(Please note- the following passages are merely brief notes scribbled hastily during the lectures themselves and are nowhere near as dense, brilliant, and eloquently expressed as the messages of the speakers themselves! These are brilliant lecturers and formidable scholars and I merely hope to provide quick overviews of the content of lectures, mainly for my own further research. Please pardon the terse and incomplete nature of these summaries) - Joey
Day 1: Feb. 8, 2019
Demonstration of the traditional Hatha Yoga Surya Namaskar by Yoga Prakash, accompanied by the 12 names of the Sun, chanted with each Bija Mantra.
The conference kicked off with a lecture from Swami Atmajñananda of Ramakrishna Ashram, Mysore. His lecture centered on the Bhakti aspects of yoga, and he made some relevant observations on the parallels between Vedanta and modern scientific knowledge. For example, he pointed out that both Vedanta and modern physics agree on the fact that simply by observing an object, it changes the nature of the object observed. When we see an object, or experience an object through any of our senses, we superimpose qualities upon it based on our past experiences. This is why each person relates to the same object in an endless number of ways. In this way, every experience we have is conditioned by our prejudiced minds. By not seeing objects as they truly are, we create Avidya and suffering. The practice of yoga is the only way to correct this incorrect way of seeing things.
Day 2: 9 Feb
Dr. TRS Sharma
Sharma began his lecture by reminiscing on his early days studying with Krishnamacharya in Mysore. Points made during his lecture:
*Krishnamacharya's yoga shala was established in 1933. By 1939, Sharma was 11 years old. The king of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar, was reclusive but interested in establishing an ideal kingdom characterized by widespread yoga practice.
"Through Yoga, India has colonized the West. Krishnamacharya would never have imagined anything could happen to this extent."
There was something aesthetic about Vrkshasana (handstands) that Krishnamacharya appreciated... He preferred straight legs coming up slowly into the handstand rather than jumping into it. The aesthetic value of getting into the asana was also important to him.
During the second part of his lecture, Sharma began to speak the asanas, how most of them are named after great Rishis, sages, and animals. Why are so many asanas named after animals? He observed that humans become exactly like animals when we are scared or nervous. He even went on to quote Peter Singer, author of the famed animal rights manifesto Animal Liberation - "There is no clear distinction between humans and animals." Imitating animals has given us many mythological archetypes - how to behave in an increasingly hostile world. The 10 avatars of Vishnu describe the entire evolutionary process from single-celled organisms all the way up to enlightened beings, thus giving us a picture of our biological origins. This is a mythological re-enactment of the story of evolution as told by Darwin.
From the day you are born, your body is culturally conscripted into a gender- thus you are never able to view your body exactly as it is. (Here he goes on to discuss the attitude towards the human body by various religions/belief systems). "Yoga is the first system to centralize the body as a center of consciousness." This body shares all of its characteristics with animals. Man and animal have always been together and we have much to learn from them, hence why the yogis adapted so many yogasanas as a way to mimic animal behavior.
Day 3: 10 Feb.
Dr. M.A. Jayashree
All religions and ancient cultures have devised chanting as a way to reach higher states of consciousness. In India, we have been chanting since the Vedic period, as far back as 10,000 years. The Sanskrit language has a specialty. The Rishis were great sound engineers. All sounds are represented in written languages in script form. Roman script has been adopted for European languages, etc. Script is nothing but scratches, or a drawing to represent a sound. This method of sound representation has drawbacks. For example, the English language. The word "but" and the word "put" logically should sound the same, but the letter "u" in these examples have a completely different sound. This is only one of many examples of the irrationality of language represented in script form.
In Sanskrit chanting on the other hand, sounds are represented by "Sruti Parampara." In Sruti Parampara, language is reproduced by sound alone, in the same way that a baby learns to make sounds, by copying the vibrations only. It is the vibrations in the chant that create the results, rather than the meaning. As such, the sound vibration is of primary importance. The object of chanting is emotional. Attaching semantic meaning is intellectual. Thus it is not necessary to understand the semantic meaning of the words to receive the vibrational benefit of chanting, which is to clear the mind and raise consciousness. I am not discouraging learning the meaning of the mantras by any means, but it is a separate, intellectual benefit of chanting. By vibrations alone, chanting can be used to attain Samadhi. Even in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swatmarama says "Nada Yoga is the best." The mind is immersed in sound, and thoughts dissolve. Japa is the word for describing repetition of the same word.
"Once you begin on the path of yoga, your fate is sealed. You have no choice but to evolve."
-Dr. M.A. Jayashree
Day 4: 11 Feb
Dr. M.A. Alwar
Is it possible to control the mind? An anecdote to illustrate:
There was once a yogi who attained a boon through rigorous ascetic practices. Upon being granted one wish by the god who appeared before him, the yogi wished for a servant who would serve him unquestioningly and was capable of any task. The god agreed and summoned a demon who would be the yogi's unwavering servant. but warned the yogi of one condition: "you must keep the demon busy and occupied with a task at all times, or he will devour you." The yogi agreed to this condition and immediately set the demon to work. "Go and plow my 100 acre field." The demon immediately went to work plowing the 100 acres. Half an hour later, he returned "The task is finished." The yogi, surprised at the speed with which he plowed the 100 acres, immediately set him to another, larger task. "Go and collect the garbage from the city on the other side of the river." One hour later, the demon returned, the task was done. This continued for several days, during which time the yogi began to become very worried about how he was going to continue keeping his servant occupied to avoid being eaten. The yogi had to come up with an idea fast. "Do you see that pillar standing in that field?" He asked the demon. The demon said yes, he saw it. "You next task is to run in a circle around that pillar until I tell you to stop." Bound to his master's command, the demon began running in a circle around the pillar for the rest of the yogi's days.
What is the meaning of this story? The demon is your mind. The practice of yoga, in its various forms of chanting, pranayama, rhythmic Ujjayi breathing, japa, etc. etc. is the pillar around which you must task your mind in order to keep it completely occupied- otherwise it will surely consume you.
Day 5: 12 Feb.
Dr. Laxmi Tatachar of Samskriti Foundation