Monday, November 20, 2006

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 getting at when he said that Bilvamangala was a "sadhaka" ashraya alambana, or when Ananta Dasji says that the life of the sadhaka devotee, as in the case of Raghunath Das Goswami's Vilapa Kusumanjali, is full of rasa.

In the modern context, the literary sensibilities of the general public have become more sophisticated than they would have been in an age of widespread illiteracy, or even in any of the classical periods of literature. Archetypal stories told in bare bone fashion, even with all the embellishments and finest literary conceits, can be admired by those with the appropriate sensibility, but they don't easily produce sattvika vikaras. Those come from stories to which we are able to relate more directly.

In the case of someone like myself, who finds his devotional aspirations so far from realization, whose practice of devotion is so feeble, how can it be said that there is any rasa? This is where the debate in rasa theory about the location of rasa comes in. Does the writer himself experience rasa when he suffers in separation from his beloved? It takes an almost superhuman effort to transcend the personal experience of pain. This is why writing or talking are remedies, because they separate the person from his own experience. The isolated experience can then be experienced as rasa. In the case of bhakti, the experience of the devotee is mapped onto the eternal image of God, making the experience of rasa transcendental. Actually, all rasa experiences ARE transcendent, that is why they are called "brahma-sahodara."

Ah, writing truly is an act of freedom.

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Anyway, today I am taking a day off samsara's more stifling manifestations to prepare a course on Gaudiya Vaishnavism I am to be giving at McGill this January. I have to prepare a "course pack" of readings. I want to include a liberal mix of primary and secondary readings, but appropriate texts are still not always available. Of course, my library of translations is hopelessly out of date. There have been a lot of busy bees in Iskcon and elsewhere bringing a great deal of the corpus into the public eye. I have certainly not played the role I was perhaps meant to play in this effort. I want to spend at least two weeks on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's life--one on the Chaitanya Bhagavata, the other on the Chaitanya Charitamrita. But I am not too happy with the CBH that I found on the Internet (probably an old version of Sarvabhavana's translation), so I am making a revision of several chapters: Adi 17, Madhya 1, and probably Madhya 24-26. Though I will use Tony Stewart's translation of the Jagai-Madhai story found in Religions of India in Practice. I am also thinking that some of the more egregious manifestations, such as the Maha Prakash theophany, or Mahaprabhu's play in the house of Chandrasekhar, would be good for eliciting a reaction from students.

I think a good new general academic volume on Gaudiya Vaishnavism would be welcome.

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