Last week I completed the Chinmaya International Foundation’s “Foundation Level” e-vedanta course. The course consists of 12 monthly lessons. At the end of each month there is a set of questions, and these are sent to the acharya at CIF for marking. The course is quite challenging, as in addition to the lessons a sādhana, or discipline is recommended. At a cost of $100 for a whole year of study it is excellent value – at the time I registered this was £50.
The course was very informative, describing the basics of Hindu Vedantic philosophy. It has enabled me to understand many terms and discussions and the discipline of regular spiritual practice has helped me advance spiritually. The only minor criticism of the course material is that sanskrit words are not shown in IAST or an equivalent, or in Devanāgarī. This means that I don’t know how to pronounce some of the terms I learned, and it led to me being confused by thinking that mālā (prayer beads) and mala (impurity) were two meanings of the same word!
Though I would recommend the course as an introduction to Hinduism and Vedanta, I will not be taking the advanced course. There are several reasons for this. Firstly the course expounds the position of Immaterialistic Advaita Vedānta. According to this philosophy the only ultimate reality of God (or of anything) is the impersonal Brahman. They claim that the Great Gods Śiva, Viṣṇu, and Brahmā are only a deeper level of illusion, beyond the māyā of the material universe. To me Shiva is more than this, as I wrote in a previous post “Who is Shiva?“. Naturally there are some people for whom seeking God in the immaterial is the correct path, but for me bhakti or devotion to Shiva is central.
Secondly, because I live hundreds of miles from a Chinmaya temple or group I have no feeling of connection with Chinmaya as an organisation. When I started the course there was talk of a forum for students though this never materialised. I am sure that if I lived somewhere that was close and was able to visit the group and events this would have been different.
After contemplation I have decided that the Himalayan Academy Master Course is the right way for me. I am not saying that the Chinmaya course has been in any way a waste of time, or that for other people the advanced course won’t be of great value. As I have said before, things are as they are meant to be. If I had lived nearer to a Chinmaya mission I would have not met the wonderful people at my local Mandir and seen their devotion. I would not have had the honour of joining the dedication and opening of our new Mandir, and seen the fruits of faith and devotion. If I had not followed this course I may have taken longer to establish a regular practice of prayer and devotion. I would not have understood the different perspectives of Hindu beliefs. I am grateful to all my teachers who have brought me so far, both seen and unseen.
What a delicious dilemma. Gnyan or Bhakti. One teaching Non-Duality and the other wherein duality is basic! The ‘Path’ we ostensibly choose would depend on our genes and up to date conditioning, neither of which is in our control! So, do WE really decide? A choice was made, leave it at that.
I think Bhakti or devotion is important even for a student of Advaita Vedanta. Narada Bhakti Sutra speaks about dropping the Vedas after raising to a certain plane. Similarly we have to drop Shiva or any God after raising ourselves to a certain plane. To my understanding this is what Advaita Vedanta suggests.
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Without Gyan /Knowledge, devotion has no meaning.
Why? you would ask, and the answer is you could end up being devoted to some thing which is not true.
Gyan yog is higher than bhakti yog.
Shiva is pure knowledge, his other name is Vidyanath- the god of knowledge. When he performs the tandav dance, he destroys our ignorance and brings us to the light of Knowledge
[Tandava: Removed multiple links to same site. The one in your name is enough.]
Saying that gyana is higher than bhakti yoga is like saying that when you walk putting your left leg forward is higher or more important than putting your right forward. In a way bhakti is more universal, there are many people not capable of gyana yoga who can still make steps towards God.
If you want to follow Shiva – he is pure knowledge, he is the ultimate yogi. Furious Tandav dance is all about destroying the demon of ignorance, and then stepping towards knowledge – (jotir-lingum) – the light of the formless.
What i am trying to say is without having full knowledge, you could end up in wrong path, first comes knowledge then comes devotion.
The Nandinatha Sampradaya teaches that Charya, kriya, yoga and jnana are the sequence of the soul’s evolutionary process:
Worship is something we continue, and don’t leave behind. It is one of the Niyamas or observances, Ishvara pujana. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami writes:
Bhakti is the foundation and continuing support for our progress.
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Tandava u’ll reach gyan through bhakti. Brahman has no forms. But to reach such brahman without any form we ordinary people need to take such way of Bhakti. But great souls like Swami vivekananda(he dnt go to temple) and my guru Chinmayanandji , they do it straightly.
Chinmayanandji was earlier Balakrishna menon frm our place. An atheist , who went to Himalaya to expose Indian saints later became Swami Chinmayananda the propogator of Bhagavad Gita.
from: Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi
by David Godman
Many of the world’s religious traditions advocate surrender to God as a means of transcending the individual self. Sri Ramana accepted the validity of such an approach and often said that this method was effective as self-enquiry. Traditionally the path of surrender is associated with dualistic devotional practices, but such activities were of only secondary importance to Sri Ramana. Instead he stressed that true surrender transcended worshipping God in a subject–object relationship since it could only be successfully accomplished when the one who imagined that he was separate from God had ceased to exist. To achieve this goal he recommended two distinct practices:
1. Holding on to the ‘I’-thought until the one who imagines that he is separate from God disappears.
2. Completely surrendering all responsibility for one’s life to God or the Self. For such self-surrender to be effective one must have no will or desire of one’s own and one must be completely free of the idea that there is an individual person who is capable of acting independently of God.