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 !!!

1 comment:

visnudas said...

I wish this blog allowed anonymous comments because I am very impressed/suspicious/angered and dazzled by this post.
I can only say bravo.
I am reminded of a talk with Joseph Campbell where he quoted a US soldier in Europe/WWII. Upon seeing the US tanks roll down the street after days of house to house fighting, he was asked whether it was a "beautiful" sight. His reply, "no, sublime".
I know that worrying what others may think or say about me praising your blog is a function of false ego. So, your essay has been sublime.
Joy Nitai! Joy Gaur!