Saturday, March 10, 2007

Two "new" books by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Yesterday, I was feeling a little fed up with the topic of sahajiyaism and I thought it was time to change flavors for a little while. So I decided to look at two books by Srila Prabhupada that I had not read before, both from well before the time he came to North America. These are both posted on Rocana's website: the first is called Message of Godhead, which was apparently written when Prabhupada was still a householder and trying to establish the League of Devotees; the second is In Search of the Ultimate Goal of Life, apparently written in 1959. The manuscript was discovered by B.G. Narasingha Maharaj and published fairly recently by him.

The first book, which according to the Prabhupada Lilamrita was written very quickly, is a summary study of the first few chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, while the second covers the teachings of Ramananda Ray to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the eighth chapter of the Madhya Lila. Naturally, it all comes back to the same thing for me now—hard not to be single-tracked.

The first impression one gets is that both these texts are truly vintage Prabhupada. No doubt the modern editors have revamped the language a little to make it sound more like conventional Iskcon-speak, but on the whole, one recognizes a familiar vocabulary, a familiar message that Prabhupada carried to the West with him. It is reassuring to see this consistency, but also refreshing. It made me even more aware than ever, that though I may find the explanations simplistic from time to time, and even beg for nuance, that on the whole I am still with the program.

A few days ago, a friend mentioned in passing in a conversation something he called “the guru mood.” He was refering specifically to an audience of Srila Narayan Maharaj he had attended, in which the Maharaj spoke with authority and his disciples treated him with reverence, creating an atmosphere in which something of fundamental importance or “ultimate concern” was being seriously discussed, not simply as an academic matter, but as one of decisive importance to people who were seekers and convinced of having found a viable response to their search.

I have been thinking on this since Advaita posted something on his blog about his role in preserving his disciplic line. Evidently there are numerous elements that combine before Guru Tattva descends. Certainly one of them is having a viable message and a firm conviction in its value. But I also think that a guru has to take a firm position, one that is in some respects without nuance. If one is going to propose a practical program for spiritual life, it must be clear and direct.

The critique of mental speculation is valid inasmuch as one does not take a stand. A certain degree of relativism is certainly permitted in the Bhagavad Gita and the Vaishnava scriptures in general, but relativism with regard to one’s own spiritual practice, like dilettantism, is a recipe for confusion and inconclusiveness. Where others are concerned, we may reserve judgement; where we are concerned, we need to seek out an authoritative path and follow it. Naturally, as we follow any path we will come across situations that test our intelligence and understanding, tests the hypothesis as it were, but this should only result in progress. And this progress means a unique perspective and personal message.


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