Vedanta makes all the difference on how I live my life – Janani Cleary

Vedanta makes all the difference on how I live my life – Janani Cleary

Jane Janani Cleary is a Vedanta scholar and yoga practitioner at Boynton Beach,
Florida. She has studied the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and other Sanskrit texts
at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Mumbai in the 1970s. In this interview she shares
her experiences with her gurus, the importance of preserving the patashala
system, and the role of Vedanta in America today

One always wonders what attracts people to Vedanta. Is it India first and Vedanta afterwards or Vedanta first and India afterwards?

“I
suppose it started with India because when I was growing up my exposure to
India was typical of the educational system of that time and that was that
everyone in India was starving and poor and it was a very hard place to live.
Yet that did not seem to be the case when I met two Indian women at the New
York World’s Fair. That encounter grabbed my attention as I realized that there
must be more to it than what we had learned in school.  Sure enough my horizons on India were vastly
expanded when I was in high school and I was initially attracted to yoga due to
physical issues and being overwhelmed by the pressures of that stage in
life.  Since there were no yoga studios
around at that time, I just started doing it on my own from books and even that
really helped me.

After
high school I went to New York to really focus on yoga at the Integral Yoga
Institute. I was not actually looking for Vedanta in as much, as, I was a yoga
teacher in New York City and had a nice gig going teaching yoga, doing chanting
and just enjoying all that it had to offer. 

A
friend suggested that we attend a lecture given by Swami Chinmayananda at one
of the colleges in NYC and that is when I first became aware of Vedanta.  I realized from him that yoga was just one
small piece of a much larger picture and that in order to fully embrace it all
I had to understand the basis for it all. 
That led me to pursue further study of Vedanta etc. in India.”

Janani attended a conference in 2014 organised by the multi-cultural organization of the White House which appoints people from different religions and cultures to set up conferences related to their own specific backgrounds.  Anju Bhargava was appointed by President Obama to oversee the Hindu-Indian American group.  Previously, Anju had started a group called the Hindu American Seva Communities (HASC) whose purpose is for the Indian community to come together and find local causes in which they could give back to the communities that had helped to make them prosperous. Janani was invited as some who had given back to her community, in so many ways.

“One
of the best insights that arose from the conference “was the realization that
there are many people who are striving to make their communities better and
doing it in so many different ways. Whether it’s running a soup kitchen/support
center for DC’s homeless or providing sanctuary for old and abused cows that
would otherwise be slaughtered or just volunteering at the local Boys and Girls
Club, these Indian Americans and supporters all over the country were intent on
giving back. In the process their communities were able to learn more about the
Indian culture and more fully appreciate what is has to offer.”

By
following the dictum of “actions speak louder than words” HASC members
delivered a powerful and important message about Hinduism and India,” says
Janani.

“Another
good outcome was knowing and meeting face to face with others making these
efforts.  This was uplifting and engaging
to all attendees.  Further, the
opportunity to network with others was invaluable.  It was gratifying and also reinforcing to be
able to talk about my activities in working with the Indian community and
discovering that people were actually interested in knowing what I was doing.
The ultimate overarching takeaway was that the White House did value and care
about this program and our efforts! It was indeed an excellent and inspiring
event!   

Vedanta has spread far and wide in the West, especially in the US. What is its role today there?

“This
is a really loaded question but also a really good one.  Vedanta, when properly presented, is an
invaluable tool to help people look at themselves, their world and their
Creator in such a way that they can live their lives to the fullest as they
discover the non-dual Vision behind everything.  The more people are able to discover this, the
more they become contributors to the society instead of just being consumers. The
added focus on the pursuit of liberation really sets it apart because this is
not an ordinary pursuit and it is one that culminates in true freedom here and
now.  Vedanta’s direct, thorough and deep
focus moves it way past every other study. Thus, overall, it becomes a benefit
to everyone, everywhere.”

‘While
there may be other approaches out there that can unfold this Vision, there is
no question that Vedanta does this and for a person who gains that knowledge of
all that it has to offer, it makes all the difference in their lives.  I can fully attest to that and I have seen
many times how it does the same for others. Not to overuse clichés but, at the
end of the day, for anyone learning it anywhere in the world at any time, it
just does not get any better than this!”

“Further,
the beauty and uniqueness of Vedanta is that even though it is richly laced
with Hinduism – the format is also there so that it can be presented in a
non-sectarian way.  It is a knowledge
based study and as such does not require that anyone studying it follow any
specific religion or faith.  For this
reason, it can be approached by anyone anywhere and help that person to discover
the true meaning of life and of all things. 
Yet, as one studies it one can also discover and/or grow from learning
about the Hindu facets woven into it. More importantly, one can further
discover the immensity and depth of the entire Vedic culture in all of its
glory! It is all so awesome and truly mind boggling!”

Janani
has been a disciple of several great Vedanta gurus. She was under the tutelage
of Swami Satchindananda at Integral Yoga in New York City.

“I
did not know him well and only talked to him briefly but his approach to
teaching yoga was open, broad minded, full of yogic depth and well
presented.  He had a great sense of
humor, was charismatic and also he was very perceptive.  He was known to almost instinctively hone in
on difficulties that a person might be facing and resolve them. When I left
there to do further studies, it was with his blessings. 

She
was also a disciple of Swami Chinmayananda and has many stories to share of her
interaction with him.

“When
my friend and I first attended his lectures he gave us special attention
because he could see that we were young and basically clueless.  In fact, for a while all I could understand
were the jokes!  But it was not long
before I discovered how much there was to learn and since the topic is about
what is Infinite, the study itself seemed equally so.  Yet, he made it so clear and enthralling, so that
as a listener, I just wanted to keep hearing more and more and he accommodated
that interest.  He was also dynamic,
gregarious, caring and attentive.  Still,
he would not take any nonsense and was quick to cut to the chase and did not
necessarily spare anyone’s feelings in the process.  At one point, I was pouring out my heart and
my sad tales of woe and I thought that he would respond by being solicitous and
compassionate.  Instead, he just burst
out laughing and he laughed really hard for a good minute or so.  By the end of it, I too was laughing as he
drove home the point of how silly and ridiculous a lot of such preoccupations
can be!  While some things do have to be
taken seriously, most stuff ends up being a build-up and much ado about nothing
– which is pretty much in the vein of today’s catch phrase “let it go”. 

I
met him when he was teamed up with Swami Dayananda.  When I told him that I wanted to follow him
around India because I did not know Swami Dayananda so, I did not want to go to
study at the ashram; his response was unequivocally and resoundingly
“NO!”.  He made it abundantly clear that
my fears were groundless and that Swami Dayananda was a brilliant and capable
teacher. In that respect, when someone once asked him about the working relationship
of he and Swami Dayananda, his response was “I gather the stones and Swami
Dayananda sculpts them.”

He
had many great lines that could set matters straight and his forceful and
capable delivery of them always drove the points home.  One that I use often is:  “The knife does not become sharpened unless
it’s up against the friction of the grinding stone.”  So too, and just as Arjuna found out, we do
not discover our true strengths and capabilities until we face and meet life’s
challenges head on.”

Jane has studied the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and other Sanskrit texts at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya, Mumbai in the 1970s.

Based
on the above, Janani, despite her initial reluctance met Swami Dayananda.

“I
met Swami Dayananda who - true to his name – had the biggest heart and of
course the knowledge to boot and the wherewithal to back it all up!  Although we got off to a rocky start because
of my hesitation and his equally glaring assessment that I thought that I knew
more than I did and he knew that I knew practically nothing, everything settled
down once the course was underway. After I finished my studies, I returned home
to the working world to really test the mettle of what I had just learned and
had a successful career path along the way. But whenever I was able, I would
spend time with him from then until he passed away in 2015.

Over
the course of those years, I participated in many activities and undertakings
with him such as organizing camps and lectures and setting up the ashram in
Saylorsburg, PA.  

As both an experience and a lesson, he always advised that, according to the tradition, it is far better to be concise and to the point and use as few words as possible when communicating something profound and critical about the Truth of it all.  Similarly, while endless stories could be told, ultimately, it is better to keep the stories to a minimum. However, I would still like to sneak in one statement - about the teacher who made it all so clear - all the words and experiences will never express what he has given me and countless others.  In that respect, there can never be enough words spoken or experiences related that can ever fully describe how much I have benefited and been blessed to have had him as a teacher. 

Is there a difference between Vedanta among Indians and Vedanta among foreigners?

“No,
because when it comes to the essence of Vedanta itself, any individual no
matter where they were brought up and what else they may have been exposed to
or know, they will always know Vedanta in the same way.  Because it is knowledge based, it must
necessarily be the same the world over just like any other study is the
same.  There is no such thing as Russian
physics, Jewish geology, French geometry or Catholic chemistry. So too, Non-dual
Infinite is Non-dual Infinite and the knowledge that unfolds that must
necessarily be the same no matter where it is taught.  Swami Dayananda would always say this and
would add that India just happened to be the place where it originated and
where they did an incredible job of protecting it and handing it down to keep
it going!  Thank God!  Anyone who cites differences in this respect
is only looking at the trivial surface stuff (of which there is plenty) and
does not see what it is really all about.

Janani
quotes the saying, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other
plans.” She did not plan to be involved in this type of pursuit for her entire
life yet it all just seemed to come together this way.  

“As
I have continuously tested its veracity throughout my life, I keep finding that
it holds up and moreover, it makes all the difference in how I live my life.  There is a verse that unequivocally states
that “The gain of the Infinite is an Infinite gain and the loss of the Infinite
is an Infinite loss.” 

Everyone
gets to choose on whether or not to focus on what provides a lasting sense of
fulfillment or just stick with the endless limited comings and goings that suck
the life out of them as they try to make the most of the paltry enjoyments and
rewards that they get from those pursuits. 
But if they do the math on this equation, it’s a no brainer.  Still, if someone chooses to ironically and endlessly
chase after finite ends, they get to – they just can’t complain when the
results don’t last.

Put another way, the word “Brahman” comes from the root “brh” = “to be grow, increase, be big” so one could say that in the pursuit of Brahman, this is the “go Big or go home plan”. For me, in recognizing this fact, why would I choose anything else?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQwFZtHxYtk
Jane was the advisor to the movie Gurukulam, that focused on the life of the late Swami Dayananda Saraswati, released in 2016

Is it important, in your opinion, to go to the original texts, to have an authentic experience?

“This
question is a trigger for me on many levels because the tradition itself is so
incomprehensibly vast and yet so well-structured and contained.  In fact, I am writing about the uniqueness of
this tradition and how it must continue to be preserved.  As a case in point: It is totally mind
blowing to me that for thousands upon thousands of years the Vedic texts were
memorized and passed down from one generation to the next – this itself is
beyond amazing!  But what is even more
amazing is that for the most part, there were very few discrepancies in what
was memorized.  Like that, there is so
much more to be in wonder about it.  The
greatest irony is that now, when there are so many tools and institutions that
can keep it going – it has a greater chance of being lost to modernity so it still
has to be maintained at the grass roots level. 
This is why it is so important that people continue to make efforts to
keep the patha shalas going.

In
light of the fact that everyone will agree that liberation is inarguably the
goal of the original texts and that the original texts do make good and deliver
on that goal, then anything that follows after them is an added bonus if the
later text brings about the same result. 
If the later text does not, then who needs it? There are later texts
that do unfold what is stated in the original texts but there are also many
that do not.  Currently, there are so
many books written that contain some semblance of the original texts yet
totally lack the methodology presented in those texts and therefore not only
fall far short of what the original texts present, they also mislead people.  Moreover, most of those texts lean towards the
experience of liberation.   The emphasis in
the original texts is on knowledge first because experiences –no matter how
uplifting they are - are temporary, whereas knowledge is lasting.  Again, which one is better: a temporary blast
of bliss or an abiding lasting sense of well-being?”

As for teaching Sanskrt, not for nothing is it called the “language of the Gods” and anyone who spends any focused time with Sanskrt cannot deny how powerful the impact of it is.  Teaching Sanskrt is a joy and our rule of thumb when we started 5 years ago was: “If we are not having fun, we’re done.”  It provides a lot of back up support to the study as it serves as a tool that can help to see things more clearly so it is very helpful.  In fact, Sanskrt really does bring home the teaching so it makes so much of a difference in understanding it.  But, while I strongly encourage it, I never insist that everyone must learn it because I do not want to discourage anyone who is unable to or incapable of learning it.  It should not be a strike against them if they are otherwise in earnest to study Vedanta.”