Friday, June 26, 2015

Puraścharaṇa and Chilla

In mantra sādhanā, the Guru may (will?) advise the student to do a puraścharaṇa of the mantra. This discipline entails repeating a mantra hundreds of thousands of times in a set time span with the objective of siddhiḥ (loosely: perfection in the mantra). The path is arduous and, from what i've heard, there arise significant obstacles in completing the discipline - the grace of the Guru is required to protect the sādhaka towards successful completion.

i've wondered about the parallels of this method with other really super-laser-hard-core-focused training in other spheres. For examples, training of commandos (whether a similar  or in music. And then i came across this interview with Śri Zākir Hussain on his own training:

When we’ve been studying for a while and it comes time when we should go out and perform, when we’ve become good enough to do that, what we’re supposed to do in north Indian music, is something called chilla. Chilla is like a coming of age.
Chilla means to go away to the place of the elders, in the forest. You’re alone. You have to survive on whatever the forest has available for you. For forty days and nights you are there alone and you play music. Now if you are a drummer or a sarangi player, just imagine for 18, 19 hours a day you are playing music, the vibrations of it, the tonal attacks of it, the frequencies — you start to hallucinate, you get into a zone, and that takes you god knows where.

There have been very few people who have been able to finish their chillas. The reason for that being if you have had not-so-great experiences in your life, they will reveal themselves to you in that manner, as if you are having a bad LSD experience. And you could fry your brain. People have had some very bad experiences.

I happened to have done my first one when I was sixteen. I was still innocent and I was lucky so I had decent experiences and I saw visions and things that I shared just with my teacher, my guru and my father, and we talked about them and how authentic they were.

 So puraścharaṇa in mantra sādhanā == Chilla in music. Interesting thing is about the 40 days that Chilla is required to be done. This number also (IMHO) comes up in puraścharaṇa.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Today is International Yoga day.

As an Indian in the U.S., it's sometimes amusing (and i am not sneering here, just an observation) to see what goes on in the name of Yoga. There are roughly three (overlapping) groups of practioners:

a) Those sincere about practice - whether towards improving body, mind or spiritual condition - and also have no qualms about accepting a practice which originates from outside their culture; and saying so openly. This group is also realistic about the time is takes to perfect AsanA-s. A lot of it is about finding a teacher who is enthusiastic and is invested in the student. The teacher may charge for classes (as will definitely happen in the U.S.) but is teaching more out of joy.

b) Those sincere but also awfully gullible. Pay big $ to fly-by-night instructors who may have spent a fortnight in Mysore, India and talk nonsense like "1 week heart-chakra opening workshop". i suspect many in this practicing group also have unrealistic expectations from the practice and drop-out soon disillusioned.

This is a hilarious related piece.

i am sometimes saddened by the commercialization of Yoga here. I understand cost-of-living arguments and that the U.S. is a very different society (everything has a price) but often there doesn't seem to be any emotional commitment from the teacher towards the student. Everything is just a business. Dry.

c) Wants to practice but is loath to say the practice is anything to do with Vedic civilization/ Hinduism/India. So, replace padmAsana with criss-cross apple sauce! I can't for the life of me understand this behavior. Is it wrong to accept something that is good for you from someone else? But thankfully for this group we have glorious 'reputed' experts like Wendy Doniger who, having their own political ends to meet, will supply fancy 'out-of-India' theories for the origin of Yoga.

On International Yoga Day, here's hoping that the proportion in a) increases!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig - words of advice

Mssrs. Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig are founders of Zingerman's, one of Ann Arbor's most popular Delis. The gentlemen were the chief guests for the spring graduation ceremony at UofM. Their words of advice:

Saginaw [said] .....that when they [graduates etc.] assess their mental lists of must-haves for success, they should work to put joy — driven by generosity — near the top.
 "Generosity leads to joy. It's simple and it's guaranteed. Generosity follows the natural law of the harvest. You reap more than you sow. When you give, you get back more," Saginaw said.
"I'm not telling you take a vow of poverty. Earn as much money as you like, see the world, buy a nice car, get rewarded for hard work. Just know that these things don't bring joy like being generous does."
 And of Weinzweig list, these were my favorites:
Continued, engaged and interesting learning is at the core of a great life.
Hard work can be one of the most rewarding things anyone engages in.
Over the years, the second of the above two has consistently shown its importance - far more than raw intelligence. (Also please see these two articles by Prof. Terrence Tao - great read).

Saginaw and Weinzweig ended with this:
Saginaw: "Be generous."
Weinzweig: "Be joyful."
Saginaw: "Go for greatness."
Weinzweig: "Make a difference. … Let's get back to work."

Great stuff!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What does the Guru do?

The hill below refers to Tiruvannamalai and the dining hall that of RamaNAshramam. i particularly liked the last sentence.
The Guru draws you to him, holds you by the hand, takes you to the Ultimate Reality, shows you the Truth - right there in front of you, squat and solid, like a nice, rounded hill - and says, 'There! Seek no further. Rest here, free of all cares'. Then, after slaking your parched mind of its millennial thirst, he leads you to the dining hall, and says, "Sit here and eat to your hearts content - the rice and dal of eternity'. You laugh , really relaxing for the first time in many lives. It's so simple and so funny, this divine play. Now you belong to Him for life. No donation can offset your debt. the debt to the Guru can only be repaid by setting someone else free. Somewhere, your Guru awaits you; you think you're looking for him, but actually he has been watching over you, pursuing you from life to life.
From "Acts of Faith, Journeys to Sacred India. Makarand R. Paranjape. Hay House Publishers (India), Pg. 52"