Whatever happened to Shantananda Saraswati?

Discussion of the SES, particularly in the UK.
Tom Grubb
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Whatever happened to Shantananda Saraswati?

Postby Tom Grubb » Wed Apr 07, 2004 10:29 am

There's plenty of information out there about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the 'Giggling Guru') but I've found precious little on that other 'holy man', Shantananda Saraswati, apparently a far greater influence on Maclaren and the SES. Could anybody enlighten me as to who exactly he is/was and why he is so important to the SES?

Misty

Re: Whatever happened to Shantananda Saraswati?

Postby Misty » Wed Apr 07, 2004 3:56 pm

Tom Grubb wrote:There's plenty of information out there about the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the 'Giggling Guru') but I've found precious little on that other 'holy man', Shantananda Saraswati, apparently a far greater influence on Maclaren and the SES. Could anybody enlighten me as to who exactly he is/was and why he is so important to the SES?


I don't know much about him, and the little I know are probably rumours which grow out of porportion with time. From what I hear, he had little significance and is not important to the SES. I could be wrong.

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bella
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Postby bella » Wed Apr 07, 2004 7:03 pm

Tom and Misty -

Sri Shantananda Saraswati was (and is) indeed a central point of the SES philosophy, as a representative of an Advaita (unity) tradition spanning many hundreds of years. Mr MacLaren made contact with him relatively early on, and spent many sessions in discussion with him, until his death - volumes documenting the questions and answers posed in those sessions have been compiled, and are used in a great chunk of the material studied at my school. He is a huge influence, and his successor is equally regarded. Yes, more so than MacLaren.

I'll try to get someone with more extensive knowledge on this topic to post a reply, but if that doesn't happen, I'll be back to flesh this out somewhat myself. Tom, a Google search on "Shantananda Saraswati" yielded 76 results.

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Postby Tom Grubb » Wed Apr 07, 2004 9:16 pm

bella wrote:I'll try to get someone with more extensive knowledge on this topic to post a reply, but if that doesn't happen, I'll be back to flesh this out somewhat myself. Tom, a Google search on "Shantananda Saraswati" yielded 76 results.

Yes, remarkably few. And many of these were just occurences of the words "Shantananda" and "Saraswati" in the same document and were nothing to do with the man himself. A Google search for "Shantananda Saraswati" (including the inverted commas so as to find only documents featuring the two words together) produced a much smaller result and still provided almost no information about the man himself apart from the fact that he was some sort of religious teacher and a big influence on the SES. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

By contrast, a Google search for "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" (inverted commas included) produced 25,400 results! It's not surprising that this high-profile, Beatles-associated character should have such a presence on the Internet but why is Shantananda Saraswati so under-represented?

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bella
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Postby bella » Thu Apr 08, 2004 7:51 am

Perhaps you could try "Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath", Tom. That was Shantananda Saraswati's function, and a quick google on those terms brought up 150. Perhaps a combination of terms could be tried to get more info.

I think you answered your own question about the large amount on the web regarding the Maharishi, and the comparatively small amount on Shantananda Saraswati. The various Shankaracharyas are unlikely to have anything approximating that amount of publicity, simply because their activities were and are not so public as those of the Maharishi.

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Postby Tom Grubb » Thu Apr 08, 2004 10:34 am

Thanks, Bella. I tried your suggestion but I'm as confused as ever! There seems to be a whole dynasty of Shankaracharyas of Jyotirmath, all with rather similar-sounding (to my uneducated ear) names. I'm finding it impossible to work out which one is which. I really need an idiot's guide to Indian holy men and their various titles and attributes.

By the way, I notice that one particular Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath (presumably not Maclaren's guru) appears to give his blessing to Deepak Chopra and his work in peddling "Ayurvedic medicine": http://www.chopra.com/archives/shankaracharya.htm As a supplementary question, do you happen to know if the SES has any connection with Chopra?

PS Aha! I've just found this page on the Jyotimath Shankaracharya lineage and a dispute surrounding it: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucgadkw/position/shank-jyot-ascii.html I'll give it a read this afternoon.
Last edited by Tom Grubb on Thu Apr 08, 2004 5:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

mgormez
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Postby mgormez » Thu Apr 08, 2004 4:06 pm

Tom, it looks above like you used spaces around the URL and that's why it isn't working. Press the edit button of your posting and you can remove those and see if that solves it.
Mike Gormez

Tom Grubb
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Postby Tom Grubb » Thu Apr 08, 2004 5:03 pm

mgormez wrote:Tom, it looks above like you used spaces around the URL and that's why it isn't working. Press the edit button of your posting and you can remove those and see if that solves it.

Thanks, Mike. You're quite right!

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Postby Tom Grubb » Thu Apr 08, 2004 5:33 pm

You know, this page about the Jyotirmath Sankarachaya lineage and the disputes surrounding it is very interesting: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucgadkw/position/shank-jyot-ascii.html

It's a complicated story but it seems that Maclaren's guru, Swami Santananda Saraswati, took the title of Sankaracharya of Jyotirmath amid much controversy about the authenticity/validity of the previous incumbent's will (which allegedly named him as successor) and doubts about Shantananda's suitability for the post. There were lawsuits and even allegations of poisoning! Apparently, the controversial Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was suspected by some of involvement in the scandal of Santananda's succession and also in his subsequent abdication in 1980 in favour of Vishnudevananda Saraswati.

I'm certainly going to be studying this matter in more detail! Does anyone have any more information on this?
Last edited by Tom Grubb on Mon Apr 12, 2004 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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bella
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Postby bella » Thu Apr 08, 2004 6:58 pm

Yes, I found it an interesting read as well. It seems disputes over claims to the seats are a relatively common modern occurrence - foreign intrigue and adventure.;)

The writer of that text does speculate that these sorts of disputes would have been handled differently and more expediently in previous times, though:

A few centuries ago, such problems would have been referred to the local king, and perhaps solved quickly. In independent India, the dispute has been taken to the secular courts, but these are quite different from the old princely durbars in their procedures and rules. The judges also lack legislative and executive authority over religious institutions, unlike the Hindu king of old days. It seems to me that those who did not wish to acknowledge Santananda as the Sankaracharya of Jyotirmath did not sufficiently appreciate these changes in modern times, and expected the courts to accept their cultural, moral and religious arguments as legally valid. Thus, none of the civil suits in this dispute seems to have been framed in terms of contesting the legal bona fides of Brahmananda's will. Consequently, although one judge did acknowledge the merits of the claim that Santananda was not properly qualified, he found no legally valid reason to give a verdict voiding Santananda's claim to the title.

In any case, this stuff is largely irrelevant to my views on his teachings, but I'll post any snazzy new info here if I stumble across it, Tom.

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Postby Tom Grubb » Mon Apr 12, 2004 5:25 pm

bella wrote:Yes, I found it an interesting read as well. It seems disputes over claims to the seats are a relatively common modern occurrence - foreign intrigue and adventure.;)

The writer of that text does speculate that these sorts of disputes would have been handled differently and more expediently in previous times, though:

A few centuries ago, such problems would have been referred to the local king, and perhaps solved quickly. In independent India, the dispute has been taken to the secular courts, but these are quite different from the old princely durbars in their procedures and rules. The judges also lack legislative and executive authority over religious institutions, unlike the Hindu king of old days. It seems to me that those who did not wish to acknowledge Santananda as the Sankaracharya of Jyotirmath did not sufficiently appreciate these changes in modern times, and expected the courts to accept their cultural, moral and religious arguments as legally valid. Thus, none of the civil suits in this dispute seems to have been framed in terms of contesting the legal bona fides of Brahmananda's will. Consequently, although one judge did acknowledge the merits of the claim that Santananda was not properly qualified, he found no legally valid reason to give a verdict voiding Santananda's claim to the title.

In any case, this stuff is largely irrelevant to my views on his teachings, but I'll post any snazzy new info here if I stumble across it, Tom.

Thanks, Bella!

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Shantananda Saraswati - all politics aside

Postby grobchok » Mon Jun 28, 2004 4:06 pm

The significance of Shantananda Saraswati for SES is far greater than that of the Maharishi for the simple reason that discussions between MacLaren and SS over 30 years formed the basis of the SES teaching since 1965, as discussions between the current SES leader Donald Lambie and SS's successor continue to inform what it does.

The SES declined to follow the Maharishi, although it makes use of the TM method of meditation he came to the West to promote. There is no direct connection with him so far as I know and I have never heard him referred to as a figure of significance to the SES today or in the past.

In essence (I write as a current member who has been highly critical over the years of the 'cult' and religious' aspects of the SES) if you read what Shantananda Saraswati has to say you will find very little if anything that connects with the negative aspects of the SES over the years. Two books of conversations have been published - GOOD COMPANY and THE MAN WHO WANTED TO KNOW GOD - by the Study Society, an organization similar to the SES. It's possible to find innuendo in anything but I think a fair reading of either will give the impression of a thoroughly wise and decent human being.

SS was one of the line of "Shankara-teachers" (ie Shankaracharyas) that are directly descended (in tradition, not birth) from Shankara, the greatest figure in Hindu philosophical tradition, thought to have lived in the 8th Century AD. Shankara was the key figure in the Advaita Vedanta tradition, in other words, "the non-dualistic view of the Upanishads". This rather technical translation does justice to what is a thoroughly respectable philosophical tradition. Advaita Vedanta is the most significant philosophy in the Indian tradition and is the one that has had most impact on the West, with the possible exception of Buddhism. However Buddhism is not really a single philosophy and is better described as a religion or group of religions. The figure most people would know is Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy comes from Advaita and Jain sources. He's a good example of what Advaita can achieve if it is given the right setting.

So why, if the SES is so strongly influenced by one of the world's oldest and richest philosophical traditions, does it continue to attract criticism for what are essentially relgious or cultish traits? The answer to that - I give a personal opinion here - is that the School is going through a process of gradual change, in which - I hope - the religous element is dying out and the philosophical coming to the fore. The point made by someone about the difference between teaching people how to think rather than what to think is a very good one. The former is what the SES ought to do and I think many of its critics on this site would support that aim.

As a current member of the SES I would like to say that much that I hear about how things used to be fills me with disgust, but that I do not recognise it in today's School. I'm not saying that I disbelieve any of it, but just that if those things were tried on now they would get short shrift. I am speaking here about the London and English schools and don't have a lot of experience of elsewhere. I have seen a lot of Donald Lambie who has now been in charge for 10 years and I can say that he is a very different character to his predecessor. MacLaren was a wayward, wild, genius and one of a kind. Lambie is emerging as almost his antithesis. If MacLaren wanted to tell people what to do, Lambie wants them to learn to do things for themselves. He has the greatest respect for the traditions of the School, but one feels that the future will be very different too.

So Shantananda Saraswati is maybe more alive today in the SES than when he died.


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