Yoga: Practice, Culture, and Theory
Ramakrishna Vedanta SocietyThe venue that I decided to visit was the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Massachusetts. I choose this venue because; I wanted to learn more about the Eastern Philosophy of Yoga. I have never attended this type of venue that offered this type of teaching, and wanted to do something different than just attending a yoga class. Plus the parking was free on Sunday; so I decided that this was the best choice for me.
The Ramakrishna Vedanta Society is located on 58 Deerfield Street in Boston, right in between Kenmore Sq, and Fenway; which makes it completely accessible for the public to attend their classes and events. According to their website, The Vedanta Society roots go back to 1893 when Swami Vivekananda came to Boston and taught Vedanta philosophy; even before he became a religious figure at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 (www.vedantasociety.net, 2011).
After he served in parliament, Vivekananda stayed in various parts of New England (www.vedantasociety.net, 2011). Later two other disciples of Ramakrishna, Swamis Saradananda and Abhedananda, came to Boston and taught classes on Vedanta (www.vedantasociety.net, 2011). In 1910 Swami Paramananda built the first permanent Vedanta center in Boston, and in 1941 Swami Akhilananda moved it to where it is currently located on Deerfield Street (www.vedantasociety.net, 2011). After he died in 1962, Swami Sarvagatananda led the Vedanta society for forty years then he retired in 2002 (www.vedantasociety.net, 2011). Swami Tyagananda is currently the head of the Vedanta society in Boston (www.vedantasociety.net, 2011).
From my perspective the location that the center is located is pretty advantageous. The population Kenmore Sq in Boston is well educated. With several private and public schools such as: Boston University Academy, Boston Arts Academy, Winsor Academy, and the McKinley schools, surrounding that area (househunt.com, 2011). Thirty-two percent of that population is college graduates (househunt.com, 2011), and it has a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds with Caucasian being the most prominent in that area (www.movoto.con, 2011). I believe that these demographics have sparked the interest of teachings of Yoga within that community.
When I arrived at the venue the building that the service was located at looked like a giant house. When I entered into the building I was greeted by several people that made sure that I knew what to do. Before I could enter the chapel I had an option of removing my shoes or keeping them on, when sat down there were people already seated that were silently praying to themselves or meditating.
I noticed that there was a wide range of people that were in the service there. There were a lot of Caucasian men and women; which was interesting to me because from the outside of the building and from what had researched before, it didn’t seem like a lot of Caucasian people would be attending. There were also a lot of Indian, Nepalese, and other Eastern cultures there at the service, there were no Hispanics people there and I was the only African-American person in the room. The people at the service were a mix between young and old, men and women, Caucasian and other, and there were two children that were present during the service that were Indian.
When the service began Swami Tyagananda entered into the room, and lead the service with an opening verdict prayer, afterwards we did a quick deep breathing exercise connecting with different parts of our mind and body. Followed by another song called Tumi Brahma Ramakrishna, and then we began to look at a poem entitles “Let Us Go for a Walk, O Mind by Ramprasad Sen.
One theory that they include in their service is Pranamaya and using breath as means of increasing energy from each part of your body. According to the Hartha Pradipika “breath is a direct means of absorbing prana and the manner in which we breathe sets off pranic vibrations which influences our entire being (Muktibodhananda, 1993).”
During the discussion Swami Tyagananda analyzed and simplified the poem into six different scenarios of how human beings can reach true enlightenment, by overcoming everyday obstacles. The first scenario that was presented in the poem was from the first and second lines that states. “Come, let us go for a walk, O mind to Kali, the Wish-fulfilling Tree, and there beneath it gather the four fruits of life.” Tyagananda explained that these first lines explains what humans really want in life, but in order to obtain that we must get closer to “Kali” or as Tyagananda called it God or a supreme being. He explained by getting closer to God we can reach the four fruits of life.
The first fruit is wealth which is both a need and a want by human beings; the second fruit is called enjoyment which is also known as Karma, which ever human being wants in life. The third fruit is darma which is a life of honesty and integrity, the last fruit is known as mocsha which is freedom and liberation. By following this path towards Kali, according to Tyagananda, one can reach mocsha or freedom.
The second scenario that he gave was presented in lines three and four which states. “Of your two wives, Dispassion and Worldliness, Bring along Dispassion only, on your way to the Tree, and ask her son Discrimination about the Truth.” In this scenario he explains words dispassion and worldliness, in Sanskrit Prabrtti which means revolving toward, and nibrttire which means revolving away from as a means of understanding of what happens when we choose either path of true enlightenment. He states that the more our mind is pulled towards the center our being then we are Prabrtti, and the more our mind is pulled away from our inner self then we are nibrttire. When we have truly become connected with our inner self then we will be better connected to the world and all its true values.
The third scenario that is presented in lines six to ten states. “When will you learn to lie, O mind, in the abode of Blessedness, With Cleanliness and Defilement on either side of you? Only when you have found the way to keep these wives contentedly under a single roof, Will you behold the matchless form of Mother Shyama.” In this scenario Swami Tyagananda explained this section as a state of transcendence. Where we must learn how to become good, remain good, and move beyond that. We want to be in a state where we are free from our problems in life, and then we will be able to help ourselves and others around us.
In the fourth scenario the poem states in lines eleven through thirteen. “Ego and Ignorance, your parents, instantly banish from your sight; and should Delusion seek to drag you to its hole, manfully cling to the pillar of Patience.” In this section Tyagananda explains that we must learn how to get rid of ignorance and ego, but this can be difficult since we cling to them like “parents.” Ego and ignorance are illusions, and we must learn how to get rid of our false parents and learn how to move closer towards “kali” or “God.” When we embrace these false parents we are pushed further away from the four fruits of life.
The fifth scenario states in lines 14 and 15 that. “Tie to the post of Unconcern the goats of Vice and Virtue, killing them with the sword of Knowledge if they rebel.” In these lines Swami Tyagananda discusses how virtue and vice are pictured as two gods in these verses, and we should not be concerned with them. We need to destroy vice and keep virtue and transcend past that. And the words sword of knowledge refers to reflecting deeply on these ideas in order to better understand them and learning how to get rid of them.
The last scenario in lines sixteen and twenty states that. “With the children of Worldliness, your first wife, plead from a goodly distance and, if they will not listen, drown them in Wisdom's sea. Says Ramprasad: If you do as I say, you can submit a good account, O mind, the King of Death, And I shall be well pleased with you and call you my darling.” In this scenario Swami Tyagananda states that if we learn from these six scenarios, then we will truly be able to face our death. If we want to be true spiritual seekers we need to push away our worldly values in order to move past that to our spiritual goal. After the poem, Swami Tyagananda ended the service with a prayer that included all denominations, and went into the lead us from the real to the unreal prayer.
There are other services that they provide other than their Thursday and Sunday classes. They also offer study group on Wednesday evenings from 7:30pm-8:30pm, Arati and meditation on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 6:00pm-7:00pm. Guidance by appointments by Swami Tyagananda, they also offer children services on Sunday mornings from 11am-12pm. These different services are all free and opened to the public to use; they also have special days where they have different guess speakers and other events on those days.
Overall my experience at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society was positive. I really enjoyed listening Swami Tyagananda and his teachings. I believe during his service I felt connected because everything that he was saying I related back to my own life experience. I feel as human beings we are constantly struggling to figure out which path is the right one for us to take. We often become engulfed in the negative aspects of life and forget how reflect back on our inner selves and a reach our true spiritual goal.