Wishing you a peaceful and silent Christmas, the imposed restrictions should be an opportunity for a quiet and spiritual celebration. And we all pray that the pandemic should slowly subside in the coming year.
I want to share some news. Interestingly, although I have been quite unwell since I came to Austria in mid-August and was not able to do much work, but something positive happened with regard to my books. The two publications from Shimla, “Abhinavagupta’s Hermeneutics of the Absolute” and “The Yoga of Netra Tantra” are in the process of reprinting in a second revised edition. My collected articles which were lying with IGNCA for 5 years are now being taken up for publication, again by D.K.Printworld, under the title: “Paśyantī, Insights into Indian Traditions”, edited by Sadananda Das. The publisher promises to bring it out in 2021. In the German area my volume “Trika, Grundthemen des kaschmirischen Śivaismus” is going into a 5th (revised) edition (Tyrolia Verlag). The publisher congratulated me and Ernst Fürlinger (the editor) that this is the most successful volume in the whole series. Ernst had written a fitting foreword to the new edition linking it with the present world-wide crisis. My German translation of the “Vijñāna Bhairava: Das göttliche Bewußtsein” is going into a 6th edition and I am preparing it for a corrected version (Verlag der Weltreligionen).
In spite of my weakness due to a prolonged neuropathy I am still working on two more projects which are already in process. One is the transcript of my last retreat-seminar in Bir, Deer Park Institute, September 2019, on “Madhya: Finding the Centre. A Retreat with selected texts of Kashmir Shaivism”. The audio recording has been carefully transcribed by Micah Sheiner and I am now trying to edit it and make it into a small book which will be more directed to practice. The other project is already going on in a slow pace for some years, a selection of Stotras from the Śivastotrāvalī by Utpaladeva which is planned to be more a text for meditation, bringing each verse in Sanskrit (devanagari and transliteration), in English and German translation, illustrated with some of the splendid photos of Usha Hamm. Both these books do not pretend to be scholarly but to lead into the heart of the spiritual tradition through poetic and mystical texts.
Another great wish of mine is to translate the commentary by Ksemarāja on the Sāmbapañcāśikā in collaboration with Sadananda Das, an extraordinarily mystical text. But this is still a dream for the future when both of us will find time.
I do hope to return to India as soon as permissible in this corona situation. Meanwhile we should keep connected and protected by staying in the Madhya. My best wish is for mokṣa:
Liberation is not any particular place, nor is it going somewhere else,
Liberation is the unfoldment of one’s own inner Energy
Once the knot of ignorance has been removed.
In 2014, Bettina ji taught Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (Rishikesh). Thanks to AHYMSIN (Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International) and Mr. Sameer Jotshi, complete video recording of this teaching along with recitation of slokas is now available on YouTube. Please subscribe to the YouTube channel below.
The Vijñāna Bhairava is one of the early Tantras of non-dualist Kashmir Shaivism or Trika, which contains the spiritual practices and mystical experiences of the tradition. It teaches 112 ways of attaining supreme Consciousness or union with Śiva and also includes experiences of daily life which can become entry points to the Divine.
Bettina ji has been teaching this text in retreats and seminars and her German translation and commentary has become a classic. She has also translated the verses and contributed an introduction to the commentary by Swami Lakshman Joo (Vijñāna Bhairava. The Practice of Centring Awareness, Commentary by Swami Lakshman Joo, Varanasi, Indica Books, 2014).
I was in Austria from end of May, collaborating at the University of Salzburg in the Biography project, with Christian Hackbarth-Johnson and Geetu Garewal (my biographers in German and English). At Pentecost we went to Niederaltaich for the Byzantine liturgy and to pay my respect at the tomb of the former Abbot and my spiritual friend Fr. Emmanuel Jungclaussen who died in November 2018.
I gave a lecture at the University on “Tantra: a misunderstood tradition of Hinduism”. On 19th June I went to Leipzig to celebrate Sadananda’s 50th birthday with his family and students. I also used the occasion to attend a wonderful concert of Bach Motettes in the traditional Thomas Church. Beginning of July I went to Trins village in Tyrol to give a retreat on Madhya: Finding the Centre (see report under Seminars). Walking in the splendid mountains was a joy. On 16th July was Gurupūrṇimā which we celebrated with a small group and a meditation near a waterfall. End of July, we attended a few concerts of the Salzburg Festival, Ouverture Spirituelle.
Two visits to Vienna were dedicated to meeting my sister Angelica, and a few friends and former students.
Beginning of August I went to Usha Hamm in Wiltingen near Trier and we drove to Chevetogne Monastery in Belgium for the feast of the Transfiguration on 6th August. The monks had just elected a new Abbot, Fr. Lambert Vos, with whom I established an excellent connection, besides meeting my spiritual friends Fr. Maxime, Fr. Irenee, and Fr. Pierre de Bethune who came from his own Monastery of Clerelande. The Byzantine liturgy of Chevetogne is always a deep experience.
On 12th of August a small group of friends and students accompanied me to meet Brother David Steindl-Rast who is now 92, at his Monastery. It was a wonderful spiritual meeting. On 15th August, India’s Independence Day and the Dormition of Mary, I met the former Austrian Ambassador to Delhi, Christoph Cornaro and his wife Gail in their castle at the Traunsee, reviving an old friendship.
On 19th August there was an official meeting with the Rektor (V.C.) of Salzburg University, Prof. Dr. Heinrich Schmidinger, in order to sign a contract between the University and myself, handing over all my documents, manuscripts, correspondence, diaries etc. to the University. They are and will be deposited in the Bettina Bäumer Bibliothek of the Centre for Intercultural Theology (Zentrum für Interkulturelle Theologie und Studium der Religionen).
I returned to India on 27th August into the heavy monsoon and the nearly flooded Varanasi: With Shivam we worked on the editing of the conference Volume from Shimla on “Science and Spirituality: Bridges of Understanding”, which was completed in Phulchatti beginning of October and sent to the publisher D.K. Printworld.
For the retreat in Deer Park (19-26 Sept) see under Seminars.
Most of the month of October was spent in personal retreat in Ishvar Parvat, Phulchatti before returning to Varanasi for the winter months.
At the end of the retreat on 'Advaita Bhakti: Meditation on the Sivastotravali of Utpaladeva', the newly published book "The Yoga of Netra Tantra: Third Eye and Overcoming Death" was released at Dhyan Mandir, Ishvar Parvat, Phulchatti Village in the presence of all participants. Bettina Bäumer shared her journey with this text over 3 decades followed by a reading of selected passages from the translation by Shivam Srivastava.
Table of Contents: http://utpaladeva.in/fileadmin/bettina.baeumer/docs/NT_Contents_Table.pdf
A Dhyan Mandir (Temple of Meditation) has been constructed in the garden of Ishvar Parvat, in order to provide a space for a small group of practitioners. It was consecrated and inaugurated on 28th October, 2016 in the presence of Swami Ritavan (Spiritual Guide and Head of Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama) and the spiritual family and friends of Bettina ji. Her long-standing dream has been given concrete shape by the wonderful alternative architect, Didi Contractor, who specializes in mud-architecture in a very creative and artistic way. Her students/interns have helped in supervising this unique construction, and the caretaker Shiv Sagar has coordinated the work. The outcome is both, aesthetic and has a contemplative atmosphere. Bettina ji is deeply grateful to Didi Contractor for her genial design and her continuous support of this project.
A few stone slabs with Sanskrit inscriptions have been fitted in the walls and indicate the purpose and inspiration behind Dhyan Mandir. One sloka from the Sivastotravali (13.6) expresses the movement from meditation to vision, and to union with the Lord. Two Sivasutras express the very basis of the spirituality: caitanyamAtma, 'Consciousness is the innermost nature of everything', and: udyamo bhairavah, 'Uprising or elevation itself is Bhairava'. Below a photo of Shiva the mantra so'ham is installed, leading to identification with the Divine. The Devi is present in her different forms in three niches, one of them being an icon of Mary, 'the Virgin of the Sign', indicating the inter-religious openness of the space. The entrance porch has a welcoming murti of Nandi, and a protecting Ganesha (sculpted in Varanasi).
In the introductory reflection on the meaning of this mandir, Bettina ji referred to her earlier article "From Guha to Akasha", because this space is like a cave for a deep retreat within, in the 'cave of the Heart', but it should also lead to the openness and infinity of Space.
This consecration was an inauguration of what is going to happen in the newly created space - whether a solitary retreat or a small group sharing their spiritual practice, in meditation, by reciting stotras, or by studying a spiritual text - in order to fulfill the vision and purpose of Dhyan Mandir.
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Since I have a website I had stopped writing annual reports, although it is not the same as sharing the life experience. But the year 2015 has been so extraordinary that I am inclined to summarize it and share the essential events – as far as they can be communicated. How much is beyond words and cannot be communicated.
The year started with a pilgrimage to Tiruvannamalai, where a group of friends came together. The Ramanasramam was crowded but the caves of Arunachala, and giripradakshina (circumambulation of the holy mountain) were a deep entering into the silent mystery of this sacred mountain. The other attraction was the inspired teaching of Sri Nochur Venkataraman on Ramana Maharshi’s Tamil Hymns to Arunachala. A real spiritual communion was established between us, involving also a dialogue between the Ramana Way and Kashmir Shaivism. On 13th January we were back at Varanasi, with some teaching in Samvidalaya (my Library), on Abhinavagupta’s Tantrasāra, among other texts. On 25th, the evening before the Republic Day, I received the news that the Indian Government has chosen me for the Padmashri, a high civilian award. The actual conferring by the President took place on 8th of April. On 26th also Frere Antoine Desfarges OSB came to Varanasi for a month, to work with me on the manuscript of Swami Abhishiktananda’s Diary, for a new and complete edition (still far from being completed). It was wonderful having him with us, a strengthening of my Benedictine association of this year.
In February Baba Harihar Ramji of Aghor Ashram came to Varanasi and we re-established a spiritual bond, extending also to Shivam, my dear student.
On 11th February my students and friends from Varanasi celebrated the Padmashri in a beautiful function, with a Dhrupad concert by Ritwik Sanyal and Ashutosh Bhattacharya.
Shivaratri fell on 17th February, with the usual intensity and fervour of the City of Shiva, combined with the Dhrupad Mela music festival. Immediately following the great festival we started an intense retreat-seminar in Veda Nidhi, on an extraordinary text of the Yoginī tradition of Kashmir Shaivism, the Vātūlanāthasūtra (with commentary by Anantaśaktipāda).
Beginning of March I had to be in Shimla for a meeting of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS). I was invited as a National Fellow for a period of two years, for which I joined the Institute in April. After a short retreat at Ishvar Parvat I went to Bhopal (M.P.), where I had been asked to teach a 15 days course on Kashmir Shaivism, at the start of a new “Sanchi University of Buddhist-Indic Studies”, located near the famous Buddhist site of Sanchi Stupa. It was a real spade work, with no infrastructure of a University, and a small but very interesting group of students, but it turned out to be an important event for all of us. Fortunately it was also a collaboration with Sadananda Das who was teaching Sanskrit, resuming our long and close collaboration. The main text studied was the Śivasūtra with Vimarśinī. It was combined with very enriching excursions to some of the great sites of Madhya Pradesh: the pre-historic caves of Bhimbetka, the famous Sanchi Stupa, the Udaygiri Caves of Gupta period, the Bhopal Museum, the Shiva Temple of Bhojpur, and, most exceptional, Chanderi with a number of Shaiva Siddhānta Temples and Mathas spreading out (dating from the 7th to the 13th century), a discovery I owe to my colleague Prof. R.N. Misra who has done extensive research on these archaeological sites.
After this adventure I had to be in Delhi in order to receive the Padmashri. Four days guest of the Indian Government at Ashoka Hotel, with the impressive award ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on 8th April, with the President, Sri Pranav Mukherji, bestowing the investiture. I felt it like a secular initiation, and the joy of my work and person being recognised by the very centre of Indian democracy.
My 75th birthday was celebrated in the quiet of Ishvar Parvat with a visit to the cave of Vasisht Guha. Immediately after I shifted to Shimla with Shivam, to join the IIAS as a National Fellow.
Here I have to say a few words about Shivam. We met at a seminar in Deer Park Institute (Bir, H.P.) in May 2014 where I gave a teaching on the Yoga of the Netra Tantra. Shivam was attracted to Kashmir Shaivism by reading my book “Abhinavagupta’s Hermeneutics of the Absolute”. A brilliant young man from Uttar Pradesh, Shivam has a very different background, having studied technology (I.I.T. Kanpur) and Public Administration at Columbia University (New York), and having held several posts in the U.S.. In 2013 he decided to return to India to study philosophy and spirituality. His intensive search brought him to Kashmir Shaivism. Since then he has attended all my seminars on various texts of Kashmir Shavism. It is a very enriching relationship for both of us.
We both returned to Deer Park Institute for a seminar on the Spanda Kārikā in May, with a large and excellent group of students.
The coming months in Shimla I was also busy with two book projects. The first is a commemoration volume for Pandit H.N. Chakravarty (co-edited with Hamsa Stainton), titled “Tantrapuspāñjali; Studies in Tantric Traditions in Memory of Pandit H.N. Chakravarty” (submitted to IGNCA in October, to be published in 2016). The second occupied me till January 2016, containing a collection of my articles (edited by Sadananda Das), titled “Paśyantī: Insights into Indian Traditions”, which will also be published by IGNCA.
Descending to the plains of Haridwar-Rishikesh in the extreme heat of summer (for some film shooting) I had a chance to meet Swami Veda Bharati on 8th June for the last time. He attained his samādhi in July. Though our spiritual friendship started only three years ago, it was very enriching and supportive.
In June a pilgrimage brought us, Shivam and his family, to the Devi Temple of Bhima Kali in Sarahan, one of my favourite temples in Himachal, with a splendid view of the snow peaks.
On 1st July I flew to Salzburg for a two-month stay (on leave from IIAS). A meeting of the ‘Association Ajatananda’ took place near Lyon, from 6th to 9th, where we discussed about the publication of the spiritual diary of Marc Chaduc/Ajatananda. It was a good meeting. From Lyon I proceeded to Paris, to meet my revered colleague and great scholar of Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism, André Padoux (in his nineties). From Paris Usha joined me to visit the monastery of Frere Antoine at Le Bec Hélouin, a beautiful and peaceful place. Both, the Ajatananda meeting and this visit again strengthened my link with the Benedictines.
My next duty in Salzburg was the coordination and collaboration with the Salzburg Festival (Salzburger Festspiele) in organising an ‘Ouverture spirituelle’ on Hinduism, Indian music, theatre and dance. This was truly an intercultural experience, mediating between the two cultural worlds, with some splendid performances in the University Church (Kollegienkirche). The enchantment was great on both sides, the Indian artists and the Festival audience.
Shivam came to Salzburg for one month in connection with a project from the Centre for Intercultural Theology at the University of Salzburg, and sharing the musical events. On 6th August a small group of friends went to Hochkönig, climbing up to the sacred place which we had discovered during the Puregg seminars. We carried a Devī image (mask) from Himachal Pradesh and performed a simple but deeply significant pūjā. Again an interreligious (and inter-mountain) ceremony!
On 11th August Shivam and I travelled to Trier, and with Usha to Chevetogne in Belgium, my favourite Benedictine Monastery of Byzantine rite. These were days of entering deeply into the liturgical and mystical tradition of the Christian East, with personal meetings with Fr Maxime Gimenez, whose spiritual friendship is the greatest gift of these last years. For Shivam it was an initiation in this tradition with its rich musical expression.
Back in Austria we had a (too) brief visit to Vienna, meeting with my family and my former students. A week-end seminar on Netra Tantra brought us to Innsbruck (Yoga Tirol). On the way back to Salzburg we visited Grossarl, the village where my family took refuge during the Nazi regime in the last year of the World War. It was very moving to see it after all those years and to vaguely recognize the places where I spent the most difficult year at the age of 4-5. Now it is a beautiful touristic village, with a memorial for the priest who had protected us and saved our life, Balthasar Linsinger.
End of August Shivam and I returned to India. After ten days in Varanasi I joined Shimla again in September, this time together with Sadananda Das, to work on our volume of collected articles.
In October I was invited to Srinagar (Kashmir) for a seminar on Sufism and the Rishi tradition at Srinagar University (organised by ICCR). It was the first occasion for Shivam to visit the places sacred to Kashmir Shaivism, the Ishvar Ashram, now empty, Harwan etc. On 26th October when I had to present my paper, I had hardly started to speak and suddenly an earthquake shook the whole building. Everybody ran out in the open. It was the earthquake with its epicentre in Afghanistan. We could resume the seminar and a dialogue between Sufis and Shaivas.
After our return to Shimla I was also busy preparing my paper to be presented at a seminar on Aesthetics which took place at the IIAS in November. This was an occasion to release the book “Utpaladeva: Philosopher of Recognition”, edited by Raffaele Torella and myself (published by IIAS and D.K. Printworld). It is a milestone in the literature on non-dual Kashmir Shaivism.
After this seminar we left Shimla for Ishvar Parvat for some quiet days of retreat, before returning to Varanasi. In the first week of December we held a retreat-seminar on “Quest of the Absolute: The Parātrīśikā Vivarana of Abhinavagupta”, at the beautiful and history-rich campus of the Theosophical Society. It was a wonderful group and, with the musical collaboration of Manju Sundaram, an enriching experience. The conclusion was a grantha-pūjā (worship of the text studied) performed by all, guided by Dr. Ajithan from Kerala, with a dance offering by Navtej Johar from Delhi.
The Christmas celebration at my home was again interreligious, and a deep sharing. After Christmas I left Varanasi with Usha for Chennai and Tiruvannamalai, to celebrate the New Year at Arunachala.