Thursday, June 28, 2007

Student papers, continued.

(2) The unification of male and female principles in sexual ritual

SS has given a great deal of emphasis on this second item. Evidently this is the subject that attracts the most interest from students and dilettantes alike. Here it is stated that Radha and Krishna have been appropriated as replacements for Shiva and Shakti: “…supreme bliss (maha-sukha) is said to arise from their union. This blissful unity forms the foundational basis for nearly all Tantric religion.” Here SS says, “… this state of blissful union is conceived of through the worship of Krishna, who is seen as the supreme power of the universe. While Krishna occupies a central place in the tradition, unlike in the Gaudiya system, the focus is more on his abstract cosmic principle rather than his mythological principle (Glen Alexander Hayes, “The Vaishnava Sahajiya Traditions of Medieval Bengal.” in Religions of India in Practice, 333).

As noted in the article related to Su.'s paper on Radha, Donna Wulff has astutely observed that “the absolute for Rupa is not a metaphysical principle, but an emotion... Radha, as love embodied, is thus the supreme avenue of religions realization.” Here too, “love embodied” (maha-bhava-svarupini) is an abstract principle that though not distinct from the mythology is still the rational basis of the lila.

Similarly, in the Gita Govinda verse,

विश्वेषामनुरञ्जनेन जनयन्नानन्दमिन्दिवर-
श्रेणिश्यामलकोमलैरुपनयन्नंगैरनंगोत्सवम् ।
स्वच्छन्दं व्रजसुन्दरीभिरभितः प्रत्यंगमालिंगितः
शृंगारः सखि मूर्तिमानिव मधौ मुग्धो हरिः क्रीडति ॥

Krishna is described as being “like the embodiment of erotic love.” Here the mythological element of Krishna’s dancing with the gopis is couched in a simile, so where exactly does the distinction between "mythology" and "cosmic principle" come in?

What I am getting here is that there is no conception of God that is not symbolic in nature. God is automatically a metaphysical concept infused with all kinds of specific elements related to morality, ethics, identity, etc. Whatever God is ontologically, i.e., whether he exists or not in reality, he exists as a psychological reality in the minds of believers and even non-believers. A person who denies God is in reality denying a particular concept of God. A clever goal-post mover, who successfully adjusts his definitions may be able to convince even an atheist of His truth. After all, what is Brahman other than a defined-down God?

When a Christopher Hitchens says "God is not great," he is merely saying that a particular conception of God is not great. As such, he actually enters the great theological traditions that refine our understanding of what God's greatness is. The problem about religion in general is people don't get beyond the superficial specifics. The effort to understand the meaning of existence and the highest ideals of humanity becomes confined to adherence to a particular sect, cultural specifics, names and forms. The ultimate point is not that we have to jettison the cultural specifics of a particular tradition, but unless we enrich our appreciation of those symbols and language by mining them for their meaning, they ultimately become hollowed out. We defend the symbols, the rules and rituals that surround them, for their own sake, even unto the death.

So, the sexual symbolism of the Radha-Krishna concept of God is something that begs profound analysis. It points to more than one set of meanings, and one cannot deny any one interpretation absolutely. One has to be aware of all implications that a particular symbol system carries within it.

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SS elaborates on the Sahajiya interpretation of Radha and Krishna lila by raising their terminology of rupa and svarupa. Again she refers to Hayes. "Men and women are seen as having both a physical form or rupa, where they exist as ordinary humans, and they also possess a true, essential form, svarupa, where they exist as these powerful principles."

I have some trouble with this and would say that here we have truly deviated from the orthodox siddhanta. It is perhaps an understandable mistake, but this is precisely where the orthodox have a problem with Sahajiya conceptions, or where they say that a man "thinks he has become Krishna, and a woman thinks she has become Radha." This is, in the orthodox conception, patently false.

The true meaning of rupa roughly corresponds to "type" and svarupa to "archetype." Now if we see Radha and Krishna as the archetypal female and male, which even the most orthodox Vaishnava is obliged to do (after all, what does govindam adi-purusam mean?), then we are in a position where we are in apparent contradiction with the model of Radha as the archetypal devotee vis-à-vis the Supreme Lord. In the latter, maleness and femaleness are symbolic of the relation between ishwara and the jiva, in the former, the implications are completely different. How can the two be complementary? However, I propose that they are.

I have already gone through some of this before. We are, once again, talking about the two Rasa lilas and achintya-bhedabheda. There is a delicate balance between the two. However, a vision of spiritual practice that is based exclusively on sexual mechanics, on such things as reversing the flow of bodily fluids, etc., entirely misses the point of Radha and Krishna, or at least misplaces the emphasis that is intended in Radha-Krishna bhakti. This is why I was so glad to see Su. quote Wulff as saying that for Rupa the supreme truth is an emotion.




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