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Dear Jenni: YSP I:27


Its expression is the “sacred syllable”.

YSP I:27 — Bouanchaud translation

Dear Jenni:

I hope that everything is fine with you and your family. Are you already for Christmas? I’m working Christmas this year  so I’m pretty much ready now.

So where are we in the Sutras? YSP I:27 in the Bouandchaud translation reads “Its expression is the ‘sacred syllable”.

I think that for a lot of people, it ‘s obvious that the sacred syllable in question is “Ohm”, sacred sound to all branches of Hinduism. Perhaps I’m being overly literal with this but Bouanchaud’s choice of the definitive article “the” as opposed to a more general article of “a” points me to the idea that this passage is referring to a singular sacred syllable.

This conflicts with Bouandchaud’s  commentary which seems to distance this sutra, making it more inclusive than perhaps it’s translated elsewhere. Clearly, in many other translations, it is not “the sacred syllable”. It’s clearly articulated as “OHM” or “Aum”. Bouanchaud’s treatment of the topic strikes me as very inclusive and I wonder if that is faithful to the original. Not that I don’t appreciate the effort to make this more palatable to Western audiences.

Without any attempt at being disrespectful, and fully recognizing that Ohm is sacred to the Hindu people, I’ll be the first to admit, it doesn’t do a darn thing for me. To me, Ohm chanted is noise. It is not the noise that God makes. It is not the noise of the universe. It is simply noise because it has absolutely no meaning to me whatsoever. I understand and I respect that it has huge meaning in India. It just doesn’t carry a lot of emotion attachment with it to my very Western ears.

This brings us entirely to the question Bouanchaud asks us in the commentary for this section: How important is the word I choose for God? To me, this brings to the forefront an important issue – how much of yoga can we separate from Indian culture? How much of it is an Indian expression of a yogic principle and how much is integral to yoga in and of itself?

For me, this is always been a bit of a quandary – and I confess that I have no resolution on this issue. How much of India am I permitted to borrow as a Western student of yoga? Where is the line that separates honouring tradition from misappropriating the significant symbols of another culture?

This issue comes back to me time and again. I’m currently redesigning my website and the designer had included the “OHM” symbol on the new webpage. I thought about it for a long time and finally realized I was very uncomfortable with the OHM as a decorative item on my webpage. Simply put, OHM is not my symbol.

I’ll admit that I’m pretty ‘pick and chose’ with all of this. I use “Namaste” in and out of the classroom. My teacher likes to incorporate chant into practice, especially in our learning sessions. She finds it connecting and grounding. I take it as a tourist thing to keep it from being just generally annoying in my brain. Frankly, a bunch of Westerners sitting around chanting Sanskrit prayers that 9 out of 10 of them don’t understand the words to strikes me as utterly ridiculous on multiple levels. That said, I play along because it costs nothing to be nice and when in Rome, do as the Romans do, etc.

So back to the topic at hand… are we talking about Ohm specifically or does any meaningful phrase or word work equally as well? This I have not figured out. Perhaps another few years of study and practice will prove enlightening.

I found it interesting that you have a seemingly different take on this. If I understand your blog correctly, you find this as a sign of inclusiveness, whereas I see as a more defined issue. The never ceasing wonder that two people can read the same Sutra and extract two different perspectives. Truly, this is the purpose of our “vital conversation”  [Ed. note: Jenni’s voice in this ‘vital conversation” is found here].

In the meanwhile, I wish you and yours a wonderful and pleasant Christmas.

Namaste,

Kate

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About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

2 responses »

  1. Hej Kate
    Still in the formgiving process, I can tell you choose to post your letter, and I (very controlling…) choose to change and differ into the blog media 🙂 Let’s see how it will grow… my thoughts on your post: http://yoganu.blogspot.com/2008/12/expression-being-loving-entity-sutra.html
    Love and serenity
    Jenni

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Dear Jenni: YSP 1:39 « Dharmayoga’s Weblog

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