Janani Chaitanya, aka Jananisri, has studied Vedanta since 2007. She completed a three and a half year intensive Vedanta and Sanskrit course in India with Swami Dayananda Saraswati, scholar of Sanskrit and Vedanta. Swamiji blessed her with the name Jananisri, meaning Divine Mother, at the end of her study in India.
“At the end of the residential course Pujya Swamiji told that one should never judge oneself by the ‘state of the mind.’ At the time one person next to me was crying while another was laughing; it is such a relief that the thoughts and emotions which come and go are not representative of ‘I’.”
Today Jananisri teaches beginning Sanskrit, Vedanta and Vedic chanting and assists her teacher, Swamini Svatmavidyananda, editing and publishing teachings of Vedanta. Quoting Swamini, she says, “When there is a pause to re-collect the mind and see that it is ‘a state’ and not the truth of ‘I’, Swaminiji’s description arises of walking the ‘I-notion’ from its mistaken identification of being one with the mind to simply being ‘I’. ‘Walking’ the incorrect understanding of ‘I’ to repatriate it with its true nature is an image that I never tire from.”
Why did you choose to come to Swamini Svatmavidyananda and explore Hinduism?
Thankfully I was in the right place at the right time. Within the first hour of hearing Swaminiji talk I felt confident that the questions I had about the inner world of humans and how it impacts the outer world, could be answered. Because Swaminiji’s teachings seemed so relevant to this question and to me, it did not matter whether it was Hinduism or not.
I love how the teaching operates at a subtle level with clarity about the truth of one’s own nature resulting in being non-demanding, appreciative and compassionate. I have found that as clarity grows the struggle to either conform or go against societal expectations decreases. I see the texts and shastras to be open and all inclusive in a way that I’ve not encountered in other traditions. For instance, in Hinduism it is accepted that no matter who you pray to, it is prayer and not a “sin,” as other traditions might call prayers to a Divine Being other than the one identified with their tradition. No matter whether one believes in Allah, God, Ishvara, or any other Divine Being, for a Hindu prayer will bless one.
Is it possible be spiritual and yet a-religious? How is it beneficial to take the religious and spiritual path instead?
I don’t think there is a spiritual path that is devoid of an altar of worship. The knowledge that ‘I’ is non-separate from what is, the whole, Brahman, requires a place to lay down incorrect notions, a place where one can ‘as though’ let go of what is not ‘I’. Those who know themselves to be whole, however, do not see a ‘path’ or for that matter any differentiation between religious and spiritual, so naturally they have no need for religion.
Does one have to undergo pain and sorrow in the path to inquiry?
Any inner inquiry usually begins from a place of pain and sorrow and so it might be that one confuses the pain and sorrow resulting from not knowing oneself – even after one has started one’s inquiry – with pain and sorrow related to the inquiry. Indeed, inquiry tends to push one out of one’s comfort zone therefore leading to increased opportunities for pain and sorrow to arise. However, the pain and sorrow is not related to the inquiry and one finds that as one’s clarity increases, pain and sorrow become less frequent, less intense and more quickly recovered from.
Has learning Sanskrit and listening to Sanskrit changed you. Was it difficult? Does it offer inroads to greater understanding of Indian philosophy?
Sanskrit is a beautiful language that carries the culture of Indian traditions within itself. For instance the word anilaḥ is translated as ‘wind,’ but etymologically we can break it into the negative particle ‘an’ and the root verb ‘il’ which means to stay still, resulting in a definition of wind itself as that that which does not stay still. There have definitely been challenges in learning Sanskrit but as the teachings of the Upanishads and shastras grows clearer, it seems so too does Sanskrit.