Hanuman: A god for worshipping god

Today, Dec. 5, is Gita Jayanthi, the day on which Krishna halted time and revealed the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna on the battle field of Kurukshetra. Those of you in New York should be planning to go to the Broome St. Temple for a chanting of this key, central text.

I’ve been thinking about the Gita as I’ve been reading Mataji Devi Vanamali’s book on Hanuman. It had been sitting next to my bed as I read a few other things, but I picked it up because I had been feeling like my practice was all the asana without enough of the inner work, of the devotion. It was starting to seem like gymnastics. If my gymnastic poses were worthy of a gold medal, that might be OK. But my practice without the “yoga” part — if you will — is not something anyone should be doing.

So I dove into Hanuman stories and their meanings for us.

It’s helping. Vanamali may not have Ramesh Menon’s way with re-telling these old Hindu spiritual texts, but a book entirely focused on Hanuman and his ego-less devotion to Rama — with light explanations of their spiritual, yogic and Vedic astrological meanings — is a fine thing with which to end one’s day. (Better than a Kardashian TV show, right?)

What has struck me this time — and I’m pretty familiar with these stories, via readings of different versions of the Ramayana — is that Hanuman so perfectly personifies all the attributes that Krishna describes to Arjuna. Acting without ego or thought of the result? Check. Doing all with god in mind? Double check. Following one’s own dharma as well as possible. Check, indeed.

But Vanamali also points out that unlike Arguna or the other Pandevas — or anyone in the Mahabharata other than Krishna — Hanuman makes the leap, so to speak, to godhood. And in that sense, he’s a god for worshipping god. That’s his function, which is wonderful in both its simplicity and complexity.

Vanamali points out that the worship of Hanuman is relatively new — a few hundred years, really — and is growing. He’s gaining popularity, in other words. And that’s something that, as a Western, is attractive to me. It feels a little less like jumping onto a thousands-of-years-old train; instead, the tracks perhaps were laid down thousands of years ago, but this particular train — or maybe car on this train — isn’t quite as daunting, quite as inscrutable.

Among all the parts of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, I may be looking most forward to Stern and Tim Miller talk about the symbolic meaning of Ganesha and Hanuman on Saturday afternoon. It all just doesn’t feel like nearly as much to me without that aspect to the practice.

Posted by Steve

A teacher learns from her student.

A scene from Glass's opera. Via PhilipGlass.com.

Because quite a few of my students hadn’t seen it, I showed the now-infamous video of campus police casually pepper spraying a line of peaceful protestors at the University of California, Davis to my class today. I’d seen it many times, but this time I had the unusual position of standing at the front of a classroom, watching the faces of young people as they saw their fellow UC students being violently treated for peacefully protesting the same issues that they are angry about as well.

It was…difficult. There was shock. And anger. Those who had already seen it were shaking their heads in disgust. After class, I got this unexpected question: “Why didn’t the teachers do anything?”

One of the great benefits of the practice of Ashtanga for me has been the way it’s changed my classroom teaching. I’m more compassionate, patient. I’ve learned to expect the best from every single student. The question has given my pause, though. Have I ever actually helped my students in larger ways, ways that would change the world for the better?

Then comes this timely and thoughtful essay from Ian Desai at The New York Times. In it, Desai bids a thoughtful farewell to the  Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park while at the same time pondering the close of Philip Glass’s opera based on Gandhi’s life, Satyagraha. The essay asks, basically, what would Gandhi make of both the opera of his life, and the movement in the park. It’s clear the author finds both lacking

It can be difficult, though, to overlook the incongruity of Champagne corks popping at intermissions, the see-and-be-seen atmosphere and the steep ticket prices at the Met. These trappings have little to do with Gandhi’s ideas of social justice and make opera an uneasy medium for his political vision; in fact they lend an unhappy irony to the very deftness of the rendering of that vision on the stage.

Desai also thinks that Gandhi would find the divisive nature of the protests troubling, that “We are the 100%” would be a better motto. He concludes that our actions are “most meaningful when they set the stage for constructive social action, through which we might begin to mend the world.”

When my student asked me that question, I became painfully aware of how little I’ve really done on their behalf as their tuition skyrockets and budget cuts threaten the quality of their education. This, too, is yoga, yes? What I’ve been taught by my teachers as the real purpose of the practice, in the vein of Hanuman: service.

Desai’s review is a worthy read, but be prepared to question your own practice-in-the-world.

Posted by Bobbie

Off to practice & this will be playing in my head

But only because I’m headed to a Led / Intro class, so my usual quiet, unshakable inner resolve will be on hold.

(Note: There is no quiet, unshakable inner resolve. I believe my mind is well described by this photo:

My mind, mid-practice and all other times

My mind may be dirtier than that, however.)

Nonetheless, here’s what I’ll be bringing to the mat, along with the above monkey:

Posted by Steve

Got 2 hours to devote to Hanuman?

It’s Tuesday. Ram’s day but also — by bhakti default, if you will — Hanuman’s.

If you’re unlike me and have two hours and 15 minutes to watch a movie, I might suggest the following:

Mahabali Hanuman, from 1981. According to IMBD, it was written and directed by Babubhai Mistri, but I think far more intriguing is that it stars….

Hercules. As Hanuman. Sadly, I’m not familiar enough with early ’80s Indian movies to know if the funny coincidence of this is at all on purpose. Hercules does play “Wrestler” in another film, IMBD says.

Well, here it is, via Youtube. Watch some, watch all. And where Ravana’s concerned, WATCH OUT!

Posted by Steve

Of Hanuman and the harmonium

Harmonium via KirtanCentral.com

Another Tuesday, another mention of Hanuman.

But why not? It’s a good way to counteract all the Mars influence, a way to make Tuesday a little less violent and a little less bad.

This past week in Shasta, I gleaned a little more from Tim Miller about which chords he plays on the harmonium for the Hanuman Chalisa. I’d heard them before, but it was before I’d really sat before my harmonium. C-F-G, I knew. But in what rhythm? When do you play each chord? Those questions were still unanswered.

Tim showed me some more on Friday. Tonight, we’ll see if any of it stuck.

But first, a step back. I’m slowly learning the harmonium (via what I’ve found to be a great DVD/book teaching tool via Daniel Tucker at Kirtancentral.com). However, time has not been my friend, and I’m still on scales/sargam. I think playing chords is still two lessons away, if I want to be strict about things.

So I’m going to cheat a little tonight and play with what Tim showed me, just to see if it makes any sense.

Why? Well, as Tim explained in Shasta, we all can probably use a little more ojas — a little more juiciness to help us slide our way through both practice and life. And devotion, as well as good fats, is a wonderful way to encourage more ojas.

While I suspect there will be plenty of ojas going around at the Confluence, I figure it doesn’t hurt to build up some excess in the meantime.

Posted by Steve