Vanity thought #134. Mantra yoga.

In the beginning days of ISKCON “mantra yoga” was a popular phrase to attract people to our kirtans. It’s fairly easy to understand why it worked because the phrase contains two terms that elicit a lot of interest, both promising some mystical transformation and totally new experiences. Add some LSD in the mix and and it’s unbeatable.

Eventually, though, the novelty has worn off and we don’t hear “mantra yoga” nearly as much, certainly not for our internal consumption. Too bad, I think, ‘cos we were really onto something there.

The following is a totally speculative attempt to draw some parallels and connections and, perhaps, revitalize the idea of “mantra yoga”.

Let’s start with yoga itself. We know it’s a connection to the Supreme, most people know it as stretching exercises for middle aged women, there’s no mystery in it anymore.

I don’t know how we can still use the word “yoga” to describe our practice to outsiders, our meaning has been completely lost, possibly forever. There needs to be an immediate disclaimer attached to it – current forms of “yoga” are just modern adaptation of one of the stages in a proper yoga system, hatha, adapted for totally different purposes.

Most of the time the point is to sweat out as much as possible, there’s power yoga, hot yoga, Pilates – it’s all about hard work outs and building strength. If you tell any modern yoga student that asana means a very comfortable position in which you can sit/stand for indefinite amount of time without increasing your heart rate or breathing they wouldn’t know what to say. Their goal is not to stay still, if you achieve that you are doing something wrong and you should find a harder asana. There’s no such thing as “hard asana”, it’s an oxymoron, but what do they care? Whatever progress they are making it’s not yoga, they’ve just corrupted the word.

Anyway, what about real yoga and mantra yoga?

Well, real yoga, as per Patanjali, consists of eight consecutive stages. Krishna didn’t enumerate them in Bhagavat Gita but Patanjali Sutras do not contradict Krishna in any way. Actually, Patanjali’s yoga is not part of out philosophical tradition, ours is Uttara Mimamsa, paired with Karma Mimamsa. They both deal with vedic hymns, gods, sacrifices etc but there’s a gulf of difference.

Karma Mimamsa nailed the means, we nailed the meaning. They really really know all the hymns inside out down to the last syllable but they believe there’s no higher meaning beyond them. It’s pretty interesting because in principle they act like our modern materialist scientists. They perform some actions, observe the results, reproduce them as many times as they want and draw verifiable conclusions.

If you pour ghee into fire this thing will happen, and if you perform these steps, perfectly and in exact order, you will get this amount of gold or wives or children. The universe and everything in it is mechanical to them, there’s a strict law of cause and effect and so you can observe the world around you an predict with high degree of confidence what will happen next, or explain why something is happening now.

I don’t know what it is if it’s not our gross materialism. I find it hard to believe that followers of Karma Mimamsa built their entire philosophy on something they have never ever observed in practice, that they only imagine that their sacrifices work but have never seen the actual results. Modern scientists believe that none of that sacrifices business has any truth in it but here we have a thousand year old tradition that is built entirely on observing sacrifices work.

Perhaps we, as devotees, should always keep it in mind when we observe yet another feat of science.

Anyway,I believe karma mimamsis (?) were just pulling different strings in the universe. If we want to destroy an enemy we fire off missiles, they would chant sets of mantras. In the vedic times they had their own airplanes which did the same thing but were obviously different from our modern contraptions. Same with our instant communications, mobile phones and the Internet.

Have we discovered an entirely new way of manipulating the world or are we just practicing demoniac methods imported from planets inhabited by asuras? How did we import them? I have some ideas but they are for the different day.

So, Karma Mimamsa perfected the means of achieving results while our Uttara Mimamsa, the Vedanta, found the deeper, transcendental meaning behind all those vedic activities. If they have the means, we know what the end is. They refuse to accept our proposals, we can accept theirs, and even better – we can find completely different set of means to achieve out goal, and yoga is one of them.

Krishna didn’t make any principal distinctions between various ways of reaching Him. Some are easier, some are more difficult, some are superior and some take longer time, but they are all legitimate as long as they lead to Krishna.

There’s actually only one way of approaching Him but it takes different forms, whatever we are doing we still have to go through the same stages, just call them differently. I think it’s more of a linguistic problem because the words people use here stem from their traditions and they make little sense to people of other traditions, but, from Krishna’s point of view, there must be a unified set of markers that describe how close or how far each practitioner is from Him.

I can’t possibly imagine how it all looks to Krishna but, assuming this unified set exists, I might try to find commonalities between our methods and, hopefully, it might help me understand what I am doing and what I am doing wrong.

The disclaimer is that I have absolutely no idea how bhakti fits in all this. Spontaneous devotional service follows no rules or regulations and it’s all on the absolute platform, we can’t say that this action is better than that, and yet there are clearly superior ways of service. How can that be? The answer is that bhakti is just not of this world, anything we have here is by its nature inferior to anything that exists on bhakti level, meaning that whatever parallels between various methods of yoga I might find they will all be immaterial and irrelevant to those who possess raganuga bhakti.

Sadhana bhakti is a slightly different matter, due to the tinge of materialism still covering sadhakas’ hearts, and that’s what I want to concentrate on, especially chanting the Holy Names, yet without minimizing the value of any other practice, like deity worship, reading Bhagavatam or kirtans. Those are still a mystery to me, from the yoga point of view.

With this introduction finally out of the way I must postpone the actual stuff until tomorrow. That wasn’t my intention initially but it’s probably for the better, because tomorrow I will have the chance, hopefully, to put some of what I wanted to say in practice first, and then speak from experience.

I desperately need the experience of approaching Krisha, but don’t we all?

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