Friday, December 19, 2008

Rest in Peace, Rients

About three months ago, my cousin Rients, whom I had not seen for several years, suddenly emailed me to tell me that he was coming to India. He had just gotten divorced and was going traveling to follow up on a long-held desire to go on a spiritual adventure.

I immediately told him to come and see me first here in Rishikesh and that is what he did. I was waiting outside in the tea stall out in front of the ashram when he went trundling past in a three-wheeler, wearing his tilley hat and khaki shorts. I went chasing after the vehicle shouting at the driver to stop, and soon we were embracing in the midday sun.

In our childhood, Rients and his family were frequent visitors to our home in Montreal. At various junctures throughout our lives, our paths crossed. When I came back from India in 1985, he was in New York, trying to make it as an artist with his dark, brooding, almost frightening chthonic visions. Much later, I saw him in Montreal when he was on his way to England to stay at a Buddhist monastery, hopefully to commit his life to attaining enlightenment. Throughout it all, the underlying theme of his life was always that he was a seeker.

Most of the details of his life remain unknown to me, but he told me that when he was 18, he joined a kind of cult on Vancouver Island, which was led by a former Catholic monk who taught a potpourri of meditations. Rients stayed with this group for several years during which time he developed his artistic side. Besides being an artist, he was also a potter, cook and handy-man and undoubtedly had many other talents of which I know nothing.

But his main interest was always in meditation and exploring the spirit. He stayed for extended periods in several Buddhist retreat houses and monasteries, and served the monks and devotees as a cook at one such retreat near his home on Denman Island in British Columbia.

He spent three days here, which was probably the longest extended association we had ever enjoyed, sharing my room, where we had long talks into the night. He liked the atmosphere here and was even thinking of doing a silence retreat, but only one night alone in one of the cottages made him realize that it was not the right time for that. He needed to travel and explore.

From here he went to Dharamshala and Mcleod Ganj where he volunteered as an English conversation teacher, having what seemed like a great time meeting Buddhist monks from Thailand and elsewhere and teaching them English. He sent out irregular missals from there and then, when it started getting cold in the mountains, from Goa. After that, he continued south to go to what had always been his main goal, the Bodhi Zendo in Tamil Nadu.

On December 12, those on his list received the following email, ironically titled "This is It," in which he announced that he was truncating his stay in India, cutting short his six-month itinerary.

The end, and now to the beginning of the end. Yes three factors brought me to abandon india. Which one was the straw that broke my resolve? First of all I read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

If your heart bled for the bare-footed rickshaw driver in City of Joy then you'll be happy with what the next generation of Indian writers has done for him. In The White Tiger, his son becomes a chauffeur and murders his rich employer for a huge amount of money destined for a Delhi politician. Then he escapes to a large city and creates a successful business. This is a great moral tale, aimed straight into the heart of the ruling classes. The effect is of opening a door into a dark world that a tourist can avoid to see but is feeling all the time. You can't hide from the distress any longer.

Then there was the temperature. Each day became progressively colder in the mountains and so I raced down to Kodaikanal, a hill station in the deep south. And discovered that the temperature on the southern plains around Madurai was nearly perfect. Then 50 km up the mountain rising a meter for every 100. Although you pass through an absolutely gorgeous florid tropical forest, you end up at 7,000 ft. When I got out of the bus at dusk the town was freezing in a blanket of cloud. Like Vancouver in December.

Got into the hotel and, as the power was out, the room was stone cold. Laying under sweat-smelly blankets, it took two hours for core heat to reach my toes and the lights to come on. They gladly gave me clean blankets the next day, but wanted more than my rent for a heater.

I went down to Bodhi Zendo, just below the clouds. Wow, what a sweet place. Really the best retreat/monastery I've seen. Very quiet and simple. But no heat. There was no way I was going to spend my winter retreat bundled in blankets. It turns out that December and January are cold and rainy up there near the equator.

Third, imagine you've been moving for days and are finally in bed imagining that today is the day. Snuggle in after a cold shower and have this feeling in your anal sphincter that someone left a cigarette burning and there is not way to butt it out. Really it got so bad that my mouth refused to open. No amount of reasoning would allow one more spoonful. Having already lost 12 lbs I decided to escape to Sri Lanka or Thailand. Fear overcame me, aren't those ass-burning countries as well? That was checkmate. For 200 Canadian I got a flight to Vancouver.

Now I'm at Dad's in Penticton. Luckily he's in Spain for a month visiting an old childhood friend who looked him up. Now I have to decide what to do next. My imagination is going east. First it was Regina, then Montreal, but it may take me all the way to Halifax.

Lots of love, I enjoyed writing this.

Yours, Rients

Two days later, on the 14th, an email was sent to everyone on Rients' list announcing that he had been driving on the Trans Canada near Kelowna and had been in a serious accident. He was in a coma in very serious condition. Today I received the news that he passed away at 12.10 on the 19th.

For the past few days, a Sufi story has been ringing in my head. I believe it is one that Idries Shah tells, perhaps it is older. It is about an Arab merchant who was traveling on business and was in Damascus selling his wares in the market when he suddenly saw the frightening apparition of Death. He and Death looked at each other, the one with apprehension and dread, the other with a kind of bemused astonishment. The merchant immediately got on his horse and dashed the many miles back to his home in Mecca, where he let out a sigh of relief as he locked the doors to his house. The next morning, however, he heard a knock on the door and who should be there but Death! Shocked, the merchant expressed his astonishment, "But I saw you yesterday in Damascus!" "Yes," replied Death. "I was surprised to see you there, too, because I knew that I had an appointment with you here today."

Rients never seemed to be the luckiest of people, never quite finding himself despite his long and persistent search, but he had a simple good nature that won him many friends. I am glad that I had the chance to spend three days with him so near the end of his life, during which time a strong bond of affection was renewed between us.

All my love to you, Rients. All the best to you as you continue your spiritual quest, wherever that may be.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gita 3.3

I have been giving a weekly class in the Bhagavad-gita at the ashram. We are currently doing the third chapter. A couple of months ago, one student gave me a Hindi edition of Osho's Karma-yoga, which is a series of lectures on the third chapter. Somewhat to my own surprise I found it not only fairly orthodox philosophically, but insightfully so.

In his discussion of 3.3, Osho made much of the introverted and extraverted personality types, which he said were these two--jnanis and karmis. Shankara, as everyone may well know, introduces the Gita with a discussion of karma and jnana, saying that jnana or consciousness alone gives liberation and that no amount of "works" will liberate one. Shankara also denies that there is any possibility of liberation by a combination of knowledge and works. Now, devotees know that our acharyas say that bhakti alone grants liberation, or the results of jnana and karma. But where is bhakti in this verse? So far, in the second and third chapter, there have been only two things discussed--sankhya and yoga--so where does bhakti fit in?

Madhusudana Saraswati, in his introduction, states that the middle six chapters of the Gita are meant to form a bridge between the earlier karma section and the later jnana section in the final six chapters, since karma and jnana are so radically opposed. Osho, however, says that though the two kinds of nishtha ultimately result in the same attainment, the two natures (introvert and extravert) are radically and irreconcilably opposed, "ne'er the twain shall meet." At the same time, he accepts the siddhanta stated in 5.3 that the attainments of the yogi and the jnani are the same.

It should also be remarked that this third chapter, though often interpreted by devotees in terms of bhakti (Prabhupada, for instance, consistently explains the chapter in terms of "Krishna consciousness," which has barely a hint or mention anywhere in the entire two chapters (except 2.61, mat-paraH, not in all editions and rather out of context, and 3.30, more credible).

Another thing, we generally think of the yogi in the ways that the sixth chapter speaks of him, as someone who is inner-looking. But when Krishna brings up the subect of yoga in 2.39, he is speaking of the external process, as he again does here in 3.3. Devotees also generally consider themselves to be antar-mukha rather than bahir-mukha (I am speaking here of a psychological disposition, not an attitude towards God). However, after mulling over the abovementioned considerations

The following diagrams are an attempt to clarify my thinking on the subject.

(1) This diagram shows the usual conception described by Shankara and his followers. The bahirmukha is a pravritti-marga follower, the antarmukha follows the nivritti-marga. These are otherwise refered to in the Gita as (1) yoga or karma and (2) sankhya or sannyasa. The identity of the atman and brahman are said to be the knowledge or consciousness that is the state of liberation, tat tvam asi. Shankara and Osho say, never the twain shall meet. There is no compromise between the two attitudes and one has to follow one's predisposition to the very end. For Shankara, the extraverted attitude is NEVER the source of liberation. In other words, you cannot attain Brahman by any means other than the introspective process.

(2) This diagram shows where bhakti stands in this scheme, along with various other attitudes and qualities. Becoming, i.e., the characteristic of the phenomenal world, is on the external side. Bhakti is principally seen by Advaita-vadins as a part of the external scheme that must ultimately be discarded. In the achintya-bhedabheda scheme, we need to recognize the identity of Brahman and Atman, but they are held in mutual tension.

Karma and bhakti are sometimes confused, even by Bhaktivedanta Swami and most of the modern karma-yogis. This is because they do not really think much past Paramatman. If you understand yoga in the Gita way as karma-yoga, it is easy to see how Paramatman is the goal of yoga. It is not as easy where Patanjala yoga is concerned, for their goal is kaivalya, which has through the ages become entirely assimilated to Brahma realization. Bhakti to Bhagavan is the only pure bhakti; bhakti to Paramatman is usually on the lesser levels discarded by Mahaprabhu in the teachings of Ramananda Raya (CC Madhya 8, eho bahya age koho ar).

(3) This last diagram is meant to show the psychological divisions where introversion is seen as particular to the culture of the ashraya, extraversion as the culture of the vishaya. This has various aspects, including the contrasting ideas of rasasvadana as a form of enjoyment as opposed to active and selfless seva. Again, the mutual intersectedness and nourishment of one for the other cannot be discounted.

The two principal attitudes of Vaishnava bhakti are also separated here, one in which Krishna alone is the vishaya and Radha the ashraya, in which the bhakta identifies with Radha as the samashti or macrocosmic manifestation of bhakti to Krishna (Bhakti Devi), and the other where Radha and Krishna together are the vishaya and the manjari is the ashraya.

For the Advaitins, etc., the division of ashraya and vishaya is automatically suspect, and both are considered upadhis, one on the microcosmic, the other on the macrocosmic scale. This is meant to be understood to take place within the inherent intuition of oneness.

Radhe Radhe !!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Radha Shyama nama

Radhe out, Shyama in. That is all.

Actually, all such sexual meditations are dependent on a certain amount of built capacity to resist orgasm. If either partner has an orgasm, this results in a break in the meditation and thus a decrease in the pleasure.

Krishna enters the kunja where Radha awaits. Radha chants Shyama. Then Radha rushes forth to greet Krishna. Krishna chants Radhe.

Start slowly, meditating on the picture of Radha meeting Krisha in the kunja. Feel their bhava. Witness the union of the Divine Couple after you and your manjari companion have achieved the goal of your service and brought them together after a long separation. Feel the sights and sounds, smell the fragrances of their sacred bower.

Gradually build up until the chanting of Radha and Shyama's names becomes a all-encompassing explosion absorption in the sound and all else but the names are erased from the consciousness. Continue until exhausted. Then slow down and start again. Or, simply return to the eighteen-syllable mantra or kama-gayatri.

This exercise is admittedly a bit rajasika, but it is very powerful in rapidly clearing the mind and heart by total absorption in the Holy Name. It thus leaves one calm and ready for the vision of the Divine Couple in the kunja and for manjari-seva.

It solidifies the association of the pleasure of union with the Divine Name. Later, in meditation on the Holy Name, one is left with just the vibration of the joy of Radha and Krishna's loving union permeating the sounds of Radhe Shyam. One will be free of any gross sexual desire.

This exercise imprints the forms of the Divine Couple on the mind and soul like no other.

Backdated from 2009.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Surya Kunda Tragedy

I just heard about the sad turn of events at the annual Surya Kunda festival in honor of Siddha Madhusudana Das Babaji. Ananda writes about it on his blog, after getting first hand information from Malati. He also links to Madhumati's blog where more is available.

That is basically why we do all these things [like question the meaning of our existence], because things like this happen. May the end result be that everyone's faith, compassion and love is deepened, and not weakened.

New Dimensions

From time to time I listen to New Dimensions, a program on New Age teachings hosted by Michael Thoms. I discovered it on the Australian Broadcasting Company, which is where I usually listen to it. This program gives me an introduction to many of the current popular meditation teachers in the West.

Today I am listening to More love, more compassion, more joy with Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist psychologist.

The reason I am blogging this is what this program is making me reflect on the differences between Vaishnavism and this new realm of popular New Age spirituality. It is also making me reflect on what I am doing here in this ashram? These thoughts are also connected to those in the post I made on Thanksgiving.

As Kornfield demonstrates in the beginning of this program, these people take pains to distinguish their activities from religion--it is a philosophy, it is practical psychology, it is a process of self-improvement, etc., anything but a religion.

This is that "scientific" way of talking that even Prabhupada adopted in coming to the West. This is an experimental process. You try the process, and you are sure to find it works, etc., etc.

Publicly, Swami Veda Bharati fits right into this world of modern new ageism. But he has not compromised his own vision. That is OK, there is little to compromise there. But he has a great deal of wisdom. In that post where I said that Mayavada has some aspects of maturity that kanistha bhaktas don't have, that is what I meant.

I am also so strictly religious. I don't think I will ever compromise, but if we want to make it popular or meaningful to other people, we have to make it practical in these kinds of things--the cultivation of human qualities. This is what that psychologist who was criticizing me for promoting infatuation, etc.

I don't ever want to compromise the essential truth of GV. That is why I go straight to the meaning of Radha Krishna. What this is is really a different approach to spiritual life. But it has to be in contact with the other realizations that are inherent in Buddhism and Advaita-vada. Before people want to love God, they want to be better human beings. And if, as is so often the case, religion somehow seems to diminish us, then people ask, what is the point?

That is the real danger of the api cet sudurācāro verse. It makes us think that our trivial service to God is somehow more important than the offering of our being.

What is it about our psychology that makes this approach so much more intuitive?

They just showed a film on meditation that was partly made here for Dutch TV. This continues on from that letter I sent you about the Buddhist meditation, etc. All this scientific brainwave testing, etc. That was what this film was about. Basically, Swami Veda, who was interviewed a lot in the film, says that people want these "tangible" proofs that something works. But if people do meditation for all these other reasons--relief of stress, lowering blood-pressure, conquering anger, etc., they will derive more lasting spiritual benefits in the end.

Can we do anything like that? I guess Dhira Govinda did some kinds of studies along this line. And of course there are so many studies showing that (1) belonging to a church group, (2) having faith in something, (3) having a loving partner, etc., all lead to better quality and longer life. But like Swami Veda says, those are all secondary results. You can't really show the benefits of these things externally, the real benefit is a change in character. That can be intuited through the personality of the teacher.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Infatuation, Mature Love and Sahajiyaism

Radha and Krishna's loves do not appear like mature love in the modern psychological sense to which they would appear more like "infatuation." If that is the case, then how can they be "ideal"? Are they ideal in the sense that they are supposed to be exemplary to couples who want to develop a mature relationship between them? What does Sahajiyaism have to say here?

To begin with, I am not against mature relations between the sexes. And, hopefully, the purpose of everything that I am saying will help lead to mature spirituality in which other, objectively higher realms of agape and caritas are practically realized in behavior.

So I not only honor the idea of maturity in love, but hope that all Sahajiya practitioners work to cultivate mature relationships in the modern sense. The ideas of Christian love and so on that are often refered to as superior to erotic love should be familiar territory to anyone who tries to advance in spiritual life.

But that is not exactly the primary territory of Sahajiyaism. I am operating in a totally different sphere of reality, where mature relationships are only an element of the sattva-guṇa, primarily as a prerequisite to spiritual practice and experience. In other words, that is external.

What I object to is that most people preoccupied with this vague idea of relational maturity are actually looking at things in terms of a rather unstructured world view, or at least one that is entirely materialistic in foundation. Or, should I say, one that has no foundation. Sure, maturity in relationships is a necessary element in finding happiness, but is it everything? What we are really looking for is transcendence.

What I am getting at basically is that there is something primal that lies both beneath and beyond the development of psychological maturity. We have to see the basic sexual urge as existing on a continuum from the basest to the highest planes of consciousness, whether or not actual physical sex ultimately continues at higher stages of consciousness.

Radha and Krishna symbolize the very essence of that attraction in its purest form. Call it infatuation if you like. In the beginnings it may well be immature, "teenybopper love." But for most healthy individuals, there is an instinctual faith in the essential purity or holiness of love. It is not the external manifestations of the love that count so much, at this stage, but its sheer power, the essential quality and purity of the emotion itself.

I can sympathize with those who wish to psychologize Krishna, but as far as I am concerned that is missing the forest for the trees.

First of all, there are two different kinds of stories about Krishna. Though the two are linked, some are theistic parables, some are archetypal stories about, as some would have it, infatuation. In these, Krishna is the dhīra-lalita nāyaka. Hardly your exemplar of mature adult perfection. But don’t think that this was not consciously understood by Rupa Goswami. There are plenty of other exemplars he could have chosen if he was only interested in teaching about psychological maturity (at least according to the standards of Hindu society of the time). But that was not his purpose. The teachings about Vaishnava standards of mature human behavior (the 26 qualities of a Vaishnava) are a separate business. They stand in relation to the culture of mystical experience as the yamas and niyamas of aṣṭāṅga-yoga stand in relation to dhyāna, dhāranā and samādhi.

Try to understand what the two different kinds of stories mean. On the one hand we are talking about a mystical process of union with God. In a sense, it is only incidentally that this has anything to do with human love which, as world-weariness tells us, is ultimately a failed endeavor.
The Supreme Lord cannot be attained by mere study of the Vedas, nor through the intellect, nor by hearing. Only one who is blessed by the Lord can attain Him, and only to such a person does the Lord reveal His form. (KathaU 1.2.23)
Here is the upshot. Sahajiyaism does have a psychological relation to the mechanics of fantasy. In that respect, it may seem to have more to do with pornography and entertainment than with these psychologies of mature interrelationships. But in fact, these are two entirely different realms. The first is about rasa, i.e., religious experience; the other is about the external framework in which that experience is cultivated. The latter without the former is, for the transcendentalist, completely pointless. The latter may be helpful for the former, it may come as a consequence of the former, but it is not independently meaningful.

Sahaja-sādhanā is about two people learning to communicate on the spiritual level through correlation of the "divine fantasy," both outside and inside the self. The archetype of the Divine Couple is the marrow of the self, primordial, primeval. The external dance between two human individuals is the delicate operation that makes it possible for them to experience the Divine Couple.

For most, maturity means, at least in part, giving up the romantic fantasy of two becoming as one flesh or the four-legged beast finding its separated half, etc. But that is only one aspect of the sādhanā, the external part. The Sahajiya couple recognize they are both sādhakas who have been brought together by the bond of erotic attraction, and that attraction is the raw material that they have been given to cultivate the ideal of human perfectibility. Sādhanā is sacrifice in the crucible of love.

The sheer impossibility of that oneness in external terms has to be kept intellectually. A clear distinction between the ideal and the human limitations of the imperfect sādhaka couple and their indispensable need for sādhanā has to borne in mind at all times. It is not that love is something that just happens. It may just "start to happen," but that external archetypal experience is just the raw material for the practice. A pointer, a hint, if you wish.

Its culmination is in the ultimate vanishing point, which is Radha and Krishna. But Radha and Krishna are real, otherwise everything I have been saying makes no sense. They are the all-pervading sac-cid-ānanda form of Mahā-bhāva and Rasa-rāja. They are experienced in the union of lovers, and experienced most perfectly when the lovers are both yogis and pure devotees. All other kinds of love are the byproducts and side-effects of Radha and Krishna's love. That is the meaning of this verse:

rādhāyā bhavataś ca citta-jatunī svedair vilāpya kramāt
yuñjann adri-nikuñja-kuñjara-pate nirdhūta-bheda-bhramam |
citrāya svayam anvarañjayad iha brahmāṇḍa-harmyodare
bhūyobhir nava-rāga-hiṅgula-bharaiḥ śṛṅgāra-kāruḥ kṛtī ||

The God of Love is a great craftsman:
he has taken the lac of Radha's soul and yours,
and melted them together with his perspiring heat.
O king of the elephants in the groves of Govardhan!
He has joined your souls together and washed away
any sense you had of difference between you.
Then, in order to paint the inner chambers
of the universal mansion, he added
yet more vermilion to the mix. (UN 14.155)

The "universal mansion" is meant to explain the words yāvad-āśraya-vṛtti that is found in the definition of mahā-bhāva.

In order to understand the mechanics and psychology of this sādhanā, you really have to get a grasp on rasa theory. That is how you make all this business about fantasy, etc., that goes on in the conscious and unconscious minds become a part of your spiritual practice. And if your practice does not impact the deeper recesses of your psyche, then what is the purpose?

Without this sādhanā, mature love is just a theory. Devotion to the Divine Couple softens the heart so perfectly, so absolutely, that it makes all other kinds of love possible.

A last picture of me crosslegged?

Yesterday I went to the HIHT to check out my knee, which has been giving me a lot of trouble of late. A couple of weeks ago, I took the brisk walk through the hills to Ram Jhula and afterwards my right knee was all swollen for several days. It has been exceedingly difficult to sit crosslegged, which needless to say is a great handicap for me, with all that sitting on the floor you have to do in my profession...

The doctor told me that it was a sign of OA Arthritis. What brought it on, I don't know, but it is not uncommon in men of my age. Basically he said, "It is never going away. Watch out it doesn't get worse. That is about all you can do." And he prescribed some painkillers, which I have no intention of taking.

I have enjoyed pretty good health throughout my life, and I confess that the knee problem has affected me more than it should. I am getting used to the idea now, but I may never sit crosslegged again...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Backlogged postings

I have a tendency to sit on posts for various reasons. Sometimes I feel it is better to think about something for a while rather than posting in the heat of the moment. It is really because I don't want to get into the kind of tit-for-tat debate that characterized Gaudiya Discussions and other forums of that type. So I often respond very belatedly, sometimes I take an objection or an argument under advisement and meditate on it, and it comes back out in some other form later on. The basic reason is just that I am a slow thinker and not particularly clever when it comes to that kind of debate.

Anyway, here are a few backdated posts that may be of interest (or not):

Samanjasa (2007-12-06) I wouldn't be surprised if I update this one again.

HIHT Annual Festival (2007-12-05) Moved to Jagat Jindagi

Swami Krishnananda's Visit (2007-12-05) Moved to Jagat Jindagi

Same Old Same Old II (2007-12-06)

I have also finished the third part of the series on Na Hanyate. If you missed that one, the first two parts of which were already backdated when I first posted them, here are the URLs:

Na Hanyate, Part I

Na Hanyate, Part II (2007-12-05)

Na Hanyate, Part III

There may be one more in that series, as I am still trying to figure out what fascinates me about this story. I have a bunch of notes in a file waiting to be sorted out.

Verses for the hell of it (2007-11-27)

Prayer and Utopia (2007-11-19)

And a quick look suggests there are five or six unfinished posts of varying degrees of value awaiting editing, revision and/or approval. I will try to notify in this way any such future backdated posts when they go online.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving thoughts

One of the psychological features of devotees that atheists like to complain about is that we always want to be saved. Whenever we get a little bit weak we start hollering for God to come and save us. I haven't had that mood for a long time. But still, from time to time, I start doing it.

Reading in Vivekananda's biography, it says that in his Brahma Samaj days, he could not stand "devotees who would cry emotionally, pray for God's mercy in every sentence they spoke, or repeatedly condemn themselves as lower than worms or insects. He thought that a man should hold his head up high like a man and worship God with steadfastness and unbroken resolve." (Satyendranath Majumdar, Hindi edition, p.58)

[विशेषतः भक्तों का भावावेश में रोना, बात बात में दयामय भगवान् की कृपा के लिये प्रार्थना करना, अपने को कीटानुकीट के समान हेय मानकर आत्मनिन्दा करना अदि बातों की नरेन्द्र कठोर आलोचना करते थे । वे तो यही उचित समझते थे कि पुरुष पुरुष की ही तरह मस्तक ऊंचा करके दृढ़ उद्यम और अटूट संकल्प के साथ भगवान् की अराधना करे ।]

Mayavada is like mystical atheism, really. I often think there is an element of maturity present in Mayavada that is not there in many devotees, especially not those of the kanishtha variety.

Today in the NYTimes there is an article about the "first Thanksgiving" in North America, which was promptly followed by a massacre by Spanish Christians of the French Huguenots who had settled in Florida. I told this story to a friend who reminded me that edited out of the American mythology is the epilogue to the Pilgrim Fathers' original Thanksgiving. The native Americans who brought them food in the time of hardship were subsequently killed off. A subtle reminder that the thanksgiving of the believers could just as easily become an orgy of sacrificial bloodletting. The phenomenon of the scapegoat is still one that is poorly understood.

I often read the Guardian pages where occasionally Theo Hobbes or some other writers come and try to find something positive to say about religion or to defend it from its critics in some way.

Hobbes is very liberal, but even so, he gets jumped on by the atheist hordes every time, accusing him of everything under the sun. But what is hardest to defend against is the asinine things that human beings do in the name of religion. The abovementioned massacre is just another thing that brings disappointment to the heart of the devotee.

It is not so much that God permits evil to exist, but that people who claim that God is Love can be so hateful. It is a psychological aberration, a trick of the mind. And we have to recognize, as Christians have since the time of Bonhoeffer, that there is immature religion and there is mature religion.

This is what the Bhagavata is talking about when it talks about the kanishtha, madhyama and uttama bhaktas. The kanishtha is using his religion to prop up a material ego. For him, God is a material accoutrement. It is not so much that he does not have a genuine impetus for spiritual realization, but due to his immaturity he gets caught up in identification politics.

Though one sign of this is the "There is only one way to God" syndrome, that does not mean that there are no objective signs of religious effectiveness. Just as there are objective signs of religious error--many of which are pointed out with great relish by atheists and their more mystical counterparts.

Let us turn inwards and discover the Atma, which is complete in its simple existence, full of awareness and love. Let us know this before we start trying to change the world.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three Verses About Radha

With regard to Radha and Krishna as Rati and Smara (Kama):

ratiḥ sākṣād rādhā sakala-jaḍa-cil-loka-paramā
ramādy-atyāścaryāmbuja-dṛg aniśaṁ prārthya-dṛg-aṇuḥ
smaraḥ sākṣāt kṛṣṇo'navadhi-rati-tṛpto'khila-paraḥ
pareśaḥ pronmīlad-ruci-jaladhi-vardhaika-rug-aṇuḥ
Love (Rati) is Radha herself, the highest truth of all the material and spiritual worlds. So all the goddesses from Lakshmi on down, whose eyes are as beautiful as lotuses, all pray constantly for her merciful glance. Desire (Kama) is Krishna himself, the Supreme Lord beyond everything, who always takes satisfaction in his unlimited lovemaking, who [like the moon] causes the ocean of beauty [that is Radha] to overflow with just a single ray of his light. [Prabodhananda, VMA 11.46]
What is interesting about this verse is that it makes Rati and Smara the subject and Radha and Krishna are the nominal predicates. In both cases, the word sākṣāt is used to indicate complete identity. I have often pointed to the Brahma-saṁhitā verse where the phrase smaratām upetya is found. "Govinda becomes Kama when his sac-cid-ānanda pastimes in the spiritual world are reflected in the world of matter. In this form he easily conquers the fourteen worlds." Here basically the same thing is being said, especially since both material and spiritual worlds are mentioned. Don't forget that Krishna is the Navina-madana, whose worship is conducted with the kāma-bīja and kāma-gāyatrī. I am sorry, folks, I did not make this stuff up.

harir ayam atha līlayā sva-śaktyā
vidala-yugātma-kalāyavan na bhinnaḥ
abhavad iva pṛthak pumān vadhūś ca
svayam ubhayāṁśa-samāna-rūpa-yogāt
This Hari when combined together with his own energy in lila, it should be understood that there is no difference between them, just like the two halves (cotyledons) of a mung dahl grain. He himself became (abhavat) separate (pṛthak) like a man and his bride, through manifesting two parts, both forms being equal. (Caitanya-candrodaya 4.43)
That translation is a bit rough, but the idea of two in one is clearly expressed by the two parts of a mung dahl grain. The One became Two for the sake of lila as in the famous Bṛhad-āraṇyaka wording that seems to be the original basis for all of this thinking. The equality is not one of identity, but of equal parts of a single whole. The single whole, as indicated in the previous verse, is love; the two halves are Desire (Smara) and the Fulfilment of Desire (Rati).

I think that is clear enough. I have now put up many verses that state clearly that our iṣṭa is either (1) Krishna associated with Radha, or (2) Radha and Krishna together, which in my opinion comes to the same thing. They are inseparable. One without the other is meaningless. Neither represents the jiva. Both represent a different aspect of the One Truth as soon as it becomes differentiated in līlā.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur says, like Raghunath, that anyone who tries to worship Krishna alone, without Radha, is simply proud (abhimānī). The same applies to anyone who thinks they can worship Radha without Krishna. I include amongst such people those who try to prove the superiority of their own sampradaya by placing Radha above Krishna, even in sakhī-bhāva. Sakhī-snehādhikā does not mean that one worships Radha without Krishna. (This appears to be the mood in the Lalita-sampradaya, which is an offshoot of the Radha-vallabhis.)

Here is another great verses from RRSN (156) glorifying Radha's name.
anullikhyānantān api sad-aparādhān madhupatir
mahāpremāviṣṭas tava parama-deyaṁ vimṛśati
tavaikaṁ śrī-rādhe gṛṇata iha nāmāmṛta-rasaṁ
mahimnaḥ kaḥ sīmāṁ spṛśatu tava dāsyaika-manasām
Krishna discounts even an unlimited number of great offenses to the sadhus and being completely overwhelmed with love puzzles over what great gift he can bestow on the person who simply pronounces your immortal nectar-like name. O Sri Radhe, who then could ever reach the outer edges of the glory of those whose minds are entirely devoted to your service?
Rādhā-dāsya means sakhī-bhāva, not nāyikā-bhāva. There is no hidden secret meaning here. That is Prabodhananda's intent. If anyone tries to draw some symbolic meaning out of this that was not his intent, then he or she is welcome to it. We believe in the revelation that came to those who revealed sakhī-bhāva.

When Rupa and others claim that mañjarī-bhāva is higher than nāyikā-bhāva, then we should at least do them the honor of trying to understand what they really mean. They have been fairly clear about it. The glory of Radha does not lie in her being a woman as such, but in her being the āśraya of love. This is a quality that is generally ascribed to women, but it does not end there, because Krishna is also the āśraya of love for Radha. Sometimes they do indeed reverse roles, as Vishwanath Chakravarti elaborately describes in the Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta. But that is a part of the līlā and not meant to indicate anything more than the nature of love itself, wherein the pleasure of the āśraya is greater than that of the viṣaya. Nor does it change the fundamental or predominant roles of Radha and Krishna as āśraya and viṣaya.

As soon as you turn the āśraya into a viṣaya, you have missed the point. When we say that the jiva is a servant of the Divine Union, it means that she stays true to her eternal svarūpa of being an āśraya of love, but she does so by sharing in the very being of Srimati Radharani, the full manifestation of the Hladini Shakti, the embodiment of the highest love.

Men and women in this world, even those who are practicing sahaja-sādhanā, should think of themselves as participating in the being of Srimati Radharani, even though externally they may be engaged in playing the role of man or woman. The external role is simply a mise en scène. It is simply functioning as a trigger, like the deity form in the temple, to remembering, intuiting and actually feeling Radha and Krishna's līlā. Any pleasure they feel is recognized as prasāda and becomes a further spur to gratitude and love.

Anyone who masters this art will not only feel the love for his or her partner increase exponentially, but will also feel a sense of oneness with the līlā, a sense of joy and uplift at every aspect of Radha and Krishna's pastimes. They will see Radha and Krishna's pastime manifested in every nook and cranny of the material and spiritual universes. Thus the Gita's promise of the fulfilment of yoga will be kept. Yo māṁ paśyati sarvatra.

Moreover, they will win a victory over lust, just as promised in the Bhagavatam. Rather than waiting for a meaningless victory over lust by burning him like Shiva did. That is not a solution; trying to obliterate a problem is no solution. It is like the Americans in Vietnam, napalming villages only to see the Vietcong come out from the jungle in increasing numbers. The Hydra of lust simply grows ten new heads for every one you chop off.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


atha samañjasā— UN 14.48-51—

patnī-bhāvābhimānātmā guṇādi-śravaṇādijā
kvacid bhedita-sambhoga-tṛṣṇā sāndrā samañjasā

yathā tatraiva (10.52.38)—
kā tvā mukunda mahatī kula-śīla-rūpa-
vidyā-vayo-draviṇa-dhāmabhir ātma-tulyam
dhīrā patiṁ kulavatī na vṛṇīta kanyā
kāle nṛ-siṁha nara-loka-mano-’bhirāmam

Now “conventional affection” (samañjasā): The [more] intense love known as samañjasā is occasionally pierced by the desire to enjoy. The essence of this love is the sense of identity and mood of being a wife. It arises from hearing about Krishna’s qualities.

The example is given in Rukmini’s letter to Krishna: “O Mukunda! O lion amongst men! When the time comes, what unmarried maid of great qualities, of clear intelligence and of good breeding would not choose as a husband someone like yourself, who is equal to herself in family, character, physical beauty, knowledge, age, wealth, and influence, and who are a source of joy to the minds of all people in this world?” (10.52.49)

samañjasātaḥ sambhoga-spṛhāyā bhinnatā yadā
tadā tad-utthitair bhāvair vaśyatā duṣkarā hareḥ

tathā hi tatraiva (10.61.4)—
patnyas tu ṣoḍaśa-sahasram ananga-bāṇair
yasyendriyaṁ vimathituṁ karaṇair na śekuḥ

Whenever the desire for sexual union becomes separate from the conventional affection, then the various moods [bhāvas, which here means anubhāvas like kila-kiñcita,, etc.] that arise from it have little power to subjugate Krishna.

The example is given in the Bhāgavatam: Krishna’s sixteen thousand wives were unable to disturb his mind and senses through their actions, which were like the arrows of Cupid, their smiles, glances, their various enchanting movements and eyebrow movements, as well as all their verbal enticements. (10.61.4)
Observations: Sri Jiva states samañjasā rati has elements of concern for what is right by a worldly standard, or of what others think (loka-dharmāpekṣitā darśitā). This is the implication of the words patnī-bhāvābhimānātmā.

I have translated samañjasā by the word “conventional.” I wanted to follow Rupa and have three words that started with the same letters and for common and competent, there is no problem. However, for samañjasā, there is a bit of a limitation as it does not convey all the senses of the Sanskrit word, which might more correctly be rendered by something like "proper, appropriate." I previously used "compromising" but I think that it goes too far. Both are possibilities.

In the beginning of the discussion of the three ratis, i.e., 14.43-44, Jiva Goswami and Vishwanath present a slight difference of opinion. Both agree that the terms assigned to the three kinds of rati in question are “self-evident” in that the characteristics of each kind of loving attitude (rati) is revealed in the name itself. Furthermore, Vishwanath says they are mutually exclusive, i.e., samarthā-rati is neither common nor compromising. Sādhāraṇī rati is uncompromising, but it does not possess the characteristics of competence. Samañjasā rati is not common, but neither is it fully competent.

Jiva, however, says that since samañjasā (compromising) has a concern for the principles of religion and public opinion, it is not very competent (nātisamarthā). However, he goes on to say that we should not conclude that because this kind of love is called samañjasā (here meaning something like “proper” or “appropriate”) that there is no propriety in samarthā rati. Married love is based on an external concern for religion and public opinion, whereas samarthā rati is perfectly appropriate when viewed from a transcendental (pāramārthika) standpoint.

Vishwanath says that the first example verse (10.52.49) shows the more positive aspects of samañjasā, while the second example shows its shortcomings. Even so, some of the things that are considered positive about this married love, when looked at from the point of view of samarthā rati, are negatives. In samarthā rati, there was love as a response to pleasure. In samañjasā, there is love in response to calculations of potential pleasure. Love is not a spontaneous, all-conquering force. The very fact that loka and dharma are a consideration means that a mental calculation is being made, one that calculates in terms of one's personal losses and gains.

Vishnudas kind of nails it on the head when he says patnī-bhāvābhimānātmā means ātmany āropita-sambandha-viśeṣaḥ: "A specific kind of relationship is projected onto the self." This is a kind of contractual thing mentioned in the commentaries. Vishwanath, for instance, says that even though the gopis were "married" to Krishna according to the Gandharva "rite" (i.e., making love without any officially sanctioned sacrifice witnessed by Agni and the brahmins), they do not count as having samañjasā rati. I think what they are getting at here is the legalistic aspect of marriage as a way of tying oneself into a relationship where the rules are drawn up, expectations are clear, and responsibilities and protections are written in. In other words, it is jumping, but with a safety net. Nowadays we could say that takes the form of a prenuptial agreement.

I have said before that the idea of samañjasā must primarily be considered in the Indian context of arranged marriages. So immediately it takes a bit of a leap for most westerners to try to come to an understanding, though of course, it is still something of a living reality for Indians, even very modern ones.

In that respect, Rukmini is in a class by herself, even though we might say that she has internalized the mentality. Rather than stand by and let others make the calculations on her behalf she is making them herself. She rejects the choices offered her by her brother and father, bucking social convention and making a choice based on her own personal values and so on. But the basic compromise is one of reason and heart. She is pulled by the heart to Krishna, but at the same time, it has to be reasonable—she is assessing whether they are suitable for one another. This is how the other meaning of samañjasā is applicable.

The interesting question here, which is ultimately the theme of the three types of love, comes in the definition of love as either being distinct from or one with sexual desire. The inferior kind of love (sādhāraṇī) is said to be completely separable from desire (kāma), while in samañjasā rati, it is only sometimes distinct, in which case Krishna becomes aloof from his wives.

The valuing of pārakīyā love in Inda would not have been possible if all satisfactions were present in the system of arranged marriages. We could also put it this way: If marriage as an institution were meant to lead to the death of eros, then it could generally be considered successful.

Usually married love is regarded as inferior because it becomes boring, lacks the excitement of new loves, presents no danger or obstacles, etc. On the surface of it, none of these things is being considered in the definitions given here. Nevertheless, we must speculate that there is a connection. Generally speaking, the value of marriage is that a couple keeps its contractual obligation, recognizing that love is ephemeral in this world and that through all the ups and downs, there must be a commitment to a higher principle, namely dharma, the contractual obligation to support and serve one another in sickness and in health, in wealth or poverty, happiness or distress, or even with the abatement of passion. There is also often, in the material situation, a question of children and other extended obligations that arise from such a union.

By the same token, there is a fear of public opinion (loka), which tends to keep one captive in a situation that may have become unbearable. These are external constraints that serve as a protection for the institution of marriage, and in this world, they are justified to a great extent. One of the criticisms that arose about John McCain, for instance, in the recent elections, was that he divorced his first wife on returning from Vietnam, apparently because she had been crippled in a car accident. Since she no longer served his interests, having lost much of her sexual appeal, he abandoned her for another woman. This could be given as an example of the sādhāraṇī mentality.

The need for dharmāpekṣā and lokapekṣā to restrain baser impulses of this sort--the kind of thing we might call licentiousness or womanizing--certainly have a role to play in society, and religion has typically served this role. You could say that the cost to society of abandoning religious restraints of this type in order to allow the possibility of higher individual freedom and fulfillment means running the risk of people acting according to their lower propensities. This is the danger or risk, and the debate over whether the direction in which modern society has moved by loosening the social and religious hold over individual behavior in the matter of sexuality has had an overall positive or negative effect. I personally think that the movement in favor of freedom and choice are ultimately beneficial. We shall return to this matter in discussing samarthā rati.

Of course, when we talk about Krishna and his queens, we make the a priori assumption that Krishna is the ideal husband in every respect and that his queens are similarly perfect. How then can any blemish at all be applied to their relationship? How can it be said of them that personal sense desire pierces through the veneer of their pure love? The same basic problem that we saw in the Kubja example of sādhāraṇī rati applies here also.

Vishwanath points out that the two Bhāgavata quotations are related to the positive and negative aspects of samañjasā. The positive aspect is indicated in the definition when it is said that this rati arises from hearing the qualities, etc. You have to look to the preceding discussion in the chapter to understand why a natural love like that of Rukmini only needs a superficial impetus to be awakened. This is indicated in 10.52.37 as well ( śrutvā guṇān bhuvana-sundara).

The second example is to show how the sexual desire sometimes becomes separated from the love, and when it does it becomes incapable of conquering Krishna. Vishwanath and Vishnudas both point out that only the purest devotion has the characteristic of "controlling Krishna."


I thought quite a bit about this post before putting it up, because it felt unfinished. In fact, there is a problem, which we will have to deal with in the samarthā section especially, and that is in dealing with the distinction between the reality of love in this world and the transcendent ideal.

Married love is also an archetypal love relationship, as are the two others. What needs to be deciphered is how there can be a limitation in the archetype itself, since by definition, archetypes are ideal. In fact, the ideal nature of the archetypes is dependent on the individual psychology of the person who is in their thrall or "ruled" by them. Thus, a person for whom the sādhāraṇī archetype is dominant, love has elements of tamo-guṇa. For a person in whom the samañjasā archetype is dominant, the rajo-guṇa elements are present. What we will have to try to unravel is how the sādhāraṇī and samarthā archetypes are distinct.

In fact, for the Hindu religious thinkers, there is only sādhāraṇī and samañjasā (though they would not have used those terms): vulgar love or dharmic love. They fight, like those who live in the world of "honor killings," against any love that does not fit the strict limitations of the permitted religious definition.

Here, Rupa Goswami is fundamentally stating that there is a serious limitation to the dharmic conception of love and because of it, its power is limited.

Thought there may be many books that deal with the subject of Indian marriage, which Indians themselves tout as being a more successful model than the Western, but I was particularly influenced by Manisha Roy's Bengali Women, which I read as an undergraduate many years ago. This book was published in the 80's, I believe, and with all the changes in Indian society may no longer give a true picture of life as it is today. Nevertheless, in terms of understanding the nature of samañjasā rati, it was a great help.

I don't have a copy, so I can't quote, but I remember the rather depressing depiction of the average traditional marriage: how a young woman idealizes love, in no small part as a result of hearing tales of Radha and Krishna, and then is thrust into a situation where an entirely different reality confronts her. Whereas sexual desire, etc., no doubt help to cover a multitude of disappointments, and realism forces one to deal with the rest, Roy describes how for so many women, the only outlet for the deep psychological wound that comes from never finding true passionate love is the displacement into religion and devotion to a guru. On the other hand, for the man, it results in a glorification of the pārakīyā ideal and the seemingly universal patriarchal double standard.

Generally speaking, when people talk about "mature love," they are talking about the harmonization of the ideal with the real. Immaturity is a sign that one is still living in a world of impossible expectations; reality means making the best of a situation where human imperfections and disappointments are inevitable. But in this situation, Rupa Goswami seems to be saying that the balance of so-called maturity is too heavily tipped towards disappointment.

How true all this was then or now, I don't know. But it resonated as true with me then after ten years in India, and it resonates with me now.

Anyway, I am going to leave this discussion for the time being, admitting that there are still some holes in it, with the hope that further thoughts will mature and come up in the discussion on samarthā rati.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


It is important to recognize that Rupa Goswami's descriptions of Radha and Krishna's love have relevance for our understanding of human love.

For instance, let us examine Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi 14.45-58:

nātisāndrā hareḥ prāyaḥ sākṣād darśana-sambhavā
sambhogecchā-nidāneyaṁ ratiḥ sādhāraṇī matā

yathā śrī-daśame (10.48.9)—
sahoṣyatām iha preṣṭha dināni katicin mayā
ramasva notsahe tyaktuṁ sangaṁ te’mburuhekṣaṇa

Sādhāraṇī rati is defined as follows: Love for Krishna that is not particularly intense and nearly always arises after directly seeing him, and which has sexual desire at its basis, is called “common” affection.

For example, Kubja said to Krishna, “Come, my dear, and spend a few days with me. Make love to me, O lotus-eyed one, for I cannot abide the thought of leaving you.”

asāndratvād rater asyāḥ sambhogecchā vibhidyate
etasyā hrāsato hrāsas tad-dhetutvād rater api

Because the love is not particulary intense, it can be separated from the desire for sexual enjoyment. When the sexual desire diminishes, so does the love, since the former is the source of the latter.
Vishwanath: “The lack of intensity leads us to surmise that the love is pierced by sexual desire (sambhogecchā). “Nearly always” (prāyaḥ) means that on occasion it can arise from hearing, etc. “Having sexual desire at its basis” (sambhogecchā-nidānā) refers to the following thought process: “When Krishna’s beauty became visible to me, then I wished to have his company.”

In other words, it is a desire for sexual enjoyment based in the desire for one’s own pleasure. This is followed by the love, which has the nature of a resolve: “I would like to give something back to this person, who has brought me such tremendous pleasure through the eyes, by offering him appropriate service and my body.”

Observations: It is important to understand what is being said here about sādhāraṇī rati in order to better grasp samañjasā and samarthā ratis. The basic categories by which comparisons are will be made are being established. It has already been intimated that rati is one, and it simply has different manifestations.

Since, as bhaktas, we are accustomed to thinking that the opportunity to even see Krishna must be the result of a purity of desire that leaves no room for lust or sva-sukha-tātparya, it is a little difficult for us to understand sādhāraṇī rati. Indeed it becomes very difficult to understand all these three categories of madhura-rasa, the most powerful kind of bhakti, without some kind of reference to the nature of sexual love in this world. No impurity is possible in the spiritual relations with Krishna, and yet here we have the concept of sexual desire or lust becoming separate or distinct from prema. And in the case of Kubja, it is almost embarrassingly so. Rupa Goswami even holds out the possibility of the sexual desire diminishing and the love diminishing with it, since the one is the result of the other.

If we look at this from the material point of view, we could call this love tamasic, in the sense that the animal desires are the strongest element in it. It lacks the purity that we come to expect from the highest and most ideal kind of love.

On the other hand, it is instructive both on the level of human love and bhakti. Vishwanath says that this kind of love is a response to pleasure, which is applicable to bhakti as well as human love. "By engaging in the process of bhakti, I have experienced such delights that I must respond by rendering service to the source of that pleasure." Normally, we do not disavow this notion, but accept it as valid. Indeed it is a necessary step in the process of self-purification. Nevertheless, if bhakti is dependent on reciprocation, i.e., if it waxes and wanes as a result of the perceived delights that God provides, then it is on a lower level.

By the same token, from the point of view of erotic or romantic love, the prominent element is again the pleasure. Since the frame of reference is sensual pleasure, the love is based on a perception that the object (viṣaya) is bringing me the kind of sensual satisfactions that I seek. This is why it can increase or decrease according to the degree of gratification that comes from the other person. This is primarily self-oriented and therefore inferior.

The idea of "separating" (vibhidyate) or "piercing" (viddha) is particularly important in terms of the two other ratis, since the degree of distinction that can be perceived between lust and love is the measuring stick of the power of this love. In other words, samarthā rati, the most powerful kind of love, is that in which no distinction between love and lust can be found.

This, as you will see, is particularly important, as one of my contentions is that lust and love spring from the same source. ṣimply stated, when one is in a state of oneness with the object of love, such as described in the mahā-bhāva state, then there is no distinction between love and lust, since the desire to please oneself and the desire to please the object of love perfectly coincide. The evolution of love in Rupa Goswami's conception in the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi can be understood through this optic.

प्रेयांस्तेऽहं त्वमपि च मम प्रेयसीति प्रवाद-
स्त्वं मे प्राणा अहमपि तवास्मीति हन्त प्रलापः।
त्वं मे ते स्यामहमिति यत्तच्च नो साधु राधे
व्याहारे नो न हि समुचितो युष्मदस्मत्प्रयोगः॥
The popular understanding that "I am your lover and you my beloved," the loving prattle, "You are my life and I yours"; and, indeed, the words, "You belong to me and I to you," -- all three statements are improper [grammatically incorrect!] . In fact, O Radhe, it is incorrect for us to ever employ the words 'you' or 'I'." (Alaṅkara-kaustubha 5.11)
To anticipate here an objection: This is clearly possible in the case of the Supreme Truth, i.e., Radha and Krishna, or even a pure jiva in the sambhogecchā-mayi mood, but how can it apply to love in this world? So I will just say the following: I agree that it cannot, in full. However, as I do continue to repeat, from time to time, in a shadowy or distorted but nevertheless extremely significant way, it can.

In fact, the whole point is this: if love could be "perfect" in this world, then there would be no need to postulate or yearn for another one. At the same time, God makes it possible to imagine His world through the manifestations of small perfections in this one. Just contemplate Gita chapter 10 in this context for a moment:

यद्यद्विभूतिमत् सत्त्वं श्रीमदूर्जितमेव वा।
तत् तदेवावगच्छ त्वं मम तेजोंऽशसंभवम् ॥४१॥
अथवा बहुनैतेन किं ज्ञातेन तवार्जुन ।
विष्टभ्याहमिदं कृत्स्नमेकांशेन स्थितो जगत् ॥४२॥
Whatever great opulence that you see,
whatever glories or mighty wonders,
Know that they have all arisen in truth
from but a spark of My divine splendor.

On the other hand, what need is there
to know all these things in detail?
I pervade this entire creation, Arjuna,
By just a single portion of Myself.
And what is more powerful and captures the imagination and quickens the fancy more than love?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The purpose of human sexuality is priti

What we are really asking is the question of what is pleasure itself. What is happiness? The prayojana according to the shastras is sukham, happiness. This is the argument at the beginning of Prīti-sandarbha and that argument leads to the conclusion that it is prīti or prema for the Supreme Truth. The opposite of this, as different as day to night, is the desire for one's own self-centered sense pleasure.

So, the shastra accepts that happiness is the goal, but simply asserts that we are going about finding it in the wrong way: na te viduḥ svārtha-gatiṁ hi viṣṇum. We are looking for our own happiness, but we don't actually know who we are.

Activities in knowledge of our true self are pleasurable; those which are not, are not.

Let me make this very clear: I am not proposing an irresponsible lust and free sex program. That just does not make any sense. When the Bhāgavata and Gītā, etc., warn about lust, they are making a valid point that needs to be made. It is principally a social dharma argument that warns about the disruption to society. And, of course, one who disrupts society often finds himself in deep spiritual trouble. But we all know that we have to aim for the ultimate goal of life which is prema. By prema I don't mean something different from love of God. I mean love and service to Radha and Krishna. Nevertheless, I think that we need to look at this clearheadedly instead of simply namecalling. What I am suggesting is hardly "lewd."

A number of verses can be quoted to effect is that the only purpose of sex is procreation. For instance,

dharmārthaṁ jīvitaṁ yeṣāṁ
santānārthaṁ ca maithunam
pacanaṁ vipra-mukhyārthaṁ
jneyās te vaiṣṇavā narāḥ

Those for whom the purpose of life is religion (dharma), for whom the purpose of sexual intercourse is children, and for whom the purpose of cooking is to feed the brahmanas, go by the name of Vaishnava. (Skanda-purāṇa, quoted in Bhakti-sandarbha 202)
Now I am appreciative of Jiva Goswami, but surely we should not think that this is all that Vaishnavas or Vaishnavism is about, nor is that what he intended. Clearly if this were the limit of Vaishnavism, then thank you very much: it bears absolutely no relation to what Vaishnavas consider to be the ultimate purpose of life. One who quotes this verse to prove that this is part of the Vaishnava svarūpa-dharma is really losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Let us cut through the superficialities here: Raghunathdas nicely says that our concern is not for dharma or adharma, but service to Radha and Krishna. So can we please try to understand the question of sexuality in that context without this knee-jerk response that it has to be either procreation or lust?

Can we not apply, as I have not ceased to say since the very beginning of my attempts to explain this idea, the same criteria to sexuality that we do to all manner of activities, namely dividing aspects of it according to where they are situated in the modes of nature? We can have eating in the three modes, as well as in the nirguṇa mode, so why not sex? Can anybody actually explain to me why this analysis has not been made? Where have I ever made the claim that sex is the same thing as love?

At the same time, is there really no relationship between sex and love? If that were the case, then how is that madhura-rasa is considered to be the topmost manifestation of love in the spiritual world? And if the material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world, then does it not stand to reason that there should be manifestations that are closer or further from the standard of perfection?

This whole discussion clearly goes very deeply into human psychology, and those who simply deny sexuality, or who want to eradicate sexuality from the culture of spiritual life are suffering from a kind of excessive renunciation that to me is a symptom of the very disease that causes our conditioning. It is not sex that causes our conditioning, but a failure to recognize the nature of sexuality, i.e., the very basis of sexuality and its relationship to our core being.

"Is not a thing therapeutically treated cure the very disease it caused?" This is the Bhāgavata speaking. There is sexuality in the mode of ignorance. That is not love. There is sex in the mode of passion, that is also not love. There is sex in the mode of goodness; that is getting a bit closer. But whatever mode of nature sex is engaged in, it is closely associated to the need for love. That is why it is such a troubling entity.

According to the Gītā, you can kill without incurring sinful results, so why can you not love and have sex without incurring sin? Is sex worse than killing?

The essence of the thought here is that a Vaishnava would not do something that is not pleasing to Vishnu, and since sexual intercourse for mere enjoyment isn't something that can be offered, a Vaishnava would not unnecessarily engage in it.

But why should sexual intercourse not be pleasing to Vishnu? If two people love each other, why should their act of love not be offered to the Lord, as per Gītā 9.29? Indeed, the more I think about it, the more the whole objection becomes laughable. Krishna says in the Bhāgavatam (11.11.41) to offer to Him whatever is most dear to one, but somehow this one thing, that is for most people the dearmost iṣṭatama thing of all, is so absolutely abhorrent that it can only be done in the most circumscribed of conditions, namely at the optimum time for procreation.

This is something that I have been discussing for some time. But it is good to revisit points from time to time. The best analogy is with eating. If you think eating is simply for maintaining the material body, then you are only recognizing a relatively minor aspect of the act itself.

With regards to dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo’smi verse, I wrote about this verse at length before. Kāmo'smi bharatarṣabha. The sum and substance of the point I made there is that there is indeed so much more that could have been said, in view of the wide variety of meanings given for both the word kāma and the word dharma.
If sex were not for procreation, then why do women get pregnant of it each time? And why does one apply artificial tricks to avoid that, items of contraception that do not grow on the trees?
As to ahaṅgrahopāsanā, I discussed this earlier on this blog. There are several articles, here is one. Obviously I will have to revisit all that and try to simplify it for those who are so thoroughly indoctrinated that they simply cannot see, though I truly do despair of any possibility that there is any real hope of it. After all, they don't want to. In fact, however, I do not yet have the impression that anyone has quite caught on.

Aropa is the process by which love is offered to Radha and Krishna; ahaṅgrahopāsanā has about as much to do with it as it does with deity worship.

Radhe Radhe!

Is Radha and Krishna's love analogous to human love?

I have said that the experience of human love is the only way to really understand Radha and Krishna. It is possible, of course, to argue against this by saying two things:

(1) Radha and Krishna's love is so different from human experience that there is no way to compare the two.

(2) Since the knowledge of this love is eternal and self-luminous, we do not need to seek any external worldly experience of any kind in order to understand it. It is revealed from within without any reference to what happens outside.

We have dealt with these arguments before, but the simple answers are:

(1) Since historically the accounts of Radha and Krishna's love can be said to grow out of the secular Indian love literature, and since those accounts mostly use categories developed in Sanskrit poetics, it is ludicrous to say that they cannot be compared.

(2) The entire thrust of the bhakti concept is based on the idea that we use the God-given senses to please the sense of the Divine. In other words, the senses are the vehicle used in the bhakti-yoga (indeed every yoga) path as the way to enter and experience the inner realm.

(1) Historically, the first manifestations of theological analysis of Radha and Krishna's loves are fairly late. Since the discussions in the Nāṭya-śāstra predate them considerably and the former are based on the latter, it is clear that the bhakti-rasa theory follows the kāvya-rasa theory. So here is a case of the understanding of "transcendental love" growing out of the idealized, literary concept of love.

What is more, the various references to Bharata and Vatsyayana in the Radha-Krishna lila descriptions further confirm this. Even the Bhāgavatam uses the expression kāvya-rasa-kathāśrayāḥ to describe the Rasa-lila. This again shows that the Kāma-śāstra was at least a partial of inspiration for understanding madhura-bhakti-rasa.

The Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu also uses human love as an analogy for bhakti.

yuvatīnāṁ yathā yūnor yūnām ca yuvatau yathā
mano'bhiramate yadvat mano'bhiramatāṁ tvayi

It may be said here, as the commentators do, that this is only about the non-physical or non-sexual dimensions of attraction, but that is disingenuous. The attraction is anchored in sexuality and to separate them would be erroneous.

(2) To think that there is no need of this material world, i.e., the reflection, to understand the transcendental, archetypal world is a futile attempt to further the above argument. Even if we grant that there may be some highly evolved souls whose intuitive understanding leads them to a genuine experience of bhāva without any experience of mundane love, either in practical fact or in literature, such persons are the exception rather than the rule. Most people are obliged by circumstance to engage in sādhanā bhakti.

There is no reason to think that the analogy of material love, the so-called "allegory of love," diminishes Radha and Krishna's transcendental loves. The two kinds of love are mirror facing each other: the experience of human love as something transcendent points to ultimate reality on the one hand, and the existence of a sacred myth which states unequivocally that erotic love attains the highest dimensions of mystical experience legitimizes human romantic love.

Therefore, the concept of madhura-rasa as the highest dimension of the spiritual world has multiple consequences. Most significantly for us sādhakas is that it liberates us from the false renunciation and ambivalent attitudes that surround sexuality in this world. The attitude that there is no relation between Radha and Krishna's love and the love between men and women in this world (as if we said there is no relation between Nanda and Yashoda's love for Krishna and parenthood in this world) is not only false, but it deprives us of a way of entering this divine world that has been revealed to us. Furthermore, it deprives us of the use of the most powerful psychological and physiological force to which we are thrall and using it for spiritual uplift. This is why Paurnamasi's statement in Vidagdha-mādhava is so full of potent meaning for us all:

harir eṣa na ced avātariṣyat
mathurāyāṁ madirākṣī rādhikā ca
abhaviṣyad iyaṁ vṛthā visṛṣṭir
makarāṅkasya viśeṣatas tad atra
If Krishna had not appeared in Mathura along with Radha of intoxicated eyes, then this whole creation, and especially the existence of Eros, would have been an exercise in futility.
I guess I am repeating myself. Oh well...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Still in Delhi

Finally got my visa extension yesterday after three days of pretty much running around, or sometimes hurrying up and waiting. From what I hear, many people in the ashram, including Swami Veda, were also working pretty hard to get things done--emailing this, that and the other to present a case to the Home Ministry. Of course, the real danger is that in another year we will have to go through this rigamarole again.

Wandering through Pahar Ganj I felt almost at home, especially as I watched from the rooftop restaurant in the Krishna Hotel, where I had been indulging in a plate of momos, a kind of Tibetan dim sum and the vegetable soup I ate with Madhavananda the night I came. Seeing the lights spreading in every direction with almost nothing but pedestrians, the atmosphere is decidedly festive and familial. If it weren't for my nose feeling like a cocaine addict's leftovers from the bad air, I thought, this place could actually grow on me.

Pahar Ganj is crowded with tourists from all over the world. Each place attracts its own tourists, and those who come to India have, I would not doubt, a higher percentage of dreadlocks than the world average, though there are a lot of plain longhairs, and the British guys seem to prefer the shaved-head look. There are a lot of aging hippies from all parts of the world. Last night I was emailing next to a Russian of about 60 with what looked like a shaggy white clown wig.

The modes of ignorance and passion are strong here, so it fills me with this sense of respect that I sometimes get for simple survival. Even I saw a young guy, about twenty, with a dirty red t-shirt, crappy jeans and flip-flops, and I thought, Gee, he has slicked his hair--he is making a heroic effort to fight off total entropy, which sometimes seems so inevitable in this part of the world.

I moved from my hotel to the Chaitanya Gaudiya Math a couple of days ago. Why stay in some mundane place when you can have the association of devotees? If they kick me out, that will be my karma phala, but so far that hasn't happened. Even though I have already committed a couple of aparadhas. The first day we went to the cremation grounds since a major grihastha bhakta from the neighborhood who had helped build the math had left his body. About 350 people were in the procession to the Crematorium on Rani Jhansi Marg. But I wandered back slowly, stopping to check out a wrestling ground and an Udasina Ashram. My stuff was in the office and I had the key, so I arrived with a grumbling crowd of devotees hanging around the Math office.

Fate's payback was that with all the running around I did yesterday, I lost the key to my room somewhere. Tirtha Maharaj is here and was speaking, so it was impossible to do anything about it really, so I just listened to his lecture on the Bhagavata and the Vaishnavas whose tithi it was yesterday. I could not really bathe properly until this morning.

Lots of kirtan here. Lots of little kids from the neighborhood making a ruckus in arati in the hope of getting sweet prasad from Tirtha Maharaj when he gives darshan afterward. Lots of Hindi-speaking grihastha devotees from the local area wearing GM tilak. I bow down to the Gaudiya Math and their service in spreading Mahaprabhu's name around the world.

So I head back to Rishikesh tomorrow, and normal service will resume then.

Same old, same old

I have to thank Advaita for taking the time to respond to my October 31 posting. The fact of the matter is that it does not seem as though Advaita has read any of my arguments or that he has understood anything if he has. And so he is rehashing the same old points, which in many cases look rather like straw men, without even trying to deal with any of them.

Contradictions abound in Advaita's post, showing that like so many others who are incapable of calmly and rationally looking at an issue, they simply fire whatever lies on the surface of their brains. In the very same post he says that it is a "logical" proof that sex is for procreation because women always get pregnant from sex, then later he argues that spilling semen is not murder because they don't.

But nothing is more indicative of his bad faith than his so-called final comment:

If illicit sex would lead to enlightenment, the whole world would have been enlightened from day 1.

If he could show me where I have said this, I would much appreciate it. But Advaita does not deal with my arguments anywhere. He simply assumes that by repeating over and over again that since the acharyas have only said that dharmic sex is meant for procreation, all else is lust.

It is unfortunate that Advaita seems incapable of using his considerable reasoning powers and simply parrots a few statements from scripture that really have little relevance to the issue at hand. I suggest that if he wants to really "defeat" me and show the world what a lewd and pathetic creature I am, he start by returning to the early posts on this blog and deal with the arguments presented there in a serious, honest and rational manner.

At any rate, I don’t want to blame Advaita. It seems that we just fit into different human categories and there is no gain in blaming the one for being entirely incapable of grasping the other's point of view. The long and short of it is that he does not believe in human love, whereas I believe that, "therapeutically treated," it is the only route we have for understanding Radha and Krishna. For, according to the Bhagavatam, does not the very thing that causes the disease, when therapeutically treated, cure it?

However, it is true that Advaita makes it necessary for me to keep on refining my own point of view, as I really do not wish to become either what he caricatures me as being, or a poster boy for those who hold such caricatured views. So, I will just try to present my ideas again and those who understand them will hopefully be benefited and will learn to overcome the enemy known as lust.

I have also recently been told that my posts are too long, and this is also one reason that I am not putting as much material as regularly as I could. So let’s stop here and resume later.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In Delhi

Got into Delhi last night at 10.30, after a pleasant trip with a group of young Americans who are planning a cycling trip across India visiting organic farms. I will put up his blog address when I have it with me.

Met Madhavananda with Uma at Pahar Ganj and ate with them. With his beard and soiled chaddar, he looks pretty much the same as I knew him, except for his naked neck. He fits into the Pahar Ganj scene rather seamlessly. Uma, too, with her long blond dreadlocks and Finnish charm.

They were off to Denmark on a flight at 6 in the morning. Madhava will spend the next couple of years until... well whatever happens. At least, he says, until he is able to renew his Finnish passport without fear of being sent to prison for draft evasion. He is full of stories of his encounters with nefarious chiselers and hustlers, from the gurus to the disciples. His love for Bengalis is wavering. Where is he at? We will wait until he is somewhere...

As for me, a day spent in the hope of a visa extension has ended in frustration. I will try to buttress my request with more papers tomorrow. In the meantime, I will take early rest tomorrow and try to find a holy piece of dirt in this city and as I await the plans of the Lord.

Jai Sri Radhe!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Advaita's reversal

Advaita recently posted the following on his blog.
Pāyūpasthayoś ca tatra sākṣād ayogyatvāt,which says one cannot use the genitals and the anus in Krishna's service, out of context. tatra means 'here', 'in this context', the context being Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 11.627-9, describing several ways in which the active- and knowledge-senses engage directly in Krishna's service, like the head in bowing down, the nose in smelling offered incense and Tulasi, etc., sākṣād means ' directly'. Sanatan Goswami states in the quoted tika that in this context the anus and genitals can not be directly engaged. My friend Brajabhushan personally wrote me last August: 
"Now, regarding your quote from HBV: my understanding is that the ṭīkā-kāra says that 'when describing sādhanā bhakti, various activities related to our senses were mentioned, but those related to anus and genitals were not included as they are not directly (sākṣād) suitable for the service.' That's clear, you will not offer to Krishna such direct 'service' as passing stool in front of Him, nobody would like it, not even a person dearest to you (like your mother, let's say) would like it. Nevertheless, she would like it if you emptied your bowels regularly (in the toilet, of course) as only this way you could maintain your health. I believe Krishna reasons in the same way."

Nice arguments can also be found in my blogs of August 22 and October 1. My friend Boris quoted this verse from Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (8.410), which also mention the genitals (śiṣṇā) as instrument of devotional service:

itaḥ pūrvaṁ prāṇa-buddhi-dharmādhikārato jāgrat-svapna-suṣupty-avasthāsu manasā vācā karmaṇā hastābhyāṁ padbhyām udareṇa śiśnā yat smṛtaṁ yad uktaṁ yat kṛtaṁ tat sarvaṁ śrī-kṛṣṇārpaṇaṁ bhāvatu svāhā māṁ madīyaṁ ca sakalaṁ haraye samarpayāmīti oṁ tat sat (410)
The problem of svarūpa-siddha and aropa-siddha bhakti remains. This latter quote is an example of aropa-siddha, i.e., when one offers one's activities after the fact. Procreation is simply not svarūpa-siddha by any stretch of the imagination. Such offering is necessary as a kind of fail-safe measure for a sādhaka, no matter what he or she does. But it does not engage the question of how the sex organs are to be used in direct devotional service.

Shiva made many good points on this blog here. The critical area is on the level of sādhanā bhakti. Do the sex organs have any function for direct devotional service there?

To say that procreation fulfills that function does not, I am afraid, hit the mark, nor does the quotation of dharmāviruddha-bhūteṣu kāmo'smi when used to support that contention. If one is holding one's nose and thinking of England while producing a child for Krishna, that is hardly svarūpa-siddha bhakti in madhura-rasa.

Anyone who thinks that the only function of sexuality is procreation has not thought the matter through. Is procreation involved in Radha-Krishna's madhura rasa? Since it is not, it means that sexuality has another function, that of LOVE.

If we don't face up to the fact that sexuality (if you don't like the word, use love; it helps) is at the very core of our personality, we will never understand madhura-rasa, nor why it is considered the highest and most complete of the kinds of divine relationship.

We also have to think of our acharyas' admonishments about the difference between sambhogecchātmikā and tad-bhavecchātmikā kāmānugā bhaktis. But that is a little more complex, so let us just say this: Bhakti is carried out on two levels--physical and mental, external and internal. Of the two, Jiva says that the internal is the sādhya, the external is the sādhanā.

Mental is perhaps the wrong word here, because rāgānugā bhakti, carried out in the mind, is also external. Mind here is external to self, and the practices of lila smarana are also meant to achieve the sādhyas of bhāva and prema. The fact that one can perform līlā-smaraa and not get prema is proof enough. Bhāva and prema are beyond the mind.

Stimulus --> memory --> emotion.

If the emotion is related to Krishna, it is bhakti. If that emotion is of the madhura quality, it is madhura bhakti. Since the general rule is that specific stimuli lead to specific memories and then to specific emotions, activities that engage madhura-rasa related senses (erogenous zones), in the mind trained by rāgānugā bhakti, lead to Krishna smaraṇa and then to bhāva.

I would add, of course, that one needs to train the body and mind with yoga as well. The reason for this is precisely because the energies that are awakened when the erogenous zones are stimulated need to be channeled properly, not haphazardly. Though there is no doubt in my mind that undisciplined sexual activity can have some benefit for smaraṇa, such benefit is really very miniscule when compared to sexuality that is controlled by yoga, and performed with a sexual partner who is also a bhakti-yoga practitioner, sādhaka or sādhikā.

Without the mental culture of rāgānugā bhakti, through which powerful symbolic associations are created, linking physical experience to the spiritual, sahaja sādhanā is impossible. Without the physical/psychic culture of yoga, the intensity of that experience is diminished tremendously.

Indeed, the path to bhāva is so strong and direct through devotional engagement of the genitals that it dwarfs all other sādhanās. Nothing concentrates the mind like sex. And nothing in the spiritual world is more intense than the love of Radha and Krishna. That is indeed the very basis for all creation. Avoiding this fact is like looking in a mirror and not seeing your nose. Unless you learn to engage the erogenous faculties in bhakti, your chances of entering madhura-rasa lila are diminished.

harir eṣa na ced avātariṣyat
mathurāyāṁ madirākṣī rādhikā ca
abhaviṣyad iyaṁ vṛthā visṛṣṭir
makarankasya viśeṣatas tad atra

If Krishna had not appeared in Mathura along with Radha, of intoxicated eyes, then this whole creation would have been an exercise in futility, and especially that of Cupid.

If there is no way to dovetail the activities of Desire, who is a form of Krishna, then this entire universe becomes meaningless. For the materialist, desire in itself is the goal, but the devotee has to learn how to take the energy of desire, the raw material of desire, and use it as the fuel for sādhanā.

I would add, of course, that the actual engagement of the genitals may be considered secondary. If one learns to use the energies produced in the nether regions and channel them properly, it may not be necessary. But, to be honest, that is the hard way. The association of a bhakta man with a bhakta woman, who love each other, is the highest and most powerful kind of bhakta sanga. How we have come to this situation where women are association with spiritual doom, even when they are rasika devotees, is quite beyond me.

People are missing the point. We are bhaktas, not jnanis. We are madhura-rasa bhaktas, not shanta-dasya-sakhya-vatsalya rasa bhaktas. This is about turbo charging your sādhanā.