Friday, March 16, 2007

More about the two circles

I published this and then started revising it, but unfortunately, my connection was broken and so this is the unedited version. I am busy, so it will be a few days before I can come back and make the necessary repairs.


I probably read more movie reviews than go to movies. I don't particularly care for the movie theatre experience, and nothing is more frustrating for me than to sit through two excruciating hours of the fare dished out to the masses as popular entertainment. After reading movie critic Johanna Schneller's skewering of Chris Rock's new film, I Think I Love My Wife, in today's paper, I can assure you that I have no intention of ever going and seeing it. However, her reaction to the film opens the door to the age-old gender gap issue, in which we are all simultaneously experts and ignoramuses. That mystery.

Rock's comedy centers on the efforts of a young man, whose relationship with his wife has cooled somewhat, to resist the seductions of an attractive temptress. Schneller, after listing a number of things that are bad about this film, summarizes what really bothers her about it,

But mostly it's that I am bone weary of films in which male characters blame The Wife for their unhappiness. "My wife won't let me buy a Porsche! My wife isn't "fun" like Nikki [the temptress in the film], who throws dollar bills out my high-rise office window to watch people scrambl for them! Waah waah, my wife makes me go to couples therapy instead of doing what I want to do, which is smoke a doobie and slurp Crystal on the dance floor with two hot salesgirls from Saks!"

Schneller then goes on to enumerate similar features in another recent outing, Wild Hogs, which stars Tim Allen and John Travolta. This appears to be some kind of buddy/road movie with men who feel constrained in their home lives and decide to bond by pretending they were "born to be wild." Schneller writes witheringly that despite the premise of deep friendship between the men... "Though each man keeps insisting that the others are his best friends, they don't have any believable conversations. They don't appear to have any kind of relationship whatsoever. (Hey! We're men! Relationships are for bitches! Grrr!)"

Thus warmed up, Schneller now goes off on a bit of a rant:
Oh my dear Lord, grow up, all of you. Your happiness, or lack of it, is your own responsibility. Speaking for wives everywhere, if you don't want to be with us, go. Get lost. Really, really lost. We don't want to be your mommies either, so quit making us into them. If you take no pleasure in adult conversation, shut up. If monogamous sex isn't fulfilling, have at it with strangers until the world's Viagra supply runs dry. If you're not mature enough to realize that children have physical and emotional needs that must take temporary precedence over yours, go play your Nintendos and leave us alone.
Now, as far as rants go, this one is pretty good and there are surely both men and women who can see themselves in this. Indeed, there is something immanently persuasive about the idea: Are we not acculturated to seek and admire something called "maturity"? As a father, I can only answer in the affirmative--even though I am painfully aware of my own shortcomings. And is this maturity not akin to spiritual advancement? For instance, we associate a certain stoicism (indifference to heat, cold, victory, defeat, happiness, distress, and other opposites) with both, so there must be some kind of relation between the two.

This discussion could go a number of different ways, but I want to keep to my main theme, i.e., in the context of our Radha and Krishna Thakur and Thakurani, who embody the mystery of sexual politics. I have not yet fully drawn out the implications of my "two circles" motif so far, but this is as good a time as any to begin.

The outer circle was stated to be the Bhagavata's Sharadiya Rasa Dance, which had Krishna in the center. It was also stated that this is primarily a metaphor for the Ishwara/Jiva relationship. Here, Krishna is the bahu-vallabha: he has an infinity of mistresses. The gopis represent all living entities and they are meant for his enjoyment: that is their fulfilment.

The metaphor works in ways that are very deep and beyond our rational understanding of ideal male-female relationships. We know that history is full of oriental potentates with immense harems, and whatever this says about male fantasies, history has progressively whittled away at it until conventional morality became dry and monogamous. Except, of course, in that carefully designed fantasy world created by Hugh Heffner and his imitators. Ms. Schneller firmly puts all these down to adolescence and immaturity.

But then, what is Krishna? Though Krishna can play any role, in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, he is at his best as a dhīra-lalita nāyaka:


vidagdho nava-tāruṇyaḥ parihāsa-viśāradaḥ
niścinto dhīra-lalitaḥ syāt prāyaḥ preyasī-vaśaḥ


Krishna fits the model of the adolescent (nava-tāruṇya), who knows what the chicks dig (vidagdha), who has a "great sense of humor" (parihāsa-viśārada). He doesn't have a worry in the world (niścinta). And finally, he is completely straiṇa, that least heroic of qualities, the one that every male dreads, the ultimate challenge to his monadic independence.

The Gīta-govinda, it may be said, seems to start out telling fundamentally the same story as the Bhāgavatam’s rāsa-līlā: Krishna is dancing with many gopis, just as in the Bhāgavatam. However, the story changes quickly and it is Krishna who suffers in the absence of the One Special Gopi. Indeed, the story that is being told in GG is that Krishna, though he is bahu-vallabha, must surrender to one gopi in particular. He must show specific fidelity to this one gopi. In the later visions of Krishna līlā, i.e., in the vision of the Goswamis, any other gopi who is there besides Radha is there simply to show how Radha’s power over Krishna makes her dominant over all other gopis. Indeed, the other gopis are only there, in a manner of speaking, to highlight her dominance.

So, Gaudiya Vaishnavas don’t worship Krishna, but Radha. Symbolically this also reminds us of why the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi tells us to not identify with Krishna but with the devotee, i.e., with Radha. This is because we must not mix up our metaphors, our rāsa-līlās.

In the Bhāgavatam, we are clearly in a metaphor where the regal male (O yes, aiśvarya is stronger in the Bhāgavatam—one man being the lover of many women is a prerogative of the powerful), the pack leader, the alpha dominant monkey in the group, almost the Freudian model of the pre-human single polygamous male in the tribe, the "winner takes all" model that men still subconsciously, sometimes consciously, hanker for. Inchoate, primal, chthonic. This Krishna is God at his humiliating, ego-destroying essential best: no one can compete with him, bhoktā prabhur eva ca.

In the Gīta-govinda, Krishna is faced with something different. It is Radha’s love. Radha’s love is mādhurya, not aiśvarya. I suppose you could say that if it conquers that bahu-ballabha baboon, and turns him into preyasī-vaśaḥ, then that is aiśvarya enough. But there is a metaphorical point also. It has, again, relevance to the situation of human beings in this world. When we talk about the significance of the words saṁsāra-vāsanā-baddha-śṛṅkhalā, it is this.

Now how can these words play a role in any kind of path of spirituality coming from India, where saṁsara is the bane of all transcendentalists. It is what we are trying to escape from, for God’s sake. But if you like, the word saṁsāra means, “turning complete circle”; it does not mean purposely going around and around in circles, repeating the same mistakes over and over again, chewing the already chewed. It is about coming full circle.

We need to understand how the rāsa-līlā works on both levels, both in the transcendental, mythical realm, as well as in the mundane realm of human relations. People see the Bhāgavata rāsa-līlā and think of this divine sexual aiśvarya. The stupid think that this is the model men are supposed to emulate; that spirituality is somehow associated with a divine sexual stamina, of a phallus that stretches from one end of infinity to the other, eternal in its adamantine inflexibility. And now, indeed, we have Viagra, so who needs yoga? Once again, the mystic siddhis are available in a pill.

This is not full circle. This is a motion going one way only. In the rāsa-līlā we are told to follow the gopis, to be female to Krishna's male. To give up the fight, like the dominated male in the group; for a male it is about defeat. For a woman, it is about glory through the male. Archaic models.

In the Gīta-govinda, however, we have the story of commitment, of the male subjugation to a woman's love, the very bane of the alpha male, for whom ties are a threat to his power, the Delilah to his Sampson. Here again, the masculinity is transformed, preyasī-vaśaḥ, he is transformed by her love. He is invaded by the feminine qualities.

It is full circle because the (unnamed) Radha in the Bhāgavatam is only there in potential; she becomes fully manifest in the Gīta-govinda. For the sādhakas, both lilās point to Rādhā-dāsya. In the first as guru, in the second as God. So the Bhāgavatam is mostly about the pravarta stage, the Gīta-govinda more about the sādhaka stage. Siddhi is the synthesis of the two.