Goddess Saraswati, phenomenology, and the Greeks

Let’s start with the Greeks. A few years ago I had to read with my students a number of Ancient Greek texts, and I found one of the tragedies quite interesting, because it was rather different from the others. Here goes the story: Hippolytus was a boy, or a young man, who did not want to fall in love and get married. He liked hunting with his buddies, spending time in the forest, riding chariots, exercising, and doing all the stuff noble boys did in those times, and he was worshipping the goddess Artemis. Now, Artemis was quite special among the Olympian gods, being the daughter of Zeus, the twin sister of Apollo, the story has it, when she was young, she asked of her father, among other things, to never be married, to remain a virgin goddess (one of the few virgin goddesses in Greek mythology, Athena is another one). So she is the one, who is forever young, who hunts and spends time with animals and plants, she protects the virgins, she is also said to be the patron of midwives, aiding women in childbirth.

Hippolytus is such an ardent follower of the virgin goddess Artemis that he ends up offending the goddess of love Aphrodite, who becomes quite upset, and then the tragedy unfolds from her wrath. Now, some of the traditional and boring interpretations of that myth would say, that like in every other Greek tragedy, Hippolytus commits “hubris” – arrogance against gods (or a god), and is punished for that, yet, it is much more interesting to see, that unlike the other human characters in most Greek tragedies, Hippolytus maintains his moral standing, he remains true to the principles he is following, and so even though he dies young, in some versions of the myth he is rewarded in afterlife.

The reason I remembered this story, however, is that it brings attention, in a very dramatic way, to the reality, that some of the principles, ways or aspects of life might seem to contradict each other, or at least compete with each other, especially if they are taken up and followed through in a radical way. Lucky us, that we do not have the human-like in their imperfections and whimsical in their decisions Greek gods of questionable moral character breathing down our necks, still the moment of reflection to bring from this story is about the multi-faced-ness (is there such a word?) of being and of our being, and about balance between the different aspects of the whole.

Shri Saraswati is the Goddess of learning, both arts on one hand, and science and scholarship on the other, She is the one that gives us the sense of beauty as well as true knowledge. (See, the Greeks were right, when they felt that beauty and truth are the same, or that beauty is the shining of the truth of things). On a larger scale, Shri Saraswati is the Goddess of creativity, and perhaps even any sort of physical and mental activity.

Ranjan, our music teacher at Canajoharie Nirmal Arts Academy, said on several occasions: “when you sit to practice, ask Her that whatever you do pleases Her, and, you will see, you will learn very fast.” For a while I conveniently assumed, that by “Her” he meant the Primordial Mother, the Adi Shakti, this is ultimately Whom we worship when our meditation evolves from the level of “self-help” and “stress management” to the level of spiritual practice. And, of course, to some extent that was correct, for Adi Shakti contains within Herself all other aspects and Deities that come from Her. But no, Ranjan meant, Goddes Saraswati, the aspect of the Divine that inspires and nourishes all learning, and the art in particular, and makes things beautiful. When I realized that, I also had to admit that I have little if any sense of this aspect of the divine. Of course, I know some things about it mentally, but have very little experience of it, or, at least, am not well aware of it.

You see, I never cared much about the looks of things, about how to make things pretty (Easter eggs being the only exception 🙂 ), about design, clothes, make-up, I considered all of that superficial, so ultimately not important, and also boring :). Even when it came to the natural beauty, I always liked mountains and the sea, and loved feeling them, but somehow failed to see visually the beauty of nature as “extraordinary”. Instead, I always valued the “inner”, the deep, the “invisible” qualities. You know, Shiva, the Spirit, does not care about appearances, neither his own, nor of others, but only cares about the quality of the heart.

When I came to Canada to do my MA, I took Sam’s course, and ten minutes into the first class I knew that he was my teacher. He had this amazing capacity to get to the very heart of things so naturally and with so much grace, and yet also with such an insight. I guess, things liked him and were willing or maybe even eager to open up to him. So I wanted to learn that. It took a few years to convince him that I was his student. He later denied that at first he doubted whether I had what it takes, that was Sam :). So, this philosophical method he developed is very interesting, you really have to take your time to explore all these different bodily ways that the things show themselves to us and that we respond to them, and yes, for him “bodily” included cognition and emotion. Once you spend enough time circling around on the surface, with a little luck you might find, quite suddenly, that the surface has opened out, and the deeper truths of things have become visible to you. It’s like this: things might seem a certain way on the surface, but if you care to take your time and give your attention, and reach a little deeper, you might see, that actually things are different than what they seemed, and if you care to go even deeper, you might find them different again. So there is this play between the surface (or layers of surfaces) and the depth, and while they might offer us different “truths”, they are not the enemies of each other, rather they just trace out two different directions of truth showing or hiding itself.

Perhaps I had to do this hard core philosophy stuff to better understand something about Goddess Saraswati. Namely, even if we accept an oversimplified view that Shri Saraswati is responsible for the “outward” aspect while Shri Shiva – for the very heart, they are sister and brother, and so they do not compete, but work together. In fact, in Sahaja yoga we learn that if you over-work and drive out of balance your right channel, the sphere of Shri Saraswati, and especially right Swadishthan chakra, then your heart will suffer, first in subtle ways, and eventually also on a physical level, because in the microcosm of our individual being Shri Shiva will not be getting enough support from His over-worked and exhausted sister.

Shiva, the spirit, is life itself, and when He abandons you, you die, but what that also means is that Shiva is the one who is the life in everything that is alive. It is the fullness of life, that capacity of things to shine, to show themselves, to be beautiful, from within and also outwardly. Here I do not mean “life” in the typical Western sense of “organic”, rather, I mean also the life of lakes and rivers, minerals, mountains – the way that they can shine forth, or, on the contrary, look dull and dead. Compare how the same fiber looks when it is dyed with natural vs. artificial pigment, and you will see what I mean. You will also see how that real and genuine essence in the very heart of everything, which is Shri Shiva, shines forth from “alive” natural things with the beauty of Shri Saraswati, especially when it has been tended to by careful hands, attentive eyes and ears, and pure intentions.

Since this is turning out to be a New Year post (it’s been slow-cooking for a couple months), let me wish that all of us in the next year are blessed abundantly by Shri Shiva, as well as Shri Saraswati, and all other Deities, but most of all, by their and our Primordial Mother.

Advertisements

William Blake, The Book of Job, and music

Today is William Blake’s birthday, and I was looking through some of his work – I have this book about Blake’s engravings illustrating the book of Job.

First of all, it was really nice to see Job’s wife – she is so beautiful and soothing to look at, as serene as Job himself, and while she turns quite old and exhausted, stricken with grief and despair as the catastrophe unfolds, she is there by his side, she suffers with him and she is blessed with him also. It’s interesting that in the old story Job has all his children taken away from him, and all his belongings, but not his wife. Perhaps it is the testament to such a unity between them, that cannot be broken, so does not even occur to Satan to challenge God to take away Job’s wife? I found that interesting, and also inspiring.

Now, what was really neat to see in the last illustration, was that once the Job’s family was returned to him together with all his wellbeing, they all are portrayed by Blake as doing music together. So there is a “before the disaster” and “after the disaster” family portrait, and in the first one all the musical instruments (except maybe one pipe and one lyre) are hanging in the tree, while in the the second one they all are being being played. Does it mean that they needed to have the experience of all that suffering and loss, and doubts, and misery, to really feel the fullness of joy afterwards, and to actually play the music? I don’t know, but it’s nice to ponder on these riddles created by Blake. The sun and the moon have exchanged their places, so I would assume the first picture is the morning (and how it was at the beginning), and the second one is the evening (how it all ended).

So, here are the “before” and “after” pictures in watercolour rather than engraving:

William Blake - Job and His Family.jpg
William Blake – Job and His Family” by William Blakehttp://www.themorgan.org/collections/works/blake/work.asp?id=onDisplay&page=16. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Job and His Family Restored to Prosperity Butts set.jpg
Job and His Family Restored to Prosperity Butts set” by William BlakeThe Morgan Library, extracted from Zoomify by User:GGreer. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

By the way, according to Blake, Job and his wife have three daughters and seven sons, those numbers will mean something to those who know :). I wonder what are those things that two of the daughters are holding instead of the musical instruments? The sheep and the dog are also neat :).

Explore and enjoy the rest of the illustrations, you can see all three versions (two of watercolours and one of engravings) of all the illustrations at the end of this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake%27s_Illustrations_of_the_Book_of_Job

Those of you who do sahaja yoga might especially like the fifth from the end illustration of Christ blessing Job and his wife.

And let William Blake be fondly remembered on his Birthday!

Vrindavani Venu in Canajoharie Arts Academy

Within the last year I have posted several posts here with some of the Marathi songs that I find  rather special. You can find them by the tag marathi. The posts themselves are in Ukrainian, but the videos and audios within the posts are in Marathi, so you can watch/listen if you like.

The video clip above is one of the songs that we have learned in a bhajan class this summer in Canajoharie Arts Academy, sung by our teacher, Ranjan, during the class. You can find a better audio of this song from that recorder that Alan is holding next to Ranjan here: http://alanwherry.tumblr.com/post/131307102785/heres-my-favorite-singer-ranjan-sharma-of-new

I actually wrote about this song last May, and posted a clip of one the “original” versions as well as a Ukrainian rendition: https://msvarnyk.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/маратське-музичне-3-вріндавані-вену/ If you follow the link, you will see that the first clip has English subtitles, so you can see what the song is about if you are interested.

The poem is written by a Marathi saint, Bhanudas, who is connected to Pandharpur, one of the places that is on my Indian “to visit” list. It is said that he was an ancestor of Eknath, another poet saint from that tradition, about whom I also wrote before :). It is really quite special, what these Nath tradition saints were doing. Some of them are perhaps more known for developing hatha yoga, but they also developed a body of spiritual texts (philosophical or perhaps in the West we would consider them theological), as well as beautiful poetry. They were quite famous for not supporting, and sometimes actively opposing, the conventional systems or religious practices and rituals as well social institutions, like the casts divisions. They were scholars and studies the Vedas, but are know for writing and teaching in Marathi rather than Sanskrit, so that they could be understood by simple uneducated people also, they translated some key texts from Sanskrit to Marathi and provided commentary to them.

I will probably continue this Marathi songs theme, and maybe will share some stories about these poet-saints as they surface within my contexts. Last Sunday, for instance, we were celebrating another personality who also was part of that Nath tradition, Gnyaneshwara, or Gnyanadeva, who is considered to be a saint by some and an incarnation by others. Maybe I will tell you about him on another occasion.

Back to the song, Vrindavani Venu, I said in May that would love to learn thins song, but that learning it on my own would be too difficult, someone would have to teach it to me. We often joke that yogis words are mantras, that if spoken with pure desire, they materialize. I guess my desire was pure enough – I sort of know this song now, and with some polishing here and there and a little practice could probably get it to the singable condition, which feels great. 🙂

I also took a harmonium class, where for the first time someone (well, not someone, but Ranjan also), showed us the first steps of how to practice a song, we learned one classical composition and also the basic layout of one bhajan, and I am amazed about how much easier it is to play it now than it was before this two-week crash course in the summer. I knew that harmonium is helpful for giving a basis for singing, especially for people like us, who do not have much of an experience of Indian music and lack precisely that feel of the basis, the grounding that harmonium provides, but I did not quite realize the extent of its helpfulness. Now I do, so it is likely that once I finish the song I am working on right now, I will try to sit down and learn to play Vrindavani Venu on harmonium, and after that is achieved, singing it will be a breeze :).

Stay tuned…

Canajoharie Arts Academy – 2015

I already wrote one post here about Canajoharie few years ago, but that was in Ukrainian. Now that my blog is transitioning into the English mode, and also Canajoharie showed itself this time in quite a different light, a new post about it is definitely due.

Heidegger is quoting Hölderlin sharing his experience and insight in a letter to a friend that “all the holy places of the earth are gathered around one place”. This phrase resonates with me very much, I like to think of the common essence or fabric of both the actual physical places that have spiritual significance to me, and also of the places of the inner world. It is in the spiritual dimension that the outer and the inner places become interfused, the battle-fields, the temples, and the resting places, the places homely and dearly familiar, as well those wondrously alien and thus fascinating… Maybe one day I will write something about the inner musical places too, the places created by this or that raga, wouldn’t that be interesting?

Back to Canajoharie, one of my holy places. A week-end of the international meditation seminar was preceded by two weeks of the summer arts academy, and this was the first time that I was at the Canajoharie arts camp not as a volunteer, or just a visitor, but as a student. Perhaps this is why Canajoharie felt different, or maybe not, maybe it actually was different this time, no matter whether and how one was involved.

The type of meditation we do, Sahaja yoga, or Sahaja meditation, is simple, and it works quite well with even small commitment, provided it is consistent. And yet, it is really felt and enjoyed, when it becomes a worldview and a lifestyle, when it permeates the totality of our experiences, when it becomes an atmosphere, a sort of fragrance, which we breathe all the time. So we have this notion of sahaj culture – the aspects and ways of life that define the living within the atmosphere of this meditative state and make it easier for us to be in touch with, or, rather, to be immersed in, the ocean of Energy, and to feel at home within it.

Art is, and from the beginning has been, one of the key aspects of sahaj culture. Shri Mataji, the founder of our meditation technique, has promoted arts within our meditative community, especially, but not exclusively, Indian classical music. She created opportunities for us not only to be exposed to music and art with good energy, but also to study it and to become good at it. Somehow, the arts give us special access to meditation, as if they create the shortcuts to get there in the first place, and then also to explore the subtleties and depths of this meditative state once we are there.

And so these arts academies were established in India, where mainly us, the Westerners, could come and learn Indian music, dance and art within a meditative environment. The first one (?) was for a while in Nagpur, I’ve heard lot’s of good stories about it, but it was well before my time. Then it was in Vaitarna, and I was lucky to have stayed there for four months, quite early in my “sahaj life”, learning singing from Arun Apte.

When I was leaving Vaitarna, I was sure that I would come back, in a few years, and more than once, I even had a few ideas about what I could maybe do for Vaitarna. But then Arun Apte died suddenly, and Vaitarna went through a few cycles of closing down, then opening for some time, then closing again. I did go back to visit and stayed there for about ten days in 2013. I guess, I wanted to feel out and also to face, what this actual Vaitarna as well as my inner “Vaitarna” could be like without Arun Apte, and it was quite an intense experience.

In the meantime, the music doesn’t stop, we have all kinds of music (and art) workshops, shorter or longer, in different places, and in the last years we’ve had maybe three or four arts camps in Canajoharie, New York state, about 6 or 7 hours drive South East from Toronto. The last one was two years ago, right after my short Vaitarna visit, and I considered taking classes, but I just did not “feel it”. So I hung out there for about a week, caught the first big public concert, which the teachers gave in Albany, enjoyed very much and went home. This summer I decided it was time to come and take classes, no matter what. I was looking through the list of classes, considering the possibility of trying out something “new”, but ended up taking two vocal classes and harmonium class, all from the same teacher, and never regretted it, because the experience was so joyful, so elevating, and at the same time grounding, that it felt incredible, both satisfying and humbling, and also inspiring.

One of Vaitarna’s gifts was the amazing capacity to absorb music. You sit in class, and try to repeat these difficult musical phrases, and you know you are not getting it, and you feel like you will not be able to get it for a long time. And so in the evening you go through the class recording again, sleep on it and next morning find out that you actually got it. You just have it now, it’s in you, and you barely even cooperated. Something similar was experienced by many of us in Canajoharie this time, both the teachers and the students were commenting on how fast we all were learning, and how much we were achieving in such a short time. It would be an oversimplification, and the unfortunate one, to reduce this special quality to the efficiency of learning, to make it about goals and results. Rather, as Alan once mentioned, it is about the subtleties of this music or art, once you start getting it, you can appreciate and enjoy. What was important to me in these classes was not the result of learning this much, that fast and that well. It was the enjoyment of the process, the tasting of the art, and the atmosphere that was extremely friendly, becoming in tune, and not only musically, immersing into this exploration and feeling so good, that you would want to linger in it, and wished that it never ended… The classes, of course, were the best, but also outside of the classes each of is took or gave, the atmosphere felt very nourishing and inspiring. It was great to spend time with other teachers and students of all ages, to chat and to listen, to eat, and occasionally to cook, to laugh (and we did laugh a lot), and to meditate.

I think it was around the third or the forth day, that I started noticing Vaitarna’s presence in Canajoharie. It wasn’t just the classes and what was happening there, rather, the place itself was sounding different. Sitting at the pond with the feet in the water, enjoying an afternoon break, the barking of the dogs and the noise or tractors somewhere in the fields, and the light, and the wind, and the serene mood, all of it in totality felt so intensely similar to sitting on a roof in Vaitarna and waiting for the sunrise! I heard the bird calls so elaborate and unusual, which I have never heard in Canajoharie before. Of course, it wasn’t the koyal, it was probably some owl that was late enough in it’s nightly pursuits for me to still catch it when I woke up around 4 in morning. And yes, waking up between 4 and 5 without any alarms, and feeling completely awake – that was just like Vaitarna also. I have a feeling, those who have been to Nagpur academy, and there were quite a few people this year in Canajoharie, who spend some good times there, were also feeling the presence of Nagpur. I could feel a slight hint of Nagpur, even though I have never been there. Cabella was also somehow present, with its river, and the castle, and the simple rustic way of life. So all these holy musical places of our sahaj world became gathered around Canajoharie, fused with it, made this Canajoharie very different from the place I have known and also loved before. Different, but also the same. I felt the presence and continuity of this sahaj musical tradition, that somehow was connecting us to its beginnings in this era and the different forms it took relatively recently, as well as to the previous manifestations centuries ago – we sang Kabira, you know.

It is not that there is one single physical location, to which all holy places can be traced and from which they originate. It is rather a place in the spiritual realm, where meditation is painted by the beautiful colours or the art, where it explodes with the cooling fountains and where the rainbows are born in the meeting of sunshine and the water. When this place somehow starts manifesting locally, be in in Canajoharie, or somewhere else, it brings together all these other places, the holy places of art, where art is inspired by the Divine, and where we become attuned to the Divine through art, if we cooperate, even barely, and then it becomes global – magnificent and breathtaking.

When the arts academy was over after two weeks, I though it could not get any better, and it did not, but something else, equally beautiful and inspiring, though in a different way, kept me blissed out for another two weeks: some of our teachers joined by two other musicians went on a concert tour. I will definitely write more about that later, for now, here is the the video of the last concert of the tour in Dallas, enjoy!

You can see more videos and photos here: Festival of Inner Peace

I sing, you meditate

Запросили мене поспівати на медитаційній програмі в одному сусідньому селі (ну чи містечку), ну то раз вже таке діло, то я вирішила телефоном на коліні записати, в першу чергу з метою виправлення помилок і подальшого покращення якості, а заодно тому, що вже кільком людям давно обіцяла показати (точніше, дати послухати).

Я, звичайно, не професіонал, та й ніколи професіоналом в музиці не стану, але насправді не в тому суть. Суть в тому, що ці коротенькі санскритські шльоки, привезені колись давно з Вайтарни, мають настільки сильну і добру енергію, що зіпсувати їх складно навіть такому непрофесіоналу як я. Саме тому я не віднєкуюся, коли запрошують, навіть коли знаю, що горло добряче заржавіле, бо зовсім нетреноване, тим більше зараз, і що звук буде далеким від досконалого, і артикуляції будуть зовсім не такими виразними, як би хотілося, і що належного рівня імпровізації не буде, бо ж звідки йому взятися. Але енергія все одно буде нічого така, і тим, хто готовий медитувати це допоможе, і стан буде класний вкінці.

Про кілька з цих шльок я вже колись давно згадувала тут, ось наприклад в цих двох постах було:

https://msvarnyk.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/білим-я-буду-білим-як-сніг/

https://msvarnyk.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/індія-починається-втретє/

З добрих музичних новин в мене те, що за тиждень я їду в Канаджохарі,  там протягом двох тижнів перед великим медитаційним семінаром триватиме наша йогівська “мистецька академія”. Я записалася на два класи співу і один гармоніки, аж самій цікаво, що з того всього вийде. Взагалі їх мав проводити Ґуруджі, якого я вам показувала два роки тому, і мені було трохи лячно, але тепер все помінялося, приїде хтось зовсім інший (я його особисто ніколи не бачила, але чула про нього багато цікавого), і я тим дуже втішена.

Маратське музичне – 3 – Вріндавані вену

Приблизний переклад пісні можете самі почитати – там є титри у відео. Пісня прославляє Шрі Крішни гру на флейті. Вірш написаний був маратський святим Бганудасом, який прославився тим, що приніс скульптуру бога Віттали (одна з форм Крішни) назад в Пандгарпур, куди вона належала. Пандгарпур є в моєму списку місць, куди б я дуже хотіла колись потрапити, бо одна з моїх най-най-улюбленіших пісень з тих, що співав мій вчитель – власне розказує щось про Пандгарпур. Тут точно відомо, що вірш цей написаний Бганудасом, бо він називає себе в останньому куплеті – це така була дуже поширена традиція, в багатьох піснях Кабіра є такі моменти. А ще той святий Бганудас був чи то дідом, чи то прадідом Екната, про якого я вже вам трохи розказувала в першому маратсько-музичному пості ось тут: https://msvarnyk.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/маратське-музичне-сат-ґуру-втілення-о/#comments

Вперше я почула про цю пісню на котромусь із семінарів, – мій єдиний тутешній маратський “брат” Санґрам (в якого я прогостювала минулий тиждень в Вотерлу) питав, чи я її знаю співати. Трохи переоцінив мої здібності – я її досі не знаю, хоча, в принципі, якби хтось навчив, то за кілька підходів по кілька годин можна би було вивчити, але самотужки то довгий процес, бо пісня технічно складна.

Минулий музичний пост почався насправді з тої пісні, бо це чи не єдина класичного рівня пісня, яку я чула вживу у виконанні Шанкара, ну але потім я відволіклася, почала гуглютюбити Шанкара, в результаті, написала пост про самого Шанкара, без цієї пісні.

Аджіт Кадкаде мабуть один з найвідоміших учнів Джітендри Абішекі (мій покійний вчитель музики теж був його учнем, але невідомим 🙂 ), і власне в тому як легко, ніби зовсім без зусиль він виспівує технічно непрості моменти, можна теж вловити і стиль старого Джітендри. (Колись може покажу вам його).

А тут ось, щоб ви не думали, що лише індійці, та ще румуни і австралійці можуть добре співати, ось та сама пісня у виконанні київської групи Ґанапаті Експрес:

Сім разів відмір – індійське музичне

Останнім часом в моїх навушниках на повторі грає ця ось пісня – з метою потенційного вивчення, звичайно, – 90% того, що я слухаю, власне з такою метою, навіть якщо річ настільки складна, що потенційне вивчення світить хіба що в далекій перспективі. Я її вперше почула (чи, точніше, вперше ідентифікувала) десь два роки тому в Канаджохарі, мені в ній чомусь запав перехід всередині приспіву і від куплета до приспіву, там де починається “снега саліла нірмала”. Пісня на перший вигляд здається легкою і простою, але не дайте ввести себе в оману – коли починаєш вникати, виявляться, що кожен з шести куплетів співається по-іншому, ну і ще крім всього вона в семиударному ритмі – на західне вухо це зовсім неправильний ритм – навіть не знаю, чи таке поняття існує в західній класичній музиці. Втім, навіть в Індії вчитель нас, початківців, не вчив нічого семиударного (а шкода), хоч сам співав. Навіть там цей ритм вважається складнішим ніж зовсім прості, але він досить поширений (в північно-індійській традиції він називається “рупак”).

В моєму вішлисті останнім часом назбиралося зо п’ять різних пісень в цьому ритмі, тому я подумала, може пора переходити від початківця до середняка, і таки його осилити. На моє суб’ктивне сприйняття, велика частина пісень в цьому ритмі і мелодично, і ритмічно звучать “меандрично” – попередній цикл перекочується в наступний, безконечником, і якби не повторювані фрази – текстові і мелодичні, то розібратися, де його початок, а де кінець, здавалося б неможливим. Він як змія, що схопила себе за хвіст, таким чином скоротивши свою довжину від таких розмірених і передбачуваних восьми одиниць до такої незвичної і несиметричної сімки.

Ось вам до порівняння ще такого ж розміру інша пісня, на мараті, співають австралійці:

Ще кількох пісень в цьому ритмі я поки не знайшла доступного запису, може колись згодом покажу…