Costa?

Florencia Costa, also a journalist by profession, has lived and worked in India for seven years. She has a lot of interest and engagement with Indian culture and festivals. A co-founder of Bloco Bollywood, she is instrumental in promoting our Bloco among the Brazilians and also in the local media. She is also a regular speaker on India-related issues at various media outlets, think tanks and universities. She has just covered the Indian election 2019 for Brazil’s top magazine Veja, explaining to its readers the vibrancy of Indian democracy.

She has created a new website called Beco da India (The Indian Street), a Portuguese site aimed at Brazilians that takes a 360 degree look at Indian culture and Indian cultural activities in Brazil and other South American countries. We plan to launch the site in July.

Tell us about the Indian community in Brazil and their areas of work.

We may have a total of 5,000 Indians living and working in the country. The majority of these people (3,000) are based in the state of Sao Paulo and Sao Paulo city. All members of the community are represented by the Indian Association of Brazil, which is the sole Indian organization in Brazil. The members of Indian community are involved in trade (textiles and consumer goods), academics, education and businesses like IT, pharma, petroleum, food and cultural activities. Most Indian MNCs like TCS, Infosys, Wipro, Reliance, Lupin, Dr Reddy’s, Ranbaxy and Vedanta have their Latin American head offices in Sao Paulo. The community is slowly but surely growing in numbers as trade and other engagements between the two countries grow.

Bloco Bollywood seems to have gradually evolved into a fine show of strength for the Indian diaspora in Brazil. As its founders what do you have to say about its evolution?

The real Brazilian Carnival happens in the streets in the form of music and dance parties called Blocos. Somehow, the energy and nature of Blocos in Brazil reminded me of the street processions we have in India (Ganesha in Mumbai or marriage processions on the streets of any Indian city). In 2016, after living here for more than 4 years, I realized that many Brazilians had an interest in Indian music and dances, especially Bollywood, but they did not really understand its nuances. So I, with my wife, decided to create an Indian Bloco as an experiment. Our first Bloco happened in February 2016 in Sao Paulo. We invited the members of the Indian community and our Brazilian friends to the street party. More than 700 persons, mostly Indians but some Brazilians, turned up at the Bloco, which is a free, non-commercial event open to all. For five hours, we played Bollywood songs, Indian pop and bhangra and dandiya numbers, with people dancing non-stop to the music. Because of its unique nature, our Bloco got extensive media coverage as people turned up in colourful Indian costumes.  

Image source: Bloco Bollywood

Today, in just four years, it has become the biggest Indian event in entire South America. In 2019, we had more than 8,000 people at two Blocos in different locations. It just shows the power of Indian music, dances and costumes to attract people. The Bloco has also given a big boost to all Indian restaurants in Sao Paulo and all Indian textile traders have benefitted from it, with a hike in sales of Indian dresses close to the carnival.

Given the Bloco’s popularity, we hope to turn it into an important vehicle for promoting Indian softpower in Brazil with the tagline of “Happiness and Peace”. We are also working on a social project to give free English classes to underprivileged children and young prisoners, with the purpose of boosting the image of the Indian community in Brazil.

What does the BRIC Street do? When was it founded?

BRIC Street was founded in 2018. We have just opened an office in Sao Paulo, with the purpose of increasing people- to-people contact between India and Brazil, besides promoting business and trade links between the two countries. We will have two websites: one to promote Indian culture in Brazil in Portuguese language and the other one (in English) to work as a resource centre cum online think tank for people working on India-Brazil relations. We also plan to organise an annual seminar and conference called India Dialogue Series in Sao Paulo, with the objective of promoting business, cultural and economic links between the two countries, besides showcasing India’s cultural prowess in Brazil and other South American countries. We plan to host the first India Dialogue in October 2019, in the run up to the BRICS summit in Brazil in November.

What is it about India that resonates with the Brazilian population?

Brazil is a country where India enjoys a very positive image. Also, as the Brazilian culture itself is a mixture of three cultures – European, African and indigenous – the people here are very open to other cultures. Indian things like Yoga, Ayurveda and classical dances are well-known here. Indian food and Bollywood are also becoming popular. Bloco Bollywood has generated a lot of buzz about India, with our team being invited to the top TV shows and getting live coverage on the country’s main channels and wide coverage in newspapers and magazines. Today, Bloco Bollywood has become the main vehicle of Indian culture in Brazil. We have introduced Bhangra, Garba and Bollywood-style dancing on the streets of Sao Paulo. We have also trained a team of drummers from University of Sao Paulo in playing Bhangra beats. Now, one of the top and iconic Samba schools in Sao Paulo has approached us to do a partnership with us. We are also exploring the possibility of getting Indian folk dancers from India to introduce different Indian dance forms in Brazil and create a fusion of Indian-Brazilian music and dance.  

Image source: Bloco Bollywood

Do you see India’s soft power influence translating into strong economic and political relations with Brazil?

Yes, definitely the potential is there. But a concerted effort has to be made by the government, community organizations, Indian businesses, cultural centres, chambers of commerce and influential individuals to make that happen. In that direction, it is very important to bring all stakeholders on a common platform and to work on it regularly and intensely. The proposed India Dialogue by BRIC Street is a step in that direction. With resources and efforts, it can become a platform for promoting business and trade through Indian soft power in Brazil and all other South American nations.

When did the Indian Association for Brazil start and what is its vision and mission?

The Indian Association was founded in 1997. That time the community was really small and the activities of the Association were limited to organising a few festivals for the members of the Indian community. With the increase in the number of Indian people, businesses and cultural activities in Brazil, the Association has grown a lot since then, with a huge jump in its members and activities. The Association has three basic missions:

  • Providing a platform for the members of the Indian community to organise Indian festivals and cultural programmes
  • Promoting Indian philosophy and culture in Brazil
  • Doing social activities for the local community in Brazil

The Association has a big piece of land (18,000 square metres) near the city of Sao Paulo and it is working on developing it as a community centre and a place to promote Indian culture, especially Yoga and Meditation.

Could you describe more about Florencia’s Brazilian website and its different facets?

Beco da India (The Indian Street) will take a 360 degree look at Indian culture with sections like Yoga, Meditation, Philosophy, Cuisine, Music, Dance, Bollywood, Travel, Social Enterprises and Innovation. The site, in Portuguese language, will be a complete resource centre for the Brazilians who are interested in Indian culture. At the same time, it will be a platform for all artists and musicians and dancers who are involved in Indian cultural activities in Brazil. The site will act as a bridge between innovators and social entrepreneurs for collaboration.

Yoga and movies are definite strong pillars of soft power. What are the futuristic aspects of India’s soft power that can bring both Brazil and the entire South America closer to India to strengthen relations?

Besides the Indian Embassy in Brazil and the Indian Consulate in Sao Paulo, which organise several Indian events, the main organizer of Indian events here is the Indian Association. We organize Holi, Diwali, Onam, Navaratri, Durga Puja, and the Indian Independence Day every year. With more resources, we plan to make these events bigger and better so that more Brazilians get an exposure to Indian culture.

Image source: Bloco Bollywood

Image source: Bloco Bollywood

Now, as Bloco Bollywood has become popular across Brazil, we plan to use it as a platform for promoting Indian Culture, Philosophy, Cinema, Cuisine, Meditation, Music, Dance and other art forms. We also plan to join hands with local organisations to create festivals around the theme of India.

The best way to promote Indian culture in South America is to create a roving Indian festival, which can travel from one country to another and also use the local talent in each country to give a complete exposure to Indian culture to our South American friends.

We are already working on creating the Federation of Indian Associations of South America (FIASA), a collective of all Indian associations in South America. Active by 2020, the Federation will help in pooling in resources for the promotion of Indian culture and trade links with South America.

‘The entire body-mind-sense complex is Ishwara’

Vedanta and I

Dr Shin Shin Tang is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at the Oregon Mind Body Institute at Eugene Oregon. In her practice, she has worked with a wide variety of concerns including depression, anxiety, relationships, and grief. She says Vedanta teachings have helped her “foster the strength of the therapeutic relationship as well as help clients see themselves as whole people, bigger than the mental and emotional challenges they face”.

Dr Shin Shin Tang, Clinical Psychologist, at Oregon, USA, says Vedanta permeates her life through little things like chanting a mantra at waking and before eating, meditating, performing a puja once a week at a local shrine and also through her yoga practice. Influenced by the teachings of Swami Dayananda and Swamini Swatmavidyananda, and their teachings on the Vedas and other sacred texts from Indian sages, Vedanta permeates her work as a therapis

While the West is constantly talking about a Mind- Body connection, Dr Tang says Ayurveda sees no distinction between the two.

“Regarding the mind-body connection, to paraphrase an Ayurvedic doctor I have met – there is not really talk of a mind-body connection in Ayurveda because mind and body are seen as the same thing. There is no need for the idea of a ‘connection.’ (I recognize the irony that I co-direct a ‘mind-body’ non-profit, but this is where Western culture is at.)

Similarly, in a broad sense, Vedanta teaches that the entire body-mind-sense complex is mithya, an ‘as though’ limited reality. This is what the mind-body have in common. At the same time, mithya reality cannot be completely negated as unreal since it is a manifestation of Ishvara who limitless. So the entire mind-body-sense complex is also Ishvara.

On a more specific level, the Vedic teachings do acknowledge the importance of cultivating a clear mind in preparation for the knowledge. (However, Swamini Svatmavidyananda ji is careful to specify that while the knowledge takes place in the mind, it is not of the mind.) A necessary component of preparation means taking care of the body through self-care and diet. Using the body in sattvic ways such as performing rituals, meditating or not causing harm to other beings is also taught. Having a sattvic lifestyle helps clear the mind. The mind cannot be at ease otherwise. In these modern times, we also have the gift of psychotherapy, which increases self-love. Then one can be ready for the ‘supertherapy’ of Vedanta as Swaminiji calls it.

On how Vedanta affects my practice:

It frankly keeps me sane! Without Vedanta, I don’t know how I could function in relationships with family, friends, or my patients. I’ll try to explain the mechanisms a bit.

There are many, many approaches to psychotherapy. However, the research is becoming clear that the one common factor in facilitating change in people is the quality of the therapeutic relationship. That is, how much the client feels understood, cared for, and trusts the therapist. Whatever other techniques one uses in therapy seem to be interchangeable. Vedanta teachings help me foster the strength of the therapeutic relationship as well as help clients see themselves as whole people, bigger than the mental and emotional challenges they face.

Swaminiji says one can simultaneously love the person and not like the behaviour. In other words, one can see the behaviour and emotions as mithya and the person as Ishvara. This ability to discriminate between conditional reality (mithya) and unconditional reality (Ishvara) is called viveka. As a therapist, it helps me:

1. Love my clients more freely – to quote Swaminiji, viveka is the source of compassion. So beautiful, yes?  

2. Help my clients see themselves more clearly – that they are not identified by this mess of depression, anxiety, hurt feelings, etc.

3. Have healthy boundaries with my clients – I strive to serve them as best as I can, but in the end, they have free will given by Ishvara and I do not have control over that. Viveka also teaches me not to identify with what is not me.

It is a paradox that the teaching of oneness helps me have healthy boundaries but I think it works in this way: my practicing seeing myself as none other than the whole helps me recognize that all else is not real. Then, I can let go of identifying with others as myself or depending on them to make me feel good and worthwhile. In one meditation Swaminiji teaches, we imagine there is an inside and outside of ourselves – the inside being Ishvara and the outside everyone and everything else. Of course, this is a yet another duality, but it helps with letting go of mithya?”

Dr Tang’s says she must have always been longing for the teachings from a very young age and they came unbidden.

“I think I have always been longing for the teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Hinduism but for a long time was not consciously aware of this desire. Despite this ignorance, somehow the teachings found me rather than me finding them. However, I suppose there was a journey of preparation. My first exposure to Hindu philosophy was Alan Watt’s The Book, a Westerner’s interpretation of Vedanta, which I ‘happened’ to pick up at a bookstore in college.

Discovering yoga years later in my late 20s gradually fuelled an interest in Sanskrit until I realized I needed a spiritual teacher. I actually first tried Buddhism, but while I did find great peace in meditation, I still felt something was missing (which I now know was Brahman) and had not found the right teacher. I spent several years participating in a community dedicated to Amma (the Hugging Saint) and going to her tours. This was my first exposure to Hindu rituals and teachings. Like yoga, these experiences fuelled a greater desire to be taught, but at the same time, I was not finding the teaching I desired in this community. Still, I thought I had found my guru in Amma.

That was when Dr Tang had an epiphany of sorts. A beautiful icon of Goddess Mukambika arrived in Eugene, Oregon in 2008 via Swamini Swatmavidyananda.

“I was strongly drawn to this Devi shrine and simply wanted to worship her, but, as Swaminiji jokes, one cannot have the Devi without the teacher whether one likes it or not! I met Swaminiji in the shrine itself and have been her student since. She had such a clarity about her that cut through all my misery and longing. I feel as though Swaminiji heard my prayers and found me rather than me finding her. She has been my primary gateway to Hinduism, teaching me how to conduct pujas and chant mantras, participate in homas, and, of course, study Vedanta.”

Dr Tang says that as a young child between 4 and 6, she remembers understanding that “time was not absolute and that the ego did not matter.” “Growing up, I lost touch with this knowledge, but the memory of this clarity is what keeps me returning to Vedanta and Swaminiji over and over again. The teachings are restoring my memory of who I am,” says the therapist who is drawn towards Advaita Vedanta and the concept of moksha.

“Sanatana Dharma switches the spotlight from without to within”

Vedanta and I

Dena Merriam began her work in interfaith work 20 years ago and found that there were almost no women engaged in interreligious dialogues, and the Hindu and Buddhist communities were also absent.  She founded the Global Peace Initiative of Women to provide a platform for women and the Dharma traditions to play a larger role on the global stage. Over the years the organization’s vision has expanded to create better understanding of the Dharmic traditions

Dena Merriam feels it is very important that women are a part of the Inter-faith dialogue. Personally, Dena is a worshipper of both forces – the feminine and the masculine.

 “On a personal level I am a devotee of Narayan and Narayani. (But I also love Lord Shiva and Mata Parvati!)  So Devis are a central part of my worship.  In our work we also try to balance the presence of the masculine and feminine divine energies.  We recently organized a conference on Mata Sita to raise awareness of the divine role she played in the unfolding of the Ramayana.  But the narrative is really about the complementary nature of the masculine and feminine, each balancing and supporting the other.  So while I worship the Devi, I equally worship the Deva.  To me they are one reality appearing as two.

I founded the Global Peace Initiative of Women to provide a platform for women and the Dharma traditions to play a larger role on the global stage.  The idea at that time was to bring spiritual resources to places of need, in particular conflict.

The Divine consciousness manifests through both feminine and masculine aspects but most organized religions have suppressed the Divine feminine qualities.  One of the special aspects of Hinduism is that it has not suppressed but rather celebrated the Divine feminine through the many Devis. Women gurus are a reminder of these qualities, which may be equally present in male gurus.  I think it is less an issue of gender than of the qualities being reflected in the guru. 

My own guru, Paramahansa Yogananda had many motherly qualities. It is very important for the spiritual attainment of women to be recognized.  For too long great women spiritual teachers have been assigned a secondary role.  For example, the women sages married to the great rishis of the past are known only as their wives and are celebrated for being “chaste and devoted wives”, rather than being celebrated for their spiritual attainment, which most often has been on par with their male counterparts.  The same can be said of Mata Sita, who was not just the devoted wife of Shir Ram.  She, along with Shri Ram, helped set the foundation for a civilization based on dharma, and her role was equally vital. Mata Sita was the expression of unity with the natural world and it may be said that some women spiritual teachers have a heightened awareness of this oneness with nature.

About 20 years ago when I first got involved in interfaith work, I found that there were almost no women engaged in interreligious dialogues, and the Hindu and Buddhist communities were also absent.  Interfaith was essentially a world of Abrahamic men talking to one another.  So I founded the Global Peace Initiative of Women to provide a platform for women and the Dharma traditions to play a larger role on the global stage.  The idea at that time was to bring spiritual resources to places of need, in particular conflict.

Our work has evolved greatly, and we no longer focus on women or on conflict, and we now work extensively with the Hindu and Buddhist communities helping to create greater understanding and recognition of these traditions. Historically we have also focused on raising awareness of the Divine Feminine, and this is still a theme in our work, but it has grown into shifting consciousness so that we come to see the earth and all of the natural world as sacred.  I would say the essence of our work is the raising of consciousness, helping the human community to evolve.

The role of the Guru is one of the most important aspects of being able to move to a higher understanding of consciousness and Indian traditions have always maintained that only the Guru can dispel darkness.

“In the religious world, the word “guru” is used very loosely today and often is applied to any teacher. But the true meaning of a guru is one who can lead the disciple from darkness to light, from ignorance to self- realization, from illusion to full awakening, and this is a rare capability.  The transmission of spiritual knowledge, the process of awakening to one’s true nature, comes about through the blessings of the guru. This is a spiritual law and is as true today as at any time in the past.   

That guru does not have to be in a physical body but the spiritual connection must be made.  To be a guru and to be able to awaken one to his or her true identity, one must have reached a high level of realization oneself.  There are many teachers who can provide guidance and offer meditation techniques, who can point one in a direction and take one along the path, who can give inspiring talks and do much good in the world, but at any one time, there are only a few true gurus on earth who have attained this high level of realization.  Today we see many teachers who have built large organizations with extensive followings but who may not be an awakened guru according to the criteria I have described.  The role of the guru has not changed over the millennia and is still a necessary part of one’s spiritual unfolding, but in the crowded spiritual marketplace of today one must develop the discernment to recognize that rare soul who can foster within the devotee true inner transformation.”

Sanatana Dharma switches the spotlight from without to within and shows us how to realize our being as Sat Chit Ananda – ever existing truth, consciousness and bliss.  That is our true nature and is the only means of true happiness.

Santhana Dharma is poised to create a new awakening in a world full of chaos and conflict.

“I most certainly believe that Sanatana Dharma has a tremendous role to play now in the spiritual awakening that is crucial for our evolution and even surivival.  Sanatana Dharma is not based on belief in doctrines but is based on enabling the individual to awaken to one’s true nature, and it provides the means for this experience.  So many of our individual and collective troubles today are based on the illusion that material objects bring happiness, but again and again we feel the disappointment and pain such pursuits engender, and in the process we are destroying the very life systems on which we depend.  Sanatana Dharma switches the spotlight from without to within and shows us how to realize our being as Sat Chit Ananda – ever existing truth, consciousness and bliss.  That is our true nature and is the only means of true happiness.

Dena’s journey into serious meditation began when she found her guru Paramahansa Yogananda at the age of 20, and it has become a central feature of her life in this birth. 

“Over the years I have experienced a significant change in how I perceive life and how I identify.  Many very specific memories of numerous past lives have emerged so that I no longer identify as this one personality of Dena.  I remember meeting my guru in past births and receiving guidance from many great teachers, women and men, who have guided me, step by step, to where I am today.  I am the summation of all of those lives, but my journey is not yet complete.  I see death as a return to a home where I can process my learnings and lay the blueprint for the next life where I can continue to fulfil unresolved samsaras and walk further down the path of awakening.  But increasingly the focus is not on self but how to help with the collective awakening so that our human community can evolve toward greater wisdom and love.”

“Vedanta makes all the difference on how I live my life”

Vedanta and I

Jane Janani Cleary is a Vedanta scholar and yoga practitioner at Boynton Beach, Florida. She has studied the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and other Sanskrit texts at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Mumbai in the 1970s. In this interview she shares her experiences with her gurus, the importance of preserving the patashala system, and the role of Vedanta in America today

One always wonders what attracts people to Vedanta. Is it India first and Vedanta afterwards or Vedanta first and India afterwards?

“I suppose it started with India because when I was growing up my exposure to India was typical of the educational system of that time and that was that everyone in India was starving and poor and it was a very hard place to live. Yet that did not seem to be the case when I met two Indian women at the New York World’s Fair. That encounter grabbed my attention as I realized that there must be more to it than what we had learned in school.  Sure enough my horizons on India were vastly expanded when I was in high school and I was initially attracted to yoga due to physical issues and being overwhelmed by the pressures of that stage in life.  Since there were no yoga studios around at that time, I just started doing it on my own from books and even that really helped me.

After high school I went to New York to really focus on yoga at the Integral Yoga Institute. I was not actually looking for Vedanta in as much, as, I was a yoga teacher in New York City and had a nice gig going teaching yoga, doing chanting and just enjoying all that it had to offer. 

A friend suggested that we attend a lecture given by Swami Chinmayananda at one of the colleges in NYC and that is when I first became aware of Vedanta.  I realized from him that yoga was just one small piece of a much larger picture and that in order to fully embrace it all I had to understand the basis for it all.  That led me to pursue further study of Vedanta etc. in India.”

Janani attended a conference in 2014 organised by the multi-cultural organization of the White House which appoints people from different religions and cultures to set up conferences related to their own specific backgrounds.  Anju Bhargava was appointed by President Obama to oversee the Hindu-Indian American group.  Previously, Anju had started a group called the Hindu American Seva Communities (HASC) whose purpose is for the Indian community to come together and find local causes in which they could give back to the communities that had helped to make them prosperous. Janani was invited as some who had given back to her community, in so many ways.

“One of the best insights that arose from the conference “was the realization that there are many people who are striving to make their communities better and doing it in so many different ways. Whether it’s running a soup kitchen/support center for DC’s homeless or providing sanctuary for old and abused cows that would otherwise be slaughtered or just volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club, these Indian Americans and supporters all over the country were intent on giving back. In the process their communities were able to learn more about the Indian culture and more fully appreciate what is has to offer.”

By following the dictum of “actions speak louder than words” HASC members delivered a powerful and important message about Hinduism and India,” says Janani.

“Another good outcome was knowing and meeting face to face with others making these efforts.  This was uplifting and engaging to all attendees.  Further, the opportunity to network with others was invaluable.  It was gratifying and also reinforcing to be able to talk about my activities in working with the Indian community and discovering that people were actually interested in knowing what I was doing. The ultimate overarching takeaway was that the White House did value and care about this program and our efforts! It was indeed an excellent and inspiring event!   

Vedanta has spread far and wide in the West, especially in the US. What is its role today there?

“This is a really loaded question but also a really good one.  Vedanta, when properly presented, is an invaluable tool to help people look at themselves, their world and their Creator in such a way that they can live their lives to the fullest as they discover the non-dual Vision behind everything.  The more people are able to discover this, the more they become contributors to the society instead of just being consumers. The added focus on the pursuit of liberation really sets it apart because this is not an ordinary pursuit and it is one that culminates in true freedom here and now.  Vedanta’s direct, thorough and deep focus moves it way past every other study. Thus, overall, it becomes a benefit to everyone, everywhere.”

‘While there may be other approaches out there that can unfold this Vision, there is no question that Vedanta does this and for a person who gains that knowledge of all that it has to offer, it makes all the difference in their lives.  I can fully attest to that and I have seen many times how it does the same for others. Not to overuse clichés but, at the end of the day, for anyone learning it anywhere in the world at any time, it just does not get any better than this!”

“Further, the beauty and uniqueness of Vedanta is that even though it is richly laced with Hinduism – the format is also there so that it can be presented in a non-sectarian way.  It is a knowledge based study and as such does not require that anyone studying it follow any specific religion or faith.  For this reason, it can be approached by anyone anywhere and help that person to discover the true meaning of life and of all things.  Yet, as one studies it one can also discover and/or grow from learning about the Hindu facets woven into it. More importantly, one can further discover the immensity and depth of the entire Vedic culture in all of its glory! It is all so awesome and truly mind boggling!”

Janani has been a disciple of several great Vedanta gurus. She was under the tutelage of Swami Satchindananda at Integral Yoga in New York City.

“I did not know him well and only talked to him briefly but his approach to teaching yoga was open, broad minded, full of yogic depth and well presented.  He had a great sense of humor, was charismatic and also he was very perceptive.  He was known to almost instinctively hone in on difficulties that a person might be facing and resolve them. When I left there to do further studies, it was with his blessings. 

She was also a disciple of Swami Chinmayananda and has many stories to share of her interaction with him.

“When my friend and I first attended his lectures he gave us special attention because he could see that we were young and basically clueless.  In fact, for a while all I could understand were the jokes!  But it was not long before I discovered how much there was to learn and since the topic is about what is Infinite, the study itself seemed equally so.  Yet, he made it so clear and enthralling, so that as a listener, I just wanted to keep hearing more and more and he accommodated that interest.  He was also dynamic, gregarious, caring and attentive.  Still, he would not take any nonsense and was quick to cut to the chase and did not necessarily spare anyone’s feelings in the process.  At one point, I was pouring out my heart and my sad tales of woe and I thought that he would respond by being solicitous and compassionate.  Instead, he just burst out laughing and he laughed really hard for a good minute or so.  By the end of it, I too was laughing as he drove home the point of how silly and ridiculous a lot of such preoccupations can be!  While some things do have to be taken seriously, most stuff ends up being a build-up and much ado about nothing – which is pretty much in the vein of today’s catch phrase “let it go”. 

I met him when he was teamed up with Swami Dayananda.  When I told him that I wanted to follow him around India because I did not know Swami Dayananda so, I did not want to go to study at the ashram; his response was unequivocally and resoundingly “NO!”.  He made it abundantly clear that my fears were groundless and that Swami Dayananda was a brilliant and capable teacher. In that respect, when someone once asked him about the working relationship of he and Swami Dayananda, his response was “I gather the stones and Swami Dayananda sculpts them.”

He had many great lines that could set matters straight and his forceful and capable delivery of them always drove the points home.  One that I use often is:  “The knife does not become sharpened unless it’s up against the friction of the grinding stone.”  So too, and just as Arjuna found out, we do not discover our true strengths and capabilities until we face and meet life’s challenges head on.”

Jane has studied the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and other Sanskrit texts at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Mumbai in the 1970s.

Based on the above, Janani, despite her initial reluctance met Swami Dayananda.

“I met Swami Dayananda who – true to his name – had the biggest heart and of course the knowledge to boot and the wherewithal to back it all up!  Although we got off to a rocky start because of my hesitation and his equally glaring assessment that I thought that I knew more than I did and he knew that I knew practically nothing, everything settled down once the course was underway. After I finished my studies, I returned home to the working world to really test the mettle of what I had just learned and had a successful career path along the way. But whenever I was able, I would spend time with him from then until he passed away in 2015.

Over the course of those years, I participated in many activities and undertakings with him such as organizing camps and lectures and setting up the ashram in Saylorsburg, PA.  

As both an experience and a lesson, he always advised that, according to the tradition, it is far better to be concise and to the point and use as few words as possible when communicating something profound and critical about the Truth of it all.  Similarly, while endless stories could be told, ultimately, it is better to keep the stories to a minimum. However, I would still like to sneak in one statement – about the teacher who made it all so clear – all the words and experiences will never express what he has given me and countless others.  In that respect, there can never be enough words spoken or experiences related that can ever fully describe how much I have benefited and been blessed to have had him as a teacher. 

Is there a difference between Vedanta among Indians and Vedanta among foreigners?

“No, because when it comes to the essence of Vedanta itself, any individual no matter where they were brought up and what else they may have been exposed to or know, they will always know Vedanta in the same way.  Because it is knowledge based, it must necessarily be the same the world over just like any other study is the same.  There is no such thing as Russian physics, Jewish geology, French geometry or Catholic chemistry. So too, Non-dual Infinite is Non-dual Infinite and the knowledge that unfolds that must necessarily be the same no matter where it is taught.  Swami Dayananda would always say this and would add that India just happened to be the place where it originated and where they did an incredible job of protecting it and handing it down to keep it going!  Thank God!  Anyone who cites differences in this respect is only looking at the trivial surface stuff (of which there is plenty) and does not see what it is really all about.

Janani quotes the saying, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” She did not plan to be involved in this type of pursuit for her entire life yet it all just seemed to come together this way.  

“As I have continuously tested its veracity throughout my life, I keep finding that it holds up and moreover, it makes all the difference in how I live my life.  There is a verse that unequivocally states that “The gain of the Infinite is an Infinite gain and the loss of the Infinite is an Infinite loss.” 

Everyone gets to choose on whether or not to focus on what provides a lasting sense of fulfillment or just stick with the endless limited comings and goings that suck the life out of them as they try to make the most of the paltry enjoyments and rewards that they get from those pursuits.  But if they do the math on this equation, it’s a no brainer.  Still, if someone chooses to ironically and endlessly chase after finite ends, they get to – they just can’t complain when the results don’t last.

Put another way, the word “Brahman” comes from the root “brh” = “to be grow, increase, be big” so one could say that in the pursuit of Brahman, this is the “go Big or go home plan”. For me, in recognizing this fact, why would I choose anything else?”

Jane was the advisor to the movie Gurukulam, that focused on the life of the late Swami Dayananda Saraswati, released in 2016

Is it important, in your opinion, to go to the original texts, to have an authentic experience?

“This question is a trigger for me on many levels because the tradition itself is so incomprehensibly vast and yet so well-structured and contained.  In fact, I am writing about the uniqueness of this tradition and how it must continue to be preserved.  As a case in point: It is totally mind blowing to me that for thousands upon thousands of years the Vedic texts were memorized and passed down from one generation to the next – this itself is beyond amazing!  But what is even more amazing is that for the most part, there were very few discrepancies in what was memorized.  Like that, there is so much more to be in wonder about it.  The greatest irony is that now, when there are so many tools and institutions that can keep it going – it has a greater chance of being lost to modernity so it still has to be maintained at the grass roots level.  This is why it is so important that people continue to make efforts to keep the patha shalas going.

In light of the fact that everyone will agree that liberation is inarguably the goal of the original texts and that the original texts do make good and deliver on that goal, then anything that follows after them is an added bonus if the later text brings about the same result.  If the later text does not, then who needs it? There are later texts that do unfold what is stated in the original texts but there are also many that do not.  Currently, there are so many books written that contain some semblance of the original texts yet totally lack the methodology presented in those texts and therefore not only fall far short of what the original texts present, they also mislead people.  Moreover, most of those texts lean towards the experience of liberation.   The emphasis in the original texts is on knowledge first because experiences –no matter how uplifting they are – are temporary, whereas knowledge is lasting.  Again, which one is better: a temporary blast of bliss or an abiding lasting sense of well-being?”

As for teaching Sanskrt, not for nothing is it called the “language of the Gods” and anyone who spends any focused time with Sanskrt cannot deny how powerful the impact of it is.  Teaching Sanskrt is a joy and our rule of thumb when we started 5 years ago was: “If we are not having fun, we’re done.”  It provides a lot of back up support to the study as it serves as a tool that can help to see things more clearly so it is very helpful.  In fact, Sanskrt really does bring home the teaching so it makes so much of a difference in understanding it.  But, while I strongly encourage it, I never insist that everyone must learn it because I do not want to discourage anyone who is unable to or incapable of learning it.  It should not be a strike against them if they are otherwise in earnest to study Vedanta.”  

“I think Bharatanatyam on its own is everywhere.” – Radhe Jaggi

(Images taken from Radhe’s website: http://radhejaggi.com/)

Dancer- Choreographer, Radhe Jaggi sat down with CSP at its office in Chennai on Tuesday, 11th June to discuss her experiences in travelling and performing abroad, as well as the work she has undertaken to promote Saris and Indian fabrics.

Can you tell us about your journey and what inspired you to take up dance?

“It was actually an accident. I learned dance when I was in boarding school where it was one of many activities. After 10th I didn’t want to go back to school. Not that I didn’t want to study, but I didn’t want to be in an actual school. So I visited Kalakshetra in 2006, where I was captured by the way dance was spoken about as an art form.

It was v different from what I thought it was, but in the end it ended up quite well. It was interesting cause I came from such an open environment in school and home to a much more conservative approach in Kalakshetra. But at the end of the day, the space and the teachers make you a great dancer.

I took a year off in between where I took a break from dance, but I started to miss it. And so I went back to dance. Then when I went back to my teacher from Kalakshetra, and asked her to be my teacher and she said yes.”

(Images taken from Radhe’s website: http://radhejaggi.com/) 

Can you tell us some of your cherished memories of your childhood and the influence of your parents, in specific of your father, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev on you?

“I don’t know what specific incidents you want. I have a lot of animal stories. I grew up a lot on trees. I also read a lot, so much so that my father had to break my reading habits. My father used to have meetings and he would make me come to give him water during the meetings. I remember sitting in these meetings and he would even ask me my opinions on things discussed in the meetings. And so this is how he broke my reading habit, and got me interested in things beyond what I was initially interested in. “

Can you tell us about your fascination for travel especially adventure tourism and how it has been a great influence on your life? Have you travelled extensively like this with your father?

“Not really. I’ve been travelling with him a few times but we don’t really go as tourists, we go as part of a spiritual experience. But I’ve travelled with him when he’s had programs. And when I was a child I had summer holidays and so he had to take me with him. And when we travelled we stayed in people’s houses and so we met a lot of different kinds of people.”

Does he come to your house?

“Yeah but he doesn’t come to Chennai that often. I go home sometimes or I see him if we’re both travelling somewhere nearby.”

Tell us about your experience of studying Bharatnatyam in Kalakshetra. How did it shape your thinking?

“In Kalakshetra whoever you are whatever level you are, you start from scratch. Everyone starts from zero and when you come out of it it becomes second nature. If you wake someone up in the middle of the night and ask them to hold a posture they can. But while you’re there you’re a student. You learn the basics and the right ways to do certain things. And once you leave you can decide what to show on stage and why or if you want it to be different.

Right after I finished studying I started performing mainly in small temples in Tamil Nadu. I was lucky to have some young musicians with me. It was a good foundation for me before I started doing shows on a more technical or larger stage.”

Radhe performing at the Chidambaram Temple (Images taken from Radhe’s website: http://radhejaggi.com/)

When was the first time you performed abroad and what was the experience like?

“I don’t remember actually. I performed I think in the US, for the very first time, in the Ashram there. But since it was the ashram there was a certain level of comfort. I don’t know if it was my first performance but they have these world peace day celebrations in the ashram and in the evenings they always have some show – so on one of those slots I danced for about 10, 15 minutes.

We did a few shows in the US before Adiyogi was built, to bring some awareness to it. That was my first tour abroad.”

Can you tell us in detail about your visit to Korea and the production “Bahuchara Mata — the third sex”, a collaboration between Indian and Korean artists which culminated at the end of three weeks to a performance at the Gwanju Art Festival?

“I went to South Korea as part of InKo Centre’s project with a South Korean theatre company. I went as a dancer and a percussionist from Trivandrum that I knew, as well as a flutist. The three of us went from the Indian side, and we worked for about 3 weeks. And we showcased the performance in Seoul. It was based on an Indian folk tale. We shared elements of our dance with elements of their traditional dance and their director put it all together and made it a cohesive piece.”

What are some countries you’ve been to?

“Malaysia, US, UK, Singapore, Canada. I remember once dancing for a private dinner hosted by an MP at the UK parliament.”

Do you get invites from governments abroad?

“Not really. Even through ICCR the sponsorships are lower. I think they’re focusing on senior dancers more.  I go wherever I’m invited; I don’t actively search out governments.”

Radhe at her performance in the UK in 2013 (Images taken from Radhe’s website: http://radhejaggi.com/)

For younger people to take this up as a career, how do you see performing arts evolving globally?

“I think Bharatanatyam on its own is everywhere. And I think that if the teaching of it can be improved – everyone learns dance as a child but somewhere there is a disconnect between people who learn as kids and then forget it and don’t go back to it as adults. This doesn’t happen in the case of music. Somehow people that learnt dance haven’t come back as audiences. Maybe there’s something we’re doing wrong as performers or teachers.”

Tell us about your love for Saris

“I want to do something with it, but I haven’t figured out what yet. I’m very fascinated by fabric and weave. There’s so many unique ways of weaving cloths in India. Even if you look at it historically, ancient high fashion even in Europe was all Indian weaves. And somewhere during colonization they broke our weaving traditions with the advent of the mill. And now I think people need to actively look for diversity in our weaves and our different fabric traditions, and look beyond that which is simply fashionable. I think now more and more young people are wearing saris, in different ways, which is good. But still we need to get over these excuses of “its too hard to wear” or “I can’t wear it everyday because I have to work.” And its surprisingly comfortable, because nowadays there’s less and less formality with a Sari. So it is an option.

If you’re not into Saris, then maybe look at natural fabrics or natural textiles.”

(Picture taken from the Hindu Article on Radhe: 28 Saris Later https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/radhe-jaggi-on-her-sari-soiree/article26162908.ece)

What’s your favorite fabric?

“My favorite is Mysore Silk. It’s smooth as butter. It keeps you warm when you need to and cool when it needs to.”

Do you plan to start a dance school?

“I’m not sure if I want to start a school, but I definitely want to start teaching. Right now I travel too much to take the responsibility of having students. But I think that is a decision I will make soon, but probably not with too many students.”

How does it feel to be the daughter of Sadhguru?

“A lot of people ask me that, but he is my father. He’s a great father, but he is still my father. He doesn’t carry the weight of the people that follow him and I have never been told I can or can’t do something because I was his daughter. I never thought that I had to behave a certain way because I was his daughter. But it did give me a lot of opportunities, and I got to meet a lot of different people because of him.”

Walking through India with Roobaroo

“I felt the fact that there was no organized way of experiencing places was an opportunity to tap into the huge potential of Indian heritage,” says Heritage walks ‘Roobaroo’ Co-Founder Aayush Rathi

There are so many little historical treasures that one misses out when one travels around India. Many music lovers who sing the compositions of Muthuswamy Dikshitar, one of the Trinity of Carnatic music, are not aware of a small Veda patashala situated just before the descent to the Ganga River in Hanuman Ghat, near the Kanchi Mutt in Varanasi. This Veda Patashala houses a Linga, consecrated on top of the Jeeva Samadhi of Chidambara Naada Yogi, which was worshipped by Dikshitar for eight years.

Dikshitar was trained in various aspects of Mantra, Tantra and Yantra, the Vedas, Puranas, Agamas, Yoga, the Advaitic philosophy of Shankara, the true spirit of inner consciousness and the truth about the existence of life by Chidamabara Yogi, at this very place. Dikshitar is supposed to have gone for a dip in the Ganga one day and come up with a Veena with the word Ram inscribed on it in Sanskrit. This would surely be a not-to-be-missed place for music lovers worldwide, if only they knew about it.

In this context it is heartening to hear about Roobaroo, a young team which is showcasing India to the world through her different stories.  Roobaroo which in Urdu word means soul to soul, was Co-Founded by Ayush Rathi, a graduate of India’s premier engineering and management schools – IIT Bombay and IIM Ahmedabad.

Roobaroo curates walks and experiences in Varanasi, Delhi, Amritsar, Lucknow, and Agra.

Aayush says the use of Urdu for their company’s name, “represents the merging of two languages and thought streams – an amalgamation, which is a hallmark of inclusive Indian thought.” Their logo has the palindrome written in three languages – Hindi, Urdu, and English.

Roobaroo curates walks and experiences in Varanasi, Delhi, Amritsar, Lucknow, and Agra. Aayush says they started the Walks at Varanasi “for the sheer depth of its heritage – be it historical, cultural, philosophical, music, arts, architecture, literature, and food. For over 3,000 years, this city has been the centre of learning in India and the hotbed of human expression in various fields. The continuity of Indian culture can be seen in its full glory in Varanasi and we’ve seen travellers get a real sense of India here.”

Experiencing the authentic flavour of Varanasi cuisine, includes a local cuisine lunch in the 18th-century haveli of the legendary writer – Bhartendu Harishchandra. “Along with relishing its preparation in the haveli’s open courtyard, the experience is peppered with some fascinating discussions on poetry, society and book reading. And leading the experience is the daughter- in-law of the writer’s family – who is herself a Storyteller for kids,” says Aayush.

“Along with relishing its preparation in the haveli’s open courtyard, the experience is peppered with some fascinating discussions on poetry, society and book reading. And leading the experience is the daughter- in-law of the writer’s family – who is herself a Storyteller for kids,” says Aayush.

It would be lovely to sit in the 16th century house of Tulsidas, overlooking the Ganga on the ghats of Varanasi, and wonder why he chose to write the Ramacharitamanas when we already had Valmiki’s Ramayana and be glad he did; or witness the fascinating sport of Kabootarbaazi (Pigeon flying) on the roof of a local house in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk; or cook Awadhi cuisine within the ancestral home of a Lucknowi family with Roobaroo.

The idea of curated walks came to Aayush during this second year at IIM Ahmedabad during his exchange semester in HEC Paris, when he got an opportunity to travel around Europe. “When I get back to India, I started traveling around here and was flabbergasted with the tremendous depth of our own culture. I felt the fact that there was no organized way of experiencing these places was an opportunity to tap into the huge potential of Indian heritage.”

Roobaroo has designed Essential City Walks (3 hours long) in each of the cities to allow people the calm of taking in the flavours at their own pace. “There are numerous other walks to deep diver into the different themes, and food experiences as well as cultural activities with local experts. We select from these other experiences based on the person’s interests,” says Aayush.

Some travellers have come back as many as five times across four different cities and soaked in upto 18 different experiences. To allow people to experience the melting pot that is Delhi, Roobaroo shares stories of the “amalgamation of the Hindu and Islamic civilizations facilitated by the pluralistic ideals of the Sufi saints – best experienced in heritage walks in Mehrauli and Chandni Chowk. The artistic marvels of Amir Khusro, Ghalib – through walks and performances in and around their homes, tombs, and places of work. The fascinating Indian food – inspired by myriad influences of the natives, invaders, merchants, settlers – best experienced through Food Walk in Chandni Chowk and Spice trail – from market to Kitchen.

Roobaroo has designed Essential City Walks (3 hours long) in each of the cities to allow people the calm of taking in the flavours at their own pace.

“The story of the unstructured, yet highly efficient Chandni Chowk. The third golden age of Indian history under the glorious Mughals – best experienced in Shahjahanabad. Shaping up of the Satyagraha movement by Mahatma Gandhi – best experienced at Birla House and Gandhi Smriti. The rise and fall of colonialism – best experienced in Lutyens Delhi. The story of India’s first rising against the British – experienced through the occupation and recapture of the Red Fort. The neo-Indian arts scene through music, dance, poetry performances led by several upcoming artists. The creative Indian legend scene – through the stories of Djinns at Kotla Feroz Shah… the list can go on,” says Aayush.

“Indian philosophical systems have contributed to the practice of modern Mindfulness”

– Interview with Kathirasan K, Mindfulness trainer, Singapore

International Day of Yoga – 21st June, 2019

Kathirasan K, the Founder Director of the Centre for Mindfulness, Singapore, began his journey into Wellness, Mindfulness and Yoga while he was serving his 2.5 years national service in the Singapore Army in the early 90’s. Inspired by the works of Swami Vivekananda in 1994, he began his journey into Vedic Mindfulness viz Advaita Vedanta and yoga.

“At that time, I had too many unanswered existential questions that perplexed me. I explored western philosophies, eastern philosophies and popular religions. But it was Advaita Vedanta that resonated with my disposition.” He started to learn Advaita Vedanta traditionally from the late 1990s till 2004 and taught it after that. He was certified as a Yoga instructor in 2008 with S-VYASA and since then has taught yoga using both spiritual and secular approaches.

In his book Mindfulness in 8 Days, Kathirasan writes that through Mindfulness ‘we learn to live in the present moment, re-examine the meaning of success, failure, stress and joy, and confront any difficult situation with poise and inner strength.’

Asked if this is based on Indian philosophy, he affirms, “It is definitely connected to Indian philosophy, in specific its humanistic dimensions. A lot of what I write has been shaped by Indian Philosophy but not limited to it. And as mentioned earlier, the goals of being not a failure or examining the meaning of life are not always spiritual but it depends on the kinds of means that we employ to get there. They can also be viewed as laukika sadhya-s, and especially so in Indian philosophy where both laukika and vaidika aspects are not black and white but two sides of the same coin. And again Indian philosophy is a loaded word because it can refer to two diametrically opposite philosophies like the Mimamsa and Carvaka.”

Asked about the ‘secular’ aspect of his Mindfulness programme, Kathirasan quotes Job Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the secular mindfulness movement. “Kabat-Zinn has acknowledged the roots of secular mindfulness to be from Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism (Theravada and Mahayana), Chinese and Korean streams of Zen Buddhism and postural Hatha Yoga. So it is evident that Indian philosophical systems such as Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism and modern Hatha Yoga have contributed to the practice of modern Mindfulness.”

“Secular mindfulness is a spin-off from spiritual mindfulness, similar to butter that has been derived from milk but each having different properties. Secular mindfulness is thus very important so that it reaches out to people regardless of their race, religion or culture who undergo stress, depression, addictive disorders and for those who desire to enhance their brain capabilities to lead a happy and productive life.” -Kathirasan K, Founder Director of the Centre for Mindfulness, Singapore

However, he adds that Kabat-Zinn also states that “the purpose of Secular Mindfulness is to step away from the cultural aspects of these traditions as these would cause unnecessary obstacles in dealing with suffering that is universal to human beings. Leveraging on the direction set by Kabat-Zinn, universities around the world have been experimenting with these secular techniques and have been recording astounding results in many areas such as stress reduction, reducing depression relapse, treating addictive disorders as well as positive enhancements in personal and professional productivity and happiness,” says Kathirasan.

Kathirasan says the other important feature of secular mindfulness is that the practices are not focused on attaining any “soteriological goals of Buddhism, Yoga and Vedanta. Hence the goals of these secular practices are laukika (secular).

“A couple of universities in the UK have developed secular mindfulness by setting standards for teaching. Dr Matthew Brensilver has also defined the three distinct traits of secular mindfulness as rejection of the notion that some texts or ideas have special, protected status, openness to revision based on the emerging scientific evidence, and mindfulness not being a set of beliefs but practices that enhance well-being.”

There have been criticisms to these secular versions of Mindfulness, especially from Buddhist quarters, “who have called mindfulness without its spirituality not mindfulness at all. One scholar has also sarcastically urged these secular mindfulness to be called ‘brainfulness’ instead, as mindfulness is a spiritual practice. These criticisms are still active in spite of scientists continuously reporting the benefits of secular mindfulness on wellbeing,” says Kathirasan.

He says that there is one common thread, however, which runs through both these positions which is the acknowledgement that “secular mindfulness is a spin-off from spiritual mindfulness, similar to butter that has been derived from milk but each having different properties. Secular mindfulness is thus very important so that it reaches out to people regardless of their race, religion or culture who undergo stress, depression, addictive disorders and for those who desire to enhance their brain capabilities to lead a happy and productive life. As Kabat-Zinn has mentioned, we do not want to create unnecessary obstacles for these people.”

Kathirasan says this is important, especially, in multi-racial and religiously plural countries where secularism plays an important role in maintaining national harmony. “I would like to contribute an additional point which is that today we have many versions of mindfulness such as Vedic Mindfulness, Buddhist Mindfulness, Jain Mindfulness and Secular Mindfulness. All of these have both similar and different qualities and we also need to acknowledge that similar ideas are also found in Abrahamic religions too.”

Kathirasan says Singapore has embraced secular mindfulness given that the research on the effects of secular mindfulness have been very compelling in showing its positive effects on wellbeing. “It has become very popular with schools, corporates and people from all walks of life. At this point I would say that we are at the infant stages of Mindfulness becoming a mainstream practice, whereas Yoga had probably hit the maturity stage. Yoga is perhaps ten times more popular than mindfulness among corporates, although the interest in the latter is steadily increasing.”

(Links to articles: https://www.centreformindfulness.sg/articles)