Archive for the 'Spirituality' Category

Paul Brunton


The Shah Mosque, Isfahan


Henry Thomas Colebrooke


“Henry Thomas Colebrooke (June 15, 1765 – March 10, 1837) was an English orientalist.”  Read more: Wikipedia

“Hard” and “Soft” Traditionalism

I have mentioned Mark Sedgwick’s distinction between “hard” and “soft” traditionalism. In order for it to be of real value for other purposes than his (in other respects somewhat dubious) historiographical one, however, his definition of “soft” traditionalism needs to be replaced by another one.

For Sedgwick, the “hard” traditionalists are the original and most important figures of the “school”, Guénon, Schuon, and a few others. The “soft” traditionalists are those, like Mircea Eliade and Huston Smith, who while decisively inspired by the “hard” traditionalists, do not make reference to them in their own works, and somehow even seek to play down the influence received; and whose works are not, like those of Guénon and Schuon, published by the specifically traditionalist publishers.

I suggest a “soft” traditionalist be defined rather as one who, on the one hand, has a somewhat less strict conception of the “primordial Tradition” than does Guénon, and on the other, has a different relation to, and to a certain extent accepts, the partial truths of modernity, a possible “alternative” modernity that is compatible with the looser concept of tradition. Such a “soft” traditionalist will have no problems with citing Guénon and Schuon and their “hard” followers.

The question of publishers I find irrelevant for this purpose of definition.  I doubt that the specifically traditionalist publishers are reluctant to publish “soft” traditionalists in my sense, and I think they have already published “soft” traditionalists in Sedgwick’s sense. The main editions of Guénon’s works are the Gallimard ones, and in Sweden, Tage Lindbom’s equally “hard” traditionalist works were published by the non-traditionalist Norstedts, and later Norma; the English translations were published by Mercer University Press and Eerdmans.

Perennialistiskt minimum

Mark Sedgwick on Sylvain Lévi’s Criticism of Guénon’s Thesis

Traditionalism and Academia

(See the Contents and References pages for more traditionalism-related posts.)

The Abrahamitic Worldview

It is certainly reasonable to consider further elaboration of my brief account of the Abrahamitic worldview necessary, as does one commentator.

This was my brief outline: “This is the teaching of the Creation of Man, the Fall of Man from his Original State in Paradise, the Promises of God to Man in History, the Salvation of Man from Sin, the Damnation of some in Hell and the Salvation of others, as Bodily Resurrected, in a Future Messianic Kingdom, a New Jerusalem, a New Earth, or a Heaven that is simply a continuation of the present Human Existence with all its ordinary human desires fulfilled.” It is certainly the case that more needs to be said about this for the purposes of a deeper analysis.

The teaching seems first to have to some extent at least the appearance of a purely tribal religious “ideology” of worldly conquest and power. Such thinking was not uncommon, although, at least from our perspective, the Abrahamitic version seems exceptionally ambitious. The tribal God promises, through his Prophets, future domination for its People, which is to convert other nations to the worship of the God. This thinking is still clearly visible in the Christian Gospels. Originally, there was hardly any clear and developed ideas of an afterlife at all, and even at the time of Jesus this was simply denied by the Sadducees. The religion was about the worldly well-being, success and Historical Mission of the People through their keeping the Covenant with and obeying the Law of the God. Gradually, the ideology is developed. The God, originally just one of many such Gods, the Gods of other tribes, is elevated above them, and at a late stage is even proclaimed to be the Only God, the others now no longer even existing. And this God is then also the Creator of All, of the World, even out of Nothing – no longer, as at an earlier stage, the demiurge who orders some original chaotic matter and creates forms out of it.

The Promises to the Hebrews, and all of the Hebrew scriptures, are of course reinterpreted by the Christians and the Muslims. The Salvation from the Fall is likewise differently conceived in the three branches of Abrahamism. Yet the soteriological and eschatological visions also have many things in common. They are notoriously obscure and contradictory, something that is often accounted for by reference to mystery and the nature of religious language. But at the same time they are part of Dogma and somehow still to be taken literally.

Basically, Salvation seems to signify the Restoration of the Lost Paradise. It is, in other words, a state of created, earthly perfection without sin or disobedience, in accordance with the sanctified thisworldliness of the Hebrew Scriptures, but involves a theological development of the original idea of the future worldly Kingdom Promised to the People. But since people (psycho-physical Created Men) obviously die, the question arises who among the individuals of the People will be saved and enjoy the fulfillment of the Promises. According to the Sadducean position corresponding to those Scriptures, it could of course only be future generations of the People and other peoples converted to the God, those who happen to live at the time of the Messiah. But others came up with the idea that the dead, Created Men would Rise from their graves and take part in the future Restored Paradise. This idea was taken over by Christianity as Dogma.

Then there was the question of how, when, and precisely where this state would be achieved. This is simply impossible to understand from the various Scriptural accounts of the three religions. The Apocalyptic literature is here added, and it all becomes just a hopeless maze of contradictions. For the Jews, continued or renewed obedience to the Law is all that is needed for future life in the Messianic Kingdom, and the Muslim teaching is similar in this regard. For the Christians, faith in the Incarnation (emphatically quite as psycho-physical in one of its two natures as Created Man) of the God, or of One of what is by them considered to be the Three Persons of the God, and some sanctification through the Sacraments is needed. There is a Second Advent of the Second Person, a Judgement, a Thousand Years’ Kingdom, a New Jerusalem “coming down” to earth, indeed, a New Earth and a New Heaven, where the Saved, the Resurrected psycho-physical Created Men, according to St Paul transformed by the Spirit, ultimately will live in temporal everlastingness.

Not only is it impossible to get a coherent idea of all of this. It is also starkly incompatible with Scriptural passages pointing towards transcendence and eternity rather than the future, and in which some degree of esoteric or philosophical thinking can be discerned. There are people ascending to Heaven in the present, after death or even while still alive. Best known are perhaps the sayings of Jesus to the effect that the Kingdom is actually “within”, and that one of the robbers crucified together with him would be with him in Paradise “today”.

Anyway, such, it seems to me, is the Abrahamitic worldview, in a little more detail. Still further detail is found in the Personalism category in the fragmentary notes (in Swedish) on selected secondary works relevant to the study of some aspects of the history of the concept of person.

Spiritual Enlightenment in the West

To those who have taken the first step in meditation that I described earlier, who begin to study the Vedantic literature, and receive the blessing of guru, the path of spiritual enlightenment will open. Higher knowledge, bliss, and grace will be showered down upon them from the divine realm.

It will become possible for them to see that humanity lives in the darkness of ignorance, and precisely in what that ignorance consists and how it has arisen. They will be able to understand not only that all the knowledge of science is on a lower, relative level, but that this is true also of almost all the insights of philosophy as known in the West (and of its counterparts in some other parts of the world).

Indeed, they will see that the religion of the Abrahamitic traditions too is adapted to, or a product of, a lower level of understanding, aimed at people living on a certain level of ignorance, in particular historical circumstances. Their value as religious, moral and cultural forces on that level throughout the last few thousand years is certainly great in many respects. But their basic teaching, which not even their greatest mystics have been able or allowed wholly and definitively to break through and go beyond, is not the ultimate truth and is in some respects misleading.

This is the teaching of the Creation of Man, the Fall of Man from his Original State in Paradise, the Promises of God to Man in History, the Salvation of Man from sin, the Damnation of some in Hell and the Salvation of others, as Bodily Resurrected, in a Future Messianic Kingdom, a New Jerusalem, a New Earth, or a Heaven that is simply a continuation of the present Human Existence with all its ordinary human desires fulfilled.

This exotericism is all on the level of anthropocentric, psycho-physical illusion and ignorance, no matter what piety, moral elevation, and cultural values have resulted from it, and regardless of what metaphysical sophistication has been added by some philosophical theologians. Highly cultured thinkers of European antiquity could certainly to a considerable extent see this, as those religions began to spread.

Today, however, despite the extent to which the genuine traditional spiritual insights are distorted in pop-psychology, social-humanitarian ideology, residual hippiedom, corporeal health-obsession and other concerns and disturbances of ordinary moderns, there are, as a result of the work of Vedanta-inspired spiritual teachers, a few individuals in the West who are beginning to understand some of this, in the way described above. Having taken the first step in meditation, studying Vedanta, and obtaining the grace of guru, they are slowly rediscovering the full, ancient spiritual truths, including the truths of the real nature of man, of this world, and of the life in it.

Others, although these truths are available to them, although they have become aware that there is something more to be learned there, are prevented from doing so by their attachment to European (or Western) cultural and aesthetic forms, and feel alienated by the outer appearance and accoutrements of “Hinduism”. Not least, due to the constitutive historical process of “differentiation” set in motion quite as much by Greek philosophy as by Abrahamitic religion, they have problems with the various expressions and manifestations of “Hindu” mythology, as they are found in the totality of a traditional culture surviving to this day.

All of this is perfectly understandable. And the achievements of science, the partial insights and intellectual instruments of philosophy, and the morality, piety, spirituality and cultural values of the Abrahamitic traditions should certainly not be given up but preserved.

In order to break through the worldview limitations of Western philosophy and religion, it is necessary that the obstacles standing in the way of the full introduction and reception of the complete spiritual truths, the truths beyond the psycho-physical, body-soul-spirit paradigm as the ultimate horizon, be removed. These truths must be represented in the West in forms and contexts that are congenial to people directly and indirectly shaped by those cultural forces.

As they begin to awaken in true spiritual realization, not only the universality of those truths, inevitably present and glimpsed to some extent everywhere, will become evident, regardless of specific cultural conditionings. Their innate familiarity with them, which was only temporarily covered by ignorance, will also become evident. Moreover, those elements of European thought that are closest to them will become immediately recognizable and identifiable, and can thus be strengthened.

In this way, cultural bridge-building, in the sense of the presentation of spiritual truths of Vedanta in ways that are outwardly accessible to Westerners, will, I think, merge and become identical with a rediscovery of these truths in Western terms, or the terms of the current cultural situatedness of the people of the West, as they reinterpret their own tradition.

Rather than a rejection of Western culture, Western thought, and Western religion, the spiritual enlightenment and traditional restoration will be a process of their supplementation, adjustment, and rectification.

New Article

ISKCON Studies JournalMy article ‘The Hare Kṛṣṇa Movement and Western Cultural Identity: Education, Preaching, Conversion’ is now available in the new issue of the ISKCON Studies Journal, the journal of the ISKCON Studies Institute, a subdivision of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

For those not familiar with the system of Sanskrit transliteration used in academic publications in the field of Hindu studies and indology, I add that “Kṛṣṇa” can also be written without diacritics, as “Krishna” (see my posts Sanskrit Transliteration and Sanskrit Transliteration, 2); the diacritics were added by the editor. The Hare Krishna movement is a colloquial name for ISKCON, i.e. the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Swami Vivekananda

California, 1900


Joy and Sin: Douglas Wilson Sermon


Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, Maharaja of Mysore

Maharaja of Mysore

Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in Stockholm

Semi-totalitarian Swedish socialist state television reports that the Hare Krishna movement has been criticized by “many” for being a “romantic religious pop association” run for “commercial purposes”. 1973.

Traditionalism and Academia

“It is not the function of this book to defend Traditionalism, but it seems clear that those who condemn Traditionalism as not serious are missing the point”, Mark Sedgwick writes in the final paragraph of the concluding chapter of his Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (2004); “Traditionalism makes a claim to represent the ultimate truth, just as religion or some types of philosophy do.” [Op.cit. 271.]

Those who condemn traditionalism as “not serious” are of course the non-traditionalist scholars, from Sylvain Lévi, who rejected Guénon’s Sorbonne doctoral thesis in 1921, to the pioneer of the renewed study of Western esotericism at the Sorbonne, Antoine Faivre, who is quoted by Sedgwick as saying that traditionalism “de-historicizes and de-spatializes its ontological predicates…Its propensity to search everywhere for similarities in the hope of finally finding a hypothetical Unity is evidently prejudicial to historico-critical research, that is to say empirical research, which is more interested in revealing the genesis, the course, the changes, and the migrations of the phenomena it studies.” [Ibid.]

At the same time, Sedgwick notes that “the entire field of contemporary religious studies bears the imprint of Eliade’s soft Traditionalism, and many leading Traditionalists have been scholars.” [Ibid.]

In important respects, Guénon’s thesis is certainly flawed, and it is perfectly understandable that it was rejected by an academic institution devoted to “historico-critical research”, “empirical research”, an institution that was “more interested in revealing the genesis, the course, the changes, and the migration of the phenomena it studies.” There are simply empirical errors of the kind historico-critical research cannot accept. “Guénon did submit his work to Lévi as a thesis, and so Lévi was right to recommend its refusal.” [Ibid.]

But Sedgwick is nonetheless right that critics like Lévi and Faivre miss the point, inasmuch as “the claim to represent the ultimate truth, just like religion or some types of philosophy do”, is not dependent on the positions or minor claims shown by critical scrutiny to be erroneous. “To judge Traditionalism as one would a university thesis”, Sedgwick says, “makes no more sense than to dismiss Christianity for having insufficient evidence of Christ’s divinity, or to dismiss Islam for ignoring crucial elements of the doctrine of the Trinity.” [Ibid.] But it also makes no more sense than condemning any claim to represent the ultimate truth in philosophy. In other academic institutions, or other departments of the same institutions, it would have been, and still is, perfectly legitimate to claim to represent the ultimate truth, although the modality of such claims is not precisely that of Guénon. Philosophy does it all the time, including philosophy which rejects the ultimate truth, i.e. claims to represent the ultimate truth that there is no ultimate truth.

For me, it is obvious that both pursuits are legitimate and that there should be no contradiction between them. Guénon should have avoided the historical errors, and perhaps avoided presenting his kind of study in a department devoted to historico-critical research. But it is quite as illegitimate, and in principle impossible, for historico-critical research to reject all studies that set forth non-historical and non-spatialized ontological predicates, which searches for similarities, which postulates a unity, as “evidently prejudicial” to itself. It is perfectly legitimate and indeed necessary to be “interested in” – even “more interested in” – other things than revealing the genesis, the course, the changes, and the migrations of phenomena. And it is so not only in religious institutions, but also in academia. The formulation about de-historicizing and de-spatializing ontological predicates is actually absurd, a clear illustration of the kind of historicist misunderstanding and distortion Guénon so sharply criticized.

Sedgwick thinks traditionalism has failed in its most ambitious project, as defined by Guénon: “Western civilization at the start of the twenty-first century is not observably any more based in spiritual tradition than it was in the 1920s. If there are more non-Western spiritualities in the West now than in the 1920s, their presence cannot be traced only to the efforts of a Traditionalist elite.” Yet at the same time, “Traditionalists have been among the most effective of those writers, lecturers, and educators who have introduced Western audiences to…a more sympathetic approach to non-Western religion generally, both within academia and beyond” (and also, one should add here, to a traditionalist interpretation of the Western religions). What Sedgwick rightly calls “soft Traditionalism” – “books that are informed by a Traditionalist analysis but do not stress it” – “has touched the lives of many who did not know it”. And, most importantly, the traditionalists “have succeeded to their own satisfaction in the earliest objective, that of reassembling the debris of the primordial tradition. Traditionalism is complete and internally coherent.” [Ibid. 268-9.]

Traditionalism and its claim to represent the ultimate truth must be judged in terms of philosophy, theology, and spiritual experience, and there is no theoretical contradiction in pursuing this judgement as a scholarly activity alongside historico-critical and empirical study of the respective traditions from which the debris is reassembled. From the scholarly point of view, in the regard that is here relevant, there is no formal difference between what the traditionalists and any philosopher or theologian is doing. And already from Sedgwick’s assessment, it is clear that their achievement is considerable – so considerable, in fact, that it is an open question whether or not it will in the future succeed also in its most ambitious project, that of reestablishing Western civilization on the basis of spiritual tradition, or at least in making a decisive contribution to this.

This is not to say that I agree with all of the positions of Guénon and his many followers; my readers, or at least those who have studied more closely my texts relevant to these issues published here or elsewhere, will know this is not so. It is rather the basic concepts and the general framework of traditionalist thought that I agree with and affirm. Which, in turn, means that the modifications and supplementations I would like to introduce are such as can be introduced within this same framework, that they are congruent with traditionalism, or a kind of creative traditionalism.

Can we know something of the ultimate truth? Is such knowledge important to us? Is there spiritual insight, wisdom, knowledge, realization? Are there timeless truths about human life that are related to these things? Is such insight etc. in fact decisive, does its achievement define the ultimate meaning of existence? Does that knowledge need to be transmitted, even perhaps to some extent institutionalized? Is it necessary to reestablish and acknowledge an authority that represents such truth?

Those are the obvious questions, or challenges, that arise in the minds of the students of the traditionalists in the modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern world. Or rather, they arise in the minds of those who come in contact with truth in any major religious tradition, or even in any serious spiritual teacher or writer more loosely connected with those traditions. But the traditionalists provide a more “complete and internally coherent” perspective than most others, a pespective in the light of which the questions can be more easily understood and in which the answers will more clearly emerge. And they are questions which can be not only explored, but to which answers can be set forth, both within and without academia.

For those who, like me, insist that the answer to the questions is yes, the traditionalist school should, I think, always be of central importance. It is obvious that there is truth, even ultimate truth, to be found in all major traditions and elsewhere too, and it is of course a basic and natural operation of intellect to compare and coordinate truth found in one place with truth found in another, quite regardless of time and space; and the interpretations made and the conclusion drawn by the traditionalists in terms of tradition and transcendent unity may simply be understood as elaboration on the basis of the necessary philosophical premise that “things are the way they are”.

One of the merits of Sedgwick’s book – despite its being generally critical of the school – is that it shows that traditionalism was not as entirely new as it has long appeared to many readers, especially of Guénon. This impression was of course produced by Guénon’s and his followers’ – primarily of course the “hard” traditionalists – sharp criticism of  modern Western thought; it obscured the fact that much of the origins of his own position are nonetheless found precisely there, and precisely in the currents he devoted his most extensive, separate studies to refuting: the  renewed forms of idealism and esotericism which first, and most eagerly, absorbed the newly discovered or rediscovered teachings of the East from the late 18th and through the 19th centuries. These currents in turn built on the legacy of Western Platonism and of the Western esotericism, not least since the Renaissance, that has been so richly explored in recent decades by scholars like Faivre.

Sedgwick does play down unduly the originality of Guénon’s criticism, but he is right that traditionalism is in many respects a historically comprehensible intrinsic development of Western thought. But it is the kind of Western thought that also seeks to assimilate and incorporate the truth of certain other traditions. As such, traditionalism too, in itself, as such, should be studied with the same historico-critical methods as are applied to its interpretations of the traditions it appropriates. And there is no contradition in holding that it should also, as I suggest, be selectively affirmed as a Western school that to a considerable extent succeeds, at least on a general level, in its aims.

For both of these purposes, I have always tried consistently to discuss it in terms of or at least in relation not only to the Western Platonic tradition in a broad sense, but also to modern, 19th century Western idealism. But I also find it desirable to transcend the obvious limitations and curiosities of Western esotericism, and to go, as far as possible, directly to the “Vedic” tradition in the broad sense sometimes accepted today, i.e. to the major darshanas  and sampradayas as in various ways transposed and represented in the West today – and in this I am following Guénon’s main intention precisely in his thesis, which was subsequently published as his first book.

On the basis of its reassembling the elements, or at least some elements, of what it conceives to be and coherently presents as a primordial tradition, traditionalism thus credibly makes the claim to represent at least some aspects of the ultimate truth. The “many leading Traditionalists” who not only have been but still are scholars should be perfectly able to present that claim in academia in a way that does not conflict with the established canons and results of historico-critical research.

Perennialistiskt minimum

Mark Sedgwick on Sylvain Lévi’s Criticism of Guénon’s Thesis

(See the Contents and References pages for more traditionalism-related posts.)

Sir William Jones


“Sir William Jones (28 September 1746 – 27 April 1794) was an Anglo-Welsh philologist and scholar of ancient India, particularly known for his proposition of the existence of a relationship among Indo-European languages. He, along with Henry Thomas Colebrooke and Nathaniel Halhed, founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and started a journal called ‘Asiatick Researches’.”  Read more: Wikipedia

Sanskrit Transliteration, 2

Sanskrit Transliteration

The main objection is that my system of tranliteration makes no distinction between long and short vowels. This, it is claimed, must always be indicated, since it can lead both to semantic misconceptions and generally unacceptable pronunciation. Other sounds indicated by IAST can, it is agreed, be left out, but in addition to ṛ, ḷ, ś, ṣ och c, which I chose to mark in my system, the quantity of the vowels must always be indicated, not just in transliteration of verse. This, it is suggested, can be done – as historically it has been – in two ways: either by adding another vowel (Bhagavad-Giitaa), or by accent or circumflex (Bhagavad-Gítá, Bhagavad-Gîtâ).

I am inclined to think this is not a good solution. The double vowels simply do not look good, and the accent and circumflex would be just another system of diacritics. Both seem to me to have an unnecessarily alienating effect similar to that of IAST. The things indicated by ri, lri (not yet in my translated verses), sh, and ch must be indicated in order to avoid unacceptable pronunciation. But in these cases, the IAST virtually rules out correct pronunciation for those who have not learnt that system. The reason, on the other hand, that I left out the marking of the long and short vowels as less important is that this at least allows, as it were, the correct pronunciation, along with the incorrect one.

My general argument for my system and against the IAST is not that the latter is a bad system, that it is not excellent in academic works, or that it is difficult to learn. It is both an excellent system for some purposes, and very easy to learn. The argument is rather that it nonetheless appears unnecessarily alienating and pedantic in some connections. I have found one scholarly introduction to Indian philosophy where the author, normally using IAST, significantly feels compelled, in the difficult case of the word ṛṣi, to add rishi (my transliteration) in parentheses. That is certainly not a good solution. But quite as significantly, another such introduction, to Hinduism, consistently uses my system, without indicating long and short vowels.

It seems to me that this system is in many cases the best way to familiarize Western readers without any knowledge of Sanskrit or familiarity with IAST with the language. I submit that by transliterating the words in a way they recognize, a way that is congruent with their own languages (or some of them, like English and Swedish), not only will the pronunciation be much better, but it will also be easier for speakers of Western languages to recognize Sanskrit as their own language, as it were – to identify the close relation between these languages.

It is a fact that Westerners have already incorporated many Sanskrit words in their own languages in the way I suggest: atman, rishi, darshana, jnana, kshatriya, shakti, asana, guna, maya, samsara, lila, ashtanga, svami, chakra, jiva, ashram(a), shastra, kundalini, sadhu, ananda, moksha, avatar(a), and vedanta, written in this way, are today more or less common words in some Western languages – as are yoga, dharma, mukti, brahman, siddhi, japa, muni, karma, guru, tantra, advaita, bhakti, and mantra, which are written in the same way in my system and in IAST or in the system recommended by my critics as an alternative to it.

By using my system for verse transliteration as well as for single words in texts in the Western languages, it seems this process will be furthered and facilitated to a greater extent than if IAST is used. New words will be more quickly and easily incorporated. More people will then also be motivated to take up the proper study of Sanskrit, and incorrect or imperfect pronunciation (which, I repeat, is produced to an even greater extent by the IAST for those who are not familiar with it) will naturally be corrected and refined. Concepts conducive to spiritual enlightenment, to lifting the West out of the darkness of ignorance and illusion, will be more easily learned.

Bhagavad-Gita 1.2

sanjaya uvacha

drishtva tu pandavanikam vyudham duryodhanas tada

acharyam upasangamya raja vachanam abravit

Sanjaya said:

Having seen the army of the sons of Pandu drawn up in order of battle, king Duryodhana turned to his master and spoke these words:

Sanjaya sade:

Efter att ha sett Pandus söners armé uppställd i slagordning, vände sig kung Duryodhana till sin läromästare och talade dessa ord:

Sanskrit Transliteration

Not surprisingly, objections have been made on Facebook to the Sanskrit transliteration in the foregoing post, Bhagavad-Gita 1.1. My purpose, however, was simply to give the readers a rough idea of the pronunciation of what, in a proper transliteration with diacritical marks, would be written as , ś, ṣ and c (other things that would be indicated by such marks I chose to leave out as less important) – as when I write rishi, shakti and chakra in English, or Swedish, texts. In other words, I did not intend to give a regular transliteration at all. For my limited purpose, I think the diacritical marks – and simply c – would have created unnecessary confusion for those who are still not familiar with them; it would, indeed, have made it impossible for them to have any idea of the right pronunciation.

International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration

Bhagavad-Gita 1.1

dhritarashtra uvacha

dharma-kshetre kuru-kshetre samaveta yuyutsavah

mamakah pandavash chaiva kim akurvata sanjaya

Assembled on the field of dharma, the field of the Kurus, eager to fight – what did my sons and those of Pandu do, o Sanjaya?

Församlade på dharmas fält, Kuruernas fält, ivriga att strida – vad gjorde mina söner och Pandus, o Sanjaya?

Bodhisattva Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara)

Bodhisattva Guanyin

Photo: Rebecca Arnett

Ramana Maharshi

Ramana Maharshi

Arunachala and Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

The First Step in Meditation

“Now the discipline of yoga”, Patanjali says. The atmosphere is pure and peaceful. In recent weeks, you have assimilated the introductory teaching, achieved some basic theoretical understanding of things, as set out not just in yoga but in sankhya and vedanta. You knew it was necessary to approach a real, authentic teacher. You are aware you have been learning about what is truly interesting and important, indeed decisive in life.

You sit still, with eyes closed, relaxed. Your senses are now withdrawn from their outer objects. You remember the clear, well-articulated words of guru, and his presence, through which alone much has been tacitly communicated and transfered to you. You are filled with the impression of the few images of guru and the few, traditional spiritual symbols in the room. Some flowers and fruit lie next to the portrait of guru. There is the aroma – not too strong – of a certain kind of incense, which you will always associate with this moment.

The mantra comes to you. You think it quietly. This practice of transcendence is the central practice of yoga, which, although not in itself difficult, few seem able to practice with the requisite regularity in the contemporary world. You understand that to the seed-mantra some can of course add other strengthening and supporting techniques from traditional yoga. Softly, the mantra begins to penetrate the layers of mental content. You – the conscious self – are immersed, dispersed in that content, the subtle objects of the senses, the images and ideas, the feelings and desires, the mental noise. By a mild, initial impulse of the will and the direction of guru, your attention is focused on the mantra. In this way, you are subtly led in the inner direction. In the stillness, you already sense something of the tremendous potential power of the finer levels of awareness. It is a natural process. Through the mantra, you are silently led out of the many phenomenal identifications of the false ego. Lightly and quietly thinking the mantra, or rather just being aware of it, leads you beyond thinking, beyond the mind.

A path is opened, which you already feel will take you beyond the plurality of manifestation and relativity. You move through the mists of the mind. Thoughts come, images come, plans and memories, you hear a faint sound from the street outside, you note some sensations in your body. But again and again, you return to the pure quality of the soft mental vibration of the mantra. You approach the fuller exploration of consciousness itself, of its true nature. You go deeper and deeper on the subtler levels. You are turning towards home, towards your true self. With the help of the mantra, you are beginning to pass through the cloud. You are quietly pulled towards the field of all possibilities, towards the higher nature of transcendent being, knowledge, and bliss. This is not faith. This is experience.

At some point you stop. You begin to return towards the surface. You come out of the meditation. A small but bright, mild ray of the sun of higher consciousness has been allowed to shine forth in you as you moved through the levels of conditional experience. From the partly uncovered sky beyond, there emanates a force of purity, of freshness, of life, of creative intelligence. You open your eyes. To some extent you already experience the world around you in a different way. You see deeper. You understand there is a truer perspective on everything you have known. That knowledge is structured in consciousness. Your mind is being modified in accordance with the light of right knowledge, which allows you to see everything as it really is.

You feel fully centered, present, crystallized. Finer energy fields are stirring in your vividly felt inner body. You feel in control of enhanced faculties of all kinds. You sense that bad habits and destructive or non-optimal patterns in your life are going to be dissolved of their own accord; that major transformations and developments are available to you, that illusion will fade away. Beyond the modifications of the mind, you will come in contact with the source of happiness beyond outer pleasure, with the highest reality, with the lofty realm of truth. You see how you can become a being that spontaneously works for the ultimate good of society and of all living beings; how you will be able to promote that spiritual good by simply being, by simply being a certain kind of being.

You are already on the way to ultimate fulfillment, higher than and different from any achievement in the transitory sphere of phenomena. You begin to awake. This is the sublime way of realization, beyond the theory of the metaphysical philosophers, beyond the moral and aesthetic discipline of classical humanistic culture, beyond all forms of psychological therapy, beyond any intellectual and professional skill. You are set on the path of perfection, reoriented towards the true goal of life, towards ultimate good, the manifestation of life’s full values on all levels, the actualization of the essence of the beauty and sublime greatness you have had intimations of in art, music, poetry, nature, love. You realize that you can live in, that you can become “oned” (to use Julian of Norwich’s wonderful word) with that very essence. The attainment, in a certain sense, of the fullness of the absolute, of the life of the spirit, of the divine, appears possible. You stand before, and are becoming part of, the Great Tradition. You sense that if you just continue on this path, the insights, the powers, the enlightenment, and the liberation spoken of by the greatest spiritual teachers, seers, mystics, saints, and avatars throughout history is ultimately within your reach.

The path is clear – the path that is no path, the path that is rather the goal rediscovering itself. You remember you have been taught that patient, regular practice is needed, and that you must not make any drastic changes in your life in premature reliance on the increased strength you now feel is yours. Humility is always needed. But it will come naturally. The higher nature of divine being, knowledge and bliss has already begun to penetrate and spread through you. It pulls you, your impulses, your will, and your imagination without resistance towards itself, towards the unbroken continuation of the practice. You begin to desire to become immersed and absorbed in that nature, to make your whole mind and body a translucent medium, entirely shaped by and soaked in it. Your whole existence, inner as well as outer, has already been elevated in a wholly new and beautiful way.

If you do not experience the things here described, it does not mean something is wrong with your practice. The qualities and presence of guru may not have been as effectively communicated as it could have been, the theoretical understanding you acquired may not have been clear enough, and, above all, your mental cloud may be too thick and dark for such experiences to be possible. Still, the practice is the right one and you need only continue it a little longer before these realizations begin to happen.

This first step of practice, added to contact with guru and basic theory, is all that is needed. Even if the force of illusion created by strong attachment to conditional experience should delay you, hinder you, mislead you onto lower paths, it is certain that you will sooner or later find your way back. A different seed has been sown deep inside you. The awakened glimpse of your higher self, of transcendent being, will always attract you anew.

Basile Catoméris Interview

Catoméris is one of my yoga teachers. I practiced with him for at least a year in the early 90s.

Goswami Yoga Institute

Reza Shah-Kazemi on Religious Diversity





Tage Lindbom


Foto: Jonas & Lisa De Geer

Lindbom vid slutet av 90-talet, och vid slutet av tiden för mötena med den konservativa krets kring honom som jag tidigare skrivit om.

Ramana Maharshi, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Paul Brunton




All original writing and photography © Jan Olof Bengtsson

"A Self-realized being cannot help benefiting the world. His very existence is the highest good."
Ramana Maharshi