On Wednesday, February 3rd, author and filmmaker Joshua Greene will be teaching a workshop called A Brief History of Everything at the Integral Yoga Institute. In his inimitable way, Greene will weave the Vedic creation story, with the concepts of quantum physics, into a whole new way of understanding reality. And all of this in two hours!
What should we expect to get out of it? Nothing less than a new understanding of reality and the means of accessing it—yoga and meditation! Perfect. I sat down with Greene to get the scoop.
Lisa Dawn Angerame: Hello dear teacher. If anyone can teach the history of everything in two hours it is you. But how is it possible?
Joshua Greene: The title of the lecture is actually misleading. The real topic is not the history of everything, but the future of everything. That’s where yoga comes in.
LDA: So what is it really about?
JG: It’s about the human condition and how it has evolved since the dawn of time. It can be printed on a T-shirt—aham brahma’smi. “I am spirit.” Anyone can understand the difference between their consciousness and their body. We know intuitively we are more than flesh and bones. We remember being in a child’s body, which is now gone, but the spirit endures. Where did it come from? Why did we migrate from our immortal state to the temporal bodies we currently inhabit? The rest—evolution over the course of cosmic time, the coming and going of dynasties, empires, civilizations—is detail.
LDA: That detail is in the Vedic creation story?
JG: Yes, it is from the Puranas, the Sanskrit histories. When souls choose to turn from their natural state of union with divinity, they need some place to go apart from divinity. So the world comes into being. How it happens is fascinating, with subtle elements giving rise to grosser elements, forming universes and the diversity of life forms.
The story of the first being, Brahma, is retold in Brahma Samhita. In 1970, George Harrison recorded “The Prayer of Brahma” with the London Symphony Orchestra and released on The Radha Krishna Temple album. You can find it on YouTube under the title “Govinda.”
LDA: Going to check that out! Tell me about the alternate reality.
JG: Awareness of that eternal or alternate reality unfolds in gradual stages of realization. It starts with small things. Once you begin to honor yourself as a spark of the divine, you begin seeing the divinity of all life. Your attitude toward other people shifts. You become more understanding of the struggle those other souls are going through in their embodied state, just as you struggle.
LDA: What does that look like in practice?
JG: It generates compassion—not just toward humans, but towards life in all its forms. You become more respectful of nature as a manifestation of the divine. Meals become times for reflection and an important part of yoga practice. You might find yourself able to listen more attentively to coworkers and family. So it starts in these simple ways.
LDA: Does it get more complex than that?
JG: Gradually, serious practitioners—those who do theirjapa and study every day without fail—become aware of that same divinity as a palpable presence in their heart. God becomes more than an abstract idea, but a person dwelling within us, a constant companion and source of inspiration. There are higher stages of this alternate reality
LDA: Your guru, right?. I will come back to that. But first, how do yoga and meditation work on us to access that alternate reality?
JG: At first in rather simple ways. Just sit and breathe—like a parent telling a naughty child, “Go to your room and sit and think about what you have done.” You have to calm down. I’m afraid social media has made even that simple exercise terribly difficult for many people. We get up in the morning and start emailing. If you can discipline yourself to step away from external distractions, that’s a good beginning. But then you have to have something to replace those distractions with.
LDA: Like what?
JG: Trying to “empty your mind” really doesn’t work very long. Consciousness is active; life is for living not renouncing. There has to be a positive alternative to the material distractions. Proper reading of the Sanskrit texts, in particular the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, lead to an understanding that we, the life force in the body, have shape and form. We are not formless energy. The soul has a life, an active life of love and devotion. So the answer to your questions has two parts: practice and study.
LDA: And if we are able to switch our consciousness to this new level, how can we maintain whatever we can gain from the experience?
JG: These are excellent questions but do not have facile, short answers. For each individual, the shift in consciousness is unique. How I progress is different from how you progress, because each of us is the product of unique circumstances. We confront past events, sadness, harmful habits, fears, and self-doubt. What may seem easy for one person is very difficult for someone else.
LDA: So then it is back to practice and study.
JG: Yes, the good news is that chanting, meditation, study, and, most importantly, keeping good company—sanga—work for everyone. We may not understand how a medicine cures a disease, but if we take it, it will work. Same with these practices. The challenge is to keep going, even if success does not come right away. That much faith we need to have, that if I continue with this sadhana, daily practice, it will have the desired effect in due course of time.
LDA: You have written a new book about your guru Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, which will be published soon. What made you want to tell this story?
JG: Students would ask, “Do you have something I can read about your teacher?” They needed something that told his life story and also explained the basics of his teachings, in a single volume. So, while writing Swami in a Strange Land, I wanted readers to come away with five conclusions. One: “I see now. I’m not my body.” Two: “I get it—God is a person.” Three: “”Now I understand what a real guru is.” Four: “This person came for me—I’m involved in his story.” And five: “I’d like to read some of his books.”