We interviewed Dr. Anuradha Choudhry for the 23rd Episode of The Mindful Initiative Podcast. A Vedantic Scholar – Dr. Choudry is an Assistant Professor of Humanities and Social Science Department at IIT Kharagpur for Sanskrit, Indian Psychology, French and History of Science and Technology in Ancient India, where she explores the contributions of Indian thought in the fields of psychology, development, happiness studies, linguistics, and in other related socio-cultural dimensions. She’s a graduate from Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education for Pondicherry, where she did her higher education in Sanskrit and completed her Ph.D. in Vedic psychology.
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Following this, she was awarded the Erasmus Mundus scholarship of the EU for an M. Lit in Crossways European humanities. Due to her interest in many subjects, she also received a UN-related scholarship for a course on Human Rights at the Summer University of Human Rights Geneva. Before joining IIT Kharagpur she was a Fellow at Development Foundation in Bangalore, as well as an Adjunct Faculty at the VEDA Vigyan Shodha Samsthan in Bangalore. She also helped to establish the center of Indian Psychology at Jain University in Bangalore, where she organized and participated in conference and workshops to deliberate on an Alternative Paradigm for Psychology based on an Indic Worldview. Along with Dr. Vinay Chandra, she had edited a book called perspectives of Indian psychology and co-authored another on Happiness, Indian perspectives. She’s a volunteer at Sanskrit Bharati, and she’s passionate student and teacher of spoken Sanskrit, and the transformative power of it sounds, and offers online courses available on the Swayam Platform, and on Yogaanytime.com. She also works with several yoga organizations like the European Union of Yoga, Irish Yoga Association, among many others. This is along with Dr. Vinay Chandra, to highlight the psychological dimensions of the yoga tradition. In a unique endeavor on 1/1/2011. In consonance, with her work, she initiated a worldwide movement of humanity unity called EKTA, which we will be talking about as we start speaking to her.
Show Transcription >>
Nitesh B. 00:21
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Mindful Initiative Podcast. Today we are very honored and privileged to have amongst us Dr. Anuradha Choudhry, who is presently an Assistant Professor of Humanities and Social Science Department at IIT Kharagpur for Sanskrit, Indian Psychology, French and History of Science and Technology in Ancient India, where she explores the contributions of Indian thought in the fields of psychology, development, happiness studies, linguistics, and in other related socio-cultural dimensions. She’s a graduate from Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education for Pondicherry, where she did her higher education in Sanskrit and completed her Ph.D. in Vedic psychology. Following this, she was awarded the Erasmus Mundus scholarship of the EU for an M. Lit in Crossways European humanities. Due to her interest in many subjects, she also received a UN-related scholarship for a course on Human Rights at the Summer University of Human Rights Geneva. Before joining IIT Kharagpur she was a Fellow at Development Foundation in Bangalore, as well as an Adjunct Faculty at the VEDA Vigyan Shodha Samsthan in Bangalore. She also helped to establish the center of Indian Psychology at Jain University in Bangalore, where she organized and participated in conference and workshops to deliberate on an Alternative Paradigm for Psychology based on an Indic Worldview. Along with Dr. Vinay Chandra, she had edited a book called perspectives of Indian psychology and co-authored another on Happiness, Indian perspectives. She’s a volunteer at Sanskrit Bharati, and she’s passionate student and teacher of spoken Sanskrit, and the transformative power of it sounds, and offers online courses available on the Swayam Platform, and on Yogaanytime.com. She also works with several yoga organizations like the European Union of Yoga, Irish Yoga Association, among many others. This is along with Dr. Vinay Chandra, to highlight the psychological dimensions of the yoga tradition. In a unique endeavor on 1/1/2011. In consonance, with her work, she initiated a worldwide movement of humanity unity called EKTA, which we will be talking about as we start speaking to her.
Dr. Anuradha C. 03:02
We can only do our part, that we are not really the agents of our achievements, because that’s what we are confronted with. Or rather, the absence of those achievements is what confronts us during this period. In these present circumstances, we are confronted with ourselves to look at our own expectations, our planning, our biases, and so many, let’s say furnitures of the inner world. So how are we arranging them? Are we constantly like in a room if you constantly fill it up with things? You cannot have excellence in that room? So is our head? Are we like constantly stuffing? What are we stuffing in this inner space?
Nitesh Batra 03:48
Welcome, Dr. Choudry.
Dr. Anuradha C. 03:50
Thank you very much.
Nitesh Batra 03:52
So the way we work with these interviews, the way we start these podcasts is get to know our interviewee a little bit better. Ask them about their upbringing. And also, if and how if spirituality played any role in their life would be great if you can talk a little bit about that.
Dr. Anuradha C. 04:13
So I was very fortunate to have been brought up in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in their center of education. And when I’m normally asked about my early education, I tell people that I grew up in paradise. So I think that pretty much sums up the kind of joy with which I was introduced to learning. The philosophy of the education of the Ashram school was that one had to cater to all the different levels of one’s being and try and bring perfection in all of that. So this education known as the Integral Education Philosophy, is based on the integral yoga that was talked about and written extensively about by Sri Aurobindo and the mother. And the core concept of it being, of course, the fact that we are all essentially, divine beings having a human experience, and not human beings who have a divine experience. So that was the very core of our education. And, as I said, our school was always an invitation to explore the different dimensions of our being. The mother, in fact, says that the whole purpose of education was not to get a job not to, you know, just earn a degree to get a career. It was more about discovering one’s own potentials, and trying to reconnect to the self within each one of us. And I think that laid the foundations of my life. And that has been the bedrock of who I am today.
Nitesh Batra 06:03
Thank you for sharing that. And and I believe you moved a little bit as well, before you move to Pondicherry in the Armed Forces your your family was, is that correct?
Yes. So my father is a Retired Colonel from the Indian Army. And I must say that I’ve been very fortunate in terms of my family lineage also, because my both my parents have been very deeply spiritual, from their background as well. And my father had read a lot of Sri Aurobindo and was looking for some place to put us so that our education would not be so disruptive, with their movement. And therefore, being an army child, I must say that it was a great privilege to have gotten to see many corners of the country that a normal children don’t get to visit. So that also has added a lot of enrichment to my life experience. But then my father, when we were very young, both my brother and I, and he decided that it was important for us to get this kind of one education staying in one place. And that’s when we joined the Ashram School. So before that, some places that we were in were in Chennai, the Ooty, my father then after that, we were in Andaman for about two and a half years. So that was extremely fortunate. The experiences that I’ve had,
Nitesh Batra 07:34
Well, thank you, as you said, you know, it laid the foundation of who you are right now and then. And it’s hard not to talk about the elephant in the room at this point of time, even though this interview might be released much after the lockdown and and hopefully things will change. We are all dealing with the effects of the Coronavirus and COVID-19 at this point of time. Now, based on your upbringing, based on who you are, you have a very strong foundation on on the Vedic philosophies, yoga and sound. What are some of the ways when we come out of this right? And then this will pass in the near future sometime we don’t know when that will be. But what are some of the ways that you have been using based on who you are to keep yourself motivated that this shall pass this shall go away. And when it does many more, would need those techniques, those ways to keep us strong during these difficult times. So if you can share some of your thoughts on that I would love to hear it
Dr. Anuradha C. 08:38
is very interesting, because I have a daily conversation almost with my colleague, a very dear friend from school, Dr. Mukherjee. And so we have this daily conversation, where we share each other’s experience through these times. And she comes from a very different background, very, let’s say more of the regular background of being more oriented towards a profession and being active, meeting people, you know, being more engrossed in the world activities and also being very concerned with a strong activist about, you know, the welfare of the downtrodden, let’s say. So, in our conversations, what always emerges is the fact that it is natural for one to be very worried in the circumstances because of the incredible uncertainty that lies ahead of us. But when we are faced with this uncertainty, the underlying assumption is that life in general is certain, which in itself needs very serious exploration, examination, rather a closer examination. Because I think as a human race we credit ourselves with too much of or rather we give ourselves too much credit for the achievements that come our way, and if one goes through the Indian philosophy and all one realizes that, at the end of the day, there are the human being that there is a small, I would say, a small, I’ll just take this part again. But I think the human being takes too much credit for the things that come one’s way, his or her own way in life, on life’s journey, and a deeper understanding of Indian thoughts, and The truths of life move on fundamental truths of laws of life, invariably try to awaken us to this reality that we can only do our part, that we are not really the agents of our achievements, because that’s what we are confronted with. Or rather, the absence of those achievements is what confronts us during this period. So I think I’m into the way I look at it basically, is this that there is a much larger game at play, there is a Leela that is happening now. Because in our linear understanding of the world, we would never have imagined that the entire world could be brought to a standstill the way we it has happened now. And the question, therefore is, is this just by chance? Or is there an orchestrator of this thing. And when I speak of orchestrator, it’s not like I’m talking for God or something like that. But what I’m trying to say is that there is probably there is a greater truth that is driving these movements. And in the Vedic idea, there is this idea of ritam (ऋतम) or the right of things. So if we look at our life experiences in the recent past, we have gone way beyond we have gone into the excesses, and we’ve crossed the paths of the right, we have transgressed on the path of the right on many fronts. And like Krishna says, whenever there is an Adharma, I will come back, and I will help establish that right again. So Dharma being here this idea of the right. So the long and short of your question, the answer to your question is this that the way I am able to, I look at the situation is to say that this is a God given opportunity, or this is an opportunity that nature has provided us individuals, to forcefully look inside. Because we live mistakenly in this idea that it is what happens outside that is of great importance in our lives. But what happens outside is only relevant when it touches us, in our world inside. And so this opportunity of putting everything, all the external activity to a complete halt, is a very clear indication of natures, that we need to focus our attention inwards, and solves many things, it’s an opportunity for one to understand what the frustrations really are about. And if one is very worried about somebody not not being well, and the anxieties that are coming up. So I think it’s a brilliant opportunity to become a spectator of this drama that is transpiring in front of us, and to instead of being an actor on the stage and getting distressed with all, you know, the the props of the scene, to step back and become the director and say, What would I change in the scene to remain unaffected, and yet, to use it as an opportunity for growth.
Nitesh Batra 13:55
I love that thought and idea that, that maybe we should pause, like you mentioned and look at what really gives us happiness and the excesses that we have been accumulating and go deeper within and and that makes me think of the other thing that you’ve proposed, that goes very much hand in hand is the idea of integrated wellbeing theory, the framework, because we have been really driven by this growth of our economy, external senses, and this warrant and desire for more and more. But as you know, I would love to hear your thoughts about the theory where you talk about the entire framework and how you relate to what is happening now. Because I think that is what people will need. I mean, I know a lot of people are already doing that, but I think that is what people would need in the future. Some sort of a guideline that let’s not again, delve into more and more just on the outside but try to find out what is right for us, as you mentioned that ritam (ऋतम) aspect.
Dr. Anuradha C. 15:08
I will take this question one step before and try and connect it to a linguistic phenomenon of Sanskrit. Okay? So it’s very interesting to notice that in Sanskrit as well as in most of the Indian languages, we do not have a verb to have, we just have a verb to be. So if you want to say I have a book, or you can say that in English, but in Sanskrit, you would say pasta come Asti, which means that the book is with me. So the emphasis in the Indic tradition has never been on having things because of the temporary nature of everything that you can have. And rather the concept of things being with you, and you using them as a trustee of something. Now, where does that tying in with this larger idea of excesses etc, is that if we try and trace the root of our insatiable desire, which Buddha says is the cause of all sufferings, basically. So we recognize that the need or rather those individuals who who invest extensively having are those who have a greater sense of lack in them, so the external having is a compensatory movement, for fulfilling something that is absent in the being. And this opportunity of full lowdown is to help us to look inside and say that with the resources that I have today, whatever is there, who am I? Who am I, without all these things that I have accumulated all these possibilities that I cannot have, without that, who am I? And it’s in this context that I will just bring up the idea of soccer because where lies my fullness and happiness, you know, it’s all these are interrelated concepts. So the word Sukha itself comes from two words two sound. Su and Kha. Su meaning excellent and Kha meaning space, Kha also mean the senses and therefore sometimes Sukha is that which is pleasant for the senses, and that’s the usual sense of the term Sukha, something that’s pleasurable is Sukhamaya, okay, that gives us pleasure. But then that gets contrasted with Dukha and very interesting in the Chandgoya Upanisdhad, Narada is talking to this young Kumara, Sanat Kumara and says that, you know, you have, I have all the knowledge, I have all the knowledge of the different sciences of the world, and yet, I am worried. So, give me the secret of happiness, and then he gives a very Sanat Kumara gives him a definition of happiness, he says यो वै भूमा तत् सुखं नाल्पे सुखमस्ति भूमैव सुखम्। (Chandogya Upanishda 7.23.1) “Yo Vai Bhuma, Tat Sukham” that which is expansive, that is happiness, or that is sukha. And it’s so, when we understand suka in the sense of this excellent spaces, then one can start questioning about it, how does it link to this idea of expansiveness versus you know, a contracted space and where is this excellent space is it in the excellence outside of my system, and because then we realize that there are largely two spaces, there is an external space and there is an internal space. So, which space needs to be excellent. So, as we see that many people are frustrated today, because the excellence of the external space has been curtailed, right, with a Corona the danger of the corona lurking in your external space, that space is not within your reach easily now, and therefore, the frustration because of the outsourcing of our excellence, and the fullness to something outside of ourselves, which is not in our control, I mean, very logically. So, when one recognizes that this excellence is actually describing a quality of the inner space, it changes the responsibility of happiness quite drastically, because then if the happiness or rather if this excellence is the quality of the inner space, then we become the sole custodians and we are solely responsible for the nature and the quality of our inner space, right. And therefore, then questions come up, what do we mean by excellence of inner space? So, how are we looking after what I call you know, if we equate it to a room, then how are we looking after the structures of the room which is the body of that inner space? How are we maintaining it because it needs maintenance, any structure needs maintenance, in these stands, how are we maintaining that structure? Are we just lying flat on the bed and not wanting to do anything not taking a bath not doing all those things? Or are we ensuring that even that structure is excellent? If that is excellent, then you start looking inwards even further and you see that all the different emotions so in a house, you have furniture, you have you know, the different things and then you have the different people that determine the excellence of the space. So, in these present circumstances, we are confronted with ourselves to look at our own expectations, our planning, our biases, and so many, let’s say furnitures of the inner world. So how are we arranging them? Are we constantly like in a room? If you constantly fill it up with things, you cannot have excellence in that room? So is our head? Are we like constantly stuffing? What? Are we stuffing in this inner space? Are we looking at them? And are we watching our senses? Which are the doors and windows to that inner room? So are we watching? Are we conscious about how we are allowing external information to create storms within ourselves? And what do we do about it? So these are all questions that come up when we are talking about excellence of inner space. And so I was proposing this idea in this context of self architecture. So self architecture for integral well being, so how do we design and manage our inner spaces in order to ensure a certain quality of excellence within. And the beauty is that since we are at the end of the day, we are much more porous in terms of our vibratory nature with our atmosphere. So if we sought out our internal vibrations, the chances of it impacting the surroundings in the similar manner, are very high. So if we send out positive things, it’s likely that we are going to amplify that. And that really is the need of the hour. And the last thing I’ll just add, regarding the integrative well being, is that the idea of integrative wellness integrated well being is again, linked to this question of who I am and what do I have the question boiling down to? Do I have a body? Or am I my body? Because that’s what I can look after? Right? We’ve talked about this, the external is not within our control at the moment. So what do I do about this? Do I have a body? Or am I my body? If I have a body, then how do I identify with it? What is my relationship with it? Do I have emotions? Or am I my emotions? Can we choose to distance ourselves from emotions we don’t want and decide what is the emotion I would like to harbor in my inner space? Why then also wants to? Same thing at the level of thoughts? What are the thoughts I have? And am I my thoughts, you know, all of those discussions. And so if we can look into each of these sectors, sections of our being, and ensure a certain harmony, that will then lead to the idea of an integrated?
Nitesh Batra 22:33
I think that’s as a yoga practitioner, it It relates a lot to me, because when I was reading about what he was saying about the Koshas and which is what you were talking about, without actually naming them. It’s something that not just resonated with me, but the whole idea of who am I तत् त्वम् असि (Tat Tvam Asi ), like, you know, in different ways, the mahavakyas talk about it. And I think you’ve touched on the idea of vibration. And that’s something that you, you work on the mantra. So I would like to hear a little bit more about, I think most of us know what mantras are. But I don’t think many of us have studied as, as deeply as you have, or, or have the knowledge, you talk about that these mantras are in, in line with the universe if they are in the right intonation. And I think we would love to know more, what does that even mean in terms of the frequency and vibration, and you touched on how they generate positive vibes.
Dr. Anuradha C. 23:32
So the signs of the mantra tradition is a very profound one. And I normally also quote Tesla, who says that if you look at the world in terms of vibrations, and energy, you will know everything that needs to be known. I have not quoted him verbatim, but that’s the sum total of what he says. So my work with Sanskrit also led me towards trying to understand what are these Aksharas? What are these sounds that form the basis of the Sanskrit mantras at least, and you push it further and you realize that at the end, everything is fundamentally vibrations, everything is fundamentally energy. So if everything is fundamentally vibrations, and energy, these vibrations also correspond to very specific effects. If you make a particular sound, you can break glass to change the sound, no longer break glass. So it’s a very scientific phenomenon, this relationship between a vibration and its effect. And that effect cuts through all the layers of the pancha kosha that you were mentioning. So it affects us enough with at a physical level. It affects us at the pranic or the emotional level. So we listen to some kind of music and we feel good, you listen to another and you feel sad. It affects us at a mental level because you listen to some music and you listen to some words and it evokes certain thoughts. In other words, it’s able to different thoughts. So the same sounds cut through all the different levels of our being. A mantra, which in Sanskrit, of course is मननात् त्रायते इति मंत्रः । mananāt trāyate iti maṃtraḥ, which means that when you keep thinking about it, it protects you. And I often asked as the participants of our workshop that how can a sound protect one right. And, The answer to that could be that you have certain sounds that when you listen to them, they, they create anxiety and fear in your system, there are other sounds that when you listen to them, you feel more relaxed. So a sound can either make a system more tense, or make you more relaxed, if you’re more relaxed, you’re in a much better position, you feel more protected, and more courageous to face the challenges of the world. That’s why many people listen to music when they’re in different difficult times, because it helps them to feel more empowered in certain ways. So the mantra is, in my understanding, nothing but systematize sound technology with sounds have been placed in a certain order, where they will necessarily create desired effects at different levels. Having said that, it then becomes important to pronounce them precisely. And therefore the necessity of precise pronunciation is not about a cultural you know requirement of if you don’t do this, you will have something else it’s it’s a very simple understanding that when you’re trying to open a certain portal on the computer, you put in a certain password, right, in the password instead of a capital A, you put a small a, that particular portal will not open. So if the world is nothing but millions, I mean millions and millions of vibratory interactions, then it’s like a very complex network of sounds. In a certain level. The mantras have been carefully received as master keys to unlock different portals. So if we put a capital instead of a small letter, or the other way around, we will not have full access to that portal. The Universal Power fortunately very generous, because they recognize the fact that the sound that we produce is the sum total of different levels of sounds that we make. What I mean by that is at the physical level, we are vibrating. At an emotional level, we have vibrations, at the mental level, we have vibrations at a higher spiritual level, we have vibrations. Now, if the deeper emotional, if the intent is very pure, then one could literally say Abracadabra, and you will still open the portal, because the universe is listening to the or is listening to authentic vibrations, fortunately, because that has power. And similarly, if somebody pronounces perfectly and is all you know, distracted inside, you know, the vibratory nature is all disturbed, you know, one is not going to have that same effect. So, in order for the mantra to protect one in the desired manner, it becomes important also to produce the right sounds at all the levels of speed. And it also connects into the truth of sounds, the truth of sounds, not just from what you pronounce, but also from your intention behind that sound, your mental idea behind that sound, that deeper spiritual aspiration behind that sound. When all of that gets aligned, then the sound one produces acts like a laser. Because it’s all these frequencies and alignment. And then it transforms, one doesn’t need to do it 1000 times to do it once, and you can feel the difference. So the mantra has the power of creating these resonances. And just a last thing on that note was it’s how the mantra protects the individual is also like in a battlefield, if somebody is playing a flute, the year automatically starts following that. So in the battlefield of our inner world, the mantra acts like this guiding sound of the flute. And I was explaining this to some one the other day, and it struck me why Krishna always plays the flute, because it has the power to woo the soul on notes of truth, literally.
Nitesh Batra 29:29
I was thinking about Krishna and I was thinking about the flute, as you said that I think it’s amazing what sound can do. And I love the idea of authenticity because that’s what stood out to me personally. If your intention is really authentic and comes from the heart, you will be in contact so that idealism should be in the authenticity rather than the perfection of the pitch.
Dr. Anuradha C. 29:55
Having said that, if you are authentic at all levels of your being You would also try and be truthful in the production of the sound. So it is not compensate us for letting the spot be imperfect. And that’s where this integral the concept of integral perfection is very key. That how do we find to all the parts of our being to be in alignment with greater truth structures?
Nitesh Batra 30:21
Yeah, the boundaries are blurred. But once you start approaching them, that’s when you know that you are in perfect harmony, is I don’t know if there is a perfect harmony in what you’re saying, is that what you mean that you will be in perfect alignment and perfect harmony.
Dr. Anuradha C. 30:35
So this also ties in with the Vedic triad of सत्यम, ऋतम, बृहत् (Satyam, Ritam, Brihat), which is the description of the swarga in the Vedas. So already the term swarga means going to your own self, the deeper self, that’s where heaven really lies. But this idea of Satya is a very key idea, because, in the Indian tradition, we not only believe that our seers have witnessed the fact through their own experience, that the underlying energy is a conscious energy. And if we look at the way nature functions, one will be amazed at the order with which she operates. And therefore, again, bringing up the question as to what the nature is driving this conscious planning. And therefore, the idea that the underlying चित शक्ति (Chit-Shakti) or the underlying substratum, the consciousness, which is the substratum of all creation, in the Sanatana Dharma, the Vedic culture, is fundamentally It is so therefore, it is tat that exists, the second attribute of it is that it is conscious it is chit. And the third is, therefore it is spontaneously blissful. It’s a spontaneous outcome of being of just being and being fully conscious. So in that context, there is the idea that, because the underlying energy is a conscious energy, every structure that emerges from it is intrinsically conscious, and is knowable. If it is knowable, like there is something that is a knowability of a blueprint that exists. And that is Satya. And the whole attempt of the Indic interval spiritual endevor was to try and understand what is the right way of representing the blueprint. So the Rita is the dynamic truth and action, can we discover the Rita of things, the right of things. And when one would discover that, so if you have the ideal blueprint, and you’re able to replicate it in manifestation, the consequence would be the optimum result, which is your Brihat. And which is also Sukha. Sukha is this absolute expansion, right. So the example that I also connected with is the fact that if you want to, if you want to do surgery, for example, you want to wear a glove. Now, would you if one randomly picked up a glove that was too big, then one would be very clumsy in what one would do. If you picked up something that was too tight, one would be restricted from doing what one has to do in the best way possible. So in order to do the best surgery, which is a very fine work, one has to know the contours of one’s hand, which is Satya, one has to wear the glove, the manifestation of that Satya in terms of Rita. And then the action that will follow will be of Brihad quality, or the optimum quality. Now, when you wear a glove that holds your hand in the best way possible, that holding of the hand was the notion of Dharma, the upholding of something in its ideal. So that’s why the whole emphasis of the Indic tradition, and especially in today’s context, when we are watching the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata all the time, there is this constant call to live according to the highest ideal of whichever level of functioning that one is engaged in. And when that would happen individually, collectively, it would result in abhyudaya, or the greatest good for all. And that’s why the motto of our country was सत्यमेव जयते (Satya Eva Jayate), that truth, that blueprint, if you can identify that blueprint, it’s not about your personal truth and my personal truth, which is all you know, embroiled and, you know, overshadowed with our preferences and biases, etc. This truth is really the, the ability to perceive the ideal of things. And the replication of that in Ritam is what would lead to definite victory. So I think we choose, सत्यमेव जयते (Satya Eva Jayate), the second part being nan-ritam. I think as a nation, we should we should have included that part as well, because I think that is key to say not a सत्यमेव जयते (Satya Eva Jayate), but nan-ritam. So the not right will never leave lead you to the victory Finally, so that right concept is very key.
Nitesh Batra 35:26
I think we should recommend that for including in moving forward. But we’re getting towards the end of the interview. But I do have one question before we get to close. And you touched a little bit about idealism. And this whole idea of there is one truth and we have our own truths that we work with. But doesn’t that sometime hamper our growth, that we are under this burden, that we have to live with this idealism, and this idealism, was envisioned by by the rishis, the sages in ways we don’t know. But in the life that we live, it’s very easily said, when people talk about India, you are from India, you know, you have these highest ideals. But life is not always that black and white, we have to stretch through different aspects. And sometimes we are buried under those burdens of Have I done this right? Am I good enough? You’re constantly judging yourself. And when you do that, I think the life can become challenging for a few I’m not saying everyone. I mean, I’m talking about myself also that it can become challenging, that you have to live to the highest ideals. And I think I can relate it with an example of a yoga practitioner and a teacher. That if I do something, which is not in line with a yogic lifestyle, I don’t eat meat. So you know, that’s an easy one. But if I did that, Oh, you are a yogi? How do you eat meat? Or you know, it’s something that you go and purchase something, which is your Yogi? How did you do? You know, so so those things do come in? And how does one deal with that, in your experience?
Dr. Anuradha C. 37:08
So it’s interesting, you talk about the meat factor, because I’m a Bengali. And that takes into factor certain things as the natural part of our diet as well. So I get asked this question as well. And I normally say that I’m a, I used to say it more unhesitatingly before that I’m a happy non vegetarian, but I’m a little become a little more thoughtful about that. But the fact is this, that there were reasons why non vegetarian was prohibited, because of the violence between genders in terms of the animal and what that animal has to undergo, and therefore eating it has a certain effect on us. So I will not, like make this discussion about the pros and cons of eating non vegetarian. But what I want to basically say is that the eating or not eating of vegetarian food was associated with a certain sub habit, a certain nature, which was either Saatvik or Tamasic. I mean, Rajasic or Tamasic. In Bengal, we’ve had some of the highest of the sages, who would be non vegetarian eaters. So they are not necessarily, you know, in absolute connection there, right. But having said that, of course, if one becomes more aware of what that food does, to us, of what food in general does worse than one would become more conscious. So that is a note that has, there’s no two ways about that. So this thing about the ideal, it’s a fact that people think when we start doing yoga life, will get easy. Because, you know, everybody who’s in the yoga world, a lot of people in the yoga world look more Zen than other people are. So therefore doing yoga would make you automatically more Zen. But what one realizes is that the moment one steps into this world, one becomes confronted with choices, as long as you have no choice and you’re comfortable in the complacency of and let’s say ignorant and ordinary life. When I’m saying this, there’s no judgment on it. It’s just that when one is not particularly focused on what should one do, everyone’s just going with the flow of life, which is perfectly fine, if that’s what one chooses to do. But then the question that one would ask oneself invariably at some point is that what is all this for? So let’s say if somebody is spending all the time in partying or drinking and things like that, at some point, the question would come up as to what was the lifetime all about really, because it will come to an end, I mean, whatever starts is supposed to come to an end. And therefore, the Indian Seers had also asked themselves this question, and they wanted to find deeper meaning in life, and arrived at this idea of the fact that there is a directionality. So the Indic worldview, life is not about just flowing with whatever comes your way. There is a reason why one has come. And the extent to which one fulfills it would augur for one’s greater good in the larger picture of things. So, a lifetime is filled with choices. And those choices as Yamraj puts it in the Upnishad are basically about two things there is about the Shreyas that which is good for one and that which is Preyas that which is pleasurable. Life itself was divided into the four Ashramas. And the word Sanskrit with ashrama, literally meant constant struggle, constant working out constant effort. So while on one side, one needs to make these choices, these hard choices and not just be relaxed, it is in the same line as if one wants to experience greater freedom and in oneself, then it becomes important to make those choices that will lead to that greater freedom. I mean, just the situation of the lockdown, for example, I have this discussion with various friends who are all pretty miserable in this, they’re frustrated, they’re miserable, they’re, you know, they’re suffocated with this inability to go out. And many of them are quite surprised that I’m pretty much at ease with the situation. Because in my normal routine, I’m the one who’s constantly out, I have never spent so much time in my house, as I’ve done in the last three years, as I’ve done in the last 21 days, put together. So they were anticipating that this would be completely a very frustrating experience for me. But because of a certain training, I would say it really is a training of looking at the larger picture of things. It also requires one to prepare for that larger picture. It basically means clarity, I guess, I guess there is no good or bad about the choices that people make, it really is up to everybody’s own life decision, right. But what matters is having clarity about what is it you want. If one is happy with being, you know, affected by everything that comes your way, then you become like a puppet in the hands of nature in the hands of circumstances, if that is what one is content being and so be it. I mean, there is no it’s nobody’s responsibility to tell somebody that know you’re in the wrong path, or you’re in the right path. Whereas if somebody finds oneself in that miserable situation and says that, you know, I’m not being able to go out, I will not be able to go out another two weeks. Now, how am I going to spend this time? Am I going to spend this two weeks cribbing and making a mess of my life and making everybody’s life around being miserable? Or can I say that, okay, this is an opportunity, can I make this a very constructive experience? Now this choice that one has to make from being a non constructive entity, towards a constructive one is a hard one. Because it means letting go of a lot of one’s patterns, a lot of one’s usual preferences, all of that. But I guess again, it is all a matter of clarity. If one knows, one wants to go so normally joking, you put it like this, I said, it’s a choice, we all have to go home some way or the other. And in the larger spiritual backdrop that home is nothing but a liberated living, which is not a victim of circumstances, but which decides how the circumstances should be. So if that is the way home, then does one one highway, or does one want to be on the highway or My Way. The ideal, of course, is if the My Way becomes the highway. But the journey from the routine my way to the highway is fraught with conflict. But if the site is clear, if the destin ation is clear, then there is no end. I mean, it’s the natural choice one would make.
Nitesh Batra 44:13
Listening to yourself more and more. And I think one interesting thing that you said about the choices aspect and the ashram things and so the way I see you, I’ve not come across too many Vedic scholars who are females. So that’s one thing and and this would have been my first question, but I think this would be a great question to end with. So you are like those female executives, which are very far and few who are up in in management and when they make their way up there, they realize that some of the choices that have been made have been made from a man’s perspective. And a lot of our texts have been written by men as well, even though they may have been compiled by some and you know, the knowledge may have come from different people. Even the Ashrams talk about men from one thing to the other, to the other to the other. I would love to know, one your perspective on that. Second, now that we know things a lot better we have developed as a human race in terms of certain levels of equality in its own way. Should we think of ways to integrate them into the existing texts, or reinterpret them? I think that would be a better way to ask the question. But I would love to hear your perspective on it.
Dr. Anuradha C. 45:33
I think this gender question the gender lens on our tradition is a very interesting one. And I think it has two dimensions to it. One is that there is for sure an imported lens, where we have these very clear, you know, like, men have these roles in terms of and it has been a higher patriarchal dominated, women have been suppressed kind of lens. And the other is, I would say, probably a more maybe philosophical lens of the truth in terms of what gender really means. And to say that our culture was predominantly masculine, I think, is again, not doing justice to the tradition at all. Because in the Vedas, you have more than 33 Rishikas, who were receivers of mantras, and all Upanishads also, you often have women who are far more learned, and the question their husbands and we are able to dialogue with them. Even in Shankaracharya story, you know, you had Mandana Mishra’s wife, who was made the judge, and you look at Rama and Mahabharata again, and you see that the women were in no way less equal to the men, but they were assigned different roles in society, and very legitimately. So for example, I think it’s a matter of how our society prioritize some things. And therefore the rules that were assigned according to that. So the upbringing of the child was extremely important, because the child was the contribution of the couple for the next generation. And in order to make that in the best way possible, it was important for the emphasis was really laid on the woman. I mean, it’s almost like a paradox to say that actually, the Indian tradition value the woman much more than the man, because they recognized her as the carrier of this future generation. In fact, there was a dialogue, also in the Ramayana today, where they said that if she went represent the Mahabharata, when the family is discussing about sending the wife to the Bakasurah. In that context, you know, that one of them had to go to the demon. And she says that, and then Kunti tells her that, you know, if a mother goes, if the lady goes, that’s the end of an entire generation. So the woman has to be very protective. And Manu who was also greatly misunderstood the when he spoke about the woman being first under the guidance of a father, and then under the protection of a husband, and then under protection of a son, it was for the simple understanding that when something is precious, then you have to be careful about how it is treated, or how it is protected. When I’m saying this, I’m not talking of this from a conservative lens, I’m talking of it from a wisdom perspective. In our I would say rational enthusiasm, we have, you know, the wisdom out of this world of wisdom out of the window sometimes. So the Indic tradition was a very wise tradition and for different historical reasons, the woman’s role did degenerate, there is no denying that, okay, there is absolutely no denying or overlooking the fact that in many instances, the woman’s position is not as elevated as ideally the philosophies presented. But the fact is that the Indic concept looked at the human being as Ardhanarishavara, where every woman has all the strength of the woman and every man has all the, the softness and the gentleness of the woman. And I think if we needed to rewrite, or I would say rewrite, but I think we just need to change the lens with which we have interpreted, we are looking at these texts, and also the bring forth a more contemporary discourse, but based on a wisdom perspective of what those texts really meant. So I am where I am, because I had a lot of senior Acharyas who gave me all the support. It was incredible when I was starting with some of these very conservative brahmanas. Well, first of all, they were ready to teach me I was not even I’m not even a Brahmin, in that sense of the word like I don’t belong to you know, the, traditionally from the caste of the Brahman or whatever. They never asked me that question in the first place. Secondly, they were ready to discuss every kind of question, you know, any kind of topic of a man woman anything in the most open manner with a woman So I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding. And also, I would say of conscious malice sometimes in trying to present the Indic society in a certain lens, which is not balanced. Like I said, there are the the challenges are there, and we have to recognize them and take them out, uproot whatever untruth of a practice exists, that has to be done. But at the same time, one has to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. These traditions have been very wise traditions. And why they said what they said were a woman’s role in those days, why Gurukulas were more for boys who because of the whole complications around the whole menstrual cycle of the woman and the challenges it could bring. So just by simply it’s, it’s not that the woman was less educated, she did not have the opportunity of education because she was not going to the gurukula, her entire education happened in a completely different way. And to say that I am like a CEO, let’s say this Vedic things is something that I don’t fully subscribe to. Because I think a lot of our mothers, a lot of people who don’t get these platforms are far wiser than a lot of men who are in those platforms. So I think one needs to change one’s lenses. When looking at certain things and look at it with a lot of Viveka or this power of discretion as to what is really right. At what point does it tip into being not right. And I would like to probably end just with this idea that each one of us is foundationally perceived as Ardhanarishavara. And there is nothing that a man can do that a woman cannot do if she trained herself for it. But that doesn’t mean she has to become like the man. She can keep her qualities and incarnate all those qualities of the man. And the man can incarnate all those qualities of a woman by still being a man. So I think a complete person is one who has this balanced mix, rather than being constrained by the biology of one’s being.
Nitesh Batra 52:07
Thank you. That was a lovely way to cap everything. But before we end, you know, we do this fun thing where we ask questions about, we have the hard part away now it’s the fun part. So are you okay with some questions that we may ask you? So our first question is one place that you would love to visit?
Dr. Anuradha C. 52:27
Japan for some reason?
Nitesh B. 52:29
Okay. Beautiful countries, Japan, actually one of my favorite countries.
Dr. Anuradha C. 52:34
It’s a deeper relationship than that I have no idea what it is. But Japan, for some reason has always been there in my, from a very young age.
Nitesh B. 52:43
You speak how many 10 languages eight,
Dr. Anuradha C. 52:46
Nitesh B. 52:47
Yeah thats, what I was reading.
Dr. Anuradha C. 52:49
And Japanese was one of them. I picked up because I thought, you know, maybe someday I’ll get there.
Nitesh B. 53:01
All right, one childhood memory that brings joy in your life, or you think about it as a spark in your mind.
Dr. Anuradha C. 53:09
I mean, just the memory of having grown up in the ashram school. And the assurance once there was this very clear assurance of the mother in my inner being, let’s say, she’s saying, don’t worry, I’ll always be there. So the reassurance that. So it just I’ll add to that quickly, is the fact that a friend once asked me that you don’t on your many travels, do you see the unseen? Do you feel the unseen hand? I said on my many travels, if I did not feel if I did not recognize the hand, the seen hand I would be blind. She keeps her promise.
Nitesh B. 53:48
What does it mean to be mindful for you?
Dr. Anuradha C. 53:53
I think being mindful is not being reactive to situations but being responsive to them. Which means the ability to step back and react from a more conscious I mean, respond from a more conscious perspective to life.
Nitesh B. 54:14
And one person that you would like to meet in the past,
Dr. Anuradha C. 54:17
Sri Aurobindo and the mother.
Nitesh Batra 54:21
One final question. So we ask people, you know, their favorite song, their favorite film, their favorite book, and you know, I’m not giving you much choices. So, I’ve heard a lot of mantras from you. So what any favorite song that you have
Dr. Anuradha C. 54:36
Nitesh B. 54:40
And maybe we can end with that mantra as well. All right.
Dr. Anuradha C. 54:43
So, before we get to that there are two that I would like to share,
Nitesh B. 54:46
You can do both.
Dr. Anuradha C. 54:49
Okay, so there’s one that I think will help us through these times. That would be good to put out there and the present times as well as what will come in the future for us. So it’s a mantra from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which says Om asato mā sadgamaya, tamaso mā jyotirgamaya, mṛtyormā’mṛtaṃ gamaya Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi(असतो मा सद्गमय । तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय । मृत्योर्माऽमृतं गमय ॐ शान्ति: शान्ति: शान्ति:॥). l will chant it. But before that the meaning of this verse being lead me the typical translation being lead me, from untruth to truth, lead me from darkness to light, lead me from death to immortality. And if one understand the grammar of this verse, it could also mean, lead me to the truth of the untruth, lead me to the light of the darkness, lead me to the immortality of death, which means that they are not two separate states, but the negative hides the positive. So if one goes beyond if one pierces through the veils of the darknesses. One will be able to see the light that is hidden behind it. So I chant this one which is, Om asato mā sadgamaya, tamaso mā jyotirgamaya, mṛtyormā’mṛtaṃ gamaya Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi (असतो मा सद्गमय । तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय । मृत्योर्माऽमृतं गमय ॐ शान्ति: शान्ति: शान्ति:॥). The other mantra, which is a mantra of well being, and which is again very relevant in today’s context is the one which is happiness, good health, positive thinking and not giving sorrow to anybody. So it is ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः । सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु मा कश्चिद्दुःखभाग्भवेत् । ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥ Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah Sarve Santu Niraamayaah | Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet | Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantihi || This mantra is not just a prayer of well being, but it also embodies a certain responsibility. For others to be happy, it is important to be happy as a responsibility. For others to have good health, it is important to ensure good health for oneself as a responsibility for others to see the good, it is important for each individual to practice the good. And finally, for no one to have any sorrow, it is important for every individual to take the responsibility of not giving sorrow to anyone around them. Om Peace, Peace Peace
Nitesh Batra 58:20
That’s a great way to end. And, again, thank you so much, Dr Choudry for being here. Being part of our show being part of our podcast. Thank you for taking time. And to our listeners who are who have tuned in thank you so much for listening to our show. If you like our show, please share it with your friends and family. We are available on iTunes and anywhere, a podcast in here. Thank you.