May 22, 2011

The Dance of Divine Love: An Interview with Catherine Ghosh.

I’m pleased to welcome Catherine Ghosh to Elephant Journal.  Catherine is no stranger to Elephant readers—she’s written two popular guest articles, Are you Hiding Depression behind your Yoga? and Was God a Victim of Child Abuse? But her first work on Elephant was the evocative video in Graham Schweig’s Rapturous Vision of the Gita as part of Gita Talk.

Bob: Welcome to Elephant, Catherine.  Tell us about how you came up with the idea to portray the ancient wisdom of Yoga in videos.

Catherine: Having grown up in a family of teachers who gave music and the arts great value, I think it was inevitable for me to draw from those very sources when entertaining new ways in which to introduce others to Yoga. I wanted to engage beautiful artistic and musical components in my presentations for their swift and effective ability to reach audiences at deeper levels.

This was actually a pedagogy favored by the ancient yoga civilization itself, which typically used songs, dances and plays to communicate yoga philosophy. It was a way to reach the masses, many of whom did not have access to all the yoga texts.

Artistic presentations of philosophy were also known to make the material a pleasure to ingest instead of an effort. Such presentations often elicit emotional reactions in the observers, which is proven to make the remembrance of the information more likely. Yogis of the past knew that familiarity over a subject is mastered through meditation.

The videos then, are meant to be little meditations, and are inspired by this age-old tradition, which approached teaching in a more integrated fashion than we do today. They aim to offer the viewer something beside an exercise of the mind, and touch their hearts, which we have been discovering occurs each time we present them, from yoga centers to the Smithsonian Institution. The videos are a modern day tool to enter more deeply into ancient wisdom.

Now, I have to say that’s completely unexpected and utterly fascinating. See, I was asking my question in the light of “using this modern technology for ancient traditions.” But you’re saying you are really going back to the multimedia roots of ancient Yoga, right?

Exactly! Ancient Yoga teachers were multi-media masters, if you would. They viewed the temporary realm of existence as neutral energy of many varieties that could potentially either pull one away from being absorbed in yoga, or pull one towards absorption in yoga. They did not view it as a negative.

Particularly in the bhakti yoga tradition, nothing was seen as obsolete to a yoga practice; everything potentially held value, if properly engaged. This was referred to as “yukta-vairagya” in Sanskrit. Yukta denotes an absorption in yoga, and vairagya speaks of achieving it through any means, even while engaging elements of this world, which might stereotypically be rejected by “real yogis”, such as modern technology.

Like any other part of world, modern technology is at anyone’s disposal to use as they see fit. As with anything else, it holds whatever value we inject into it. As the yogis of the past, I believe any one of us modern yoga practitioners is equally capable of taking what the masses hold dear and finding it’s yogic use.

Let’s take a look at one of your videos. Why don’t you choose your favorite and introduce it to us?

Well, I have a special fondness for Dance of Divine Love, as it presents one of the world’s most celebrated sacred love stories, that of Radha and Krishna. In this video the viewer is given a glimpse of what it’s like to exchange amorous love with divinity, as Radha and the Gopis do (who are described in Sanskrit texts as the “topmost yoginis”) in the rasa dance, or the dance of divine love:

Beautiful video. The thing that strikes me personally about your videos is that I’m strongly drawn to them in spite of the fact that I’m not usually attracted to religious sounding interpretations of Yoga, or to the group devotional chanting of Bhakti.  Yoga for me is something more private that goes on inside my head. I enjoy the videos very much, but I find myself wanting to ask you questions like, “What do you mean when you use the word divine?” and then “What does it mean to dance with the Divine?” How do you explain this to your students?

Thank you Bob. I am happy my video brought up questions for you. I always consider it a success when my presentations are able to strike a personal chord in someone.

I would characterize everything within pure love as “divine”.  Simply put, a dance with the Divine would be any experience in life that activates and engages one’s own divine core in a most blissful way! According to the bhakti perspective, this is the connection that the word yoga describes: a connection with our own blissful nature.

And certainly, while public, group kirtans are designed to facilitate such connections, the experiences in Bhakti-yoga had by the participants are indeed very private, internal ones, as everyone’s relationship with the Divine is most unique!

Tell us a little bit about how you actually made the videos.  What tools did you use and what was the process?

Well, each of the videos emerged in different ways for particular reasons, so the creative process was unique for each of them. Nevertheless, they all absorbed me, and gave me great pleasure to create. The tools I used stretched from the technical to the intuitive, from my MacBookPro computer, to my personal library,  to my own relationship with each subject.

I also noticed I cannot make them on demand, they have to emerge spontaneously and from my heart. I have three videos I am working on at the moment, but the progress I make with them definitely depends on inspiration rather than deadlines. In that sense, you might say I am more of a right brain person.

Funny you should mention that.  When Elephant Yoga writers ask me, “What’s the deadline”, I always tell them, “No schedule, no deadlines”.  I know they’ll do their best work if they write when they’re excited and inspired about something.  Catherine, thanks so much for being here with us.  We’ll look forward to your new videos. Let’s do this again soon.

Catherine Ghosh

Catherine L. Ghosh, RYT, was introduced to Yoga when she was only two years old. In her mid-teens, she formally took up the practice of meditational and devotional Yoga with teachers in India as well as the West. Catherine, also known as Krishna Kanta Dasi, traveled to India several times, visiting holy places, meeting teachers and deepening her passion for the study of Bhakti Yoga and Eastern philosophy. Together with Graham M. Schweig, PhD, she develops workshops on “The Secret Yoga.” For more information please visit: www.secretyoga.com.

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