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Book Review: "Conversations With Maharishi Volume 1" by Dr. Vernon Katz

Review by Andrea Pflaumer

For quite a long time before - and especially immediately after - Maharishi Mahesh Yogi took his Mahasamadhi in 2008, there had been talk among his followers about publishing their personal, often miraculous, stories about events that resulted from being in his presence. But for Maharishi it was always the Vedic knowledge alone - imparting it and using it as a path to experience life's highest values - that he valued most about the master/disciple relationship. Now, with the publication of Dr. Vernon's Katz' Conversations With Maharishi: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Speaks about the Full Development of Human Consciousness, Volume I, the personal as well as the profound are shared in this charming and thoroughly engaging book.

Katz first encountered Maharishi in the early 1960's while at Cambridge University, working on his PhD thesis on the Bhagavad Gita. Through his academic connections, Katz associated with various would-be luminaries from the Indian spiritual community, most of whom he found lacking. But all that changed when, through the urging of a visiting scholar and friend, he met Maharishi and was instructed in the meditation technique that soon created a wave of spiritual regeneration around the world. That was the beginning of a more than 40-year relationship between teacher and not-always-willing student. It was one ripe with profound insight and deep mutual affection. With his new master as mentor, Katz assisted on Maharishi's translation of the Gita and later encouraged him to write a commentary on the Brahma Sutras. It is the conversations about the sutras that make up the content of this book.

Dr. Katz's charm and honesty comes through every page, weaving the same self-effacing humor he brought to his touching memoir The Blue Salon: and Other Follies, the story of his family's escape from Nazi Germany just prior to World War II. Interspersed with passages revealing the profound depth of Maharishi's knowledge of the Veda are evocative descriptions of the spectacular environs - from Squaw Valley, California to Dal Lake, Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley - in which these conversations took place. We are also introduced to the early cast of characters that played an important part in the founding of Maharishi's international Transcendental Meditation organization.

Through transcripts of Katz' extensive recordings and notes, we gain insight into the workings of this great master's mind and the force that motivated his tireless work: "Day and night, day and night, I think only of how to relieve the suffering of the world quickly."

But most importantly we receive a brilliant tutorial in Vedic knowledge. As with so much of his teaching, Maharishi took a dense and enormously complex body of material - the Brahma Sutras as written by Adi Shankara - and made it completely accessible. As Katz emphasizes, previous translators focused on the grammar of these sutras, but Maharishi turned that procedure upside down: "If I had studied a lot of Sanskrit I would have taken the same view, fallen into the same rut. (Laughter) So we go by the vision and not the grammar. We don't lose the grammar. So long as we have the vision we will be able to translate Shankara very profoundly."

If the reader will forgive the analogy, Katz plays a kind of comic Carlos Castaneda to Maharishi's don Juan, making the reader privy to Katz' stubborn and 'argumentative turn of mind' while the patient and amused Maharishi plays intellectual aikido with Katz' academically ingrained beliefs. But rather than dismissing Katz, he beautifully supports and explains the value of their relationship. In a chapter entitled "On The Nature and Purpose of Discussion" he expounds on the significance of questioning: " . . it's necessary to go in detail into all the relative values, and when we consider relative values the range of the relative will reach the farthest negativity . . it's through questions, repeated questions . . doubts, challenges, furies . . that is born enlightenment of the truth . . if the truth will satisfy that farthest negative point, then it's really omnipresent truth."

Because of Conversations With Maharishi, Volume I, future generations will learn about the greatness of this giant of Vedic knowledge whose contribution to the analysis of Vedic wisdom was his Aparasheya Bhasya - 'unconstructed commentary,' the understanding that each package of knowledge is an automatically unfolding elaboration of what came before. A must read, Conversations goes a long way toward fulfilling the wish of many a seeker who yearned to receive darshan at the feet of the master. It also reminds those of us who were able to receive his darshan just how fortunate we were. We can't wait for Volume II.

This book is available at MUM Press.

(c) copyright 2011 Michael Laughrin

From the August/September 2011 issue of Michael Laughrin's North American Jyotish Newsletter. Click to subscribe to this free Jyotish newsletter.

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