Ravi Ravindra at Zinal 2023

by Denis Perret

Ravi Ravindra taught us his understanding of spirituality over five daily two-hour sessions, in English with an excellent translation into French. He spoke about the Yoga Sutra on the first three days and then the Bhagavad Gita the following two days. He also teaches from other traditions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Rumi and the Greek philosophers.

Each session started with thirty minutes of concentration on the energetic body. There was insistence on relaxing the body in a comfortable seated position. ‘I am one of 7 billion humans on Earth, which is on the edge of a standard galaxy (the Milky Way), in a universe with over two billion galaxies.’ The lecturer then proposed that we say to ourselves: ‘I did not create myself’. He suggested that we feel grateful to be there, perfectly created, and suggested that we once again become aware that the breath coming and going within us is the breath of the Divine, finally feeling that divine breath in the form of the exhalation descending the spine and the inhalation coming up the spine. Our bodies vibrated, receiving a lot of vibration.

Once that inner focus had been established, we were in a good position to receive his clear, very deep talks, peppered with colourful anecdotes from his long spiritual journey (with Krishnamurti, about one of Gurdjeff’s followers etc…). The spiritual quest consists of liberating yourself from thought (me me me!) in order to reach knowledge that comes through direct perception.  For thought is indeed not an effective way to knowledge. Krishnamurti used to say: ‘I’m not thinking, I’m looking.’ Yoga is very useful for developing the level of concentration required for direct perception.

Ravi Ravindra presented several original aspects of his teaching on the Yoga Sutra. Purusha (the Spirit) is a splinter of the Divine within us. According to the Eastern tradition, God is within us and around us (in all objects that are manifested in Prakriti). An essential function of Prakriti is to enable Purusha to manifest its qualities. Purusha is manifested at several levels within Prakriti (mineral, vegetable, animal, human) and within humans several levels of awareness (refinement of the soul) enable it to help Purusha radiate even more, until a fully aware experience of Purusha becomes possible.

‘Our soul is amphibious; it can dive down into the material world or rise up to the Spirit.’ Plotinus

The essential questions, which carry within them an energy that brings transformation, are: Who am I? What am I? Why am I here? Why am I unique within this infinite universality?

‘God wants to connect with us more than we do with Him; we run away rather than letting Him embrace us.’
The yogic method for feeling the Divine Presence consists of feeling energy (which explains the 30 minutes of practice at the beginning of each lecture).

Ravi Ravindra then described the yoga from the beginning of the second chapter of the Yoga Sutra: tapas, heat which cleanses, but without ascetic violence. Svadhyaya, self-knowledge: everything that is inside us is also outside us; by going towards the divine light within us, we also meet our shadow and it’s fraught with danger, which is why it’s useful to progress in the company of other spiritual seekers. For Ishvara pranidhana the Gospel of Matthew was quoted (19:29): ‘abandon the ego and its attributes in order to follow Jesus in his divine experience.’

‘If you die before dying, then you won’t die when you die’. Sufi wisdom.

We were reminded that religions have deformed the original teachings. The ‘unofficial’ Gospel of Thomas about Jesus’s teachings is very inspiring.

The yoga from the beginning of the second chapter of the Yoga Sutra leads to samadhi, freedom from the self: experiencing the present moment without bringing everything back to the yourself, which also leads to the reduction of the five klesha (sources of suffering) which were then enumerated. Asmita is identifying with and therefore moving away from the ocean of the being. When we move away from the Divine we also move away from others.  However, we need an ego of a certain strength in order to be able to do anything at all. Advice for parents: ‘never destroy your children’s ego.’

Avidya means not seeing reality. The wise see things directly. Raga and dvesha are  identifications which reinforce the ego (asmita). Abhinivesha is fear of the unknown and attachment to what we are afraid of losing. On the subject of death, Krishnamurti (and Socrates in the writings of Plato) said: ‘Don’t be afraid of things you know nothing about.’

Ravi Ravindra then emphasised the first two limbs of ‘asthanga yoga’, the five yama and the five niyama, as ways of living the right way. The first of the yama, ahimsa, more than non-violence is ‘non-violation of the right order.’ Something to deeply reflect on. Satya is truth; ‘our truth’ depends on where we are on the spiritual path. The wise who perceive reality directly know the ultimate truth. Asteya is not taking what belongs to others: ‘Those who enjoy the Gods’ gifts and give nothing back really are thieves.’ Bhagavad Gita 3:12. Brahmacarya means residing in Brahma: the highest reality, the absolute, unlimited and eternal vastness, unlimited energy … It is much broader than a simple restriction on sexuality; sexual force is very powerful and feeds the ego, and yet it is thanks to it that we are here!

‘If there were another energy as strong as sexuality, I would not have been able to achieve enlightenment.’ Buddha

Aparigraha is not being attached. “Those who are addicted to ignorance are in darkness; those who are attached to spiritual methods are in an even greater darkness.’ Upanishad.
In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna defines yoga as being the abandonment of the fruit of acts (karma phala tyaga). Ultimately we will have to let go of our desire to achieve Moksha (spiritual liberation) or reach Nirvana.

The first of the niyama, sauca, is purity: everything is One but in order to rise up purity helps. Samtosha is contentment; being contented with minimal effort is accorded a bit too much importance in the East, and not enough in the West. On a more subtle level samtosha is to be experienced in the heart of action. The last three niyama, tapas, svadhyaya, and Ishavara pranidhana have already been introduced.

The eight limbs of yoga are a spiral which we constantly follow and which improves over time. Gradually we pass from reaction to free action: we escape from the total of our conditioning and are acted upon by Purusha.

The type of practice for modern humans is the search for perfectly adjusted action, without the tension of attachment to the result of that action. We are the receptacle for an infinite number of frequencies and influences; the effect is produced through each one of us. We focus, and if we are successful, it’s thanks to divine grace.

Ravi Ravindra then talked about the Bhagavad Gita, which dates from 500-150 BCE. It tells of the beginning of a battle and behind the allegory of the battlefield what is described is the internal battle between two levels of understanding of our psyche. Arjuna is aware of the divine nature of his friend King Krishna (so the deepest level). Recognising your deepest, divine nature makes it possible to see others’ deepest nature. The war which is starting follows much negotiation and attempts to broker peace which all failed because of the enemy’s perversity.

Krishna refuses to fight but offers to drive Arjuna’s chariot. At the beginning of the story Arjuna, a warrior who up until that point has been infallible, stands between the two armies before they launch themselves against one another, in order to observe the protagonists. Amongst the enemy, he recognises cousins, uncles, venerated teachers; suddenly moved by what he sees, he is assailed by doubt, his thoughts run away into a wrong-headed argument and he faints, falling down in his chariot and giving up the idea of fighting. His driver Krishna then speaks to him sharply and Arjuna asks him for help to see clearly and over the course of eighteen chapters Krishna gives him the deepest yoga teachings, finally bringing him back to the right form of action.

Krishna starts by teaching the right Dharma (responsibility, obligation, law, essential nature). Each individual has a specific dharma and in order to accomplish our dharma, we have to be aligned with what is in our soul (knowing ourselves, cf svadhyaya). Once our personal dharma has been defined, we have to practise Yajña, the sacrifice of attachment to the senses. Then we can practise a Yoga that purifies, clarifies and thus makes it possible to do Krishna’s will through the right Karma (action).

Krishnamurti: ‘As long as you have a choice, you are not free.
‘We think we have a choice because we aren’t clear what we should be doing.

Bhagavad Gita 4:31: ‘This world is not made for anyone who doesn’t want to practise sacrifice.

Ravi Ravindra is the modern commentator who has explained the role of Buddhi Yoga in the text (quoted three times, 2:39; 10:10; 18:57). Buddhi Yoga est the ‘orchestra conductor’, connecting up and bringing harmony between the other forms of yoga taught in the Bhagavad Gita : Karma Yoga, Bakhti Yoga, Jñana Yoga.

The buddhi is the highest dimension of the mind (or psyche); it is integrated consciousness, perfect awareness, or the soul. Each buddhi is specific and individual, but also connected to the universal. The buddhi discreetly but surely guides the mind and through it the body.

The key to Karma Yoga is ‘non-acting in acting, or acting in non-acting’. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, 3:30: ‘Submit all your actions to me, whilst being aware of your deepest self, without indulgence, yourself, fight, but without agitation.’

In order to succeed in action we need the blessing of the gods within and around us.
‘The wise do nothing but everything is done through them’. Tao te king.

Details about the law on Karma:
    ‘As you are, so you act’
    ‘As you act, so you become’

This law is based on attachment. We are conditioned by the whole of our past and become attached to it. We react more than we act. The difficult thing about spiritual transformation is that we have to liberate ourselves from ‘ourselves.’

When we calmly observe how we act (or rather react), awareness brings a transformation of who we are. We are able to respond with an appropriate action rather than reacting. Spiritual transformation enables us to escape from the mechanics of conditioning.

Parallel between the visions of the Divine of India and the Abrahamic traditions:

    In India there is no creation myth, but there is an emanation myth: the Divine manifests itself by emanating the manifested world and by remaining there in the form of a divine spark supporting each manifested object (from the grain of dust to the cluster of galaxies). All is One.
    The Abrahamic Traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam): the Divine is a creator that sits ‘very high up’, that creates intermediate hierarchies and a world separated from Him. The Divine and the creature are distinct. Every thing is unique. Master Eckart asserted that ‘the creature is one with its creator’ and he was excommunicated.  The Gospel of John recounts that when Jesus said ‘My Father and I are One’, ‘they wanted to stone him’.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: ’All creatures are a mixture between the field (prakriti) and the knower of the field (purusha). I am the knower of the field’.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita 2:20: ‘The Self is neither born nor dies; It does not disappear never to return. Without birth, without end, eternal, there from the beginning, It is not killed when the body is killed’.

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita  2:27: ‘In truth, for whoever is born, death is certain and for whoever is dead, birth is certain’.

Until the fifth century CE, the Western world taught reincarnation, a process of evolution that makes it possible to get closer to a full manifestation of the Divine.

Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus were strongly influenced by Indian thought. In his writings Plato has Socrates say: ‘You seem to know what is behind death, as if you knew that it’s worse than here! Since I don’t know, I’m free’.

Krishna has dark skin, symbol of depth in India whereas Arjuna has light skin, symbolising his relative superficiality compared to his teacher. The Bhagavad Gita is an allegory of the relationship between our superficiality and our depth. Krishna and Arjuna are within us. Without Krishna the war cannot be won; without Arjuna war cannot be waged. Krishna, however, says that He acts tirelessly, even if worlds should obliterate one another.

‘Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West and set off on your search’. Gurdjeff.

In conclusion Ravi Ravindra suggested that:

‘Seekers should not stay stuck to an idea or a tradition; we now live in a global culture where people travel and get involved in foreign countries. For example, the British Prime Minister who is of Indian origin. In that global context it is important to define the basic spiritual teachings and directions. There are tendencies which are shared and major differences and we should not imagine that because someone else is different they are wrong, but see how we can learn something new from a different point of view. My suggestion for all serious seekers is to see that all expressions of truth are limited by the form of expression, so let’s find out about forms of expression so that we can get beyond them. Thus take the two traditions of East and West but don’t stay stuck to one or the other.’

To buy Ravi Ravindra’s books, see the references on his website www.ravindra.ca He lives in Canada and postal rates for Europe are very high, so write him an email (ravindra@ravindra.ca) and he will have the book sent from the UK at the European rate.