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Chaitanya School Of Meditation

Chaitanya School of Meditation founded by Balakhilya Das. Also known as the Science of Identity Foundation (or Institute) and the Chaitanya Mission, this movement was started by a number of former members of ISKCON who severed their connections with that organization in the 1970s. The Chaitanya School is headed by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa, aka Chris Butler. He and some other members of this group, including Balakhilya Das, had been personally initiated by ISKCON's founder, Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada. The Chaitanya School's philosophy and practice are virtually identical with that of ISKCON. However, it is less monastic and its members wear western dress.

Louis Hughes op

A widely-publicized "Balakhilya Das World Tour 2001" reached Ireland in late October 2001. Classes on reincarnation and hands-on meditation were given in Galway, Limerick, Cork and Athlone, as well as Dublin. I attended the final session which took place in Cassidy's Hotel, Cavendish Row, Dublin on Saturday, November 3, 2001. An attendance of about 35 people, mainly lively, with-it youngsters in their 20s turned up. They would have been perfectly in place with the anti-war protesters I had seen in O'Connell Street earlier in the day.

As I entered I was greeted with the standard 'haribol' by a young woman who the handed me a meditation kit. This consisted of a mala beads, a small laminated card with some Sanskrit mantras and information about a follow-up workshop to take place next day in the House of Astrology, Parliament Street. Some chanting tapes and booklets were on sale nearby, including titles ranging from: "Mantra Meditation and Self-Realization" to "Dear Friend, You are not God" and "Is Jesus your Doormat?" All were by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa, aka Chris Butler. A cursory inspection of this literature revealed that Jagad Guru and the night's speaker, Balakhilya Das are both former members of ISKCON, personally initiated by that movement's founder, Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada. They and some others severed their connections with ISKCON in the 1970s and started their own movement. Their network reaches as far as Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, United States and Poland. It is variously called the Science of Identity Foundation (or Institute) and the Chaitanya Mission. For Britain and Ireland the most used term is the Chaitanya School of Meditation, indicating its links to Mahaprabhu Chaitanya (1485 - 1533), venerated by all branches of the Hare Krishna family.

The Chaitanya School's philosophy and even its language are virtually identical with that of the Gaudiya Vaishnava school as taught by Prabhupada. "Disciplic succession" linking the group through an unbroken succession of gurus Prabhupada to Mahaprabhu Chaitanya is fundamental. However, the name 'Chaitanya' was not once used during this night's talk. Instead we were told about 'Lord Gauranga' who 500 years ago popularized a simpler meditative process more suited to this age of Kali, with its depleted spiritual energies. The term gauranga means "he whose form is gold." Gauranga (Chaitanya), we were told, brought the traditional bhakti yoga (yoga of devotion) to new heights through the practice of sankirtana, or the public group singing of devotional mantras, often to the accompaniment of musical instruments and dancing. The greatest of these mantras is the mahamantra, familiar to most, even in the west, as the "Hare Krishna" mantra.

The belief system of the Chaitanya School and of all Hare Krishna groups is personalist: i.e., God, the Supreme Soul (paramatman) is worshipped as a person distinct from oneself. The personalist tradition directly opposes the impersonalism of much Indian (particularly vedantic) religion currently being disseminated in the west, describing it as "a very dangerous philosophy for it proposes the absurd idea that we are all God." The human person must not be identified either with the body or the mind, and much less with any particular role or external description. In reality each of us is an eternal spiritual entity (jivatman) that passes through many successive reincarnations. Bodies are taken on and discarded like different sets of clothing, but the spiritual soul remains identical. While in this body however, the soul needs constant spiritual nourishment, designed to keep one "in a loving relationship with the Supreme Soul." This is achieved through the practice of mantra meditation.

Mantra meditation within the Chaitanya School involves the use of special sound vibrations or spiritual energy which transcend the material world. If one uses ordinary material sounds, the result of one's meditation will depend on how still one sits, how attentive one is or how pure one's motivation is. With transcendental sound no faith or special skill is required. Contact with the sound alone suffices for spiritual benefit. Jagad Guru even describes it as "sound which is non-different from God." This is most effective when the senses are engaged. Singing the mantra out loud engages the sense of hearing. The sense of touch is used when fingering the beads as one repeats the mantra, and also through the movement of one's lips. To demonstrate the Chaitanya School's way of meditation, Balakhilya led the audience in a number of guided meditations:

  1. Sitting still, become aware of the rhythm of one's breathing. Then on each exhalation chanting aloud the mantra: Gauranga Nitai Gaur. In the group this was quite a centring experience. One forgot about the noises of the street. This, we were told, was because we were using a transcendental sound, pertaining not to the material, but to the transcendental world.
  2. Group chanting of the mahamantra (Hare Krishna mantra) to a simple chant melody - using the mala beads: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare: Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare.
  3. Silent, very fast recitation of the mahamantra on the beads for a full round.
  4. Kirtan or congregational chanting - the leader sings each phrase and the group repeats it - in this case to a guitar accompaniment.

Balakhilya stated that not only the chanter, but also the listener is helped to evolve spiritually through exercises like these. The benefits extend even to the souls of animals and birds who hear the chanting. After this some time was given for questions. Balakilya stressed the merits of bhakti yoga over every other form as being taught by God himself. Discussion about silent meditation at best is about oneself. Responding to a question from a young man who had been practising other forms of yoga, it was interesting to see the re-emergence in a Dublin hotel of the centuries'-old debate of personalism versus impersonalism within Indian philosophy. To back up his arguments throughout the evening, Balakhilya frequently invoked the authority of 'Scripture' - without explaining that what he had in mind was quite different from what most westerners' understanding of that word.