The mystery of Patanjali made more mysterious

Something about Eddie Stern popped up on the Internet today, and I followed it to a site for Baba Rampuri.

I have to admit, I have never heard of him. According to the site, he’s an American expatriate was the “first foreigner to be initiated into  India’s most ancient order of yogis and shamans, the Naga Sannyasis.” He’s been living there since 1970 and has founded a few ashrams and “was honored with a permanent seat in the Juna Akhara Council and given the title Antahrashtriya Mandal (World Circle) ka Shri Mahant.”

There’s plenty more at the site, if you want to check it out: It looks like he has an autobiography, out about 18 months ago, that offers a look inside the sadhus of modern (and ancient) India.

Tantric art from Santa Monica Museum of Art

Here’s what popped up on the site’s blog about Stern: “Our 2012 New York Kumbh Mahayajna has been canceled by successful New Age entrepreneur Eddie Stern, the lead organizer in New York, and ended our nearly one year of work to bring the gift of Blessings of World Peace and Prosperity when they are so sorely needed.”

I don’t know what that means, and I would have delved further but right below it was a very familiar name: Patanjali. Oh, I thought, this Baba Rampuri has something to say about our Ashtanga source. I am going to give it to you in its entirety, which I don’t typically do — it’s a nice virtual gesture to send people off to someone’s site, right? But in this case, I worry that pulling anything out of context would be the wrong step. But, still, you can find it here along with other thoughts:

Even a great translation of Patanjali’s definition of yoga doesn’t address some nagging issues. Being arguably among the 2 greatest grammarians of the last 2500 years, and the field of Grammar, Speech, is very sophisticated and wide spread in Indian culture, he composed a SUTRA, a compressed form of Speech, capable of delivering a lot of reference in very few syllables. It is called Yoga Sutra. Other sutras composed during his time and before are unfathomable without commentary. Certainly “Ashtadhyayi,” Panini’s grammar, also in Sutra, had to be redacted in the 16th century, because even the commentary had become too arcane for many students of the time.

Patanjali’s tradition was Speech, and he was one of the greatest masters of it. Yet, we want to read him, as if he was writing as, for example, a 19th century philosopher, presenting his speculations on Truth or God. Although we may assign him to a darshana, or philosophical school, he was not a philosopher, his compositions were not expository, he wasn’t writing non-fiction, he was writing CODE. Not that anything was secret, or he didn’t want others to know – “To the grammarian, to save even a single syllable, was equivalent to the birth of a son (source: shastra stuck inside my head).”

In these sutras and some tantric styles of composition, the references are NOT to ideas, but syllables, and indeed syllables appear where there were none, through decompression, as if we would unzip files on a computer. And the syllables, in turn have references. A master of grammar & composition can send the references in many directions at the same time. Patanjali was such a master.

To extract what looks like a word from The Yoga Sutra, and look it up in Monier-Williams English Sanskrit dictionary, is good for your professor at the university, but just doesn’t cut it among adepts and magi – or yogis. Patanjali is in a class of the greatest esotericists of the last few thousand years.

Yes, we can be inspired by all great literature, make our lives more conscious and happy, and we can do the same with Yoga Sutra. It’s part of its greatness and that of its author.

It’s a lot bigger than it seems. That’s the nature of sutra.

Umm… OK. So, I think I’m going to have to contemplate this one for a bit. I understand that sutras can contain more than appear from just their few simple words. But the idea of references being “NOT to ideas, but syllables” blows my little Deconstructionist mind. And I’m trying to reconcile it with this exhibit of contemporary Tantric art we went and saw on Saturday. (It’s a great exhibit if you are a Southern California reader.)

Emphasis in that sentence on trying.

Posted by Steve

The meanings of Ganesha

During one of his discussions of Patanjali’s sutras, Tim Miller observed that one’s ishta devata–the aspect of the divine chosen for contemplation–should be “a role model.” Since we’re in the midst of Ganesha Chaturthi (which Tim blogs about this week), I thought I’d ponder my own ishta devata, Ganesha.

Vyasa dictating to Ganesha on a wall in Angkor Wat, via Wikipedia

The ishta devata is the access point for the seeker, the face or facet of the unfathomable that allows us a way in, so to speak. The “in” is into ourselves and our universal nature, with the goal to see the eternal in yourself: “Thou art that,” you are the deity and the deity is you. Because I have something of a scholarly past, and because I’m a teacher, the aspect of Ganesha I most adore is Ekadanta–“single tusk.”

Here’s the story I love the most: The great sage Vyasa was preparing to compose The Mahabharata. Realizing the enormity of the task, he asked Ganesha to be his scribe. Ganesha readily agreed, provided it be done all at one sitting. It quickly became clear that an ordinary pen would not work, so rather than interrupt the poet’s stream of thought, Ganesha broke off his tusk and used it as his pen.

There are, of course, a ton of stories about how Ganesha broke his tusk, but this is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it presents such a different point of view of the poet than what I grew up with and studied. In that tradition, the poet is “possessed by the Muse,” sometimes even in a narcotic haze, a vehicle for the external. Here, God sits at the poet’s side, blank pages before Him, tusk in hand, waiting to hear the words of a human (albeit enlightened) sage.

So you find images of Ganesha, head cocked as if listening to Vyasa, broken tusk at the ready to copy down all that he hears with his great ears. Happy Ganesha Chaturthi! Jai, Ganesha!

Posted by Bobbie

Timji on self-realization and Ganesha

Tim Miller has his latest blog post up. Two excerpts, but visit here to get the whole 10 yards of goodness. (Back at his blog, so no need for a Facebook page.)


In these two sutras, from the chapter called “Kaivalyapada” (the chapter on liberation), Patanjali suggests that all that we require in the process of Self-Realization is already within us, and that our work consists in removing the obstacles that prevent this natural process from happening.   This is what our yoga practice is for—to teach us how to get out of our own way so we can allow our evolutionary process to unfold with ease and grace.


In India, every important undertaking begins with a prayer to Ganesha.  During Ganesha Chaturthi, these prayers become particularly powerful.  Ganesha is also known as the Lord of Thresholds, representing the face of change which dawns with every new situation we encounter in life.  He stands at the gateway of perception, opening us to the vital, intuitive mind, allowing us to face change with progressive choices that guide our destiny in a positive way and release us from the stagnant patterns of the past.  Thus, Ganesha is also the lord of Astrology.

And with that, I’m off to practice.