Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati was born into a Brahmin family as Ramamurti S. Mishra, in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. His mother was a spiritual teacher with many disciples. His father was a high court judge and master of astrology and astronomy. Sanskrit was spoken in their home and from early childhood Shri Brahmananda was immersed in meditation, yoga and Sanskrit.
At age six, Ramamurti Mishra contracted a very serious illness and died. No vital signs or respiration were detected for thirty-six hours, so his family prepared to cremate him. As is customary, his father walked around the funeral pyre with a lit torch chanting holy mantras. He was about to light the pyre when the little boy sat upright. Frightened, the other people assembled ran away, thinking that a ghost had appeared. But the father moved closer and asked, “Who are you?” His son replied, “Father, it’s me.” Shri Brahmananda always considered this date, March 6th, to be his real birthday.
At an early age Shri Brahmananda saw his life’s plan and began preparations. He left home to pursue studies in Sanskrit and medicine and completed his first medical degrees in Ayurveda and Western medicine at Banares Hindu University. In 1955, Dr. Mishra left India to continue his medical studies and practice in the West, specializing in ophthalmology, endocrinology, psychiatry, and neurosurgery. He served as a resident in neurosurgery at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
In 1964 Dr. Mishra founded Ananda Ashram, which became a very happening place during the sixties and seventies. Gurus arrived from India and controversial American spiritual figures like Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) frequented as well. Ananda Ashram, one hour and fifteen minutes outside of New York City, continues to function as a year round country retreat for spiritual practice.
Dr. Mishra resigned from his medical career in 1966 to devote himself fully to helping sincere seekers remove the cause of suffering. He was convinced that the cause of suffering was not within the realm of medical science because it is lodged neither in the body nor the mind, but in ignorance of the true Self. Suffering would be eliminated by the discovery of one’s spiritual identity, by answering the question: Who am I?
Shri Brahmananda was enthusiastically devoted to uncovering the mysteries of the mind. He encouraged the investigation of science, art, philosophy and metaphysics. He loved and supported all forms of sacred art. Shri Brahamananda left his physical body on midnight September 19, 1993, and became like the blue sky, present everywhere. His disciples, with tireless dedication and creativity, continue to teach Sanskrit, yoga, dance, music, painting, and Vedic practices all as a means to discovering the I-AM. The discovery of the I-Am is the discovery of one’s own identity as that Self which is eternal, beyond the transitory limitations of body and mind. There is only One eternal ever-present Self.
Once a student asked Shri Brahmananda, “How many enlightened beings are there?’ Guruji replied zestfully, “One! Only One!” “And how many gurus are there?” Again he replied, “One! Only One! The Self is One. Guru is your own Self.”
Then Shri Brahmananda told the following story:
Once a group of disciples asked a guru, “Sir, are you enlightened?” The guru replied, “I doubt it.” The disciples then asked, “Were Buddha, Moses or Christ enlightened?” The guru gave the same reply, “I doubt it.” “Was anybody enlightened in the past?” “I doubt it.” “Is anybody enlightened in the present?” “I doubt it.” “Will anybody be enlightened in the future?” “I doubt it.” Frustrated, finally the disciples asked the guru, “Who is enlightened?” The guru replied, “I-Am.”
Commentary by Manorama
Mantras emanate from the silent source. After chanting Sanskrit mantras, the essence of the sounds remain inside you in vibrational form. They lodge deep within you, in the chamber of your heart. In this quiet inner space, these divine sounds profoundly nourish.
The Cooking Lesson
Everyday Guruji had us cook with him. This is how the lessons began. First there was silent meditation on the I-AM for an hour then he would shift to teaching Sanskrit. He taught mantras, grammar and etymology. His devotion and enthusiasm for Sanskrit excited us all. It was his love of the subject which gave us an entry point to delve deeper into the meaning of the mantras. Ah Sanskrit! No matter whether we were chanting verb endings, sutras or Devi verses, her eternally resonant sounds cascaded in the mind and harmonized the atmosphere.
Around noon Sanskrit class finished so Guruji would return to his modest cottage to begin cooking the afternoon meal. As always when you were in Guruji’s presence you found you learned so much about life. Studying under him was like engaging life as a lila (divine play). In order to understand one lesson that he taught one had to grasp many other surrounding lessons. Guruji’s teachings worked much as sutras do.
Sutra as a Metaphor
In order to comprehend a single sutra generally one will need to understand nine other sutras to grasp the one in focus at the time. Furthermore, to understand the surrounding nine sutras, the student will need to understand nine more for each of those and so on and so on into infinity…Sutra study shows us much about how Guruji’s life and teachings unfolded. In this way, each teaching was subtle and rich.
The Simple Act of Cooking
Guruji imparted his Shakti (energy) in the simple act of cooking. Just as a scientist carefully adds the needed items to his concoction, so Guruji prepared the meals in this way. As we added different items to the particular dahl or potato dish i.e., tumeric, ghee, salt, pepper, chilies and hing powder, I was always amazed to see how the ingredients came together. I had no idea what the particular dish would taste like. It was all a great mystery, but when the time came and he felt that enough fire, water, ingredients and attention had been added to the particular dish he would ask me to taste it and see how it was. With one bite a nourished feeling came over me…he stood looking at me waiting, with his eyes bright…as if asking Did I like it? I would return the glance with a kind of look that said, My lord, this is incredibly delicious. He would smile and I knew for him the lesson was passed.
It was not until after several months of helping him cook that I decided one Saturday to try to cook Indian food for my family on my own. After I returned to the ashram the following Sunday Guruji asked me excitedly, “So how did it go? How did your family like your meal?” I looked less than enthused and said somewhat hesitantly, “Oh yeah…well they thought it was OK, but I know it wasn’t that good. I added all the spices the way you taught me and I carefully cut everything placing all the ingredients in at the appropriate time, yet it didn’t turn out like yours.” I continued, “I don’t know how you do it Guruji? How you always make the most amazing meals.” He listened intently and then as was his custom he took his opportunity to share the lesson of the hour. He said, “I never talk socially when I cook. I always chant mantras and you do not. This is the difference. Food takes on the mind of the one that is cooking. Mantras quiet the mind and that tranquility is absorbed by the food.” Here it was, Guruji’s secret to creating an incredible meal.
In order to make a delicious meal one needs the skill of how and when to combine the food elements, and most importantly one needs an attentive and quiet mind to guide that cooking process. When we chant or listen to mantras while we cook, our mind becomes focused, energized and peaceful.
To understand Guruji’s teaching, think of the sutra metaphor – to grasp a single sutra one needs to see its application play out in many other sutras and vice versa. Our sutra here is a yummy dahl or potato dish and the fulfillment of its aim is found when we properly engage the simple act of cooking. Through cooking a meal Guruji was able not only to teach us how to prepare food and nourish ourselves, but also that any action we take will absorb the vibration of the mind of the one who performs it. When the mind is thoughtless and quiet then your real nature shines. This quiet is aided through chanting or listening to mantras. When the mind is quiet and attentive then all the meals of your life will bring great nourishment to you and to others.
Mantra Meditation Exercise
Sec B of this mantra meditation exercise may be practiced for two months, three times per week.
A. Close your eyes and sit quietly for a few minutes in silence. Afterwards open your eyes and note in a journal the quality of your mind.
B. Then begin again after sitting for a moment, start chanting a mantra (see below) chant the mantra with the conscious intent that all beings everywhere be happy and free – Repeat the mantra successively for two minutes. Then sit quietly for five minutes in thoughtless motionless contemplation.
Afterwards open your eyes and note in a journal the quality of your mind and the vibration in the space within and around you.
Ask yourself does chanting a mantra affect my meditation practice. If so how? Describe.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings everywhere be happy and free.
Note: Invoke this mantra to quiet the mind and heart. Chant this mantra while cooking in order to bring a tranquil vibration into the food.
Commentary Teacher Manorama Bio: The director of the School of Sanskrit Studies in NYC, leads workshops on Luminous Shabda, a path which combines Sanskrit, Mantra Meditation and Yoga philosophy. She teaches in NY at Ananda Ashram, Jivamukti Yoga, Omega Institute, Integral Yoga, Kripalu Yoga and Laughing Lotus Yoga. She leads workshops nationally, as well as internationally in Europe and Canada.
Manorama’s mix of earthy charm, deep scholarship and humorous teaching style were born from years of close study with her Guru, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, founder of Ananda Ashram and author of The Textbook of Yoga Psychology. Manorama shares her knowledge of Sanskrit and Luminous Shabda basing this work on the tradition that Shri Brahmananda taught her. She is a graduate of Columbia University.
In 2003, Manorama produced her first traditional Sanskrit Chanting CD, the acclaimed Sarva-Bhuteshu ‘In All Beings’, followed by Maha-Mrtyunjaya-Mantra in 2004 and her latest release Learn To Chant Yoga Invocations in 2005.
For more information on Sanskrit Studies or Manorama visit www.sanskritstudies.org