Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

The World of the Bhagavad Gita

Unlike the Hebrew and Christian conceptions of creation, the Indian allows for the infinity of time, and regards the universe as one of many that stretch, in cycles of creation and destruction, into the endless past, and that will stretch, in similar cycles, into the endless future. The mythology pertaining to this particular universe concerns a primaeval darkness, when all was water, until the eternal First Cause formed the Hiranya-garbha, the” golden foetus” or “golden egg,” which floated on the cosmic waters, and, in later myth, became identified with the creator god Brahma. The egg divided itself into two parts, one becoming the heavens, the other the earth.

Now, Brahma, the creator god, had a spiritual son (a product of Brahma’s thumb, according to some sources) named Marici, and Marici’s son in turn became the tremendously prolific sage-king Kasyapa, sometimes referred to as Prajapati, or “the Lord of Creatures.” Kasyapa married the twelve daughters of Daksa (who is also sometimes referred to as Prajapati). Daksa was the son of Pracetas, an earlier being. It is perhaps significant that these early names are personifications, though names as personifications are common throughout the epic. Brahma is thought to derive from the root √jbrh which means “grow” or “evolve.” Daksa means “intelligence” or “mastery.” (It is cognate with the English” dextrous” and its etymological ancestors.) And Pracetas means” clever” or “wise.” In any case, Kasyapa impregnated the daughters of Daksa, and they gave birth to the gods, demons, animals and many other types of being. One of 9 these daughters, named Daksayani, or Savarnla, gave birth to the sun god, Vivasvat (which means “shining forth “). The extraordinary scope of the Hindu imagination is illustrated by the fact that the great Indian commentator Ramanuja. who lived in the eleventh century A.D., placed the date of Vivasvat’s birth at twenty-eight mahayugas (about 120 billion years) before his own time, a figure that is perhaps closer to modern scientific theories of the birth of the sun than the chronologically vague account in Genesis would place it.

Vivasvat, who is mentioned in the Bhagavad GIta (IV, I), became the fatherof Manu Vaivasvata (also mentioned in IV, I), the Noah of Hindu mythology, who survived a great flood with the assistance of Vishnu (Vishnu had assumed the form of a fish for the purpose according to the Pural.las). So ancient are the theoretical origins of this mythology that Manu Vaivasvata was merely the seventh in a long list of Manus belonging to previous universes. He became, after the flood, the progenitor of the human race. This he accomplished by holding a sacrifice during which a woman named Ila was created. With Ila’s help he begot nine sons, among whom was Ik~vaku (likewise mentioned in the Bhagavad GIta, IV, I), progenitor of the Solar Race to which the sage-king Janaka (mentioned in the Bhagavad GIta, III, 20) belonged. Other early members of the Solar Race were King Sagara of Ayodhya, Raghu Rama, grandfather of Rama, the hero of the Ramayal.la, and Sudyumna, another son of Manu Vaivasvata, who became the progenitor of the Lunar Race with which we are concerned here.

Among the descendants of Sudyumna was one Purilravas who married an apsarii, or water nymph, named UrvasI, and begot three sons – Ayu, whose descendants founded the Kasi line of kings to which some of the warriors at the Battle of Kuruk~etra belonged; Amavasu, with whom we need not be concerned here, and Nahu~a, father of the great King Yayati Nahu~a. Yayati practically peopled the whole subcontinent of India, as well as some territory north of the Himalaya, doing for India what his ancestor Manu Vaivasvata had done for the known world. Yayati had two wives, DevayanI and Sarmi~tha. By the former he begot Yadu, who became the progenitor of the Yadava and V r~l.li clans from which Krishna was descended. By the latter he begot Pilru, the ancestor of Bharata, progenitor of both the Pal.l<;iava and Kaurava lines, from which most of the heroes of the Battle of Kuruk~etra were descended. (It is interesting to note that apparently the Pilru, or Paurava family continued under its own name down to the time of Alexander’s invasion of India, when a great king named” Poros” by the Greeks, was defeated in a memorable battle by Alexander, and later became his friend.) Among the early descendants of Bharata was King Hastin who founded the city of Hastinapura where the Pal.l<;iava and Kaurava princes were brought up. Among Hastin’s descendants was one SarilVaral.la who married TapatI, a daughter of the Sun god by Chaya (which means” shade “), and they begot Kuru. At this point the Kauravas (Sons of Kuru) and the Pal.l<;iavas (Sons of Pal.l<;iu) are not yet differentiated, and this is a bit confusing because the Pal.l<;iavas were as much “sons of Kuru” as the Kauravas were. Some way further down the genealogical line we meet Prince PratIpa, who was a descendant
of Bharata and Kuru, and here w.; are closer to the immediate ancestry of our

About Sunday morning

Sunday Morning Contemplation is informed by Eastern and Western contemplative traditions. The first, lectio divina has its origins in 6th century Europe. It unfolds in four steps or stages: reading (lectio), reflecting (meditatio), responding (oratio), and silent abiding (contemplatio). Our Eastern inspiration come from the Indian Upanishads (800-200 BCE), where contemplative practice consists of three steps or stages: listening (śravana), reflecting (manana), and meditating (nididhyāsana or dhyāna). Our contemplative practice on Sundays embraces both approaches, and each contemplation will be based on a reading from either tradition.

The texts and teachers I have chosen played a significant role in my life and I believe have much to offer. I will read presellected texts, slowly, with pauses between verses or quotes. The readings will be accompanied by soothing background music. To lessen distraction, I suggest participants close their eyes and listen. However, the screen will display the text so that people can choose to read along or mute the sound and read on their own. If there is time remaining after the contemplative period, participants can choose to either leave or stay for a short discussion.

As a preface to the reading, I will provide a 10-15 minute introduction to the text. When relevant, I’ll review facts about the author/teacher’s life. I will also present a brief explanation of the terms and language encountered in the reading.

Finally, when the contemplation is over, all texts read will be available online to read and/or download at any time on the website.

What I mean by
The Symbolic Life

This website makes liberal use of classical Indian visual art and refers mostly to traditional Indian texts (for example, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras) in the courses, seminars, and discussions on offer. However, I am not presenting lessons in Hinduism; in fact, teaching mainstream Hinduism is neither my area of interest nor expertise. Rather, my interest in Yoga and Tantra is grounded in the concrete situation in which we find ourselves, in the places where we arrive and from which we depart. Beginning in the here and now, we will explore the underlying meaning of the symbols, stories, images, philosophies, and techniques found in Indian philosophical texts and practice, in light of our world and our current circumstance. We will excavate the meaning of the aphorisms and teaching stories; the symbolic figures of gods, people, and nature; and the sometimes terse, sometimes poetic, philosophy of the texts. Thus, in referring to the Symbolic Life of Yoga and Tantra, I mean not just the symbols themselves, but the rich explication of life that the symbols represent.

Our lived, concrete situation is wonderfully captured in the Sanskrit word loka, whose ancient meaning is “the world.”  The root meaning of both the Sanskrit loka and the English locate (and local, locale, and location) is identical. In the ancient Indian mind, the world is where we are located, in our current circumstance. Thus, the meaning of the symbols of Yoga and Tantra can occur only in the now, in the places where we find ourselves, and not in any imagined ancient and/or foreign world.

To emphasize our place of origin and return, I use the terms “archetypal” and “symbolic” quite frequently. Archetypal meaning is associated with the universal and collective aspects of human experience—what we intimately share with all others regardless of culture or era or epoch—while symbolic language forms a bridge between the realms of the universal with the culturally specific and local. Symbols are the scaffolding upon which human beings build a world and imbue it with meaning.

Think for a moment of pain and pleasure, sorrow and joy, hatred and love, and greed and generosity—universal experiences that ancient Indian thinkers called the dvandva-s. This Sanskrit term is a combination of two words, or rather, one word spoken twice: the word dva (meaning the same as the English “two”) duplicated. Dvandva is commonly translated as “the pair of opposites” or literally “the two-twos” (dvadva). The ancients who coined this compact symbol gave voice to an archetypal human experience that can be further unpacked to reveal deep insights into the human condition. Once we gain an understanding of the various symbols of Yoga and Tantra, we can further excavate their meaning and the archetypes they convey, and thus gain access to, in a practical and meaningful way, the vision of life experienced by the sages. These insights are available to us and are still relevant today, as are the resilient and adaptable techniques and forms of practice that can help us lead richer and more fulfilling lives