Join professor of Hinduism, Dr. Edwin Bryant, and a global cohort of students, for this unique opportunity to explore the teachings and tales of Bhakti Yoga from the Bhāgavatapurāṇa.
For many, yoga in real-life India is essentially bhakti yoga. Traditionally, Hindus have not learned their yogic world view from dense philosophical texts like the Yogasūtras, but from the colorful and popular narratives of yoga tales derived from a genre of Sanskrit texts called the Purāṇas. It is in these texts that bhakti yoga, the path of devotion, is outlined and exemplified, and it is through these Purāṇic tales and legends percolating across the Indian subcontinent since well before the common era that Hinduism has spread and remained vibrant across the centuries (and where the source material for Hindu poetry, song, architecture, drama, dance and other aesthetic traditions is to be found).
From the 18 ‘great’ Purāṇas, the Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa, literally ‘the Beautiful Legend of God,’ is by far the most important, since it is the primary textual source containing the full account of Kṛṣṇa’s life. Indeed, this makes it one of the two most important texts in Hinduism, along with the Rāmāyaṇa, in terms of “on the ground Hinduism” (rather than its exported forms in the West).
The Bhāgavatapurāṇa is focused exclusively on īśvara-praṇidhāna — the various modes of bhakti, devotion, to Īśvara, God (also known as Bhagavān), specifically in the forms of Nārāyaṇa/Viṣṇu/Kṛṣṇa. It is the principal Sanskrit textual source dedicated to the accounts of Lord Viṣṇu’s incarnations and activities, and to the lives and practices of the most famous yogi exemplars who dedicated their lives to seeking and experiencing the ultimate Truths of the individual ātman, self, and its loving relationship with a personal God. Many of the teachings of the Yogasūtras and the Bhagavadgītā are to be found in these narratives, along with so much more, but in far more theologically developed ways, all embodied in the form of charming yet philosophically profound tales that capture the heart and mind — the goal of bhakti.
This online course will consist of a close-reading of a selection of the most famous bhakti yoga stories and teachings from the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, focusing on the amazing lives of some of the best known yogis of yore and their astonishing yoga practices. The course will culminate in reading some of the līlās, episodes, in Kṛṣṇa’s early life that make him one of the most beloved forms of Bhagavān in India. Constant reference will be made to the Yogasūtras, as well as the Bhagavadgītā and Vedānta philosophy so as to show the interconnectedness of these canonical texts and traditions.
The core readings for the course will come from Dr. Bryant's book, Bhakti Yoga: Tales and Teachings from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017). Purchase of the book is optional but recommended. Students will be provided with PDFs of the relevant sections.
Each Module also includes: recommended weekly readings, a PDF handout, and optional quiz.
Edwin Bryant received his Ph.D in Indic languages and Cultures from Columbia University. He taught Hinduism at Harvard University for three years, and is presently the professor of Hinduism at Rutgers University where he teaches courses on Hindu philosophy and religion. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, published eight books, and authored a number of articles on the earliest origins of Vedic culture, yoga philosophy, and the Kṛṣṇa tradition. These include Bryant’s translation of and commentary on The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009), and more recently its sequel entitled Bhakti Yoga: Tales and Teachings from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017).
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