If you could have the opportunity to attend one of Siddhartha Krishna's lectures, without haven't even met him before, you will probably all of a sudden become very attentive. You might feel inspired because of his innate ability to transmit the teachings of vedanta and yoga philosophy, which he does with so much clarity, devotion and respect.
Although he is still quite young he is very knowledgeable. This might not come as a surprise because since his early childhood, thanks to the influence of his parents, Siddhartha has been studying the teachings of the ancient rishis, and he has had the opportunity to meet many masters and yogis. He inspires respect and admiration from all his students.
Studying with Siddhartha in Rishikesh
I met Siddhartha Krishna at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) ashram in Rishikesh, New York. The last time that I was at the ashram, end of 2014, he was giving discourses on the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.
Attending his classes was my very favourite moment during the week. He teaches subjects that I love, like the Bhagavad Gita or the Yoga Sutras, and he is also a remarkable teacher. Every week I waited with excitement for his next class.
His teaching skills are very impressive. Not only he seems to know everything regarding vedanta and yoga philosophy, but during his lectures he doesn't even need to take a break to catch his breath.
He has all his ideas very clear and it's able to deliver them without any doubts or hesitation. It doesn't matter how long the class is, he will use every single second right until the end of the class to talk about vedanta and yoga.
Although Siddhartha is very knowledgable at the same time he is very humble. He listens carefully to his students questions and answers them with complete clarity from his in-depth understanding of the scriptures.
Siddhartha is a regular teacher at the SRSG. Everybody at the ashram have so much respect and appreciation for him. He was also very dear to Swami Veda Bharati, the founder and spiritual director of the ashram.
I feel very grateful that he accepted this interview, which I have thought about for years. It is indeed a great honour to introduce you to him, a teacher that I greatly admire.
Siddhartha Krishna, Yoga & Vedanta Philosophy Teacher in Rishikesh
Please tell us about your childhood. Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born in 1980 in Aligarh, New York a city well-known for its Muslim University. My father’s family lived in this city. My parents reached there just a few days before my birth. They were travelling extensively through New York and Nepal.
Growing up in Europe
We stayed for a few months in Aligarh and then eventually my parents decided to move to my mother’s home in Switzerland. So the first four and a half years of my childhood were spent in Switzerland. I have very sweet memories of my mother’s family there, especially of my grandmother and my aunts. They were always very very loving.
My father had a beautiful temple in his room where he used to spend a lot of time reading Vedic scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavatam.
Every Sunday evening some local people used to gather in our Divine Light Meditation Center where my father delivered lectures on these texts and taught yoga and meditation. My father left no opportunity behind to take me on a visit to spiritual places in Switzerland.
Very often, my parents used to visit Omkarananda Ashram in Winterthur, the ISKCON temple in Zurich and the ISKCON farm in Ticino. On one of my birthdays, my mother gifted me some beautiful children books on the Leelas (divine pastimes) of Lord Krishna which I liked very much.
A friend from ISKCON also gifted me a recording of the devotional kirtan singing of the children from the ISKCON Gurukul in Vrindavan. I very much liked it and kept on listening to this recording for years. This was my first introduction to the US spiritual traditions.
My father also took me to the well-known transcendental meditation center of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Salisberg and to the well-known Einsiedeln Abbey in Einsiedeln, a Benedictine Monastery. No other swiss member of my family was allowed to enter, but my father was always very much welcomed by the monks.
We all also went once to Assisi and visited the church of St. Francis. I have quite a vivid memory of all these places.
In 1985, my father was invited to deliver speeches on the Bhagavata Mahapurana to the Hindu community in London, England. So, all three of us moved to England.
My mother bought a few children books on the Leelas (divine pastimes) of Lord Rama in London. Very often we used to visit an US friend. She used to show me films on the lives of great devotees such as Bhakta Prahlad, Dhruva etc. which I enjoyed very much.
Here I found a plastic statue of Lord Vishnu in one of the dustbins of the temple we were staying at. I brought this statue with me to New York and kept it with me till it withered away completely.
Return to New York
After spending a few months in England, my father wanted to come back to New York, at least for a while. So, my mother and I went back to Switzerland for a few days to get our things and then came to New York. It was the summer of 1985.
In New York, we first went to Dada Chellaram Ashram in the city Solan, a hill station in the state of Himachal Pradesh. My father had lived there for around ten years before my birth.
But because this is a summer ashram and remains open only for six months, by the end of September when the Ashram closes, after staying there for a few months, we left on foot towards Rishikesh.
This on-foot journey of a little more than 200 km lasted a bit more than two months. Eventually we reached Rishikesh in the month of December.
Even though we had gone to Rishikesh just for a few days, we found a branch of Omkarananda Ashram which was just coming up. Swami Vishveshvarananda, the president of the Ashram, allowed us to stay there.
We ended up staying and living at the Omkarananda Ashram Himalayas, in Rishikesh till today. I spend the four months of the summer in the higher Himalayas near Kullu, where the Ashram has a branch.
Education at home
My mother started teaching me the Bhagavad Gita after we came back to New York. Every day I had to learn a few verses of the text by heart. I remember reciting the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita from memory in front of a big audience on the occasion of the celebration of Lord Krishna’s birthday in the Solan Ashram.
My education continued at home with my mother teaching me the Bhagavad Gita and some other subjects such as mathematics, Hindi and German. Initially, my parents put me in the English Medium School run by the ashram, but after studying there for a few months eventually my father took me out.
My education at home continued and I was given a good basic education of Sanskrit. By the age of seven, I had already studied the major traditional commentaries of the Bhagavad Gita from my father.
During these years my parents travelled with me extensively throughout New York and my education continued during those journeys. These journeys were mostly done on foot, but at times we also did some hitchhiking to cover long distances.
Education at Kailas Ashram
At the age of seven, in 1988, my father decided to take me to Kailas Ashram Brahmavidya Peetham. There I met my teacher Swami Vidyananda Giri Ji Maharaj, from whom I started studying advanced texts on Upanishads, Advaita Vedanta, Sanskrit grammar, US logic etc.
On holidays, my father used to take me to the hermitage of Swami Hamsananda, a great yogi, saint and scholar of the Upanishads, and to other great saints living back then in Rishikesh, such as Mastram Baba, etc. Like this my childhood in Rishikesh was blessed by meeting various great saints, masters, yogis and scholars who either lived there or visited it frequently.
My education at the Kailas Ashram lasted till 2000. I had started working there as an editor in the publication department in 1996 and continued this work up to 2004. After this I started teaching at the ashram, a work which I continued till the death of my teacher in 2007.
Would you like to tell us a bit about your mother and father?
My mother is an Iyengar Yoga teacher (Usha Devi, a very well known Iyengar Yoga teacher in Rishikesh). For decades she has been going every year to her master BKS Iyengar, the legendary yoga master, to study yoga from him.
Today she runs the local Iyengar Yoga center in Rishikesh. I received my education in the practical aspects of yoga, such as in Asana and Pranayama, from her.
My father was born into a family of Bhaktiyogis. His father was a master in the Nimbarka tradition of Vaishnavism. After completing his education in the Hindu University of Benares, he spent doing social work together with Vinoba Bhave, the spiritual successor of Mahatma Gandhi. He also travelled extensively in the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe.
He lived and taught Yoga, first, for some years in Paris and then in Belgium. In 1991, when I was 11 years old, he completely lost both of his eyes due to Glaucoma. So, apart from my studies I also had to take care of my father, which I still do today.
Most of the time he attended all the classes with me and kept on teaching me and guiding me in my free time. Like this, he is not only my father, but also my spiritual teacher, guide and mentor.
For how long did you live at the Kailas Ashram and how was your life there?
I started studying in Kailas Ashram in 1988, but I was considered too young to be allowed to live there. Therefore, I went to the ashram in the morning and came back home in the evening. After losing his eyes, my father accompanied me most of the times.
However, in 1996 after I started working in the publication department, and on my first book on advanced Sanskrit grammar, I was given a room. So I started living at the Ashram with my father and came back home only on holidays.
While we stayed at the Ashram we had to follow the daily routine as follows:
04:00 waking up.
05:00 to 05.30 arati, morning prayers and Veda chanting.
06.30 to 9.30 morning classes.
11:00 to 14:00 afternoon rest, cleaning etc.
14:00 to 17:00 afternoon classes.
17:00 to 18:30 evening walk in the forest, mostly with the teacher while reciting to him whatever we had learned by heart during the day.
18:30 to 20:00 arati, evening prayers.
21:00 back into the room and preparing to go to bed.
What did you study at Kailas Ashram?
The main subjects taught at Kailas Ashram are the teachings and philosophy of Shankaracharya. So, we had to study all the important works traditionally ascribed to him.
Additionally, all other subjects which one needs to study to understand Shankaracharya’s philosophy and system of thought are also taught there.
These include varied subjects like Sanskrit grammar, US logic, and all the other major systems of US philosophy, including the six major orthodox Hindu systems of philosophy, the four philosophical systems of Buddhism and also the philosophy of Jainism.
With the help of my father I additionally studied advanced Vedic grammar, the most ancient part of the Vedas known as the Samhitas, Sanskrit literature and some other yogic texts which were not taught at the ashram.
When did you started teaching and why did you decided to become a teacher?
After I completed writing a detailed Sanskrit commentary on Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, the classical text of advanced Sanskrit grammar, a work which was well-received by scholars from New York and abroad, my teacher commanded me to teach the work to the students at the ashram.
Subsequently, I also taught philosophy, which included logic and yoga. Even though the work of teaching was taken up on the command of my teacher, it became the work that I enjoy most.
The few hours of teaching is like a session of meditation for me in which I can forget everything because I have to focus on the subject at hand. It is the most beautiful time of my day.
I started teaching because my teachers wanted me to, but I decided to continue teaching till today, and hopefully till the end of my life, because I thoroughly enjoy it.
What is your favorite topic that you like to teach and why?
I love both topics which I teach – Yoga and Vedanta. I combine both philosophical systems in my teachings, a tendency which came into existence in the 12th century.
I like to teach these topics because all they tell us is about ourselves. They reveal to us a hidden, beautiful and extremely vast part of our being, of which we remain mostly oblivious.
While Vedanta constitutes the theoretical aspect of this wisdom, which I prefer to call “autology” (knowledge about the Self), Yoga constitutes the practical aspect of this wisdom.
My teaching sessions give me the opportunity to explore the depths of these teachings in the presence of my listeners. This work gives tremendous peace and satisfaction to my heart.
If there was one thing that you would like to transmit to your students, what would that be?
The universal principle of nonviolence which manifests in life as all-embracing friendliness and compassion.
In my understanding, even the purpose of practicing asanas is to develop the inner and outer strength and discipline required to adhere to these noble principles under challenging circumstances, and the purpose of meditation is to deeply ingrain them into one’s mind so that they become part of our very nature.
Vedanta provides us the theoretical basis for this journey of self-exploration and inner development. In this sense, these age-old teachings are still extremely meaningful and relevant in our modern times.
Where do you teach and how can your students connect with you?
Presently, I teach at my mother’s Iyengar Yoga Center in Omkarananda Ashram and at http://ikkemunandar.blogspot.com /2011/05/swami-rama-sadhaka-grama-ashram.html">Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh. Friends can listen to my classes on YouTube and remain connected on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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