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Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part IV

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These essays have become a bit scrambled and perhaps lost their direction somewhat. They should be seen as notes for something that will come out of it all at some time in the future. I would, however, like to make a couple of points here, by way of a résumé:

In my understanding of this process there is no fundamental difference in the sambandha or prayojana for the Orthodox and Sahajiya schools, though there are some differences in the abhidheya.Ahangrahopasana is, as we have shown, acceptable when interpreted according to the correct sambandha and prayojana, and only rejected when it disagrees with the metaphysics and ultimate goal of Vaishnava practice. When it agrees, it is called aropa. This aropa is similar to, but not exactly the same as the aropa in aropa-siddha bhakti that has been discussed in a previous post.The goal of bhakti is bhava and prema. The word bhakti does not make a clear and specific difference between external activities and internal moods; bhava and prema are …

Vrindavan as Reality

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I just finished today's course on Vrindavan. The readings we used were all from the Journal of Vaishnava Studies:

Gelberg, Steven J. “Vrindavan as a locus of Mystical Experience.” JVS 1.1, Winter 1992. 9-41; Kapoor, O.B.L. “Vrindavan, the Highest Paradise.” JVS 1.1, 42-60; Haberman, David L. “Shrines of the Mind.” JVS 1.3 Spring 1993. 18-35.
I would like to say that I really enjoyed Gelberg's article. For those who are not familiar with Gelberg, he was known in Iskcon as Subhananda Das. He was in Harvard when he wrote this piece, and then went on into writing things about Iskcon as a religious movement, quite good stuff too. Somewhere along the line he decided to leave Iskcon and last I heard, he works as a photographer now. He is best known to devotees for an article he wrote called "On Leaving Iskcon". Too bad, really. A very intelligent guy and a very nice article about Vrindavan with a lot of good references to a variety of modern authors that show a good deal of i…

Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part III

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As I have been pointing out, Vaishnavism is about engaging the senses in the service of the Lord. In some cases, this sense activity seems to contradict the service principle. After all, the conception of Vrindavan is distinct from Svarga precisely on this point: that the latter is a place of elaborate sense enjoyment (divi deva-bhoga), whereas the former is a universe predicated on pure love. Have we not ourselves mocked the Muslim heaven and the virgins one the faithful will there deflower?

So how does Madhumangal serve the Lord when he demonstrates the character of a glutton? We assume that he has a spiritual body and does not need to eat in order to maintain it for the sake of service, as can be claimed by those who cite the need for prasad to keep body and soul together. Obviously, "service" has a wider semantic range than that which immediately springs to mind in the classical sense. How is Krishna pleased when we look on his image or even chant his name? If the goal i…

Gaudiya Vaishnavas and Muslim Invaders (From RISA)

Joshua Greene (Hofstra University)
There is a theory that the Gaudiyas "went underground" in the post-Caitanya period, to avoid persecution by Muslim invaders. This idea would explain the reclusive nature of the community in the 16th and 17th centuries. I believe both David Haberman and Alan Entwistle have posited this idea. Does anyone have access to their writings on the subject.
John Stratton Hawley (Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, Barnard College, Columbia University)

I'd be very grateful to you for tracing out this "theory"--who says this? The very most important Gaudiya texts were produced in this period of time, evidently very publicly, and some of the most influential among them were produced by gentlemen who were apparently recruited by Chaitanya because of the expertise they brought to their tasks in part from having served in "Muslim" courts--Rupa and Sanatana. Furthermore, Akbar's patronage (with more than a little assista…

Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part II

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In literature, it is in the nature of the text itself to control the emotional responses. (Under this rubric or the word "literature," I include plays, movies, musical works, novels, poems, etc.; in short, anything where the kinds of dynamics under discussion are operative.) And here we must draw a distinction between

Rupa's divine aesthetic and that of other, "mundane" literature. In the latter, most audiences tend to seek entertainment that confirms their ("bodily") identities, and therefore young men like action flicks with themes that allow them to experience vicarious heroism and a macho kind of love. For them, identification with the young girl mentioned previously will be difficult and somewhat forced. In such a case, a certain amount of acculturation or education is required, principally in the acquisition of a predisposition or capacity to bring one's attention to bear on the text material (sattva-guna). A little bit of work is required, …

At the university

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I talked about bloguilt, now I will talk about backblog. No I won't. This is just to say that I am in the sanctuary of McGill this morning. Last week was reading week, so I was hoping to use Tuesday to get caught up, but I ended up spending most of the day in bed, digesting.

I left home earlier than I usually do on Tuesdays. It is a bit milder than it has been--we've been having a fairly protracted cold spell since the middle of January--and I stopped in a coffeeshop to read before coming to my office at McGill.

I have been reading an article by James Hillman on the fiction of the case history. I don't read as quickly as I used to; somehow, everything I read has some significance, some value that is worthy of reflection. I no longer think that I need to swallow the whole universe, there seems to be plenty of nourishment to be had in smaller doses. That is, of course, if the doses come from the right source. "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some …

Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part I

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In answers to questions from Anuradha, Advaitaji makes the comment about Sahajiyaism:

What is it? It is an identification with Radha-Krishna by sādhakas who express it in tantrik sexual practise... It is dangerous because one identifies oneself with the divine lover and beloved. This is condemned by Rupa Gosvami as ahaṁgrahopāsanā. It is diametrically opposed to a service attitude. It can be quite subtle, that is why I presumed that my Guru and three other mahātmās urged me not to practise gopī-bhāva in a state of great sexual agitation or engagement - obviously one will then identify oneself with Radha Krishna more or less. [My bold]
I thank Advaita for making this clear statement of his position on the question, which I am sure reflects that of orthodox Vaishnavas everywhere. In my opinion, Advaita is confusing ahaṁgrahopāsanā with āropa; I personally do not recommend identifying with the Divine Lover and Beloved in the sense that Advaita means it, nor with compromising the service…

So'ham

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So'ham, I breathe you in,
I breathe you out, so'ham.

I suck you in, thirsty and dry,
from farthest edge, the endless rim,
come in, come in, I pull you in.
I wash you in over my lungs,
these sterile, callous, leaden lungs;
I wash you in over my heart,
this burdened, empty, heavy heart.
I draw you in, I spout you out,
I wash you in, I spill you out,
I breathe you in, I breathe you out.

Avagraha, the serpent squiggle
that separates the so from ham,
the this from that, the yin from yang,
the me from you...
this stupid hiss of a squiggle
this stupid hiss of a distance
this Ourobouros separation...
that wraps and circles round and round,
that sucks its tail and swallows down,
that swallows up both black and white
and drowns.

I breathe you in without my eyes,
before, behind, beneath the cries;
in gardens and the palace, too,
glued to this parched skin that dries
for want of your moist'ning sighs.
So! so! so! so! Please don't call this bliss!
What frightful non-duality is this?

I breathe you in, my self g…

Literal belief and me

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I have been listening to the various Iskcon internet radio stations of late. Yesterday I had Jayapataka Maharaj's lectures playing most of the day while I worked. Most of it was poorly recorded so they made background sound and I did not pay much attention, but others were much clearer and I listened a little more carefully. Some of the talks were 20 years old, and his voice sounds like that of a young man, but he does some of that trademark yelling, working the crowd, making them chant Hare Krishna or respond to questions.

Every one of his lectures consists almost entirely of stories and anecdotes. These are either scripturally or real-life based. Nearly all are somehow related to the miraculous nature of the various lilas, or to "miraculous" events related to devotees' experiences in real life.

I felt a feeling of kinship towards him. I know, I know, I have heard all the negative stuff, and there is plenty of it. But there is something in me that responds whenever I…

Radha: Love as a Value in itself

The subject of week 6 was Radha. I used a number of articles from JVS, including a couple by Graham Schweig describing the Rasa-lila. The bibliography is included at the end of the blog. Schweig's first article is a part of his book on the Rasa-lila and, I assume, his thesis. It is a very thorough structural analysis.

Since I am writing this a long time after the class, I just wanted to stress the one realization that I had in discussing the famous 10.32.22 verse, na paraye'ham. The point that Krishna is making here is that the gopis, and everyone else, must realize that the reward for devotion or love, is love itself and nothing else.

That sounds vaguely trivial, but yes, that is what it is.

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Week 6 Readings.

23. Schweig, Graham M. “Rasa-lila Pancadhyaya: The Bhagavata’s Ultimate Vision of the Gopis.” JVS 5.4 Fall 1997. 1-47.

24. Schweig, Graham M. “Radha and the Rasa-lila : The Esoteric Vision of Caitanyaite Vaishnavism. JVS 8.2, Spring 2000, 43-71.

25. Wulf…

Is Religion an Unavoidable Human Necessity?

I have fallen behind in my attempt to write something about each course as it is given, or at least before the next one. Naturally, being who and what I am, I am easily distracted. In particular, I have been thinking about religion and narrative in general. This is, as I have been feeling, is intimately connected to the idea of rasa, and I have been finding the insights in Religion as Story (J.B. Wiggins (ed), New York: Harper and Row. 1975) particularly fascinating.

Last week's course was about some basic theology, mostly about the concept of God. I have already mentioned Neal Delmonico's article. I also had the students read Hridayananda's article about Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. I also gave a chapter from Sanatana-siksha, the one that includes sarvottama nara-lila. On the whole, though, I would have really liked to cover more of the theological material, but I would have had to go over the readings limit. This week was about Radha, and next class falls within the rea…

Gopala Yantra (Kama-bija Kama-gayatri)

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They call that Krishna

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They call that Krishna Kamadev
because he makes you crave, he makes you crave.

They call that Krishna Navina Madan:
he drives you mad and then he’s gone.


They call him Manasija, "in the mind born,"
He's all in the mind, but the senses are torn.

They call him Atanu, a real “no body.”
You don’t see him hit, but he leaves you all bloody.

They call him Govind, the cowherd king :
He finds the cows and herds them in.
He found my senses and then went in.
I’d drive him out, but where would I begin?


Without Govind, my world would all be void,
heart devastated, life and hope destroyed.

They also call Sri Krishna "Klim,"
to this my guru-given spell I cling.
I'm drowning, Lord, I don't know how to swim--
so to this mystic, magic spell I cling.


More on the Gita/Varna questions

Dr. Jeffery D. Long (Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Elizabethtown College):

I tend to agree with the general sense of the responses you have gotten from folks here on the RISA list, in terms of the historical interpretation of these texts. Affirmations of individual quality over birth, while present, seem to nonetheless occur in a larger context that takes birth for granted as a necessary prerequisite for brahmin status.

My own interest is more in how these texts are and could yet be interpreted by contemporary Hindu progressives seeking an authoritative textual basis for challenging (and even rejecting) the notion of birth-caste in favor of an interpretation of terms like “brahmin” as referring more universally to anyone who meets certain prerequisites of character: to put it in more traditional terminology, of guna vs. jati. Anthropological observations, such as those made by Charles R. Brooks in ‘The Hare Krishnas in India,’ and my own observations both in India and in the…

Chaitanya and Androgyny, Part II

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A lot has been written about androgyny from a variety of perspectives in recent years, mostly by Jungians and those various religious tendencies that find Jung's ideas useful. These persons tend toward New Age type philosophies, or what Huxley called "the perennial philosophy," doctrines that generally make us in the Vaishnava tradition recoil because of their great fluidity and ultimate indifference to the principle of bhakti. In fact, they look a lot like the Hinduism that Gaudiya Vaishnavas feel uncomfortable with and reject as impersonalism.

At the very least, if the Jungian goal of psychological individuation, which is characterized as a coincidentia oppositorum, is the ultimate object of the spiritual quest, then it seems to us not to really be "the best story," but only a part of it, as much as liberation is only valued when seen in the context of prema bhakti.

In order to follow up on this subject, I have been reading a number of works on the subject …

The Gita and Varna-sankara (From RISA)

Steve Rosen asked the following question on the RISA (Religions in South Asia, part of AAR) discussion group:

It is clear from the Bhagavad-gita (4.13) and from Hindu texts more generally that, in the varnasrama system, "quality and work" are given pride of place above birth status. However, this is not always the case, and in Hindu society today we see that the family into which one is born plays a crucial role in terms of caste (jati). I am particularly interested in how this plays out in sruti and smrti texts.

To begin with a famous Mahabharata story: the young warrior Ekalavya is a sudra, and yet he wants to train as a ksatriya under Drona. Though the young warrior is clearly qualified, Drona rejects him because of his birth status and, more, cuts off his thumb so that he cannot pursue his dream. Here we have an emphasis on birth in relation to varnasrama.

This is contrasted in the Chandogya Upanisad (and elsewhere as well) with the story of Satyakama Jabala, where, to make…