Home / Articles / Gauri. Interview with Shri Chandrashekhar Mahaswamiji, the spiritual teacher of Shivaite tradition

Gauri. Interview with Shri Chandrashekhar Mahaswamiji, the spiritual teacher of Shivaite tradition

Questions: Ilya Zhuravlev

Interview and translation from Hindi: Gauri (Yuliya Kravchenko)

Question: Please, tell us about yourself, about your family, and how you became a spiritual teacher?

My name is Sri 1008 Jagadguru doctor Chandrashekhar Shivacharya Mahaswamiji, I am pithadhipati (director) of Sri Jagadguru Vishvaradhya Gyanasimhasana Jangamavadi math, located at Varanasi, India. According to the school acceptance note the date of my birth is the 15th of August, 1949. I was born in Reddenagnur village, in Gadag area. This is a small village at the northern part of South-Indian state of Karnataka. In the old times women were giving birth to their first and second child in the house of their own parents and the next ones – in the house of their husband. I was born in the house of the parents of my mother. I am the second son in the family. Altogether, there are five brothers and two sisters there. My father was living in the village of Togunasi, in the Bagalkot area. In this village I graduated from 4 year primarily school. There was no possibility to study there any further. Actually, there was no school as we were studying in the temples. We sat down in the yard of a temple under some huge tree and studied. I mean, there was no special school building.

My father was a teacher at primarily school. Not far from our village, there was another small village named Murudi. There was a school in which my father gave classes for children from the 1st through the 4th years of study. We were Jangama`s, the main priests of that village. In our tradition of Virashaiva, there is such a custom. Jangama of the village, who is respected by all the habitants of the settlement, walks around it and asks for grain powder as the a form of the alms. For this, he would put huge bracelets with many bells on his ankles, take a pot for the grain powder into his hands, before this he would wash his body, apply sacred ashes, conduct puja, and then would go the round of all the houses. The sense is that in every house people start their day with washing themselves, conducting puja, and then they wait for their jangama-teacher and give alms to him, share their food with him. This is our tradition, culture. And so it was in our village too. My father went the round of all the houses. For his teachings at school my father did not receive a monthly pay, only sometimes the government was assigning some money for school maintenance. But every morning, from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., he went round the village, where that school was, and asked for his daily bread. People respected him a lot, because he was the teacher of their children, and for this, they gave quite enough food to him. Then, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., father was teaching at school. And mother was a housewife, she did not receive any education. She had enough work in the house and in field. It seems that was the year 1957, when my uncle took me to his city of Byadgi (this area is world famous for its red chilli pepper), where I continued my studies. There, I was studying up to the year 1961.

And near my parents house, in Guledgudd town, there lived one sadhu (ascetic), Amareshwar Swamiji. His age at that time already was more than 80. He was famous as a yogi, knew a lot about Ayurveda and Jyotish (vedic astrology). Swamiji cured diseases which physicians named incurable. He himself prepared some ayurvedic remedies, gave them to people, and they got better. So, he was very famous as ascetic-yogi, as a sage, as astrology expert, as a doctor.

And so, when I was studying at the 8th grade, my father got ill and turned to Amareshwar Swamiji for remedy. Swamiji examined him, gave him the remedy. He always took very little money. He charged only the cost of making this remedy. And when the father got better and came to pay Swamiji for the remedy, Swamiji said: “You are a Jangam, people from all the village rely on you. I do not want to take money from you... But I am already old... How many children do you have? If you want to send one of your children to me to study, please do so.”. Then my father said: “I have five sons. Two of them are with our relatives now, studying. The rest of them are not educated. These two will come for holidays and I will bring them to you. I will choose the one”. So, during the holidays, he brought my younger brother and me to Amareshwar Swamiji. At that time I had finished the eighth grade and my brother – the sixth. Swamiji looked at us, at our palms. He was good at that, he covered our palms with ashes completely and examined the lines on them. Then, he told our father: “Look, this second son of yours has lines on his palm that indicate monkhood (sannyasa). Give him to me for studying”. The father agreed. Then, Swamiji asked me: “ Do you agree to become a monk (sannyasi), study Sanskrit?” At that time I was about 15-16 years old. When Swamiji said that I will need to study Sanskrit, I got very happy. Some people said: “Study English, study maths, study history”, - and I was thinking: ”What's the use of all of that?” At that moment I already thought that studying Sanskrit was better. It's difficult to say why I thought that way. At that time Maharaj accommodated me in his math (ashram) for a year. In that math we lived altogether and went to school which was two kilometers away from math. They brought us some food from my house. At that time in Amareshwar-math there lived 8-10 students. There were only two rooms. In one of them Swamiji lived, and in the other one we, the students, were living. At that time there was no electricity there. We lit up the lamp and studied under its light. There, I finished the 9th grade. Swamiji was watching me – the way I behave, the way I study. Then, he said: “You should go to Solapur, study Sanskrit”. Solapur – is quite a big city in the state of Maharashtra. I agreed. Then, Maharaj himself brought me to Solapur. I think, that was the year 1963.

There is Shrimad Virashaiva Sanskrit Patashala (Sanskrit school) in Solapur. This school was headed by Shatasthalabrahma Yogirajendra Shivacharya Swamiji. This is to him Amareshwar Swamiji handed me over. That day was Guru-purnima holiday. In the old times, right on this day students conducted Guru-puja (Teacher adoration ceremony) and after this started their studies. So, I was accepted to this school on Guru-purnima day. Gangahar Shastriji was the main teacher of this school, Shala-math. He himself had studied at at Kashi (Varanasi). He was proficient at nyaya (logic) and literature. This is to him I was accepted as a student in the year 1963 for the beginner Sanskrit class. In Calcutta, there is an organization named Vangiya Sanskrit Shyksha Parishat. Their exams are conducted all around India. They provide three types of the exams – for qualifications of Adya (beginner), Madhyama (intermediate), and Tirtha (upper). The subjects for them are different – Sanskrit grammar, literature, astrology (jyotish), philosophy. Our Shastriji had a degree in nyaya and literature. This is why I started to study literature. So, up to the year 1969 I was studying and once in two years was passing an exam for the next degree, and in the year 1969 I acquired Bachelors degree. Their training center was situated in Puna, where I had passed that exam.

At that time my Amareshwar Swamiji wrote his testament to my name. That is: “After my death, ashram will be headed by this person”. During those years of my study at Solapur, I was visiting Swamiji one or two times a year during holidays. He always asked me about my studies and was happy about my success. To him, I translated eposes, plays, poems, which I had read, and he was glad and blessed me. An so, when I had passed the last exam in Puna and came to Solapur, my Maharaj left his body, 14th of May, 1969. After the funeral, all the people who were present, started to discuss what to do next. They asked me: “What do you want to do after this?” I said: “I was to continue my studies”.

Kashi Jagadguru Vishveshwar Shivacharya Swamiji also came there. I came to bow to him. He asked me who I was and what I was studying. He liked my answers and he said: “Come to study at Kashi”. At that time I said: “No, I can not promise, because I have Guruji and he will teach me further'. Jagadguruji kept silent. And then I got to know that my Guruji had left his body. This is how it happened that I received an invitation to Kashi and Guruji died. What to do? I wrote a letter to Jagadguru: “According to your order, I will come to study at Kashi. Guruji has died”. He answered: “Please come”. Then, people from Amareshwar ashram said: “Math does not have the head now. Your coronation should be held in the corresponding way, and then you may go to Kashi”. The preparations for this took a year, and, in the year 1970, I took the head of Amareshwar math. After this the devotees sent me to Kashi. So, in the year 1970 I arrived to Kashi. Here, based on the successfully passed Kavyatirtha exam I was accepted to Sampurnanand Sanskrit Vishvavidyalaya (Sanskrit University in Varanasi), to the Faculty of Vedanta. A that time the dean of the Faculty of Vedanta was Devasvarup Mishra, an outstanding Vedanta scholar. At the faculty, I had the best grades and I received three golden medals: “Swami Vivekananda Suvarna Padak”, “Annadaprasada Mukharji Suvarna Padau” and “Sampurnananda Suvarna Padayu”. The same year there was All India Sanskrit Debate Competition held in Kerala. I took part in it as a representative of Uttar Pradesh State in the category Vedanta. Students from all the states took part there. In Guruvayur city, in Kerala there is a famous temple of Krishna where the competition was held. Twenty-four hours prior to the beginning of the competition the themes were handed out to us. We had five minutes for the speech and and two minutes for the question. When my time came, I spoke on the theme of “Lokavattu lila kayvayam.” This is the sutra from Brahma-Sutra. For five minutes I spoke in Sanskrit on this theme. Then, for two minutes I was answering the questions of the scholars. When at the end they calculates all the points I turned that I received the highest grade. This is how I won the first place at this all India Vedanta Competition.

By that time I had acquired the degree of Acharya and wanted to come back to my village. I came to Swamiji to bow and said: “I have acquired the degree of Vedanta Acharya. I am coming back to Karnataka.” Maharaj said: “Hey, what's the necessity to come back so fast? You have to study further, to conduct research, write dissertation. Any help needed we will provide. Stay here, do not go.” This way he forbade me to go. So, accordingly with the instructions of Swamiji I started to write dissertation on the theme of ”Siddhanta Shikhamani and six Indian philosophy schools (shad-darshana), their comparative research”. In 1974 I registered this theme. I started the research. Then, I went through the interview and started to receive the stipend. Since the year 1974 up to the year 1981, for seven years, I was writing the dissertation for my Ph.D. In 1981 I defended dissertation and received the degree of Vidya Varidhi, Philosophy Doctor (Ph.D.). That moment our Kashi Jagadguruji – Vishvershwar Shivacharya Mahaswamiji was very glad. He said: “Is it possible to continue education after this?” And, yes, the next degree was D.Lit. (Doctor of Literature) – Vidya Vachaspati. He said: “Acquire this degree also.” this was his will. I started to think what to do. This was the year 1984, when at the Faculty of Vedanta there opened Shaktivishishta Advayta Department. They lacked a teacher there. I was teaching part-time there. At that time my scientific adviser was Devaswarup Mishra. He said: “You do not have a degree in Shaktivishishta Advayta. To be able to become a professor here, you need to write dissertation on this theme. This would be good for your scientific career”. So, on his recommendation, in the year 1982 I registered research theme for acquiring Doctor of Literature degree (D.Lit.), that was: “A survey of the three main components of Shaktivishishta Advayta philoshophy” (“Shaktivishihshta Advayta Tattvatraya Vimarsha”). What are the three main components of Shaktivishishta Advayta philoshophy? These are Pashu (“animal”, conditional being), Pati (“the Master”, God), Pasha (“ties”, conditionality). Besides this, in my dissertation, I described eight guards (ashta avaran), five codes of behavior (pancha achara) and six levels of spiritual development (shata sthala). One organization, that was giving grants for research conducted an interview with me. I succeeded in the selection and was receiving scholarship from them for this study. In 1988 I finished my study on this theme which was based on Siddhanta Shikhamani and Shayva Agam, presented my dissertation and the same year received Doctor of Literature degree (Vidya Vachaspati).

That was they year 1989, October. Here, in Varanasi, I defended my dissertation, acquired the degree and went to my village. A this time Maharaj (Kashi Lagadguru) was sick in Puna. He wrote a letter to me: “I need to discuss with you a very important theme. Please come.” But I was busy in Solapur, with the arrangements dedicated to Navaratri. I thought that I would go when Navaratri would be over. That was the third day of Navaratri, in Solapur my actions were in the full sway, and in Puna Maharaj left his body. Then I left all of those without finishing them and came to Puna. And the body of Maharaj was transported by plane to Varanasi by that time. I also urgently went to Varanasi. It was too late – he was buried in the morning and I came in the evening. In this math there is a rule: the head of the matha, Jagadguru, can decide to make one of his students to be his successor, or he may write his testament. If neither of this happened, then the rest four Jagadguru of our tradition should decide together who is to head the math. At that time Maharaji did neither of those. This is why all four Jagadguru arrived here and altogether decided who would be the new Kashi Jagadguru. On the 16th of November of 1989 they gathered and selected me, and on the 17th of November my pattabhisheka was conducted, I started to hold the post. After this I spent 40-day anushthana (retreat) with mangala-puja. And later, arrangements in different parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra started.

I have been Kashi Jagadguru for 21 years now. Here, in Kashi Jangamavadi math, we started to provide free food for the pilgrims coming to Varansi. Every day hundreds and thousands of people eat prasad from our temple. Also, Shaiva Bharati Pratishthan publishing was founded here. Many Agams and other important texts of this tradition were translated and printed in it. Moreover, on Mahashivaratri, on the day of birth of the founder of this lineage of Virashivaism, Jagadguru Vishvaradhya, in math scientists gathering is held (Vidvat Sabha), where one of the scientists receives an annual award for his outstanding service. Moreover, talented poor students studying engineering sciences or medicine receive help from us. Students of Sanskrit faculties also receive stipend from us. More than 100 students already study under our provision. Moreover, we have established several educational institutions. In Andhra Pradesh we have started a Vedic University, in Gadag – a school for Vedas studying. In Latura, Maharashtra state, we have opened a dormitory. Here, in Varanasi, we have opened elementary school providing studies in English. In this way we have been working in scientific, educational and social spheres for 21 years now. Now we need to expand our activities to Gujarat, Rajastan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala states. Moreover, I sometimes go abroad. In 2010 I was in Russia, in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. Russians also come to study here. I want more people to get to know this tradition, to join Shiva-yoga practice, this is why I will always be glad to answer your questions.

Please tell us about Your tradition. Virashivaism – when was this sampradaya (lineage) born?

Virashaiava tradition is considered to be one of the core traditions in Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism). The word “sanatana” means “eternally existing” (“sada bhavaha sanatanaha”). The tradition which exists eternally is called “Sanatana Dharma”. In Indian culture all traditions, religions are considered to be eternal, because they started not from some distinct man (the founder of the tradition) who was born by mother and father and died sooner or later. In Hinduism all of the traditions took their origin from God. God is eternal and due to this Virashaiva tradition is also eternal. In India we count time in Yuga`s (epochs) – Krita yuga, Treta yuga, Dvaparya yuga, Kali yuga. The existance of this tradition during all the four yugas is described in Shaiva Agamas. In each of the four yugas Shiva sends to the world of the mortal five of his main servants, whose names are Renuka, Daruka, Ghantakarna, Dhenukarna and Vishvakarna, in order to proclaim this knowledge and to assert it on Earth. When these teachers (acharya`s) came for the first time, during Krita yuga, they were named Ekakshara Shivacharya, Dviakshara Shivacharya, Triakshara Shivacharya, Chaturakshara Shivacharya and Panchakshara Shivacharya. During Dvaparya yuga they were called Renuka, Daruka, Ghantakarna, Dhenukarna and Vishvakarna. Then, when Kali yuga came, they were named Revanaradhya, Marularadhya, Ekoramaradhya, Panditaradhya, and Vishvaradhya. When Shiva was sending these his servants to Earth, they asked Shiva: “When we go to the Earth, please let us appear there not from mothers lap.” The God said: “Well, you will not need to live in the mothers lap as usual people do. On Earth, there five famous temples of mine. You will appear through Shiva-ling in this temples.”

Then, the first of them, Renuka Acharya, appeared in Andhra Pradesh in the settlement of Kollipaka from Somanath linga. He founded (Rambhapuri) Virasimhasana pith (pith is the name for the five main ashramas in the tradition of Virashaiva) in Karnataka, in the area of Chikmangalur, in Balehonnur. And the second Acharya, Daruka, appeared in Udjayn, from Siddheshwara linga and founded in Madhya Pradesh Udjaini Sadharma pith. Later, pith was moved to Karnataka. The third Acharya, Ekoramaradhya, the founder of Kedar pith, appeared through Bhimanath linga. Later, he went to Himalaya and started pith there. And Panditaradhya appeared in Shri Shayla from Mallikarjuna linga. There, in Shri Shayla, he founded pith. Vishvaradhya appeared from Kashi Vishveshvara linga and founded pith in Kashi (Varanasi). In the hands of these five Teachers are the five flags of different colors. In these five colors precise meaning is underlying. In the hands of Rambhapuri pith founder there is the green flag, which means: “To live, a human needs food. Let all the Earth be green and fertile, for there was a lot of food. Eat and feed others.” Udjayini pith matches with red flag. Red color – the symbol of suspension. That is why acknowledge self-restrain. When possible, share with those in need. Share food, money. If needed, renounce your own life to protect your people. In the hands of Kedar Jagadguru there is the blue flag. Blue as the color of the sky, as the color of the sea wave. Blue color corresponds to the depth and hugeness. This Jagadguru tells people: “Let every of you make his own mind huge as the sky, and deep as the ocean.” In the hands of Shri Shayla Jagadguru there is the white flag. White color symbolizes purity, sattva guna. This means that every human being should maintain outer and inner clarity. Jagadguru Kashi pith keep the yellow flag. Yellow color – is the symbol of maturity. In this way many fruits have green color first and when getting more ripe they get to be yellow. In order to acquire knowledge, a person should first make his mind mature.

Virashivaism centers founded by these Teachers are named Virasimhasana (“threon of the hero”), Saddharmasimhasana (“throne of the true dharma”), Vayragyasimhasana (“throne of the suspension”), Suryasimhasana (“throne of the Sun”), and Jnanasimhasana (“throne of the knowledge”). Every person should be brave (vira), be able to protect himself, his family, his country. Every person should be a hero, and keep to the law (dharma). Moreover, every person should be able for suspension (vayragya). And everyone should be treated equally, just like the Sun (surya) shines upon everyone, upon both bad and good. Also knowledge (jnana) should be maintained. In general, five lines of virashivaism (five pithas) form one tradition, just like five fingers of one hand. We use five fingers to hand something to other person. The same way five pithas altogether pass their wisdom to people. So, during every epoch according to Shivas order there come five Teachers into this world in order to found virashivaism centers which spread this knowledge all around the world. Five Teachers, who came during Dvaparya yuga, gave knowledge to the five rishi-sages. Renuka Acharya passed this knowledge to Agastya Maharishi. Daruka Acharya – to Dadhichi Maharishi. Ghantakarna Acharya – to Vyasa Maharishi. Dhenukarna Acharya – to Sananda Maharishi. And Vishvakarna Acharya passed the knowledge to Durvasa Maharishi. The Teachers were passing their knowledge in the form of short sayings (sutras). These sutras are named Padvidi sutra, Vrishti sutra, Lambana sutra, Muktagucha sutra, Panchavarna sutra. Correspondingly, Renuka Acharja passed Padvidi sutra to Agastya Maharishi, And Shivayogi Shivacharya took this sutra as the basis and wrote Siddhanta Shikhamani, the dialog of Renuka and Agastya. Only the name of this sutra reached our days, but the sutra itself did not. From the five sutras only the one passed to the Durvasa Maharishi is available nowadays. This is Panchavarna sutra, and also the comments to it. This was during Dvaparya yuga. The Teachers, who came during Kali yuga, passed the same knowledge to the people. People relieve one another that is why again and again the same explanations need to be done. Through the rishi-sages Teachers founded the main centers of the spread of this knowledge. Later, in order more people could join this knowledge, other ashramas (mathas) were founded in this tradition.

Tell us please about the philosophy and spiritual practice of virashivaits.

The core theory of virashivaism is named “the theory of the six states/conditions” (“shat sthala siddhanta”). Generally, in this theory the Higher Brahman, Paramatma, is named “Sthala”. In Siddhanta Shikhamani it is said: “In what is (“STHIyate”) and then dispels (“Liyate”) the whole world – that is Sthala.” First, there was only Sthala, the peculiar feature of which was Visharma shakti (the power of awareness, the ability realize yourself). In this universal Sthala there appeared a wish to start a game (lila): “I, the only, will become each and every.” (“Ekoham bahudham prajae.”) Then, Sthala took the form of of linga, and the inherent to it Shakti took the form of Kala (the ability to create, to originate). The linga separated into 6 parts. First, there distinguished 3 parts – bhava linga (corresponding to the casual level of being), prana linga (corresponding to the level of the mind and feelings), and ishta linga (corresponding to the physical level). Then, each of these lingas divides into two and there appears 6 lingas:

1. Achara linga

2. Guru linga

3. Shiva linga

4. Jangama linga

5. Prasada linga

6. Maha linga.

Corresponding Kala:

1. Nivritti kala (creating indifference to the world, detachment from the world)

2. Pratishtha kala (creating stillness, calmness of the mind)

3. Vidya kala (giving the ability to perceive and maintain wisdom)

4. Shanti kala (creating calmness, peacefulness)

5. Shantyatita kala (making this calmness more deep and sustainable)

6. Shantyatitottara kala (creating stillness of the samadhi state).

In this way, there appeared 6 lingas and 6 corresponding to them kalas. After this, from the initial Sthala there distinguished another part. It is named Anga. And the energy belonging to Anga is named Bhakti (love, devotion). To the six lingas there correspond six angas:

1. Bhakta

2. Maheshwara

3. Prasadi

4. Pranalingi

5. Sharana

6. Aykya.

Bhakti-energies of these angas are named correspondingly:

1. Shraddha bhakti (devotion, characterized by belief)

2. Nishtha hakti (adamant devotion characterized by constancy of the beliefs)

3. Avadhana bhakti (devotion with care, compassionate devotion)

4. Anubhava bhakti (devotion accompanied by ingenuous experience)

5. Ananda bhakti (devotion accompanied by bliss)

6. Samarasa bhakti (devotion, which led to complete unity).

Universal Sthala turned into linga and anga, in each of which there distinguished 6 types. And inherent to Sthala shakti-energy turned into kala and bhakti, in which there also distinguished 6 types. In the theory of the six shtalas each of the angas worships the corresponding linga and as a result becomes this linga. For example, Maheshwara worships to Guru linga and becomes Guru linga. The worship types are different for different linga-anga pairs corresponding to their level. For Bhakta and Maheshwara this is a physical level, and the worshiping is mainly through actions – the practice consists of conducting puja, keeping to the certain rules of behavior. Prasadi and Pranalingi – are at the level of mind, at the subtle level, this is why here meditation (trataka), pranayama practices are mainly used. Sharana and Aykya – are at the most sophisticated, casual level of being. Here for the worship not the objects, but certain states are used. So, going deeper from level to level, anga (a human) unites with linga (God), a part unites with the whole again. This is the spiritual path of the virashivaits.

Bhakti, Gyana, Raja yoga in virashivaism: in what form and what proportions are they present in sadhana of virashaiva?

All the practice is based on Bhakti (devotion). But this bhakti changes accordingly during the spiritual growth of the person; this is why the ways of bhakti manifestation change. First, those are actions, ceremonies, and then – raja yoga, pranayama, and trataka on the ishta-linga, then contemplation of the inner light. As times goes, with the clarification of the mind, a human starts to give more time to inner contemplation practices. This is also bhakti, love to the God. Developing, deepening bhakti creates ingenuous feeling of the inner presence of God – spiritual experience. Speaking about yoga of the knowledge (gyana–yoga), a person receives this knowledge from the very beginning. During the initiation the Teacher tell the student: “You are a part of Shiva. By your nature you are Shiva.” This is the knowledge. But for this theoretical knowledge to become practical practice is needed – rites, mind clearing practices, concentration practices, studies of philosophy, texts of this tradition – Shaiva Agamas, Siddhanta Shikhamani etc. All of these practices in this or other way bring us to the same result – the mind of person purifies, then acquires sustainability, and capacity for lasting meditation. And then a person himself clearly sees: “I am – Shiva.” The mind of an ordinary person can be compared with a dirty mirror in a shaking hand – it is not possible to see yourself in it. First, the mirror should be cleaned. Then, it should be fixed. And then, it would be possible to look into this mind-mirror and see your own self, your Atma.

On the way to self-actualization (Atma gyana), what is the importance of personal effort and mercy from the God? What is the ratio?

Personal effort is important. And mercy from the God is also important. The more there is bhakti in a person, the more interest to the practice he has, the more time and attention he dedicates to it. And as long as there is any interest to the world, different desires will distract him from the practice. When there are several aim, and all of them are different, the advancement goes slowly. But the stronger the bhakti, the intention to reach self-actualization, the faster God and human get closer. Shakti (the divine energy) and bhakti (the energy of a human aspiration for God) have similar nature. They are equal, but they have opposite directions: shakti is directed downwards, into the world, to the human, and bhakti is directed upwards, to the God. The quality of bhakti and shakti always match. In Siddhanta Shikhamani it is said that aspiration of a man and mercy of the God are connected as a seed and a tree – from the seed a tree grows, and from the tree a seed appears. And it is not possible to say what follows after what here. So, a man should do the practice, clear his mind, strengthen the belief, become a clean vessel ready to take more and more of God's mercy.

Some people say, that a foreigner can not truly become a Hinduist, because he does not have the gotra (ancestral lineage); that it is possible to become a hindu only if you were born in an Indian family. However, you give traditional initiation to the foreigners – what is your opinion about this (can a Western man be considered to be Hindu the way the Indian one is considered)? Does a Western receive the same initiation in virashivaism as does an Indian?

Yes, foreigner receive just the same initiation as Indians do. There are two kinds of traditions in Hinduism – those based on Vedas and those based on Agamas. Vedas and Agamas are equally acknowledged as the sources of sacred knowledge. Both of them originated from God: Vedas are called to be the breathing of God, and Agamas – are his words. Shaiva Agamas are the dialogs of Shiva and Parvati. The system described in Vedas is based on social division (based on varnas: brahmana, kshatriya, vaysha, and shudra). Only men who are representatives of the three varnas (brahmana, kshatriya, and vaysha) qualify for initiation. In Agamas another kind of initiation is described – diksha. This initiation can be received by anyone regardless of gender and social position. In this case, mind condition of a person is important, his aspiration for self-actualization. The teacher watches the student, assesses his level of readiness, and according to this gives him diksha. In Agamas it is said: “Having appraised the level of God energy presence in a person (the devotion of a person) initiation should be given to him.” (“Shaktipatam samalokya dikshaya yojaed amum.”) In this way, in virashivaism and other traditions, based on Agamas, origin and citizenship of a person have no importance.

In the West, hot discussions about sattvic vegetarian diet are in a full flow in the yoga community. Some say that this is only the cultural peculiarity of India caused by hot climate, and that diet does not influence spiritual development. Please, share your opinion whether vegetarian diet is important.

Our food predetermines the state of our mind. The food becomes the mind. This process and the necessity of food purification are described in detail in Upanishadas. Some part of the food is eliminated from the body with urine and excrement, some part of it transforms into the tissues of the body, and the subtle part of the food transforms into the mind. Correspondingly, what the food is, so would be the mind condition. In Ayurveda, there are described three gunas – three qualities of substance: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Rajastic food makes the mind restless, impassioned. Tamastic leads to torpor, somnolence. And sattvic food harmonizes the mind, makes it the best instrument for perception of the Truth. Moreover, amongst the ten components of dharma (correspondence to the laws of universe, of harmony with the world and God) non-violence (ahimsa) is the first. It it not possible to employ violence to any live creature. Violence (himsa) and non-violence (ahimsa) – are sophisticated concepts. There exist different kinds of violence: physical violence, verbal non-violence and mental violence. To stab a live creature or to kill it – is physical violence. Making a live creature to feel unhappy by a word, making it hurt through speaking – is verbal violence. And maintaining inside of you unkind, unfavorable thoughts - is mental violence. For non-violence these three kinds of violence should be avoided, including physical one. When you kill animals food, what kind non-violence is it?! God has created various kind of food. There are some live creatures who can not survive without eating meat, whose nutrition is meat only. If they do not eat meat – they will simply die. But people do not belong to that kind. A man was given a choice – was given the ability to live on vegetarian food. In our life we always have to make a choice between satisfaction of immediate wishes and reaching higher goals in life. It is necessary to realize to which result every choice will bring us and to take decisions correspondingly. They say, some of the buddhist saints used to eat meat, and Paramahasa Ramakrishna ate fish. May be, in the beginning, they kept that habit which was coming from the traditions of their localities. But I think, that advancing to higher spiritual states they abandoned eating meat. In virashivaism, vegetarian nutrition is a necessary condition for everybody.

In Upanishadas the God is mainly named just Brahman. He is described as the Higher Principle with no definite form, universal, present everywhere. In Puranas we see there is a division into vaishnava, shakta, shaiva Puranas. And each Purana states that this or other form of God “is the main”. This brings Western mind into confusion. Between the vaishnavas and the devotees of Shiva (at least in the West) there exists an argument “which God is the highest” involving the quotes from Puranas which contradict each other quite often. How would clear up the question?

“The Truth is one. Sages describe in various ways” (“Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti.”) God is universal, but to make it easier for the people to perceive him and express their love to him, they describe different manifestations of Him – names and forms. The same way, one person is the “son” for his mother, “father” for his children, “colleague” for the people he works with, etc. The person is one and the same, but different people see different displays of him and name them differently also. In order to maintain and increase belief it is better when a man believes that his personal idol is the best. In Shastra it is written that it is needed to believe that the idol that you are continuously worshiping to, that is the most dear to you – is the best. For some people, the most close one is Vishnu - the God maintaining the world - who is very caring and prosperity giving one. Then, naturally, he would say that Vishnu is the highest God. For some people, the most close one is Shiva-Ascetic who ruins illusions and attachments. Then, the person would say that Shiva is the highest. Such belief help at certain stage, allows to concentrate the mind on one distinct object. But this should not be the reason for discord. In the higher sense these all are the images of one Truth. The same Substance, which is described in Upanishadas as universal Brahman, in Puranas is described in the form of sagas, stories, in order to simplify the understanding of complicated philosophical concepts for ordinary people and arise in them aspiration for God, love to him. There is no necessity to compare Puranas and seek for contradictions in them. At the first stages it would seem that there are many contradictions. And there are none of those at higher stages. When devotees of different divine beings started to quarrel with each other, Shankacharya had no other way but worship all the five faces of God in order to show people: “There is no contradiction in this. Worship all of them.” Upanishadas say about Eternity-Consciousness-Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda), but not everyone is able to understand this. Behind every name and image there hides Sat-Chit-Ananda. In every shape there is shapeless substance. In a seed, there a sprout. With the flow of time it will uncover and reveal itself. And then it will turn into seeds again. The shapeless takes the form, and the form dissolves in the shapeless in a while. This is the divine game (lila).

If a person feels interest in the image of Shiva, spontaneously experiences the wish to utter his mantras, enjoys high emotions thinking of Him, - can such a person be considered as a Shiva bhakta, or in this case a diksha into some of the shaiva sampradaya is needed to be named a shaivite?

What do you want: to be named a shivaite or to come closer to Shiva? Interest in the image of Shiva, worshiping Shiva, repeating mantra – this is bhakti, devotion. This all is a beginner state, quite a perfunctory one. Doing this can take all the life. But in case there is an intention to deepen the practice, initiation from the Teacher is perfectly needed.

And, for the ending, please give us some recommendation where to travel, what to be ready for, whom to address, - in case our Western readers intend to receive initiation into virashaiva sampradaya?

Initiation can be received from any of the Shivacharya – virashaiva Swamiji. Before this, necessarily get to know what rules you will need to keep to (vegetarian diet, refusal the use of alcohol, smoking and the like is meant), what practicies you will need to do daily. Those are wearing a small shivalinga as an amulet on the neck, conducting everyday puja (short variation takes about 15 min), repeating the mantra. Please, read a lot on virashivaism philosophy. I would strongly advise you reading Siddhanta Shikhamani. It has already been translated into English. In Agamas it is written that it is best to receive initiation after purification done beforehand, from a well-known and well-educated Teacher, in a favorable month, in a favorable day. Come to India. Or come for a meeting when I travel around different countries.

Gauri: In Varanasi, in Jangamvadi Math, Mahaswamiji happens to be in October-November (for Dipavali holiday) for 4-6 weeks and in February-March (for Mahashivaratri holiday) for a month. For the rest of the time he is traveling continuously. Also, during the New Year, there may happen his program for about 10 days in Bangalore. There, it is also possible to meet with him.

Jangamvadi Math adress: В-35/77, Jangamawadi Math, Varanasi, UP, India