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."

1 comment:

Devi said...

I dont know if Jagat will publish this. Sometimes we have to say things that are true although it might me apparently offensive. The sadhu's words should be sweet, but it CANNOT BE FALSE. Sometimes the truth hits hard, so it's not so sweet, but those who are in search of it should forbear the personal offence in order to reach the platform of light. The prayer we used to say. 'Oh lord, from darkness lead me to light', from the Upanishads, always reminds me of this principle.
When Shridhar condemns the babajis of being imitationists, then he should do some self examination of imitationist. Like I recently realized that the GM parampara depicts Gaura Kishore dasa baba as the guru between Bhaktivinode and Bhaktisiddhanta. YOu will see Bhaktivinode, then Gaura Kishore baba, then Bhaktissidhanta coming down in parampara. The implication is that Gaura Kishore baba is a disciple of Bhaktivinode and Bhaktissidhanta is a disciple of Gaura-kishore baba. When I investigated this, I found out that even though Bhaktivinode begged for initiation from Gaura-kishore baba, the latter hid in the house of a lady to escape from him. So there was no relation by initiation between the two. That really the parampara lose credibility in my eyes. There is also the part of Bhaktissidhanta recieving his diksha in a dream. Now we don't want to bring in the details of that, since we don't want to stir up sour feelings. Jagat can edit this out.
But at least this weak-link in the parampara of Mr.Shridhar has really made me lose a lot of faith I formerly had in the GM. You see, its better to be an imitationist in my eyes, than a deciever.At least an imitationist is more sincere, but one who decieves people about parampara to gain followers and to appear credible is not worthy of too much respect.. Please allow me this little freedom to say this. I am not a disciple of any one of these people. I am watching with the eyes of an observer,