Friday, February 29, 2008

Raganuga Bhakti and Sahaja Sadhana, Part I

In general, I have until now primarily written for an audience of people who have some experience of bhakti, i.e., either have or have had faith in the path of devotion to Krishna. This is why I am periodically asked to defend my ideas with quotations from shastra.

Now, the fact of the matter is that, amongst those who have some experience of the bhakti path, there are very few who have progressed beyond the stage of vidhi-bhakti. Even those who have gone to Narayan Maharaj or some other rasika guru, only a few have taken initiation in the rāgānugā process by receiving ekādaśa-bhāva from him. Even less in number are those who have actually taken up a serious study of the līlā-granthas and practiced aṣṭa-kāla līlā smaraṇa, even briefly, what to speak of with intensity and niṣṭhā.

Of those foreign students who have either done or not done these things, there are probably even a smaller number who have learned Bengali and attended Nama kirtana yajnas or listened to lila kirtan and thus gotten a deep saṁskāra in Radha-Krishna lila pastimes. In fact, it is far more likely, if anyone has come through the Gaudiya Math or ISKCON, that they have been starkly warned of the dangers of listening to or hearing the madhura-līlā pastimes of Radha and Krishna. And so, when they do it, they do it with a slight sense of naughtiness and even downright rebelliousness.

Those who don’t, however, are often puzzled about how they should respond to them. For most, I believe, they are stories about which they do not think too deeply. If they did, it is not unlikely that their reaction would be similar to our sardonic anonymous poster.

It is quite true that the first élan of faith, which pushes us along in innocence down paths that a cynic would never travel, is a powerful gift that comes from the subconscious. It leads us to places where, when we suddenly find ourselves in them, make us wonder whether we have not just awakened from some kind of amnesia, folly or drunken escapade. Nevertheless, when the memories slowly come back to us, we remember parts of the journey to this no-man’s land with fondness, and we start to consider the rest of our adventure: Do we push on, or do we undertake the equally perilous journey back to whence we started?

For those who have not traveled very far or deep, the latter course seems the easy one. They can mock those who, in their eyes are foolish, have gone too far into strange places on this adventure, and even laugh at them when they see them puzzled or lost without a map or idea of where to go.

There are a few reading these pages who will have little devotional saṁskāra whatsoever and are simply curious about the “reforming” tendency, or interested in Tantrik sex or whatever. In other words, those whose primary interest may be with sexuality rather than Krishna consciousness, or as I prefer to say, prema. I don’t know that I really have much to say to these people, because the only purpose of this site is to explore the meaning of “prema prayojana,” which was the motto of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and to explore that meaning in a spirit of faith and commitment to Sri Chaitanya, to Rupa and Raghunath, to Krishna Das Kaviraj Goswami and those who have followed them. To all those on this path, of varying realizations, we offer our humble pranams.

To readers who do not share this community of faith, I also offer my pranams and hope that they will profit by comparing my realizations to their own and be able to make progress along their chosen path. I will try to make a post in a few days about the contrast between a specific path and universal attainments in a day or two.

But, there are many of my readers whose first plunge into Krishna consciousness only took them as far as ISKCON and perhaps a venture into some of the meaty sections of the Chaitanya Charitamrita. They may find my critiques of celibacy or women’s issues appealing, but have some difficulty understanding the Sahajiya part of things. After all, sex is sex. Let’s just do it and be done with it. These people are somewhat naturalistic in their approach and are thus more interested in what is wrong with Krishna consciousness than what is right.

There are others who still have a touch of innocence and who like to hear the quotes and translations of songs about Radha and Krishna, but whose opportunity to actually get association in the processes of rāgānugā bhakti is not so great and are therefore more or less puzzled by my apparent obsession with real life sexuality and so on. To this group I say that they should follow me: first of all by taking initiation from a rasika guru, taking siddha-praṇālī and plunging head first into the practice of līlā-smaraṇa. They may read the Govinda-līlāmṛta edition of Gadadhar Pran which should come out in a few months. It is very detailed and gives plenty of information. Enjoy this ride.

Now I need to say a few words about those who have only been through the Gaudiya Math and who have turned to various speculations, etc., without ever having engaged more deeply with the rasika traditions, Gaudiya or other.

First of all, just as ISKCON devotees take these accounts of Radha Krishna lila in an unsophisticated manner, the acharyas of the sampradaya, like Krishna Das Kaviraj, did also. They were not primarily interested in figurative, metaphorical, allegorical, or mythological interpretations. They were following a path in whose divinities they believed in literally and naively, and that is the point we must start from if we are to understand anything about Sahajiyaism.

siddhānta boliye citte nā koro alasa
ihā hoite kṛṣṇe lāge sudṛḍha mānasa
caitanya mahimā jāni e saba siddhānte
citta dṛḍha hoyā lāge mahimā jṣāna hoite

Do not be lazy and avoid discussing these doctrines, for such discussions strengthen the mind’s attachment to Sri Krishna. I know Sri Chaitanya’s glories through my study of all these teachings and have become strong and fixed in attachment to him through the knowledge of his greatness (CC 1.2.117-8).

The beginning point in attaining God is bhakti, bhaktyā mām abhijānāti. There is no other path to attaining God as a Person.

What is bhakti? Well, it is of two kinds, one is external, the other internal. Since bhakti is a type of consciousness, the inner type is more important than the external. That is why Srila Rupa Goswami says,

sādhanaughair anāsaṅgair alabhyā sucirād api

Bhakti is sudurlabhā or extremely rare because it is unattainable even by great amounts of external practice without the appropriate attachment, i.e., mental or emotional engagement. (BRS 1.1.16)

The difference between rāgānugā bhakti and vaidhī bhakti is primarily in the culture of the mind. Vaidhī bhakti may be very intensely performed and even performed with strong mental engagement—prayer, meditation on the mantras and holy names, deity worship and so on. But it is done without any awareness of a svarūpa in relation to Krishna, and is usually done passively, “Whatever you want, God.” It is like someone who walks into a restaurant and says, “I won’t bother with the menu. Just give me whatever is today's special. I have heard this is a good place to eat.”

Vaidhī bhakti can be very beautiful, and many of its attitudes are assimilated into rāgānugā practice, especially when the sādhaka is in external consciousness. For instance, look at this delightful prayer from Mukunda-mālā-stotram.

nāhaṁ vande tava caraṇayor dvandvam advandva-hetoḥ
kumbhīpākaṁ gurum api hare nārakaṁ nāpanetum
ramyā-rāmā-mṛdu-tanu-latā nandane nāpi rantuṁ
bhāve bhāve hṛdaya-bhavane bhāvayeyaṁ bhavantam

I do not worship your lotus feet in order to attain a state of non-duality, nor to avoid descent into the worst hells like Kumbhipaka. Nor do I worshp you to attain a state in heaven where I am surrounded by thin-waisted heavenly beauties. I pray only to be able to meditate on you in the abode of my heart, birth after birth.

But rāgānugā bhajana is about what you want, bhakta. This is why Krishna says in Chaitanya Charitamrita,

Everyone throughout the world worships me according to scriptural injunctions; but by this process of vidhi-bhakti one cannot attain the loving moods of Vraja. The whole world looks upon me with awe and veneration, but devotion which has been diluted by such consciousness of my majesty is not prefered by me. One who worships according the scriptural injunctions in a mood of awe and veneration attains the four kinds of liberation and goes to Vaikuntha. (CC 1.3.15-7)

āmāre īśvara māne āpanāke hīna
tāra preme vaśa āmi nā hoi adhīna

Someone who thinks of me as the Supreme Lord and Controller and himself as insignificant does not conquer me with his love and I never become subservient to him. (CC 1.3.18)

The goal of the devotee is to attain a specific relationship with God. This is done not in a haphazard fashion, but consciously and with defined purpose. This is why I often refer to a section from Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu that has been so badly misunderstood in Prabhupada's Nectar of Devotion. It is about the three types of preliminary attitudes that are called śuddha-rati. Śuddha here means “pure,” but also means, in a sense, "devoid of content." In other words, it is good, but unformed or empty in one way or another.

Śuddha rati is of three types—(1) sāmānya, like a child who is too young to have specific kinds of feelings, especially not sakhya, vatsalya or madhura; (2) svaccha, which reflects the moods of those in whose company one is, and (3) śānta, which is basically the same as śānta-rasa, a fundamentally formless or passive kind of devotion. I want to just focus briefly on svaccha-rati by quoting the relevant passage:

tat-tat-sādhanato nānā-vidha-bhakta-prasangatḥ |
sādhākānāṁ tu vaividhyaṁ yāntī svaccā ratir matā ||
yadā yādṛśī bhakte syād āsaktis tādṛśaṁ tadā |
rūpaṁ sphaṭikavad dhatte svacchāsau tena kīrtitā ||

A devotee who takes on various moods and practices because he associates with devotees of different types, is said to have svaccha rati, or transparent love. It is called transparent because it is like a piece of glass through which the moods of the devotee to whom he is currently attached shine through.

kvacit prabhur iti stuvan kvacana mitram ity uddhasan
kvacit tanaya ity āhvayan kvacana kānta ity ullasan |
kvacin manasi bhāvayan parama eṣa ātmety asāv
abhūd vividha-sevayā vividha-vṛttir āryo dvijaḥ ||

For example: There was a cultured brahmin who on occasion praised the Lord as his “master,” at other times he laughed and called him “friend”; sometimes he addressed him as “son” and again at other times would enthusiastically call him “beloved.” Then at other times, he would meditate on the Lord as the Supreme Soul within his heart. In this way, he would engage in different behaviors according to his different services. (2.5.12-14)
Rupa Goswami is not condemning the person who is acting in this way; that is why he refers to him as "Arya," and also why he still calls his attitude a kind of rati. But such a haphazard approach cannot be called rāgānugā bhakti and is certainly very limited in what it can accomplish. Without a fixed sthāyi bhāva or dominant attitude, it is impossible to achieve prema or rasa. Moreover, the substance of the vaidhī-bhakti approach is that it cannot abandon the duality inherent in the aiśvarya mood.

This is furthermore why dīkṣā is so important, though this is little understood by most devotees. Dīkṣā is about fixing this unsteady mentality and setting the devotee on the straight path to a sthāyi bhāva. That is what is known as sambandha-viśeṣa in the commentaries to the oft-quoted divyaṁ jñānam yato dadyāt verse about initiation (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, 2.6). The term sambandha-viśeṣa has been interpreted in various ways by those who do not follow the rāgānugā model as it evolved in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, but this is the way it is generally understood, and correctly, in my opinion.

In this connection, another justly famous verse from the Bhagavata should be remembered.

tvaṁ bhakti-yoga-paribhāvita-hṛt-saroja
āsse śrutekṣita-patho nanu nātha puṁsām |
yad-yad-dhiyā ta urugāya vibhāvayanti
tat-tad-vapuḥ praṇayase sad-anugrahāya ||

O Lord! The path to whom is seen through the ears! Who takes a seat in the lotus heart that has been made worthy of your presence through bhakti-yoga! Out of mercy for your devotees, O Glorious One, you take the very form that they meditate on, appearing to them in that form. (SB 3.9.11)

I could talk about this verse for a long time, because there is so much to be said. But let us point out the main contradiction. Lord Brahma says that Krishna is known through hearing, and yet he takes on the form that the devotee desires to see. This is simultaneously a gift to the relativists, individualists and independentists, and a rebuke to those who reject tradition.

If anyone has become attracted to Radha and Krishna, it is likely because they have met a rasika sadhu who communicated his love through sound vibration. And ultimately, it came through the rasika saints of the 16th century beginning with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who revealed the glory of Radharani’s love to the world. This verse demands that we recognize this through the proper procedure, beginning with gratitude. This statement is also a confirmation of the above reference to initiation and the divyaṁ jñānam given by the guru in the form of the mantra.

Nevertheless, the very fact that God responds to the mood of the devotee, according to his desire, reveals that this process is suited to the rāgānugā bhakta. The second reason that bhakti is su-durlabhā is because Hari does not grant it easily. And yet he grants to those whose hearts are inundated with love. This means that God’s form is completely adjustable to the individual. God has form, let us be clear about that. Just like he has personality, he has form. But his form, his personality, the variety that exists within him as reality and as potential, is unlimited. Just look at the varieties of forms he takes to everyone, who knowingly or unknowing worships him in this world—money, sex, drugs, war, etc., are all Gods, or in Christian terms, idols, false gods. Nevertheless, even the false gods are forms, reflections of the True God.

So Krishna is attained in the form we wish, with the caveat that there is a menu and the choices, though far reaching, are not infinite. There are things like rasābhāsa, rasa-virodha, etc., that are not on the menu, or at least not on the transcendental menu.

Those who don’t like the menu are free to open their own restaurant, but that is a circuitous process fraught with misadventure. And even those who open their own restaurants usually borrow recipes from somewhere. There are limits to originality. And then you have to market your restaurant. You might like your own cooking, but what if nobody else does? Restaurants have the highest bankruptcy rate of any new businesses. But the failure rate of new religions is probably even higher.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Is there love in this world? Our doctrine and traditional Sahajiyaism

If there were no love in this world, there would be none in the next either. But nobody would be able to doubt the existence of love in this world if they were not busy trying to find love apart from God. Krishna says, "I am the source of all. All things begin with me. Those enlightened persons who know this, worship me with love." (Gita 10.8)

The very fact that we can conceive of an "ideal" is the beginning of the ontological argument. In this sense, it is connected to other arguments for the existence of God, like those of first origins or of teleology, i.e., the purposefulness of existence, both of which point to God. So, God as Person is the truest result of understanding, as it is Personhood, capable of the highest love, that stands at the pinnacle of creation.

But when I say that love is the result of the discovery of God as a Person, it is because of the connection of the two, i.e., the personhood we encounter in this world, which is given value and sacredness by the fact that God is a Person.

This is perhaps where I differ most from traditional Sahajiya ideas, which still seem too fixed on sexual mechanics and an impersonal framing of the nature of Deity, like the Tantriks. I don't doubt that I am not entirely right about this, but in certain respects, from their writings, we find such ideas.

This is why I often talk about the importance of the "Other" as a concept. By "other" I mean another person. [This is "I-Thou" thinking.] You cannot love an object, as such. Or at least, such love must be considered on a lower plane, somewhere in the realm of admiration. Admiration (or pleasure) is an element in love, as Jiva Goswami's definitions in the Prīti-sandarbha show, but the true numinosity or sacred character of love comes from the full realization of the presence of another spiritual being, who is wondrous.

So when I talk about the sacred character of sexual love, it is not to say that the physical sex on its own constitutes the entirety of the sacredness, as I would venture to say it is for many Sahajiyas and older-style Tantriks. The real locus of the sacred is in the loved person and the energy produced from the contact with that person in mutual wonder.

Now that recognition of the "other" as person exists on two dimensions. One is as the person (sādhaka or sādhikā) with whom one shares the love relation; the other is the ultimate relation with the Divine Person, whom we know as the Divine Couple, Radha and Krishna. For these two relations we may use the traditional Sahajiya terminology of bāhya and maramī, respectively. Nevertheless, we should not get distracted by ideas that accord purely superficial importance to the worldly or physical relationship between devotees who are engaged in cultivating prema together.

This is why I insist on the comparison of the sādhaka-sādhikā relationship to one of mutual guru-discipleship. In fact, this is something that is quite clear in traditional Sahajiyaism also. This knowledge assures me that even though it sometimes seems underdeveloped in the male-centered texts that we have available to us, it is not entirely absent and confirms the intuition that I have been putting forward since the very beginning of this blog, namely that Srimati Radharani's primacy means a primacy of the feminine in the culture of prema.

From M.M.Bose's Post Chaitanya Sahajiya Cult, p. 115:
...Socrates went to a woman, Diotima by name, in order to be instructed in the secrets of love. This shows that in the matter of love, women reign supreme. The Sahajiya doctrine also is practically based on the theory that the secret of love is to be learnt before a woman or in the company of women. Chandi Das going to enquire of [the goddess] Basuli about the mystic doctrine of love was instructed by her to go to Rami, a washerwoman for this purpose:

hāsiẏe bāsulī kẏa śuna caṇḍi mahāśaẏa
āmi thāki rasika nagare |
se grāme debatā āmi tāhā jāne rajakinī
jijñāsa ge yatane tāhāre ||
Basuli laughed and said, "Listen Chandi, sir. I live in the city of the rasikas. I am the goddess of that village, and the washerwoman knows this. So go and inquire carefully from her." (P.E., song 764)
Moreover, the woman is here placed in the position of a guide in the culture of love, and this is the prevalent custom with the Sahajiyas also. Passages like the following are abundant in Sahajiya literature.

antare pīriti yaje prakṛti āśraẏa |
prema rase prakṛtira anugata haẏa ||
"In order to cultivate love within, one should take shelter of a woman. In the matter of obtaining prema-rasa, one should become the follower of a woman."
Perhaps it is the result of coming from a culture where individualism has developed to a greater degree than in most medieval societies that I wish to stress this personal aspect of Sahajiyaism. The authors of these old Sahajiya texts can talk about "type" with much more impunity than we would today. For them, "woman" is something generic, and "love" something more of an impersonal force rather than an encounter between two individuals. Nevertheless, even though I put the accent on the sacred character of the individual encounter, you have to accept that universals are involved. And indeed, it is the relation to these multi-levelled universals in sādhana that deepens the consciousness of that sacredness.

This is why there is merit to the Sahajiya position that the ultimate goal is the culture of the internal or marmī relationship, i.e., that which the orthodox Vaishnavas of our tradition would recognize as being their goal also, i.e., that of Rādhā-dāsya. In other words, both partners in the Sadhaka couple are seeking Rādhā-dāsya. Their own love, powerful as it may be, is made more powerful by living together in the frame of reference created by the concept of Rādhā-dāsya. The sādhana is thus not a sādhana of material love, but a sādhana of divine love. If it were devoid of this frame of reference, it would ultimately degenerate into nothing more than a matter of sophisticated mutual pleasure seeking, even if that were in the mode of goodness.

The kinds of Tantra or Sahajiyaism that put the accent on the mechanical aspects of sexuality, with the complex system of Kundalini awakening, chakras, sarovars and so forth, all have their place, but it is secondary or supportive to the essential one of recognizing the sacred in the presence of the Other. The system of āropa that I talked about earlier in this blog is really meant to promote the consciousness of this sacred character on different levels. The sacralized sexual act simply furnishes the optimum occasion for the culture of this consciousness.

The mechanical view promoted in some Sahajiya texts treats women interchangeably, their bodies are the important thing, not the individual person in the body. Thus many Sahajiya texts emphasize the physical characteristics of the sādhikā rather than the inner character of the ideal partner in sādhana. Those qualities are (1) devotion to the Divine Couple, (2) the commitment to yogic discipline, and (3) an indefinable visceral and spontaneous attraction. The relationship with such a partner is as profound as that between guru and disciple and must be treated with even greater reverence and care.

A Sahajiya text called Prema-vilāsa (different from that of Nityananda Das) illustrates the utilitarian position:

madhu āni madhumāchi cāka kare yabe
nānāna puṣpera madhu yoga kari tabe
bahu puṣpe haite madhu kare āẏojana
sei puṣpe punaḥ tāra ki praẏojana
When the bumblebee has collected honey and brings it to the hive, then he brings together the honey from a wide number of different flowers. Once the honey has been gathered from many flowers, what more need has he of the flowers?
dīpa haste kari yadi prabeśaẏe ghare
timira kariẏā dhvaṁsa dīptimāna kare
yekhāne ya drabya tāhā haẏa bartamāna
paścāta pradīpe āche kona praẏojana
When one takes a light into the room, it destroys the darkness and allows one to see what is inside. But once one has found the things one needs, what further use has he for the lamp?
These two verses illustrate to me a kind of impersonal indifference that contradicts both the concept of one's partner as guru and of the principle of love itself. Love that is defined simply in terms of some mechanical "gathering of honey" seems dreadfully superficial and unacceptable. If one's concept of God were purely impersonal, then perhaps this kind of attitude would be understandable, but where the idea of God as Person is fundamental to the understanding of Love, it is unforgivable.

It is no doubt here that the real difficulties between Orthodoxy and Sahajiyaism lie. The nature of love, furthermore, is such that it is not attained at a finite moment; nowhere more than in the sādhana of love is the sādhaka/sādhikā partner an end in themselves, an inexhaustible entry point to the Divine Truth, not different from it. If one has not realized the inexhaustible divinity of the spiritual person through whom the channel of prema flows, what realization of anything beyond that can possibly be aspired to?

The inconceivable oneness and difference of the guru and God is the operative principle in the culture of Divine Love. Love itself is the mysterious confluence of oneness and difference.

Another area where this above-stated distinction needs to be made is in the area of pārakīyā and svakīyā rasa. The Sahajiyas place many arguments for the pārakīyā rasa that in principle follow those of the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi and Caitanya-caritāmṛta, etc. I assume that most of my readers will be familiar with some of the basic ones, namely that the difficulties, obstacles and uncertainties of the pārakīyā relationship create increased anxiety and determination, etc., in the lovers, all of which test the strength of their desire, the purity of their resolve and enhance the pleasures of union, when it comes.

People are likely less familiar with Jiva Goswami's arguments for svakīyā-vāda, and I will not give a thorough-going summary here. As you probably know, Jiva emphasizes something that all Gaudiyas will agree on, namely that Radha and Krishna are eternally One and that therefore, there is no question of "belonging to another" (pārakīyā). Therefore, he envisions the prakaṭa-līlā manifestation of pārakīyā rasa as serving the function of a demonstration. Radha and Krishna's eternal svakīyā, which cannot always demonstrate its depth and power, does so when placed in the pārakīyā conditions of the prakaṭa-līlā. It is like an elephant, which left free to roam does not show its brute force, but does so when shackled to a stump against its will.

In terms of love's human manifestation, such an example is applicable. There are two kinds of pārakīyā--three actually. They are the kanyā, the paroḍhā, and the sāmānyā. The unmarried daughter under the protection of her father is, in most societies, the acceptable object of romantic interest. The paroḍhā, married woman, is not. The sāmānyā, or "common woman", does not really count in this scheme, though there is no reason why she couldn't in the right circumstances.

In India, it is interesting that the common system of marriage, named prājāpatya by those who name these things, is almost entirely devoid of madhura-rasa. Many Sanskrit plays, written for and about royalty, had to invent complex situations of misplaced identity in order to turn a prājāpatya situation into a gāndharva one; the gāndharva relationship or marriage being the one that is most full of rasa, precisely because the arranged marriage lacks rasa. This is even stated in the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:

gāndharva-rītyā svīkārāt svīyātvam iha vastutaḥ
avyaktatvād vivāhasya suṣṭhu pracchanna-kāmatā
Since Radha and Krishna were married according to the gāndharva rite, they were factually svīyā or married lovers. But since their marriage was hidden, the characteristics of the pārakīyā relationship, such as hidden desire, were manifestly present. (UN 3.16)
Even Rupa Goswami in Lalita-mādhava has followed the royal plot of hidden identity when he shows Krishna falling in love with the unrecognized Radha in the form of Satyabhama, who was given to him by Satrajit in the Shyamantaka incident. She is given (svīyā), but unrecognized (pārakīyā).

Now in terms of social commentary, bringing all this to the worldly realm, where indeed we MUST bring it, this is telling us quite clearly that the problem with the svakīyā relationships is precisely that they are not controlled by the individuals involved. Though the calculations of those who control the bride and groom's decisions may be very accurate and astute, they are nevertheless calculations, i.e., vidhi not rāga. And, even in our present day world of free mingling and choice, we often internalize similar calculations that make us choose, for better or worse, in a svakīyā manner. A relationship that is based purely on physical desire is sāmānyā, and though this is accommodated somewhat in the person of Sairindhri in Krishna's lila, it is barely considered worthy of analysis.

Just as finding a sat-guru cannot truly be done by conventional or purely rational means, the finding of the sat-sādhikā or sat-sādhaka cannot be done by purely conventional or rational means. The considerations of qualification have to be internalized through self-culture (pravartaka stage), after which recognition of what is an eternal (svīyā) relationship comes about spontaneously, like a revelation. It may or may not hidden behind obstacles, i.e., revealed within pārakīyā circumstances, but if it is, those obstacles will only serve to strengthen the commitment, the conviction and the meaningfulness of that specific relationship. Indeed, it may be said that the obstacles are a special gift to lovers, just as Bharata Muni and Rudra Bhatta did, approvingly quoted by Sri Rupa.

Srila Jiva Goswami's testament to this is the Gopāla-campū, in which he still gives a certain priority to pārakīyā rasa by structuring the entire story of Radha and Krishna's prakaṭa-līlā, from their first meeting until their eventual marriage after Krishna's return following the death of Dantavakra, in the framework of a storytelling session in the nitya abode of Goloka. By hearing their own story, now somehow separated from themselves as myth, Radha and Krishna experience a refined version of their own immortal pastime of self-rediscovery. They relive it as spectators experiencing rasa, albeit with the same kind of vested interest that anyone has when hearing their own story as distilled experience, sculpted for effect.

Though this is not about improving divorce rates, there may be a secret hidden here, who knows? Not only in terms of shaping the stories of our own loves (as successful lovers tend to do anyway), but by recognizing that these stories of our own loves are microcosms of the eternal lila of Radha and Krishna that is playing out in so many forms throughout the cosmos, often contaminated by thick layers of tamo-guṇa and rajo-guṇa, but sometimes in forms that are purer in nature, even where they break the rules.

And where they are combined with spiritual knowledge and the culture of bhakti, they can push one to the pinnacle of human experience, Prema.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kalankini Rai

In my bouncing ball way, I have been working on Gadadhar Pran's Govinda-līlāmṛta over the past few days. It will never be edited the way it should be, but the idea is to just get it out there. So I have put a one month or so time limit on the project. When we get there, that's it. Off it goes to Ras Bihari Lal and Sons.

But let's not minimize the work Gadadhar has done here. It is actually quite exceptional. It is chock full of good stuff, as far as Radha Krishna aṣṭa-kālīya līlā is concerned, supplementing Govinda-līlāmṛta with plenty of material from Bhāvanāmṛta-sāra-saṅgraha, Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta, Kṛṣṇāhnika-kaumudī, the Guṭikā, Nāndīśvara-candrikā and lots of relevant quotes from Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Narottam Das and Bhaktivinoda Thakur as well, not to mention many, many mahājana-padāvalī. And, I may add, lots of samples of his own svārasikī bhajana. I dare you to find anyone else who has dared...

For a taste, I give you this brilliant song by Ramananda Basu, one of Mahaprabhu's contemporaries from Kulin Gram. Translated by Gadadhar in his own inimitable fashion, edited by me without removing Gadadhar's inimitable fashion. I will make a comment or two after you have relished it. If you know Bengali, lucky you.

nandera nandana sane, doṣī nahe kon jane ?
gokule ke āche heno nārī ?
hāy hāma abhāginī, hoinu kula kalaṁkinī,
kahile nayane bahe bārī (1)

(1) Is there just one woman in Gokula the son of Nanda hasn’t spoiled? Hay! I admit, I’m one of the unfortunate ones. I too have become a kula-kalaṅkinī, and so I can’t stop crying!

anyera je apajaśa, kahite śunite doṣa,
āchhe heno vidhira vidhān
āmāra kalaɱka joto, gāna kore bhāgavata,
phukāri vedādi purāṇa (2)

(2) The religious scriptures and traditions say it is improper to hear or speak about the faults of others, but my trespasses have been loudly glorified in the Bhagavata, the Vedas and Puranas.

keho gāye dhīre dhīre, keho gāye uccaiḥ svare
keho vā japaye mone mone
emon śunechhi kothā, āmāra adbhuta kathā
guru deya śiṣyera śravaṇe ! (3)

(3) Some recite them softly, others loud and publicly, while yet others repeat them over and over to themselves in meditation! And can you just imagine, I have even heard that there are gurus who initiate their disciples by whispering these faults of mine into their ears!

āmāra kathāya robe je, āmāra mato habe se
vasiyā kohinu vṛndāvane
vasu rāmānanda sukhe, vacana na sphure mukhe
dhārā bahe jugala nayane (4)

(4) Hay, hay! Sitting here in Vrindavan, I declare that whoever remains absorbed in my story will become just like me! The poet Bosu Ramananda concludes: “I’m choked by escstasy, words are failing me; only a stream of tears flow from my eyes!”

Actually I love this song. "Can you just imagine, I have even heard that there are gurus who initiate their disciples by whispering these faults of mine into their ears!" “Whoever remains absorbed in my story will become exactly like me.” Now what on earth does that mean?

Rāgānugā bhakti is about cutting the dykes that hold back the river of divine attraction. That is what the gopis did, that is what Radha did. And for all that they had to suffer the opprobrium of their society.

Now for the people who take a purely literal approach and don't understand the essence of this, it is easy to get lost in detail. The important point is that Krishna is Kama, he is the aprākṛta navīna madana, the all-attractive force. Radha is Prema. Radha--and everyone else--are the attracted. Of course, as Radha heads out on abhisāra and becomes united with Krishna, then the qualities are exchanged. Radha becomes the attractor and Krishna the attracted. But that is another matter.

On the level we are talking about here, Radha is something like a samaṣṭi siddha jīva (please don't quote any verses at me!). She is Guru. She is the leader. She is the heart chakra. Gopi. We follow. That is on the level of God and jiva.

But becoming a kalaṅkini is part of the internal process, at least where the contrast between rāgānugā and vaidhī bhakti is concerned. As someone who periodically parades his kalaṅkas, and whose kalaṅkas are occasionally sung high or whispered low, it is good to know that it all comes from Radharani's curse.

Ah, but I feel the Sahajiya mood oozing out of the pores of this song.

Those who have surrendered to love, they have a part of the puzzle. But only a part. The real solution is in YOGA, in other words making the connection. Not simply a connection between genitals, not even a connection of mutual sense gratification or some of the other lower levels of mutual love, which are occasionally even modestly or spectacularly successful in this world. But the yoga that consciously connects the lovers of this world to the original source of all creation, the Transcendent Divine Couple, is the ultimate yoga, the doorway to madhura rasa. And that, I believe, is what Chaitanya came to give.

Yukta-vairāgya was not just about riding in cars for Krishna, or using computers for preaching. This is what yukta-vairāgya really means.

Anyway, love this song.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Razor's Edge

Sorry, friends, for not posting much of late. As usual, there are many beginnings, but most don't pass the editor's desk. This post was begun on the 16th. I am posting on the 21st, so there are mixed time references.


Interesting day, yesterday. First a lengthy class and discussion with Satya Narayan, and then a visit to Haridas Shastri. I spent the earlier part of the day indulging in my greatest distraction and perhaps the bane of my existence, typing a book, the Sarva-siddhānta-saṅgraha, attributed to Shankaracharya, but clearly not. Even here, in the section on Nyaya, the following verse is found—

varaṁ vṛndāvane ramye śṛgālatvaṁ vṛṇomy aham
vaiśeṣikokta-mokṣāt tu sukha-leśa-vivarjitāt 40
yo veda-vihitair yajṣair īśvarasya prasādataḥ
mūrcchām icchati yatnena pāṣāṇavad avasthitim 41

I prefer to be a jackal in the beautiful land of Vrindavan rather than accept the liberation of the Vaiseshikas, which is without even a drop of happiness. By performing the Vedic sacrifices, they strive laboriously to attain, by God’s grace, a state like that of a stone. (9.40-41)

Nice to see Vrindavan get a mention, even though it is sort of a mute glorification. Still, sounds like there is a speck of Prabodhananda in there.

I won’t spend too much time recounting Satya Narayan Dasji’s lecture, which was based on an email exchange he had with a certain devotee now living in South Africa, who had decided to share his “realizations,” namely that all was consciousness, and that phenomena, of this world or of Vaikuntha, were all simply illusions. Satya Narayan Dasji wrote back a funny letter suggesting why not go all the way and say that consciousness too is an illusion, as some Buddhists have it, and declare that illusion is the only reality.

But if I were to filter out one thought, it was his discussion of this age of information. Because so much information is available to us, we are fooled into thinking that we have knowledge. And not only do we think we have knowledge, but we also think foolishly that we have to clutter up the ether with our observations and “realizations.”

So he made fun of blogging, too, which is just another part of that overdose of information and artificial idea that makes us believe that fanning the flames of information overload somehow makes our existence meaningful. Oh well, I guess I am a slave to my nature, so here I am, blogging. The message is being passed on--There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. True wisdom may be expressed in words, but it does not come from words alone.

By the way, in that discussion, Satya Narayan Dasji confirmed Krishnadas’s points about sāyujya liberation being a real and permanent option, since Kapila names it as one of the five kinds of mukti. He said that “just being” is a kind of service. In discussing the samprajñāta and asamprajñāta samādhis, he said that in the latter, there was only abheda, and no bheda, so there was no way of fudging the idea that subject-object awareness could be non-dual in such samadhi, as Bhaktivinoda seems to have done.


Haridas Shastri may be 91 years old, but his physical health and mental alertness appear optimal. A life of scholarship and service to cows has kept him agile, both in body and intellect. He looks like he is good for another twenty years. And speaking of cows, his herd is truly impressive. The fame of his seva has spread to the extent that in the motor rickshaw on the way to Mathura Station, one fellow passenger was recounting how Shastriji feeds them ghee, and with even more astonished amazement, that he lets the calves drink ̮90%̮ of the cows' milk.

I took some notes of what Haridasji said, but they are a mess and don't make must sense to me now, just a few days later. The main point I retained, to which he returned again and again, was the distinction between prakṛti (the true or original form) and vikṛti (deviation or deformation) of religion.

Of course it is possible to argue that the Goswamis, especially Jiva, had a very strong idea of the "true religion" and the Truth. As I was saying just the other day in relation to the Bhagavat-sandarbha; there is the powerful idea of some essential understanding of the Deity that is more perfect theologically and needs to be sought out. The question is to what extent the mythological and ritual elements interfere with or confuse the issues where that perceived perfection occurs.

The specific examples that Haridasji mentioned were the "marriage of Radha and Krishna" that was to take place at the Radha Shyamasundar mandir, according to their flyer, for the 479th year in a row. Hardly a new innovation, it would seem. Shastriji also said that most of what passes for speaking on Harikatha these days is purely entertainment. Actually, I had just been thinking that Vrindavan seemed something like the Nashville, Tennessee, of Harikatha. But I am not quite so negative about that, even though I believe firmly that we must push for what is truest to ourselves in the search for God. There is really no difference between the two.

After all, if perfection is so exclusive and refined, then surely the multiple imperfect variations are at least partially admirable, inasmuch as they contain parts of the Truth. How can we be so troubled and alienated by another's failure to attain the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth when it is such a distant and unattainable, even dubious proposition? Especially when we are caught up in the languages of symbols, etc.?

The true solution to imperfection can only be love, not intellectual correctness. Or, at least, the concept of unconditional love has to be at the basis of our intellectual correctness, not some kind of DukRG-karaNe or pure mathematics.


On Ekadasi, I went to Radha Kund and met Madhavananda. We talked of many things, but one of them was this idea of the narrowness of the concept of perfection. One of the central ideas in my thinking is the introduction of sexuality as an element of sādhana. This may seem like an over-widening of the scope of legitimate practices (which is indeed a principal objection, isn't it?), and indeed that is the case on one level. After all, if we take the success rate of those who adopt pure celibacy, especially where the object of meditation is Radha and Krishna's madhura līlā, it seems like a pure kindness to protect the weak from a life of hypocrisy. But in fact, the concept of spiritual perfection will always be narrow. It will always be the kṣurasya dhārā, the razor's edge. There are too many obstacles to purity, and we still have to fight against them, whether or not we accept Sahaja sādhana or any other.

So, it would be a total mistake to think that the admission of sexuality into the process of sādhana is somehow an excuse for licentiousness. Or that "free love" will magically free one from the basic exigencies of personal morality, or society from the evils of sexual exploitation, etc. Or that pure bhakti and prema, which remain the only objectives of this sādhana, can be had by a process that ignores these basic exigencies.

Someone told me that Nitai had recently made some comments on his forum about my "sahajiyaism." I have not read them and really have no intention of bothering to look them up. But if the information I received was correct, he subscribes to the theory of "Jagat is a horny old guy who is legitimizing his sexual desires with complex theological mystifications." Apparently he also said, no doubt from experience, that Sahajiyaism is a dead end, leading only to "sore sex organs." If that is an incorrect representation of what he said, I hope someone will adjust it.

At any rate, that is not at all a good understanding of what I am on about, folks. When I speak of prema prayojan, I am not talking about free love, nor am I talking about a sādhana that is exclusively tantric in nature. Please try to understand. Radha and Krishna symbolize achintya-bhedabheda, without which True Love is impossible. They symbolize the love of self that comes with overcoming psychological imbalances; they symbolize the love of Other in all its manifestations, but primarily in the love of others in the world and in the love of God, who is the Supreme Other.

The practice of sādhana with a partner is meant to function as an engine of love. The pleasure of sexual relations is not meant to be an end in itself, but through the cultivation of the mode of goodness, it becomes a powerful means of channeling one's meditation towards God, not exclusively because of its activation of the genitals, but because genital activity is conducive to the activation of deep feelings of love.

Although elements of lila smaran are possible in this practice, and are indeed attained with greater facility than through the mechanical process that is most often prescribed, its main end is the cultivation of bhava. In other words, lila smarana arises more easily out of bhava than the other way around. For too many people, the ashta kaliya lila of Radha and Krishna as currently envisioned are more of an obstacle to the culture of the bhava than an aid, especially when treated as a kind of complex vaidhi process, i.e., a mechanical obligation.

Most people, including Haridas Shastri, etc., all make a concerted effort to separate the psychology of "material" love from the "siddha" psychology of the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu and Ujjvala-nilamani. It is true that there are differences as there always are when distinguishing ideal from accident. But there would be no meaning to ideals if there were no glimmers of light in real experience. The metaphor of love applied to the Deity works both ways: Not only does it legitimize the idea of love as having meaning in this world (otherwise the analogy would not work), but it provides the means of purifying and sanctifying it.

The Sahaja sādhana I talk about concentrates on this glimmer of light, much in the way that a person rubbing two sticks together to make fire blows on the sparks and first puffs of smoke to turn it into a flame.

Or we may talk of it as a light being shone between two mirrors--one being the mirror of experience in the world, the other being the mirror of the ideal love expounded on by Rupa Goswami. In that respect, in fact, all of the five relationships can be incorporated into "Sahaja sādhanas," as we are not so much primarily about physical sex, but about the loving relationships that are mirrored in our experience of real life.

In this way, we cannot make an exception in the case of madhura rasa, saying that it is O.K. to see the beauty of one's own baby and think of Bal Gopal or baby Radha, but it is not O.K. to see the glance of affection in the eyes of our beloved and see reflected there Radha's glance of love for Krishna. Or that the weighty burden of love in separation that we feel does not mirror, however infinitesmally, Radha as described in the Hamsaduta, etc.

The relation between the two is not one of substitution or replacement; it is an opening of the door to anubhava. In other words, it is not that these experiences of human love replace Radha-Krishna bhakti, or that Radha-Krishna somehow are a projection that comes out of worldly sexual frustration, or that misunderstood they produce a hankering after material sexuality, or any other of the varieties of misconception that inevitably arise out of this sādhana. In fact, for a devotee, that love IS Radha, and that love is itself a sādhana to attaining Radha. Love comes from love.

Whatever meaning there is in the concept of suchi (pure) rasa, which has been praised by poets around the world as the summum bonum of human experience, which has been diluted, perverted and corrupted by rajo-guna and tamo-guna into nothing more than base sexuality or pornography of various kinds, comes from Radha and Krishna, as the Divine and Original Lovers. God said, I don't like being alone, and so He became a couple locked in embrace. That is the beginning of creation, of multiplicity, of love. anandAd imAni bhUtAni jAyante.

Sex desire is the desire for union. There is really no distinction between the elemental energy that is directed into sex desire and the desire that is directed into the search for God. There is only one energy, the spiritual energy of consciousness, that is filtered and channeled in various ways by the modes of material nature.

But the concept of madhura rasa makes this understanding of "libido" even more clear. When joined with ideas of tantric sublimation, there is a powerful culture of love. It cannot, must not, be seen as separate from the idea of prema bhakti, as love of God. Indeed, I think there is a valid argument to be made that the culture of madhura rasa bhakti is practically impossible without the experience and culture of love in this world, in the very sense that I talk about it.

Is it then something that has become free and open for everyone possessing genitals? On one level, yes. Just as Harinam is available to anyone with a tongue. But does that mean that there are no hoops to pass through on the way to perfection? Of course not. The goal is perfection of the human form of life.

Blessed are those who have a loving sadhaka partner with whom they can share the sounds of the diksha mantras, with whom they can mirror the power of love, with whom they can activate the greatest psychic and physiological force that exists in the human body, and channel it in the direction of love for the root of all existence, Sri Sri Radha and Rasabihari.


I do want to say one more thing. I got a copy of Satya Narayan Dasji's The Yoga of Dejection. As I have mentioned, I have been giving a Gita class here, more or less daily, and we just finished the first chapter, which I went through rather quickly because of time constraints. Still I was interested to see what Satya Narayan Dasji had to say, to see what I had missed, as it were. I read almost right through the entire book on the train, and now I rather wish that I had done so before I started giving those classes.

I am very impressed by Satya Narayan's analysis and the use he makes of this material. Besides presenting many of the background stories of the Mahabharata, with an unfailing eye for the lessons they convey, his understanding of psychology is very good and he really brings out better than any person I have seen all the nuances of Arjuna's situation.

I especially liked his comments about "placing the chariot between the two armies." The words senayor ubhayor madhye, which are repeated several times up to 2.10 with powerful poetic effect. Their repetition hints at their importance, as does the name Hrishikesh, which accompanies them. I have almost turned the expression into a prayer: "Dear Krishna, please place my chariot between the armies, and reveal to me the attachments and other obstacles I must overcome to attain the perfection of love I so ardently seek."

As a sample, here is one paragraph I also liked, but it could have been chosen almost at random:

One may accept Krishna as one’s guide or charioteer, but when he sets out to fight by serving the Lord, he is often faced with the prospect of losing his material possessions, disappointing his relatives or even severing ties with them. The rule of thumb is "to accept something, one has to give up something else." On the spiritual path one is sure to be tested in this way. Thus, when faced with crises one becomes thoughtful, which here indicates that he becomes overpowered by the thoughts of his weak heart. He starts to rationalize his weakness as altruism or compassion for others. This is human psychology.

That seems to summarize the situation nicely. The sooner we commit ourselves to the “fight”, to put it in Gita-speak, the sooner we will attract the mercy and direction of the Lord. So the Gita is very relevant for every sadhaka.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In Vrindavan II

Quick post. Five minutes to closing time.

Whatever all you people who are negative about Radha-Krishna, Indian men, women, dirt, frenetic development and all the rest, I am sorry, I love Vrindavan. I love the color, I love the sounds, I love the outlandish sadhus, the brahmin students, the girl students, the Goswami houses, the narrow alleys, the temples, the sadhus when they speak about Radha Krishna, the monkeys huddling together on the tops of walls as it gets dark before they go to sleep, the slim feminine dogs who beg for a scratch. Today, most of all, I loved Banke Bihari and his temple.

Yesterday I wrote about a verse, today I write about Banke Bihari and his big eyes. Shiva was right, no one can invent this or replace it with anything else. No Jerusalem, no Mecca, no Rishikesh or Benares, no saintly city anywhere on this earth can compare to Vrindavan and Braj.

I thank all my gurus, from Srila Prabhupada to the sahajiya sleepily singing the Hare Krishna maha mantra over a mike somewhere, thank you. Let me be a part of Vrindavan. Jai Sri Radhe Shyam!

Satya Narayan came back today and we had a good session reviewing what I had done and going over questions I had.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In Vrindavan

(Written yesterday.) I just got into Vrindavan and I will likely be pretty busy over the next couple of days. I would like to thank the many Anonymous posters for their interesting comments, some of which touched on many crucial points. In particular I would like to answer one or two things for the person who asked about genuine realization and other things.

With regards to realization, I try to write only from such, and only use scriptural quotations where it is helpful or tasty. But I do also consider scripture and the insights of previous acharyas an important source of realization.

The other day I completed the walk through Rajaji park that I mentioned a while back, and I was carrying some verse cards that I use for memorizing. I felt such elation as I sang the viśveṣāṁ verse from Gita Govinda that I thought I was a very lucky person and wished I was able to share some of what I was feeling. That is part of the purpose of this blog, of course.

With regards to your point about the change in mythology to go against women, I will try to keep it simple.

All mythology, interpretation of symbolism and theology go through changes with time. Usually they FOLLOW and do not lead the trends that are developing in society. However, once they catch on to a trend, they tend to give it the adrenaline boost of divine approval. Eventually, however, those new trends become ossified and the process has to repeat itself.

Mostly, the customary historical process usually is to just judiciously "forget" the stuff that has become burdensome.

In the case of women: I say categorically that any philosophy or religion that does not promote or empower women to realize their full potential should be discarded. However, I am not really talking so much about women's rights as much as I am talking about spirituality, which is about going beyond even sexual identity.

In this connection, Radha and Krishna are ELEMENTAL, in the sense that they go beyond the myths in which they play a role and speak to the very substructures of consciousness. We don't have to accept the lila in every dot and iota.

What I am trying to do, in a somewhat erratic fashion, is to develop a theistic theology that incorporates the feminine, in keeping with the insights of Rupa Goswami. My feeling is that Rupa's rasa theology is full of powerful understandings about the way we experience the Divine and ultimately about the primal importance of madhura rasa psychically, socially, religiously and mystically.

As such I am opposed to certain aspects of celibacy, especially where they lend themselves to defective masculine psychologies. In this respect I could mention the posts of another Anonymous, who just wrote in the Gangesh responses. Or some of my own comments on the History of Celibacy book.

It is not that Radha and Krishna symbolize sexuality, but that sexuality itself is such a powerful symbol of so many other things. But the goal of the symbolism in the case of Radha and Krishna is to arrive at a kind of equilibrium between the sexual polarities, whatever level they are occurring on, with a general concession to the superiority of the "idealized feminine." Thus the importance of manjari bhava for both men and women.

I say the "idealized feminine" here because I want to make it clear that I am not in favor of imposing an ideal femininity on women or on men. On the individual platform, everyone must be free to pursue their own nature. Psychically, however, men and women need to take an "ideal feminine" stance, which tends to be strikingly similar to most descriptions of the ideal qualities of human or the saintly nature.

O.K. I will stop here for today. I am writing from the cyber storefront near the MVT in Vrindavan. Radhe Radhe.

News. Just saw Bisakha and Sakhi Charan. I was trying to think who SC reminded me of, and now I realize it was Tin Kori Prabhu!

Bhrigu dropped into the Jiva I. this morning looking for Satya Narayan. He got me instead. But it was a very pleasant meeting. It is always nice to have contact with a sadhu. sudurlabhā bhāgavatā hi loke.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Bhagavat-sandarbha readings

I have been working on Satya Narayana Dasji's translation of Bhagavat-sandarbha with erratic assiduity over the past month. I haven't been getting as much done as I would like, as on occasion I reach bottlenecks, or passages in which I cannot understand how the translation relates to the original. Previous editing work has proved to be a major impediment and I have found it more useful to use Satya Narayanji's original work, which is for the most part correct, simple and straightforward.

Let it be said right away that Satya Narayanji is, as many already recognize, a Gaudiya scholar without equal anywhere in the English-speaking world. As the name of his institute clearly shows, he has committed himself to interpreting and disseminating the teachings of Jiva Goswami, and nowhere is this more evident than in those works that are most philosophical in nature.

In this, his work is independent and original, in the sense that he is not simply translating his own guru's version of Bhagavat-sandarbha or anyone else's. He is commenting on the text, making use of his own vast knowledge of the methods of Sanskrit argumentation as well as the six systems of Indian philosophy and their later interpreters. Thus there is no shortage of very useful references to Nyaya, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa, etc., where the categories used by those systems helps to understand Jiva's argument. This is the milieu within which Jiva was operating, and with which he would have been deeply familiar.

It is quite apparent that understanding the Bhagavat-sandarbha without the kind of background knowledge that Satya Narayan possesses is pure wishful thinking. Nowhere is that more obvious in the attempts that a previous editor made to fulfill his mandate, which was was simply to clean up the English and make it presentable.

So what am I doing, besides cleaning up the mess? Well, principally, I am trying to make the text consistent and coherent. The way that Jiva writes the Sandarbhas is very methodical. He develops his argument on the basis of shlokas from the Bhāgavatam, supporting them with texts from other scriptures, etc. Basically, the anucchedas (sections) of the Sandarbhas are units of commentary surrounding these key Bhāgavata verses. But since they are usually structured as commentary, the work of translation has to approach the original verse free from assumptions that are taken from Jiva's commentaries. It will make more sense if we say, "the word 'honey' in the verse means 'sugar'" if we have translated the word as honey in the first place, and not as sugar. Anyhow, I am trying to do my best I can to make this invaluable work as nicely presented both for scholars and lay people.


One of the things that I notice in reading Bhagavat-sandarbha, and about which I am still reserving judgment, is the sophistication of the argumentation, which is based on far more than simply quotation bullying, and the seemingly literalist attitude towards mythology.

Nevertheless, in terms of my own philosophy, I have found a couple of points to be particularly provoking. What follows is purely my own thinking and has nothing to do with Satya Narayan or anyone else.

Jiva starts the Bhagavat-sandarbha by quoting BhP 1.2.11, the vadanti verse, which is the Bhāgavata's point of theological departure and is definitely genius. When I was in Vrindavan before coming here, Satya Narayan Dasji gave a lecture in which he laughingly summarized the verse's meaning: "There is only one non-dual consciousness, which is called Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan according to the level of understanding of the transcendentalists."

Certainly the passage in Sanskrit right near the beginning is a most poetic summary of that point, given here with the current version of the translation:

तदेकमेवाखण्डानन्दस्वरूपं तत्त्वं थूत्कृत-पारमेष्ठ्यादिकानन्द-समुदयानां परमहंसानां साधनवशात् तादात्म्यमापन्ने सत्यामपि तदीय-स्वरूप-शक्ति-वैचित्र्यां तद्ग्रहणासामर्थ्ये चेतसि यथा सामान्यतो लक्षितं, तथैव स्फुरद्वा तद्वदेवाविविक्त-शक्ति-शक्तिमत्ता-भेदतया प्रतिपद्यमानं वा ब्रह्मेति शब्द्यते।

When those transcendentalists (paramahamsas) who have rejected all material pleasures even up to the happiness available to Lord Brahma, and who by ardent practice have realized their identity with the Absolute Reality, which is indivisible and blissful in nature, but whose hearts are unable to perceive the variegatedness displayed by Its internal potencies, experience It in an unspecific way, just as they sought It, in other words, when It is defined without any distinction between energies and Energetic, then the Absolute Truth is called Brahman.

अथ तदेकं तत्त्वं स्वरूपभूतयैव शक्त्या कमपि विशेषं धर्तुं परासामपि शक्तीनां मूलाश्रयरूपं तदनुभावानन्दसन्दोहान्तर्भावित-तादृशब्रह्मानन्दानां भागवत-परमहंसानां तथानुभवैक-साधकतम-तदीय-स्वरूपानन्द-शक्ति-विशेषात्मक-भक्ति-भावितेषु अन्तर्बहिरपीन्द्रियेषु परिस्फुरद्वा तद्वद्विविक्त-तादृश-शक्ति-शक्तिमत्ताभेदेन प्रतिपद्यमानं वा भगवान् इति शब्द्यते।

And that very same Absolute Truth is named Bhagavān, when as the resting place of all other transcendental energies, It takes on some specific characteristics by the power of Its internal potency and becomes revealed to the senses, both internal and external, of the devotee transcendentalists (bhāgavata-paramahamsas), for whom the entire universe has been colored by the bliss of such experience, whose senses have been imbued with devotion, itself a specific part of the internal pleasure potency and the only efficient means of giving them this realization, in other words, when it is thus defined according to the distinction made between energies and Energetic.
That is still a bit awkward, as these long Sanskrit sentences can become in translation when it is done as literally as possible.

As good Hindus, start from the principle that God is not limited to one particular form, and that he appears to different people according to their particular subjective attitude. God as an "objective" reality is purely a philosophical being; as a subjective reality, he is living in infinite different forms.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lila: The Death of a Devotee Girl

It is hard to know what to say on occasions like this, or whether it is even necessary to say anything at all. I do not know anyone or anything involved in this event, except for the setting of Vrindavan. And yet, because I am deeply concerned about the flaws in human nature and society that make such evil possible, and because many of those reading this blog are equally if not more concerned, I am mentioning this here in order to express my deepest sympathies for all those affected.

May they find the strength to go on with the work of human life. After all, this is the hand of destiny reminding us all what that work is.

It is almost impossible to offer comfort without sounding callous, or do anything other than try to find someone or something to blame for tragedies like this. Those poor souls who are in charge of providing comfort, usually those who have some connection to God, are left fumbling for words. From the immediated culprits to the society and culture that created the criminal, to those who should have prevented it, to God Himself, there are so many easy targets, the act of blaming which provides not one speck of comfort.

If there is any consolation, it is that Lila died in Vrindavan, and whether anyone else in the world believes in Krishna's dhama or not, she did. She was there, and the goal of anyone who believes in Vrindavan can think of nothing more auspicious than to die there, surrounded by the sounds of Nama kirtan.

I am giving Gita classes and am confronted every day with the radical nature of a belief in life beyond the body. For an ethical philosophy, we must believe that every life is an end unto itself. In this there can be no compromise. But to find true hope and meaning, we must look beyond the body, because no amount of prevention can protect anyone: remember the Masque of the Red Death. Our spiritual lives began with the parable of Parikshit's curse, let us remember it today. Death is the one fact we all have to live with, and whether it comes sooner or later really makes it no more tragic. Death is rarely timely.

It is knowledge of the inevitability of death that spurs us to reflect seriously on life, both in its ethical and its transcendent dimensions. Let us not confuse the two; and continue on in what is the real purpose of living--preparing for a death that is truly noble. And indeed, part of that work is to make this world a place that is as close as possible to the ethical ideal as it can be.

I wish peace for all. My prayers go to all. Jai Sri Radhe Shyam.

Gangesh Chaitanya

One of my students is a 25-year-old brahmachari named Gangesh. He is from a well-to-do family in Bangalore, but has taken a vow of naishthika brahmacharya from Swami Veda since joining the Gurukula in September last year.

Gangesh is dark-skinned with his head shaven, leaving a large, South Indian sikha. He is a bit stocky, strong looking, and his face, with bright and even teeth, exudes an effulgent good humor. Yesterday he came into my room to show me his latest enthusiasm, a copy of Tirumantiram, the Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta work, which according to Gangesh “contains everything.”

I leafed through it and it does indeed look interesting. It is a famous work which I have unfortunately never read, so I put it on my mental filing cabinet for things that I must one day and hopefully will do.

Then Gangesh, with the force of the Ganges as it passes under Lakshman Jhula, began to tell me of his adventures over the past few years. To repeat everything would take more time than I have, but I thought I would at least share with you a couple of his yarns.

When the desire for spiritual life was aroused in him, he went to stay at an ashram in South India, where his talkative nature got him into trouble with the other residents of the ashram. Someone had told him that Shiva was a devotee of Rama and Rama a devotee of Shiva. So whenever he came to a Shiva linga he would chant Rama’s name, and whenever in front of an image of Rama, he would chant "Om namah Shivaya." Indeed, his guru had given him the mantra,

rAma rAmeti rAmeti rame rAme manorame
sahasra-nAmabhis tulyam rAma-nAma varAnane

(Narada-pancharatra 4.3.223)

And so he chanted it for the pleasure of Lord Shiva. One day, after doing this, he had a dream in which Lord Shiva appeared to him and talked constantly throughout the dream, but when he woke up he could not remember anything that the Lord said. Even so, he considered this dream appearance the blessed result of his method of chanting and so he shared his experience with other members of the ashram. But rather than share his wonder and excitement, one of them told him he was crazy and should go on “bhramana,” meaning wandering through India from one sacred place to another, depending on the mercy of the Lord.

Realizing that the ashram was no longer conducive to his spiritual life, he went and asked his guru for permission to go on bhramana. So for the next two years, he walked from Bangalore north to Uttar Kashi and also as far as Ayodhya in the East, staying mostly at different ashrams where he would remain for varying periods of time (including two months at Madhuban, the Hare Krishna temple here in Rishikesh).

Though he had many adventures, one story he told was rather fun, so I will just tell it as he did.

Gangesh was staying at an ashram in Maharashtra, which was undergoing a dry spell. It was a particular tithi and the mahanta was taking him to the Godavari in a car when for some reason he began to either tease or torment Gangesh by telling him that he did not believe he was really a brahmachari. Finally, in frustration, Gangesh blurted out that if he was truly a brahmachari, then the next day at nine o’clock in the evening rain would fall from the heavens.

He immediately regretted having said it. To quote, “Swamiji, I was saying myself, what for you say this thing?” But the mahanta, who sounds like a bit of schemer, decided to spread word around, telling all the villagers that the visiting sadhu had promised rain. A steady procession of poor village people came to the dumbfounded Gangesh who was at a loss for what to tell them to solve their problems. He just told them to do Go-seva. A woman trying to get pregnant was told to say a few prayers and feed and circumambulate a cow. He was telling everyone to circumambulate the cows.

By nightfall he was in deep anxiety. He went to bed hoping that by morning everyone would have forgotten, but that was too much to expect. Still, being nervous about what would happen, Gangesh decided to follow his own advice and circumambulate a cow or two.

The day went by and no one said anything. Finally, that evening, while the mahanta was serving Gangesh a fine meal, he said, “Half an hour to go.” Gangesh was near panic, but for no reason. The gods smiled on him and gave recognition to his brahmacharya by raining at the appointed moment.

The next day, all the villagers came with money and gifts for the sadhu. According to Gangesh, he said the gifts should be given to the poor, and since you are poor yourselves, keep them. They naturally wanted him to stay in the village, but Gangesh, fearful of labha, puja and pratishtha, pushed on north towards Uttara Kashi on his wandering adventure.

True or not, it was true to genre. And it was told with utmost sincerity and panache.