Vamadeva David Frawley Interview
With Sujantra, founder Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga
Sujantra: We are honored to have Vamadeva David Frawley here with us today. He is the author of over thirty books on Indian philosophy and Vedic studies. He is the founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has been instrumental in bringing Eastern teachings to the West though his life and writings. His books have helped me innumerable times to unravel many of the mysteries of Indian thought. We caught up with him while he was journeying through India.
Vamadeva: It is my honor to be with you and to have a sharing of the teachings with your important audience. There is much we can learn from the dharmic traditions of the East, if we take them as our own and discover them as part of our own deeper awareness.
Eastern Teachings Impact on the West
Sujantra: You have authored and lectured on Indian philosophy around the world and written over 30 books. Are you optimistic about Eastern teachings having a significant impact here in the West?
Vamadeva: Eastern teachings have had a significant impact in the West for many decades now, though sometimes from behind the scenes. Many of the most important new insights in healing and spirituality have been rooted in eastern dharmic traditions. Insights in ecology, physics and biology have occurred as well. Millions have adopted eastern practices such as asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation.
“We must change our value systems from an outer view of life
as enjoyment to an inner view of life as an adventure in consciousness.”
Yet we in the West are still overall too caught up in the outer world, personal fulfillment and the pursuit of desire. Our culture as a whole remains alienated from such dharmic approaches to life. This needs to be rectified. We must change our value systems from an outer view of life as enjoyment to an inner view of life as an adventure in consciousness. Then such teachings will become even more relevant and transformative for us. This is bound to happen over time.
Sujantra: You have written on all aspects of Indian philosophy. What do you think is the most accessible aspect to people in America?
Vamadeva: Most important for us is to understand the world of nature as a manifestation of universal consciousness, and our own individual minds as reflections of the cosmic mind. It is not an issue of a foreign philosophy, culture or ideology, but of Self-knowledge and understanding the nature of existence. For this we should forget about being Americans, Westerners or anything else, and learn to experience our own lives and minds more directly. We can begin with honoring ecology. We must recognize that there are powers of consciousness in all of nature that can guide us to a higher truth. Our country has wonderful landscapes that can help us in this process and Native American traditions that are aware of these.
The Explosion of Yoga Asana in the West
Sujantra: Based on your knowledge of the various aspects of the individual’s spiritual journey, how do you explain the explosion of Yoga asana in the West?
Vamadeva: Yoga has many dimensions and is essentially a tradition designed to draw us into deep meditation as our way of life. The physical side of Yoga is clearly the most accessible for those of us in the western world, as we are very physically minded. But it can lead the student to the deeper dimensions of Yoga if the student is receptive and uses the asana as part of introspection, as originally intended in classical Yoga.
We need to approach all the other limbs of Yoga with the same energy and interest as we are doing with asana today. I believe that will happen in the decades to come, but such cultural changes take time. Let us remember that asana is part of a sacred and spiritual practice for developing higher awareness; then our asana practice can lead us to the transcendent, but not otherwise. Deeper yoga practice is a way of meditation on an individual level, not an en masse class. We should not forget this either.
Sri Aurobindo’s Offering and the Flowering of Eastern Philosophy in the West
Sujantra: You discovered the Vedas through the writings of Sri Aurobindo. My teacher, Sri Chinmoy, studied at the Sri Aurobindo ashram from 1944-1964. How would you describe the relationship between Sri Aurobindo’s offering and the flowering of Eastern philosophy in the West?
Vamadeva: Sri Aurobindo was a spiritual and intellectual giant of the highest order. It will take decades for the world to properly appreciate his work. He could understand the most ancient Vedic teachings and at the same time had an unparalleled vision of the future evolution of humanity at the level of consciousness, which modern science still has only the most vague intimation of. If you try to read his books, his sentences are longer than most paragraphs, his paragraphs go on for pages, and he discusses all sides of a topic before coming to a comprehensive understanding and way forward. You need a strong dharana or power of concentration to connect with him, which is rare today in the era of quick information bites.
Aurobindo pioneered the whole concept of Integral Yoga, brought out the importance of life as Yoga, and created a Yoga for the modern world that we can incorporate into our work and daily lives. Simultaneously his Yoga has deep dimensions linking us beyond time and space to the very fountains of creation. It is hard to put this many-side vision into words.
Aurobindo also wrote directly in the English language, explaining the higher teachings in concepts we can grasp today, so no translation is required. In addition he wrote on philosophy, psychology, poetry, art, politics and all aspects of life and culture, so each one of us can find some angle of access to his work.
One Book for World Leaders
Sujantra: If there was one book you could get the leaders of the world to read what would it be?
Vamadeva: Reading is not enough: the mind can filter anything according to its conditioning, biases and opinions. It would be better if world leaders could go out into nature and enter into a state of deep silence and peace and surrender to the unknown powers of existence and the cosmic mind. For this they would have to give up their concepts of being leaders or even being in the world, and embrace infinite space as their true identity. We need to empty our minds first and go back to our core consciousness in the heart. Then we can truly benefit from great books, for which I would recommend the Upanishads, particularly the shorter texts like Katha, Kena, Mundaka, Mandukya, Svetasvatara, Isha or Taittiriya.
Sujantra: Ramana Maharshi had a profound influence on my life. His writings cleared up many of my misconceptions and his photographs touched something deep in my heart. How is that possible? I never personally knew him yet he changed my life?
Vamadeva: The great gurus exist beyond time and space. They have transcended the human mind to the deeper dimension of consciousness that is behind our own state of deep sleep and forms our core awareness. We can always contact them within, if we know how to look within. Our true identity is in consciousness. Mind and body are but shadows. Ramana Maharshi reflects our own true Self-nature that is one with all. You can see that in his eyes, if you meditate upon his pictures. Through his picture you can contact the immortal self in all.
A Last Bit of Advice
Sujantra: Finally, what one bit of advice would you like to offer our readers?
Vamadeva: Develop patience, introspection and turn within. The world in any case will not disappear if you forget about it for a while and contact your timeless Self. Do not be a slave to your body, mind or senses. Stand up for the eternal within you and stop running after fleeting desires. Before sleep shut off the media, let go of the world and dive deep into the ocean of the heart. The outer world is but the shadow of an unlimited divine light and delight.
Sujantra: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and inspiration with us!