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Ishavasya and Kena Upanishad talks, Bahamas, 2–31 Mar 2019

Having heard on the web some of Swamini Atmaprakashanandaji's talks and found them valuable, the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, Bahamas invited her to their beautiful and popular island ashram for a month to unfold the Īśāvāsya and Kena Upaniṣads for the benefit of their yoga teachers as part of their education in Vedanta.

Having lived as a sannyāsi (renunciate) practically all her adult life, Swaminiji had not heard of The Bahamas and was unaware of its fame as a holiday destination. She had however heard of Swami Vishnudevananda and the fine work he had done during his lifetime in establishing numerous yoga centres around the globe, and so she responded positively to the ashram's very proper and respectful invitation to teach there for a month.

What she found on arriving was an ashram that was, in appearance, somewhat unlike others she had met. One feature which stood out was the imagery and graphics decorating the walls of some buildings: Hindu gods and goddesses were depicted with a Western not an Indian eye. This helped give a distinctly Western flavour to the site and helped make spiritual ideas and icons more accessible for Westerners who are almost the entirety of the visitors.

What also stood out was the discipline with which the ashram was run. Many of the people who come to the ashram have had little or no contact with a spiritual organisation or a spiritual life — their local yoga classes perhaps being the sum of it — and yet by and large they live a disciplined life while in the ashram, respecting its customs and programme. This is a testament to the firm but gentle hand guiding them.

Many of those providing that firm but gentle hand were the yoga teachers who made up Swaminiji's classes during her stay. She said several times how impressed she was with the disciplined lives they led, a discipline that had prepared them well for receiving properly the teaching she oferred throughout her stay.

That teaching consisted, at their request, of an unfoldment of the Īśā and Kena Upaniṣads with their respective Śaṅkara bhāṣyams.

In order for many of the important (and basic) concepts and principles of Traditional Advaita Vedanta to be properly understood, her talks made for lengthy diversions from the Upaniṣad at times, yet so important and so well received were they that the extra time they took was more than acceptable to all.

She began with the Īśā. However, even though it is a relatively short Upaniṣad, the detail and depth she provided (along with the diversions) soon made it clear that there would not be time to cover the bhāṣyam too when it came to the Kena later that month. Instead, she settled for including the gist of its bhāṣyam in her expositon of the Kena's mantras. Once again, she proved so adept at this that nothing of substance was missed.

Such was the reception Swaminiji received that she was additionally invited to speak to all the students attending the ashram, which she did via a set of three talks. She also won many hearts with her contribution to Śivaratri celebrations on the 4th of March evening. There her chanting lit up many a face in the large audience.

Eventually, studies drew to a close and with that the requests to return next year became more and more frequent…

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