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.



visnudas said...

"The job is never finished. So what? Siddhi is a moving goalpost that is experienced incrementally through many lifetimes."
As long as the goal can be reached.
That is the essence of Guru to me. That one would listen to one and not another means that one has something of value and not the other. Or at least one man is selling what you want and another isn't. The idea of a forever receding goal is for me, a source of great pain and sorrow and seems like a very post-modern way of rationalising slow or no progress.

Anonymous said...

This is the path of bhakti, exemplified by Radha and Krishna's love of eternal competition.

man-mAdhurya rAdhAra prema doGhe hora kari
kSaNe kSaNe bAre doGhe, keha nAhi hAri

I would like to translate this as:

There is constant competition in the mind (mirror) between Krishna's sweetness and Radha's love. They both go on increasing, but neither knows defeat. (CC 1.4.142)

Jagat said...

In fact, there is no mirror mentioned in this verse at all. I don't know why I translated it like this. Perhaps this is just ACBSP's version. At any rate, there is no mind, either. The two things competing here are just Krishna's sweetness and Radha's love. The mirror idea probably comes from the context provided in the previous verses.

Jagat said...

One of the reasons devotees lose faith is their high expectations. Without wanting to minimize the high expectations that are found right in the Upanishads themselves, bhumaiva sukham, it is necessary to differentiate the Vaishnava conception from what is commonly called "enlightenment." To put it simply, enlightenment is somme tout the achievement of the jnanis. Though bhakti incorporates jnana, it supersedes it. Therefore verses like brahma-bhutaH prasannatma, aruhya kricchrena, etc., are so important in our sampradaya.

But there is a problem with what I would like to call the "enlightenment myth," which most significantly was Buddha's gift to the world. Now everybody thinks there is a magic moment after which everything is suddenly rosy and there is no more "human condition." Freud was more honest when he said the goal of psychotherapy was that it made us more capable of living with our basically miserable lives.

Now, I know that this does not sound like much of a goal, but if you think about it, that is what rasa theory is all about. Those addicted to the enlightenment conception seem to have absolutely no instinct for rasa theory. This is the part of my "satyam" article that I forgot to add. I will have to remember to do so. We make the most of our human condition by turning it into art. But art only exists against the backdrop of the archetypes, and that means bhakti.

There is preaching from a position of arrogance ("Don't you see, you fools, that you are all bathing in ignorance. Everything is going on according to God's will. We are all puppets in his hands. Surrender, for your own good, surrender.") and there is preaching from the point of view of the gopis in the rasa dance. The guru or leader is not the one who is "most enlightened" in the sense of having reached a divine plateau of realization, but the one who is suffering most from separation, the one who needs someone to share with. That is hard to communicate philosophically, and so kirtan is really the only means.

Indeed, to get to the Vrindavan forest in the middle of the night, it seems like the road is long, and why, for God's sake, offer this poisoned gift, this bishamrita ekatra milana of madhura rasa bhakti? Basically, here we can agree with those who emphasize the absolute nature of the transcendent will and say that we do indeed have no choice. If we are approaching our sixtieth birthdays and everything still revolves around Radha's bhava, Radha's beauty, Radha's seva, then for God's sake let's stop fighting it and embrace it with all our hearts. Damn the consequences!

Do it for the beauty of love, for the beauty of love in all its myriad phases. Let's see love as the underlying truth of the creation. Let the scientists see love as a evolutionary phenomenon designed (how hard it is to escape that word!) to optimize genetic variety! We will see it as human beings always have, as a manifestation of the Divine, pointing us in the direction of the Divine Couple.

As for modern literature with its engouement for rasabhasa, jugupsa and bibhatsa rasas, there is no satisfaction for the soul there! Or the soap opera entertainments without any relation to our beloved Yugala, how feeble a subsitute they are!

One other thing. To return to the "enlightenment myth", you may recall the argument about the sadhaka as ashrayalambana on Gaudiya Discussions. This is, I am realizing, even more significant than I thought before. The whole meaning of the Gaura avatar can be understood as the sacralizing or anointing of the sadhaka as an eternal bhava. It is a transformation of the vira rasa or masculine rasa into dharma-vira rather than yuddha-vira. Krishna put down his weapons after killing Dantavakra; Mahaprabhu only momentarily considered taking up weapons in anger to defend his devotees, but Nitai Sundar stopped him.

The dual siddha dehas, seva sadhaka-rupena, siddha-rupena ca is explained practically by Krishnadas Kaviraj in the commentary to Krishna Karnamrita, but it is the tradition that is followed by all our gurus in the line, especially where texts that follow the Karnamrita spirit--like Vilapa-kusumanjali or Radha-rasa-sudha-nidhi--are concerned. There is a flowing back and forth between the two realms of identity.

This is why it is said that Gaura lila is gudha. And even most Gaudiyas (at least those who are merging into the pan-Indian culture) somehow forget Mahaprabhuu and just dive into Radha and Krishna without remembering this added extra rasa culture.

To say "the enlightened person does not pray" is a misunderstanding. Prayer is conversation, but conversation, if it is not just small talk, is always prayer. It is dadati pratigrihnati guhyam akhyati pricchati. Separation and union, both are eternal.

Anonymous said...

In fact, there is no mirror mentioned in this verse at all. I don't know why I translated it like this. Perhaps this is just ACBSP's version. At any rate, there is no mind, either. The two things competing here are just Krishna's sweetness and Radha's love. The mirror idea probably comes from the context provided in the previous verses.

I did search the verse for the word, 'mirror' in vain. So I have taken 'man' for the mind which is often compared to a 'mirror' - ceto darpaNamArjanam...

also in the mirrors the images could get multiplied endlessly...

Of course, there had to be a battle ground where the 'eternal competition' between Krishna's Sweetness and Radha's Love could be taken place like the 'divine mind' itself,
even though no defeat could be possible!

Anonymous said...

Jagat said...

In fact, there is no mirror mentioned in this verse at all. I don't know why I translated it like this.

This information about mirrors is interesting, Krishna was also described in literature being fascinated by His own mirror image.

Mirrors and other reflective surfaces have long been associated with the strange or the bizarre. For example, in Greek mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in the water of a fountain. He thought he was seeing the image of a beautiful nymph. Unable to embrace or call forth the image, he pined away and was eventually transformed into a flower. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel by Oscar Wilde, a portrait of a handsome young man begins to deteriorate, reflecting the corruption of the man's inner being. The portrait becomes a mirror reflecting the state of the young man's soul. The man eventually commits murder and suicide.

Anonymous said...


"Whatever exists,either material or transedental,either
the mudane world(jada-jagat/achit jagat),the transedental Vaikuntha planets(chit-jagat)
or the innumerable jivas are but the transformation (parinama) of the
Supreme Brahman's(Sri Radharamana Krishna's) achintya(inconceivable)
shakti which is both eternally non-different and different from Brahman."