• Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
      AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - November 2017 

    Seminar with Bettina Bäumer

    by Stephen Parker (Stoma)

    Seminar with Bettina Bäumer on Pratyabhijna-hridaya of Kshemaraja

    After last year’s wonderful seminar on the Netra Tantra, we were pleased to invite Sharada (Dr. Bettina Bäumer) back to conduct another seminar on the texts of Kashmira Shaivism. We studied the Pratyabhijna-hridaya of Kshemaraja, a condensed and more understandable sutra form of the rather difficult Ishvara-pratyabhijna of Utpaladeva. (Kshemaraja lived in the 11th century and was the chief disciple of the great yogi and philosopher Abhinavagupta. He is the most prolific commentator on Kashmiri Shaiva texts. Utpaladeva lived in the 10th century and was the grand-guru of Abhinava.) The term Pratyabhijñā refers to the spontaneous intuitive recognition of pure consciousness = cit = atman/brahman = Shiva. These are the pure flashes of intuition that occur in buddhi that provide deeper spiritual experience and also are the fount of human inspiration and creativity.

    Sharada first visited Swami Veda in 2010 during his seminar on the Shiva Sutras and everyone agreed that it was no accident that she came here. From that visit she and Swamiji both described each other as brother and sister. She described her return here as a homecoming in the same sense that the text talks about the recognition of the pure conscious Self as coming back to our true home.

    When Sharada teaches a text, she approaches the teaching with great reverence, certain that if a written text is approached in the right spirit it can transmit an experience of spiritual truth even to the extent of shakti-pata. Before each session we chanted a number of initial auspicious verses (mangala-shloka), and each session was followed by a period of meditation in order to absorb what lies between and beyond the words.

    “There are many ways of obtaining enlightenment. . . One is from the guru. . . One is from the shastra (text). . . and one is from your own Self. . . You start from where you are . . .and then you rise to spiritual liberation. . . There is a richness of ways and means . . . and our aspiration can never be high enough.”

    In explaining the meaning of one of the mangala-shlokas where Kshemaraja is honoring his guru, she explained the inner meaning of his name, abhi-nava. Abhinavagupta’s insights into spirituality were highly original and novel interpretations of the traditions that preceded him. But in his name, nava means not just novel, new; it is abhi-nava, intensely and completely new. It is an expression of the experience of joy, ananda, as described by Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi in his description of his experience of samadhi: “endless waves of ever-new joy.” It is joyfulness that never becomes old, or familiar, but remains new at each moment. Kshemaraja in these verses celebrates those who are kumara-mati, with a childlike, truly innocent mind unspoiled by too much rationality and logic, the mind of a mature mystic. His work is a masterful combination of careful thought and deep spiritual experience.

    Among other gems in this seminar was the observation that in this system, “every sense perception is a deity . . . and every act of sense perception is an act of worship.” This is the essence of verse 27 of Saundaryalahari, that every action in our day to day life becomes worship if we keep our mind in a mindfully aware state. The problem that we have as unenlightened beings is that we become lost in these perceptions and addicted to the (desire-based) pleasure that they bring rather than the desireless joy that comes from perceiving their transcendent beauty (Shri). This is Shri-vidya in a nutshell.

    The first 12 sutras describe how the supreme consciousness that is Shiva becomes limited and manifested as the experiential world that we know through our senses. Sutras 13-20 then describe various means by which we gradually unravel that limitation. In these explanations lie many experiential clues that people recognized from their meditative experience. In my own case two of the stories that I often use received a yogic explanation.

    They also highlight how much our tradition is truly a Kashmiri Shaiva tradition given how the meditative methods we use closely match the methods given by Swami Rama and Swami Veda. For example, sutra 17 says, “by development of the madhya (middle, center) is there acquisition of the bliss of the cit.” Here Kshemaraja means what Swami Rama referred to as “sushumna awakening,” opening the flow of breath and prana in both nostrils equally, one of the core meditation methods that we use. This is also one meditative meaning of the middle path in Buddhist practice.

    Even though this teaching was full of sophisticated philosophy and esoteric terminology, at the concluding session people spoke with full hearts and in voices shaking with intense gratitude for what they recognized and would take home with them. It was taught in a way that gave everyone in the room inspiration and hope for their practice and for the beauty of their life. Sharada also commented her satisfaction with the meditative atmosphere of the seminar and the contemplative silence that most people maintained during that time. Unfortunately this atmosphere is increasingly hard to find even here in India.

    Sometimes, under the influence of such inspiration, people get the idea that they don’t need to do the preparatory work of citta-prasadana, making the body/mind clear, pleasant and stable so it can meditate, which is a misunderstanding. As if to address this need, during the seminar Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust also released the Indian edition of Stoma’s book Clearing the Path, The Yoga Way to a Clear and Pleasant Mind: Patañjali, Neuroscience and Emotion. You can find it in the bookstore at SRSG (Rs500).

    Recordings of the seminar are also available. [Contact Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust at [email protected].]

    Pictures of Dr. Bettina (Sharada) Bäumer and of Dr. Bettina (Sharada) Bäumer and Swami Ritavan from Jay Prakash Bahuguna.

    Editor’s Note:

    To purchase a download of Swami Veda’s Lectures on the Shiva Sutras, Volumes 1 and 2: https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/SwamiVedaBharati.

    Four lectures by Swami Rama on Saundaryalahari, the Wave of Beauty, can be viewed on YouTube at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X6l_UWJ6Kk&list=PL61035752268BE45B.

    What is Sri Vidya? by Swami Veda Bharati can be read at this link: https://www.meaus.com/What_is_Sri_Vidya%3F.html.

    What is Shri-Vidya: An Elementary Introduction by Swami Veda Bharati is available in Kindle at Amazon.com and Amazon.in. It is available as a booklet at the online bookstore of The Meditation Center.

    Clearing the Path, The Yoga Way to a Clear and Pleasant Mind: Patañjali, Neuroscience and Emotion by Stephen Parker (Stoma) is available in India through Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust. Outside India, this book is available at the online bookstore of The Meditation Center, Amazon, Lotus Press, and other book sellers.



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