Interview: Swami Veda Bharati PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Felicia Marie Tomasko, RN   

Swami Veda Bharati gave the opening address at the International Association of Yoga Therapists conference in March, 2008. In his talk, he stated that the most important yoga therapy text is the Charaka Samhita. The Charaka Samhita is a Sanskrit tome generally believed to have been compiled two thousand years ago and is a work that outlines the healing philosophy and many treatment modalities used in the medicinal system of Ayurveda.

Swami Veda Bharati’s knowledge of the Vedas was recognized before he even reached double digits in age and was later initiated by his teacher, Swami Rama of the Himalayas. For more than 50 years, Swami Veda has been undergoing his own experimentation following the lab manuals of the ancient textual tradition and teaching these practices around the world. In this interview Swami Veda Bharati, discusses the relationship between text and practice and between yoga and Ayurveda.

Swami Veda Bharati
Swami Veda Bharati
FMT: You speak about how yoga is not separate from Ayurveda.

SVB: No, of course it’s not. The actual philosophical portions of the Ayurvedic texts are not being studied with the same frequency as something like the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. People don’t often read those texts, but there is a quite a bit of application. The philosophical terminology becomes specialized, but the basics remain the same. Actually the hilosophical portions of a text like Charaka Samhita are quite eclectic and combine many different schools of philosophy, and they bring in what is applicable to Ayurveda. But that is not a “problem-solving” Ayurveda. It is a personal philosophy of life.

FMT: Ultimately, isn’t one of the translations of the word Ayurveda, the science of life? It’s not even so much about a mechanistic approach to cures.

SVB: Yes. Nowadays so much of science is problem-oriented. Unless you can solve the problem, it’s no good. So science starts with the problem. You write a doctoral thesis, and people want to know, “What is the problem?”

FMT: You’re saying these portions of the Charaka Samhita are not so much problem-oriented but are….

SVB: the statements of the philosophy of life and total metaphysics.

FMT: Why is it the case that people aren’t studying that so much right now?

SVB: It’s the same as the problem orientation of the people. People have come to Ayurveda because of illnesses. They feel there are areas where modern medicine is failing them, so they look for alternative therapies rather than a philosophy of life. One of the key words in the philosophy of Ayurveda is prajnaparad (the failures in wisdom). So what is that wisdom? Even the meaning of the word “wisdom” has changed in English language over the past centuries.

FMT: How?

SVB: Originally it was something beyond the practical necessities of life. It was something intuitive. It taught an insight into things. But nowadays we often use the word wisdom more in the sense of cleverness. If you handle your friends wisely, it’s clever. That’s a change. So when we are talking of wisdom, we are talking of the older meaning.

FMT: So you can look at it in terms of having a right philosophy.

SVB: There are repeated statements in the Charaka Samhita about the veneration of parents and other subjects. It is that kind of wisdom of life, and the connection of the concept of that with moksha (spiritual liberation) and the whole karmic process, and the way the buddhi, our instrument of wisdom, is often mistranslated as intellect. Our instrument of wisdom operates in leading us to an intuitive way of life. What do you do with someone with mental diseases and how do you cure those diseases? Those are topics discussed in Ayurveda. They are not counseling techniques. They are based on spiritual codes in life: What is conducive to my spiritual liberation?

FMT: That’s not a problem-oriented approach; it’s the approach of looking beyond the mechanism.

SVB: It’s examining this particular emotion and feeling at this given time. Is it conducive to moksha? Is it conducive to my spiritual liberation? For example, someone says a harsh word to me. They are preventing or delaying their moksha. Should I do the same? No, so how do you replace that moment of anger with a sattvic (peaceful) action? One of the things we read in Charaka is forgetting the insults that have been heaved at you – not remembering them but rather the kindness that has been done to you. A lot of our unhappiness comes because we dwell on all of the horrible things people have said about us. But do we have a list of all of the nice things people have said about us? How often do we remember those? The Ayurvedic psychology is remembering those positive things, and there have been more positive things said about you since you have been born than there have been horrible things said about you. So that horror part gets subdued like a ripple in a huge wave. This part of Ayurveda is not being studied, and it is not being applied.

FMT: Do you feel this is a missing piece?

SVB: Very much a missing piece. Ayurveda has just become an alternative therapy, not an aspiration to spiritual liberation. Ayurveda has to be seen in the context of aspiration to spiritual liberation, for which you need a sound body.

FMT: There are not many translations of Charaka available in the West, and there are so many translations of Patanjali.

SVB: One of my ambitions is to do a proper translation or paraphrase of these parts of the Charaka Samhita.

FMT: Even students of Ayurveda don’t go much into these sections of Charaka.

SVB: We need to make that part of the knowledge available as a training in attitudes. The way you look at your own disease. This happens intuitively. People learn so much from their illnesses. Some become bitter and some learn wisdom. It depends entirely on you and how you approach that experience. One possible reaction is: “Why me? What did I do wrong? I just lead a normal life; why did I have to be the person to suffer this?” The other response is, “I am learning so much about my body, learning so much about my mind and how I handle my pain.” Here in the West we talk about the body having a soul. But in India, the soul has a body. We speak of the embodied souls, not the en-souled bodies. So the whole Ayurveda concept is in embodied souls. In the definition of Ayurveda given in Ayurvedic texts, the definition of the word Ayus is understanding the relationship among the spirit, buddhi (wisdom), mind, and body. Integrating the four is Ayus, our life or our lifespan.

FMT: Sometimes becoming healed in a way doesn’t necessarily mean all of your illnesses go away.

SVB: That’s right. I live with my physical handicaps, but I don’t identify with them. Whenever someone gets ill, do not make body conditions into mind conditions. That is my answer to pain.

FMT: So pain is something that exists in the body.

SVB: That’s right, and when you identify the mind with it, then it becomes unbearable. Say a person is having a heart attack, and now he knows he’s having a heart attack, and he has great anxiety. Half of the attack is in the added anxiety, which doubles the attack right there and then. If someone has meditative expertise, to be an observer to that heart attack, then that anxiety part that doubles the strength of the heart attack will not occur. Doctors don’t deal with that part. They don’t teach you to deal with the anxiety that doubles the strength of the heart attack. That is where Ayurveda comes in, and that is where meditation comes in.

FMT: Thinking about the research that’s been done on yoga practices for people with heart diseases, and what people like Dean Ornish and Nischala Joy Devi have taught, it is the meditation, yoga, stress reduction, and community support that are beneficial.

SVB: They have done studies about community in hospitals in India. Here in the U.S. you keep the infection out, and you keep the affection out. In India we bring in all the infection and the affection. The moment you get sick, your room is filled with people. The concept of letting the poor patient rest does not exist – everybody comes to see you and share and laugh with you. It has been found that people with more visitors leave the hospital quicker.

FMT: It’s the power of community. On another subject, thinking of silence, you’ve written about the importance of going within to seek the answer.

SVB: Silence is not absence of speech. One of my lectures is titled, “Eat only when you are fasting; speak only when you are in silence.” It’s an interior thing – not identifying with the bodily part of the experience. But what is there to identify with? The silent identification with the body cannot be achieved unless there is something else that you identify with. When that becomes real to you, then that becomes your person and your body becomes an envelope. But the letter is not the envelope. The envelope is not the message. It travels long distances, gets stamped and gets an address and we think of that as speech, but what is inside is where the speech is, and that is where silence is. Silence is that deeper, inner spiritual identification based on the experience of being something other than the body. That comes from advanced meditation. That’s what meditation is all about. Meditation is not about curing headaches. It cures headaches, incidentally along the way, but nowadays they are making meditation into a pill. Meditation is really about that spiritual identification, experiencing that reality, which is the reality that has become embodied. I am that.

FMT: When considering experience versus texts and then the benefit of experience and finding that spiritual identification through meditation processes, what is the role of the text?

SVB: The texts came from someone’s experience. The chemistry textbook came from somebody’s experimentations. You cannot understand the chemistry textbooks without replicating the experiments. So you cannot understand the experience-based texts without having the experience yourself. Learning the language will not do it. It is the language of experience. Those masters had a level of experience. When you begin to reach some little point of that realization, then you understand, “Oh, this is the experience they were talking about.” Otherwise the chemistry book doesn’t make sense. You can memorize the whole thing, you can translate it into German, but it doesn’t make you a professor of chemistry. You need a direct experience with it.

FMT: These texts give us the information to allow us to have our own experience.

SVB: I call meditation the lab work of spirituality. You do the same thing as the masters from whose spiritual experience the texts came. Not that you take their word for granted, and say, “Well, it’s authentic because it has come from a lineage.” You have to authenticate it yourself. Try it out. That is the progression in meditation.

FMT: Are there certain texts that are very important for this spiritual investigation?

SVB: There are texts that have not been translated yet. There is more in the older tradition and more in the textual tradition than what has become known of yoga and Ayurveda so far in the West. And what has become known is less than one percent of what is there yet is to be revealed. There are profound texts with great depth and detail. Patanjali and Charaka are good; they summarize, they sum up, but even those you cannot really grasp without the oral tradition – oral tradition, experience based.

FMT: So, only a small percentage is currently available to someone on this quest. Do you think that, now we live in a different world than the world when Patanjali wrote, or Charaka, do you feel that the oral tradition has changed over time to accommodate the different world we live in?

SVB: Not the oral tradition, not its content, but its language. For the vast majority of modern people, and I will not use the terms East and West because people in Calcutta are more stressed than people in Los Angeles, and as to Bejing, don’t even ask. They’re supposed to be Eastern, but that East is gone. So, in the modern urban industrial civilization, which has become a universal phenomenon, there are not many who can take twelve years to sit under a master and study texts like Charaka. But in all centuries, countries, and civilizations, there are a select few who have chosen that path. For example, in the lectures that we give here, we become popularizers, we are no longer teachers. I’m just popularizing, hoping that somebody, someday, sometime, somewhere comes for the actual teaching. And those who do will always be few and far between. There are a few who are at that level, who have understood, and they are the ones who will keep on. Who knows whether some of the modern English books will be read someday as classics the way we read the Sanskrit texts as classics. If they have the spiritual substance it won’t depend on their becoming a bestseller.

FMT: Do you think in the world that has changed so much, are these texts are still relevant?

SVB: Relevant? It’s perennial. The presentation may change. For example, when the ancient teachers went to China, they learned Chinese. But the content remained pure. When they taught the ancient Greeks, they learned Greek. Today we speak American English. The knowledge remains unchanged, and I always use the word perennial. It has nothing to do with the centuries and civilizations. What is the definition of modern? From which year does the modern begin and end? It’s a continuum. What is modern today may be outdated one hundred years from now. So we are conditioned to think of these terms that way. We need to de-condition ourselves. Our concept, our temporal conditioning, needs to change, and we have to think along the lines of perennial truth.

FMT: We think of things or value them differently from different eras. Even looking at how we view research, it’s only valid if we do it a certain way at a certain time.

SVB: In the last chapter of the Charaka Samhita, there are 36 criteria on which the presentation of scientific pieces should be based, and they are more rigorous than any you can describe now. And there are 37 points of a scientific or philosophical debate listed in Charaka Samhita. With whatever tools were available at that time, they did a lot of experimentation.

FMT: As you said, these texts are someone’s experimentation and experience, especially that experience of going to those deep meditative states and seeing…

SVB: In that project, meditation is the interior research. There are two aspects. The 36 criteria of scientific theses as presented by Charaka are purely in the sense we speak of research today. Then there is interior research. What happens if I sit by a stream looking at the water flowing for half an hour every day? What happens to my mind in six months time? Now instead of looking at the water, if I just visualize the flowing water every day, then what happens to my mind? Now if I visualize the flowing water for six months half an hour every day and combine it with the water mantra, then what happens to my mind? These were the researches that were done by the meditation masters purely in the interior world of the mind. And that is what is passed on: What happens if I look at the flame of fire blazing in a cauldron for half an hour everyday? What happens if I pour fragrant offerings into it for half an hour? What happens to my mind? What happens if I only visualize it? What happens if I visualize it with the fire mantra? That is the science of meditation. It is that precise. It is not just sitting down and trying to empty the mind or silence the mind. It is very detailed.

FMT: People have done work with the

SVB: It has to be integrated into life. One has to learn what spirituality truly means.


Swami Veda Bharati will be speaking at the upcoming Symposium for Yoga Therapy and Research n March, 2009, visit: sytar.org or iayt.org. Swami Veda will also be teaching at Loyola Marymount University; visit: extension.lmu.edu. For more information about Swami Veda Bharati, visit: swamiveda.org.

 
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