Thursday, November 29, 2007

Anuradha's question

"It is commonly assumed that the nature of spirituality is not only fundamentally different from ordinary experience, but that this difference is vastly superior. From this it is concluded that the tests of truth or meaning used for ordinary experience are not relevant for the so-called higher truths that guru and religions offer. This age-old separation of the spiritual from the worldly is deeply embedded in all of civilization. We view this split as tragic, and at the core of the fragmentation prevalent in the contemporary human psyche. The inner battle between the presumed higher and lower (or good and bad) parts of oneself often binds people with conflict by making them unable to accept themselves as whole human beings." (The Guru Papers; masks of authoritarian power by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad)

Jagat, do you agree ?

It is commonly assumed that the nature of spirituality is not only fundamentally different from ordinary experience, but that this difference is vastly superior.

Are all experiences the same? When a nuclear scientist observes molecular movements in a cyclotron, is his perception the same as that of a layman? Obviously not. Is his experience outside the realm of the ordinary? Not in the sense that it lies outside the scope of normal sense perception. The distinction lies in the culture. It is the same as the culture of the aesthete and a piece of music or a play. Did Mozart experience the world in the same way that you or I do?

What are the limits of democracy? Somehow, since spirituality is considered available to all, certain people wish to evaluate everyone's experience as being undifferentiated. This premise cannot be accepted.

Does that make it fundamentally different? Or superior? I think so. Inasmuch as human beings seek to excel and to realize some kind of perfection in life, they set various goals--perfection in occupational work or career, money and worldly honors, love, sense-gratification and family, and finally, some higher, spiritual calling. These goals are not equal. To say they are makes a mockery of everyone who has striven for something more than the trivial in life.

Now anyone who has striven for goals in life knows that a struggle is involved. You cannot become good at your life's work, making money, or even making love and raising a family, what to speak of attaining spiritual goals, however defined, without making an effort. Indeed, if something comes too easily, it is likely trivial. If you are rich, and money comes easily, then it seems trivial in comparison to some other goal that requires an effort--climbing mountains or sailing solo around the world.

Now if you want to characterize the elements of your character that impede your achieving goals as evil, then that is probably not the best psychological strategy. And certainly there may be social psychological aberrations around the achievement of goals in life, but you cannot blame spirituality or religion, for spirituality and religion are about assisting the individual in attaining a state of true sanity.

If there is insanity in the name of spirituality and religion, unfortunately, I will have to fall back on the old defense, it is not real spirituality or religion. If something does not achieve what it sets out to do, namely find a higher happiness and inner peace, then it is not true to its purpose. Psychoanalysis challenged religion, communism challenged religion, conspicuous consumption is currently challenging religion, and since dharma, artha and kama are all partial human goals, they bring a certain amount of satisfaction. This does not mean that they are anything more than partial.

The real goal of life is love of God, prema. Just think about that for a moment. Love is something that everyone can recognize as a goal. How do we achieve that? We may take the help of psychologists such as the ones quoted here, who have astutely observed that we must learn to accept the shadow elements in our psyches, but to deny the element of struggle is to fail to recognize something basic about human life. We are talking about strategies here, not the goal. The goal will still be to achieve the highest level of humanity that we can. That has always been the job of spirituality and religion, and to deny it is to misunderstand both.

Now with regard to the tests for truth and meaning involved, this is not in fact true. Certainly some spiritual leaders may play on the gullibility of their followers in the way described by the authors. But the test is always going to be experience of the individual. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Successful religious leaders have been successful because they have provided something to their followers--whatever that thing may be. Now it should be said that the thing they give may NOT in fact be true spirituality. That is not the fault of spirituality itself. You may pay 20$ for a book on making a million dollars. That does not mean you will make a million dollars, or that it was ever possible. And the people who suggest that psychoanalysis is a better method are not necessarily going to be able to fulfill their promises either.

What happens at the lower levels of spirituality is no doubt inadequate for higher levels of achievement. Mostly it is all at the level of yama and niyama. And what the authors are warning about is no doubt something to take into consideration. But they want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. They want to deny the role of spiritual guides, teachers and companions. Probably not counsellors, mentors or psychoanalysts, though. Sorry, I don't agree.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


These verses were posted by me in 2003 on Gaudiya Discussions, "Pearls of Wisdom". I came across them as the result of a Google search (in fact, some of them I had completely forgotten), so I am just crossposting them here for the record, as they are so nice, with a few editing changes.

A nice simple prayer. I believe it may be Haridas Shastri's own composition.

vaiṣṇave prītir āstāṁ me prītir āstāṁ prabhor guṇe
sevāyāṁ prītir āstāṁ me prītir ārtiś ca kīrtane
āśrite prītir āstāṁ me prītiś ca bhajanonmukhe
ātmani prītir āstāṁ me kṛṣṇa-bhaktir yathā bhavet

May I have love for the Vaishnavas.
May I have love for the Lord's qualities.
May I have love for service.
May I have love and enthusiasm for Harinam Kirtan.
May I have love for those who have taken refuge in the Lord.
May I have love for those who even have a desire to engage in bhajan.
May I have love for my own eternal self,
by which devotion to Krishna comes about.

mām urīkarotu nitya-deha-rūpa-mañjarī

May Rupa Manjari accept me in the eternal pastimes! It is difficult for anyone whose mind is contaminated by the majestic concept of God to attain her, yet she has made herself dear to the wise by giving them the jewel of the path of raganuga bhakti revealed. She is like the cage that holds the mynah bird of dalliances engaged in by Radha, the protector of the cowherd community, with all her sakhis. (Sadhana-dipika)

Srila Govardhana Bhatta Gosvami was the grandson of Sri Gadadhara Bhatta Gosvami, a disciple of Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami. He wrote one booklet about Holi pastimes, named Madhu-keli-valli. The descendants of Sri Govardhana Bhatta Gosvami are still living in Vrindavan, opposite the Radha Vallabha temple in a beautiful place called New Madan Mohan Temple. (Information contributed by Advaita Das.) He wrote the following three verses:

hitvā rūpa-padāmbujaṁ bhavati yo rādhāṅghri-dāsyotsukas
tuṅgaṁ geham asau tanoti na kathaṁ ramye sthale saikate
bāhubhyāṁ tridivaṁ spṛśen nahi kathaṁ no vā kathaṁ cchādayet
tūrṇaṁ bhūri-rajobhir ambara-maṇiṁ paṅguṁ na kiṁ cālayet

Anyone who abandons Rupa Gosvami's lotus feet
and still hopes to attain Radharani's service
may as well try building a skyscraper
on a beautiful sandy beach.

He may as well try to touch the heavens with his upraised hands,
or try to cover the sun by throwing up fistfuls of dust,
or try to make a lame man walk.
Why not? He has just as much chance of success.

kaḥ śrī-bhāgavatasya tattvam amalaṁ boddhuṁ kṣamo bhūtale
ko vṛndāvana-mādhurīṁ kalayituṁ vaktuṁ ca dhatte matim
goṣṭhendrāmala-rūpam adbhutatamaṁ ko vā nayen mānasaṁ
śrīmantaṁ karuṇākaraṁ guṇanidhiṁ rūpaṁ sa-bandhuṁ vinā

Who on this earth could ever understand
the pure essence of the Srimad Bhagavatam,
perceive the sweetness of Vrindavan,
or inspire anyone else to speak of it?

And who could bring the mind to meditate
on the son of Nanda's most wondrous beauty?
Without the blessings of the most merciful and virtuous
Rupa Goswami and his associates, no one.

vairāgyaṁ vidhi-rāga-bhaktim amalān nānā-rasān dvādaśa
premānaṁ vraja-vāsināṁ śuka-mukhair viprarṣibhiḥ saṁstutam
gopīnāṁ paramāṁ lasat-para-mahā-bhāvāṁ samarthāṁ ratiṁ
rādhāyām iha mādanaṁ vada sakhe ko vetti rūpaṁ vinā

And, my friend, pray tell,
who would know anything about renunciation,
devotion on either the vidhi or raga paths,
the twelve holy rasas,
the love of the residents of Vraja glorified by Shuka and other seers,
the supreme spirit of Mahabhava found in the gopis,
or their competent affection,
or Radharani's madanakhya-mahabhava?
If it weren't for Sri Rupa?

The following verse from Gopala Champu (Gopala Champu 2.31.46) is fairly well known--

gopeśau pitarau tavācaladhara śrīrādhikā preyasī
śrīdāmā subalādayaś ca suhṛdo nīlāmbaraḥ pūrvajaḥ
veṇur vādyam alaṅkṛtiḥ śikhi-dalaṁ nandīśvaro mandiraṁ
vṛndāṭavy api niṣkuṭaḥ param ito jānāmi nānyat prabho

O my lord, O lifter of the mountain,
I know of nothing other than you,
whose parents are the king and queen of the cowherds,
whose beloved is Radha,
whose friends are headed by Sridama and Subala,
whose older brother is Balaram,
whose musical instrument is the flute,
whose ornament is the peacock feather,
whose home is in Nandisvara,
and whose playground is Vrinda's forest.

The one that precedes it (Gopala Champu 2.31.45) is much less widely quoted, for reasons that will be clear--

nāma śrīmati rādhikā tava pitā bhānuḥ prasūḥ kīrtidā
śvaśrur nanda-vadhuḥ sakhī ca lalitā sārdhaṁ viśākhādibhiḥ
ārāmaḥ kila kṛṣṇa-kānana-tatiḥ kāntaḥ sa kṛṣṇaḥ sadā
nāhaṁ kiñcid avediṣaṁ tad aparaṁ no vedmi vetsyāmi na

O you whose name is Radhika,
whose father is Vrishabhanu
whose mother is Kirtida,
whose mother-in-law is Nanda's wife,
whose chief friend is Lalita, accompanied by Visakha and others,
whose playground is Krishna's forest,
and whose eternal husband is Krisha.
I have never known anything but you,
I know nothing but you, nor will I ever know anything but you.

KAnta translated as "husband", according to Jiva's usage. Preyasi in the first verse should therefore also be translated as "wife."


kasmād vṛnde priya-sakhi hareḥ pāda-mūlāt kuto 'sau
kuṇḍāraṇye kim iha kurute nṛtya-śikṣāṁ guruḥ kaḥ
tvaṁ tvan-mūrtiḥ prati-taru-lataṁ dig-vidikṣu sphurantī
śailūṣīva bhramati parito nartayantī sva-paścāt

- Where are you coming from, Vrinda?
- I was just with Krishna.
- Where is he?
- In the woods over by your pond.
- What is he doing there?
- He is learning to dance.
- And who is teaching him?
- It is You! It is your form,
which he sees manifest in every tree and vine,
which he sees whirling in every direction like a teacher of the dance,
which is making him dance as he tries in vain to catch it.
(Govinda lilamrita 8.77)

prāsāde sā diśi diśi ca sā pṛṣṭhataḥ sā puraḥ sā
paryaṅke sā pathi pathi ca sā tad-viyogāturasya
haṁho cetaḥ prakṛtir aparā nāsti me kāpi sā sā
sā sā sā sā jagati sakale ko'yam advaita-vādaḥ

When I am at home, she is there. But she is everywhere I go.
She is behind me, She is in front of me.
She is on my bed when I try to sleep,
on every path that I walk. Ah, but I am suffering in her separation!

O my mind! There is no other woman for me but she--
She she she she--everywhere, in every nook of the universe--
Is this what is the philosophers mean when they say, "All is one"? (Amaru 105)

varam iha viraho na tu saṅgamas tasya
ekaḥ sa eva saṅge
tribhuvanam api tanmayaṁ virahe

Were I made to choose between union and separation
I would verily take separation and not union with him.
For, when united in his company, he is but one man,
whereas when separated, the entire universe is saturated with him.
(Padyavali 239)

William Blake's 250th birthday today

God appears, and God is Light,
To those poor souls who dwell in Night;
But does a Human Form display
To those who dwell in realms of Day.

Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Verses for the hell of it

Out of a simple need to fix my mind, I am posting some unconnected verses plucked at random from my cards.

केचिद्दास्यमवापुरुद्धवमुखाः श्लाघ्यं परे लेभिरे
श्रीदामादिपदं व्रजाम्बुजदृशां भावं च भेजुः परे ।
अन्ये धन्यतमा धयन्ति मधुरं राधारसाम्भोनिधिं
श्रीचैतन्यमहाप्रभोः करुणया लोकस्य काः सम्पदः ॥

Some, led by Uddhava, attained the mood of service, others the laudable goal of friendship like that of Sridama. Yet others attained the mood of the lotus-eyed women of Vraja. The most fortunate of all raced towards the ocean of Radha rasa. What wealth came to the world as a result of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy! (Chaitanya Chandramrita)

क्वचित्कृष्णावेशान्नटति बहुभंगीमभिनयन्
क्वचिद्राधाविष्टो हरि हरि हरीत्यार्तरुदितः ।
क्वचिद्रिंगन् बालः क्वचिदपि च गोपालचरितो
जगद्गौरो विस्मापयति बहुभंगीमधुरिमा ॥

Gaura amazed the universe with his sweet variety of moods. Sometimes he became absorbed in the character of Krishna and would begin dancing with a variety of gestures; sometimes he took on the mood of Radha and would repeatedly call out the name of Hari in a pained and tearful voice. And sometimes he would crawl like a baby and sometimes act like a cowherd. (Chaitanya Chandramrita)

स्वानन्दसिंहासनलब्धदीक्षाः ।
शठेन केनापि वयं हठेन
दासीकृताः गोपवधूविटेन ॥

We were worshipable to those situated on the path of monism, since we had been consecrated on the throne of divine bliss. And yet, we have been forcefully made into slaves of some rogue cowherd playboy.

अदृष्टे दर्शनोत्कण्ठा दृष्टे विशेषभिरुता ।
नादृष्टे न दृष्टे वा भवत्या लभ्यते सुखम् ॥

When you don’t see him, you are anxious to see him. When you do see him, you are afraid of losing him. My dear one, it seems that you can’t find happiness, whether you see him or don’t.

अदृष्टे दर्शनोत्कण्ठा दृष्टेऽस्मिन् स्पर्शलालसा ।
स्पर्शेऽस्य सेर्ष्यवाम्यं तच्चित्रमासां विचेष्टितम् ॥

Calqued on the previous widely circulated verse, from Govinda-lilamrita 10.14:

When they don’t see him, they are anxious to see him. When they do see him, they are greedy to experience his touch. But when they do touch him, then they get all jealous and ornery. Their behavior is truly bizarre.

प्रत्याहृत्य मुनि: क्षणं विषयतो यस्मिन्मनो धित्सते
बालासौ विषयेषु धित्सति ततः प्रत्याहरन्ती मनः ।
यस्य स्फूर्तिलवाय हन्त हृदये योगी समुत्कण्ठते
मुग्धेयं किल तस्य पश्य हृदयान्निष्क्रान्तिमाकाङ्क्षति ॥

This is from Vidagdha-madhava, a classic:

Sages try to turn their minds away from the sense objects in order to fix them on Krishna, and yet this girl wants to place her mind in the sense objects, while she turns it away from him. And the yogis try so hard to get even a moment’s vision of him in their hearts, while this foolish girl is working like mad to drive him out of her heart.

I really like this one.

पातिव्रात्यं क्व नु परवधूत्वापवादः क्व चास्याः
प्रेमोद्रेकः क्व च परवशत्वादिविघ्नः क्व चायम् ।
क्वैषोत्कण्ठा क्व नु बकरिपोर्नित्यसङ्गाद्यलब्धिः
मूलं कृष्ट्वा कषति हृदयं क्वापि शाल्यत्रयी नः ॥

“She is so faithful to her beloved, and yet everyone says she is an unfaithful wife. She loves so deeply, and yet she is dependent on others who interfere with that love. Her anguish to meet Krishna is so great, and yet she is rarely able to be with him. These three daggers pierce my heart and slice its very roots.” (GLA 10.121)

Nice song by Kavi Vallabha

This song is sometimes attributed to Vidyapati, but Hare Krishna Mukhopadhyaya credits it to Kavivallabha, which sounds to me like a pseudonym. It is the only song known by this Mahajan, who seems very talented and has surely done other things. I'll bet it can be found under other names, too.

I spoke on this song at St-Agathe on Saturday. An audience of three graying and balding old men--my age, as it were. This song describes anurāga, in which the beloved, though experienced constantly, seems at every moment to be completely new and refreshing.

sakhi he ! ki puchasi anubhava moya
soi pirīti, anurāga bākhānite
tile tile nautuna hoya
Oh sakhi ! Why do you ask me about what I feel? How can I explain this intense loving feeling, which seems newer and newer with every passing moment.
janama avadhi hāma, rūpa nehāralun
nayana nā tirapita bhela
lākha lākha yuga, hiye hiye rākhalun
taba hiye juḍana nā bhela
Throughout my life I have been able to see Krishna's beauty, but my eyes have never been satisfied. I could hold him in my heart for countless eons, and still my heart would never get enough of him.
kata madhu jāminī, rabhase na gowālun
nā bujhalun kaichana keli
soi madhura bola, śravaṇa-hi śunalun
śruti patha paraśa nā bheli
I don't know how many sweet nights I joyfully spent with him, and still I don't understand these pastimes at all. I heard his sweet words, but it is as though they never really entered my ears.
jata vidagadha jana, rasa anu magana
anubhava kāhu nā pekha
kaha kavivallabha, prāṇa juḍāite
lākha nā milala eka
There are so many connoisseurs of poetry and literature who are always absorbed in the aesthetic experience of rasa. But I don't see any among them who understand what I am going through. Says Kavivallabha, in this world, among all the millions of people, I cannot find one who brings me comfort.

The very last line is particularly well known and oft quoted, I would say. Perhaps Kavivallabha is simply repeating a kind of popular saying. At any rate, the ineffability of the experience of love, or the mystical experience, is being expressed here. yato vāco nivartante aprāpya manasā saha.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Qualities of a Vaishnava in Govinda-lilamrita

tṛptāv anya-janasya tṛptim ayitā duḥkhe mahā-duḥkitā
labdhaiḥ svīya-sukhāli-duḥka-nicayair no harṣa-bādhodayāḥ
sveṣṭārādhana-tat-parā iha yathā śrī-vaiṣṇava-śreṇayaḥ
kās tā brūhi vicārya candra-vadane tā mad-vayasyā imāḥ

Krishna says, “O hey Chandra-vadane Radhe! Just think for a moment, then answer me this: Who are happy on seeing others’ happiness and distressed on seeing their distress? Who are neither elated by personal happiness nor perturbed by their own suffering? And who serve the objects of their love here in Vrindavan with the same steadfast love as the saintly Vaishnavas serving their Lord?”

Radhika answers, “Oh! You are surely talking about my dearest sakhis, Lalita, Vishakha and the others!” (13.113)

Rasa-tarangini Tika: Vrindavan Chakravarti points out that the reference to devotees indicates that these qualities are present to a greater or lesser degree in all Vaishnavas, from Narada and Prahlada to present-day mahatmas like Sanatan Goswami and other followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Vrindavan Chakravarti's reference to Sanatan Goswami reminds us of Raghunath Das Goswami’s prayer in the Vilāpa-kusumāñjali (6)—

vairāgya-yug-bhakti-rasaṁ prayatnair
apāyayan mām anabhīpsum andham
kripāmbudhir yaḥ para-duḥkha-duḥkhī
sanātanaṁ taṁ prabhum āśrayāmi

I take refuge in Sanatan Goswami Prabhu, an ocean of mercy who always feels distress on seeing the suffering of others. Though I was blind and unwilling, he force-fed me the nectar of devotion mixed with detachment.

Temporary lull in posting

I am a bit busy and my head is not clear enough to write anything meaningful. I will get back as soon as I can and clear the backlog of posts that have been started.

I have to say that I am a little excited about going to Rishikesh. There are not many good pictures of the ashram online, though there are many of Rishikesh itself. I kind of liked this one of a sadhu resting in front of a sign that says "This bathing ghat is for women only."

He has no doubt transcended gender altogether, or perhaps he is absorbed in sakhi bhava! And for those of you who think I am really thick, sakhi-bhava IS beyond gender.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Prayer and utopia

[This is a late posting from 11-01-2008, so there may be erroneous references.]

Once again, a commentary on religion at the Guardian Comment is Free page (Let us Pray) has sparked hundreds of commentaries. Theo Hobson has a liberal approach to Christianity, so his comments on prayer are an attempt to understand it spiritually and in a psychologically progressive manner:

The atheist account of prayer has very little connection to the reality. The believer does not pray in order to try to influence God's will. Instead, he's trying to influence his own will, to make it conform to his worldview. Prayer is essentially a matter of saying "Help me, God, to be what I should be." The believer acknowledges a conflict between what he is naturally inclined to be, and what he feels he should strive to be. I suppose such a conflict is totally unknown to the atheists, who feel that they effortlessly realise moral perfection in their daily lives.

Also, the believer reminds himself of the worldview he subscribes to. In the case of Christianity, he re-states his belief in the coming of God's kingdom, which is a sort of utopian hope that all will be well. And he acknowledges his own fallibility, the fact that he is part of the problem, in need of radical reform, dangerously prone to evil. And he acknowledges that everything is dependent on God, that he is the absolute authority.

Clearly, Hobson is arguing from his own vantage point, because there are people who pray with the “magical” approach, whose goal is material advancement or whatever. But no spiritual tradition worth its name has not taken account of this mentality and roundly criticized it. But what we are then talking about is really spirituality and not religion, which has its interest in this world. The materialistic approach reveals the “magical” approach to material goals as childish, though it can never fully remove the naive hope that makes life possible. This naivete is no doubt one dimension of religion that cannot be discounted, no matter how superior the so-called realists think they are. Nobody, no matter how great a technocrat, is totally in control.

In some circles it is held that personal belief is somehow salutary, or at least not particularly harmful, but that that problems arise as soon as religion takes on a social dimension. Despite saying that personal religion or prayer and utopianism are connected, Hobson seems to accept that this is a legitimate criticism, and tries to deflect it in the following way:

To believe in God, and to pray to him, does not mean that one subscribes to any form of organised religion. I am a Christian with no institutional allegiance. The atheists don't know how to respond to this. It deprives them of their comfort zone: attacking aspects of organised religion, and pretending that they are thereby attacking religion itself.

This seems to be something of a cop-out. Human beings have to live together, and living together requires frameworks of understanding that function on many levels. Human beings also seem bound to live together, but this has both positive and negative aspects to it. Just because there is trouble in the creation of human society does not mean that our only option is to become hermits. Or, worse yet, dissimulating believers.

The individualistic approach does have a certain merit inasmuch as we seek individual perfection first, with the faith that such a thing is possible. But utopias have to develop slowly through the building of associations that share a common language of individual idealism that carefully grows outward into the group, carefully guarding the effulgent core of spiritual culture.

Hobson describes prayer as a kind of "sadhana" for attaining a moral perfection. In Gita 2.55-72, the realized state is described seemingly as a kind of stoical ideal, but we need to look at it slightly differently. No one truly seeks moral perfection on its own; what we seek is happiness and personal fulfilment. Moral perfection, if necessary at all, is simply a point on the way there. In other words, moral perfection is a means rather than an end.

But if we pray for happiness, I suppose, that means that the atheist critique of prayer as magical thinking is legitimized. So we say we want moral perfection. In fact, we need to understand the state of perfection as a state of personal bliss.

The two are not really separate from one another, because the search for happiness can be a moral debacle for those who do not seek it in the Self, but true happiness is ultimately dependent on a state of individual consciousness and not on the social matrix in which we live. In other words, moral perfection is often a matter of social compromise.

The state of perfection no longer has this anxiety for moral perfection. But as long as that anxiety is there, it often gets projected outwards by immature preachers into utopian dreams, which as one person said, often "begets monsters." This following quote comes from Edmund Burke:

The attempt to build a perfect world based on abstract first principles is delusive and dangerous because it entails the destruction of living and breathing human beings in the name of people who exist only in idea.

Anyway, this post was never completed, but I had a few quotes and notes that I plucked from the above reading. I can't remember any longer what I was getting at, so I just put them here for future reference.

The view that history has meaning and direction is a comforting but potentially disastrous myth. The belief in the attainment of a peaceful and harmonious world breaks down on the contradictory nature of human needs, the incompatibility of human values and the flaws of human nature.(Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia. John Gray)

Utopianism is the belief that evil can be permanently destroyed. St. Augustine reinterpreted the end of time in spiritual and allegorical terms, insisted that evil could not be defeated in this world and ensured that mainstream Christianity would have an anti-apocalyptic character.


I have just been listening to a rather inspiring story of a nun (Mother Antonia), who has lived in the notorious Tijuana prison for the past thirty years. who lives inside a prison in Tijuana. She was a rich woman who had a dream that she was in a prison, condemned to be executed. Then Christ came and took her place and she said that she would never leave him. After that, she went to this prison and started her ministry there. Basically, she said, she was there to make a difference. And that difference was to let them know that God never stopped loving them. She said, it is everyone's duty to make a difference.

I suddenly realized that she not just gave love, there are atheists and agnostics who are driven to do good work, but the conviction that "God loves you" is the greatest gift anyone can give.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sakhi-bhava in Sanskrit Kavya Literature

The development of the phenomenon of Radha Krishna madhura-rasa bhakti came through the poetic tradition. Whatever the bhakti tradition and the development of Vishnu-Krishna as the worshipable deity owes to the religious culture of India, it is clear that the figure of Radharani owes more to the poetic tradition. Similarly, whatever the sources for the development of Vaishnava theology, most details of the madhura lila, including sakhī-bhāva, can be traced to developments in kavya literature. It is thus little wonder that Rupa Goswami chose to look to the poetic tradition to map out hierarchies in the understanding of bhakti theology as well.

Even though from the point of view of the devotees, the lila is completely transcendental, from the historical point of view, the lila has adopted a great many of the conventions of the Sanskrit poetic and dramatic tradition, especially where madhura rasa is concerned. This is as true for sakhi-bhava as it is for many of the other elements. To examine sakhī-bhāva, we should look at the two streams of literature, which in Sanskrit are called lakṣya-grantha (लक्ष्य) and lakṣaṇa-grantha (लक्षण), i.e. the literature of the poets and the prescriptive manuals of the poeticians.

Sakhi bhava in the prescriptive literature

In Bharata's Nāṭya-śāstra, sakhis are mentioned in the category of sahāya or elements that help in the production of rasa. Bharata's famous description of the uddīpanas for śṛṅgāra-rasa reads as follows--

ऋतुमाल्यालंकारैः प्रियजनगन्धर्वकाव्यसेवाभिः ।
उपवनगमनविहारैः शृंगाररसः समुद्भवति ॥

ṛtu-mālyālaṅkāraiḥ priyajana-gandharva-kāvya-sevābhiḥ
upavana-gamana-vihāraiḥ śṛṅgāra-rasaḥ samudbhavati

Śṛṅgāra-rasa is brought about by the season, garlands and ornaments, by the songs and poetry of dear friends, and by wandering and playing in flower gardens. (6.47)

Priya-jana here is interpreted to mean the sakhis. But the earliest role that can be identified as one played by the heroine's girlfriends is that of dūtī, or messenger. The Nāṭya-śāstra is once again the first to name the different people who filled the role of go-between. These were nearly always women, because they alone would have the facility of entering the private quarters of a home.

prativeśyā sakhī dāsī kumārī dāruśilpikā
dhātrī pākhaṇḍinī caiva dūtyās tv īkṣaṇikā tathā

Neighbors, friends, servants, unmarried young girls, artists, nurses, pākhaṇḍinīs, and fortune tellers are messengers. (Natya-shastra 23.10)

Pākhaṇḍinīs, by which Buddhist or Jain nuns are probably meant, are later identified by the term pravrajikā, and of course that will become Paurnamasi in Krishna's Vraja-lila. The messenger needs to have some particular good qualities in order to be an asset:

protsāhaneṣu kuśalā madhura-kathā dakṣiṇā ca kālajñā
laḍahā saṁvṛta-mantrā dūtīty ebhir guṇaiḥ kāryā

The duti needs the following qualities to do her service: she has to be persuasive, have mastery of sweet speech, be ready to follow orders, a good judge of time and circumstance, capable of giving good advice, enthusiastic. (23.11)
These are more or less repeated in the Sāhitya-darpaṇa,

kalā-kauśalam utsāho bhaktiś cittajñatā smṛtiḥ
mādhuryaṁ narma-vijñānaṁ vāgmitā ceti tad-guṇā

The qualities of the duti are expertise in the loving arts, enthusiasm, devotion, good psychologist, good memory, sweetness of personality, clever at making jokes, eloquent. (SD 3.129)
Of these qualities, the most important is her devotion to her svāminī. If she does not have this devotion and loyalty to her mistress, then she will not be trustworthy and may well try to seduce the lover herself. There are many instances of such dishonest messengers in the literature. For instance, the Sāhitya-darpaṇa gives the following example:

niḥśeṣa-cyuta-candanaṁ stana-taṭaṁ nirmṛṣṭa-rāgodharo
netre dūram anañjane pulakitā tanvī taveyaṁ tanum
mithyā-vādini dūti bāndhava-janasyājñāta-pīḍāgame
vāpīṁ snātum ito gatāsi na punas tasyādhamasyāntikam

The sandalwood on your breasts has disappeared, the rouge on your lips is smeared. The mascara has been washed away from your eyes, and your entire body is shivering all over. O duti, you are a liar! Not knowing the suffering that had befallen me, your friend, you went to the tank to take a bath instead of going to [bring a message to] my rascal lover. (SD 2.23f)
In this verse, the nāyikā sees that her duti is untrustworthy, but does not recognize the extent of her treachery. So it is clear that the best messenger would be a truly trusted friend, who has the welfare of the nāyikā in her heart and not her own self-interest. Moreover, the sakhi, being of the same age as the nāyikā, understands her mind. As a result, she does not engage in message carrying alone, but in all varieties of service connected to the sringar rasa. Even though she is of the same age, she must be clever and have a good understanding of how love affairs work. Thus, for instance, in the Sāhitya-darpaṇa, we find the following verse in which the sakhi describes how the nāyikā is suffering in the separation of the pūrva-rāga --

śvāsān muñcati bhūtale viluṭhati tvan-mārgam ālokate
dīrghaṁ roditi vikṣipaty ata itaḥ kṣāmāṁ bhujā-vallarīm
kiṁ ca prāṇa-samāna kāṅkṣitavatī svapne'pi te saṅgamaṁ
nidrāṁ vāñchati na prayacchati punar dagdho vidhis tām api

She is breathing heavily, lying down on the ground, looking out on the path by which you may come; she cries for long periods of time, she flings her withering arms this way and that. What is more, though she desires to be united with you, who are equal to her life airs themselves, in her dreams, Fate is so cruel that it will not allow her to sleep. (3.126f)
On the other hand, the sakhi may sometimes stop the nāyaka or nāyikā from seeing each other. She will tell her nāyikā where, when and how she can go and be with her lover. These kinds of verses are usually labelled sakhī-śikṣā. The mugdhā nāyikā is often one who has not received proper instruction from her friend, and thus does not know how to deal with a wayward lover. The following is a good example from Amaru-śataka--

sā patyuḥ prathamāparādha-samaye sakhyopadeśaṁ vinā
no jānāti sa-vibhramāṅga-valanā-vakrokti-saṁsūcanam
svacchair accha-kapola-mūla-galitaiḥ paryasta-netrotpalā
bālā kevalam eva roditi luṭhal-lolālakair aśrubhiḥ

It was her husband's first offense, but without the help of her sakhi's instructions, she does not have any idea of what biting remarks to make or how to shake her head in anger. And so, instead, her lotus eyes filled with clear, round tears that rolled down and dropped from he cheeks and wet the hair that covered her face. All she could do was cry. (Amaru 29)
Besides this important role of advisor to the nāyikā, the sakhi also has a degree of intimacy with her that means there are no secrets between them. So, in the nāyikā's union and separation, she always plays a significant role.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Shukas and Saris Discuss Mana

This verse from the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi keeps coming to me—

aher iva gatiḥ premṇaḥ svabhāva-kuṭilā bhavet
tasmād dhetor ahetoś ca yūnor mānam udañcati
The path of love is as naturally crooked at that of a snake. Therefore lovers quarrel, sometimes with good reason, and sometimes for no reason at all. (UN 15.102)
This is the difference between Gaudiyas and Nityaviharis. The latter see no usefulness in māna from the point of view of rasa, whereas the Gaudiyas (a pox on them!!) do. Why? Because that is somehow at once an integral part of the essence of loving relationships, which have a permanent, innate dialectic in them.

The word māna ("measure, weight" -- "self worth" -- "pride") has two different uses. One is the kind of frustrated anger and displeasure that is half explicable, half not, and seemingly causes a distance to grow between lovers. That is the meaning in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi chapter 15.74-146. The other meaning, from chapter 14, is a sthayi-bhava, which in effect tries to explain the underlying reasons, based in love, that such manifestations take place.

In other words, māna is not just a līlā, where Radha or Krishna stop talking to one another until one or the other one gives in and begs, “Please make it stop! Don’t push me to the breaking point! I can’t live without you.” When that happens, Krishna prays, “Put your merciful feet on my head. I can’t take it any longer.” Rather, it is a particular state of love, which lies between sneha and praṇaya.

Māna means pride, because love does not just mean losing your identity in the loved one. It also means finding value in yourself.

Rudra Bhatta says (and Rupa Goswami quotes):

snehaṁ vinā bhayaṁ na syān nerṣyā ca praṇayaṁ vinā
tasmān māna-prakāro’yaṁ dvayoḥ prema-prakāśakaḥ
Without sneha, there would be no fear. Without praṇaya, there would be no jealousy. Therefore māna reveals these two other states of love also (or, māna reveals the love of both nāyaka and nāyikā). (UN 15.78)
Radha’s māna is durjaya-māna. She does not give in so easily, but eventually she has to. Because she is also needy. She needs Krishna, but she has to prove something. Before she can trust him, she needs to push the screws in deeper. It is a kind of torture, really. So how can anyone accept that Radha should be cruel to Krishna in that way? Only the Gaudiyas really seem to have a feeling for it.

But Rupa Goswami has an answer for those who don't, these Chandravali followers. Perhaps all men are conflicted a little between Chandravali and Radharani, though of course no one in the Gaudiya sampradaya will admit it. We accept without question Rupa Goswami’s edict: tayor apy ubhayor madhye rādhikā sarvathādhikā “Of Radha and Chandravali, Radha is superior in every respect.” (UN 4.2)

But men in this world are generally conflicted. Intellectually they want a Chandravali who will be submissive and who will be warm, wet and welcoming. At their worst, they are those Japanese sex-doll fetishists who keep lifesize, big-lipped, simulated flesh women piled up in a cupboard for immediate, unprotesting, sexual availability. The Nitya Vihāra!!

These are the men who infantilize women in their fantasies, who in the extreme become pedophiles. This is what I mean when I condemn masculinity, when I say that raw and savage masculinity is by nature "I-It" consciousness and exceedingly troubled by the Other in any form.

When we condemn masculine religion, it means that religion which is in competition with other religions, which effortlessly and repeatedly turns God into an idol, an impersonal object, a purveyor of desire, subject to a subjective vision and not the object of objective vision and love.

But I digress: Radha is Krishna’s Other. And he must surrender. That is her power. And from her point of view that is not so much a conscious thing as the result of her loving attitude known as māna. Māna arises in Radha whenever she thinks she is being treated like a Chandravali.

If Krishna has been with Chandravali and comes to Radha, she naturally says, “Well if you think I am just another Chandravali, then what is the point? There already IS a Chandravali out there. As a matter of fact, not one, but countless Chandravalis. For a handsome and heroic chap like yourself, Chandravalis are a dime a dozen. So what do you want with me?”

But Chandravali is also a part of Radha. This is not some kind of sado-masochistic dominatrix līlā with whips and black leather. The way the līlā has been described, Krishna is one, but he is also two: there is the bahu-vallabha Krishna of the Bhagavatam, in whom the element of aiśvarya remains. And the Radha-vigata-prāna Krishna of the Gita Govinda, who gives up this indifferent supremacy and all-attractiveness to become the attracted one.

The point is that for Krishna to be fulfilled, he must transcend being the one who has sādhāraṇa-praṇaya (GG 2.1), whose love is generalized, even the who is samo'ham sarva-bhūteṣu (Gita 9.29). The dialectic of love, the process of maturation, comes through commitment and surrender--even for Krishna. Otherwise love has no real meaning for Him.

māno dadhāno viśrambhaṁ praṇayaḥ procyate budhaiḥ
When the different feelings of māna take on the qualities of trust, then that is called pranaya. (UN 14.108)
The synthesis of the līlā comes about through the earning of trust (viśrambha), which deepens the sense of intimacy that was originally established in sneha.


Forgive me, I prattle like a fool. The impersonalists say we cannot understand God by analogy, and yet that is the only way we can understand. We are told not to go too far with analogical thinking, and yet our acharyas have already gone too, too far.

Everything that glorifies Krishna's aiśvarya--his omnipotence, his omniscience, his absolute transcendence--is true. And yet, the greatest mystery about Krishna is his madhurya, which is far more ineffable than his aiśvarya, indeed you could say a far greater miracle of omnipotence--to be omnipotent, and yet somehow not.

And all that carries over into God's relationship with the jiva and creation. He controls everything, and yet somehow or other, the jiva is free to choose, to make decisions that determine his own fate.


Some relevant material from Govinda-līlāmṛta, chapter 13, shuka and shari quarrel.

antaḥ-kauṭilya-mālinyā bahir-vīkṣaṇa-rañjanāḥ
gopālā bhānty amī pakva-mahākāla-phalopamāḥ
The Sharis say, ""Hey Shukas! All the cowherd boys outwardly look very nice like ripe makhala fruit, but inside, they’re just as bitter! That is because they are full of deception and trickery.”
vāmya-valkala-sanchannā dṛḍha-mānāsthi-saṁvṛtā
nārikela-phalānāṁ vā gopikānāṁ rasa-sthiti
bahir-antaś caika-rūpā doṣa-heyāṁśa-varjitā
drākṣā-phalotkarasyeva svāmino me rasa-sthitiḥ
The Shukas retort: “O Sharis! Although the gopis are sweet on the inside, they’re covered by an outer layer of orneriness, and then by tough shell of māna—just like the hard layers covering the sweet coconut meat. That is the the shape of rasa where they are concerned. But where Krishna is concerned, he is the same inside and out, without any flaw or wasted elements. He’s sweet inside and out, like a bunch of grapes.” (13.20-21)
antaḥ sadā rasa-mayo’pi bahiḥ samudyat-
mānākhya-yantraṇam ṛte na rasa-prado’sāv
ikṣu-prakāṇḍa iva vaḥ prabhur acyutākhyaḥ
The Sharikas answer with a grin: “Oh Shukas! Your master may be rasamaya within, but his dishonest, pert behavior is coarse and knobbly like sugarcane bark. So, just as sugarcane juice isn’t available until the cane has been run through the juicing press, your rasika Krishna doesn’t supply any rasa until he's been run through the mill of the gopis’ māna! No wonder he is called acyuta!”
Acyuta meaning, not a drop of juice falls.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hypersexualisaton des jeunes

I was watching for the second time a conference on the Canal Savoir, the subject of which was L'hypersexualisation des jeunes. Website. Five different speakers, each of whom confirmed different aspects mentioned in Robert Jensen's work on pornography yesterday.

Furthermore, I heard an interview with Brian Vallée, who has written a book called War On Women, in which he continues his documentation of abuse of women. Very depressing material.

I only note this here because of my firm belief that there is a problem. And that we have to be part of the solution.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pornography and the End of Masculinity

I just caught the last bit of a CBC interview with Robert Jensen, author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. There was a great deal in this man’s ideas that resonated very strongly with me. Indeed, the words with which he ends his book verbalize one aspect of my own core concept very clearly: “I renounce masculinity and choose instead to be a human being.”

Commenting on this statement, Jensen says that the model of masculinity that is the norm in our society, and is promoted in pornography (“a window to the sexual imaginations of our culture”) is toxic. It is based on ideas of conquest and control and hence leads directly to aggression and violence. It perpetuates and enhances sexual and racial stereotypes that have well-known negative consequences for both men and women.

The increasingly pornographic culture of the West, and the predatory corporate capitalist system behind it, promote a cruel and misogynistic vision of women. It undermines the essential feminine quality, which is empathy. One of the interesting tidbits I picked up was that American pilots in Iraq were shown pornography in order to get them pumped up before their bombing runs. This shows exactly which synapses of the brain are being triggered by such forms of "entertainment." And it also shows the connections of rajo-guna and tamo-guna sexuality to other kinds of behavior.

Has the pornography industry won? It certainly seems that way when we see the kinds of images that run through the mass media, from soft to hard core. There are important systems of power and privilege that use patriarchy and pornography to perpetuate themselves. This is partially why, as recently observed on this blog, the rise of capitalism in China is developing side by side with a sexual revolution.

The question Jensen asks is: Though men and women have their differences, are they really all that different on the deeper moral and psychological platform? The answer is no. So the real question we should be asking ourselves is not what it means to be a man or woman, but what does it mean to be a human being. Only by framing the question in this way can we heal the wounds within ourselves and imagine a human culture for the future.

He finishes on a high note, though, rather than simply lamenting the situation. Pornography is just another symptom of the imperfect nature of our world, like poverty and injustice. If we want to build a just and sustainable world, we have to struggle. Not for the sake of victory as an end in itself, but simply because it is the right thing to do. It is the way that we construct meaningful lives. Men should struggle to resist pornography and the values that underly it.

Just to make it clear to those who accuse me of being in favor of anything remotedly connected to pornography: The belief system that I support is totally in agreement with Mr. Jensen. There is much more to be said here, but the intuitive beginning for me lies in manjari bhava, which takes a slightly differentiated position from direct identification as either man or woman, while being fundamentally sympathetic and favorable to the idealized feminine stance, which may be summarized as "empathy."

However, I must say that I agree with Jensen when he says that there are no models in the past or present that necessarily represent an absolute standard of behavior that is to be emulated--as if such a thing were possible. We have to apply the rules of fundamental humanity to questions of sexuality and not think uncritically that there is some kind of traditional "Christian" or "Vedic" model that has all the answers.

For instance, it may be necessary for us to critique even the model of sexuality found in Radha and Krishna lila and the poetic literature of India on which this bhakti erotic literature is based. It is important to be able to separate latent sexist images that are present in this literature (after all it was written by men, mostly for men, in a culture dominated by men) and to distill the essential spiritual or transcendental vision that underlies it or was inspired by it (accepting that even if they were men, they were blessed with powerful and important insights: they are our gurus). The mistake we tend to make is that we think of such historical moments in the past as the END of a process, rather than as the BEGINNING of one, an evolutionary process in which we are actively involved.

This beginning point is the Dual Deity, Yugala Kishor (i.e., not a purely male or female deity), and the prioritizing of the feminine in Srimati Radharani and the jiva herself, and not necessarily the culturally anchored depictions found in the literature.

That is not (as anyone who has read this site will know) to say that we reject all aspects of this traditional literature: it is the best thing that we have to go on for the time being, but it simply means that we have to be able to bracket elements that are unselfconsciously culturally-based and may thus have an alienating effect on us in our very different present-day conditions. By which I mean, do not meet the standards of evolving human spirituality. I think that it is possible to do this without losing the beauty and spiritual power that lies at the core of the tradition. It means, in short, that the symbols themselves (Radha-Krishna, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) are more important in their essential and universal meaning than any accidental representations of them.

But it is my position that "heroic" masculine renunciation of sexuality and woman, even in those who are repulsed by the pornographic mindset, is just the flip side of the coin. Bhoga-tyaga. It throws the baby out with the bathwater and therefore cannot be the solution.

All the above shows once again how every idea unavoidably has a political dimension, my friends. But please understand, when I talk about a sexual revolution, I am talking about a personalist, sacralized sexuality.

Jai Sri Radhe !

Listen to another interview with Jensen from WORT Community radio in Madison, Wisconsin: HERE

Not a bhakti anga?

Here I go again. Stop me if you have heard all this before.

I heard through a grapevine that a particular GM sannyasi said that lovemaking between devotees is not one of the 64 angas of devotion, and so could never be considered a valid practice for Gaudiya Vaishnavas.

I hold that loving intimacy with another devotee can indeed be considered an important anga of bhakti in the cultivation of madhura rasa.

Sadhu-sanga is a bhakti anga, and touching the devotee is an element of sadhu-sanga. But it is not the touching in itself, it is the accompanying feelings of love. Bhakti is of two kinds, that practiced externally and that practiced internally. The former is supposed to lead to the latter.

Bhakti means feeling, cultivating feeling. If making physical love did not have the potential to create and aid in the cultivation of such feeling, I would say, OK, you are right, it has no possible role in bhakti yoga. But the very concept of madhura rasa depends on the presumption that it does. Even to the point of nitya vihara, where that is the ONE thing that Radha and Krishna do.

The bifurcation of material and spiritual in this matter has always been artificial. The analogy of eating is still most appropriate. We don't say that the devotees eat in the spiritual world because they need food to survive. The pleasurable, sensual aspects of eating are associated with loving feelings--the love that is associated with preparing the food, watching the loved one enjoy it, relishing the taste afterwards, while remembering the pleasure of the loved one, so that the food has participated in his (her) being. The act of enjoying prasad, consumption of food that has from beginning to end been infused with loving consciousness, goes far, far beyond the mere sensual pleasure of enjoying fine taste or filling an empty and growling stomach (even though appreciation of these two things on their own can have an effect on certain dimensions of devotional development through feelings of gratitude, etc.); it is an act that stimulates and deepens devotional responses, i.e., feeling of love for the object of devotion.

Smarana is not mechanical remembering for its own sake. Remembering that is not accompanied by an emotional impact, i.e., by a personal implication and responsive commitment, is empty. This is the fundamental difference between vidhi and raga bhakti. The former sees the shell of the activity, whereas the latter sees its inner, emotional essence. Because of this, the raganuga bhakta can proceed in reverse, by analogy, i.e., from the emotion itself to the object of emotion. Since there is only one real object of love, Krishna, all emotion is, in a sense, to be dovetailed into love for him. Clearly, this cannot be done without a certain amount of psychological preparation, or to make it more clear, you can't love Krishna without loving Krishna. Bhaktya sanjataya bhaktya. But once you have had the taste and become committed (nishtha) to the Divine Couple, everything becomes transformed and you really can't see anything except in the optic of Divine Love.

Bhakta sanga is the most powerful devotional activity, not because of some mechanical quid pro quo of hearing and chanting. Its power is in the emotional dimension that is evoked. If the operative feelings of admiration, emulation, friendship, and protectiveness were sufficient in themselves, in other words, if feelings of admiration, the desire to emulate and serve a common purpose with the devotee, feelings of friendship, practicing the six kinds of exchanges, etc., i.e,, engaging in the first four of the five kinds of relationship with devotees were sufficient to the purpose, then I would say, "Fine." But all of this neglects the crucial question of how we cultivate madhura rasa. We need bhakta association for that too, don't we?

The problem is that the cultural tradition we belong to has not adequately or openly analyzed these questions, leaving most devotees unable to isolate the inner life of eros from its physical aspects in the way that I have done with the act of eating. And so we say, it is not a bhakti anga. This is just short-sighted and, quite frankly, a huge lacuna in our understanding of not only bhakti, but of human life and nature--on which bhakti is meant to shed light. We have separated bhakti from the human experience, and that is a mistake.

Radhe Shyam.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The meme's eye view

It is interesting that atheistic humanism is more often than not associated with the political left, while belief in God is, especially in America, immediately identified with the socially conservative right. This kind of prejudice is clear on The Guardian "Comment is Free" pages, where there are often articles discussing different aspects of religion, and any positive comment is invariably clubbed viciously by strongwilled leftists. Recent examples are Sue Blackmore's A Dangerous Delusion and Dave Hill, who in Faith and the Left, asks for a more nuanced understanding of religion without abandoning his own atheist credentials.

Blackmore is basically rehashing the currently ubiquitous Richard Dawkin's ideas, including that of the meme, the cultural equivalent of genes. Dawkins first came into prominence by suggesting that genes themselves were engaged in a struggle for survival, and that all evolution could be looked at from the point of view of the genes, the fittest surviving. This made it possible to explain many things about many things, and we still get a lot of nonsense being spouted by evolutionary reductionists, who find a glib way to explain any scientific finding using this model. Everything is genetically based, only successful genes survive, therefore if something has survived, it must have some evolutionary purpose. If not, or if it has outlived its purpose, it will eventually go extinct.

Later, Dawkins, being a hard-core atheist, felt it necessary to explain what he called the God delusion. But how could he explain religion, being a cultural expression, in genetic terms? So he invented the idea of "memes", which basically are, like genes, these semi-personified entities that can be called "mind-viruses." They may originally serve some purpose in human society, social cohesion or whatever, and so become implanted into human minds and cultures where they reproduce and propagate, just like a living creature. And like other living creatures, or species, they may also die out and become extinct.

The point is that memes, like genes, function more or less autonomously, with their prime purpose being their own survival and nothing else, certainly not usefulness which is only a means to an end that can be jettisoned. Utility is a human projection that has no objective reality in this impersonal world.

Now Blackmore, like all good Dawkinites, feels that the virus or cancer model best fits the idea of religion. She is ready to admit that, even if God does not exist, that on the personal level the concept might serve some benefit, a little comfort or whatever, but socially it is time to kill the beast. There are too many negative consequences that accrue when the particular religion meme becomes more concerned with survival than its own utility. Like a cancer, it may reproduce lusciously, but kill the organism on which it is dependent.

The basic problem with the gene and meme idea is that it projects a telos on the world, an impersonal force called "evolution" that ultimately provides an explanation of sorts, but not a purpose. Religion has always taught that survival is not the highest goal of life, so to be told that survival is the only purpose does not satisfy the search for meaning. Projection or not, that is just something that humans will do. Like Christopher Hitchens, Dawkins and Blackmore and the rest of them can only chant the litany of evils perpetrated by religion. They argue that a rational person will immediately reject religion and that's that. If they don't, they must be irrational and infected by something malefic, a cancerous virus.

Blackmore must at least be given credit for saying that she is arguing against a specific kind of religion, one that is ready to "kill the infidel," and that this kind of religion is the problem. But even the religious people are often ready to admit, or indeed are hell-bent on establishing, that there are better or worse forms of religion. And as so many religious people are quick to say, there are other ideologies that have done as many wicked things as the wickedest of religions. These ideologies are presumably as mimetic (I believe that is the original source of the term meme) as religions are. So what is the difference between that or any other idea, which presumably helps human survival?

In the human body, when certain conditions arise, viruses can attack. Ideologies attack diseased societies. Attacking the symptom does not mean one has found the cure. In the case of religion, objecting to a particular concept of God is perfectly legitimate, objecting to God is like objecting to existence itself, or to consciousness, or to purpose and meaning.

The problem with God is that everyone is working with their own definition, and the definitions are in constant flux. Jung was not far off when he said that God was an archetype for wholeness or perfection. God is also an archetype for the self, in the sense of one's integrated self. But since our understanding wholeness or perfection, or identity, is a function of our current state of being and consciousness, everyone's concept of God is ultimately individual.

The question is whether Dawkins' theory tells us anything about the existence of God at all. In fact, God's existence all depends on your definition, and you can probably find a way to define God that will be acceptable to anyone if you can simply ascertain what their ultimate values are.

However, pluralism is a good thing because it eliminates the attempt to socially control one's God concept, and thus allows you to freely develop as an individual, which is about as true to the religious nature of the human being you can get. This is why I found Prabhupada's statement that one could use the atomic bomb to coerce people's adherence to Krishna consciousness so abhorrent. Pluralism allowed KC to enter a free society and find adherents, who were then ready to threaten their hosts with death if they did not convert also, believe or not? Prabhupada told the story of the man on the Indian train who sits down in a bare inch of space between two squashed travelers and eventually manages to lie down and go to sleep, advocating this as a "take a mile if they give you an inch" philosophy.

What is the point of becoming a cancer? What is gained by that? What is so strange is that in Bengal, there was a case where a king of Vishnupur (or so it is said) made a law that everyone had to chant japa. What came of it? Only a saying that equates chanting japa with forced labor.

The point is that religions evolve, and they can represent the highest possible aspirations for human beings and human society. They evolve, and this means that all elements of the human spirit are participating in the quest for God, as long as they reach for the ideal, even when they appear to be or claim to be atheistic or agnostic. This is why the atheists will always participate in the evolution of religion, where their criticism are well-founded, because the true man of faith knows that God embodies truth, justice and love. So it is not God or religion that are the delusions, it is falsehood, injustice and hatred, and all the rest of the stuff that religion has always been against, really, that are the delusions that must be done away with.

Hill reiterates the evolutionary point, too.

A virtue of a liberal-left perspective is that it views society through the frames of history and social justice. We know that the things we dislike about the world cannot be changed unless we comprehend the long-term forces that
helped bring them about, and why those disliked things seemed to others to have been a good idea (it's become fashionable to deride this as "relativism"; actually, it's just using your brain). As for social justice, our moral priority is to respect and assist the poorest and least powerful in society as a key part of fostering the common good.
Sounds a lot to me like the Christian left's option for the poor, based on the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, there were many Christians who believed that Marx was just trying to have Christ's "social gospel" without the religious bits. There is no reason to think that such an idea is necessarily outside the scope of religious beliefe. It is just that, as Hill goes on to say,

When social conservatives - who are often religious leaders - attack values they oppose, they aren't much bothered with why those values have evolved. For them it's mostly a question of identifying evils - or Evil - and saying that they shouldn't be allowed. In this they dodge all sorts of awkward questions. It's a formula designed for accusing institutions and individuals of foolishness or moral failings. These are bound to be part of any story of humankind, but concentrating too closely on them means that the bigger picture can be, sometimes conveniently, ignored.

Of course, the fact is that the majority of religious people do tend to be kanistha adhikaris, and kanisthas unfortunately can cause a lot of problems. And this unfortunately leads to the distorted picture of what God and religion are really all about. To be stuck in the Marxist critique of religion after all these years says a lot for the persuasiveness of Marx, but not much for the evolution of thought about religion on the Left.

Hill ultimately argues that Leftists should give a little more credit to people who are religious and not simply lump them all in to this box labelled "backward, foolish, credulous, reactionary" and all the rest of it. It is a welcome offer, but unfortunately does not do much to further understanding. Basically because he does not really understand.

One commentary on the Hill article illustrates the incomprehension. A few days ago, Bishop Desmond Tutu argued that the death penalty should be abolished around the world. A part of his argument was based in his belief that Christianity is a religion of forgiveness. That Christ taught to turn the other cheek, etc. This immediately resulted in a chorus of people telling of the evils Christianity has perpetrated and the nasty things Jesus said when he wasn't giving the Sermon on the Mount. What the critic failed to recognize was that Tutu was engaged in the active interpetation and creation of his religion. Christ's forgiveness is the important thing, and everything else is secondary. That is what Tutu's Christianity is about, and not the rest of the evil that was done in Christ's name. So to call him a fool is to deny him the agency that will help make the quality of forgiveness the ultimate concern at the core of Christianity.

The same thing comes up in all debates about religion. If a Muslim says, look at the good things in Islam, ten people will say, Yeah, but what about female circumcision and 9/11? If you say good things about Hinduism, people will say, "Yeah, what about caste and suttee?" All this is pointless. Religion evolves. Sometimes it heads down the wrong path. It is a human phenomenon like any other. What Gandhiji did was to further the evolution of Hinduism by saying, "There is stuff in Christianity that is True. We could use a dose of this in Hinduism." And the thing was, a lot of Hindus went, "That's right." And thus, Hinduism was changed for the better.

What the religious person does is seek life, truth and love as embodied in God. The faith of the religious person is that life, truth and love exist and that he or she can embody these ideals personally. For the religous person that is interpreted as being filled with the spirit of God. The community of saints is composed of those who share these goals. Religious people are engaged in a dialogue with each other about how to best reach them, and unfortunately there are many less evolved people who mistakenly think they can use coercion to those ends. But the fact that there are less evolved people who claim to represent religion, or God, or truth, is not a condemnation of religion, God or truth, or proof that any of these do not exist.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Harināmāmṛtam grammar

I have quite a bit of work to do before leaving for India. I am trying to juggle several tasks, and when that happens, I usually short-circuit and do the least urgent thing on my program. And that, for me, is the Grantha Mandir. Since I spent the whole weekend going through the first thirty pages of Satya Narayan Dasji's Bhagavat-sandarbha, which has quite a number of references to Sanskrit grammar texts, including Jiva's Harināmāmṛtam, and since it seems I am going to be spending time teaching Sanskrit in India, I though I would try to do a bit of Harināmāmṛta-vyākaraṇa.

In Nabadwip, back in 1976 or thereabouts, I started studying HNV with Kunjabihari Brahmachari at the Devanananda Gaudiya Math. I did not last very long. I have already gone past the point that we reached after several lessons. I was memorizing the verses and sutras with him. But since my Bengali was not very good and the Brahmachari's English was worse, we did not make much progress. I can still remember him trying to explain the word nimitta to me (Sutra 1.44 at the beginning of the Sandhi-prakaranam), which I think is about as far as we got.

Even so, I enjoyed it then and I am enjoying it now, and not for exactly the reason Jiva states at the beginning.

vyākaraṇe maruṇī-vṛti jīvana-lubdhāḥ sadāgha-saṁvignāḥ
harināmāmṛtam etat pibantu śatadhāvagāhantām 3

Grammar is like a great desert, and the devotees who are suffering from the blazing sun of material existence are thirsty for the water [of bhakti]. So, may they all drink deeply of this nectar of Krishna's holy names, and then dive into it over and over again.
The word jivanam here means water, like in 10.31.9, tapta-jivanam, water for those who are suffering from heatstroke.

This is no doubt true, but what I like is the playfulness and humor that is apparent right from the very beginning, when Jiva starts creating terms (saṁjñā). For Panini, the father of Sanskrit grammar, the object is brevity and efficiency. So he invents one-syllable words like ac, hal, al, etc., that when combined create a kind of code language. Later grammarians like Kalapa tended to translate Panini back into comprehensible Sanskrit. So whereas Panini uses at to designate the letter a, Kalapa uses a-kāra. Jiva goes a step further and changes it to a-rāma.

mātrā-lāghava-mātraṁ putrotsava iti pare’bhimanyante
harināmākṣara-lābhād vayaṁ tv amūdṛk tiraskurmaḥ

If they can just reduce the number of syllables, some grammarians celebrate as if they had just had a son. We make a mockery of them by adding more and more names of Krishna. (HNV 1.2)
The conceit of using Krishna's names is not to simplify the grammar or make it more efficient (I don't think anyone could beat Panini at this game); Jiva's goal is actually to be playful. I mean, Vamana for short vowels and Trivikrama for long ones, you don't think that's funny? Or Hara (Shiva, god of destruction) for elision, and Virinchi (Brahma, god of creation) for transformation (because he takes one thing, i.e. Krishna's energies, and transforms them into the material universe? And Vishnu, who appears as an avatar, as "insertion." (Sutras 1.38-40).

Vowels are Sarvesvaras, because they stand alone, and consonants are Vishnujanas, because they depend on Sarvesvaras to be pronounced and even have the Sarvesvara inherent in them. Jiva here keeps some similarity to the customary grammatical terms (svara, vyanjana), but at the same time reminds us that language, life itself, is the interplay, the lila, of God and his devotees.

Vishnujanas are subdivided in various ways, and this often leads to sutras that made me guffaw then and still raise a chuckle in me. viṣṇudāsa-harigotrāṇi vaiṣṇavāḥ. "Vishnudasas and Harigotras taken together are called Vaishnavas." (1.30)

The point, being I think, that bhakti is not meant to be uptight. It's not about the hot sun in the desert, but about drinking deep of the water of madhura-rasa and diving into it. So Chant, dance and be happy! Hāsya is madhura-rasa's sister. The word rasika means both "connoisseur of the rasas" and "fun-loving joker." Look at Dāna-keli-kaumudi, Dāna-keli-cintāmani, Vidagdha-mādhava, Camatkāra-candrikā. We like Krishna because he is having fun; he breaks the rules; he hangs out with people like Madhumangala and Kundalata. He is a dhira-lalita-nāyaka.

Life may be serious business, with suffering and evil at every turn, but at the core, in the depths of our being, Krishna is having a good laugh with Srimati Radharani. Surely, then, Vaishnavism is not about being stuffy and self-righteous!

vācā sūcita-śarvarī-rati-kalā-prāgalbhyayā rādhikāṁ
vrīḍā-kuñcita-locanāṁ viracayann agre sakhīnām asau
tad-vakṣo-ruha-citra-keli-makarī-pāṇḍitya-pāraṁ gataḥ
kaiśoraṁ saphalī-karoti kalayan kuñje vihāraà hariḥ

Krishna, while displaying his artistic expertise by drawing dolphins and other amazing figures on Radhika’s breasts in front of her friends, caused Radhika to close her eyes in embarassment by talking of the previous night’s lovemaking in audacious terms. In this way, playing in the forest bowers, Krishna made the most of his adolescence. (BRS 2.1.231)


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Child prostitution and India

Yesterday I was at Kutichak's place in Ste-Agathe and we got into a conversation with a guest about India. As is often the case in Hare Krishna circles, Kutichak at one point launched into an ardent defense of India. It is easy for Westerners to see all the negative that is there in India--the poverty is usually what springs to mind first, but the litany of complaints piles up pretty quickly when one tries to live or function there.

But something that is little discussed is child prostitution. Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times, who often writes about third world issues, wrote this article about The 21st century slave trade, indicating that this very unsavory practice is alive and well in India. Pedophilia is apparently a deeply-rooted sickness that has adepts in all corners of the globe. Marcus Gee's report in Saturday's Globe and Mail (For today's pedophiles, it's all too easy) about child sex tourism shows the extent to which such activities are prevalent in Thailand and plays up the Canadian sex-tourist angle.

Recently, the CBC showed a good documentary on Doc Zone about the new "sexual revolution" in China. Under Mao, women were "desexed" by putting them in the same baggy uniforms that men wore, with hair cut short and participating side by side with their brother revolutionaries. Sexuality was seen as inimical to the task of nation building, despite Mao's apparently insatiable appetite for young virgins. Needless to say, this resulted in a profound dissatisfaction with life itself. With China's economic opening up, this ethos has been energetically cast aside.

Just looking at these three rather different snapshots of different aspects of sexual morality in different societies, I don't think that I have any specific solutions. Sexual liberation in Western societies has not rid us of pedophiles; their appetites cannot be satisfied; no amount of commitment to personal liberty can trump the need to protect children from this cruelest lesson of material life: People are just out to use and abuse you; they will eat you up and throw you away. There is no real limit to evil.

The Chinese sexual revolution is not exactly a beacon of hope. It just shows how sexuality is the driving force in the mode of passion and the push for material prosperity. Dharma --> artha --> kama. The sexual repression of the early communist days (something similar happened in the long, cold days of the USSR also), was also a manifestation of rajas--where a little awareness of the benefits of delayed gratification is present. But the self-control of the modes of passion cannot last, because its raison d'être lies in the gratification that will come after the delay.

The other day I was listening to a radio program from Australia about a swingers' club in Sydney. It was pretty graphic for a national public broadcaster, I may say. But the participants who were interviewed seemed convinced of the beneficial effects of this primal, uninhibited orgiastic sexuality. One even went so far as to recommend it as a cure-all for society's ills. Somehow, I remain unconvinced of that. It's too one dimensional.

Let's take it as a given that no amount of gratification will satisfy the appetites:

na jātu kāmaḥ kāmānām upabhogena śāmyati
haviṣā krishnavartmeva bhūya evābhivardhate

You cannot quieten your desires by indulging them. By throwing clarified butter on the fire, it only becomes more enflamed. (BhP 9.19.14, Manu 2.94, Mahabharata 1.75.49, oft anthologized as well).
But repression is not a very successful strategy, either. Though the customary solution is found in Hitopadesa 4.97--

kāmaḥ sarvātmanā heyaḥ sa ced dhātuṁ na śakyate
sva-bhāryāṁ prati kartavyaḥ saiva tasya hi bheṣajam

Sexual desire should be given up with all your being, but if you cannot cast it aside, then direct it to your wife. She is the cure for sexual desire.

Despite having several difficulties with some aspects of what is stated here, this still is closest to the best approach. One has to add the bhakti/prema dimension.

In a sense, I feel as though I am somehow obligated to think that what I am attempting to devise here is a contribution to human society, somehow beneficial to at least some on the human spectrum. The point is simply that there IS a problem. And it is not wrong, really, to identify this as the central problem.

You cannot uproot or destroy the modes of ignorance. It is part of the plan for this world and I doubt that it will ever change. The Manichaean attempt to wipe out the darkness, to eliminate it forever, is pure foolishness. But it is possible for a culture of goodness to be established. In a world where the flames of sense gratification seem poised to roast us all alive, that kind of culture is needed more than ever.

Krishna bhakti is not about the mode of goodness, but when dealing with this world, we must support and ally ourselves with the representatives of sattva, wherever we find them.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nayanananda on Mahaprabhu

From the poet Nayanananda--

cāri veda ṣaṭ daraśana paṛiyāche
se jadi gauranga nahi bhaje
kiba tāra adhyayana locana-vihīna jena
darapaṇe andhe kibā kāje?

Someone who studies the four Vedas and the six philosophical systems, but does not worship Lord Gauranga, has wasted his time in study. Of what use is a mirror to a blind man?

veda vidyā dui kichui nā jānata
se jadi gaurāṅga jāne sār
nayanānanda bhaṇe sei se sakali jāne
sarva siddhi karatale tār

Whereas one who has no knowledge of the Veda or any other matter, if he knows just this, that Gauranga is the essence of all things, says Nayanananda, he knows everything that needs to be known, and all perfections are within his grasp.

Gita Govinda, Commentary by Prabodhananda

I just uploaded a new version of Gīta-govinda to the Grantha Mandir, with the commentary atttributed to Prabodhananda. Here are a few notes I jotted down while working on it, with no real theme.

I can't tell you how, even with my limited sensibility, the Gīta-govinda shows its power. Just repeat these pieces of Sanskrit and let the rhythm and power of the words penetrate you. We cannot yet translate these words. We have other words that are true to our experience. But there is a rawness in Jayadeva; even in all the exaggeration there is a truth.

vasati vipina-vitāne, tyajati lalita-dhāma 
luṭhati dharaṇi-śayane, bahu vilapati tava nāma
He dwells in the wide forest,
He has given up his pleasant home.
He lies restlessly, trying to sleep on the ground
And repeats unceasingly your name.
Prabodhananda in his commentary says that dhāma has many meanings--the body, home, effulgence, place, birth, influence. When it says that Krishna has given up his lalita-dhāma, it means in a sense that he has abandoned all of them; like a yogi going to live in the forest, he no longer cares for the attractive beauty of his own form. He has become wan and lost his bright effulgence.

When it says luṭhati dharaṇi-śayane, Prabodhananda writes, "He rolls in the holy dust of Vrindavan, which has been drenched in the nectar flowing from your lotus feet."

Song 19 of GG is probably the most famous of all. It is really worth chanting the Sanskrit, as its rhythms are powerful.

tvam asi mama jīvanaṁ / tvam asi mama bhūṣaṇam
tvam asi mama bhava-jaladhi-ratnam 
bhavatu bhavatīha mayi / satatam anurodhinī
tatra mama hṛdayam atiyatnam 4
You are my life, you are my ornament, you are the jewel in the ocean of my existence. My heart is devoted to winning back your favor for all time.
That combination of bhūṣaṇaṁ and jīvanaṁ comes up elsewhere, like in Sanatan Goswami's verse glorifying the Holy Name--paramam amṛtam eka jīvanaṁ bhūṣaṇaṁ me.

pratyūhaḥ pulakāṅkureṇa niviḍāśleṣe nimeṣeṇa ca
krīḍākūta-vilokite’dhara-sudhā-pāne kathā-narmabhiḥ
ānandādhigamena manmatha-kalā-yuddhe’pi yasminn abhūd
udbhūtaḥ sa tayor babhūva suratārambhaḥ priyambhāvukaḥ
As the battle of the love arts began,
there arose so many obstacles--
When they tried to embrace each other forcefully,
they were covered in goose bumps;
when they tried to look thirstily at each other,
their eyes still blinked;
As they drank the nectar of each other's lips,
they could not stop speaking loving words to one another--
The overwhelming joy that overcame them
was the biggest obstacle of all.
Thus truly was this beginning of their lovemaking
dear to them both. (12.10)
Rupa Goswami's point, which I think is very important, and this is where the Gaudiyas differ from most of the other madhura-rasa sampradāyas, is that he says that all the things that surround their lovemaking--including separation, etc., are just as important elements in the lila as the actual lovemaking itself. Some of these other people only think of Radha and Krishna making love.

Well, that is not so far off either, nor can it be denied. It is when RK are in separation that they are thinking most intensely of every element of their physical closeness. So, in one sense, that is the reality. Radha and Krishna are always, in some dimension, in the nitya-vihāra, eternal union. But what Rupa is talking about is the human adventure in love: the realization of some fragment of eternal perfection that somehow represents the central point of our aspirations, the glow from which light pulses outward.

Thus as I read this material, I cannot think how Jayadeva separated Radha and Krishna from his own relationship with Padmavati. He mentions her name several times, which is quite unusual for literature of the period. Mothers, fathers, gurus... they often get a mention, but a wife? The only other I can think of offhand is Chandidas quite a few generations later, but no doubt a brother in the spirit of sorts. It is as though Jayadeva is saying, "I would never have been able to write this, I would never have had the insight into this lila if I had not been graced with Padmavati's association. She is my shakti."

Gita Govinda is very sexy though. I mean, for Jayadeva, love is very physical. There is no spiritual idealism in it. It is all about the sensual experience. It is this distilled essence of sexuality. Of course, it does idealize the physicality of it to some extent, though it never becomes pornographic as in the crude "money-shot" closeup of genitals pumping away.

Here, there are kokilas singing, flowers strewn on a petal bed in the forest bower. Everything is lovely. It is more like a kind of soft porn, filmed in amber tones with new-age music in the background, and everything has a dreamy quality, like a midsummer night's dream, even with the other elements that surround the final union and Radha's manifestation as the svādhīna-bhartṛkā.

I cannot see how anyone can read this as a metaphor for anything. It is the idealized poetic lovers of Sanskrit poetry, and because they are idealized--perfect beauty, perfect love, perfect union--they are identified as gods.

I keep saying that this has to be a problem. You can take it like some people do, i.e., as a green light for uninhibited sexual indulgence... and I can almost accept that. It's a neverworld, though. A fantasy, which we can get some vision of. Nevertheless, I think that most definitely we have to isolate the Gīta-govinda vision, that "pastoral" vision, and separate it out from the realism that comes with the complexities of modernity, allow that element of mature realism to coexist and influence our understanding of this Divine Couple of ours.

I have become persuaded as I read the Gīta-govinda that even if it is not stated explicitly, it shares something verses like these from the Shiva Purana--

śakti-śaktimad-uttham tu śākta-śaivam idam jagat
strī-puṁsa-prabhavaṁ viśvaṁ strī-puṁsātmakam eva ca
paramātmā śivaḥ proktaḥ śivā māyeti kathyate
puruṣaḥ parameśānaḥ prakṛtiḥ parameśvarī
śaṅkaraḥ puruṣāḥ sarve striyaḥ sarvā maheśvarī

This world came out of the combination of Śakti and Śaktimān, so it is pervaded everywhere by Śiva and Śakti. The world is born out of the combination of man and woman, and so is pervaded everywhere by maleness and femaleness. The Paramātmā is Śiva  the all-auspicious, and the Creative Power, Maya, is Śivā  the all-auspicious. The masculine principle is Śiva and the feminine principle is Parameśvarī. So all men in the universe are Śaṅkara, and all women are Maheśvarī.
So that is stated in terms of Śiva and Śakti  but Radha and Krishna is really the same thing. This is, of course, the bahiraṅga (external) lila of the Lord. It is not the ultimate truth, but it is still an important aspect of understanding the entire picture.

Radhe Radhe !