Jonas Masetti, also known as Vishvanath, is a Brazilian Vedanta Scholar and a disciple of Pujya Dayananda Saraswati. Masetti founded and teaches at ‘Vishva Vidya’, located in the hills of Petrópolis, about an hour from Rio de Janeiro. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned his work this January in his Man Ki Baath programme, which includes teaching hundreds of students about ancient Indian sacred texts, including the Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta. He also teaches Sanskrit, mantras and Vedic culture.
Video of interview: https://youtu.be/wm5qTb8K0jU
In the year 2003, although a well settled Mechanical Engineer, he felt a vacuum in his life and in the lives of many of his contemporaries. At that point he met his Yoga teacher who came from the same parampara. This Indian teacher, Santosh Vallury, had just got married and come to Brazil. He had no students yet, and Jonas became his first student. “I had the privilege and good fortune to have many one to one sessions with him,” Jonas tells CSP in a interview which he requested to be published on Sankashti Chaturthi, March 2 as it is auspicious.
After this initial initiation, Jonas went to meet Pujya Dayanada Saraswati who was touring the US at the time. Taking a break from work, “I did 15 days of seva in exchange for 15 days of the course. This went on for one month in the Ashram in Saylorsburg. After that, I was very into the culture because there was a connection which I felt deeply,” says Jonas.
Jonas started to recite Sanskrit mantras and set out on a path to study Indian texts at the three year course Swami Dayanada was conducting in Arsha Vidya, Coimbatore.
He stayed for a little more than four and half years at Anaikatti, near Coimbatore in South India. He wanted to start teaching in Brazil, but adopting the open attitude of Swami Chinmayananda, would tell himself “Lets see if it is going to happen. If it happens it happens”.
The number of students has increased year by year since then. “I have some regular students in the parampara whom I meet personally and we also have online meetings. I also have followers who have basically attended some free classes that I offer here and online, so we have more people learning about the Vedic tradition.”
The Indian Prime Minister introduced Jonas to the world as the person with perhaps the largest following of Vedanta in Brail. Last year, Jonas had 1,50,000 followers studying daily. “That is probably how he came to notice us and it's a recognition,” says Jonas.
The Arsha Vidya parampara requires students to commit to over three years of study and sadhana in the pursuit of knowledge and self-awareness. How important is it to immerse ourselves in this tradition before we realize the true path? “What I feel is that for a foreigner, unless we have an experience in India with the Master, with the temples, with the culture, it is very difficult for us to grasp the “sukshma” part of all this knowledge. For me the 3 year course was fundamental. Anyway, the feeling is that I am now a completely new person. It is like being born again. There is no other way for full awareness - even the sanskrit mantras - they are very much part of the transformation. We cannot make the journey without going through all that.”
What is the primary interest of his followers and students in Vedanta? Does one have to reach a point where one wants to know the purpose of life or one is not happy with the current way of life? “It is not like that. Once students know the purpose of life, and want answers, they are eager to learn more about Vedanta. So, I put the whole culture and the sacred parts for free on Youtube so that people are attracted to it and want to learn more. When they want to join the parampara, we hold regular classes to study the Vedic texts. It is a two way method - one part is the online platform and the other part is our institute in the mountains in Brazil,” says Jonas. So people come and stay here for different periods of time, and study just like it is done in India but it is a Brazilian version, he says.
To assist his students, Jonas has finished translating the Gita into Portuguese and it is being published now. He has also translated some lesser Prakarana granthas. He aims to translate the Upanishads too, “not with the purpose of aiding study through a translation, but as a reference for students as now only English translations are available.”
Translating from Sanskrit is a challenging task. It took him two and half years to translate the Gita as for every expression he wanted the ‘original meaning’ so that the essence is not lost. “Sometimes I put a footnote and mention the word used. While it may not be the original word, I have used the one closest to the meaning.”
For instance, But more closer to the meaning, For example - “vo’stvistakamadhuk’. In Chapter III, verse 3 of the Gita, Krishna says that Yagnas are humankind’s Kamadhenu. “The idea of a ‘wish fulfilling cow’ does not have a literal meaning in our culture. We have references to perhaps Aladdin’s lamp, so I would have to make a note and say that Kamadhenu - the wish fulfilling cow is a concept similar to Aladdin’s lamp.”
Did Vedanta exist in Brazil before the visit of Swami Dayanand ji. Have students visited India in the early 1990s? Jonas says Swami Chinmayananda was the first person from the parampara to visit Brazil. He came in the 1970s and was on his way to Argentina. Due to a flight delay, he visited Brazil and a lecture was put together quickly.
Jonas’s guru Gloria Arieira was present at this lecture (Gloria Arieira dedicates Padma Sri to the Shankara Sampradaya - Center for Soft Power (softpowermag.com). She was fascinated by all this knowledge and went to Rishikesh to meet him and did a three year course there followed by another course. She returned to Brazil after more than 13 years of sadhana, which Jonas says gave her “an initial base about what Vedanta is about and the purpose of Yoga, not from the Western approach but in the authentic Eastern approach.”
While there were many teachers who visited the United States, Jonas says few visited Brazil. Yoga became popular in the US but not Vedanta. Six years ago he gave a course on Vedanta in Brazil which was extremely popular. “Then suddenly things changed. Now everyone in the world of Yoga in Brazil knows what Vedanta is. Some people agree and some don't, but its base is slowly growing.”
Is there a connection between Indian culture and Brazilian culture in terms of relatables between the people. “This is the subject that I am working on now after coming back to Brazil. Having studied so much about this ancient culture, I felt the need to connect to my ancestors here.”
He has been talking to spiritual leaders in Brazil and he feels they are talking about the same things. “ Some people have knowledge with a similar base, and have an idea of Karma Yoga. Definitely these values are there in our spiritual legacy. One of my projects for the next year is to revive the spiritual legacy of Brazil and North America because the natives of North America are the authentic people of this region.”
The daily life of the native Indian (in Brazil) begins with a dip in the river, in the same way as Indians bathe in the Ganga, says Jonas. “We turn towards the Sun and offer the water just like what is done in India. We are asking and evoking the sacred blessings of the river. Also we have a lot of reverence for our ancestors and don't see ourselves separate from our parents. We don’t have a Western way of thinking.”
Jonas adds that “Everything in the life of the native Indian is a prayer - to cook is a prayer. To talk to somebody is a prayer. Actually, when I went to meet a Brazilian, he had a sentence which means the same as ‘Atithi Devo bhava’. I had arrived there without notice, and he offered me food and other things. Here it is more a way of life, rather than a textual legacy. I want us to have our own spiritual legacy. There is a lot of connect between our two cultures. The same teachings are there but it is not available to my people right now as unlike India, our ancient civilisation is lost.”
Jonas cherishes the “simplicity and the truthfulness of the Indian people. Spirituality is the connection with masters and one has to understand that love in a different way. The teacher-disciple connection was unique and new to me. In the west the relationship between the student and the teacher fantasizes the guru. In India, it is normal and natural. To see all this happening in a beautiful way with people all studying with devotion and the beauty of the temples is what has stayed in my heart.”
While speaking about the people of Brazil, Jonas says that the world sees Brazil as a place of dance, of Samba and music. “However, there is also underneath a very strong spirituality. We are like the gypsies around the world. On one side, they may appear to be just travellers, but they also have so much culture. They have dance, art and a very strong spirituality. What we should do as a family, like Vasudeva Kutumbakam, is to have everybody invoke their own spiritual legacy. Our connections with fathers, grand fathers, with devatas, with nature and everything that is available so that we can be the best version of ourselves and lead the world life spiritually.”
This transformation and realisation cannot be done by a foreign culture, adds Jonas. “This is something that has to be done from within, but we can take help. So, I see that the Vedic culture is in a place where they can help all the countries and all other cultures to invoke their own ancestrality, their own spirituality and so on.”
Jonas says it is very difficult to understand how the same spirituality can help one in daily life and how it can be absorbed into different cultures as the cultures are different. “The values, concepts and how society understands spirituality is different.”
The greatest obstacle lies in the perception of the teacher or Guru, says Jonas. “If the guru is not projected as super human people criticize the teachers telling them they are just normal people. But in reality, we are just normal people teaching and in that lies the beauty. It is not that we want to become saints or anything like that. We are just normal people and teaching about something very deep and profound.”
Vedanta shows one that with an open mind, one is able to “hear another person just like oneself. For if we see the teacher as somebody superior to ourselves, from another culture or race then we believe that that knowledge is not something that is accessible for everyone. Vedanta helps give that access. Let people question, the answers are there. It is a different approach. If there is respect and love, the knowledge will flow.”
Jonas also believes another obstacle which inhibits learning outside India, is the lack of understanding that “what is being taught by the ancient Rishis and masters is not something that one can learn in six months or so. It is something that took them a lifetime to do it.”
In the field of martial arts, of which Jonas is also part, “nobody thinks they are going to practice Karate for one year and become a Karate Master. But in the West, they have these fancy ideas that in one year one can become a Yoga teacher or Vedanta teacher, Sanskrit teacher and this is not a spiritual legacy. In India, there are some people who dedicate their whole lives for Sanskrit. It is almost like a lack of respect to be able to not acknowledge the effort that these people have done.”
So, Jonas concludes, understanding the path takes a long time and it is very important "that we stop having expectations of a quick answer, a magical mantra, a deeksha that would change our life because that is not spirituality."