‘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)

The science of consciousness

Padma awardee in the field of technology, Subhash Kak is one of India’s greatest minds in the field of artificial intelligence, cryptography, neural networks and quantum information. His writings show that Indian Vedic technology was a precursor to many of the developments in Artificial Intelligence today

You were among the pioneering modern writers seeking to re-establish or restore the value of Indian Vedic heritage. How has the journey been and would you say that significant gains have been made in the last 10 years?

Subhash Kak: It’s been an exciting ride. There are several aspects to it. First, is a proper appreciation of India’s contributions to scientific subjects. I believe I have been able to convince a vast majority of scholars who work on the texts and also those in the general scientific community who want to understand the role India played in the rise of science. A part of this work was bringing findings from the scholarly world to the general public, and then I have done some analysis of Indian scientific topics myself.

Everyone acknowledges that Panini’s grammar anticipated the computer program in its logical structure, and in the formulation of a metalanguage about rules. Likewise, it is generally accepted that the binary numbers were first formulated in India and Navya Nyāya, which is equivalent to mathematical logic on which modern machines are based, arose several centuries prior.

It has been a greater effort and time to make people understand implications of ātma-vidyā since it is so much outside of the modes of thinking familiar to Western scholars and to naïve people. But science is increasing accepting that the mystery of consciousness is the frontier of research in neuroscience, physics, psychology, and computer science. Therefore, there is much more understanding of the Vedic view, where this is its central focus.

Basically, the Vedas speak of two kinds of knowledge: aparā (lower, amenable to linguistic analysis) and parā (higher, which is related to consciousness). Traditional sciences that one learns through formal training (śikṣā) is aparā, whereas deeper knowledge that arises out of inner inquiry is vidyā or parā.

In Western academia there are still deeply entrenched Left wing Anti-Hindu pockets. Have they been losing legitimacy?

Subhash Kak: The Left dismisses the idea of higher knowledge related to consciousness, so it has deep antipathy to Hinduism. But the Left’s campaign is losing legitimacy as the idea of Consciousness Science is accepted by the scientific world. After all, all that we do occurs in our consciousness, so finding how it arises is most important.

The anti-Hindu attitude arose partly to justify colonialism and racism. The world is rapidly changing and India’s economy is already the third largest in the world based on PPP (purchasing power parity), and is rapidly growing and become one of the two largest within the next decade. Western academia will listen to Hinduism’s self-characterization much more seriously as these changes unfold.

You have spoken about consciousness change when we engage with our Vedic texts and practices. Yoga, Sanskrit, Yagnas all of them transform the Sādhaka. How does one explain this change in modern scientific terms when modern science is inadequate to such study such phenomenon?

Subhash Kak. Although modern science is inadequate to deal with the process of transformation, it has developed evidence that makes it impossible to ignore the question of agency, or freedom of the individual.  For example, how do you make sense of the discoveries of mathematical formulae Srinivasa Ramanujan would report on waking up from sleep? The process of discovery anywhere cannot be fitted into a machine-like framework. But we do need gifted scientists and authors to bring these ideas before the scientific world.

Is there a correlation between Indic Knowledge Systems and AI?

Subhash Kak. The Indic tradition goes to the very heart of the question: what is Self? We have a body which is machine-like but within it lies the Self, who is pure and untainted by what we do. This creates a paradox. It’s our ignorance caused by a covering on our pure self that makes us take our embodied self to be the real thing.

We are a machine with the Self within. A computer, on the other hand, is just a machine of dead parts. A computer, therefore, will not be conscious. We may rest confident that AI will not lead to conscious machines, and AI will not be creative the way humans are.

In your article on Yoga, you say that the diverging positions of whether the spirit arises out of the material ground or whether the spirt is different from matter, is responsible for a lot of misunderstanding of yoga among laypersons and yoga practitioners. Is it possible to resolve this conflict between mind and matter? Why are Indians not putting this debate to rest?

Subhash Kak. Sometimes it is not a question of misunderstanding, but rather of a different starting point. If one approaches reality from a materialistic and reductionist perspective, then one sees everything through that prism. But that view leads to despair and unhappiness about the pointlessness of life. Consider the current opioid epidemic in the United States which took over 70,000 lives this past year (more than the dead in the Vietnam War, which went on for over a dozen years). People seek opioid prescriptions for physical pain, but in many cases the underlying problem is deep psychological pain.

Is it possible to go back in time and understand the Vedic mind – the mind of the Rishis. Would you be able to throw light on how they thought and analysed things?

Subhash Kak: The way the Rishis obtained their insights was through a direct connection to the ātman within. How can one do it? First, by getting away from the supposition that we are nothing but the contents of our mind. If we are not the contents, which is what we normally suppose, then who are we? Can we be one with the dispassionate sākṣī (witness) within us? This is where spiritual practice and sādhanā comes in. All that is in the domain of yoga, which is the lived Sanātana Dharma. As curtains that separate us from our true self fall, we gain exceptional powers and understanding.  

Carrying Thayir Sadam to the World

Ahara – 9 June, 2019

It is very rare that individual people are able to promote Indian soft power, in any field, as widely and for as long as Ms. Viji Varadarajan has. An expert in South Indian Cuisine, she has authored numerous books in multiple languages, and is constantly teaching foreign students about the diversity the exists within Indian food. Focusing on South Indian cuisine, she aims to create an appreciation for the complexities of South Indian food, in the minds of all those she encounters from outside India.

Ms. Viji Varadarajan was trained to cook through the dual influences of her parental home and her husband’s family’s traditions. She has analysed the dishes from the point of view of nutrition and health and presents recipes that are perfectly balanced – low in fats and cholesterol and yet protein and vitamin rich. These recipes have been handed down and perfected in the kitchens and temples throughout South India. Today’s generation was losing out on an entire culture so she decided to record for posterity the dishes from a Brahmin cuisine.

CSP interviewed Ms. Vardarajan, at her home in Chennai, joined by two of her foreign students – Eri and Akemi. Akemi is a Japanese national, who had previously researched Indian cuisine. She has now settled in India for the last 20 years. Eri, also from Japan, runs an Indian restaurant in her hometown in Japan.

From Left to Right: Eri, Akemi, Viji Varadarajan, Vijayalakshmi Vijayakumar, Aman Nair

Ms. Viji Varadarajan

Indian cuisine has always been appreciated at the global level, but have you found that this appreciation has increased recently? And if so, why?

Indian food has always been popular in places like Britain. However, the Indian food taken there is mainly North Indian food, more specifically Punjabi food.
But recently a lot of people in Europe who have come to know the greatness of Yoga, and Ayurveda – and as the world goes on and on the meat produce has also become expensive for them – so they have to turn to vegetarian food. Basically what was sent there was non vegetarian food Punjabi food, so when they turn to vegetarian food it turns to the focus of south Indian vegetarian

Recently I would say, yes, it has gained popularity, in many places because when you go to learn yoga from a yoga teacher they generally ask you to eat vegetarian food and not have any other habits. So a lot of people I know of, have started vegetarian in a big way. And I have been promoting Tamil Brahmin cuisine for over 22 years now. I’ve written books, and taken it abroad – its won awards – and I’ve tried to carry Thayir Sadam to the world stage.

So to some extent yes, people have found the difference between north Indian and South Indian food. Of course it’s just a drop in the ocean, but still Indian cuisine is gaining a lot of popularity and I would say its increasing everyday.

Some of the dishes taught by Ms. Viji Varadarajan

You have spoken about the role that Vegetarianism has played in promoting Indian cuisine globally. Do you think that when our food is taken abroad that our ingredients are being used in the right way?

We have a lot of native vegetables in the south that you don’t find anywhere else. Like, the amount of spinach – you get all kinds of spinach in the south – each a different variety and with different flavours. And the spices are mild. So when you cook with these mild spices of the south the vegetable flavor stands out and the spice does not drown out the vegetable flavor. Unless you add a ginger or a garlic and you fry it in oil and then you add the vegetable, because then you only get the flavor of ginger and garlic.

Whereas generally in South Indian Cuisine using the same spices for a different vegetable you get the flavor of that vegetable. So its really unique that way, our vegetables. Our vegetables are unique and our spices are unique because they’re based on the ayurvedic principle of being healthy for the system. For example, we use all the ayurvedic ingredients in our Sambar powder – like fenugreek, mustard, a particular kind of turmeric. We don’t use cinnamon, clove or cardamom, which is supposed to give heat to the body, which they use for garam masala in the north. So there is a marked difference between the spices used in the north and the south.

Of the innumerable students you have trained, how many would you say are foreign students?

All of them. I don’t generally train Indian people because Indians have seen a mustard, they have seen a fenugreek, they don’t need to learn from me. I do specialized training for foreigners because they are passionate about knowing our spices. I’m looking for that passion. My students immerse themselves totally in the cuisine, they share their progress with me and they even start restaurants sometimes. Maybe they do other cuisines as well, but they give as much importance to the cuisine I’ve taught them. So that is what I concentrate on. Their passion for the food and my passion for teaching them.

Would you say that there is a region or a country that seems to have a greater affinity towards Indian cuisine? Where do most of your students come from?

Most of my students are Japanese or French. I have a French cookbook which was translated and co-authored by a French expat.

Ms. Eri

How did you become interested in Indian cuisine?

I first came to India over 20 years ago. When I first came I stayed only in large hotels and so I wasn’t able to truly experience real Indian food. But one time on this trip I ventured out and tried the food from a small restaurant, and immediately fell in love with it.

After going back to Japan, people began to ask me how to cook Indian food – and I began to notice the differences between Indian curry and Japanese curry.

Ms. Eri at her restaurant Ammikaal

What are some of the similarities between Indian cuisine and Japanese cuisine that you have found?

One of the similarities I found was that the type of food served at home is similar between the two countries, because they both are not heavily spiced, and are not incredibly intricate dishes which require much time. And so in both forms of home food, we can taste the ingredients itself. But the food served at restaurants is totally different from anything in Japanese cuisine.

What inspired you to start your own Indian restaurant in Japan?

I’ve been interested in Indian cuisine for twenty years now. In India there are so many different forms of foods and cuisines, and I wanted Japanese people to become aware of the diversity of Indian food. That’s why I started my restaurant.

In your restaurant, what are some of the dishes that the local people seem to like the most?

Japanese people generally prefer something non vegetarian, like a chicken or fish curry. I combine such a curry with a dal, and a vegetable dish and make it like a combo meal. This is usually very popular in my restaurant.

Have you had to change some of the Indian recepies to adapt to the tastes of the people in Japan?

I’ve had to add less pepper, and make it less spicy.

” I’ve been interested in Indian cuisine for twenty years now. In India there are so many different forms of foods and cuisines, and I wanted Japanese people to become aware of the diversity of Indian food.”

What made you name your restaurant Ammikaal?

The name was actually given to me by a few Tamil students that lived in my city. The reason I chose it was because the Ammikaal is essential to South Indian cooking. That was the first reason. The second is that I wanted my restaurant to be place where many different cultures could mix and get along. There are around 400 foreign students studying at the university in my city but not many of the local people know about this, and so I wanted my restaurant to act as a point of contact between all these different people.

Is the clientele in your restaurant old or young?

The main customers are between the ages of 20 to 60, with the oldest customers being around 80 and the youngest being around 4.

Ms. Akemi

What were your first impressions of India when you came here and how have they changed over time?

My first visit to India was Pune in 2006, and my first impression was that there were so many people.

And since then actually my main perception of India has not changed. Because India has been my dream country since before I even came here. So while I experienced new things, it’s not that my perception changed but rather that my understanding of India became deeper day by day.

You said that India was your dream country, why was that?

I had been doing research into ancient Indian food in Australia before I had even come to India for the first time. So I really wanted to come and see the real India.

What about food, clothes and other things like the climate? How have you adapted?

I’m not sure whether or not you know my background. I did my Masters in Gastronomy (Food anthropology) at the University of Adelaide and my thesis was related to ancient Indian food. Now I write about Indian cuisine and culture for Japanese magazines regularly. Food is the main reason why I came here so of course, I love all kind of Indian food and it’s my life work. But I can say that I prefer South Indian cuisine because rice is the staple. I’m Japanese so I can’t live without rice. I love wearing Sarees but the climate is too hot for me.

How did you get interested in Kolam design. Do you put it everyday in front of your house. Do you use traditional rice flour powder or do you like using colours too? What kind of patterns do you like making?

The street where I stayed after marriage was full of kolam designs every day, and I was simply attracted by its beauty.  I started taking pictures of kolams especially during Margazhi but never tried to make a kolam by myself because I thought it is very difficult for me. In 2018, I coordinated an article about Kolam for a Japanese magazine. We visited Dr. Gayathri Shankarnarayan who is a Kolam expert & scholar and learned the basic and history of Kolam from her. We also went to Auroville and met Grace Gitadelilaa who has been doing Kolam workshops called Kolangal DD in D. After that I started putting Kolam every morning at front of my house entrance. I mix rice flour and stone flour as just using rice flour is quite difficult to make smooth lines. I think now most people use the mix or just stone flour. I love Chikku kolam most for putting but I’m interested in community-based kolams, such as Nadu Veetu kolam of  Nagarather, Iyengar Padi kolam etc.
I use colors sometimes as one of my kolam teachers, Hema Kannan, asked us to use colors for special kolams. At the time, I made a Japanese traditional pattern called “Asanoha”.

What about the Indian deities? Who are your favourites and what attracts you to them?

My favorite deities are Andal, Murugan and Ammam.

Andal: I’m not sure whether or not we can consider Andal as a deity because she was born as a human. I love Margazhi and Kolam for which Andal has significant roles. I love her works, Thiruppavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi as these also have many gastronomical references. Nachiar Tirumozhi is one of the oldest existing references for Kolam.

Ammam: I don’t know why but I love Ammam temples where I feel very close to my heart. I think I love feeling the strong and passionate energy from lady devotees.

Murugan: Tamil Kadavul Murugan was my favorite serial and he is the most beloved deity by Nagarathers. I’m doing some research on the community.

Annam to Brahman

Ahara – 9 June 2019

In the Indian Vedic tradition, food, annam, is not just a biological substance that sustains and nourishes life, but is equated with Brahman, the ultimate truth, essence, origin and goal of all that exists in the world.

‘Annaath Purushaha’, declares the Taithiriya Upanishad, ‘from food was born man’, tracing the human being’s origin from the ether, air, fire, water, earth, plant life, and finally what it calls annam, food.

The Upanishad acknowledges that indeed, all life is born from food, and returns to food, but in true Vedic style, it goes beyond biology. It emphasises a deeply metaphysical understanding of what food is and what role it plays, not only in the cycle of life, but in the relationship of the human being with the world around him, with the devas, and with the ultimate ‘truth’ Brahman.

‘Annan na nindhyat’, ‘Annan na parichakshita,’ it warns, ‘never disrespect food.’ Those who view and understand food as Brahman, will not only obtain food and material prosperity, but Brahmavarchas, the effulgence of the Veda, and mahan kirti, great glory.

Small wonder then, that Vedic culture is equally emphatic about the value of giving food. The famous Rig Vedic Suktha, referred to as the Bhikshu Suktha (Rig Veda X.117), is a paean to generous giving. Those who are stronger, more fortunate, should give to the ones in need, it exhorts. Moreover, says the sixth rik in the suktha, “who eats alone has only evil,” kevalagho bhavathi kevaladi. As for the giver, the very first rik in the suktha declares – “the wealth of one who gives never becomes exhausted.”

Therefore, says the Taittiriya Upanishad, Annam Bahu Kurvitha – “produce a lot of food. Do not refuse one at your door. Food that is prepared and given in the best way possible, returns to the giver in the best way possible.” (Ethadvai Mukhatonnam Raadham).

The Upanishad concludes, I am the food (Aham annam), I am the eater (Ahamannadho), I am the first in the order of the world (prathamaja ritasya), I exist before the Gods, (purvan devebhyo), and finally, who gives me has protected me. (Yoma dadathi sa idheva ma vaha.)

The Veda goes further to emphasise not only the value of giving food (even a little food offered, it says, suffuses the whole world and the world hereafter!), but that it is both prana and apana, the in and out breath, thus giving life as well as taking it away. Which is where the science of Ayurveda comes in. After all, what you eat is what you are, and the right ‘ahara krama’ will put you on the path to not only health and long life, but, coupled with sadhana, ultimate realisation of the self’s identity and purpose.

The magic of the Mat

International Yoga Day – 21st June, 2019

Interview with Yotam Agam, Musician and Yoga practitioner

Many a purist has griped that there is only one way of doing Yoga. There are others who believe that the more people who do Yoga, in many different ways, the greater will be the role played by India in the world, closing the gap between tradition and modernity.

Yotam Agam is a man of the desert, and he has got people to do 108 Surya Namaskars at the Arava Desert (which means desolate and dry area in Hebrew), South of the Dead Sea Basin, which forms part of the border between Israel and Jordan.

The practitioners, stretch, take deep breaths and salute the Mighty Sun, with the mountains as a backdrop, painting a scene which is simultaneously surreal and yet true to the roots of Yoga.

In 2004, 35-year-old Yotam came to India to work in Chennai, and immediately sought a Yoga guru. He started a basic Hata Yoga practice with a local guru. The practice was in his guru’s room and went on for a year, after which he set out on his own.

In 2004, 35-year-old Yotam came to India to work in Chennai, and immediately sought a Yoga guru.

To Yotam, Ashtanga Yoga is very accessible to everyone. “It is a practice of exploration designed for house holders, on how to find peace within yourself using different techniques. While it has many layers that take time to reveal, the physical layer is a gateway to the practice and its mysteries.”

The physicality of Yoga is the entry point to further growth. It is difficult to move beyond, without first having committed to a daily practice, which is the key to sustaining oneself in Yoga. Describing his daily practice, Yotam says, “I start my day with either one hour Pranayama followed by short asana practice, or a long asana practice mixed with some readings. After which my day starts, and I try to remind myself the little things I learn on the mat throughout the day.” A feeling which resonates with everyone who holds the mat dear. To use a modern metaphor, the rolling of the mat can have a placebo effect on people’s well-being.

Yotam says the spirituality of the practice lies in the quietude it brings. “Yoga is a practice to still the movements of the mind. Yoga is very much a spiritual practice by the simple rule, that if you show up daily to your practice you will cultivate a spiritual path of exploration. Once you let it grow on you, you realise the beauty and the strength of breath, seat and meditation, the asana become a gateway to all of this.”

“I start my day with either one hour Pranayama followed by short asana practice, or a long asana practice mixed with some readings. After which my day starts, and I try to remind myself the little things I learn on the mat throughout the day.”

There is no greater way to access a certain oneness of spirit than through Nadam. Yotam says, “Sound and Music have a huge influence on the mind and body. Listening makes us be present in the moment and touch our emotions. By simple listening with consciousness we experience deeper layers of ourselves. Music is a great practice and tool for another dimension, or another way to find Drishti (focus) in your practice.”

To Yotam, all music can be an inspiration on the mat. It could be the sound of birds on the roof top of the yoga shaala in R A Puram in Chennai, or it could be “some sort of drone that never ends and carries you through the practice, or it can be a simple repetitive rhythm that encourages your brain to slow down. It can also be a mantra or anything that helps you get your mind focus on the practice.” But, he adds wisely, “Strangly enough, most of the time I prefer silent practice with my Ujjai breath sound.”

Yotam composes live music even as his class is in progress. At that point the music becomes a yoke. “I want to be able to act as a thread for the students, to help them get centred. But I have to remember to be transparent and humble to the energy in the room, the teacher and the students. The music in the class does have a very strong effect on the energy flow and in many cases helps everyone to connect deeper to the moment.”

“Yoga is a practice to still the movements of the mind. Yoga is very much a spiritual practice by the simple rule, that if you show up daily to your practice you will cultivate a spiritual path of exploration.”

The Nomadic desert music of his homeland is simple and resonates with some folk music forms in India. “That said, classical Indian music both Carnatic and Hindustani is a world of its own, rich in colours and depth which does not really exist anywhere else. Its spiritual layers are amazing and a lifetime to learn,” he adds.

(Links to Yotam’s website – yotamagam.com and his company – www.dogoodconcept.com)

Link to his Soundcloud: