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.

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