Gloria Arieira, a Brazilian, was awarded Padma Shri in 2020 by the Government of India for pioneering contributions she made in Sanskrit Studies and Vedanta literature.
An authority in Sanskrit, she has translated the Bhagawad Gita and parts of the Vedas into Portuguese and has established Vidya Mandir, a school of Vedanta studies in the city of Copacabana, near the famous seaside city of Rio de Janeiro.
A disciple of Swami Chinmayananda, and Swami Dayananda Saraswathi, Gloria’s initiation into the world of spirituality happened in 1973 when she heard a talk on Vedanta by Swami Chinmaya-nanda in Rio de Janiero. She felt that her search for the greater meaning of life was answered. In order to delve deep into the philosophy of the Vedas, living in the Chinmaya Ashram in Mumbai (Powai), she studied Hindu scriptures. “It was a simple life and I felt at ease,” recalls Gloria. She believes that at the start of this journey itself she was able to identify herself with the food, people and the way of life of Bharat.
Having mastered the language of Sanskrit, Gloria translated the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads into Portuguese. Day by day, the number of her students increased and she started taking classes in Sanskrit, Portuguese and English. “I could clearly see a change in my students. They were beginning to enjoy the goodness and greatness in these scriptures. Vedic studies had become popular,” she says.
Gloria dresses like an Indian. The course followed at the school is an initial study on Tatthva Boddha of Sree Sankara and then the Bhagwad Gita. Earlier in 1996, she had visited the char dhams, along with her group and in 2007, they went on a pilgrimage to Gangotri, Gomukh and Badrinath.
Gloria, 58, is married and has three children. Her husband is a yoga teacher and her family is proud of her work and value the Vedic tradition. Every Friday at Vidya Mandir, Professor Henrique Castro, a disciple of Swami Dayananda performs Saraswati puja. The Ashram celebrates all Indian festivals.
Gloria belongs to the ‘parampara’ or lineage of the women Vedic experts – the great lineage of Gargi, Ghosha, Lopamudra and Maitreyi. Excerpts from an exclusive interview she had with Pradeep Krishnan through Skype.
Gloria ji, at the outset, congratulations on Bharat honouring you with Padma Shri award. How do you feel?
I feel very honoured to receive the Padma Shri Award 2020 from the Government of India.
Please tell us about yourself.
I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a family of four children. Because of my father’s work, we had the opportunity to travel and live outside the country for a few years. Although my mother tongue is Portuguese, I could speak English from a very young age. I studied in a college in Brazil, before going to India.
How did you encounter Sanathana Dharma? What was the turning point in your life?
I met Swami Chinmayananda in 1973 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he was invited to give two lectures. Hearing and meeting Swamiji, I realised that Vaidika Dharma was what I was looking for. The vision of Vedas was nowhere else to be found. Listening to Swamiji’s first talk was the turning point in my life as on that day itself, I made the decision to study Vedanta from him.
What was the reason for taking up a spiritual path?
Though I had no problems in life, I was searching for the meaning of life. Although my family is Christian, I did not find any meaning in Christianity or in any other religious tradition. There were no clear or logical explanations for the understanding of God or for the meaning of life and much less for the reality of the individual. But all became very clear as I came in contact with Vaidika Dharma.
Please tell us about your Gurus and your close interactions with them. Briefly tell us what you learnt from each one of them.
When I talked to Swami Chinmayanandaji about my desire to study under him, he advised me to visit the Chinmaya Ashram in India, where, at that time, late Swami Dayanandaji was the acharya at the gurukulam. From Chinmayanandaji I learnt to focus on the main goal of life and how to work towards achieving it. He used to say that though there would be problems in life and people will criticise us, one need not suffer because of this. He advised us to work for one’s priorities and to endure happily whatever comes. He was very supportive of me and had the trust that I was in the right place at the right time. I now feel very lucky for getting his guidance.
Swami Dayanandaji taught me Vedanta and Sanatana Dharma. He convinced me that Vedanta is not a religion that one has to believe, rather it is a pramanam, a means of knowledge to know the reality of I, God and the world, which is the one Brahman. Swamiji made me clearly understand Ishvara (God) and the identity of jiva and Ishvara, explained in the mahavakya “tat tvam asi”.
I learnt the importance of karmayoga (yoga of work), that considers the phalam (result) as coming from Ishvara as prasad. I could understand that value becomes valuable only when it is valued by you, as Swami ji used to say. I also realized that bhakti is not merely what one does, but the attitude with which that is done. Through my Gurus, I came to know of Sri Sankara and his commentaries on Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma sutras. Sri Sankara´s explanations on Advaita Vedanta are so clear that one has to appreciate him and to have gratitude for his life and works.
Since meeting them, my Gurus have been with me always in my mind. I bow my head not only in gratitude but also for the knowledge acquired from them that has made my daily life different.
What was the reason for dedicating your Padma Shri award to Sri Sankaracharya?
Yes, I consider Sri Sankaracharya as the greatest teacher of Advaita Vedanta. His treatise on the Shastras made it possible for everyone to understand Vedanta. Thanks to Him, the Sampradaya is still alive. No one can comprehend Advaita Vedanta without studying his bhashyams.
Critics are of the view that Vedanta deals with the other world and hence not suitable to the modern days?
Advaita Vedanta addresses reality; paramarthika-sattya, absolute reality or Brahman, vyavaharika-sattya, relative reality or the world and pratibhasika-sattya, the subjective reality. Vedanta deliberates on oneself; immutable and always existent. It is a misconception that Vedanta talks about the other world. It teaches the reality of oneself so that accepting the limitations of the universe as natural and inevitable, one can lead a peaceful life. Unless one knows the reality, there will always be illusion and disillusion.
What is the impact of teaching Vedanta in Brazil? How are Brazillians taking to Vedanta studies?
After his first visit in 1978, late Swami Dayanandaji visited Brazil several times to teach Vedanta to the public. Since 1979, I have been teaching Vedanta, Sanskrit and Sanatana Dharma in Portuguese. I have translated several books of Vedanta into Portuguese. In 1984, we started a Study Center called Vidya Mandir in Copacabana in the heart of the city of Rio de Janeiro. There we hold Vedanta and Sanskrit classes, as also teach chanting, puja, meditation, etc. These Vedanta classes and study groups have spread all over the country as well as in Portugal. Interestingly, there are several teachers of Vedanta in these two countries.
How can one make ‘Vedanta’ practical in one’s day to day life?
Vedanta gives one knowledge of reality. What is real and immutable, called sat and what is in constant transformation and therefore not real, asat. To make life practical, one must have clarity about oneself and what is real and what is unreal. When one lives with clarity, life becomes easy and less problematic. If there is no clarity, it results in confusion and illusion, making life difficult. Vedanta deals with the sufferings and sense of limitation and inadequacy peculiar to a human being. Vedanta recognizes this fundamental human problem but says it comes from not understanding our real nature. So, in the light of Vedanta, the human problem is due to ignorance about oneself and the world, and the solution is knowledge. Therefore, Vedanta helps all human beings, independent of their origin, place and time of birth, in clearly understanding the fundamental problem and going for a proper solution.
What is unique about Sanskrit? Do you support making Sanskrit the national language and Bhagavad Gita the national text of India?
Sanskrit is the language in which all the Shastras are available. It is a perfect language and it is structured very scientifically through clear knowledge of dhatus, the roots of the verbs. The rules of grammar are beautifully given logically by the great grammarian Panini through sutras like mathematical formulae. Studying Sanskrit is a privilege as it helps one to organize his mind and thinking. As the whole world is discovering the importance of Sanskrit, Bharat has to protect Sanskrit. Being the Mother of all Indian languages, the study of Sanskrit helps one to understand any other language better. In the Portuguese language, we do not have such clear and logical rules unlike in Sanskrit.
I am sure Bhagavad Gita should be declared as the national text of India. If India does not give the importance the Bhagavad Gita deserves, the rest of the world will be soon be deprived of the unique teachings.
World over Hindu philosophy is gaining wider acceptance. However, strangely in India, teaching/studying Sanksrit, Hindu texts such as Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, etc are considered anti-secular. Your comments?
It is a pity. Since foreigners ruled India for so many years, they forcibly removed the value of Sanatana Dharma from every sphere of life. However, as the West is discovering its importance, soon India shall appreciate Hindu knowledge and culture and protect it as its own. The Vedas are the basis of Hindu culture and as such has to be appreciated and learnt by all. All arts, science, etc of India came originally from the Vedas, which are the roots of Hindu philosophy. That is the difference between India and all other countries. That is why India is unique and draws attention to the whole world.
Nowadays, some Hindu spiritual leaders make it a point to tell that all religions are the same. However, Christian and Muslim religious leaders/ scholars assert that ‘salvation’ is possible only through their chosen path. Your comments?
All religions are not the same and they are not supposed to be so. Though God is only one, religions look at it differently. But religions, that which connects human being with God, are different since each has a separate vision about an individual, God, world and salvation.
In this aspect, Vedas are unique as it teaches that man does not need salvation, rather he must attain Moksha, i.e. is realising the knowledge of who you are. While most of the religions keep the devotee under its control and power, Vedas proclaim that one is born free. That is why Hindu tradition does not keep the devotees under control. One can either go to temples or can build a temple at home. In Hinduism, one is not considered a sinner who has to seek pardon from God and there is no one to judge. I feel that Hindu Dharma has to be properly taught so that Hindus will understand it better.
Besides, if a God conveys only through one religion, why is there so many sufferings in the world? Is this God so partial? Who needs such a God? Instead of swallowing petty ideas, one must be intelligent enough to study and understand the reality.
We have been continuously destroying planet earth by our actions? What is the solution? Even though we worship the river Ganga, at several places it has been completely polluted. Why this paradox? While Hindus worship the rivers/mountains/trees, we indiscriminately act against Mother Nature. What is the solution?
Actions of human beings can be either dharma or adharma. Because of too much ambition, we have become so selfish and hence forget what is best for us all. When ambition and self-interest become unbearable, Nature makes changes. This has been happening all over the world.
The country and its people have to discover the value of its rich culture and heritage and must take initiatives to protect it. In India, the problems become difficult to solve because of overpopulation. Patience and clarity are needed. Leaders have to focus on the people and the country not on their small group interest and immediate apparent solutions.
What can we do to build a strong, united and culturally vibrant Bharath?
Own the great tradition of the rishis, see its uniqueness and protect it. To protect dharma is to protect those that protect dharma and to keep it alive through teaching and a life based on dharma. Sanatana Dharma aka Hindu Dharma, is what makes the core of Bharat. No one religion can claim superiority over the other. While one must have every right to choose one’s religion, one must not have the freedom to convert others to his religion. That is disrespect; that is violence.
Your message to our readers?
Be proud to have been born in a country, where this tradition, Vaidika Dharma, is still alive and available for anyone. You are inheritors of a great tradition of knowledge – the Vedas. Nowhere else does such a glorious and rich tradition exist. Only when one understands the value of Sanathana Dharma, one will come forward to protect and preserve it, though there might be some problems.
I wish you all well. Mangalam astu. Harih om!