Pronunciation Lessons are Complete!

by Priya Lori Kenney,  based on an interview with Swami Nirmalananda

“I’m done! Hurray!” Swamiji sums up her elation after completing Pronunciation Lessons for Shree Guru Gita very succinctly! All 182 verses have been recorded and the few remaining unposted verses will be edited for background noise and on-line by the end of the year. Swamiji has also recorded pronunciation lessons for the introductory mantras and those will be available soon as well. She thought this was going to be a six-month project, but as many projects go, it turned into a one-year endeavor.

Swami Nirmalananda wants to explain what motivated her to undertake the daunting task of doing a 20-30 minute pronunciation lesson every day for each of the 182 verses of the Guru Gita. “It says in the text that you should make a copy of the Guru Gita and give it to somebody.” (Verse 131) She goes on, “I have known many people who have done this -- handwritten the Sanskrit and English in a beautiful blank book and pasted in photographs and drawn in beautiful, artistic ornamentation like peacock feathers and swans. I’ve seen so many really beautiful handmade books where somebody made a copy of the Guru Gita to give to someone else but I’ve never seen anyone chanting from one of those!”

Swamiji puts this command in context, “When Shiva told Parvati that she should make a copy of this beautiful text and give it to somebody, it was a couple thousand years before Gutenberg invented the printing press. The only way to make the text available to somebody else was if you sat down and copied it. That was a very important way of preserving the teachings and disseminating them to others for millennia. I considered doing that but it seemed like it would be self-indulgent. It would be about me making something pretty, a personal expression of creativity, but the personal part about how I make it look, that’s what I wanted to avoid, because I know it’s not about that. I contemplated this for years and mulled it over. How can I make a copy of Shree Guru Gita to give to somebody else that really supports their sadhana, their process of Self-discovery?”

Muktananda had already introduced hundreds of thousands of people to the text and had it printed in books which continue to be printed and sold by SYDA Foundation. After much contemplation about what she could do to honor this command given by Shiva, Swamiji realized there was a way of supporting people’s experience of the text by teaching them how to pronounce the Sanskrit. That became especially clear when she led the Guru Gita chant at the Ashram. She would be the only one chanting it, with everyone else goodheartedly stumbling through it, sometimes dissolving into laughter. This was going to take a long time! Knowing how long it took her to learn the Guru Gita, Swamiji decided to embark on the pronunciation lessons to “make it easier for those who really want to dive in deeper. And I could follow the command of sharing the Guru Gita in this way.”

Swamiji sums up her dedication to easing the way for all of us with the following quote. It comes from an introduction in one of Paramhansa Pranavadarshan’s books, when he’s talking about the Guru:

"After all, what is the point of understanding this knowledge of one's Real Self if it does not provide guidance all the way in one's actions or karma to the final destiny or the conquering of The 'Word' (knowing of the Self)."

As you might guess, Swamiji is not putting the Guru Gita on the shelf. She is delighted to report that she will be immersing herself in this holy chant for at least another year! She is embarking on another project that will illuminate our understanding of this beautifully mysterious text.