Showing posts from January, 2008

Radha Kund 1945

Someone sent me this picture. After reading Madhavanandaji's latest blogs, it sure looks peaceful... like the way we idealized it. What is being lost? And can it be brought back? That which brought us to Radha Kund is that which is destroying it. Somewhat ironic.

Indian Republic Day

Moved to Jagat Jindagi

More thoughts on mantras, symbols and psyche

In the Padma Purāṇa there is a verse, which is unremarkable but nevertheless states basically something that I am trying to get at here.

aviditvā tu mantrārthaṁ siddhiṁ naivādhigacchati
na tu bhuktiṁ ca bhaktiṁ ca na ca muktiṁ varānane

Without knowing the meaning of the mantra, you cannot attain success. O Varanane, you cannot attain sense gratification, nor devotion, nor liberation. (6.226.93)
So what we are doing here is inquiring into the meaning of the mantra. If encountering the symbol directly is the same as direct perception (sākṣātkāra) of the Deity, then mining the symbol for its meaning is a part of that process of encounter: śravaṇam, mananam, nididhyāsanam, then darśanam. Hear, reflect, meditate deeply and you will see.

Saying the mantra as a prayer to God is not sufficiently meaningful. Yesterday someone came up to me after my Gita class and asked if Jehovah was the same as Krishna. I said no and he practically burst. I did not find myself particularly capable of express…

Madhusudana Saraswati: Advaita-vada and Bhakti

From the point of view of the Indian jnani tradition, Madhusudana Saraswati has some interesting things to say on the complementarity of the different spiritual paths in his introduction to Gūḍhārtha-dīpikā, a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.

Madhusudana is an interesting figure. The story goes that he was born in Bengal in 1490 AD (I suspect a bit later) in Faridpur, now in Bangla Desh. He went to meet Chaitanya in Nabadwip, but Mahaprabhu had already left Nabadwip by the time he got there. Madhusudana stayed in Nabadwip for a while, studying Nyāya, the speciality of the place, but remaining deeply devoted to Krishna. From there he went to Benares to further his studies. He became convinced of the Advaita philosophy, but remained a devotee at the same time. This devotional strand shows in his interpretations of the Gita, his commentary on the Bhagavatam, and other works like Bhakti-rasāyana.

As Atmaramananda Swami says in his introduction to the Adwaita Ashram edition of Gūḍhārtha-…

Ontological argument, symbolism, etc., Part III

What I have been trying to get at in the previous two posts (Part I and Part II) is that the way we look at the relation of the symbol to God can be compared to the way that any phenomenon is looked at in relation to God.

In other words, where cause and effect relationships are debated, they are usually reduced to a kind of chicken-egg argument that can ultimately only be decided in favor of God.

Though this analysis of cause and effect will always be challenged (and often with good cause) by doubters, what we are trying to get at is the essence of the symbol, which will reveal something about the Godhead itself. This understanding of the essence of the symbol, intuited by believers, must nevertheless be purified by the Upanishadic process of śravaṇam, mananam and nididhyāsanam. That is the path to darśanam, direct seeing and understanding, sākṣātkāra.

If one asks, does the symbol not show, as the psychologists argue, something about material phenomena, especially the individual or c…

Why I pray for Krishna to descend as Bhangi Bihari

My idea behind Krishna as “Bhangi Bihari” was only partly joking. In fact I am quite serious. Even though I realize that the use of the term may be considered offensive, insulting or politically incorrect, I used it because of its similarity to Banke Bihari. No other names for the sanitation workers, who now prefer to be called Valmikas, are as alliterative, so though I am changing most of the uses of the word "bhangi" in the article to either of the above, I am leaving the title as is with apologies to anyone who might be offended. I will not do it again.

There is a widespread cultural problem involved and to counter that, values have to be instilled by whatever means possible. My proposals here can be judged in relationship to the kind of myth and symbol-making procedures that I have been discussing in my last couple of posts, a theme that I intend to pursue further.

Let us put it this way: There are several values related to environmental and social issues that have not …

Symbolism and the Ontological Argument, Part II

Literalist concepts of God were made to be mocked; they are for children. And even understood symbolically, many concepts of God are fraught with problems. In the present day world, crude literalist forms of Islam and fundamentalist Christianity are leading the charge to cause doubts in the minds of reasonable people about all forms of the religious life. And for good reason.

The purpose of the "God idea" or "God symbol" is to elevate humanity both as individuals and as social beings. If it appears to do the opposite, then what can this mean? Some defenders of religion say that it has done more good than bad, but since there is no way to measure such things it is quite easy to point out that plenty of pretty horrible evils have been wrought in the name of God and religion. Even if such a jaundiced view were to be true, on its own, it hardly functions as a decisive proof that religion does not have a positive function or that God does not exist.

Thinking of God Hi…

Symbolism and the Ontological Argument, Part I

The ontological proof for the existence of God takes many forms. For some philosophers it is strong, for others it is almost laughably weak. “Because the idea exists, the reality must exist” certainly does not seem tenable; it can be reduced to the form, “God exists because I wish Him to exist.” If we imagine the moon is made of green cheese or that pigs have wings, does that make it so? Just because I can imagine something does not make it real.

Of course, there is something more persuasive about the argument. For instance, if we hold that the search for God and meaning is inherent or instinctual, then the implication that this search must end somewhere seems more tenable. We feel hunger, for instance, and this implies food. We feel sexual desire and this implies some kind of necessary purpose, namely procreation. So since many of us need to find meaning in life, the implication is that there is a meaning. Many atheists insist that they feel absolutely no need for God, but it is har…

A couple of photos

This gives a fairly good idea of what the ashram's main portion looks like. Of course this is only a small part of the whole complex. Swami Veda's quarters, offices, library are upstairs to the left. The meditation hall is in the lower part of the same edifice, to the right. My office, which is in the manuscript room, is in the lower part of the building to the left. The structure on the right of this picture is the yajna shala. You can see the hills in the background.

This is the view outside my office, looking out over the cottages, where paying guests stay. The large buildings in the back are a dental college.

This picture is of me in my office, standing in front of the cabinets which house the manuscripts. I have a better picture of my office but I will have to add it later.

Sorry about the layout.


I received several warnings from devotee friends about coming here to Rishikesh, to stay in a "Mayavadi" ashram. We are generally very protective of our faith, down to its most arcane details, and the idea that it could be challenged is fearful. Over the years, I suppose my faith has suffered as many challenges as anyone's faith ever could have, and this may have inoculated me to the fear of Mayavada. Whether that is good or not remains to be seen.

Certainly I am using the opportunity given me here to look into yoga philosophy a little more seriously than I have in the past, but not with a view to "defeat" it. As a matter of fact, the "defeating" mode is not highly approved in the Gita.

The other night, I had supper with Swami Veda along with a number of his close disciples. The topics discussed were many. One thing that he said, perhaps in relation to the loss of innocence, was that it took him a long time to realize that not everyone was engaged in…

Sanskrit lessons

When I started the Sanskrit course, I decided to follow a personal inspiration in designing it. It is a bit more work to do it this way, but I wanted to carry out an idea that I had when I started writing the "learning Sanskrit through the Bhagavad-Gita" course, which never made it past the first chapter. The plan there was to go through the Gita verse by verse and just learn whatever grammar and vocabulary came up, as it came up.

Although I hope to go to the Gita as soon as I can, I have started by explaining the verses that are chanted here on a regular basis. I explain them word by word and teach whatever grammar, sandhi, etc., is needed to understand the verse. I figure that if you start with something that is already familiar and meaningful, make it more comprehensible to the student, that makes them feel comfortable and confident with regards to the subject matter.

I don’t know to what extent that is actually happening, but my students are certainly smiling a lot, so a…

Sunday excursion

This morning we had a lengthened meditation session, 3 1/2 hours at one shot, with Swami Veda there for about half the time. Swami Veda said it was a penance for the Gurukula students for not learning their hatha yoga lessons well enough, or something like that. It was voluntary for the rest of us. I was fairly concentrated for about 2 1/2 hours, then I switched over to Harinam, which does not require quite the same kind of concentration. You can just scream out the Names in your mind and forget the rest.

I may have mentioned that there is one young man here, Suresh, who was formerly with Iskcon in Bombay. We talked a bit about the way japa is done in Iskcon and whether it was effective. My personal feeling is that no doubt the Holy Name has a beneficial effect, but Jiva Goswami says that the diksha mantras are there because we need to correct bad samskaras. To me, that means that the mantras are about a special kind of concentration that the facility of Harinam does not need, at leas…