Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Men Becoming Women, Women Becoming Men

The point of much of what was said before is this: The I-Thou mode of relation is more natural to woman, the I-It mode to men. Even this very discourse is contaminated by the masculine approach as I try to dissect these matters and analyse them without apparently directly engaging in an I-Thou act.

In fact, Buber himself says that the I-Thou mode assimilates the I-It mode in the way that relation assimilates experience. "There is nothing I must not see in order to see, and there is no knowledge that I must forget. Rather, it is everything, picture and movement, species and instance, law and number, included and inseparably fused." Therefore, my dear reader, when I speak these things, they are all assimilated into You.

The acharyas confirm this insight in relation to the bhakti path as well. Jiva Goswami writes that knowledge need not be inimical to devotion (see Durgama-saṅgamanī to BRS 1.1.10). The early scientists thought of natural reason as a way of understanding the glories of God, which was a way of approaching Him. Even Stephen Hawking cannot stop himself from attempting to "understand the mind of God" even though he thinks that he can understand it simply through physics. No doubt he gets a pretty part of the picture, and had he bhakti, this pretty picture would enhance that bhakti. My own childlike efforts are only meant to attempt to paint a portrait of Radha and Krishna, by which our love for Them will increase.

Rational discourse is necessary, but dangerous. Buber seems to be saying that the I-Thou state is ineffable, like the Upanishads--yato vāco nivartante aprāpya manasā saha. Indeed, when I talk about a mystical experience of union, I am talking about a place that is without words, just as I did when talking about that Sahajiya kirtaniya and the experience I had in his kirtan. But neither experience is entirely devoid of a substratum of understandings--beginning with the symbolism of Radha and Krishna, and including the entire culture of the devotional life as it is shared by lovers.

Throughout this all, I realize that for certain people I am defending the indefensible: all these generalities describing certain qualities as predominantly feminine and others as predominantly masculine. In the modern context, I believe, this may be considered politically incorrect by a large number of groups in society. Quite understandably, neither men nor women wish to be confined to stereotypes; they find any generalizations about gender to smack of attempts at forced constraint and religious fascism. In this age of transgenderism, transvestism, gay liberation, feminism, etc., many people take gender as a human construct that can be manipulated at will. Of course, if there were no differences between the sexes, why would a man want to become a woman, or vice versa? How could there be any meaning to this transgendered person's statement, "I was in a man's body, but I always felt like this was a mistake. Internally, I was a woman."

And yet, there is this curious phenomenon in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the "dirty little secret" that Iskcon and the rest would rather not discuss, like the Scientologists' aliens: that is manjari bhava, which was the goal of Rupa Goswami, the sampradaya's greatest acharya. What are the implications of this rather strange bit of gender manipulation? Sure, in the modern sexual-political context, a little bit of gender bending is no one's business, so if you are a member of the "third sex" or a closet cross dresser who wants to become a sakhi-bheki, who's going to stop you? But in a religion that has pretensions to universality and hopes to pierce the mainstream, these things need to be brought out into the open and given credible explanations that resonate with average human experience.

There is an oft-quoted statement, erroneously attributed to John Cardinal Newman, which is much loved by Bengali defenders of the Gaudiya faith. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I have just found out that this quote comes from his brother Francis W. Newman (1805-1897), a person to whom I have now been happily introduced.

None can enter the kingdom of heaven without becoming a little child. But behind and after this, there is a mystery revealed to but few, namely, that if the soul is to go on into higher spiritual blessedness it must become a woman. Yes, however manly thou be among men, it must learn to love being dependent; must lean on God, not solely from distress or alarm, but because it does not like independence or loneliness. It must not have recourse to Him merely as to a friend in need, under the strain of duty, the battering of affliction and the failure of human sympathy, but it must press toward him when there is no need.

This text is quoted at greater length in Śrī Nīlācale Vraja-mādhurī by Rasika Mohan Vidyabhushan (1985), but the section given above is the one that is seen most often and indicates the fundamental insight that is so loved by Gaudiya apologists.

Since the rest of the passage is nice, I don't see the harm in quoting it in full, even though it may be superfluous to our current purpose:
(i) They (souls) too seem to be infinite in their cravings. Who but He can satisfy them? Thus a restless instinct agitates the soul guiding it dimly to feel that it was made from some definite, unknown relation towards God. The sense of emptiness increases to positive uneasiness, until there is an inward yearning, if not shaped in words, yet in substance not alien from that ancient strain. "As the heart panteth after the water brooks, so my soul after Thee, O God. I wait for the Lord; My soul dothe wait as those that watch for the morning." But by the continuance of such exercises, the fervency of desire gradually ripens into love and love goes on heightening until as last the soul becomes conscious of it.

In claiming a personal relationship with God, nothing exclusive is intended. Nay, he who thus learns that he is loved by God learns simultaneously that all other men and creatures are also loved (though a hateful dogma may here mar the soul's instinct). That is an important lesson for the man's external action, indeed, is a foundation of universal love in the soul. But the inward movements toward God proceed exactly as if there were no other creature beside itself in the universe. Thus the discovery that it loves and is loved in turn produces sensible joy. In some nature very powerful, in all imparting cheerfulness, hope, vivacity. The personal relation sought is discerned and felt. The soul understands and knows that God is her God, dwelling with her more closely than any creature can. Yea, neither stars, nor sea, nor smiling Nature hold God so intimately as the bosom of the Soul.

What is He to it? What but the Soul of the soul. It no longer seems profane to say, "God is my bosom friend. God is for me and I am for Him."

So Joy bursts into praise and all things look brilliant, and hardship seems easy and duty becomes delight, and contempt is not felt, and every morsel of bread is sweet. Then, though we know that the physical universe has fixed unaltering laws, we cannot help seeing God's hand in events. Whatever happens we think of as His mercies, His kindnesses, or His visitations and His chastisements. Everything comes to us from His love. Thus the whole world is fresh to us with sweetness before untasted. All things are ours whether afflictions or pleasure, health or pain. Old things are passed away. Behold! All things are become new and the soul wanders and admires and gives thanks, and exults like a child on a summer's day--and understands that she is a newborn child. She has undergone a new birth! It is not a birth after the flesh, but a birth of the Spirit, birth into a heavenly union, birth into the family of God. Why need she scruple to say that she is partaker of the divine nature if God loves her and dwells in her bosom?

The single thought, "God is for my soul and my soul is for Him" suffices to fill a universe of feeling and gives rise to a hundred metaphors. Spiritual persons have exhausted human relationships in the vain attempt to express their full sense of what God is to them. Father, brother, friend, king, master, guide, shepherd are common titles. But what has been said will show why a still tenderer tie has ordinarily presented itself to the Christian imagination as a very appropriate metaphor: that of marriage. The habit of breathing to God our most secret hopes, sorrows complaints, and wishes in unheard whisper, with the consciousness that He is always inseparable from our being, perhaps pressed this comparison forward.

(ii) They (souls) thus undergo a Spiritual Marriage. We have seen the longings of the soul to covet God's transitory visits into an abiding and indissoluble union. It makes a covenant with God and pledges itself to Him, well assured that he accepts the pledge. "Not now only, O my Lord," it exclaims, "but henceforth and always, Thou are mine and I am thine. I have known somewhat of Thy gloriousness and loveliness. I have loved Thee a little. This heart has been Thy dwelling place. Now do I claim that my Lord shall never go away, but dwell here inseparably and eternally." It is therefore very far indeed from a gratuitous fantasy to speak of this as a marriage of the soul to God. No other metaphor in fact will express the thing.

(iii) And herein lies the fundamental union of poetry and religion. Hence is it that the ancient bard, vates [Latin, "poet"] or prophet united the characters poet and religious teacher, and in fact to feed upon the higher and sublime poetry an exercise of the soul, a preparation at best for actual religion. Its similarity to religious meditations is in many respects evident. As the same hymn of praise and love may be daily recited and wearies not, as no new information for the understanding is coveted, so the same lines of the poet eternally delight the more, perhaps because they are old. We dwell upon each word and find the imagination more and more stimulated. It is a never-ending feast, for the wise poet does not limit his hearers to his own mind, but leaves room for him to range beyond him if they can."

A lot of interesting insights and parallels to Gaudiya thinking, no doubt. But as we say in Sanskrit, prakṛtam anusarāmaḥ: Let's get back to the topic at hand.

I have been generalizing about male and female natures with object of agreeing with this concept: a man must adopt an essentially feminine point of view in order to be able to understand God. That attitude is the I-Thou mode of relating. It is bhakti. Therefore, it seems to me that for a man to break out of his purely masculine approach to phenomena, it is necessary for him to come into very deep communion with woman.

This is, of course, something that any Jungian would immediately recognize as an effort to find psychic equilibrium or the coniunctio oppositorum. This is something that I will try to explore in these pages. The only exception I would see to the necessity of following Sahajiya practices in order to make further spiritual advancement on this path would be if one was particularly androgynous to begin with. A man who needs to compensate for psychic imbalance will profit spiritually from the association of a sādhikā.

yasya yat-saṅgatiḥ puṁso maṇivat syāt sa tad-guṇaḥ
sva-kula-rddhyai tato dhīmān sva-yūthyān eva saṁśrayet
Just as a crystal takes on the colors of that which is placed beside it, so do people take on the qualities of those whose company they keep. A wise person, therefore, in order to enrich the qualities one desires to develop in oneself, one should seek the association of the like-minded. (BRS 1.2.229)
sajātīyāśaye snigdhe sādhau saṅgaḥ svato-vare
The three qualities one should look for in a companion are similar tastes and goals, an affectionate nature, and qualities that one can look up to. (BRS 1.2.91)
What is the meaning then, of all these elucrubations for women? Surely I am not saying that women are without any need for finding psychic equlibrium? Nor am I idealizing women to the point of thinking that they are somehow naturally divine (at least not across the board). Then what is the meaning of manjari bhava for them? Should they not think of themselves in masculine terms?

In fact, yes. This is the intent of Gaura lila, where the sakhis of Vraja take male forms in Nabadwip. This is the complementarity of the two lilas. Mahaprabhu himself symbolizes the Divine Androgyne--the coniunctio oppositorum in the flesh, so to speak. And even though Mahaprabhu's lila appears to be that of a madman, it is in fact that of true spiritual sanity.

Nevertheless, of the two attitudes, even for women, the feminine spirit is the ascendant in terms of spiritual life, as Newman correctly states. The masculine attitude remains external (bahiraṅga), the feminine internal (antaraṅga). Jnana and karma will always remain subordinate to bhakti, I-It to I-Thou; the heroic mood will always remain subordinate to madhura. What else could Radha's supremacy mean?

I will get into this more as we approach the subject in the discussion of "imitation of Radha and Krishna" which was the second division of Madhavananda's objections to Sahajiyaism.


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