India and auspiciousness

Facebook has this new feature now, reminding us what we posted a year, or two, or five ago on that particular day. So it is reminding me today, that three years ago I was getting ready for my third India trip, after a five year break. It was a good post, I thought, so why not translate it into English? The post was titled something like “India begins… for the third time”, and I was alluding to a poem of one of contemporary Ukrainian writers, the first line was “India begins with the dreams about the voyage eastward”. The poem was a sort of fantasy – a look at India from a perspective of a medieval European – part merchant, part knight, part adventurer, or maybe just a full-on knight :). It was beautifully charming, somewhat mystical, and of course, somewhat contradictory, it had as little to do with the real India, as the stories of Alexander the Great, so it was about the India-myth, but I really liked it, even though I did not agree (that is, if one can disagree with a poem). There was no point keeping that title in the English version of the post, so I ended up doing what philosophers do, rather than poets, – giving a title that is boring but to the point. 🙂 Here goes the old post, enjoy.

Actually, India “began” long ago, or, rather, the inner India never ended. I was there five years ago, and it’s hard to believe it was that long, especially now, when she is again so close. (Yes, India is feminine in Ukrainian, India is “she”.)

I though that I would come back there much sooner, to continue learning to sing, but my teacher died suddenly, so my “formal” musical education got postponed indefinitely. At that time the teacher said: when you go back home, one Sa (that’s the first note) will give you much more than it is giving you here. Unfortunately, that is not so. Here, to even get that one Sa out of oneself is not that easy. Perhaps, if one really commits to it, works on it and treats it in all possible ways, that Sa would give more, but how much work, discipline and humility that would require! Vaitarna was a place where the music seemed to be flowing freely on its own, and anyone who so desired could just drink it. Of course, the teacher also knew that about Vaitarna, and also spoke about it in his own way. Who knows, why he said that it would be easier to practice “in your own country”.

India, both actual and inner, is defined for me with a word, which I have never encountered in over ten years of me being in the English-speaking philosophical environment. The word is “auspiciousness”, it is crudely translated as “favorableness”, and is generally associated with old-fashioned superstition or with a notion of luck or good fortune (also old-fashioned). Perhaps that is why it is not respected much by “professional” philosophers, especially here in Canada with its ultra-liberal and anti-traditional tendencies and views. But this is an over-simplified understanding of this phenomenon, and yes, for me auspiciousness is indeed a phenomenon in the original sense of the word, that which shows itself, that which shines. My inner India says, that in truth the word auspiciousness is related to sanctity or holiness, though not in a formally-religious church sense, but rather in a live and real sense, as what we mean when we talk about the sanctity of life or the sacredness of mother’s love.

One of the seven hundred verses of Devi Mahatmyam, which glorifies the Mother-Goddess, begins with a description if the Devi as “sarva mangala mangalye” – “the auspiciousness of all that is auspicious”, that is, the holiness of everything that is holy, or, as philosophers would say, the essence of the holiness. Further the Goddess is revered as the One who takes care of Her children – fulfills their desires and grants the highest joy, takes care of their well-being and spiritual growth, protects and shelters, destroys all their sorrows and sufferings. So this auspiciousness has to do with a state which reflects our relationship with the motherly aspect of the Divine. It’s a state of being simple, confident and safe, or protected and peaceful. It’s not about being infantile, irresponsible or cowardly, rather, the opposite, it’s about that directness, generosity and ability to bring joy which we treasure in children, and that is why we enjoy their company.

I interpret this auspiciousness as holiness also because it reminds me of the German root “heil-“, the holiness that manifests as well-being or good health in full sense of all its dimensions, before we split our life into physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, professional, familial, material, social… That German “heilige und heile” conveys the wholesomeness that is protected from cracks and breaks, that belongs to itself confidently and securely, that originates and develops within itself and according to its own true essence. This kind of protectedness echoes for me the Sanskrit root “sharan-“, which appears at least twice in the description of the Goddess that I just mentioned. The first time it refers to the Goddess Herself “sharanye tryambake gauri” – the protectress, the three-eyed Gauri, and the other time as “sharanagata” – I guess, the ability of those She protects, that is, our ability to trust and fully surrender to Her sheltering protection.

So, these were the thoughts that were surfacing during my repeated attempts to acquire the Indian visa. At first I had a hint of a doubt about the “auspicesness” or “correctness” of the whole situation, when some small clerk in the visa centre decided that I should not get a visa. But then I though that maybe these “obstacles” were there so that I do not take India for granted, and instead attune myself to the wavelength of that holiness, which very soon will become tangible, when I will sit on the red earth of Maharashtra, and which could be totally missed if one stays in the rational-business-touristy mode, that does not go with auspiciousness at all.

What does all of that have to do with music? Well, that very description of the Goddess was perhaps the most inspiring thing that I was learning to sing five years ago in India, and the singing of it attunes you so well to the tonality of holiness, which is not surprising at all, for She is “sarva mangala mangalye”…

PS. The reference is to Devi Mahatmyam, ch.11, verse 8 and 10.

That time three years ago when I initially wrote this post, I did not get my visa until the morning of my flight when had to show up to the consulate with my ticket and demand my passport back. Turned out it was just lying around on a desk of some other clerk, with a visa being issued long ago. But it the end, all that “maya” was well worth it, for I just had to “surrender”, and get over the uncertainties and doubts, and it turned out to be an amazing India trip, full of special moments, special people, and very inspiring experiences of the Divine.

If you want to hear what “sarva mangala mangalye”sounds like, here it is in the last concert of this summer’s music tour that I already started telling you about (you can fast-forward to 1:22:14-ish if does not open there on it’s own):

 

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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

Pen News

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I wrote here: https://msvarnyk.wordpress.com/2014/08/04/pilot-metropolitan-fine-nib/ about my favourite among the cheap fountain pens, Pilot Metropolitan. The news has it, soon they are coming out in funky colors (I wished for red in that blog post), they look so good that it will be painfully difficult to choose :). The orange to die for, the green and purple not any worse, the ornamentation strip on the red one doesn’t look so good, which is great – fewer pens to be torn between. I hope they do come with fine nib also!

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.

Canada, her natives, and their revolutions – a film

Just watched this film for the course I’m TAing right now – my students are supposed to have a debate on the topic of Aboriginal land claims, and in particular about the Oka crisis in 1990. In case one of the assigned groups does not show up, I have to be ready to play devil’s advocate, in this case, argue against the Mohawk land claims or the methods they have used do defend them.

The film was quite disturbing, as it should have been, not only because the issue itself is disturbing, but also because I had to face yet again, how much the revolution and war in Ukraine in the past almost two years has changed my views on violence and violent (or potentially violent) civil resistance. It was interesting to see, that even the Canadian army guys and some officials, when commenting on camera, were calling the mohawks who were defending the land “warriors” – that is something that really kept them humanized in spice of some serious racial tensions and nastiness doing from some quebecois, and, I wondered, whether it was this humanization, that did keep all of them alive at the time, and eventually free, and relatively few of them seriously injured. Yes, they themselves mentioned a few times in the film, that it was war,- how different from, and at the same time, how similar to the meaning that “war” has for me now. I remember distinctly my post on Facebook when I said “this is war”, when the first lethal bullets were fired on the day when the first three protesters were killed in Ukraine. That time also, the meaning of “war” was still very different from what it became a few months later.

The yellow bulldozer at the very beginning of the film, of course had to remind me of one in Kyiv on Bankova. Acquired in a similar way, and used in a similar was as well.

Anyway, watch it yourself if you want. It’s been 25 years exactly.