Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Vrindavan as Reality

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 insight and appreciation.

Haberman's article also is something of a precursor to his book on Vrindavan parikrama, which has garnered a great deal of respect latterly.

One of the things that Gelberg brings up is the same Eliade discussion on the sacred and the profane with which I ended my last post today. Gelberg writes:

The phenomenological term "ontological thirst" was coined by the historian of religion Mircea Eliade to indicate what he felt to be one of the essential characteristics of humans as religious entities: a desire for being. Homo religiosus, "religious man," desires "to live as much as possible in the sacred... [because] the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being."

[Eliade writes]..."The sacred is pre-eminently the real, at once power, efficacy, the source of life and fecundity. Religious man's desire to live in the sacred is in fact equivalent to his desire to take up his abode in objective reality, not to let himself be paralyzed by the never-ceasing relativity of purely subjective experience, to live in a real and effective world, and not in an illusion. This behavior is documented on every plane of religious man's existence, but is particularly evident in his desire to move about only in a sanctified world, that is, in a sacred space." (The Sacred and the Profane, NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1959, pp.12-13.

Now I realize that I have been arguing previously to devotees about the possibility of sacralizing sexuality, something which seems completely impossible to most of those in the orthodoxy, and which now seems to me completely self-evident and natural (sahaja). I don't know if I will be able to use Vaishnava texts alone to make it convincing; ultimately I think I am trying to convince myself: I know the arguments against this idea, but I don't believe them. There are certain logical problems that I am trying to deal with, in the perhaps ludicrous belief that once the objections have been met in my own mind, I will be free. Maybe not so ludicrous.

Sexuality is, in fact, the locus of the sacred par excellence, precisely because of its liminality. Aropa is what makes it a devotional practice. But I am going to have to discuss this in the another segment of "Ahangrahopasana and Aropa."


Steven J. Gelberg said...

Thanks for the acknowledgment!
Steven J. Gelberg (Subhananda das)

Vivek said...

dear Jagatji,
Thanks for your nice blog posts. I am loving to go through them.
I had one question about your feeling about Vrindavana. You said that we should not be shy about the word myth because it is not a lie. On the other hand you are always speaking of Vrindavan as a physical place more than a myth of deeper value. How do we reconcile the two?