Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kāmo'smi bhāratarṣabha

I recently rediscovered the following article, which came about as a result of a discussion on Gaudiya Discussions centered around the Gita verse (7.12, dharmāviruddha-bhūteṣu kāmo'smi bhāratarṣabha) that Madhavananda mentions in his refutation of Sahajiyaism and referred to earlier on this blogsite. Since this is all a part of the general theme of this blog, I have decided to repost it here.



The statement, "I am desire (kāma) when it does not go against religious principles" is found in one of the vibhūti-yoga sections of the Gita, where Krishna is describing his own glories. Desire is one of the most glorious and powerful manifestations of the creation and, as Krishna says at the end of Chapter 10, wherever such glorious manifestations are to be found, they are he. At least, they are clues pointing to his existence and his glory.

As such, the extremely narrow definition of kāma given by the Gaudiya commentators seems inadequate. Though sexual desire as procreative act is definitely a miraculous manifestation and a locus of the Divine, surely this cannot be the extent of what is being said here.

I don't see why scriptures written 400 or more years ago cannot be reinterpreted in accordance with the broader understanding coming from the sciences. My problem with quoting shastra in general is that we often don't really know why a certain injunction is given. Why, really, are prohibitions against sexuality so strong? Though I feel strongly that a devotee should lead an ethical and moral life, I don't see how a normal married sex life would disrupt that. When Raghunath Das was told yathā yukta (dharmāviruddha) viṣaya bhuñjo (kāma) anāsakta hoiyā. What exactly did that mean?

Actually, it is rather surprising that the lines dharmāviruddha-bhūteṣu kāmo'smi bhāratarṣabha have inspired so little commentary, especially in view of the various complications associated with kāma in the devotional process.

The terms used are sufficiently broad to allow our imagination to roam around these great concepts of dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa. I like Tripurari Maharaja's equation of kāma with ("material") love, which is perfectly legitimate. Krishna is present in worldly love, where such love does not lead to abuse. Where it leads to selfless acts, love is certainly one of the most glorious features of the creation.

Dharma here could be understood in its wider sense as the true inherent nature of a thing. This might be seen, for instance, as a condemnation of homosexuality (to use an example of something traditionally considered an "unnatural" act), or bestiality. But there are many other possible interpretations.


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Zaehner, as is often the case, seems to have hit this nail squarely on the head by quoting a very relevant and insightful passage from Mahābhārata:

Shankara...confines desire to the craving for what one does not possess (?). This is plainly to whittle away Krishna's words... In MBh 14.13.9-17 Krishna explains to Yudhisthira, a natural sannyasi if there ever was one, just how He is desire--

kāmātmānaṁ na praśaṁsanti loke
na cākāmāt kā cid asti pravṛttiḥ
dānaṁ hi vedādhyayanaṁ tapaś ca
kāmena karmāṇi ca vaidikāni

vrataṁ yajñān niyamān dhyānayogān
kāmena yo nārabhate viditvā
yad yad dhyayaṁ kāmayate sa dharmo
na yo dharmo niyamas tasya mūlam

atra gāthāḥ kāma-gītāḥ kīrtayanti purā vidaḥ
śṛṇu saṁkīrtyamānās tā nikhilena yudhiṣṭhira
nāhaṁ śakyo 'nupāyena hantuṁ bhūtena kenacit
yo māṁ prayatate hantuṁ jñātvā praharaṇe balam
tasya tasmin praharaṇe punaḥ prādurbhavāmy aham
In this world, men do not commend a man whose very self is desire, and yet there can be no progress (pravritti) without desire, for the gift of alms, the study of the Veda, ascetic practice, and the Vedic sacrificial acts are all motivated by desire. Whoever knowingly undertakes a religious vow, performs sacrifice or any other religious duty, or engages in the spiritual exercise of meditation without desire does all this in vain. Whatever a man desires, that is to him his duty (dharma). It cannot be sound to curb one's duty.
This is the song which knowers of ancient lore celebrate as having been sung by Desire. Listen to me, Yudhisthira, I will recite it to you in full—

yo māṁ prayatate hantuṁ yajñair vividha-dakṣiṇaiḥ
jaṅgameṣv iva karmātmā punaḥ prādurbhavāmy aham
yo māṁ prayatate hantuṁ vedair vedānta-sādhanaiḥ
sthāvareṣv iva śāntātmā tasya prādurbhavāmy aham
yo māṁ prayatate hantuṁ dhṛtyā satya-parākramaḥ
bhāvo bhavāmi tasyāhaṁ sa ca māṁ nāvabudhyate
yo māṁ prayatate hantuṁ tapasā saṁśita-vrataḥ
tatas tapasi tasyātha punaḥ prādurbhavāmy aham
yo māṁ prayatate hantuṁ mokṣam āsthāya paṇḍitaḥ
tasya mokṣa-rati-sthasya nṛtyāmi ca hasāmi ca
avadhyaḥ sarva-bhūtānām aham ekaḥ sanātanaḥ

"I (Kāma) cannot be slain by any being whatever, since he is wholly without the means. If a man should seek to slay me, putting his trust in the strength of a weapon, then do I appear again in the very weapon he uses. If a man should seek to slay me by offering sacrifices and paying all manner of fees, then do I appear again as the "self that dwells in all action" in moving things. If a man should seek to slay me by means of the Vedas and the ways of perfection prescribed in the Vedanta, then do I appear as the "stilled, quiet self" in unmoving things. If a man should seek to slay me by steadfastness, a very paladin of truth, then do I become his very nature, unaware of me though he is. If a man should seek to slay me by ascetic practice, strict in his vows, then do I appear again in his very ascetic practice. If a man should seek to slay me, wise and bent on liberation, then do I dance and laugh before him as he abides in the bliss (rati) of liberation. Of all beings, I alone cannot be slain, eternal as I am."
[Still Zaehner] This may not be immediately recognizable as the Krishna of the Gita, but it is all of one piece with Krishna as he is described throughout the Epic.

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There is no need to connect Kāma as found in the above passage to the Krishna "of the Gita," as such. We must, however, inquire into the question of why Krishna's mantra is always prefaced by the kāma-bīja. Krishna is aprākṛta-madana, the God of transcendental desire.

This is why I believe that Freud's insights are helpful in understanding the matter. I don't make a strong break between any form of desire, but I accept, both with Freud and the Hindus, that the essence of desire is sexuality, which in its purified form is love. As I already mention earlier in this blog, Freud is misunderstood largely because he reduced the desire for love to a biological urge, that of sexuality and reproduction. This is still a dominant strain in reductionist thinking.

All the early critiques that followed Freud were centered around analysis of the most fundamental drives, as people were uncomfortable with this reduction to reproduction, otherwise identified as "the pleasure principle." Adler, for instance, simply designed it as will, no doubt following Schopenhauer. The most sophisticated and successful response was that of Jung, who saw a drive to self-actualization as the essence of the human psyche.

I don't think that we need to discard either of these extremes, but rather to embrace their complementarity. Without changing Freud's model drastically, however, we can still adapt his idea that desire is the fuel or energetic supply system for the psyche. Rather than seeing the higher manifestations of human desire exclusively as the product of sublimation, we may take the metaphysical view that the archetype of love is the real or true manifestation of desire, and that the various forms of love and desire in the world are varying degrees of approximations or perversions of this ideal.

Therefore, this passage should also be looked at in parallel with the Upanishadic texts (i.e. Chāndogya 7.22ff and Bhad-āranyaka 2.4.5) cited in earlier posts.

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Other commentaries on Gita 7.11, for reference:

Radhakrishnan "Desire as such is not evil. Selfish desire requires to be rooted out. The desire for union with the Divine is not wrong. Chāndogya Upanishad 8.3 refers to desires as essentially real (satya) though overlaid by what is unreal (anta). Our desires and activiteis, if they are expressive of the spirit within us and derive from the true spiritual personality, become a pure overflowing of the Divine will."

Gandhi: "Kama undivorced from dharma" means the desire for moksha, or the desire to end the sufferings of creatures. If we desire to end the suffering of others, our suffering too will end. In Sanskrit, the desire to end the sufferings of others is described as mahā-svārtha, supreme self-interest. It means interest in the moksha of all creatures. Anyone who feels such a desire would be striving hard for his own moksha."

Sivananda follows Shankara: "I am the desire which is in accordance with the teachings of the scriptures or codes prescribing the duties of life (dharma-shastra). I am the desire for moderate eating and drinking, etc., which are necessary for the sustenance of the body and which help one in the practice of yoga."

Jnaneswari: "Krishna said, In all creatures I am that desire through which dharma becomes their highest aspiration. This desire, through the channel of feeling, generally follows the path of the senses, but is not allowed to work against dharma. Leaving the wrong road of forbidden actions, it follows the path of prescribed duties and travels with the help of the torch of discipline. When desire follows the proper direction, a person fulfils his duty and participates in worldly life with the freedom he gains at the holy place of liberation. This desire causes the vine of the entire creation to grow on the arbor of the greatness of the Vedas, until it sends forth new foliage with the fruits of action and reaches the absolute. The Father of Yogis said, I am this restrained desire, the source of all created objects."

Tripurari Swami: "'I am love that is righteous.' Krishna also identifies himself with love that is in accordance with natural law. While love by nature is lawless, Krishna advocates the taming of material love. The effect of this is the awakening of the soul and its prospect for love on the spiritual plane, real love arising out of self-sacrifice. Although love is lawless, in material life, its unbridled pursuit amounts to ignoring obvious laws of nature, which in the least render such love unenduring. Scripture points this out and advocates that material love be redirected in order that it be fulfilled. When love is fully spiritualized, it transcends scripture."

Madhusudan Saraswati: dharmo dharma-śāstraṁ tenāviruddho ’pratiṣiddho dharmānukūlo vā yo bhūteṣu prāṇiṣu kāmaḥ śāstrānumata-jāyā-putra-vittādi-viṣayo’bhilāṣaḥ so’ham asmi he bhāratarṣabha ! śāstrāviruddha-kāma-bhūte mayi tathāvidha-kāma-yuktānāṁ bhūtānāṁ protatvam ity arthaḥ.

"Dharma means the dharma shastras. 'Not contradicting' means 'not specifically been prohibited' or 'propitious to the execution of duties.' I (Krishna) am such desire present in living beings; I am the scripturally sanctioned desires for wife, children, wealth, etc. In other words, those who desire in this way are present within me, who am the personification of such desire that does not contradict the scriptures."

Purushottam (Vallabhi sampradaya): dharmāviruddho dharmena aviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo'smi atrāyaṁ bhāvaḥ--laukika-kāmas tu dharma-viruddho'sti, yato'yaṁ rasaḥ svāvivāhitāyām eva bhavati prakaṭaḥ sarva-dharma-viruddha eva alaukikas tu rasātmako dharma-rūpa iti bhāvaḥ

"The idea is that mundane desire goes against religious principles, because it finds its fulfilment (rasa) in a woman who is not one's lawfully wedded wife, which is clearly against all scriptural injunctions. Transcendental (alaukika) desire is filled with [true spiritual] flavors, the very embodiment of dharma."

Vishwanath's interpretation, by the way, is a repetition of Sridhar's commentary. Baladeva repeats the same. Amazing that this interpretation (kāma = sexual desire) appears to be exclusive to our line. I tend to agree that it is unnecessarily narrow.

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