Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part I

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 attitude. There are no doubt some amongst the Sahajiyas who do indeed think in this way, but I would like to describe the way that I view this matter as I think it is crucial to my vision of what Vaishnavism means.

In the sampradāya, i.e., in the tradition, ahaṁgrahopāsanā is clearly not recommended. It is defined in the commentaries to Bhagavad-gita 9.15, which states:

jñāna-yajñena cāpy anye yajanto mām upāsate
ekatvena pṛthaktvena bahudhā viśvato-mukham
Others [i.e., not those mahatmas engaged in svarūpa-siddha devotional activities as described in the preceding two verses] worship me by sacrificing with the sacrifice of knowledge. This sacrifice of knowledge is various, either in [knowledge of] oneness, difference, or universality.
This verse is interpreted in several different ways by different acharyas. Vishwanath follows Madhusudan Saraswati quite closely here, but no one from our sampradāya seems to take note of Ramanuja's interpretation, which is quite different. We are probably most familiar with the description Bhaktivedanta Swami gives:
...there are others who are still lower, and these are divided into three: (1) he who worships himself as one with the Supreme Lord, (2) he who concocts some form of the Supreme Lord and worships that, and (3) he who accepts the universal form, the viśva-rūpa of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and worships that. Out of the above three, the lowest, those who worship themselves as the Supreme Lord, thinking themselves to be monists, are most predominant. Such people think themselves to be the Supreme Lord, and in this mentality they worship themselves. This is also a type of God worship, for they can understand that they are not the material body but are actually spiritual soul; at least, such a sense is prominent. Generally the impersonalists worship the Supreme Lord in this way.

Vishwanath writes:
sarve’pi svānurūpyeṇa mām upāsata ity āha—jñāna-yajñeneti. anye pūrvokta-sādhanānuṣṭhānāsamarthā jñāna-yajñena, “tvaṁ vā aham asmi bhagavo devate, ahaṁ vai tvam asi” (Jābāla-śruti) ity-ādi-śruty-uktam ahaṅgrahopāsanaṁ jñānaṁ, sa eva parameśvara-yajana-rūpatvād yajñaḥ, tena.
But everyone worships me in their own way, which is stated in this verse. Others, who are unable to perform the practices outlined in verses 13 and 14 worship me by the sacrifice of knowledge. Knowledge means ahaṁgrahopāsanā, as shown in the Jābāla Upanishad: "I am you, O Lord my Deity, and you are I." Since this is a way of sacrificing to the Supreme Lord, it is called a sacrifice or yajña. So, they worship me with this sacrifice of knowledge.

It certainly is a curious passage, especially since it is not making explicit reference to the word ekatvena ("in oneness"), which appears later on in the verse (and which Bhaktivedanta Swami seems to be interpreting as ahaṁgrahopāsanā). This (ekatvena) and the three other words that follow it are usually taken to be modifiers in apposition to jñāna-yajña, but since they are all nouns in their own right, they need not be taken that way. In that case, either all these nouns are separate ways of worshiping Krishna, different from jñāna-yajña, or they are all different expressions of the jñāna-yajña, which can be either of three kinds or of one kind (as Ramanuja takes the three words to create a single, harmonious meaning).

Anyway, despite this, ahaṁgrahopāsanā is sometimes found to play a part in standard pūjā-paddhatis and the phrase gopālo'ham in the Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad (2.38ff) has left Vaishnavas scratching their heads and searching for reasonable explanations. Sri Jiva says that it means one should think that one is qualitatively the same as the Lord, but of course, distinct as servant to served.
sūrya-sattayā raśmi-sattāvat tat-sattayaiva mat-sattā iti niścitya gopālo’ham iti bhāvayet. mūla-tṛptyaiva hi pallava-tṛptir bhavatīti yat kiñcit svasmin kartavyaṁ, tat tasminn eva kuryād ity arthaḥ. jagad-vyāpāra-varjam [Vs. 4.4.17] iti nyāyenātyanta-sāmyasyābhāvāt.

Just as the only possibility of the sunrays's existence is due to the existence of the sun, so my existence is only possible through his existence. In this knowledge, one should think "I am Gopala." This means that just as by bringing nourishment to the root of a tree, its twigs are nourished, and therefore whatever one must do for oneself one should do for him. On the other hand, the Vedānta-sūtra says, "With the exception of universal creation," indicating that complete identity with Gopala is an impossibility.

Bhagiratha Jha similarly writes: "I, like all souls, am one with him (tad-ātmaka), I am never outside of him (na tato vyatiriktaḥ), since I cannot have any existence without him (tad-apṛthak-siddhatvāt), nor have any independent being (svatantra-sattva-śūnyatvāt), and because I am his portion (aṁśatvāc ca).

Mahaprabhu also had the problem of interpreting his sannyāsa mahā-vākya until he was advised that he should think that he was not "Krishna," but "Krishna's." So here we have several instances of statements that appear favorable to ahaṁgrahopāsanā, or identifying completely with the object of worship, but which have been interpreted by devotees in ways favorable to devotion.

The principle underlying idea here is that "one must become a deity to worship the Deity." Vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti. If we think ourselves to be separate from Krishna, then we cannot serve him. But it may be easier to understand this here if we think of Krishna not as the individual person Krishna, but as him and his entire world of Goloka, along with his associates, his cows, cowherds and cowherd girls. And this is as it should be, for a devotee does not take God without his energies. To claim exclusive possession of God is almost as bad as ahaṁgrahopāsanā itself. Krishna leaves the rāsa dance when people start thinking like that.

The following passage from the Krama-sandarbha to 3.5.23 confirms the above:
vaikuṇṭhādi-bahu-vaibhave’pi sati katham eka evāsīt ? tatrāha—vaikuṇṭhādi nānā-matyāpi sa evaika upalakṣita iti senā-sametatve’pi rājāsau prayātītivat.

Narayan exists eternally in Vaikuntha surrounded by great opulences, so how can it be said that he was alone? Indeed, whenever speaking of Narayan, it should be understood that all these things are being included, much in the way that when the king's cavalcade passes, we say that it is the king who is passing.

In view of this, Ramanuja's interpretation of the verse makes a great deal of sense. The jñāna-yajña spoken of here is not out of context with the previous verses (mahātmānas tu, etc.), but means that those very same devotees worship in the consciousness of God as one and different, omnipresent in a multiplicity of forms.

Elsewhere the word ahaṁgrahopāsanā appears in the commentaries to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.294) where Vishwanath advises that it not be engaged in by a rāgānuga-bhakta, even in cases where the scriptures may give such instructions. Again, Vishwanath uses the term in BRS 1.2.306 to warn against thinking of oneself as a nitya-pārṣada like Nanda Maharaj. But this is something that we will discuss later. The idea of "identification with" (sādhāraṇīkaraṇa) is one that is used in the context of rasa, so we must understand the fine distinction between this necessary kind of identification and the sense in which Vishwanath is using it here.

Another verse that has relevance here is found in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:

vartitavyaṁ śam icchadbhir bhaktavan na tu kṛṣṇavat
ity evaṁ bhakti-śāstrāṇāṁ tātparyasya vinirṇayaḥ
rāmādivad vartitavyaṁ na kvacid rāvaṇādivat
ity eṣa mukti-dharmādi-parāṇāṁ naya īryate
Those who wish for true joy (śam) should identify as devotees and not as Krishna. This is the conclusion of the devotional scriptures. "One should identify with Rama and not with Ravana, this is the method followed by those who are devoted to deliverance and justice." (UN 3.24-25)
The second of these verses is probably a quote (or at least a partial quote) as roughly the same words are found both in the Kāvya-prakāśa (2) and the Sāhitya-darpaṇa (1.2). From the devotional point of view and in terms of this discussion, it may be asked how one can be asked in one verse not to identify with Krishna, while in the latter one is advised to identify with Rama, the hero of the Rāmāyaṇa, and not with his enemy, the demon Ravana.

To begin with, the idea here is that for the audience of a well-done piece of theatre or writing, identification is a natural and spontaneous process, and generally speaking manipulated by the author. Gender does not necessarily play an immediate role: one identifies with the ashraya of the particular emotion. So you may be an old man and yet still identify with a young girl whose is the central figure of a tale, undergoing trials, overcoming odds, falling in love, receiving love, achieving goals, etc.

Similarly, a clever author with a more modern sensibility may make it possible to identify with a demon like Ravana, as a human being with failings, etc. A number of recent films and books, including a recent publication by Norman Mailer, have dealt with the early life of Hitler, but they have all confronted the same ethical dilemma: does humanizing the demon, i.e., making him a sympathetic character, not do an injustice to the countless victims he created?

But the point here is that the modern literary sensibility rejects the naked archetypes of mythology. Humanism as opposed to a purely religious approach to life understands that humans are essentially flawed and that no individual can be a perfect simulacre of whichever archetype that exists. Nevertheless, to some degree or another, archetypal themes continue to underly all works of literature. The conflict in the two mentalities can be seen particularly in hagiography; devotees hope to see the archetypal saint manifest with only slight variations in every human being who has been so designated.

When you read Indian hagiographies, you tend to find similar anecdotes being recounted about saints who lived in different times and places. Indeed, the same phenomenon can be seen in the lives of Christian saints, whose lives are sometimes lifted wholesale from other traditions (e.g. the story of the Buddha, which becomes that of the Christian St. Josaphat). The conflict between conservative and more liberal religious attitudes often rests on this archaic/modern dichotomy. Just look at Rochana Das's crusade on the Sampradaya Sun against Satsvarupa's life of Prabhupada: to present Abhaya Charan De as a human being engaged in a struggle to attain liberation and perfection, etc., does not fit the strictly hagiographical model of the archetypal saint.

As I said, however, in a good story, i.e., in a story that produces rasa in the audience, the archetypal elements shine through: it is precisely the interplay of specific human elements being contrasted with the ideal that make the story rasa-worthy. Christ himself asks God why he has forsaken him when supposedly engaged in his great act of perfect sacrifice. In the Krishna cycle of myth, we sometimes get elements of doubt, but these have been glossed over as "lila", that mysterious hermeneutical device that tends to obscure as much as it reveals. Rama's humanity is revealed in his doubts of Sita's chastity, while Krishna's humanity is nowhere more evident than in his subjection to Radha's love.

mo-viṣaye gopī-gaṇera upapati-bhāve
yoga-māyā karibeka āpana-prabhāve
āmiha nā jāni tāhā, nā jāne gopī-gaṇa
duṅhāra rūpa-guṇe duṅhāra nitya hare mana
dharma chāḍi' rāge duṅhe karaye milana
kabhu mile, kabhu nā mile, daivera ghaṭana
The influence of Yogamaya will inspire the gopis with the sentiment that I am their paramour. Neither the gopis nor I shall notice that Yogamaya is in fact governing our pastimes, for our minds will be completely entranced by one another's beauty and qualities. Our passionate desire will unite us even at the expense of moral and religious duties. Sometimes Destiny will bring us together and sometimes will keep us apart. (CC 1.4.29-31)
The subjection of Krishna to Yogamaya or to Daiva is the sign of his humanity. Though we may resist this movement toward humanism, historically it is a most significant development and is in fact the essence of the symbol system. Once again, it is the contrast between the ideal and the human that makes rasa truly possible. Aiśvarya or mādhurya alone are insufficient: it is when mādhurya is experienced against the backdrop of aiśvarya that we experience bhakti-rasa.

The modern sensibility finds naked archetypes singularly shallow and uninteresting, even though there continues to be a certain appetite for such things in popular entertainment. Those who are culturally educated, however, tend to find two-dimensional or false characterization of heroes, no matter how heroic, to be boring and entirely inadequate in producing the elements of aesthetic enjoyment that we call rasa. The most archetypal of erotic entertainment, the porno film, may produce a physical response, or the saccharine romance of the chick flick or Harlequin novel may similarly produce a sentimental reaction, precisely because the notes that are being played are so fundamental, but once again, intellectually tiresome and vapid to the educated sāmājika.

This is why I would challenge Western devotees who have read books like the Govinda-līlāmṛta and other līlā-granthas to admit that there is a limit to the degree that it produces the desired reaction. Once the intellectual thrall in dealing with the novelty loses its luster, one is faced with a problem that we generally attribute to "lack of attraction" due to "lack of faith" or even "offenses," or to insufficient adhikāra or whatever. For Westernized critics, the problem seems self-evident.


Anonymous said…
The following is Anuradha's post. I forgot to allow comments.


Anyway, your latest post is interesting reading. This is indeed what is happening when scholars come across our confidential literatures. First they are attracted by our clear philosophy and then hopelessly dissapointed with our love stories that supposed to be the climax of the philosophy. As someone said, he almost wishes to take Shankaras' sword and cut of all the Vaikunthas.

Clearly, I am warned not to look at these Scriptures with the eye of a recensist of literature, so I won't. Actually my teacher told me not to read them at all for the time being.

By the time I am ready to read Love Stories of the Infinite I am sure I will perceive everything different as I do now.

Actually your analysis seems perfectly logical. Somehow or other though in the end we need to give up our attachment to our cherished logica to grasp the Infinite. To some that might be even harder than giving up a sex-addiction. Let me add..... logica is not the same as common sense.

I guess this is where faith and logica are on a collision course. Which one feels better ? How much are we in touch with our spiritual intuïtion ? If faith is not strong, logica seems the better option... for the time being. But logica and love are incompatible (logica of love ??). So better to project our logica on something else.

Of course you already know the background of this comment.
Jagadananda Das said…
Dear Anuradha,

I was not saying that I was disappointed with the love story, as such. I would not be so fascinated with it, were it the case. I am simply pointing out the difference between modern and archaic aesthetic susceptibilities. But I am not discarding Radha and Krishna at all. I am preserving them as the source of all the love stories, the model that gives meaning to all the rest.

Stay tuned.
Jagadananda Das said…
And one other thing: Of course it is something that I have already said.

Logic used in trying to understand Krishna is an act of devotion.

We may end up with something a little different from the straightforward faith of the kanistha bhakta, and even incomprehensible to him, but it will not be inimical to devotion.
Anonymous said…
I wasn't implying you. I meant some other scholars who came across our Love Stories.
Saying to them "Don't read Them when you are still on the gross sensual platform", will have little hearing.

Tripurari Swami deals with this subject as well in some of his writings. I like his approach.

I did understand your point.
Sometimes I wonder though, if we, people of the modern world, are really grasping what was meant in the past. It speaks to our intuïtion more than to our reason.

I myself will give it some further thinking though.
Jagadananda Das said…
I think that the archaic or mythic thinking never leaves the human being. It is merely surrounded by greater complexities. I believe that the attempt to entirely rid ourselves of this dimension of our being is a Quixotic myth in its own right. This is just another "story to end all stories," the kind of monolithic or monistic approach to human experience.

It is right to place Radha and Krishna's story on a pedestal and to say that this is the most sacred possession and the highest reality of all. But that does not mean that when we get there, it will necessarily be different from the way we intuit it now. The point is that we save ourselves for it in the way that a virgin saves herself for her wedding night; that when the moment comes, we will give ourselves wholly and purely.

I will try to explain some of this in my next article.
Anonymous said…
I have another question, slightly related.

At the moment I read some translations of poetry of the Alvars. In it I come across parts where the I-form is chosen to describe the Lord, as if the writer is the Lord himself. To say it bluntly, he is identifying himself with the Lord in a poetic style. Considering the background of the Alvars and the forground they are for Ramanuja it is clear that this is not sahajiya in the sense understood by the orthodox (myself included) nor is it mayavada.

Yet this identification can be interpreted in many other ways:
-just as a style of writing chosen in many books of literature for reasons of more credibility or to create empathy for the reader.
-as a sign of transcendental madness also experienced/performed by many in our spiritual line.

Both interpretations though are innocent, but can create havoc in the minds of some readers, because it is the Almighty God we are talking about. The One without a second most of us are taught to fear. Christians, Muslims and yes also most Vaisnavas, we all fear God's thorn.

Does this touch though the point you are trying to make about your version of sahajiyanism ? Or am I still not getting it ?
Jagadananda Das said…
Well this does illustrate something that I am indeed getting at, but not in quite the way you think.

The poet is writing "as if" he were in the mind of God. Now how can any creature say that he knows the mind of God? Krishna says in the Gita that through bhakti, it is possible to know him as he is, in other words, to know his mind.

We assume that the Bhagavatam and other texts were similarly written, sometimes in God's own voice, by devotees, i.e., human beings.

The point I am making is that there is a nexus, a meeting point, where human and Divine intersect, where it becomes possible for the bhakta to understand God by virtue of the common qualities and characteristic. That common point is the need for love: both in the phase of seeking it out and in the phase of enjoying intimacy with the other.

Few have the tenacious endurance of mind to sit, listen and watch for six hours...

THE GREATEST STORY NEVER TOLD (The full six hour long film).

“There will come a day when all the lies will collapse under their own weight, and the truth will triumph again”

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