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.


No comments: