Devotion is a phenomenon more universal than any particular tradition, for devotion can be as varied as love itself. In the dharmic traditions, the term for devotion is bhakti. As Bhakti Yoga, it is a form of practice characterized by devotion to a deity. The more popular forms of bhakti are Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta in character (devoted to Krishna, Shiva, or forms of the Goddess, respectively). In all of these traditions, bhakti is both a form of religious and contemplative practice since love for a particular form of God/Goddess is widely accepted as one of the most effective ways to focus the mind.
In this free online conference, we will discover both traditional and non-traditional forms of bhakti. We will explore the ways in which devotion transforms our world, from the inside out. Just as falling in love has the power to shape and renew one’s worldview, becoming a Bhakta transmutes our vision and refines our heart. Love for the divine further empowers the devotee to transcend aspects of mundane existence, as it challenges common and selfish expressions of love. By dedicating our practice to a principle or deity that transcends the ephemeral, we can begin to taste the fullness of embodied love and its liberating possibilities.
This conference, as with all programming at Embodied Philosophy, will seek to strike a balance between scholarship and practice. Each participant has been invited to share embodied bhakti-informed practices as well as scholarship and research relevant to Bhaktas and the various Bhakti traditions.
Join us for this exciting online conference exploring the embodiment of devotion!
You'll Learn About:
Dr. Edwin Bryant
Dr. Graham Schweig
Jaya Jaganath Das
with Christopher Fici
The eminent Indian poet, philosopher, and litterateur A.K Ramanujan, describes the practice and experience of bhakti as that which “is necessarily anti-structure...unmaking, undoing, the man-made. It is an act of violation against ordinary expected loyalties, a breakdown of the predictable and the secure...The Lord is the Illicit Lover; He will break up the world of Karma and normal relationships.” The person who is embodying the experience and energy of bhakti can thus feel called to actively participate in movements of social engagement which attempt to break down and through systems of injustice and oppression.
Yet in the living history of the bhakti movement a strong tension exists, which can move the practitioner towards a clear transcendence and detachment from engagement from the world or towards a more robust, active, and committed engagement with the intense precarities of our 21st century world. As the scholars John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer have pointed out, in the case of such classic bhakti poets as Ravidas, their “bhakti vision seems to be not so much that God desires to reform society as that he transcends it utterly, and that in the light of the experience of sharing in God, all social distinctions lose their importance.” Yet contemporary Hindu scholars such as Anantanand Rambachan and numerous grassroots practitioners insist that the practice of dharma, especially in the key of bhakti, demands of us a robustly compassionate social engagement, especially in the service of vulnerable peoples, communities, and species. They argue and insist that God very much desires social change and is very much present where the attempt at such change is being made.
This presentation will explore these tensions and open a space for conversation which insists that the practice of bhakti in our precarious times must be a practice of engaged bhakti. But what does this engagement look like? How does the devotee engage with the world without losing or diluting the fierce and radical spiritual power and potential of bhakti to effect profound and constructive social change?
with Graham M. Schweig
The great sacred writings on Bhakti, especially Bhagavad Gītā, offer teachings of living the life of the heart. However, there are secret messages in these great writings that are easily and too often overlooked––yet they reveal the necessary pre-conditions of Bhakti. In this short talk, Graham will discuss these secret messages of Bhakti, or what the Gītā refers to as "the supreme secret of Yoga," and how to develop the bhakti-vilocana, or the true eye of Bhakti. Graham will also briefly reveal how these secret messages of Bhakti are embedded into the aphorisms of The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali.
with Hari-kirtana das
Modern yogis want to look outward and uplift the world as much as they want to look inward and uplift themselves. Bhakti-yoga offers a powerful prescription for connecting the inward turn that’s required for our contemplative practices with the outward turn that’s required for our social action. In this talk, Hari-kirtana das will discuss the ways in which bhakti-yoga is the yoga of relationships, how bhakti offers a unifying vision of all creation, and how our engagement with the world expands as our sense of spiritual identity evolves. Learn how bhakti-yoga gives new meaning to ‘spiritual activism’ and provides a ‘ladder of motives’ that integrates a vertical transcendence of the world with a horizontal commitment to the world.
with Jaya Jaganath Das
This presentation examines the definition of “supreme bhakti” (uttamā-bhakti) as given by Sri Rupa Gosvamin, the 15th century medieval saint and leader of the famed gosvamis of Vrndavan who were devout followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Considered especially empowered by Sri Caitanya to codify the teachings of bhakti that enjoyed a renaissance under Sri Caitanya’s influence, Sri Rupa Gosvamin’s magnum opus—Bhakti-Rasāmrta-Sindhu—systematically established bhakti as universal, as the basis of accomplishment for other systems of self-actualization, while being independent from those systems and from the stipulations of the socio-religious structure of Vedic society knowns as varnāsrama (caste system). For these reasons and more, this strand of bhakti became revolutionary for the time that it appeared.
What is the difference between love encountered in this world, and bhakti as presented by Sri Rupa? Who is the truly abiding object of love? What is the intrinsic and extrinsic nature of bhakti and how does it manifest in this world? What is bhakti’s relationship to other system of self-realization? All these questions and more will be explored with the hope of getting a clearer understanding of “A Love Supreme,” i.e. uttamā-bhakti.
with Neelima Shukla-Bhatt
Bhakti, the Indic term generally translated as “devotion”, has many connotations including “adoring,” “sharing,” and “belonging.” While often discussed as a mental or emotional state, bhakti becomes manifest only in a bhakta – a devotee. Who is an ideal bhakta? What is the definition of a person in whom all aspects of bhakti are embodied? Hindu bhakti texts in Sanskrit such as the Bhagavata Purana contain definitions of a devotee. They are read and commented upon. But what would it be like to have the definition that itself is embodied? What would be its form? A fifteenth century poet from Gujarat in western India gave it as a song, a definition to be performed. The poet, Narasinha Mehta, is also honored as a saint and an ardent devotee of Krishna whose life is remembered in numerous narratives in diverse languages of India. The saint-poet composed devotional songs in the language of the common people and is believed to have sung them in the company of the marginalized people – women and people from lower castes including those considered “untouchable.” Thus, the man who embodied bhakti gave a definition of what that embodiment should ideally be in the performative genre of song to be transmitted in people’s voices. The song, which defines a bhakta first and foremost in terms of human empathy, has been popular for centuries. But in the twentieth century, another Gujarati – Gandhi – found deep inspiration in it and made it his own musical emblem. Since then, it has been circulating in international circuits as an anthem of peace. This talk is about that song and its definition of embodied love for the divine and importantly, for humans.
with Nina Rao
Hanuman is the endearing central figure of the sacred text from India called the “Ramayana” or the “Ramacharitamanasa". He is worshipped as the remover of obstacles, reliever of difficulties, and the wide-hearted compassionate, courageous deity at whose feet we fall in surrender. Using the text from Tulsidas’ Sri Hanuman Chalisa (the 40-verse devotional hymn) we will venture into the inspiring stories (lilas) of Hanuman-ji that invoke in us the devotional mood of Bhakti.
with Swami Tripurari
The Hindu notion that God “plays” is not entirely foreign to Western thought. Plato indicated it indirectly when he described human beings as God’s “toys”—“and with regard to the best in us, that [God’s toys] is what we really are.” Optimally we are thought by Plato to be the verse of God’s poetry, although responsible for what we are at present. This implies both action under the principle of karma as well as God’s life in loving rapport with enlightened individuals beyond the karmic realm of cause and effect—our time/space continuum. As Meister Eckhart says, “This play was played eternally before all creatures.” Thus, a picture of an Absolute moving—dancing—out of joy in aesthetic rapture emerges. As Nietzsche says “I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance.”
Arguably in Krsna lila—divine play—we fully encounter the “play that is played eternally before [the creation of] all creatures,” and also the notion that at play God is and we are (with him) “what we really are.” Therein Goddess Bhakti, who in her early stages manifests as a spiritual practice (sadhana) cleansing one’s consciousness (citta), in her mature expression of blissful spiritual emotion personified as Radha fuels this play between the individual self (atma) and God (Bhagavan).
with Vanamali Mataji
The Bhagavad Gita is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna – a dialogue between Man and God. Hence it touches on all aspects of the various relationships between man and god. The dialogue is made more dramatic by the fact that it is set in the middle of a battlefield in which Arjuna, the human being, is faced with an unimaginable dilemma from which he can find no reasonable escape. The teacher, Krishna tries to bring him to a recognition of the reality of life from the highest stand- point. Thus it starts with the Advaitic or non-dualistic view that everything is the Supreme alone and that duality exists only in our minds and is only the apparent phenomenon of the world and not its actual reality. The human being is part of this phenomenon and imagines himself to be totally different from the Supreme. However the human being is potentially divine and therefore Lord Krishna urges his disciple Arjuna to discover this truth in himself.
Krishna takes him through the intricacies of human life to the life divine through the various “yogas” as given in Hinduism. He starts with Jnana Yoga or the yoga of wisdom and leads him through Karma Yoga or the yoga of action and finally to Bhakti Yoga or the yoga of devotion. There are eighteen chapters in the Bhagavad Gita and each of them is known as a “yoga” since any means and all means that can take you to the Supreme can be called as “yoga”. Thus Bhakti as given by Lord Krishna is slightly different from the usual Vaishnavite approach.
with Edwin Bryant
Since there are as many flavors of bhakti as there are human hearts wherein it abides, this talk will focus on one prominent expression of bhakti, the Krishna (Kṛṣṇa) bhakti of the 16th century Vraj (Vrindavan) tradition, as a lens into the larger multi-faceted universe of bhakti.
with Pranada Comtois
Sri Radha, the Feminine Divine, is the soul of Supreme Consciousness who embodies the full measure of divine love. Yoga practitioners and spiritual seekers can experience the full potential of bhakti simply by inviting Radha to awaken divine love within our hearts. We’re looking for deeper insights, sources of strength, and emotional connections that will motivate us, elevate us, and strike a spiritual chord in our souls. Understanding the nature of the Feminine Divine and the power she confers on anyone who sincerely approaches her is the key to unlocking the most confidential secrets of spiritual relationships.
This talk is for yoga enthusiasts and spiritual seekers who want to deepen their experience of bhakti by invoking the transcendental assistance of she who can conquer the Unconquerable. Pranada Comtois will discuss how the bhakti tradition of Gaudiya Vaishnavism elevates the Feminine Divine to the topmost pinnacle of a loving Reality and how we can petition the Feminine Divine through the devotional practice of mantra meditation.
Interest in the feminine aspect of divinity is resurging in books, at conferences, in interviews and secular conversations all over the world. Join Pranada for this illuminating talk on how to see the distinction between the material and spiritual manifestations of the feminine and how to practice the sweet science of surrender to the unsurpassable personification of pure spiritual love.
Nina Rao learned traditional chants (bhajans) from her grandfather in a village in south India when she nine years old. The chants quietly stayed with her until she rediscovered chanting with Krishna Das in New York in 1996. Her childhood was spent living in and moving between many countries around the world and when she settled in New York her working life began in the banking world, switched to organizing and leading photographic wildlife safaris in Africa and India, and now for many years, is Krishna Das' business manager and assistant.
Nina tours with Krishna Das, playing cymbals and singing with him, and was honored in 2013 to accompany him at the Grammy Awards webcast performance. In 2007, she recorded the track 'Nina Chalisa' on Krishna Das' CD "Flow of Grace - Chanting the Hanuman Chalisa". In January 2013, she released her debut album, "Antarayaami - Knower of All Hearts” and in 2018 she released her second album “Anubhav”. Nina regularly leads kirtan, chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa, and sings for yoga classes in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY and around the world.
Christopher Fici is a scholar of theology/religion currently based in New York City. Christopher is a Ph.D candidate in Theology/Religion, with a focus on Ecotheology and Comparative Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York. The focus of his studies and research is the anticipatory community, or those communities anticipating and creating ecologically-sound and socially-just personal, communal, and religious frameworks in the transition away from a fossil-fuel based society. Christopher spent five years studying and living as a monk in Gaudiya Vaishnava communities in West Virginia and in New York City, where remains associated as a Vaishnava scholar-practitioner with The Bhakti Center. At the Bhakti Center he helps to facilitate the Sacred Ecology Forum. He is a former president of the Mid-Atlantic region of the American Academy of Religion (MAR-AAR), of which he is still actively involved as the co-chair of the Comparative Religion and Ecology section. With his MAR-AAR colleagues he recently published his first edited volume Religious Studies Scholars as Public Intellectuals, published with Routledge. An avowed follower of Thomas Merton, he also helps to run the NYC Corpus Christi chapter of The International Thomas Merton Society at Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan, where Merton was baptized into the Catholic tradition.
Vanamali Mataji resides in Vanamali Ashram, Rishikesh. Vanamali is one of the names of Lord Krishna and she is an ardent Krishna Bhakta. Mataji always dresses in lavender as that is the colour of Krishna in transcendence. She has published many books on the Hindu gods - The Complete Life of Krishna, The Complete Life of Rama, Shiva - stories and teachings from the Shiva Mahapurana, Hanuman - Devotion and Power of the Monkey God, The Science of the Rishis, In the lost city of Krishna, Nitya Yoga - (Essays on the Bhagavad Gita) etc. Mataji regularly conducts classes on the Vedic Way of Life and the Sreemad Bhagavad Gita both in the Ashram and abroad. The Ashram is run by her brother - Mohanji who is an exemplary Karma Yogi. The Ashram does a lot of charitable work in both Rishikesh and in a small Himalyan village called Gaja. About a hundred widows are being given rations and many have also been adopted by various philanthropists all over the world. They also help in running a small village school in Gaja and a tribal school in the Wyanad district of Kerala.
Pranada Comtois is a devoted pilgrim, an activist in women's spiritual empowerment, and is dedicated to shedding light on bhakti's wisdom school of heartfulness. She is the author of Wise-Love: Bhakti and the Search for the Soul of Consciousness, which has won several awards including the 2019 Montaigne Medal. Her writings have been published in numerous print and online publications and she appeared as a featured speaker in the film “Women of Bhakti.”
Dr. Graham M. Schweig earned his Ph.D. (ERYT-500 and YACEP) in comparative religion from Harvard University. He is a scholar of Comparative Religion who specializes in the religions of India and the philosophy of yoga, mysticism in world religions, and interreligious dialogue and theology. He has also been a dedicated practitioner of meditational and heart-centered yoga for over fifty years, and has made offered Yoga teacher training workshops on Yoga philosophy and meditation for the past twenty years. With Catherine L. Schweig, he formed "The Secret Yoga"(trademarked) approach to teaching and practicing the higher dimensions of Yoga. Dr. Schweig’s current position is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, and he is also Distinguished Research and Teaching Fellow at the Mira & Ajay Shingal Center for Dharma Studies at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. Dr. Schweig is a translator of sacred Sanskrit texts and a textual scholar who has contributed over 100 publications of articles, reviews, and chapters of books including several books. Among his several books, he is author-translator of Bhagavad Gītā: The Beloved Lord's Secret Love Song, published by Harper Collins in 2007, which continues to be used in the university classroom as well as widely used in yoga teacher trainings around the country and in Europe. Dr. Schweig’s translation of and commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sūtra is a forthcoming book to be published by Yale University Press. Dr. Schweig’s research has taken him to India many times, including the directing of a one-year research project funded by the Smithsonian Institution, at which he has also offered well over three dozen invited lectures and seminars at its museum complex in Washington, DC over the past fourteen years.
Swami Tripurari has lived his entire adult life—half a century—as a Hindi monastic, having been admitted into the renounced order of sannyasa in 1975. A compelling speaker, writer, and poet, he has authored over ten books on devotional Vedanta. He also founded Sri Caitanya Sangha, with devotional communities in the United States and abroad. His own chosen path is the Bhakti school of Vedanta exemplified by the 16th century mystic, Sri Caitanya.
Jaya Jaganath’s (Yahshua Hosch) investigation into spiritual life began at 18 fueled by the desire to understand if romantic love was a truly abiding reality. In seeking an answer, he relinquished university and a dance career and was lead to the monasteries of the Krishna bhakti tradition of Gaudīya Vaisnavism. After 13 years of intense study, meditation and yoga discipline within the monasteries, Jaya has recently left the quietism of monasticism to share the timeless wisdom, scholarship, and relevance of the tradition’s sacred text through song, seminars/webinars, workshops, and regular philosophy classes in many places of the world, including Russia, Europe, and the Americas. As a leader in the educational department at New York City’s Bhakti Center, Jaya is responsible for teaching literature and creating content on sacred text such as Yoga-Sutra, Bhagavad-Gita, and other literature esteemed in vaisnava bhakti traditions.
Dr. Edwin Bryant received his Ph.D in Indic languages and Cultures from Columbia University. He taught Hinduism at Harvard University for three years, and is presently the professor of Hinduism at Rutgers University where he teaches courses on Hindu philosophy and religion. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, published six books and authored a number of articles on Vedic history, yoga, and the Krishna tradition. In addition to his academic work for the scholarly community, Edwin's Penguin World Classics translation of the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, the traditional source for the story of Krishna's incarnation, is both for Indology specialists as well as students and those interested in Hinduism from the general reading public and the yoga community. As a personal practitioner of yoga for 35 years, a number of them spent in India studying with traditional teachers, where he returns yearly, Edwin strives to combine academic scholarship and rigor with sensitivity towards traditional knowledge systems. In addition to his academic course load, Edwin currently teaches workshopson the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, and Hindu Philosophy at yoga studios and teacher training courses throughout the country. His translation of and commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (North Point Press, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009) is specifically dedicated to contributing to the growing body of literature on yoga by providing insights from the major pre-modern commentaries on the text with a view to grounding the teachings in their traditional context.
Hari-kirtana das is an E-RYT 500 yoga teacher and the author of In Search of the Highest Truth: Adventures in Yoga Philosophy. He's been practicing bhakti-yoga and other yogic disciplines for the better part of 40 years, has lived in devotional yoga ashrams and intentional spiritual communities, worked for Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley start-ups, and brings a wide range of spiritual knowledge and life experience to his classes, workshops, and presentations. Hari-kirtana is on the faculty of numerous Yoga Teacher Training programs and leads his own Advanced Yoga Teacher Training program in Washington, DC. You can learn more about Hari-kirtana on his website, hari-kirtana.com.
Neelima Shukla-Bhatt is an Associate Professor and Director of South Asia Studies at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA. She studied comparative religion in South Asia at Harvard University with Prof. John Carman and Prof. Diana Eck. A focus of her research is devotional literature of medieval north India, especially its performative aspects that offer platforms for community building. The other areas of her research interests are goddess traditions in Gujarat, South Asian models of religious pluralism, Gandhi’s thought, and South Asian religions in the context of globalization, especially as they traverse popular media. She is the author of Narasinha Mehta of Gujarat: A Legacy of Bhakti in Songs and Stories (New York: Oxford, 2015) and co-author (with Surendra Bhana) of A Fire that Blazed in the Ocean: Gandhi and the Poems of Satyagraha in South Africa, 1909-1911 (Delhi: Promilla, 2011). She has also published articles on woman poet Mira of Rajasthan, garba – the goddess worship dance of Gujarati women, goddess traditions of Gujarat, commercials for faith healers on the South Asian channels in the diaspora, and the parliament of world religions. In her personal life, her first love is devotional singing.
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