Monday, July 31, 2006

Achintya-bhedabheda: Being and Becoming

Recently I was set thinking by a comment someone made about my earlier post in which I stated that I was the "worst of teachers." That person intimated that I was just feeling sorry for myself and being self-indulgent, etc.

In the blogging universe the line between public and private is often blurred. Even so, it is not my intention to make this blog a place for this kind of self-indulgence. That being said, however, there is a very real connection between our lives and our ideas. Srila Prabhupada condemned the "armchair philosophers" who led dissipated lives while pontificating on lofty matters of meaning and morality.

Hypocrisy is not just the domain of these philosophers, however. There are many gurus and spiritual leaders who take shelter in hagiography, and would impose their own sanitized life stories on their disciples, in which the miracle of their own spiritual genius is the result of an epiphany that takes place in a rush of glory, or that they are a descent from the spiritual realms whose divine nature was uncovered in a moment like the switching on of a light, etc.

I personally don't agree with this approach. Myth does not need to be written like a Jack and Jill primer. We need to be able to see God and the guru in a much more nuanced way than this. The spiritual path is one that is full of discovery and challenge, but it is a very human one. The fact that one's guru may have had to struggle can be rather more meaningful and inspiring than seeing him as a kind of Viceroy parachuted in by the Imperial Throne.

In fact, through acintya-bhedābheda, both these dramatic scenarios are a simultaneous reality. The Guru is the window to the Divine, and it does not really matter what he is or has been in human terms: the very fact that the Light shines through him or her means that he or she is the Light.

The same truth applies to our personal situation: we are simultaneously being and becoming. As eternal sparks of the Divine, we are immutable and unchangeable. We are now what we have ever been, even though we have not always been conscious of it. According to the doctrine of being, we need only to remember, to look inside ourselves, and we will be in touch with this sac-cid-ānanda nature.

On the other hand, there is the side of us that is in a constant state of becoming. This is the model of the bird flying in the unlimited sky, of swimming across an infinite ocean. This is the path of bhakti, exemplified by Radha and Krishna's love of eternal competition.

man-mādhurya rādhāra prema doṅhe hoḍa kari
kṣaṇe kṣaṇe bāḍhe doṅhe keha nāhi hāri
There is constant competition between my sweetness and the mirror of Radha's love. They both go on increasing, but neither knows defeat. (CC 1.4.142)
Both these dimensions exits in us all simultaneously. A Ramachandra Puri cannot see how a devotee can lament the absence of Krishna when Krishna is constantly present within him. And even the gopis rebuked Krishna himself for suggesting that he was present with them when all they perceived was his absence. But this is the undeniably paradoxical situation in which we find ourselves.

As simultaneously one and different from Krishna, we are both saved and seemingly damned simultaneously. But of the two, it is the great adventure that is the source of the greatest joy. This is the extremely important lesson of the "world is real" doctrine. The dynamism of service to God has its basis in the fundamental state of oneness, but mere identity is nothing more than a drop in the ocean of bliss, which is experienced in the midst of ups and downs that can appear to the outsider like a lack of spiritual depth. The devotee may bob on the waves of the ocean's surface, but he has a good idea of its depth and its breadth.

Faith has its basis in the "Ground of Being." The devotee finds his resources in the knowledge of his unbound oneness with Krishna, whether he knows it intellectually or emotionally. This is where the strength comes from to go on in the face of apparent devastation and those long dark nights of the soul. The job is never finished. So what? Siddhi is a moving goalpost that is experienced incrementally through many lifetimes. Mahaprabhu prays, mama janmani janmanīśvare--"I am ready to take many births. However long it takes."

There is that nice story about Mukunda Datta, who was tested by Mahaprabhu during the Great Revelation in Nabadwip. Mahaprabhu said he would withhold his mercy from Mukunda for a million births. Rather than making Mukunda despondent, however, this news sent him into paroxysms of joy, for he had heard from the Lord himself that one day he would be blessed.

We are already blessed. We will be more blessed with the passage of every minute, for Mahaprabhu's blessings are not the charity of a passer-by who throws a few coins into our empty cup. Mahaprabhu's blessings are the open road to the discovery of infinite love. Do not despair. Drink deep from the well of faith, which you will find by looking inward, by calling out the Name and touching the Soul of your soul.

My saying that I was the "worst of teachers" came in a spasm of distress. The room for improvement seems infinite--and of course it is. The goals I have set for myself seem far too grand and I am weak and scatter-brained. But that was not what really set me off. I have "come out" as a Sahajiya, and yet it seems to me that I am not practicing in the classical sense, as even I conceive of it.

And yet, today I realized that this too was the result of my own misunderstanding. The word sahaja is best translated as "natural." This is why Sahajiyaism is closer to that kind of rāganugā bhakti that is rather blasé about external rules and regulations.

Sahajiyaism is a state of being possessed. It is about riding a wave of emotion towards the Divine Couple. It is not a conscious, deliberately disciplined, well-defined path that one treads like a commuter on his way to work on the motorway. It is more like the leaf that falls into the raging river on its way to the ocean, or a dandelion puff carried along in a rush of wind.

It is lila. The life of the sādhaka is as much a lila as Krishna with the gopis. And Krishna, as we never tire of repeating, cedes his Godship to Yogamaya so that he can taste the bliss of being carried along by forces beyond his control--forces that are ultimately not just benign, but designed to reveal ever greater bliss and beatitude.

mo viṣaye gopī gaṇera upapati bhāve
yogamāyā karibeka āpana prabhāve
āmi-o nā jāni tāhā nā jāne gopī gaṇa
duṅhāre rūpa guṇe nitya hare duṅhāra mana
dharma cāḍi rāge duṅhāra karaye milana
kabhu mile kabhu nā mile daivera ghaṭana
Yogamaya influences the gopis to think of me as their paramour. Neither the gopis nor I myself know that we are under Yogamaya's control; we are simply attracted forcibly by each other's beauty and qualities. The gopis abandon all their religious duties out of love for me, and yet we are not always able to meet; sometimes we do, sometimes we do not. Everything is in the hands of Fate. (CC 1.4.29-31)
God is the seat of all contradictions. Can God create a weight that he cannot lift? Can he be omniscient and yet not know what will happen? This is the paradoxical God that we Gaudiya Vaishnavas believe in. But by glorifying his helplessness in love, we are in fact glorifying that very state of helplessness and dependence in ourselves.

We serve the Divine Love without knowing whether we will be successful or not, without knowing the destination of that love, that rāga. We are dragged along by these uncontrollable forces. But have faith, the devotee never perishes, because he knows that these terrible, powerful hands are still the hands of Love. This is what Krishna means in the Gita when he says:

īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ hṛd-deśe'rjuna tiṣṭhati
bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā
tam eva śaraṇaṁ gaccha sarva-bhāvena bhārata
tat-prasādāt parāṁ śāntiṁ sthānaṁ prāpsyasi śāśvatam
The Supreme Controller sits in the heart of every creature, O Arjuna. Using his Maya, he causes all creatures to wander through life as though they were strapped into a mechanical contraption. So take shelter of him with all your being, O Bharata. By his grace, you will attain the highest peace and the eternal abode. (Gita 18.61-62)
Faith, helplessness and love. Holding on and letting go. Simultaneously.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Sādhikā as Guru Tattva: Breaking out of Solipsism

In a previous posting, I used the expression “The Other came to me as Woman” twice. I think it is important to discuss what I meant here in connection with the question of strī-saṅga.

Generally speaking, it would not be an understatement that, for the sādhaka, the world is a fearful thing. As for the Buddha, whose four noble truths begin with the word “misery,” the perception is that birth, old age, disease and death haunt us and incessantly reduce all our efforts in this world to mere vanity. Thus, nearly every religion starts with some kind of movement away from the world and harbors persistent monastic movements where other-worldly values are given preeminence. Rather than calling this a movement away, it may be more correct to call it a movement within.

Nevertheless, though on this stage preoccupation with the perishable is seen as a waste of time, with a change in spiritual perceptions, the position of the external world is eventually raised again. Mystics who find union with God generally agree that, in one way or another, the world also has transcendent value. It is to emphasize this that I place so much importance on the Vaishnava theological position that accepts the reality of the world.

Religions in general (and Vedantists in particular) have a subjective idealist position in relation to the world. That is, they take consciousness as primary and phenomena as secondary. This is in diametric opposition to the empiricists, who take it as an axiom that consciousness is a byproduct of matter.

The monist (or indeed any idealist) sees the phenomenal world as a product of his own consciousness, which is the only reality. When he utters the Upanishadic motto: tat tvam asi, he literally means that phenomena exist only in his head. There are, evidently, less solipsistic versions of Advaita Vedanta, but this is the meaning of brahma satyam, jagan mithyā. The Vedantic idea of identity of Brahma and Atma, i.e., "In the deepest caverns of my being, that which I find is the same Truth that is the universal, all-pervading Ground of Being, existing in infinity," means to the monist that there is no distinction between self and other: "I am that."

Vaishnava Vedanta starts from the same premise, "All I can really know is that I am conscious." However, Vaishnavas accept the fundamental distinction between consciousness and that of which one is conscious, as subject and object. Indeed, "I am that" is true in the sense that I am part of that Whole; nevertheless, no matter how deep I go into myself, I always find Another. There is another bird sitting in this tree. No matter how far I go out into infinity, there is always something beyond. Furthermore, I can only know this Other when it mercifully decides to penetrate my solipsistic, self-centered view.

nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhyo
na medhayā na bahunā śrutena
yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyas
tasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanuṁ svām
This Self cannot be attained through speeches, nor through brainwork, nor through extensive study. That person will attain the Self whom the Self chooses. To him, the Self uncovers his own form. (Katha Upanishad)
For the Freudians, the external other is called the “reality principle.” Freud saw the child as a real solipsistic bundle of urges. The mouth, anus and genital would progressively become the focal points of consciousness, and with each of these stages, reality would impose the awareness that mere desiring does not make it so.

Subjective idealism, indeed all religion, is seen as having its roots in a kind of primitive or infantile magical thinking. The idea that mind has any power over matter is a stage of childlike consciousness that we all must outgrow in order to live functionally in the real world.

For the Vaishnava, however, the Other is God, whether encountered internally or externally. In fact, the encounter with God is the only thing that is going on in life: a human life is simply a long conversation with God, like Augustine in his Confessions. Within and without, the Other imposes himself on our solipsistic world view. I remember those tough guy Gaudiya Math sannyasis challenging the Advaitins, threatening them with punches and asking, “Is it still all One? Are you still God?” Crude, but true.

This is why Guru Tattva is of such importance in Hinduism. We must be able to recognize the Guru both within and without. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s concept of Guru Tattva was sophisticated in this way. Conventional gurus form a part of the conventional continuum in which we are living. Rather than being the result of an epiphany, a revelation of the divine imperative, such gurus are just another piece of the things-as-usual scenario. The general distrust of gurus comes from the recognition of their mere conventionality and is in itself the result of just such a divine imperative coming from within.

Now what I am driving at here (in the context of my principal subject matter) is that the encounter of a male sādhaka and female sādhikā is another manifestation of Guru Tattva, replete with the same numinous quality. The phenomenon of human love is a complex one that has been explained in a thousand ways since the beginning of time: today the empiricists who try to explain everything in terms of the evolutionary imperative seem to have the upper hand in popular consciousness, despite the tenacity of the romantic view. We, however, believe that evolutionary explanations, whatever their scientific value (and we tend to accept them), do not do justice to the very real numinous and transcendent elements that surround the human experience of love, or even the desire for it.

When we accept Radha and Krishna, the Divine Syzygy, as our Deity, we are in effect saying that this manifestation of the encounter with the Other is the root value of all creation. ānandād imāni bhūtāni jāyante. “Out of bliss are all these creations manifest” (Taittariya Upanishad). Unity, though the underlying principle of creation, cannot be artificially imposed through so-called knowledge. Variety is the result of the Divine’s desire for play. The essence of that play is finding that union in the midst of the apparent division. We will not escape in the obsession for kaivalya, or monadic liberation.

The word siddhi means success. In Easy Journey to Other Planets, Srila Prabhupada pointedly asks what the use of the yogic siddhis are when the same things are achieved by modern man through science and technology? This was meant to show the mundane nature of the yogic mystic powers. In another sense, though, this gives us an idea of what siddhis are: they are the capacity to impose on external reality the workings of the imagination. A yogi, by the power of thought alone (through “magical thinking”) is said to be able to break the laws of nature, i.e., perform miracles. The modern scientist is similarly able to achieve prodigious feats by imagination and then realizing those products of thought externally, in matter.

What then are the siddhis for a bhakta? In fact, the definition given of a siddha by Haridas Das in his account of Siddha Krishnadas Babaji, is that the Vaishnava siddha produces some external manifestation of the divine lila in which he is absorbed. Krishnadas, so it is told, dropped a bottle of perfume in his meditation, and the fragrance could be smelled for days by all who came to his ashram. Shyamananda was marked by Radharani’s nūpur in his līlā-smaraṇa and the mark could be seen by devotees in this world.

Other symptoms of the siddha, such as those discussed in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 10, emphasize the sāttvika bhāvas, such as those mentioned in Bhāgavatam 11.2. These too are a manifestation of inner bhāvas on the external world, i.e., the physical body. For some, as for Vishwanath in the last chapter of Mādhurya-kādambini, siddhi in bhakti is seen as the direct vision of Krishna with these senses, i.e., sākṣātkāra.

On the other hand, the Chaitanya Charitamrita says,

kali-kāle yuga dharma nāma saṅkīrtana
kṛṣṇa śakti vinā nāhi tāra pravartana
In the age of Kali, the religious practice is chanting the Holy Names. Without being empowered by Krishna, such practices cannot be implemented in the world. (CC 3.7.11)
This verse is often quoted about as evidence that Srila Prabhupada was empowered by Krishna. How can anyone deny it? This too is a siddhi—the manifestation in the external world of an inner desire or concept. In fact, any guru who takes a disciple and somehow shapes his vision of the world has attained a siddhi.

Liberal Christian theology does not see the "Kingdom of God" in eschatological terms (as God directly intervening like Kalki to destroy the miscreants and establish the Satya Yuga), but as the burden of the believer: through the inner transformation that comes from the mystical union with Christ, one becomes not only empowered to transform the world in the image of Christ, but has the obligation to do so.

What I am getting at here is the relationship of the inner world to the outer. To recap: In early stages of consciousness, one is self-absorbed, a bundle of impulses to sense gratification. Maturity comes as Reality imposes itself. However, the spiritual impulse in great part arises out of our helplessness in the face of Reality — the inevitability of old age, disease and death. This leads to a movement away from the world, or to an inward movement. This movement can be shallow or deep, depending on the individual. For everyone, this movement has to result in some encounter with the Other, but that encounter will be only as profound as the inner depths to which one has plunged. But siddhi, i.e., the success of that inner movement, must be measured, in some way or another, by external manifestations.

The process is not complete in only breaking away: its success is measured by results, which are in fact the product of seeing the world as not different from Krishna. The Other, the reality principle, ceases to be a danger to be feared, but the living manifestation of the Divine Partner. That which is the deepest center of myself is manifest externally.

Now in the world, woman is generally seen as a civilizing influence on man, the centrifugal force that reins in the centripetal forces unleashed in the male. Men “sow wild oats” until they are harnessed into a life of responsibility by woman.

In other words, Woman represents "The World." In India, both men and women were protected from irresponsibility by early marriage, which of course, whatever its benefits on the young couple, would have its repercussions later in their life together. In Chinese society, Buddhists were suspect precisely because of their other-worldly approach to life, which was considered subversive to the smooth functioning of society.

For those who are engaged on an inner voyage, woman is seen as a danger because the great amount of energy necessary for self-understanding is generally materially unproductive. And material productivity, though possessing certain values beyond the purely material (in the progressive concept of spiritual perfection), is seen as depleting the energy needed for spiritual productivity. And everyone agrees that the energies depleted in cultivating relational harmony and those lost in sexual activity, though perhaps motivators for material productivity, can be deleterious to it, what to speak of spiritual productivity.

nidrayā hriyate naktaṁ vyavāyena ca vā vayaḥ
divā cārthehayā rājan kuṭumba-bharaṇena vā
One's life is stolen away by the night in sleep or sexual activity, and by the day in the hunt for wealth and in maintaining the family. (SB 2.1.3)
Conventional wisdom has thus always held that the companionship of woman is indispensable in achieving the goals of happiness in material life. Radical religions that deny this in a determined dualism of body and soul are seen as subversive, and not at all positive from the social point of view, which sees their spiritual goals as unproductive. This is seen as especially true where celibates are concerned, because of all the antisocial dangers that arise from their unwinnable battle against the flesh. Therefore even St. Paul said, “It is better to marry than to burn.”

This, however, is not what I am getting at. For the Sahajiya, the association of a sādhaka or a sādhikā is not a default option for someone who is incapable of “keeping it in his pants.” Nor is it the result of a desire to produce offspring and lead a family life of material responsibility. It is a purely mystical adventure in which one is engaged in a most profound encounter with the Other.

As this previous paragraph clearly indicates, even though I have been talking of siddhi, my real interest for the moment is  sādhana. In his commentary to BRS 1.3.1, Sri Jiva Prabhu states that the goal of  sādhana-bhakti is to produce the sādhya, which is bhāva in the first instance, prema in the second.

In other words,sādhanā is the use of the body, mind and senses to cultivate a state of consciousness characterized by feeling for the Supreme. The feeling that one cultivates, i.e., bhāva, is in fact a sense of identity in both senses of the term — a specific sense of identity with the Supreme, and a sense of identity in relation to the Supreme. Acintya identity with (abheda) and identity as a unique individual (bheda). In fact, though though both are equally present in bhāva and prema, in the former, identity is more prominent; in the latter, identity with.

Actually, when we talk about the stages of sādhana-bhakti in the form Rupa Goswami gives it (with eight steps: śraddhā, sādhu-saṅga, bhajana-kriyā, niṣṭhā, ruci, āsakti, bhāva, prema), we should try to understand it in an organic and not a linear fashion. Each step contains elements of all the others, with prominence of one element giving the name of the stage one has achieved. Thus the arising of śraddhā not only carries some element of sādhu-saṅga, etc., but also contains a little of prema as well, for how could one have faith without a little aperçu of what lies at the end?

Thus, it is said that prema is present in the Holy Name (nāma-prema) and so chanting gives us a taste of prema. It is also incorrect to say that rasa is not experienced in even the earliest stages of the bhakti process. The Supreme is raso vai saḥ. How could faith develop without some such experience of the tasteful Lord? The same applies on each of these progressive stages. Sādhu-saṅga gives us an experience of divine bliss through the devotees, the representatives of the Lord.

This process is also cyclical, in the sense that our devotional life can go through these different phases more than once. For instance, through changes in association our faith may go through some transformation, such as going from the vaidhī bhakti outlook to that of rāgānugā bhakti. In such cases, the characteristics of śraddhā will change, as will those of each of the other elements in the evolutionary process. Though what has gone before remains as the foundation of the new development, one is in effect starting the process all over again.

Let me express the process in the following words: Every great effort can be subdivided into smaller efforts. Each grand success is made of smaller successes, or siddhis. Sādhu-saṅga itself may be seen as the success of śraddhā, for the faithful seeker has earned the Lord's kind glance in the form of Guru. This is indeed a siddhi, and some beginning practitioners become so inflated they think that they have attained siddhi itself!

The Sahajiya path is similarly another dimension of this prema or rasa-sādhanā. It builds on the prior culture of bhāva in vaidhī and rāgānugā practices, but due to the difference in orientation recapitulates and revitalizes all these steps, giving them new force. The same acts of śravaṇa and kīrtana, etc., that took a particular form in the vaidhī approach were transformed in the rāgānugā approach due to a fundamentally different kind of faith (the latter called lobha). As the Sahajiya sādhanā begins, it will now undergo another revision due to the new dimension of faith. That new dimension, like the others before it, is in large part the result of sādhu-saṅga, which is not different from Guru Tattva.

Guru Tattva is the incursion of the Other, the Reality Principle charged with spiritual meaning, on the solipsistic tendency of the monadic meditator. Therefore, I say that the discovery of the Sādhaka or Sādhikā is another manifestation of Guru Tattva. As such, it is a kind of siddhi, reward or compensation in itself. However, it is in fact the third stage of bhāva-sādhana. All that went before was just a beginning.

See also Stri Sangi Ek Asadhu


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Some more autobiographical notes

At Govinda Kund in 2005.
I left Iskcon in 1979 and spent the following six years participating in the traditional Gaudiya Vaishnava world as a celibate monk or babaji. Towards the end of this period, my life started to slowly disintegrate. My godbrother, Madhusudan Dasji, had been expelled from India and so I was bereft of my best friend. Gadadhar Pranji was going through his own troubles and I did not have as close a relationship with him as I had with Madhusudan. As to the rest of the Vaishnava community, there were many friends, few confidantes. I started smoking pot. This led to a number of highly charged experiences, but isolated me even further from the Vaishnava community at large.

Then one day, while I was doing my regular bhajan, a woman burst into my kutir and told me I was a fool, that I did not understand the first thing about Radha and Krishna, etc. This woman’s name was Gita. She was from a lower caste and uneducated; she was brash and loud. To the objective observer she was neither attractive nor appealing. Nevertheless, I became involved with her briefly, which was a life-changing event that made me call into question my entire way of looking at sexuality. Perhaps the most significant moment in this liaison came on Gaura Purnima 1985, when I had sexual relations with her in my room in the midst of an emotionally charged Nabadwip kirtan wafting in from every direction. This created the indelible connection of sexuality to spirituality in my mind that to this day remains perhaps the "Holy Grail" of my sadhana.

Though it was clear almost from the very start that my relation with Gita was to be shortlived and fraught with negative repercussions, I consider her influence on my life to have been of great importance. It was, for want of a better phrase, a "wake up call." She too was "guru tattva."

Not long afterward, I was approached by another individual named Priyalal Goswami. I found the man personally not very appealing, but was curious about his doctrines and so when he invited me to speak at a festival near his house in Kalna, I went. This would have been a few months later during the rainy season of 1985. On that occasion, I underwent a ceremony (nothing sexual involved) in which I was given the śikṣā mantras in front of a group of Sahajiya elders.

I would here like to point out some important things about this event. First of all, the Sahajiya initiation is called śikṣā, not dīkṣā. The śikṣā mantras include the Kāma-gāyatrī, along with an explanatory or auxiliary mantra : om hrīṁ śrīṁ klīṁ kusuma-bāṇaḥ śrī-manmathaḥ śrī-govindo māṁ kṛpayatu ("May Govinda, the mind-churner who shoots the flower arrows, be merciful to me.") This mantra is clearly meant to simply identify Krishna with Kamadeva. This identification is, of course, interpreted differently by Orthodoxy and Sahajiyaism, but let us admit that the fundamental principles are agreed upon here.

The other śikṣā mantra is the famous Hamsa Mantra, so’ham. My śikṣā-guru also gave me the following verses as an explanation of this mantra.

ha-kāre kṛṣṇa-candra sa-kāre rādhikā
bujhile guru-kṛpāya pāya tāra dekhā
ha-kāre bāhire jāya sa-kāre praveśe
bhāvanārthe viparīta jānibe viśeṣe
so’haṁ śabdera artha rādhā kṛṣṇa haya
bhakti pathe paramātmā jānibe niścaya
eka śa hājāra śata śata bāra
divā-rātri jīva jape anirvāra
ei tattva guru-mukhe śune je jana
janma mṛtyu roga śoka tāra haya bāraṇa

The letter ha refers to Krishna, sa to Radha. One who understands this by the mercy of the spiritual master will be able to see the Divine Couple. With the letter ha [the breath] moves outward, with the letter sa it enters. But in the contemplated meaning [where ha and sa represent Radha and Krishna], one should know that the opposite is true. The mantra so’ham therefore means Radha and Krishna together. On the bhakti path, they are the paramātmā. One chants this mantra constantly, day and night, hundreds of thousands of times. The person who hears this knowledge from the mouth of his guru will be free from birth, death, disease and lamentation.
Along with this came a dual interpretation of the kāma-bīja, or dīkṣā mantra. ka = Krishna, la = Radha, ī = hlādinī; nāda  = Rupa Manjari, bindu = Vrindavan. A secondary meaning, more familiar, identifies each of these with the five principal elements (tanmātras).

The śikṣā disciplic line I received was the following:
  1. Sri Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
  2. Sri Rupa Gosvami
  3. Sri Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami
  4. Sri Krishna Dasa Kaviraja Gosvami
  5. Sri Mukunda Dasa Gosvami
  6. Sri Rupa Kaviraja Gosvami
  7. Sri Radha Krishna Gosvami
  8. Sri Shyama Charana Vraja Vasi Gosvami
  9. Sri Chandra Narayana Gosvami
  10. Sri Kalachanda Gosvami
  11. Sri Chintamani Gosvami
  12. Sri Krishna Kanta Gosvami
  13. Sri Yashoda Kumara Gosvami
  14. Sri Yadava Chandra Gosvami
  15. Sri Harilala Gosvami
  16. Sri Priyalala Gosvami
Of these names, numbers 1-6, 10 and 11 are historically significant.

The pātra also includes the following: śri guru krpā kariyā nāma rekhechen jagadānanda dāsa. kāra dāsa ? śri-guru-dāsa. śri-guru ke ? śri kṛṣṇa-caitanya mahāprabhu. And, finally, there is the śivāmbu-mantra: oṁ klīṁ bāṇa-candrāya svāhā.

After this initiation, I became increasingly alienated from the Orthodox Vaishnavas in Nabadwip, without ever being able to comfortably find any association in the Sahajiya groups. This is important, because I never associated closely with Sahajiyas or came to know them intimately. Nor did I ever, other than in my shortlived and infrequent dealings with Gita, establish any relationship with a Sahajiya woman.

The main reason I subsequently never claimed to be a Sahajiya before are three in number:
  1. I never identified with the society of Sahajiyas, nor did I ever feel comfortable with them. Indeed I felt out of place and somewhat embarrassed by my dealings with them. While in India, I thus never declared any affiliation with them.

  2. I left India not long afterward and so had no opportunity to take extensive instruction or to look for intellectually and socially agreeable company that would have made it possible to overcome #1.

  3. Once back in Canada, I was unable to find a partner with whom to put what little of Sahajiyaism I did understand into practice. Eventually I settled into a rather conventional married relationship, which was proving apparently successful in reducing sexual desire to almost nothingness.
Nevertheless, forces similar to those that caused my original attraction to Sahajiyaism came into action in due course of time and I found I still had the same core beliefs, which I tried to outline in my Gaudiya Discussions post. Some of the ideas I mentioned there occasionally came out in earlier postings, so that many people already suspected my tendencies. Nevertheless, I did not mention openly that I believed sexuality had a place in Gaudiya Vaishnava sadhana. This was in not a case of deliberate dissimulation as much as respect for the general beliefs of others, the wish to avoid sensation, and partly due to the fact that in my heart I did not truly know where the line between Gaudiya Vaishnava orthodoxy and Sahajiyaism should be drawn.

As I said, though I have now openly use the word Sahajiya to refer to myself, I never identified socially as a Sahajiya in India. The ideas that I have developed come basically out of a pure logic derived from the Gaudiya Vaishnava symbol system and from the clues that I picked up from my readings in various orthodox texts, including Chaitanya Charitamrita, and not from Sahajiya association or their texts. In fact, I have gone through a number of Sahajiya texts, the Bengali originals. These texts puzzle rather than enlighten me. Other than coded information about basic yogic practices, I find them rather unhelpful. I have found it altogether more useful to devise my own practices that illuminate my own understanding, which is almost wholly derived from my interpretation of orthodox Gaudiya Vaishnava sources.

Philosophically, I consider myself in harmony with the line of orthodox Gaudiya Vaishnava thought. This means that I am theistic in my orientation to God rather than monistic. I am an acintya-bhedābheda-vādi who believes that bhakti is the sādhana (not yoga, karma or jnana) and that prema is the prayojana. I believe that the Radha Krishna yugala is the Supreme Form of the Deity. So, how am I any different from any other orthodox Vaishnava? I do not think that I am outside of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

This is why I have never been an active participant in forums where Gaudiya Vaishnavism is considered simply one source of spiritual nourishment and does not believe that it has anything of special significance to offer, whereas I consider Radha and Krishna and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to be the symbolic and functional sources of all my spirituality, and I structure everything around them. Nor do I feel comfortable on those sites where people whose experience of Vaishnavism in Iskcon, etc., has been bitter, for I am more interested in a community of faith than one of criticism. 

So, as a so-called Sahajiya, I believe that sexuality is an important and acceptable part of the pure Vaishnava Dharma. I do not, however, claim that sexual practices are indispensible to the attainment of prema. It seems to me that if they were, this would have been stated explicitly in the Goswamis’ texts. Their not mentioning it at all comes from a kind of modesty, even though its possibility is not explicitly rejected either. The point is that bhakti is open to all persons without discrimination—children, impotent, renounced, married, etc. So how could sexual yoga be a required element? Nevertheless, since bhakti is a practice executed by the senses, and the love organs are prominent among the senses, it seems counterintuitive to eliminate them from all possibility for devotional practice.

Strī-saṅgī eka asādhu

Madhavananda's second objection to Sahajiyaism is based in those numerous verses that I call misogynistic in character. Such verses tell us that there is nothing worse for a person's devotional life than the association of women. This is a question that needs to be explored in much depth and I will try to make a preliminary assessment of the subject.

My daughter visited recently. Among the little bits of bitterness that she served up in relation to her Iskcon experience was a reference to the Gita's verse:

māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśritya ye'pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ
striyo vaiśyās tathā śūdrās te'pi yānti parāṁ gatim

Those who take shelter of me fully, even those of sinful birth, women, merchants or common laborers, they too can attain the supreme destination. (9.32)
My daughter uttered the words "even women" with portentous disdain--women are considered inferior beings in the bhakti world view. They have, according to different sources, two, four, six or eight times as much lust as men. They are fire to men's butter; poor, helpless sādhakas will inevitably be swayed from the pureness of their spirituality by coming into even the vicinity of woman.

In my opinion, however, the Gita verse stands in absolute contradiction to all these premises. Bhakti has always been the most democratic of Hindu spiritual paths. To say that those who took up bhakti could circumvent the series of transmigrations that led to brahminhood and the necessary purity that would allow one to attain gnosis is and always has been the revolutionary element in the bhakti movement. Gaudiya Vaishnavism in general, and particularly the Gaudiya Math, has made much of this where it concerns shudras and vaishyas, but has neglected the revolutionary impact of the statement that women "too" can attain the highest reaches of spiritual perfection. Indeed, they may even be at an advantage.

I have already characterized the masculine approach to spiritual life as the "heroic" and the feminine approach as "erotic." Now I would like to take this insight a step further. Jnana, karma and yoga are essentially heroic paths. Bhakti, on the other hand, is essential feminine, or erotic. I am not really taking liberties with the word erotic, because it can legitimately be used to include all affects, which all ultimately seek love. Eros has been identified with love by all psychologists beginning with Freud, who do not really make a radical distinction between sexual love and other varieties. This is a significant point that necessitates deeper discussion, for it is, I believe, consistent with Vaishnava understanding.

One is always in dangerous territory when generalizing about male and female natures. In the Hindu system, particularly where deities come in pairs, and where it is said in one of the earliest upanishads that "the Supreme did not enjoy alone, and therefore he divided himself in two and became as a man and woman locked in embrace," the idea that male and female form a natural complement is as deeply entrenched as it is in Taoism. We are in a digital age where the power and reach of binary numbers has only begun to be fathomed. The universal division of creation into dualities of positive and negative charges is symbolized by the division of the human species into male and female. Indeed, this binarity [that sounds like a coinage, duality has a negative implication I'd like to avoid] is the source of the world's energetic movement. This is true whether we are speaking of simple electrons and protons or of infinitely more complex human males and females.

Those who see the world uniquely as a source of entanglement, as something false that must be transcended, are called monists. For them, liberty consists of eliminating all dualities. Little wonder that for them the association of woman is the sine qua non of saṁsāra, the perception of duality.

Bhakti is different in its approach on a number of levels. First of all, none of the Vaishnava acharyas says the world is false. It can be a source of suffering and entanglement when seen separately from the Divine Truth, but it is only false inasmuch as it is so seen. When we see Radha and Krishna as the symbol of the Supreme Truth, this is in effect validating the male-female relationship in this world, but that relationship, like everything else, must be brought into line with the Divine Truth and not be seen exclusively as monads bouncing off one another in the futile attempt to find fulfilment through sense gratification.

The beginning point then is to recognize that the word strī as used pejoratively [the etymology is "that which expands," i.e. increases on the one hand one's sensual pleasure in life, or increases one's entanglements through children, obligations, the ever-incremental search for sensual satisfactions on the other] is only applicable inasmuch as the devotional or spiritual commitment of one or the other is low.

A woman devotee or sādhikā should not be characterized as a woman, but as a devotee or sādhikā. The association of devotees is the most desirable thing for a person wishing to advance in spiritual life (sādhu-saṅga sādhu-saṅga sarva-śāstre kaya/ lava-mātra sādhu-saṅge sarva-siddhi haya), so how can the association of a devotee woman be a negative thing?

We have a great deal more to consider here. The first is the oft-repeated statement that Krishna is the only purusha, and in relation to him, all are prakriti. This statement is meant to imply that a soul's male or female identity is false, that the only identity is one of complementarity to Krishna. This statement is meant for those on the bhakti path in particular. It means that our affective relationship with God is the most important and meaningful part of our spiritual life. As such, the affective power of those souls who are in women's bodies are a model for those who are absorbed in the masculine, heroic mode. The male approach is essentially bahiraṅga; the female approach antaraṅga.

The gopis are meant to symbolize this approach to spiritual life. But we devotees are philosophical idealists, as are all Vedantins, and so we think that the Idea is primary, the Empirical World secondary. By this I mean that the symbol has a life of its own, beyond its symbolic meaning. Though internal, it becomes a real world which shapes and informs the external world we live in. Furthermore, we are called on to shape the world in ways that are consistent with the inner ideal. If the inner ideal is so radically different from our experience, then it becomes essentially meaningless.

Sādhu-saṅga, where it concerns the association of male and female sādhakas in this world, is the most powerful of all kinds of sādhu-saṅga. It incorporates all the aspects of bhakti association--

mac-cittā mad-gata-prāṇā
bodhayantaḥ parasparam
kathayantaś ca māṁ nityaṁ
tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca

With their minds engrossed in Me and their vital energies deeply involved in Me, they are ever contented and delighted by mutually conversing about Me and enlightening each other thereby. (10.9)
But above and beyond all this, it operates on a level of surcharged spirituality created by physical intimacy. This is the royal road to experiencing Radha and Krishna's raho-līlā.

The Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi (chapter 3) speaks of different kinds of gopis, including the sādhana-parāḥ, or gopis who attained perfection through previous lives of spiritual practice. There are several subcategories, including yauthikī and ayauthikī, "in groups" or "individual." The approach I am talking about can be called yauthika.

The male sādhaka (ayauthika) who wants to experience these lilas on his own must always be on guard against succumbing to material desire, because he has not been able to grasp the possibility that sexuality is something that can be used in experiencing the Divine, i.e., he has a tendency to phalgu-vairāgya due to vestiges of the monistic attitude. Therefore, Rupa Goswami says nivṛttānupayogitvāt, "better for renunciates not to hear about the madhura rasa" (BRS 3.5.1)

There are numerous pitfalls for those who do believe in spiritualizing sexuality, most of which have been enumerated in plenty by its detractors and we shall have to deal with these also in due course. This is not a call to wantonness and libertinage. It is a call to harnessing the most powerful psychic force known to humankind--the love between the sexes--in the spiritual quest.


Monday, July 24, 2006

The worst kind of teacher

The worst kind of teacher is, of course, the one who speaks words of wisdom but does not follow through. That I am afraid is what I am. There are two problems with automythology: the first is having a clear story, the second is living it out. Because, of course, the big conflict is between myth and reality. Therefore the old adage: one percent inspiration, 99% perspiration.

The individual myth is the large framework in which the incidents of our life pile up. In order for life to have meaning, there has to be coherence between the idea and life as it is lived. The myth has a number of elements: the predominant rasa and the admixture of minor rasas. There is the matter of vibhava--self-identity and object. These are the grand lines; there are incidents which are necessary to flesh them out.

There are basically two rasas--the heroic and the erotic. The two are generally not separate, but intertwined. For a man, the heroic is usually the more important; love is tacked on as an afterthought, which is a source of problems later. For the woman, the love story is dominant and heroism often forced on her without being written into the original script. Vira and sringar. I wonder how the rasikas missed this great symbiosis.

So, we write our own story, the story of our lives. It is part of the larger story of our unconscious assumptions and consciously accepted ideas. When in Iskcon, the story takes a particular form; in other sampradayas or religions, the form is different. Acceptable individual myths are different in different societies. Heroism often takes the form of breaking out of the confines of one "big story" (metanarrative) that has ceased to be coherent and the creation of a new one. That's why much heroism surrounds the rejection of the great religions--all those who challenged the assumptions of world views that seemed to ignore some aspect of human need or justice.

So what is the big story of Krishna consciousness? The heroic version of Iskcon is incarnate in Bhaktivedanta Swami. It all began with a realization: "When Krishna is most merciful to someone, he takes his everything away. Then, all those he thought were his, seeing him impoverished and distressed, abandon him." This is how Prabhupada begins his poem Vrindavane bhajana. How rare to see a bit of individual personality and real life creep into all this Gaudiya writing of siddhanta or lila-katha! There Krishna's words suddenly became a banner in the sky and Prabhupada received the message loud and clear: "It is time to set the wheels of my story, which has been on hold throughout this long lifetime of preparation, into motion!"

And so he spent a few years in Vrindavan, by Srila Jiva Goswami's side, writing his books, struggling with experimental attempts at preaching. Then came his great gamble. This too came after a flash of revelation: he read a passage in a Gita commentary about making the guru's order the guidepost of one's life's work; he remembered his guru's order to preach in the English-speaking world, and he received assurances in a dream from Jiva Goswami. Then, as the Gita, the great scripture of heroes, says, "Act without fear of failure or attachment to success," he set off. And, as he boarded the Jaladuta, as the Puranas would have pictured it, the heavens opened, the heavenly choirs of Gandharvas sang, and the gods showered flowers. The halo descended and his glorious destiny began finally to be fulfilled. A myth came into being. A myth that was powerful because it had a metanarrative: the senapati bhakta predicted by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the visions of Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati fulfilled. Such a grand myth that whoever follows must be nothing more than a footnote, a detail in the new chapter of the metanarrative he created.

Certainly that is true for those in Iskcon, whose heroic goal is to "seek the remnants," in other words to fulfill the mission that Prabhupada started. And I also, being an old Iskcon man, cannot escape the imperative that this manifestation of Guru Tattva has had on me. I also want to be a hero. I also want some of those heavenly flowers to fall on my head. But, of course, revelation is a gradual process; rather, I should say, the acceptance of the divine imperative that comes from revelation is a gradual process. The Other in the form of Reality is constantly imposing himself on us, and yet which of us fully takes up the bow like Arjuna and gives the command to our charioteer to advance into the melee?

What is my story? How would I write my own story as a myth or hagiography, for hagiotes (holiness) is indeed what I seek? I wish to attain blessedness in the eyes of God, who have come to me in the form of the Divine Couple. What are the revelations that came to me from Him, the Other? What were the obstacles and the moments of weakness, and how were they overcome? These are the questions that here, in this seemingly everlasting dark night of my soul, I ask myself.

It begins with the seeker who finds a guru who opens the doors to the wonderful world of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Radha-Krishna. And then, the Other comes and tells me: "The deeper secrets of this world cannot be found in Iskcon." And I knew this to be true and so I left and took shelter of my Guru, Lalita Prasad Thakur, who truly gave me sambandha. And I was happy.

And so I did bhajan, carried by enthusiasm. I discovered Nabadwip, Vrindavan and Puri. I discovered the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, Ujjvala-nilamani, all the lila granthas. And then, the Other came to me in the form of Woman, and all my heroic presumptions about the glories of detachment were flung into the air. And suddenly I found myself without shelter. It was time for me to look at things from another point of view. Was this the loss of faith or the opening up of a new destiny?

And so I came back to the West and began studying in the university. I had a script written: so many years for study, so many years of teaching and then, when I reached the age of 55, equipped with a wider understanding and economically independent, I would be ready to take up a more active and inspired role in advancing Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's cause.

That was the script, and parts of it played out: I went to university and got a Ph.D. But the books did not come and the teaching jobs did not come. I got married and entangled in a samsara where Krishna is not at the center. One day I found the association of devotees on the Internet and was able to make an impression on many because of my learning, but that virtual reality was a balloon, a bubble waiting to be pricked. And then the Other in the form of Woman came and pierced it. She said, "Live your vision with me. I want to live this vision with you." Together, we briefly tasted the fulfilment of a Promise.

And again I fell into turmoil. The turmoil of dharma and renunciation. When there is a conflict between dharma and sin, the choice is clear. But here, the line between sin and renunciation had become blurred. The verses of the Gita and Bhagavatam about debts to the world and our real dharma of service to Krishna rolled over me, again and again, and yet I could not give up my considerations of dharma, responsibility and honor. Though my life started crumbling into meaninglessness around me, I remained there, like a child in the rubble of a bombed-out building. I talk of honor, dharma and responsibility, but I seemed to be hollowed-out and without vision.

My only vision is this: the one that I write about in these pages. The vision that came to me in Nabadwip Dham and which has grown stronger over the years--with all my study, with all my bhajan, with all the incursions of the Other--and which I believe to be true.

And yet, how can I write about it without creating a greater gulf between my myth and my reality? I write because I must write. I write because by writing, I find my core, my heart, my God, my Divine Couple.

ajāta-pakṣā iva mātaraṁ khagāḥ
stanyaṁ yathā vatsatarāḥ kṣudhārtāḥ
priyaṁ priyeva vyuṣitaṁ viṣaṇṇā
mano'ravindākṣa didṛkṣate tvām

O lotus-eyed Lord! Just as nestling birds look for their mother to feed them, just as hungry calves anxiously await their mother’s milk, and as a distressed wife yearns to see her beloved husband return from his travels, my heart aches to see you. (6.11.26)

Stories are only interesting if they have elements of the unexpected. (This is why the all-knowing God MUST cover his knowledge in order to realize his own bliss.) The grand narrative never finishes. Just like the Jatakas and the Jain tales, like that of Bharata in the Bhagavatam, they do not finish in just one lifetime. There is no failure because the adventure goes on (and on) until there is a happy ending. If there is no success, it only means the story still has a chapter or two left to be told.

So, I am now 56. The script has played out in part: but for the past several years I have been in crisis. The creative urge has been there, but despite the labor and its pains, there is still no baby. My baby is this Idea, the Sahajiya idea. It is centered around the idea of prema prayojana. The goal of life is love, and that love is generated through the love of man and woman in mystic union with the Divine Couple. When this idea becomes reality, in this life or another, then I will become whole.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

More on Brahmacharya

So we have seen the idea that one who has come into identity with Brahman can no longer be considered the bhokta. How can anyone who is identical with the Other be its enjoyer? This is called being ātmārāma, or enjoying in the self, a consistent theme throughout Hindu scriptures, applying equally to God and to the jiva. God's talking pleasure in the jiva or his other energies is not something that goes against the principal of ātmārāma. Nor does the idea of the jiva, enjoying with God, "the soul of his soul," contradict the ātmārāma principle.

From the devotional point of view, Krishna states to the gopis--

na mayy āveśita-dhiyāṁ kāmaḥ kāmāya kalpate
bharjitāḥ kvathitā dhānā prāyo bījāya neśate

The desires of those absorbed in thought of me
are not to be considered material desire;
just as rice once fried and boiled
cannot later be used as seed. (10.22.26)
BBT translation: "The desire of those who fix their minds on Me does not lead to material desire for sense gratification, just as barleycorns burned by the sun and then cooked can no longer grow into new sprouts."

This appears to be the essential moral that is being given for the vastra-harana lila. There are similar verses to be found in chapters 7.1, 10.29, 10.47, 11.12, amongst others, all repeating this teaching in connection with the gopis. E.g.

kvemāḥ striyo vana-carīr vyabhicāra-duṣṭāḥ
kṛṣṇe kva caiṣa paramātmani rūḍha-bhāvaḥ
nanv īśvaro'nubhajato'viduṣo'pi sākṣāc
chreyas tanoty agada-rāja ivopayuktaḥ

Just look at these lowly forest women, who have been polluted by adultery, and then look at their most elevated feeling for Krishna, the Supreme Soul. Does this not show us that the Lord, if worshiped, even by one who has no knowledge of what he is, still attains the supreme good, just like a powerful medicine has an effect even on one who does not know what it is.(10.47.59)

Desire in connection with Krishna ceases to function in the same way as ordinary kama, which according to the Gita is the great enemy that leads us to hell. The first verse quoted (10.22.26), however, does not specifically place the concept in the context of lust directed toward Krishna, but "the lust of those who are absorbed in Krishna." There are a number of different interpretations possible here, particularly of the words kāmaḥ kāmāya kalpate, which I have translated "desires are not to be considered material desire." The language here and that of the Gopala Tapani segment I posted earlier is comparable. yo ha vai kāmena kāmān kāmayate sa kāmī bhavati| yo ha vai tv akāmena kāmān kāmayate so'kāmī bhavati.

There is a possibility of several areas for debate here: Are the gopis jivas or are they svarūpa-śaktis, radically different in nature from the jiva? And, the gopis are feeling lust directly for Krishna, but what I am talking about seems to be something different, i.e., the "lust" of one conditioned soul for another, which is only dressed up in some kind of devotional pretense. Let's leave these questions for now.

What is important to retain here is this: The devotee, even if he is making a mistake in thinking that erotic activities in Krishna consciousness are of spiritual benefit, he is still protected from the worst danger of all, which is separation from Krishna. If Krishna can say in the Gita that one can even kill without suffering sinful reaction if he acts without ahankara, then surely an act of physical love performed in consciousness of him should not be the ultimate spiritual disaster. And, after all, no one has ever said that one can attain Krishna through brahmacharya. It is devotion alone that will give you the result of prema.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Automythology, Brahmacharya

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard an interesting interview with an author, Steven Kotler, discussing his book West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, And the Origin of Belief. It sounds like the man has much of interest to say. From the little bit I caught, his perspective is Jungian, especially when it comes to the concept I call "automythology", something that I have talked about before. He used the example of a boy throwing hoops and imagining he is Michael Jordan, whereas I use the example of a Canadian boy pretending he is Rocket Richard, imitating Foster Hewitt's play-by-play as he scores (I show my age there!). A Brazilian would, I imagine, use the example of Pele. At any rate, this concept is very important in the way that I understand Krishna consciousness and I will come back to it later.
My only difficulty with Jung in this area comes from his idea of organized religion. I believe it is in Modern Man in Search of a Soul that he states that organized religion acts as a buffer against religious experience because it deals with ready-made myths and symbols, rather than those produced from the individual's direct experience or communion with the Collective Unconscious. I think that this is a little disingenuous. Certainly, a great percentage of the human population has neither the energy nor inclination to seek out the Self. But even those who do are beset by assumptions or "metanarratives" into which their own stories fit.

We are all universes unto ourselves, and yet our universes are just variations on universal themes. The symbols of the great religions tend to recur even in those who are the most individualistic. These are Jung's archetypes. And though, no doubt, direct experience through communion with the Collective Unconscious is the secret of self-fulfillment, the various paths of the Mahajanas, through long established visions of the Divine and the cultures that have grown around them, surely carry with them a power and grandeur that can both accommodate the individual's personal myths and also enrich them.

Of course, this requires an engagement with the symbols and the culture that is both active and interactive. The danger of all received knowledge is that it becomes ossified by those who are, as Bhaktivinoda Thakur called them, shallow critics and foolish readers. The sharing of rich symbol systems makes the development of human societies possible. This is particularly important in the kind of shared mystical culture of Sahajiyaism. These are things that I will return to at the appropriate moment.

[Note: I use the word "sahajiya" by default and not out of specific adherence to an established sect. I would like to make it clear that with some minor exceptions, most notably that of the spiritual role of sexuality, I adhere the orthodox Vaishnava viewpoint, maybe a little modernized.]


I went back and looked at Madhavananda's article on Sahajiyaism again and took note of his arguments, which are divided into two: the first is under the heading of "Brahmacharya", the second under that of "Imitating Radha and Krishna."

Under the first of these headings, there are basically two distinct arguments: one is that sexuality is to be used only for procreation, the second that all association with women (strī-saṅga) is detrimental to spiritual life. I would like to discuss these issues in greater depth here.

It is important to know that the concept of celibacy can be understood outside the confines of simple physical contact. As I wrote in my article "Obscenity":
The Sahajiyas have a different understanding of what is obscene: the spilling of semen in the sex act. That is the sign of the corruption of desire. Thus they also warn against the misuse of their doctrines as an excuse for licentiousness. They consider their sadhana as much of a discipline as the orthodox Gaudiyas their strict avoidance of women. ("The paradoxical situation, then, is that the tantric appears to the orthodox Hindu and Buddhist as a libertine, whereas in reality he preserves a state of complete celibacy." Agehananda, The Ochre Robe, 297)
The Sārṅgadhāra-saṁhitā, a medieval Ayurvedic text, shows that this was a generally held and medically orthodox point of view:

rasād raktaṁ tato māṁsaṁ māṁsān medaḥ prajāyate 
medaso'sthi tato majjā tasmāc chukrasya sambhavaḥ 
strī-saṅge'pi na patitaṁ reto yasya parecchayā 
sa dhanyaḥ puruṣo loke kāma-jetā sa kathyate
From chyle comes blood, from blood muscle, from muscle fat, from fat bone, from bone marrow, from marrow semen. [These are the eight dhatus or bodily secretions. Semen is thus commonly known as the carama-dhātu, or ultimate and therefore most concentrated and valuable of secretions.] A man who, even when in the company of a woman does not spill his semen due to external influence is most fortunate and is said to have conquered over lust.
This is the answer from the yoga and ayurveda point of view. And I believe that the concept enunciated in the first of the two verses quoted above can be found in Srila Prabhupada's writing. It is the basis of all Indian concepts of brahmacharya from very early times, as the term ūrdhva-retas, found even in the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka, indicates.

Even so, I am a little ambivalent about the absolute necessity for seminal retention. True celibacy is, in fact, a question of consciousness. This is explained to some extent in the Gopālottara-tāpanī Upaniṣad, in the story of Krishna's brahmacharya. This little story is well known, but its interpretation is a little problematic. The gopis cross the Yamuna, whose waters separate after the gopis recite the mantra, "Krishna is a brahmachari," even though they don't think it is true. After all, has he not just spent the entire night with them?

They feed Durvasa and, on their return, the "truth statement" containing mystical power that will allow them to make the crossing is "Durvasa has fasted." This too is apparently false; the two statements are thus parallel and equally efficacious, at least where crossing the Yamuna is concerned. The gopis are justifiably puzzled and ask for clarification from Durvasa.

The answer he gives is a condensation of Upanishadic wisdom, adjusted to accomodate Vaishnava sensibility. Leaving aside other questions that may arise from this passage, it may just be said that the issue of seminal retention does not come up. The crucial factor is that of detachment and knowledge:
Sound is the quality present in the ether. The atma is distinct from both sound and ether. The ether is situated in that atma, and the atma is in the sky. That very same ether, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Touch is quality associated with the air. The atma is distinct from both touch and air. The air is situated in that atma, and the atma is in the air. The air, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Form is the quality present in the fire. The atma is distinct from both form and fire. Fire is situated in that atma, and the atma is in the sky. Fire, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Flavor is the attribute of water. The atma is distinct from both favor and water. The water is situated in that atma, and the atma is in the sky. The water, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Odor is the attribute present in earth. The atma is distinct from both odor and earth. The earth is situated in that atma, and the atma is in the earth. The earth, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

It is the mind alone which considers itself to be the enjoyer of the objects of the senses, because it alone grasps the sense objects. In the situation where everythiug has become the self alone, how can it think itself to be the enjoyer, and of what is it the enjoyer? Where indeed will it go? In consideration of this, how could I, being that self, be the enjoyer of the sense objects?

This very Krishna, who is your most dearly beloved, is the cause of both the gross and subtle bodies. There are two beautifully plumed birds; the lesser of the two, a fragmentary portion of Brahman, is the enjoyer; the other is merely an observer. They both make their home in this body which, like a tree, is meant to be felled. They are thus the enjoyer and non-enjoyer. The former is the enjoyer; the latter, the non-enjoyer, is Krishna.

In that situation we know neither knowledge nor ignorance; [for] he is distinct from both knowledge and ignorance. How can he who is knowledge in essence be a sensualist? A sensualist is one who wishes for sense gratification with a desire to enjoy. A non-sensualist is one who desires sense objects without any such motivation.

Being beyond both birth and old age, he is immoveable, he cannot be cut. He is situated in the effulgence of the sun. He resides amongst the cows; he herds the cows. He associates with the cowherds. He is found in all the Vedas; he is glorified by all the Vedas. He enters into all living beings and brings them life. Verily, that person is your husband, Sri Krishna. (GTU 2.14-22)
I have given the entire text here. It is in need of an expanded elucidation, but the basic premise is that one can interact with the sense objects with transcendental consciousness and remain on the transcendent platform. This is achieved through the cultivation of knowledge, not through renunciation alone.

Though both the above arguments are applicable in the devotional situation, they clearly do not give full satisfaction to the bhakta, whose interest is in prema. This is a valid point to remember: The scriptures are not static, presenting an eternal point of view. The Gaudiya Vaishnava conception builds on the Bhagavatam, but it does not end with the Bhagavatam.

Friday, July 21, 2006

"This is the taste that Krishna himself has relished."

Of course, historically, is Sahajiyaism not more dependent on Orthodox Vaishnavism than the other way around? This is a good question and I don't know if I can cogently answer it.

I believe that universally, up until the present day, the major world religions have always had an extremely ambivalent attitude toward sexuality. There are good reasons for this, which need to be explored.

In this, Hinduism is no exception. Despite the existence of a Tantrik subculture, the dominant Hindu ethos has been one geared towards either the Kama-shastra of unadorned pleasure seeking through sexuality, in which Woman is the principal instrument for achieving worldly happiness, or towards a misogynistic attitude in which Woman represents the principal danger to the achievement of spiritual beatitude or moksha. These are called, respectively, the pravritti and nivritti margas.

The Tantrik idea that sexuality can be accommodated to spirituality has been present for a long time, but has routinely been outside the mainstream. There is no reason to think that this will change in the near future, despite Rajneesh's popularity.

On the whole, though, there are two principal avenues built into the current Gaudiya Vaishnava doctrines that make it almost inevitable that it will always have Sahajiya offshoots. The first of these is its overtly erotic symbolism which, no matter how one tries to deny the implications, will continue to have the very results so abhorred by the Orthodox.

The second is the sensual nature of the Vaishnava doctrine itself. I have written about this before, but is worth mentioning again. Gaudiyas in general have a blind spot about this aspect of their own worldview, but it is quite important and has far-reaching implications. This realization came to me slowly, because I had lived for so long in the Iskcon/Gaudiya Math and then the Babaji groups that I also bought into the idea of renunciation and celibacy as the doors to liberation. Of course, there is an extensive philosophical background to this idea, much of which has been rehearsed in the Bhagavatam and the Chaitanya Charitamrita. Were the idea not persuasive, it would not have persisted.

Renunciation attracts the heroic spirit, and the heroic spirit is, in my opinion, the only force that can truly be said to be in competition with sexuality in the human being.

When I read Poling and Kenney's book on the Hare Krishna Personality Type (The Hare Krishna Character Type: A Study of the Sensate Personality, Studies in Religion and Society, Vol 15, Edwin Mellen Press, 1986), I was somewhat astonished that their psychological profile tests on a good sample of Iskcon devotees showed them to be of the "sensate" type. Though you may look up this character type on the Internet, as this kind of psychological profiling is currently widespread, the basic principal of the "sensate vs. intuitive" pair is that the former are "outward-looking" whereas the latter are "inward-looking." This is not a comment on other aspects of personality, which may be varied, but it represents the dominant thread throughout all those devotees the authors interviewed.

Kenney and Poling's conclusion was (sorry, no quote available) that the devotees were in general in denial about their character type. They were conflicted about their own sensate nature and denied it by emphasizing renunciation. But Krishna consciousness is a very sensual religion: It holds that through sadhana, using the external senses, one can attain a higher delight than that of mere renunciation. Vaishnava philosophy does not deny the world, but emphasizes its reality when seen in relation to Krishna. Vaishnava philosophy does not deny the human person and speaks openly about a spiritual body with spiritual senses.

These things are easiest to understand if we think about prasadam. I believe Kenney and Poling also mention how frequently prasadam came up in ordinary conversations with devotees. I can personally remember brahmachari gulabjaman chugging contests back in the early 70's. That's one extreme of prasadam bliss, but what about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's ecstatic transports at tasting Jagannath prasad? (See CC 3.16.92-134)

Looked at objectively, it would seem that conflicted sensate personalities, feeling guilty about their delight in the sensual activities of eating, create a deflecting ritual around the act (offering the food, etc.), and then feel as though they have been licensed to indulge. A way of cheating the conscience, so to speak. As a further compensation, there are multiple glorifications of renunciation, including the most sterling example, that of Raghunath Das Goswami, which deflect guilt through a kind of transference identification.

There are two things that need to be disentangled here: one is the practical aspect of controlling the senses and finding a just equilibrium in one's psycho-physiological makeup, i.e. "keeping body and soul together." The other is the aspect of spiritual experience that comes when one says, along with Mahaprabhu, ei rasa kṛṣṇa āsvādilo ("This is the taste that Krishna himself has relished.") For the sadhaka, the two are directly connected--one who acts purely and uncontrollably for the sake of sensual enjoyment will lack the presence of mind (sattva) to experience the latter. Having experienced the latter will give motivatation to the former (rasa-varjaṁ raso'py asya paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate), setting off a permanent causal chain.

The following verses should be contemplated in this regard:

sarvopādhi-vinirmuktaṁ tat-paratvena nirmalam
hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate
Bhakti is defined as the engagement of the senses in the service of the Proprietor of the Senses. This service is to be free from any contamination by identity with the body and pure through being exclusively fixed on him. (BRS 1.1.12; CC 2.19.170)
Now, as I have stated before and will repeat ad nauseam, given the above, it is almost absurd to think that the most prominent of all sensual activities, the impulse that is almost indistinguishable from life itself, the sexual urge, would not find a place in a scheme that holds, as its basic premise, that all the senses can be used in the service of God.

Of course it is often suggested that where sexuality is concerned, this is a reference to reproduction ("producing nice children for Krishna"). In the context of the depiction of sexuality in Radha and Krishna lila, this is almost totally absurd.

In the modern scientific context, of course, where the evolutionary imperative is considered coterminus with the Absolute, everything can be reduced to the biological urge to reproduce. But let us try to understand that this is not the way that the Indian sages saw anything. We need food to survive, and evolutionary justification can be found for the fact that things taste good, but when Mahaprabhu exults, ei rasa kṛṣṇa āsvādilo, he has extracted the pleasurable essence from the biological or functional purpose of eating and has turned it into something completely different.

In one sense, the sensual act (sādhana) is only a trigger to an inner experience, or bhāva (the sādhya). The real pleasure is not the immediate sensual act, but the way it is subjectively perceived as having a relation to Krishna (hari-sambandhi vastu) in the mind of the devotee. Through the cultivation of devotion and the relationship with Krishna, this subjective perception becomes ever more profound. To cement this relationship of things like food to Krishna, Gaudiya Vaishnavism uses ritual, predominantly that of arcana or pūjā.

To engage in puja, it may be noted, one must be initiated (dīkṣā). vinā dīkṣā hi pūjāyāṁ nādhikāro'sti kasyacit. But beyond the vidhi concept of getting initiated in order to engage in pūjā to avoid the sinful consequences of eating unoffered food (which resembles the kind of conflicted sensuality that I refered to above), there is a transcendent concept that Mahaprabhu uttered--

dīkṣā kāle bhakta kare ātma-samarpaṇa
sei kāle kṛṣṇa tāre kare ātma-sama
sei deha kare tāra cid-ānanda-maya
aprākṛta-dehe tāṅra caraṇa bhajaya
At the time of initiation, when a devotee surrenders himself to the spiritual master, Krishna makes him equal to himself. He transforms the devotee's body into spiritual substance; the devotee then worships the Lord using that spiritualized body. (CC 3.4.192-3)
This explains why dīkṣā is particularly significant in the Vaishnava conception of spirituality: Because it is an official declaration of intent (sevonmukha):

ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi
na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau
svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ
The holy name, form, qualities and pastimes of Sri Krishna are divine and transcendental. They cannot be experienced by material senses. The Lord manifests himself spontaneously on the tongue and other senses of a devotee who shows the desire to serve him. (BRS 1.2.109)
So, according to my understanding, if the body has been spiritualized, this does not mean the entire body with the exception of the sexual organs. No such exception has been overtly made anywhere, despite the critiques made of sexuality throughout the Bhagavatam. The sense of touch has been approved in touching devotees (tad-bhṛtya-gātra-sparśe’ṅga-saṅgamam, 9.4.19), giving us a clue as to the direction this sensual activity can take us. (Note that the word aṅga-saṅga is a common synonym for sexual congress.)

There are clearly many questions that arise out of this, but I will end my contribution today with these familiar reminders from the Bhakti-rasāmta-sindhu...

anāsaktasya viṣayān
yathārham upayuñjataḥ
nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe
yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate
Appropriate renunciation (yukta-vairāgya) is defined as the appropriate use of the sense objects with detachment by bringing them consistently into connection with Krishna. (BRS 1.2.255)
prāpañcikatayā buddhyā
mumukṣubhiḥ parityāgo
vairāgyaṁ phalgu kathyate
False renunciation (phalgu-vairāgya) is defined as rejecting something related to the Lord, in the interest of seeking liberation, out of the false understanding that it is material. (BRS 1.2.256)

Jai Sri Radhe !!!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Jagadananda the Sahajiya, immortalized

My old friend Madhavanandaji has posted an article on Sahajiyaism on his Wiki site. In this article, he has done me the honor of posting my picture and saying a few words about me. Certainly I am unworthy of any notice or mention whatsoever. Nevertheless, the fact that my very existence has been noticed is, I admit, invigorating and timely, as it coincides with the launching of this humble effort.

As I am in a position where time is chronically short, I would just like to comment briefly on my statement, "Sahajiyaism and orthodoxy are like two wings on the Gaudiya Vaishnavism bird." Advaita Dasji, an old friend wrote in response (after asking for scriptural references):

Jagat: I still cannot see how my or anyone else's bird of bhakti cannot fly without the one wing of sahajiyaism. I dont need them to act as foil at all because I and most other Vaishnavas had for most time no clear idea even what sahajiya means. You mean to say that all suddha vaishnavas (sorry I like that adjective more than that mundane word 'orthodox') thrive on a "holier-than-thou" attitude towards sahajiyas, and without that they cannot fly? Arrogance and condescension nourishes prema or so? Millions of "bhakta-birds" have flown high on two wings of 'orthodoxy' (see my weblog today about the term orthodoxy!).

And finally I repeat, you cannot prove your theory, as usual I must say, with shastra at all. The song-verses you quoted from the Caitanya Caritamrita do not suggest that Mahaprabhu accepts sahajiya practise after one's conversion to GV, it means that he accepts anyone from no matter how low a background, and naturally they have to clean up their act after conversion. Otherwise the Chota Haridas story would be pointless and the namaparadha 'to sin on strenght of the holy name' would be committed. Jiva Gosvami's comment on the api cet suduracara verse in his Bhakti Sandarbha 173 also makes it clear that one cannot just continue sinning as a devotee of Krishna.
Of course, I do not have a shastric reference for this. It is an observation. Advaita Dasji himself gives a clue: He was happily engaged in bhakti even without knowing what a Sahajiya was. Nevertheless, as Madhava's article points out, Gaudiya Math and Iskcon devotees are routinely fed anti-Sahajiya propaganda well before getting any clear idea of what it is as a kind of vaccine to save them from the fate-worse-than-death that comes of "imitating" Radha and Krishna. The Gaudiya Math conflates orthodox raganuga bhakti practices with Sahajiyaism in a deliberate effort to muddy the waters about the vivid erotic imagery in the traditions of Radha-Krishna worship. These things indicate, to me, that if Sahajiyaism did not exist, someone would have to hurry up and invent it. Enough with the straw men, let's have some real flesh and blood to joust with!

Of course, my intention is not to say that every individual practitioner of bhakti yoga needs to be engaged in some kind of internal debate about the truth of Sahajiya ideas. Each person has a particular faith and follows it through. My point is that as a movement, devotion to Radha and Krishna, because of its vividly erotic symbolism, is sure to produce Sahajiya-type offshoots, as our dear Pitambaraji has proved. Of course, he is not the only one: there are now a number of Iskcon dropouts who have, in one way or another, attempted to accommodate Tantric or customary sexual practices into the devotional life.

The creation of opposition to a conventional position tends to create energy on both sides of a divide. It requires the sharpening of wits and the clarification of ideas and concepts. In objective seekers, it requires finding synthesis (which, in a sense, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself symbolizes). The Vaishnava orthodoxy's paranoia about human sexuality and its spiritual potential is an indication to me that no synthesis has been reached. We are nevertheless, here in the West, in the earliest stages of that energetic no-compromise state. It is my feeling that the entire movement would be benefited by an intellectually coherent defense of Sahajiyaism that would lead to a functioning society of devotees outside the stifling orthodoxies of modern-day Vaishnavism.

I am, however, a synthesizer by nature. I do not really consider myself a rebel against orthodoxy. Indeed, I feel that the accommodation of human eros is the only way to make sense of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy and symbolism. It is going to take time for me to be able to fully develop these ideas, and I beg the indulgence of anyone reading these meanderings.

Jai Radhe!!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Beginning a new blog

Well, my dear friends, after receiving kind suggestions from several well-wishers, I have decided to start a blog here. This is to be a temporary situation, I hope, until such time as I can set up my own website.

I was quite happy with the situation at the wisewisdoms site, but due to the decision of the hosts of that site that they could no longer in good conscience support me and my opinions, I have been forced to look for another place to share my thoughts. Posting on various Vaishnava forums has also become an impossible burden for me. On the one hand, there are too many flamers and trolls for my liking. On the other, I do not want to cause a disturbance to those whose deeply cherished ideas I challenge. So, a blog where I simply state my personal feelings seems to be the only way to go, at least for the time being.

Unfortunately I am undergoing yet another computer problem at present and so a great deal of my archived material is not currently available to me. Nevertheless, on the principal of shubhasya shighram, "If it is worth doing, it is worth doing without delay," I am starting today and we will see where things go from here.

I pray for the blessings of all my well-wishers, for the mercy of my gurus, and for the guidance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

For an auspicious invocation, I shall post three verses that I composed myself:

muhur hi harināma yo rata-dhiyā gṛṇāti priyam
tam eva kila darśakaṁ madhura-rāga-bhakty-adhvano
namāmi karuṇā-mayaṁ hi lalitā-prasādaṁ prabhum
I bow down to the most merciful Lalita Prasad Prabhu, who is enthusiastically serving the lotus feet of the beloved of Vrajendranandan Sri Krishna, who constantly chants the Holy Name with concentration, and who reveals the sweet path of raganuga bhakti.

janaka-guru-samakṣam ānugatye'tidakṣa
vidita-vihita-dīkṣa labdha-vātsalya-śikṣa
bhajana-gata-manaska sādhu-caryātitīkṣṇa
vigata-jagad-apekṣa rakṣa māṁ siddha-kakṣa
O Lalita Prasad Thakur! You are most skillful in following your guru and father, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. From him you understood the principles of proper initiation and you also received instruction from him, mixed with his fatherly affection. You gave your mind over to bhajan, dedicating yourself to the razor sharp path of saintly behavior, abandoning all consideration of worldly opinion. You are a siddha purusha, so please protect me.

nityānanda-kṛpā-jalena sicitaḥ śrī-jāhnavā-dhārayā
premṇā gaura-gadādhareti yugalaṁ yas tattva-vit sevate
taṁ tvāṁ godruma-vāsināṁ mukuṭagaṁ rūpānugānāṁ varaṁ
he śrī-bhaktivinoda deva paramaṁ bhaktyā namāmo vayam
O worshipable Bhaktivinoda Thakur! You have been drenched in the waters of Nityananda Prabhu's mercy, as they come pouring down to you through the channel of Srimati Jahnava Devi. You serve the Divine Couple in their form as Gaura and Gadadhara, knowing their true identities in all aspects. You are the topmost resident of Godrumdwip and the best of the followers of Rupa Goswami. With the deepest devotion, I bow down to you.