Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Androgyny

This week's subject was Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as seen by Krishnadas Kaviraj. The readings included CC Madhya 2 (a collection of Mahaprabhu's favorite verses), Madhya 13 (Mahaprabhu dancing before the Ratha, with the yaḥ kaumāra-haraḥ verse, and Antya 14 (more of Chaitanya's ecstatic utterances). All these chapters were meant to show how Krishnadas Kaviraj enriched the Lord Chaitanya myth. This was followed by Rabindra Svarupa's article on Chaitanya as Radha Krishna milita-tanu in JVS, and then by June McDaniel's article in the same issue, which describes the raganuga yogapitha meditation on Mahaprabhu in Nitya Nabadwip. The purpose was to show a development in the ways that Chaitanya was envisioned by his followers.

The discussion went in a number of directions, and it was necessary to explain various elements of the Radha-Krishna story, the Rathayatra, and some aspects of Mahaprabhu's Puri lila.

What I want to write about here, though, is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and androgyny, or the fusion of the sexes (άνδρος = man, γυνη = woman). The Gaudiyas claim allegiance to a Vaishnava tradition, in which the Supreme is envisioned as a male figure, and this is expressed directly or indirectly throughout the theological sources that it uses. However, growing to maturity in the Shakta dominated Bengali culture, it came to acknowledge the power of the feminine, and this is reflected in the cult of Radha and Krishna, a dual form of the Deity in which the masculine and feminine elements are seen as equal. In Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, these elements are united in one person. Looked at in this light, the disagreement in some circles about whether Mahaprabhu is "Radha and Krishna milita-tanu" or "Krishna in the mood of Radha" takes on a certain significance.

Krishnadas Kaviraj says,

rādhā-kṛṣṇa eka ātmā dui deha dhari
anyonya vilase rasāsvādana kari
se dui eka ebe caitanya gosāi
rasa āsvādite duhun hoilo eka thāi
Radha and Krishna are one soul in two bodies; they engage in pastimes together, relishing the flavors of love. Now those two have become one in the form of Chaitanya Gosai. In order to taste new flavors, the two have joined together in one place.
That form which existed before time as a unity divided and became the Divine Couple. Then, the synthesis of those two was Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Now how is this to be understood?

First of all, we must recognize that there is a historical dialectic of concepts going on here. Neal Delmonico (Nitai Dasji) has written a brilliant article in the Journal of Vaishnava Studies (13.2) called "Reassembling the Giant: The Development of Monotheism in Vaishnava Theology." He demonstrates how Vaishnava theism (indeed all Indian theisms) have their origins in the Purusha of the Puruṣa-sūkta.

When Gaudiyas discuss creation myths, they generally follow the Bhagavatam, which retells the myth of the Purusha in various ways, incorporating other derivatives of the same myth, such as Brahma's being born from the lotus navel of Narayan (1st, 2nd and 3rd cantos) and the descriptions of the universal form (2nd canto).

These versions are further complicated by the Brahma-saṁhitā version, which Nitai summarizes as follows:
The  Brahma-saṁhitā begins its discusson of the expansion, which is where the Purusha form comes in, by describing the higher deity, Govinda, as self-enjoying (atmarama) and free from contact with the material nature (prakriti) (BS 5.10)./ The next verse, however, gives a new twist to the idea of self-enjoying by saying that he is always enjoying with his power (maya) and is never separated from her, that out of a desire to create, he enjoys with Ramâ, who is his own (5.11). The words used for enjoy mean primarily sexual enjoyment (from ram). Thus deity is now linked to or paired with its own power viewed as a female consort and is constantly engaged in sexual enjoyment with her. This considerably extends the Upanishadic idea of Purusha as one who was "as large as a man and woman in close embrace." What happens next is also quite astounding. The female consort Ramâ is identified as fate or fortune (niyati). Govinda's penis becomes Shambhu or Shiva, Ramâ's vagina becomes the higher power or Shakti (parâ shakti), Shiva's consort, and Govinda's seed becomes the "great"(mahat)(BS 5.12). All living beings, therefore, that are born of the great goddess, the text tells us next, either have penises or vaginas (5.13). This goes back to the Vedic Viraj and the Upanishadic idea of the gendered condition of the living beings created by the male and female, shape-shifting copulators into which the Purusha split in the Upanishadic passage.(p. 166)
This quote is given by Nitai as one step in the progressive development of the Vaishnava concept of the deity. The step that follows is the incursion of rasa-shastra thinking into the equation. Nevertheless, I brought it out here because of its specifically Tantric flavor.

Nitai concludes his article by naming seven features of the Deity in Vaishnava monotheism: these are (1) majesty (aisvarya, vibhuti, Otto's "tremendum"), (2) attraction (madhurya, Otto's "fascinans"), (3) divisibility (the ability to have unlimited manifestations without compromising essential unity); (4) playfulness (lila. "The gods sport and the humans must work. ... the deity spends, we humans save."); (5) unfathomability (acintya); (6) redemptiveness (karunya); and (7) androgyny. I will quote his paragraph on this last subject:
Androgyny is the idea that the Indic deity is both male and female joined inseparably together or, at any rate, inseparable from each other. The male and female aspects of deity are sometimes indistinguishable, as in the Upanishadic Purusha, and at other times clearly separated, as in the Puranic and Tantric texts. Sometimes the male is predominant and sometimes the female. In the Chaitanya tradition, this relationship is characterized as that of power as to possessor of power (shakti/shaktiman). Though the male is often regarded as the "possessor" of of the feminine shakti or power, sometimes the feminine so overshadows the male as to turn him into a corpse, as Kali does with Shiva, or she takes the active role (the reversed or "male" role [purushayita] in lovemaking, as Radha does with Krishna. Krishna then becomes her obedient servant. This is, of course, another ramification of the influence of the rasa stream, which reenforced the tendency of religious texts to envision the deity in sexual terms. In the Chaitanya tradition, this trait of androgyny is expressed in the predominant belief that Chaitanya was the combined form of Radha and Krishna.
Androgyny is, to me, the symbol of the Divine Dialectic. It exists universally and it exists in the psychic makeup of every individual. jā āche bhāṇḍe, tā āche brahmāṇḍe. This equation of the microcosm with the macrocosm is the brilliant insight of Tantra and Sahajiyaism. The manifestation of the Supreme Truth in the form of Chaitanya (na caitanyāt kṛṣṇāt jagati para-tattvaṁ param iha) is bringing us this astonishing message.

Go to Part II

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