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Showing posts from 2006

Bhagavad Gita: "Shut off your conscience and kill..."

My friend Shalagram Prabhu, who is about the most yogic of all the bhaktas I know, once told me that there is some debate amongst the yogis about which chakra is the most important, with some claiming precedence for the heart chakra over the more familiarly lauded sahasrara.

I have a strong tendency to associate mental speculation with spirituality. So, I tried to counteract that tendency today by meditating on the heart chakra while chanting japa. I was just trying to concentrate on the feeling of love and spreading it outward. Seeing my heart as the heart of a gopi.

{Oh my God! I’ve gone New Age! I feel a gag reaction setting in... Such things are best kept private...}

...but this really is what I have been intellectually moving toward. I repent that I never became a kirtaniya. Like a crab with an overdeveloped claw, I was obliged by my nature to cultivate a single part of my faculties, and have thus been deprived of wholeness due to that distortion. And this is why I say that on…

Enthusiasts and philosophers

Looked over yesterday's post... Blogging gives you a license to be incoherent; no editors, you know. I also see that all this commentary is likely meaningless to the majority of western Krishna devotees. This means only a very small minority of that ever-declining number is even a potential audience for what I have to say. And yet, I have no other audience...

If enthusiasts are relatively scarce, so also are philosophers... Those with a philosophical bent are perturbed by traditional utterances even before the existence of alternative traditions is revealed to them. They find to be obscure what "everyone" takes for granted, or they do not see what reason there is to take it for granted, or they see further implications or plausible corollaries of what is believed. Whether their particular bent is critical or speculative usually determines whether they become resident sceptics or imaginative metaphysicians. In neither case are they content to remain entirely within the tra…

The schema of three cultures

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Some notes that I jotted down in the bus after completing the last post. First, the schema of three cultures.
the conative (i.e. the will) → karma → virtue
the cognitive (i.e. the reason) → jnana → wisdom
the affective (i.e. the emotions) → bhakti (piety) → loveJust as adherence to duty does not necessarily result in virtue, the culture of knowledge does not necessarily result in wisdom, the culture of piety does not necessarily result in love.

In Western society, a romantic version of human love has become the dominant ideal expression of the affects. The hippie philosophy of love was a colossal failure, precisely because, even as the chivalrous romantics knew, human love requires spiritual refinement. The love of those who are not virtuous is often a sick, sorrowful thing. Just as sex has manifestations in the three modes of nature, so too does love.

Even so, the original romantic vision is that one is made virtuous by love. In the context of bhakti, this is also how the Vaishnavas see t…

Diksha Mantra

Om.
Sriji!
Purushottam!

O Krishna !
You pull me with this mantra
like a baby calf led by the nose,
like a deer enchanted by the hunter’s flute.
I come to you.

O Govinda !
You invade me with your mantra
you cling to me like a second skin
you weigh down my senses
with unbearable expectations.

You are in the Veda and in the cows,
You are in the world and in my senses.
You are in the mantra,
and still I must search for you.

O Gopijana ! O Radha ! O sakhis !
You flutter on every side of the mantra
like petals, effulgent and infinite.
You stand in the heart of the mantra
like pistils, golden guardians of the mead.

You are my gurus, I follow you,
I join you in your song, I sing this mantra.
It is you. It is yours.

O Vallabha! Beloved !
Beloved of the gopis,
Beloved of every soul !
Beloved of my soul!
You have come, O enchanter of Eros,
to tell me you have always been here,
present in the mantra.

Svaha!
I have reached the eighteenth syllable,
The charama shloka:
I throw my soul into the circle of flames,
the Rasa…

Like leaves to the ground

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I.

sadā rādhā-kṛṣṇocchalad-atula-khelā-sthala-yujaṁ
vrajaṁ santyajyaitad yuga-virahito’pi truṭim api |
punar dvārāvatyāṁ yadu-patim api prauḍha-vibhavaiḥ
sphurantaṁ tad-vācāpi ca na hi calāmīkṣitum api ||


Even if I am separated
from my beloved Lord and Lady
for an eon,
I will not abandon this land of Braj,
the site of their overflowing, unequalled play,
even for a moment.

No, I will not leave,
not even if the Lord of Dwarka,
with all his bloated opulences,
invites me himself.

I will not go
to even see what he looks like.

I won't.

II.



gatonmādai rādhā sphurati hariṇā śliṣṭa-hṛdayā
sphuṭaṁ dvārāvatyām iti yadi śṛṇomi śruti-taṭe |
tadāhaṁ tatraivoddhata-mati patāmi vraja-purāt
samuḍḍīya svāntādhika-gati-khagendrād api javāt ||

But yes, should I ever get wind
that Radha has completely lost her mind
and departed for Dwarka town,
and I hear rumors that she
is clinging fast to Krishna's chest,

in less than a moment I'll make up my mind,
I'll fly from Braj to join her,
t…

Virtue and Wisdom

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Immediately after finishing my last blog, I started thinking about this sentence: "Though material goals may not always be realistic, the goals of wisdom and virtue are available to all, whatever the specifics of one's life narrative."

This led me to the following realization: Virtue is the perfection of karma. Wisdom is the perfection of jnana. So why has bhakti, or better yet prema, not been mentioned? Evidently, the goal of piety (bhakti) is an "other worldly" goal, even though prema may be interpreted in a worldly fashion. However, prema in this sense may just as easily be seen as an aspect of virtue or wisdom.

If we understand virtue and wisdom in this way, then it is easy to see how one can be virtuous or wise without necessarily being pious. In other words, as the worldly moralists and philosophers never cease to point out, one need not believe in God in order to be virtuous or wise. On the other hand, we have seen all too clearly throughout history, that …

Narrative and Identity

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A few weeks ago, I believe I mentioned that I had started rereading Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, a collection of readings in ethics edited by Fred and Christina Sommers (Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1997). I have been finding almost every single article to be useful to some degree or another.

It seems that a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita taking into account all the various moral philosophers would make an interesting text. After all, the essential question of all ethics is, like Arjuna asked, "What should I do?" Arjuna's situation is meant to illustrate a most fundamental ethical quandary and a particular solution is offered, one that would be interesting to examine, verse by verse, in the light of developments in philosophical ethics. No doubt, someone has done it.

The latest article I have gone through is an excerpt from Alasdair Macintyre's After Virtue (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984). The article comes in chapter four, titled "Virtue.&qu…

Narrative and Identity

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A few weeks ago, I believe I mentioned that I had started rereading Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, a collection of readings in ethics edited by Fred and Christina Sommers (Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1997). I have been finding almost every single article to be useful to some degree or another.

It seems that a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita taking into account all the various moral philosophers would make an interesting text. After all, the essential question of all ethics is, like Arjuna asked, "What should I do?" Arjuna's situation is meant to illustrate a most fundamental ethical quandary and a particular solution is offered, one that would be interesting to examine, verse by verse, in the light of developments in philosophical ethics. No doubt, someone has done it.

The latest article I have gone through is an excerpt from Alasdair Macintyre's After Virtue (University of Notre Dame Press, 1984). The article comes in chapter four, titled "Virtue.&qu…

My personality type

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Ah, time. Such a commodity...

I spent today on the McGill campus, scouring the libraries for materials on Gaudiya Vaishnavism, in preparation for my course. Doing a lot of photocopying but I still haven't found the combination of materials that I am looking for. I was horrified to see how many of the books still had traces of my previous readings--unforgivable ethical lapses like highlight marker underlinings, indignant exclamation marks and the like.

One book that I picked up was that old favorite of mine, the Hare Krishna Personality Type, which was so striking when I first read it. It is strongly based on the Meyer-Briggs Personality Inventory, which divides the world into basically 16 personality types. One of the things that was so astonishing about this research was that it showed an overwhelming preponderence of two personality types in the Iskcon of the early 1980's: ISTJ and ESTJ (Introverted/Extroverted Sensing Thinking Judging). You can look these up on Google; there…

Five good things

I heard that people who get into the "three good things" end up finding way more than three good things each day. I think I am afraid to think of the good things because I want one thing so much more than anything else.

But I am going to accept my situation and wait for "Divine Intervention." It's nothing new: I've been reciting Mahaprabhu's words to Raghunath Das--krame krame pay lok bhava-sindhu-kul--for a long time. I am confident that Mahaprabhu has more waiting for me than sitting in this office. My mother-in-law recites that old proverb, "Il n'y a pas de sot métier, il n'y a que de sottes gens." Not that I consider this a métier, but wallowing does not behoove me, as I said.

In a bit of serendipity, one of the customer service people downstairs came up today carrying Daniel Coleman's latest book, Social Intelligence. In talking to the people working the floor, I have found that one is a jazz musician, another is a city planne…

Three good things and wallowing

A few days ago, the following story was making the rounds in the newspapers and the internet: Researchers seek routes to a happier life. The theory is that happiness or distress are all in the mind, a concept that will be familiar to Hindus. The tactic these psychologists have "discovered" is that by consciously meditating on three good things that happened to one at the end of each day, one accentuates the positive and becomes genuinely happier over the course of time.

This is, of course, the idea of self-satisfaction. One should be happy with one's lot--after all, was it not God or Destiny that put us here, and should we not cultivate santosh, or contentedness? And is it not a sign of spiritual poverty to be discontent? A hungry man experiences satisfaction, pleasure and the elimination of hunger as he eats, so does the devotee experience the corresponding bhakti (devotion), paresanubhava (direct experience of God) and viraktir anyatra (indifference elsewhere). And is i…

Delivering papers after a storm

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So much happens in a day, much of which would make fascinating blogging material. Anything is grist for a writer's or philosopher's mill, even for putative ones. For the past six months I have been delivering newspapers in the early morning hours. For not having performed mangal arati for years, I now spend my Brahma muhurtas throwing the latest prajalpa onto people's porches.

Yesterday was the first bit of real winter weather--freezing rain and violent winds. Observing the many Tempos (temporary winter car shelters) that had been blown away, the broken branches and collapsed trees or TV antennas (there are still a few of those around), I thought that there were plenty of interesting observations to make. But I will stick to my obsession...

Kant himself said that a philosopher is to be judged by the extent to which he lives his philosophy. I have already stated that I am not living by mine, and yet I cannot give it up. This means that I have feet of clay, or feet in cement,…

A little bit about my son

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Here it is Friday, already, and I never mentioned the concert I went to last Sunday. My son is now in his last year of high school and he has been singing with Les Petits Chanteurs de Mont-Royal since fourth grade. This is a choir that is associated with one of Montreal's most prominent landmarks, St. Joseph's Oratory. This large church, which adorns the hill that gives Montreal its name, can be seen from 50 kilometers away on a clear day. It is a strange sensation to have this kind of direct association with such a prominent landmark. As a result of his participation in this choir, Pavel has been able to go to one of the oldest and most prestigious private schools in the city, Collège Notre-Dame, which is just across the street from the Oratory. The picture that I posted here would be what my son sees every day when he steps out of the front door of his school.

Last Sunday, he and the rest of the boys in the choir participated in a concert of Mozart's Requiem at another o…

Kant and Moving Goalposts

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There are several questions left open here.

When I was reading Kant and his critics, I could not help but be reminded of Walter Kaufmann's comments on the Gita, in which he objected to the overwhelming pre-eminence of duty for its own sake, excluding all other rewards, which he found a dry and empty approach to life.

Kant also seems to think that if it doesn't hurt, if one doesn't find it a struggle to fight one's instincts in order to obey the categorical imperative of moral duty, then it is of no inherent value. Righteousness is its own reward. Kant does not hold out any transcendental joys, no heaven as compensation, but only a kind of sense of rational justification that comes to one who follows this impersonal categorical imperative. Neither does Kant think much of sentimental human motivation, i.e., love, as a rationale for moral action, for these things belong to the realm of the passions.

Of course, the Upanishads, in the bhūma-vidyā section of Bṛhad-āraṇyak…

An answer to the letter from a devotee

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Dear friend,

First of all, I want to express my sympathies to you for all you have gone through. Moreover, I would like to thank you, since it is clear to me that you were deeply affected by something I have written and wanted to share your experience with me. I was very moved. I will try not to disgrace myself by writing platitudes.

Who can count the ways, subtle and gross, in which Maya makes us suffer? Suffering is always personal, and reducing it to headers like adhibhautika, adhidaivika and adhyatmika or other categories seems to be of little help in unveiling its mysteries. But the miseries that come to us through nature, other creatures, or our own mind and body all contain, through the workings of the illusory potency, a mystification of agency.

Suffering comes to us through personal and impersonal agencies, just as do love and happiness, but the true and ultimate cause lies beyond them. All psychologists will tell you that forgiveness is an important step in healing, and forgive…

Letter from a devotee

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I received the following letter from a young devotee, which rather nicely illustrates the conflict. I will reserve comment for now, but I want to stress that the question has complex aspects, which I would like to continue discussing.

Radhe Radhe!
My father abandoned our family when I was only 5. It was an agony for him to stay. He was an artist - a musician, a bard in the classical sense. His muse and his heart demanded that he flee the family home and seek his fortune on the wide open road. Quite the romantic!

To this day I remain so fundamentally damaged from being abandoned by him that it infuses every aspect of my life. There is no situation so mundane, trivial, or grand that it escapes the filter of the absent father.

Dharma dictates various karmas. These karmas are unique to each person. Dharma is mysterious and hard to fathom. By following dharma one does not escape pain in this life nor karma in the next. It is simply done because it is dharma.

The pain and psychological wounds …

Whatever a man desires, that for him is his duty

I need to explain more what I mean by dharma. This is a continuing meditation on my own poem. When I reposted it, by some coincidence I reread the post I made about the Gita verse kāmo'smi bhāratarshabha. I was struck by the words from the Mahabharata (14.13.9-10)--

In this world, men do not commend a man whose very self is desire, and yet there can be no progress (pravritti) without desire, for the gift of alms, the study of the Veda, ascetic practice, and the Vedic sacrificial acts are all motivated by desire. Whoever knowingly undertakes a religious vow, performs sacrifice or any other religious duty, or engages in the spiritual exercise of meditation without desire does all this in vain. Whatever a man desires, that is to him his duty (dharma). It cannot be sound to curb one's duty.
"Whatever a man desires, that is to him his duty."

This describes, of course, the idea of Berüf or vocation. Prabhupada once said, "Find Krishna in the direction of your service.&…