Friday, October 19, 2007

Bhava-visista atma-nivedana

When I got up this morning, as is often the case, a couple of verses were rattling in my brain. One was from Muchukunda's prayers--

bhavapavargo bhramato yada bhavej
janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samagamah
sat-sangamo yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
paravarese tvayi jayate matih

O Achyuta, when the time comes for the jiva soul to be freed from the whirlpool of samsara, he is brought into contact with the saintly. And where there is association with devotees, there arises devotion to the Supreme Lord, the destination of the pure. (SB 10.51.53)
The other one is Krishna speaking to Uddhava:

martyo yada tyakta-samasta-karma
niveditatma vicikirsito me
tadamrtatvam pratipadyamano
mayatma-bhuyaya ca kalpate vai

A person who gives up all fruitive activities and offers himself entirely unto me, eagerly desiring to render service unto me, achieves liberation from birth and death and is promoted to the status of sharing my own opulences. (11.29.34)
Prabhupada's translation: The living entity who is subjected to birth and death, when he gives up all material activities dedicating his life to Me for executing my order, and thus acts according to My direction, at that reaches the platform of immortality, and becomes fit to enjoy the spiritual bliss of exchange of loving mellows with Me.'

I found a nice essay by Keshava Maharaj on the Pure Bhakti site Atma Nivedana in the Gita in which he brings up some nice points about the latter verse as quoted in Bhakti-sandarbha 309. Tad atma-nivedanam bhavam vina bhava-vaisistena ca drsyate. There are two kinds of self-surrender, either colored by a particular bhava, or without any such bhava. You'll notice that Jiva Goswami often makes this kind of distinction between a fundamentally raganuga attitude, where one is conscious of and desires to develop a specific identity in relation to Krishna, and the vaidhi one where such consciousness is lacking specificity.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More on Identity and Sadhana

A lot of what I write on this blog comes out of concern from seeing young devotee couples who are conflicted about their spiritual endeavors and their material engagements, especially their family relationships. The family can become a huge and pretty meaningless burden if the basis of it, namely the loving attraction between husband and wife, is felt to be outside the realm of direct sāsaṅga, svarūpa-siddha bhakti, which is really the ideal kind of practice for the sādhaka.

A busy working person has so many obligations, work, family, outside interests, that it becomes difficult to find a place for all the bhakti aṅgas. For married couples with children, what to speak of bhajana, even finding time for personal intimacy or making love often becomes difficult, and for many, it loses a lot of its charm because of that--it is hurried, obligatory, unsatisfying, even exhausting. It loses a lot of its meaning, even though we instinctively know that it is necessary in order to anchor the loving relationship in the center of the family unit. And this indifference is then mistaken for spiritual advancement, even though its repercussions are far from beneficial -- for the couple, for their children or for the extended family and community.

What I am trying to do is find a way to revive the sacred nature of lovemaking in the context of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, so that it becomes a part of sāsaṅga, svarūpa-siddha bhakti. That it confirms your inner identity as a servant of Srimati Radharani rather than being seen as an aspect of your material identity which is to be rejected.

The idea is that it should illuminate both your external, "material" (sādhaka-deha) and your inner, spiritual (siddha-deha) life. It seems perfectly obvious to me that unless a sacred character to human love can be recuperated from the current situation, the Krishna consciousness movement has a limited future. There is some understanding of the divine child in Krishna consciousness, even divine friendship and divine service, but they are all marginalized in favor of the ascetic model of spirituality. By recuperating a model of divine conjugal love, we can revitalize the entire community of devotees through the sanctification of the family unit. This is the core and the key.

I am beginning to realize that my most visible ideas are the tip of a pretty big iceberg and most people don't seem able to get it. I will try again today, starting with sevā sādhaka-rūpeṇa. Because that's where it all starts, with two bodies, two identities, two stories; one external, the other internal; one particular, the other universal.

It seems that every time I write a blog these days, I start out by saying that I have already talked about this before. Even so, I can see that the relationship of mañjarī bhāva and this lovemaking sādhana I am trying to explain is not clear to many people. To begin with, I get the distinct impression that very few people have any idea of mañjarī-bhāva-sādhana, what to speak of being actual practitioners. So in this respect, people are right when they say that my doctrines have a substantial problem of adhikāra.

sevā sādhaka-rūpeṇa siddha-rupeṇa cātra hi
tad-bhāva-lipsunā kāryā vraja-lokānusārataḥ

First of all, remark that the verse makes an immediate split in the personality. This is rather unusual, since in one sense we are all looking for a unicity or coherence to our identities, and this kind of splitting is what we are trying to avoid. At the very least, we are looking for a core identity that is the most authentic self, where we can take shelter.

As devotees, that research begins by defining ourselves as something other than the body, as spirit soul. But this information on its own is only the beginning, for even if we identify as soul, there is still a material identity that we lug around with us and have to deal with whenever we try to do something in this world. The sannyasi is someone who has, at least in part, solved this problem. But even there, this so-called "spiritual identity" is that of the sādhaka-deha, and it is accepted by all sādhakas as only a partial transformation thereof. The siddha-deha is about a further, internal transformation of identity.

This verse makes it clear that this splitting is somewhat inevitable. There is always going to be a mixture of identities and personalities in every person. That is one of the unavoidable complexities in life. We could define this split as one of the present personality and the other as the potential.

This is going on in everyone's mind, especially in the young, as they dream about their potential and goals in this life, whatever they are. In this case, though, we have not just one, but two potential personalities, one is the sādhaka, to which we are trying to conform in this body, the other is the siddha-deha, to which we are trying to conform internally.

Well, let's start with the sādhaka-deha. Now this verse says, vraja-lokānusārataḥ, which means "following in the footsteps of the residents of Vraja." So how should we understand this? The obvious meaning to most devotees is that of dressing like, behaving like, engaging in the same practices as, having the same ideals as, etc., Rupa Goswami and his followers, right up to and including our own gurus and devotee community. In other words, emulating these previous Vaishnavas, who have themselves appeared as sādhakas.

But let us try to understand this a little more in the context of the concepts of identity and identification. As a general rule, we know the basic principal that we are eternal servants of Krishna. That is a general rule, but it does not answer the specifics of our own lives. To a certain extent we get some of that from the models that come from the devotees we know and from the literature. Now, what is the function of a model, or a literary hero (nāyaka)? To understand this, we must understand a little more about rasa theory.

Rupa Goswami says that the sādhaka āśraya ālambana provides us with a literary model of the aspiring sādhaka. This means that there are stories about sādhakas that inspire us and enthuse us to follow the devotional life and its aspirations. In other words, there is a process of identification going on in the sādhaka-deha that contributes to our overall identity as devotees.

Generally speaking, these models are what we call archetypes. They do the kinds of things that we expect of them. They fit pretty much the perfect idea of the devotee. Even when talking about historical devotees like our direct gurus and their antecedents, we prefer to have an archetypal understanding of who or what they are. This is called hagiography. What does it mean to become a devotee? What happens when you get śraddhā? Basically, it means that you accept these models and you also, somehow or other, want to reenact those models, adopt these roles in your own life. For some, this takes the form of heroic asceticism, forty-day fasts in the desert and the such.

In our sampradāya, it is harder to find other kinds of models, but examples of householder life like Nityananda Prabhu, Advaita Acharya, the Goswamis in their descendance, and great personalities like Bhaktivinoda Thakur can still be found. In a way, I believe that we have been badly served by the marginalization of the householder model, and that is, in part, what we are trying to rectify.

The fact is that there is a psychological phenomenon that I call "auto-mythologizing," but which is called other things by other people. I have talked about this quite often, and you can see some of these things in the following posts: A Day Off; Automythology; Worst kind of teacher.

Generally speaking, automythology means creating a personal narrative that embodies a clear sense of identity, purpose and, above all, destiny. It means the active imagination to be the author of your own life story. For a devotee, it is about finding your own particularity as an individual, servant of God.

For the materialistic person, the same process is going on, but the goals are material in nature. The clearer one's personal story, the clearer that one can recognize the role God plays in our lives. Sometimes, it happens that there is an epiphany in a disordered and confused life that transforms it and gives it direction. But that simply makes one's personal story clearer. This is why so many ex-drug addicts and prostitutes write books about their experience and turn to helping others. Their transformation becomes the event that gives their entire lives meaning. This is also a significant element in guru tattva and what makes the guru so much more than a mere purveyor of words, an exemplar.

Now, and this is important in everything that I am saying, all of this shows that we as human beings, have this extraordinary ability to see our lives from a multiplicity of perspectives, to take that material and redirect it in accordance with a personal vision. We think that we are living our own lives freely and naturally, but in fact we are not. Mind, intelligence and ego are all playing this modelling role, and no one can excise mind, intelligence and ego from their being. Material or spiritual, these things are going to remain. If you want to live without mind, intelligence or ego, then be born as a rock.

Rasa in our own lives comes when we identify with our "self" in our own stories. We can define our story as one of success or failure, make it a horror story, a heroic tale, or a love story. As devotees, our lives other one hand are the story of us as sādhakas, structuring our lives in a way that recognizes the hand of the Divine in leading us to the lotus feet of our Lord, through the details of our lives. And we experience rasa when we recognize how grace enters our lives.

On another level, our lives are miniature, reflected manifestations of Krishna's own pastimes. How's that? Inasmuch as our lives are the stories of our relationships--as parents and children, friends and well-wishers, masters and servants, teachers and students, wives or husbands, lovers or mistresses--all of these are the pastimes of Krishna in miniature, or in reflection. Even where these relationships are material, they still reflect the divine relationships in Goloka, and to the extent that they approximate those divine relationships, they become openings into the spiritual world.

तवैवास्मि तवैवास्मि न जीवामि त्वया विना
इति विज्ञाय राधे त्वं नय मां चरणान्तिके

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Manjari Bhava and Sexual Renunciation

Someone has asked for a little more clarification on the relationship between manjari bhava and the practices I am talking about.
Anyway, I don't see how this ties into manjari bhav sadhana. If both the male and female partners identify as a manjari, then how can they engage in sexual relations with each other while maintaining that inner identity?

Two little girls on the brink of Kishorihood who just want to assist their Swamini in meeting with her Priyatam are now having sex with each other? What is up with that?

That's why I say that yes, Vaishnava couples can and do have creative intimate lives, but while doing so they can't and do not identify themselves in the same way they identify themselves during their sadhana time.

When I say "can't" above it is not meant as "it's impossible", but it means I can't see how it would work. So could you address this issue please Jagat?
I have written a number of articles that deal with this topic, in particular, Sadharanikarana and Manjari Bhava and the series discussing Ahangrahopasana and Aropa. I am not saying they are very clear or very easy to understand, so I will make an effort at simplification here, for anything that is true should be easy to express simply.

(1) The Manjaris and madhura rasa

The first thing to understand is that the manjaris are experiencing madhura rasa. Some people think that only sambhogecchāmayī rāgātmikā bhakti can be madhura rasa, because only those people with the desire to experience direct union with Krishna will have the appropriate mood to experience this particular flavor of love.

There is a certain logic to this position because the essential theistic stance is that of the single individual before God. However, for us Gaudiyas, there is a double stance: On the one hand we are individuals locked in a direct, personal relationship with God; on the other we are participants in and observers of his līlā. The two stances are not exclusive. That is one aspect of acintya-bhedābheda.

Since these gopis are Krishna's mistresses (yūtheśvarīs) and have the exclusive desire to please Krishna's senses, it cannot be said that they are in some way governed by a desire to please their own senses and are thus sullied by kāma. Nevertheless, one thing is clear in all sakhī-bhāva sampradāyas--anyone who adopts the sambhogecchāmayī stance is entering into competition with Srimati Radharani, and that is like playing basketball against Michael Jordan. You are going to lose, except when she lets you score a basket.

Radha is Krishna's pūrṇa-śakti, as well as specifically being his hlādinī śakti, and so the sakhī-manjarī position is to accept the following siddhānta: Radha governs all of Krishna's pleasure. Rather than compete with Radha, or compete with Krishna, I will accept that my upāsya is the Divine Couple together. Despite that, y female identity means that I identify more closely with Radha.

Now the interesting thing here is the oft-repeated nostrum that the Manjaris renounce their own sexual pleasure, even when Radha pushes them to enjoying this rasa with Krishna. Some sādhakas interpret this to mean that this is a higher position than the yūtheśvarīs because it is purer, being even more renounced and freer of even the slightest hint of selfish desire to enjoy. They carry this idea over to the sādhaka deha and make it a cardinal point of faith that sexuality in this body and manjari bhāva are mutually and radically exclusive.

I do not agree with this point of view and think it is necessary to understand how the Manjaris are experiencing madhura-rasa.


(2) Sādhāraṇīkaraṇa.

This is where the idea of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa comes into the picture. In his books Mañjarī-svarūpa-nirūpaṇa and Mañjarī-bhāva-sādhana-paddhati, Kunja-bihari Dasji talks about identification with Rupa and Rati Manjaris, with Narottam and other expressions of Rādhā-dāsya as found in the literature of the sampradāya. Although this is an essential part of the culture of manjari bhāva, on its own these directions do not really show very clearly how the Manjaris experience madhura rasa. It shows how they experience Rādhā-dāsya, which is not exactly the same thing. This is, of course, part of the same objection to the manjaris' experience of madhura-rasa.

However, as I have said just recently, in all the rasas, there is an element of identification with the loved object. The more you love someone, the more you identify with them, the more you feel their pain and joy.

But here we are not talking about a material relationship, we are talking about the non-dual divine realm where identity and difference take on a whole new meaning. The sakhis and manjaris are Radha's phala-puṣpa-pātā. They are extensions of herself. When Radha laughs, they laugh. When Radha cries, they cry. When Krishna kisses Radha, they faint with ecstasy. They are as close to Radha as her life itself.

In the sādhaka stage, this is comprehended through the process of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa. As one progresses, this is progressively internalized. This is the reason that the discussion in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu about the necessity for external sources of rasa is important. Devotees make use of rasika literature, but as their sthāyi bhāva becomes internalized, they don't have an absolute necessity for it. Their sthāyi bhāva creates the vibhāvas, etc., out of whatever material is to hand.

An important element to understand in all this is the importance of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa as a general psychological phenomenon and not simply as a psychology of aesthetics or literature appreciation. It is linked to the idea of self-observation and self-imagination.


(3) Aropa

What I have described above is the conventional understanding of Manjari Bhava and the concept of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa as Rupa Goswami understands it. Now in Sahajiya practice, it is necessary to understand the concept of āropa. This is where things begin to differ from conventional Vaishnava understanding and where the opportunity for misunderstanding is greatest. This misunderstanding arises from the basic confusion between the ideas of āropa and ahangrahopāsanā. The latter word is probably more familiar to devotees who have followed the IGM route because we were all warned against it. It is a kind of spiritual practice that is admittedly found in the Tantras and even the Pancharatra in which the devotee expressly identifies himself with the Deity, usually through a formula like "Shivo'ham, so'ham, Gopalo'ham."

Aropa is different. What it does, it makes use of the self-splitting psychological mechanism of self-observation or self-imagination referred to above. At this point one has to understand the second dimension of Radha-Krishna līlā as human archetype.

Here again, Orthodoxy feels uncomfortable due to the seeming compromise of the absolute Duality of God and creature, Ishwara and Jiva. However, at this point I would remind us all that we are acintya-bhedābheda-vādis. Acintya-bhedābheda is not an intellectual game, but a description of things as they are. The duality of God and creature, even in the Bhagavata Rasa līlā, is always permeated with aiśvarya. The mention of aiśvarya is necessary in order to reveal the ultimate sacred nature of the particular līlā being described, but ultimately, the payoff is not in the majesty of God but in the intimacy of his manifestation as human. In other words, the highest form of the sacred is in the sweetness of his human manifestation.

The Divine Duality of Radha and Krishna is mirrored in the activities of this world, in the play of love as it manifests in the lives of each of us. Radha and Krishna are the Universal underlying these particular manifestations. One fascinating belief of modern humanists and novelists is that one can approach the Universal through understanding the Particular. The reason for this is that rasa comes more powerfully through the experience of the particular. Nevertheless, there is a limit to how far we can actually go through the particular, which in devotee parlance is the "material/mundane hero or heroine."

I was going to keep it simple, but this is rather important to understand. I have said this before, but it sounds close to heresy for those who are the most committed to the Orthodox approach that most of us are familiar with. Bear with me.

When I translated the Hamsaduta and Uddhava Sandesh, I wrote a foreword in which I defended Rupa Goswami against the critique of Sushil Kumar De, the only scholar who up until then had written much at all about Gaudiya literature. I said that he was writing from a modern perspective and could not understand the mindset of these authors, and that we should judge them by their worldview and the standards they were following. My most important argument was that if they had not been effective in producing the rasa experience in their readers, they would never have achieved the fame and success that they did.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that we are modern, post-modern even. Our relationship to myth is different from that experienced by 16th century Bengalis. We have been discussing this of late on this blog--applying the standards of one epoch to those of another. It is like Americans expecting Iraqis to be just like them and being surprised when they are not. This is called a clash of world-views. But I digress... We are modern and this means that our relation to mythic archetypes is going to be a little different.

There is a little more to understand here. Archetypes like Radha and Krishna are very powerful in the human psyche. They are unchanging and are an inexhaustible source of meaning because they manifest in an infinity of ways. Even though you can summarize what Radha and Krishna are or what they mean fairly succinctly, this Truth keeps on furnishing meaning to the one whose consciousness has been molded by consciousness of them. Why? Because they are constantly appearing and reappearing in this world of experience.

This model (archetype) of the Divine Couple, the Divine Syzygy as it is useful to call them sometimes (to sound dreadfully savant and knowledgeable about Carl Jung), lives apart from the creation in their archetypal form as Radha and Krishna (aprakaṭa) and here in this world in the unlimited and countless love stories that surround us, but most of all in the most authentic love stories. They also live in our own love stories. But in order to understand that and really appreciate it, we have to stand outside ourselves for a moment and become observers and servants of that Reality.


(4) Serving the Sacred Reality

Becoming a servant of that reality means first of all to worship it, to recognize its sacred and sacramental quality. It means that you and your beloved become the deities that you worship. Suddenly, you are not these bodies that you are possessing, but the servants of the Loving Couple.

On one plane, Radha and Krishna are cavorting in the Nitya Vihara in the Thousand-petalled lotus of your Sahasrara-chakra--

sahasra-patra-kamalaṁ gokulākhyaṁ mahat-padam
tad-karṇikāraṁ tad-dhāma tad-anantāṁśa-sambhavam

On another plane, they are manifest directly in front of you, experiencing the bliss of union, granting you the right to witness and to participate in their Divine Bhava.

This is why, although I insist that anyone attempting this should at least have some experience of līlā-smarana in manjari bhava, the direct experience of entering their bhava is a cosmic experience, enveloping the universe and giving one the realization that the entire cosmos is made of nothing but their love.

ānando brahmeti vyajānāt,
ānandād dhy eva khalv imāni bhūtāni jāyante,
ānandena jātāni jīvanti,
ānandaṁ prayanty abhisaṁviśantīti
(Taittiriya Upanishad 3.6.1)

Monday, October 08, 2007

"Normal" Sex; Enough theory! Parakiya bhava; Sex Isn't Everything!

(1) Normal Sexual Relations

Someone wrote in the previous comments section that "normal sexual relations" were permitted for devotee householders. Some of the other posters there also expressed similar ideas.

I just want to say that I am not in favor of "normal" sexual relations. The general attitude in Vaishnava circles is to quote the Bhagavatam, in which it is made very clear that for men (and the instructions are given for men), association with women is the door to hell (5.5.2).

mahat-sevāṁ dvāram āhur vimuktes
tamo-dvāraṁ yoṣitāṁ saṅgi-saṅgam

All bad qualities come out of association with women (3.31.33).

satyaṁ śaucaṁ dayā maunaṁ buddhiḥ śrīr hrīr yaśaḥ kṣamā
śamo damo bhagaś ceti yat-saṅgād yāti saṁkṣayam

Women are temptresses. Chota Haridas was expelled and, more or less, obliged to commit suicide because of a rather doubtful case of association with women, just so that he could be an example to all of us.

So can anything good be said for women or association with women? Though there are some saintly women (like Kunti, Devahuti, Devaki, etc.) in the Bhagavatam, including the gopis, whenever women as a class are discussed, it is generally as a danger to spiritual life. The only place that householder life is given much merit is that it is better than being a tyagi suffering the attacks of sexual desire.

There is fear, even in the forest for the foolish, for the six enemies will accompany him there. On the other hand, what danger is there for an awakened and self-controlled person who takes pleasure in the Self to remain in the home? One who wishes to conquer the six enemies should enter the married state, which is like a fortress from which he can defend himself against these powerful enemies. When they have become weak, then by all means he should take sannyasa. (5.1.17-18)

To quote St. Paul, "It is better to marry than to burn." As soon as one makes this kind of statement, it reduces woman to a second-class human being, and marriage to nothing more than a somewhat more complex form of masturbation, fraught with all kinds of entanglements and dangers.

I don't think I need to say that we have had a sustained and steady critique of these ideas from the feminists and also from enlightened psychologists in Western society that show such a position to be untenable. I don't think that I can, at this particular moment, attempt an exhaustive classification of male and female psychological types. The assessments of male and female character in the scriptures are not altogether wrong. Nevertheless, we need to reassess these scriptural statements in view of others that identify bhakti as an essentially feminine approach to spirituality, and the the idealization of the feminine in Radha and in sakhi/manjari bhava.

The negative statements about woman do not give sufficient scope to the possibility that a woman can be a devotee, even a Mahat. So this is the first essential point to retain here. Sexual relations are not normal where the power relations are distorted.

What can be normal about sexual relations if the man and woman are conditioned to think that they are engaged in something sinful, harmful or damaging for their spiritual life? If "normal" sexual relations is nothing more than a kind of scratch-your-itch so you can get on to more important things, it is self-defeating.

Ultimately, it will come back to bite you, because the desire for sex is not really a desire for sex as much as it is one for intimacy, companionship and love. For a devotee, that can only come in the association of another devotee. And when that particular condition is met, then it is possible to engage in sexual relations as a sacramental act.

Making sexual union a sacramental act is not "normal" sexual relations. What are people thinking is normal anyway--sattva, rajas, tamas? In the sense that devotees want everything to have a relationship to Krishna, it is only sexual relations that are saturated with Radha-Krishna smaranam that are normal, and nothing else.


(2) Enough theory, what's the practise?

I have given a great deal of thought about whether I should go into these matters further here. I certainly don't want to enter into the realm of titillation. If that is what people are looking for, there is plenty of it available on the internet. No point in me adding more dung to the heap.

But if you understand the theory, the practise is not that hard to follow. The practice begins in the head and the heart, so take care of those first. Just like in bhakti in general--theory is important, the practice follows on fairly naturally. Nevertheless, I would like to make the following points:

(a) Mental and spiritual preparation.

You need to be fixed up in Krishna consciousness in the traditional, customary sense. This is the question of adhikara. If sex is more important for you than Krishna consciousness, then you have missed the point. That is why you should understand the pravartaka-sadhaka distinction.

(b) The Partner.

You need a partner who is not selected on the basis of rational criteria alone. If you have followed (a), then it will be impossible for you to fall in love with a non-devotee. But if you select a devotee partner on such a basis, the relationship will have svakiya elements that might ultimately prove unstable. So there is a combination of rational and irrational elements involved in the selection of a partner, so clearly this is something that cannot be explained like an instruction manual. It is like selecting a guru: You can say that a guru's qualities are such and such, but there is an element in the guru-disciple relationship that we can call epiphany or charisma, which are outside the realm of reason. See The Sadhika as Guru Tattva.

(c) Physical preparation.

One needs to follow a certain physical culture of yoga. Since one is engaging the physical body and part of the practice includes restraint of the tendency to orgasm, one must be familiar with asana, pranayama, mudras and bandhas. This does not mean, as some may think, that one becomes a yogi; we are simply adding the yoga part to bhakti. Yoga means discipline, and part of that discipline involves the proper maintenance of physical health. Proper sexual control is part of that discipline. The goal is not, however, to raise the kundalini; one makes no primary conscious effort in that regard; that is a secondary result or side effect. Without steps (a) and (b), and if one's fundamental motivation is to indulge in sexual pleasures in a hedonistic way, then you may as well take Viagra and indulge. Such things have nothing to do with the spiritual practice I am talking about.

It should be said that both partners must cooperate. If one is overly attached to orgasm, that becomes the goal of the act. That is not the goal: the goal is to enter a realm of samadhi awareness of Radha and Krishna in their Divine Union, strengthened by the power of intimacy, love, and united consciousness.

(d) The performance of ritual.

This is perhaps the most important part of the process. And when you talk about the how, this is perhaps what you mean. This ritual is something that you will get from your guru. I will not publish it here.

The purpose of the ritual is to focus your mind on the sacredness of the sexual act. It is not, as I have just said, normal. Though first sexual relationships with a love partner may not necessarily follow the ideal model, and not even all such relationships need to follow a full ritual, the couple must occasionally or regularly follow all the elements of ritual, beginning with ritual purification through bathing, nyasa and bhuta-shuddhi, and other elements usually associated with puja.

Tantric practices have been applied to all kinds of religious systems and theologies. Therefore, one should understand that the prayers and mantras chanted in this ritual should be related to Radha-Krishna and manjari bhava. Manjari bhava is the key to the proper understanding of the practice.

(e) Mantra.

Though this might have been included in (d) above, there are three mantras that play an important role in the act of sacramental love. These are the 18-syllable mantra, the Kama-gayatri, and the Hamsa mantra. Each of these plays a role and both partners should preferably have done a purascharan in one or the other of these mantras before going further with the practice.


(3) Parakiya Rasa

Several people seem to think that I am advocating pārakīya-rasa, or that what I am advocating will lead to some kind of sexual anarchy, the opening of Krishna conscious swingers clubs, the return of droit de seigneur programs where gurus make their disciples' wives prasadi, and all kinds of other practices of the sort.

I realize I am opening a Pandorra's Box by advocating this kind of sādhana, at the risk of bringing a great deal of opprobrium on my head. But let us deal with the problem of parakiya rasa.

Some of these things I have said before (See also Sexuality and spirituality: Dangers), but repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. As I have taken pains to state above, there is a great deal of importance placed on the choice of partner for this kind of practice. I am not sure that advertising in the marital columns of an Indian newspaper or on the internet is the most fruitful method to follow, though ultimately all means are good. The channels whereby love comes are outside our direct control, and as the Upanishads say, eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman: Man proposes and God disposes. Knock and it shall be answered.

Nevertheless, there may well be challenges and obstacles in this matter. In fact, the obstacles make one aware of the power of desire, which is very enlightening. The discussion that was begun about desire and its integral nature to the soul was interesting for this reason: Both kama and prema do, in their purest form, act as powerful and uncontrollable forces, seemingly external to the self. The stronger the forces of attachment to dharma create a resistance to desire, the greater the conflict and inner pressure. There are many instructions that tell us not to resist the urge for bhakti if it conflicts with ordinary dharmic injunctions. What is surprisingly difficult is for a religious man or a woman to break with their dharmic marriage commitments. To give spiritual value to potential disruptive parakiya relationship seems socially dangerous, but this is as true of sannyasa as it is of parakiya rasa. And the defense of the two is the same: If a higher purpose is served, then rejection of dharmas can be pardonable.

Shastras warn against disruptive sexual relationships just as they warn against premature sannyasa. The only safeguard we have is our own sincerity. However, I should make it clear that the base position is svakiya-rasa, not parakiya.

I have been trying to communicate a dual understanding of Radha-Krishna lila: (1) as metaphor for jiva-Ishwara and (2) as archetype of human love relationships. In the former, the gopis' and Krishna's parakiya relationship is false. What this means is that our dharmas in this world are related to the bodily concept and are therefore superseded by the true dharma of the soul, love for Krishna. The jiva's real home is in her relation with God.

yat paty-apatya-suhṛdām anuvṛttir aṅga
strīṇāṁ sva-dharma iti dharma-vidā tvayoktam
astv evam etad upadeśa-pade tvayīśe
preṣṭho bhavāṁs tanu-bhṛtāṁ kila bandhur ātmā

Oh Krishna! You are the knower of religion, and so when you instruct us in the duties of a woman to follow and serve husband, children and relatives, then that must be right. But we see that all these instructions culminate in you and are applicable to you, for you are the true beloved of all living beings. You are their friend and you are their very soul. (10.29.32)
In the latter understanding, there is a romantic conception that one is destined to have a spiritual companion sent by God. In India, parents try to ascertain this companion through a complex set of procedures, which are often corrupted by mundane motives. But such a rational approach, however sincere, may result in one's falling into a type of external svakiya relationship that for whatever reason is inimical to one's heartfelt spiritual purpose and destiny. Then, in accordance with the principal of śaraṇāgati (accepting what is anukūla, rejecting what is pratikūla), one may go against conventional social and religious expectations. Svakiya really means what is true to oneself.

I say this with a great deal of care and trepidation. I am not in favor of the kind of social disruption that comes from interfering with the family unit. Taking care of children is a responsibility that should not be entered into lightly. Divorce has a decidedly negative influence on children, and certainly part of that responsibility is to raise children according to principles of religion. Children who are wanted, who are raised in an atmosphere of love and religious practice, will be forever favorable to the culture of spiritual life. Though there are no guarantees anywhere, it is certain that if any of these elements are missing, a child is more likely to experience spiritual problems later on in life.

It should therefore be understood that pārakīyā-rasa (which I should call true svakiya) means a certain concept of love and marriage (gāndharva) that is truer to Western tradition rather than the Eastern (prājāpatya). The best solution is thus for such a "true svakīyā" relationship to be established before events bring the destined partners into other entangling relationships.

At the same time, the kind of sexual practices we are talking about have a birth-control method built into them, making wanted children the norm.

This is all pretty pie-in-the-sky scenario, as wherever something can go wrong, it surely will. And that is nowhere more true than in the untidy world of love and sexual relationships. But as I was trying to say in the "We need a new sexual revolution" post, things are pretty bad as it is. I was just listening to a university colloquium on hypersexualization in today's society and, believe me, teenagers are under a great deal of unpleasant pressure due to the contemporary hypersexualization of media and mores. When I say that we need a new sexual revolution I mean that we need to revive the natural intuitive awareness of the sacred nature of human love and sexuality. This includes the option of abstention.


(4) A last word: Sex is NOT everything

It is important to state that sex is not everything, even though it may sometimes appear that way on this blog. There is something fundamentally questionable to the ordinary Westerner about the idea of a celibate male spending his time meditating on the sexual pastimes of an imagined Deity. Seen from a purely psychological point of view, it seems fairly clear that people who do so may well have a problem with what is, after all, a normal human activity.

There seems to be a healthy approach to sexuality that places it appropriately in the context of life as a whole, with all that implies. Those of us who are conscious of the problems in the third world, for instance (India itself is a good example), where ecological, economical, educational, and health problems are all-pervading, will recognize that no human being can remain indifferent or inactive.

Love of God, and love of a devotee, love of the community of devotees, and finally love for the wider human community: This is the expansion of the loving propensity. The loving propensity requires action, in accordance with our personal adhikāra. Love of God and love of a devotee, or even love of the community of devotees, can become excessively exclusionary; after strengthening to center of love, one has to expand further and further outward.

So when I say prema prayojana, I am not saying, "Sex is the goal of life."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Heart and Halo (Part Two)

Now Sridhar Maharaj evidently reserves a special place in hell for those who imitate Radha and Krishna's pastimes physically.

The most heinous thing is that one will play the part of Krishna and a lady will play the part of a gopi and they will unite, and in that way they will enjoy. To think this to be that, it is impossible. Any ordinary moral man will hate this. What to speak of the higher devotees, even an ordinary moral man will hate it.

The problem with such statements is that they are so lacking in subtlety or in comprehension, not only of the wide variety of sahajīyā doctrines, or even the distinction between traditional orthodoxy and Sahajiyaism, but of human sexuality itself. We have already been saying repeatedly that sexuality can analyśed according to the model of the three gunas just like any other material phenomenon. The Gita tells us that goodness, passion or ignorance, all are entangling in the material nature, but that sattva is still better than the other two. When we talk of kāma and prema we are not talking about two discrete entities, but a spectrum of attitudes or stances towards desire and love. The failure to recognize this and to simply condemn all forms of sexuality as kāma is something that stems from fear, from dvitīyābhiniveza, to cite one of Sridhar Maharaj's own favorite verses.

Like so many identity issues, it is in part the result of criticism from outside. This is why I took the trouble of quoting all those 19th century works of European scholars and their statements about gopī-bhāva in an earlier post. Notice that the Indian Bhandarkar was the most supercilious of them all. Some quotes about sakhi bhava (1) and (2). Evidently, the Anglicized Indians were very sensitive about these things.

The GM made such a big deal out of being able to use cars and other modern inventions in the service of Krishna through yukta-vairāgya, but how is it that they failed to notice that the most essential force of life itself can also be transformed and engaged in the service of Krishna? Not only that it can be done, but that is a necessity? Either it is transformed by abstinence, which is the inferior method, or it is transformed by active engagement, which is a more complex and difficult approach, but ultimately more satisfying to the individual and to human society collectively.

So what is going on here with this straw man sahajīyā who "plays the part of Krishna and enjoys"? We hear this often, the teaching that in actual fact, the jiva is trying to usurp the part of Krishna as the enjoyer, and that sexual desire is the epitome of that imitation. Krishna's madhura-līlā is the zenith of the spiritual realm, and our lusty degradations are the nadir of our conditioned state. But has anyone stopped to listen to the sahajīyā and ask exactly what is the relationship between orthodox Vaishnava philosophy and this heinous imitation?

The true sahajīyā considers himself a prema-sādhaka, someone who is seeking the highest gift given humanity, that of divine love. If their method is erroneous, then surely, if they have any sincerity, they would like to hear about it. If not, then like any cheater, they will be punished by the material energy. By their fruits you shall know them. Phalena phala-kāraṇam anumīyate.

Well, perhaps there are some people out there who really do think "I am Krishna and I am making love to Radha." Even there, in this activity which might be called ahaìgrahopāsanā, there is remembrance of Krishna and it is not, according to many, without its positive value. As a matter of fact, this kind of purely symbolic understanding of Radha and Krishna, as universal feminine and masculine principles, is one of the doors by which we enter into understanding this wonderful and complex tattva.

But as I have tried to show previously, there is a difference between this ahaìgrahopāsanā (अहंग्रहोपासना) and the psychological methods called āropa (आरोप) and sādhāraṇīkaraṇa (साधारणीकरण). That was a somewhat long and complex discussion (Part I), so let me give a rīsumī of its essence:

The process of experiencing rasa depends on sādhāraṇīkaraṇa, which means subconscious identification, as in when I watch a movie, I spontaneously identify with the hero and vicariously experience his anger, his pain, his heroism and his desires.

According to Rupa Goswami, the goal of a devotee is to identify with Radha and Krishna in the way that a servant identifies with his master, a friend with a friend, a parent with a child and a lover with a lover. Love actually includes a sense of identification with the beloved. A servant who does not identify with his master's pleasures and pains will serve him poorly. The process of līlā-smaraṇam requires this kind of identification procedure to take place (rāi kāndile āmarā kāndi, hāsile āmarā hāsi).

Now whenever such an identification process is transposed into this world, there is a kind of āropa or attribution taking place. When one puts on a play, for instance, one attributes the role to the actor: Christopher Reeve "is" Superman. This is clearly imitation, but only a demented actor would actually believe that he has become Superman, no matter how Stanislavskian he happens to be. In the Gaudiya Vaishnava model, the most radical example of this kind of role playing is in the mysterious phenomenon called guru-tattva.

Now right away, I want you all to allow all the condemnations and criticisms of guru-tattva that you have heard, from the critiques of charismatic cult leaders to the falldowns of the Iskcon zonal acharyas, to flow through you. Remember everything that is wrong with the guru system. What is the problem here? Someone is sitting on a big throne, with a crown on his head like Kirtanananda, and proclaiming not just to be a stand-in for God, but to actually be as good as God.

Even the Gaudiya Math makes this claim. They may hoo and haw about ashraya vigraha and vishaya vigraha, but they say that one should serve the guru as if were God Himself. ācāryaṁ māṁ vijānīyāt . And yet, if the guru himself starts believing it, if even for a minute he forgets to say, dāso'smi, he becomes compromised and he compromises his disciple. This is because he has forgotten that what is going on here is āropa.

I am sure that Sridhar Maharaj will not condemn the entire institution of guru-bhakti simply because a few (!) unscrupulous people have misused it for their own personal gain--profit, adoration and prestige. For the disciple, the recognition and service of the divinity of the guru is a necessity, just as the worship of the archa-vigraha is necessary. And, if I may, this is also a question of āropa. In fact, to one degree or another, the entire edifice of bhakti is based on āropa. For instance, we say the Holy Name is--

nāma cintāmaṇiḥ kṛṣṇa-caitanya-rasa-vigraha
pūrṇaḥ śuddho nitya-mukto'bhinnatvān nāma-nāminoḥ

Now of course, from a faith standpoint, this is true. But from a practical psychological standpoint, it is āropa. We have to apply or attribute these qualities to the Holy Name when in a conditioned state in order to maintain faith in the practise of chanting. I hope you can follow what I am saying.

Now to come to one of those grey areas that Anuradha was talking about: āropa is a necessary element in process of sacramentalizing sexuality. It is, as I have said before, akin to guru-tattva. Indeed, part of the problem with the guru-tattva itself is that gurus have this nasty habit of sleeping with their disciples. It is one of those uncomfortable grey areas of charisma and abuse of power that seem endemic to the institution. In the Gaudiya Math and most other Hindu and Buddhist denominations, the guru is supposedly above sexuality, therefore there can be no compromise with the principle of abstinence in the guru-disciple relationship, even though theoretically sex is a kind of service. But we won't get into the complications of sexuality and the guru-disciple relationship here. Suffice it to say that in most cases, this will be an abuse of power that is highly damaging to both parties.

But that does not mean that all sexual relationships, which may or should have many of the same kind of numinous elements that are present in the charismatic guru-disciple relationship, are devoid of spiritual potential. "Charisma" (I put in the quote marks to indicate that special care needs to be taken with the term.) itself can be seen as a kind of theophany, whether it manifests in the guru or in the beloved.

The point here, though, is that once we accept that there is a possibility of sacralizing sexuality and adopting it as an integral part of spiritual practice, we immediately enter into a realm of subtle shadings of color. Anuradha called it a grey area. And, indeed, for those accustomed to seeing only two alternatives--kāma or prema, there is no subtlety.

But as I will never tire of saying, we are talking about a sādhanā, and that means there is an element of seriousness about it. If it is all taken too lightly, in the moral sense, then it will lose its sacred character. In this respect, the criticisms and warnings are not unfounded. But we are saying that if you take it seriously as a sadhana, as a sacred act, you will be fully aware when elements of the modes of ignorance and passion enter and sully the picture; you will even be unhappy when the mode of goodness dominates. And you will know clearly when the glimpses of the divine lila are bestowed upon you and you will feel your entire being become transformed by it. As with all things, certain conditions apply.

There is one more thing I should briefly state while I have it in my mind. This has also been mentioned in this blog previously. I will put in the link when I find it. That is this: Pleasure is not wrong per se. Even the ascetic is seeking pleasure. The Gita tells us that pleasure in the mode of goodness is that which is like poison in the beginning and is ultimately transformed in the final result. This is a bit simplistic, but the basic concept of delayed gratification is well known to all psychologists and is an integral part of this entire discussion. Attachment to immediate gratification is the problem.

Nevertheless, the spiritual quest is a quest for pleasure. The Upanishads say bhūmaiva sukham. Look for the highest pleasure and you must look for it in God, the greatest thing, the very fountainhead of joy. God is even defined as pleasure, raso vai saḥ. Find him and you will be joyful. yaṁ labdhvānandī bhavati. The entire spiritual search is a refinement of the concept of happiness. If there is talk of sacrifice or separation or suffering in the spiritual path, it is only to remind you of the very basic truth that there is a great reward at the end. But God is not so wicked that he does not give rewards from time to time to assure his devotee. yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham. The suffering is not the goal, needless to say.

At the same time, as I tried to point out in my Jugupsa and Madhura-rati article (inadequately, I know), there is no specific reason that suffering has to be the most important element of the spiritual path. It is a simple psychological principle that the mind tends to be shaped or moulded principally by its joyful experiences, by positive associations, the greatest of which is love. Separation, as I never tire of saying, is not something that the sadhaka or the devotee willingly seeks out. It is imposed by Krishna or by the working of Yogamaya. This is perhaps the number 1 teaching of the Rāsa-līlā (See BhP 10.32.19-22)

There are many reasons that hearing and understanding the Rāsa-līlā results in the transformation of lust, but one of the most important ones is that it reveals a sādhanā whereby the subconscious and symbolic associations of human love can be channeled into Divine Love. If the only legitimized attitude for our sexual desires is disgust, then Radha and Krishna's lila will remain out of bounds forever. nivṛttānupayogitvāt.

Radhe Radhe !

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Heart and Halo (Part One)

I am still working on those grey areas, which will hopefully be made a little more clear soon. But for starters, a friend sent me the URL of a book of talks given by Bhakti Rakshaka Sridhar Maharaj called Heart and Halo. At the risk of offending devotees who admire Sridhar Maharaj and are unconditional supporters of the Gaudiya Math, I am afraid that I shall repeat some of the opinions that caused so much consternation a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, when Sridhar Maharaj says openly, "So they have got their hated position in society; the general society has got great hate for them, those bābājīs" and "[The sahajīyās] are the worst enemies," then we certainly must give him the respect he deserves and examine his arguments thoroughly and see how and why he justifies such vehement opposition.

I have to say right off the bat that there is much in this book that is interesting and valuable. I am, and I have said it before, someone who admires Sridhar Maharaj and respects his learning. However, his militancy against branches of Vaishnavism other than his own is problematic for me, and I believe that it needs to be critiqued. It is likely that nothing I say here will be new, but nevertheless, I will repeat the old and perhaps something new will come of it.

Though there is no way that Sridhar Maharaj's talk can be called a reasoned or coherent argument, it will be possible to extract the main points and deal with them.

First of all, let us start with the word sahajīyā. Sridhar Maharaj is what I would I would call a Sahajīyā-nirviçeṣa-vādī--a lot of different people get thrown into the same basket and many of them would find themselves quite uncomfortable in the company of those they found there. Our dear Madhavanandaji has, I think, shown sufficiently well that "bābājī" is not a synonym for sahajīyā. Indeed, the two terms are sufficiently vague that there may be some crossover, but bābājīs are numerous and belong to numerous different branches of the Gaudiya family, each with its individual approach.

Subrata showed us recently, Charan Dasji and Ramdasji were bābājīs who believed strongly in kirtan and preaching. And even though they tolerated a wide variety of expressions of devotional mood in their sangha--including Lalita Sakhi and her followers--they could not be accused of promoting Sahajiyaism in its narrower and historically more accurate definition, i.e., the acceptance of some kinds of sexual practice as integral to the culture of Gaudiya Vaishnava spirituality. And, though these two saints respected the Goswami santānas and the virakta-bhajanānandis of Braj and elsewhere, their approach to Vaishnavism was quite distinct.

But since Maharaj has specifically picked out Ramakrishna Pandit Babaji for mention as an illustration of what a sahajīyā is, we can see that his prime objective is the Vraja bhajananandis who follow the classical rāgānugā process as it had evolved in Vraja from the time of the Goswamis. This evolution was not achieved in a vacuum.

There are many rasika sampradayas in Vrindavan--the Radhavallabhis, the Haridasis, the Nimbarkis, the Lalita-sampradays, to name just a few. All of these sampradayas, along with the Gaudiyas, cultivate sakhī-bhāva, or mañjarī-bhāva. Far from being hated by the general public, all these sadhus are given the greatest respect by pious Hindus everywhere, and to this day they have a great deal of pratishtha.

Though in the Hindi speaking areas, the Hindustani sampradayas tend to have higher prestige than the Bengalis, the Radha Raman temple, which is a Hindustani Chaitanya Vaishnava family, has deep roots through north India and extremely good standing. But Ramdas Babaji, whom Sridhar Maharaj criticizes elsewhere for faking ecstatic symptoms, also had a considerable following, perhaps even greater than that of Saraswati Thakur himself. Indeed, if I ever heard of any sadhu being universally loved for his humility, his warmth and affectionate character, it was Ramdas Babaji Maharaj.

In general, bhajanānandī sadhus and yogis of all stripes are respected by Hindus, and needless to say, Ramakrishna Pandit Babaji received such high respect, from not only householders but from deeply committed virakta Vaishnavas. It may behoove some to say, "He may be considered as a beginner, to have admission into the beginner-class, infant class," but we frankly require more information in order to be able to assess the merit of such an accusation.

We have read and heard things about Ramakrishna Pandit Baba from people that knew him that incite our admiration and respect, so we would really like to know exactly what it was about him that was sahajīyā in nature. And I may add that Ramakrishna knew his Upanishads and Gita very well. Not only that, but even though he did not suffer fools any more easily than Saraswati Thakur, he generously shared his sanga with others who came to hear or learn from him.

I could go on in this vein, but I don't think it is necessary to do so. Let us accept the following: Saraswati Thakur was living in a different environment and had "moved on" from the "primitive" pre-modern Vaishnava style of the bhajanānandis. His new vision permitted him to make judgments on those who still followed the old "paradigm."

His concept of madhyamādhikārī was probably that which Bhaktivinoda Thakur had developed: those who had an awareness of modern issues and were no longer able to accept a primitive mythological approach to Vaishnavism. But let us leave aside for the moment the important question of whether one has to move with the times to be Krishna conscious.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur welcomes progress is a good thing and states that we can add deeper and a more evolved understanding to the original revelations of a tradition, just as through time other additions have been made to Hindu culture and practice since the age of the Vedic seers. Nevertheless, I humbly suggest, and I believe Bhaktivinoda Thakur holds the same view, that no one should criticize his forefathers for having been deprived of the insights of a later generation. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and the Vrindavan bābājīs have performed an immeasurable service by preserving and building on the esoteric traditions of left by the Six Goswamis.

We are all indebted to them, Gaudiya Math, Iskcon and the rest, whether we acknowledge it or not. They have not only preserved, but have added to the building blocks with which we are now building this ever greater edifice of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

But let us get to what is the main thrust of Sridhar Maharaj's argument, which hinges on the word "imitationist." He repeats that the imitationists confuse matter and spirit, they take kāma for prema, etc. "This kind of imitation is the worst. Ordinary imitation may be bad, but imitation of the highest reality is completely repugnant and must be rejected because what is Supreme is being exploited in such a low, mean way. That is sahajīyā."

Now, what such imitation is in the case of the bābājīs, I do not know. I assume that he means that taking on the identity of a sakhī or mañjarī, which as I said is the centuries old tradition of several Vrindavan sampradayas, is imitationism. Once again, I think that Gadadhar Pran, Madhavananda, myself and others have shown in great detail that this practice grew up very quickly in the post-Chaitanya sampradaya, and that it was accepted, honored and promoted by Narottam Das, Vishwanath, Baladeva, Jagannath Das and Bhaktivinoda Thakur, just to mention those who are in the Gaudiya Math "Bhagavata sampradaya." So, how it suddenly became transformed into "imitationism," I don't know.

Besides, I don't quite understand exactly what the problem is with imitationism. All neophytes begin their practice by imitating their acharyas. To this very day, ISKCON devotees go so far as to copy the cadences and distortions of Prabhupada's India-accented English, in unconscious imitation. There is a point where this does indeed disrupt individual inspiration and communion with God, but certainly in the beginning stages, it is not only to be expected but is quite desirable in the way that vidhi precedes rāga.

siddhasya lakṣaṇaṁ yat syāt
sādhanaṁ sādhakasya tat

"The characteristics of the siddha bhakta are the practices that should be followed by the aspiring devotee." (Brihad Bhag. Tika)
So who exactly are these devotees imitating if not Rupa and Sanatan, Kaviraj Goswami, Narottam, Vishwanath, Siddha Krishna Das, etc.?

Sridhar Maharaj's lecture begins with the question of whether it is worse to fall down from bhakti or to become a sahajīyā. The response is that because the sahajīyās are peddling falsehoods, or counterfeit bhakti, they are much worse. To be inactive is better than being actively false.

This may be true, but is it really applicable? If we say that the promotion of remembering Radha and Krishna lila is false because someone is not on the level of advancement sufficient to do so effectively, or has somehow failed, fallen into temptation, etc., then does this mean that the Radha-Krishna lila itself has somehow become tainted? Surely that is impossible, according to our philosophy.

Just like the Holy Name, which remains pure and untouched by our offenses, Radha and Krishna's lilas are transcendental and untouched by our misunderstandings. By that token, no matter how deeply we are mired in the darkness of ignorance, the nirmala bhāskara (the unblemished sun) of Radha-Krishna's lilas will continue to shed light on us if we just remember them.

Nevertheless, it does illustrate the fallacy, or at least the problem with the GM argument. And it also shows the relationship between the bābājīs and the more notorious sahajīyās, who find a place for sexuality in their religious and spiritual lives.

What is the relationship between the spiritual and material worlds? Sridhar Maharaj makes a point of repeating that the gulf between the two is as immense, and the difficulty of overcoming it quasi-impossible.
What is our soul? We can’t follow, we can’t understand what our own soul is! There is the world; we conceive it, we perceive it through our senses, so they are higher. The mind receives experience of the world through the senses, above the mind is the faculty of judgment within us, and above that is the soul proper. And then we approach the Supersoul area; through viraja, brahmaloka, eventually we reach Vaikuntha. There are so many layers to cross, but who is to cross, our own soul, we cannot even find him! We are far away from that conception, in a hopeless position, and we say that the highest conception of the Paramatma-world is in our fist! That is foolish.

Now you know, as well as I, that this problem extends to something as simple as chanting the Holy Name. If the Holy Name is spiritual, then how can we chant it with material senses? So Rupa Goswami says, as everyone in the Gaudiya Math knows full well,

ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ

Sevonmukhe here does not mean anything fancy, since serving the Holy Name just means chanting it. So the operative factor is simply the inclination or desire to chant the Holy Name and it manifests on the tongue. We are not to minimize the potency of the Holy Name, which mercifully descends on our tongues despite the limited purity of our desires. Nevertheless, we do make some distinctions based on that purity between Namaparadha, Namabhasa, and Suddha Nama. However, as the verses to the Namaparadhas tell us--

nāmāparādha-yuktāni nāmāny eva haranty agham
aviśrānta-prayuktāni tāny evārtha-karāṇi ca

The Holy Names destroy the sins even of one who commits offenses. If they are chanting tirelessly, they will bestow all benefits on the chanter. (HBV 11.526)

Now this same principle applies to ALL devotional practices, though we may all agree that the Holy Name is their rājā. The Holy Name is our fallback position. When we can do nothing else, then we must chant. And yet, the Holy Name is the seed of the tree of devotional practice, sadhana, the goal of which is to remember Krishna, and to remember him with love. It is the feeling of love that is the essence of bhakti. One should cultivate devotional service with the goal of attaining love for Krishna. And the principle of zaraṇāgati begins with the concept of accepting whatever is favorable and rejecting whatever is unfavorable to that goal.

So the Holy Name leads to other practices of devotional service, which are 64 in number, and all of them require engaging the mind and senses in somehow making contact with Krishna, through his name, form, qualities, and pastimes. While in the conditioned state, all such service, all such consciousness is somehow imperfect, and yet we are not told that the arcā-vigraha is not Krishna because we think of him as stone or wood. Rather we are reminded of the contrary. Krishna does not become counterfeit or false because our attitude or offensive.

So the fact is that Krishna DOES come into our fist. If he did not, there would be no possibility of sadhana in the first place. This is why Krishnadas makes a point of telling us that,

nāmāparādha-yuktānāṁ nāmāny eva haranty agham
aviśrānta-prayuktāni tāny evārtha-karāṇi ca
dīkṣā kāle bhakta kore ātma-samarpana
sei kāle kṛṣṇa tāre kore ātma-sama
se tāra deha kore cid-ānanda-maya
cid-ānanda dehe bhakta kṛṣṇere sevaya

At the time of initiation, the devotee turns himself over to Krishna. At that moment, Krishna makes him the same as himself. Krishna makes the devotee's body completely spiritual, so that in that spiritual body, he can serve him.

Obviously, this does not mean that all imperfections have ceased, but it does mean that at least in potentia, one can indeed be in direct contact with Krishna's name, form, attributes and lilas. The siddha deha is just an extension of the same principle.

In fact, there is only one energy of the Lord. The goal of sādhana is to see, as Bhaktivinoda Thakur did--se dina gṛhe bhajane dekhi gṛhete goloka bhaya, "That day, I saw in my own home that the entire house had become Goloka."

Monday, October 01, 2007

October 1, 1970

We have had a warm summer, and even September set a record for average temperatures for the month. Despite the warm weather, however, as I bicycled into work today, I saw a few trees that had turned entirely red or yellow. Some side streets were sprinkled with a speckling of color, dustballs of yellow or beige leaves tucked up against the curbs. And even though I was wearing shorts, the morning air had a bit of autumn bite.

October in Canada may not be like Octobers elsewhere. This is the Great Frozen North, and though global warming may be taking a bit of the edge off, October still means: You have to find shelter soon. Winter is coming.

On October 1, 1970, I entered the Hare Krishna temple on Beverley Street in Toronto. How I got there is the story of the summer that preceded it--a summer that saw me spiral downwards until there was nowhere to go but to the shelter that Krishna gave me. I can go backwards step by step, three years, remembering each preceding event that led me in the door to the bright yellow brilliance of the incense-soaked atmosphere, two shiny-headed brahmacharis inviting me in to complete the Vaikuntha effulgence of the scene. But, for the sake of this blog, I won't tell the story of my life, just the end of that summer.

I had spent most of it with a hippie couple, camping in St-Sauveur, where we pretended it was California by bathing naked near a waterfall, smoking pot, painting, playing the recorder, and reading books on Buddhism by Alan Watts and Timothy Leary. I had suddenly become vegetarian and the three of us were following some kind of macrobiotic diet.

The defining moment of that episode came when we decided to drop acid according to the guidance of Timothy Leary's The Psychedelic Experience, a manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As the LSD was beginning to take effect, we read something about "letting ourselves go, allowing ourselves to fall into the void," and suddenly I felt my entire being protest. I felt the intense presensce of a Person full of light behind me and I stood up and said with a burst of vehemence, "No! God is a Person!" My friends recoiled at the disturbance to the blissful deroulement of our mystical experience, and the rest of the afternoon was spent in no little discomfort.

Though there may have been other reasons for it, I left the next day and returned to Montreal, where I decided that I would become an artist. That was not to be, however, and I was bumped from one refuge to the next. Nevertheless, the experience that I had had in St. Sauveur kept me buoyant, and I felt as though I was in the hands of a protecting Savior and being guided to some numinous outcome.

I met some Christians who gave me a Bible, which I took though I felt little in common with them. I did read the Sermon on the Mount, and the following section really resonated with me.

25 "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

28 "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 "Therefore do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?' or "What shall we drink?' or "What shall we wear?' 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6.25-34)

Somehow, through this all, chanting Hare Krishna became a part of my life. My artist friend Ryan Larkin and a friend of his occasionally chanted, and eventually I went to the temple, which was not far from the McGill Ghetto, the neighborhood to the east of the university where most English-speaking students and hippies lived.

The first thing I remember seeing, on entering the temple, was the Brijbasi print of Murali Manohar (at the top of this blog entry). It was as though a primordial memory was awakened in me: I recognized this guy! I even remember saying, "This is what I have been looking for."

Ekayani, Gopal Krishna's wife at the time, was the only person in the temple, and she showed me around. She played the George Harrison Hare Krishna 45rpm for me, and Govinda Jaya Jaya on the flip side; and she showed me the new fascicules of the Bhagavatam that had just come out. Somehow or another I wheedled free copies of the second and third chapters. I remember being very attracted by the picture of the Lord in the Heart on the cover of chapter 2, something like the one shown here.

When I got home and started reading, the following verses in particular struck me because of their similarity to the New Testament verses above.

atah kavir nāmasu yāvad arthah
syād apramatto vyavasāya-buddhih
siddhe'nyathārthe na yateta tatra
pariśramam tatra samīkshamānah

For this reason the enlightened person should endeavor only for the minimum necessities of life while in the world of names. He should be intelligently fixed and never endeavor for unwanted things, being competent to perceive practically that all such endeavors are merely hard labor for nothing.

satyām ksitau kim kaśipoh prayāsair?
bāhau sva-siddhe hy upabarhanaih kim?
saty añjalau kim purudhānna-pātryā?
dig-valkalādau sati kim dukūlaih?

When there are ample earthly flats to lie on, what is the necessity of cots and beds? When one can use his own arms, what is the necessity of a pillow? When one can use the palms of his hands, what is the necessity of varieties of utensils? When there is ample covering, or the skins of trees, what is the necessity of clothing?

cīrāni kim pathi na santi? diśanti bhiksām
naivānghripāh? para-bhrtah sarito'py aśushyan?
ruddhā guhāh kim? ajito'vati nopasannān?
kasmād bhajanti kavayo dhana-durmadāndhān?

Are there no torn clothes lying on the common road? Do the trees, which exist for maintaining others, no longer give alms in charity? Do the rivers, being dried up, no longer supply water to the thirsty? Are the caves of the mountains now closed, or, above all, does the Almighty Lord not protect the fully surrendered souls? Why then do the learned sages go to flatter those who are intoxicated by hard-earned wealth? (BhP 2.2.3-5)

By now I had become fully convinced that something was about to happen to me. I had nowhere to stay. Someone who was moving told me I could crash in the apartment they had already vacated for the last two days of September.

On the evening of September 30th, I was walking along Sherbrooke Street in a light snow shower. It was a pretty early snowfall, even for Montreal, but those first warnings of winter were definitely in the air. I saw a hippie walking ahead of me under the weight of a heavy backpack, and in the spontaneous generosity of the destitute, I asked him if he needed a place to stay for the night. I would not have been able to offer him a second.

When he came up, the first thing he did was to set up an altar on the floor of the completely empty apartment by propping up a picture of Vishnu against an empty beer bottle. Then he pulled out one of those japa malas made out of the big round red wooden beads that were used in the movement in those days, and without a word, began chanting japa in loud, deliberately enunciated syllables. The man did not say another word that evening, but I learned how to chant japa.

The next morning we hitchhiked to Toronto and joined the temple. As it turned out, this guru of mine was uncomfortable in the temple environment and never managed to stick it out, while I flourished.

So October, as Lafontaine says, is when la bise fut venue. But unlike the irresponsible cigale in the fable, who was sent packing by the industrious ant with a sarcastic, "Vous chantiez? Et bien, dansez maintenant!", who would have known that I would indeed dance that winter? And the next, and the next...

This photo of a sankirtan party on Yonge Street, probably two or three weeks after I shaved up.

विपदः सन्तु ताः

I did a lot of stuff on the weekend--I read, I updated or finished six or seven files on the GGM, I helped U. finish her dissertation. But I did it all in a state of tamo-guna consciousness. I did most of it sitting in front of the TV, deadening myself to my self.

U.'s thesis is about sankirtan. I was reminded of that Sridhar Maharaj quote someone once posted on GD--"The essence of love lives by distribution; not by absorbtion, but by distribution. That is love. Prema is that which exists by its tendency of distribution, and that is the highest."

And that is what I am NOT doing. Even though I may flatter myself that I am not doing nothing, it is almost as if.

I woke up this morning singing the verse--

vipadaḥ santu tāḥ śaśvat
tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darśanaṁ yat syāt
apunar bhava-darśanam

It is one of the very first verses I ever learned. But it really summarizes, I guess, the Mahabharata's teachings. (Since the Bhagavata is a supplement or appendix to the MBh, the First Canto kind of resumes what the author of BhP thinks you should have gotten out of it.)

O Jagad Guro! Spiritual Master of the Universe! May there always be dangers! For wherever danger exists, there we see you. And by seeing you, we will never have to see this material existence again.

The point being that we are engaged in a constant process of education, given to us by God, who is the Guru. Therefore, by accepting the challenges of life, by accepting the dangers, we learn God's lessons more quickly than we do by remaining safe, holed up in our garrisons. That is what Jesus also meant by the story of the talents and the servants who buried them, and those who invested them. The investors, the riskers, were the ones who were pleasing in his eyes.

Love is always a risky business. Mainly because when you love, you have to give of yourself. The Upanishads say that a kripana, a miser, has to come back into the material world again and again. Prabhupada trained us to think of giving even when we had very little. And then we became afraid (as is quite natural) and started thinking--I don't have enough to give, so how can I? I must accumulate--knowledge, wealth, bhakti, sadhana, experience, whatever. Practically everything except love itself.

And where are we now? Sitting on a pile of ashes. Unless you are actively, person to person, giving the gifts you have received, your accumulations are ephemeral. The only thing that will really be left you on your deathbed is the love you have given.

I was talking to Kutichak on the phone Saturday. He really misses me coming up and visiting on the weekends. I said to him again what I have probably already said here before: "Prabhupada showed us how to die. He had the most glorious death I have ever heard of. If I can die with even just one person singing the Holy Name in my ear with love and gratitude (or even better, singing Sri Rupa Manjari Pada), then I will measure that as a sign that my life was a success."

It sounds almost trivial, stupid even. But that is a fact. The Catholics know this, with their Extreme Unction. Mother Theresa knew this. But there is a difference between the succour given the sinner by a priest and the love given by those who come with gratitude, repaying spontaneously the gifts of love they have received.

Gurudeva! Please let me learn to give! I am nearing the last phase of my life, and what have I given back of the gifts I have received? I have buried them in a corner of my garden and left them there, waiting for you to come and claim them. I have understood nothing of Your Truth.

Radhe ! Radhe !