Showing posts from November, 2006

Kant and Moving Goalposts

There are several questions left open here.

When I was reading Kant and his critics, I could not help but be reminded of Walter Kaufmann's comments on the Gita, in which he objected to the overwhelming pre-eminence of duty for its own sake, excluding all other rewards, which he found a dry and empty approach to life.

Kant also seems to think that if it doesn't hurt, if one doesn't find it a struggle to fight one's instincts in order to obey the categorical imperative of moral duty, then it is of no inherent value. Righteousness is its own reward. Kant does not hold out any transcendental joys, no heaven as compensation, but only a kind of sense of rational justification that comes to one who follows this impersonal categorical imperative. Neither does Kant think much of sentimental human motivation, i.e., love, as a rationale for moral action, for these things belong to the realm of the passions.

Of course, the Upanishads, in the bhūma-vidyā section of Bṛhad-āraṇyak…

An answer to the letter from a devotee

Dear friend,

First of all, I want to express my sympathies to you for all you have gone through. Moreover, I would like to thank you, since it is clear to me that you were deeply affected by something I have written and wanted to share your experience with me. I was very moved. I will try not to disgrace myself by writing platitudes.

Who can count the ways, subtle and gross, in which Maya makes us suffer? Suffering is always personal, and reducing it to headers like adhibhautika, adhidaivika and adhyatmika or other categories seems to be of little help in unveiling its mysteries. But the miseries that come to us through nature, other creatures, or our own mind and body all contain, through the workings of the illusory potency, a mystification of agency.

Suffering comes to us through personal and impersonal agencies, just as do love and happiness, but the true and ultimate cause lies beyond them. All psychologists will tell you that forgiveness is an important step in healing, and forgive…

Letter from a devotee

I received the following letter from a young devotee, which rather nicely illustrates the conflict. I will reserve comment for now, but I want to stress that the question has complex aspects, which I would like to continue discussing.

Radhe Radhe!
My father abandoned our family when I was only 5. It was an agony for him to stay. He was an artist - a musician, a bard in the classical sense. His muse and his heart demanded that he flee the family home and seek his fortune on the wide open road. Quite the romantic!

To this day I remain so fundamentally damaged from being abandoned by him that it infuses every aspect of my life. There is no situation so mundane, trivial, or grand that it escapes the filter of the absent father.

Dharma dictates various karmas. These karmas are unique to each person. Dharma is mysterious and hard to fathom. By following dharma one does not escape pain in this life nor karma in the next. It is simply done because it is dharma.

The pain and psychological wounds …

Whatever a man desires, that for him is his duty

I need to explain more what I mean by dharma. This is a continuing meditation on my own poem. When I reposted it, by some coincidence I reread the post I made about the Gita verse kāmo'smi bhāratarshabha. I was struck by the words from the Mahabharata (14.13.9-10)--

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.
"Whatever a man desires, that is to him his duty."

This describes, of course, the idea of Berüf or vocation. Prabhupada once said, "Find Krishna in the direction of your service.&…

Nostalgia for the days before the fall

Truly, truly, I am really feeling strange today. For the first time in several months, I am doing something that I did as a matter of course for several years--sitting at my computer, translating, thinking, writing, without worry about anything else. I just went for a tranquil japa walk in the crisp autumn sunlight...

The fact that I have been pulled away from this life because of my need to meet my financial responsibilities to my family has been an extremely painful experience. Sometimes I feel that my arm is being twisted harder and harder while the Twister says, "Let go, let go! You know what your real life is! All the rest is just a mirage! Let it go and nothing evil will befall anyone. The misery is in getting your arm twisted."

Would I not be better able to serve the world by continuing the work of the Grantha Mandir, or by translating, or by writing original works on Krishna consciousness, both devotional and academic (all of which is pretty much at a complete stands…

A Day Off

I haven't been visiting this site much. The temptation is too great to reveal too much of my personal life. What is a blog but another version of what writers and poets have done since time immemorial? There is no way that anything spoken could ever be the absolute honest truth, because the desire to create an image will always come in the way. And the greater the compromise with matter, the greater the tendency to lie. It is a curious Catch-22: The moralists will tell us that the truth sets us free, and yet one feels that one is never free enough to tell the truth in its entirety. We use the portion of the truth that favors our amour propre and negotiate our place in Maya with it. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I feel more alive when I write. Whether there is a public listening to me or not...

This is sankirtan. The description of the life of a devotee, even one as degraded and lost as myself, whether in the first or third person, is preaching. This is what Rupa Goswami was ge…

Some photos

Madhavananda and I, Varshana 2004.

This photo was taken by Madhavanandaji in February 2004, at Varshana.

This photo was taken in 2004, at Ananda Dham, Vrindavan.

This photo was taken at Radha Kund by Mark Tinghino in 1984.

śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ

(Sept. 27. 2005)

The gods of this earth
dragged me bound and chained
to the battlefield of choice.

Amidst the noise and rain,
they laughed and said,
“Behold the armies here aligned;
survey now what will be lost,
and what, if aught, you'll gain.”

My feet were motionless,
locked in the hardened mortar
of my dharma.
I rattled my hapless chain.

The gods cackled and shrieked, “Look:
There is no worldly goal, no aim,
no task before God but dharma:
Do your duty, day after day,
There’s no Sabbath, so claim no rest.
There is no rest to claim.” (1)

Another whispered hoarsely—“Yes!
Stick to your wretched dharma,
given you by Nature, God and Guru!
There is only hope for you
if you unravel your hopes:
For these are the binding ropes.” (2)

I strained to see the Vraja fields,
once held up to me as hope.
“Will I get this from my dharma?”
I cried. And they said, “Nope.”

“Surrender!” urged the worldly gods.
“Do your karma! Take your karma!
Fear for sankar of the varna!
Worry ‘bout the kula dha…