Friday, March 28, 2008

Madhavananda and Buddhism

I just got back to Rishikesh after nearly three weeks in Mayapur and Vrindavan. I was not able to get online for anything but the most perfunctory of functions. So although I heard the news about Madhavananda some time ago, I have not been able to comment. Perhaps it is for the best, as it has given some time for reflection and also to watch the reaction of others, particular of Advaita and those who posted on his blog. I read most of Madhavananda's rationale and his response to the fallout.

No doubt, there are many people who are feeling puzzled and saddened by this event. I must admit that I was not altogether surprised. When I saw Madhava in Radha Kund, I embraced him and told him that I had complete faith in him and that Krishna would guide him. I feel a little sad that he did not open up to me more then, as if indeed we are as good friends as Advaita seems to think we are, it would have been nice to go over some of these issues with him. In fact, it is not unlikely that I may have confirmed some of his negative ideas.

Let me say first of all that I do love Madhavananda dearly and will always love him no matter what he does. If he becomes a Buddhist, he will always be a Vaishnava in Buddhist clothing, just as so many Vaishnavas are something else in Vaishnava clothing. I hope that his experience as a Buddhist will ultimately serve to enrich his understanding of spiritual life and shed light on what it really means to be a lover of God.

But it must be said, and I will say it again, that most often it is a kanistha understanding of God that we reject, not a true understanding. That is not surprising, as the kanistha understanding is predominant in most organized religion. It is full of misunderstandings and very susceptible to attacks of doubt. There are two Krishnas, the Krishna of the kanisthas and the Krishna of the uttamas. The Krishna of the uttamas is for them like the air they breathe, like the blood in their veins. Even one who is disappointed with the air cannot stop breathing. A devotee who has achieved a level of nistha cannot abandon Krishna, not because it is an intellectual decision, but because he simply recognizes that it is Krishna that is the all-pervading Truth. If after all these years, Madhava has failed to see how that is true, it is his misfortune. Krishna is not just another name for Brahman, nor a relative mundane aspect of the Truth. Satyam param dhimahi.

Perhaps Madhava felt that Krishna had insufficiently reciprocated his surrendering everything to take shelter of Radha Kund. I think the most telling thing he said when I saw him last was that he felt Ananta Dasji was indifferent to him. Radha Kund is a tough place, especially for a westerner. The fact of the matter is that there ain’t much love there. And if you want to know the truth, we are in this religion because we heard that there was some prema here. And yet, it seems that the prema of the babajis is more theoretical than practical. This is precisely the problem I am trying to address: the kanishtha mentality.

But, before I go on, I have absolutely no doubt that reciprocation is there for every devotee who simply says once "tavaivasmi". there is no need to wait for social approval, money raining from the heavens, or visions of Goloka Vrindavan; the response comes instantly in the utterance itself. It is not even a question of pure mind or aparadh-free mentality. Listen to yourself say these words and your heart will fill with joy and a sense of being rightly situated.

Most of us are intellectual, rational-minded Westerners. A left-brain thinker like Madhava follows a certain logical train through Iskcon, the Gaudiya Math and then the Babajis, discovering one by one that everyone seems to have lost the train. And then it is no surprise that he also loses it in a flood of details, superfluous myths, rituals and sadachar. Dogmatism, dogmatism, dogmatism, and little or no fundamental human warmth. You are with us or against us. If you are lukewarm I spit you out. Snigdha Vaishnava sanga is such a rare thing, alas. Alas, indeed.

When I was writing the first draft of this post I was listening to a kirtan wafting across the Ganga. A small group of two or three people were singing Nityananda Gauranga Sri Advaita Chandra, Gadadhara Srivasadi Gaura-bhakta-vrinda. I wonder why there are not more small groups of devotees in intimate sanga who can sit down and feelingly chant the Holy Name without any abhiman. Without any need to somehow “know” or “be” anything, but simply to throw themselves at the mercy of the devotees and the Holy Name. We need to learn how to cry and embrace each other, to serve and love each other.

Well, that is a nice thought. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world, and the ideals that are inherent in a concept like “prema prayojana” are easily lost. But if they are lost, we must try to go to the very center of the concept and shake out the dust that covers it. In fact, it is my feeling that we need to serve the essence that permeates the words “prema prayojana” and dedicate ourselves to that. We need to remember that this is about service. If what you believe is essential to Mahaprabhu’s dharma is not there, then it is incumbent on you to serve that essence by filling the hole, and not to run away.

What I am responding to here is Madhavananda's claim that he had no real free choice when he came to Krishna consciousness, and that now he is somehow able to choose from a position of knowledge. This is, in my opinion, disingenuous at best. It is a great fortune that our purva samskaras lead us to a particular dharma and satsanga when we are young. These things should not be thought of in terms of the intellect alone, but in terms of forces beyond our control, namely mercy. How Madhavananda can think that he has somehow transcended these forces now and made a purely rational decision shows a level of self-unconsciousness that does not become him.

Nevertheless, let me return to the original question of kanishtha bhaktas and our responsibility toward it. Madhava is responding to the problem of sectarianism (which is the principal characteristic of the kanishtha mentality) by the familiar process of antithesis presented by the atheists, Mayavadis and Shunyavadis, alike. He says, "Krishna consciousness is only one among many systems." Now I have been trying to say recently that this is not altogether incorrect. There are two levels of Bhagavan realization. The first level, which is experienced on the kanistha level, is in fact bhagavad-abhasa. Krishna himself says that if you worship the deity in the temple without recognizing his presence in other jivas or Vaishnavas, then your worship is like oblations in the ashes of the sacrificial fire. The ultimate understanding of Bhagavan comes AFTER Brahman realization.

brahma-bhUtaH prasannAtmA
na zocati na kAGkSati
samaH sarveSu bhUteSu
mad-bhaktiM labhate parAm

This is what is meant in the Bhagavatam when it talks about the Uttama conception. When this happens, then one not only sees the universality of Radha and Krishna, perceived not only in the most fundamental building blocks of creation, but in the very highest heights of human achievement and experience. To look for the absolute in Brahman or Nirvana after understanding the personal nature of the deity, and relativising the personal concept is sadly philosophically and theologically unsound. Blaming it on God is no help.

To summarize: The problem Madhava has encountered is real. His solution is not.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Notes from Bhagavat-sandarbha

I fell behind with the Bhagavat-sandarbha and that is not good for anyone. So I am working hard on it now. I was rather astonished just now, when googling Bhagavat-sandarbha, I found that this blog was at the very top of the list. I don't know what that means, but I guess that it is time to supply those Bhagavat-sandarbha hungry people out there with a few more crumbs.

Here in this ashram there is a lot of talk about nirvikalpa and savikalpa samadhis, also known as asamprajnata and samprajnata samadhis. SN nicely provides a way of turning this on its head by identifying nirvikalpaka and savikalpaka pratyaksha from Nyaya. SN translates these as "indeterminate'' and "determinate" perception or knowledge.

At the very beginning of perception one obtains indeterminate knowledge in the form of mere observation. It is like the cognition of an infant or the dumb, arising purely out of the object without any distinction of quality and qualified. (Sloka-vartika of Kumarila Bhatta 4.112)

What is interesting is that the same terms are used, but in such a way that sa-vikalpa, i.e., recognizing the characteristics of the object, results in fuller knowledge of the thing, which is straightforward enough. The yogis and jnanis who seek nirvikalpa realization are in fact disowning the very specificity of the Absolute Truth, since they believe direct knowledge of the Supreme can only be had through negation. (Commentary to Section 1.3 of Bhagavat-sandarbha by SN).


More shall have to wait. I am out the door and on my way to Gauda Desh. And so I leave you, friends, with this Ray Shekhar pada--

মধুর মধুর গৌর কিশোর, মধুর মধুর নাট
মধুর মধুর সব সহচর, মধুর মধুর হাট ।
মধুর মধুর মৃদঙ্গ বাজত, মধুর মধুর তান
মধুর রসেতে মাতল বকত, গাওত মধুর গান ।
মধুর হেলন মধুর দোলন, মধুর মধুর গতি
মধুর মধুর বদন সুন্দর, মধুর মধুর ভাতি ।
মধুর অধর জিনি শশধর মধুর মধুর হাস
মধুর আরতি মধুর পিরীতি মধুর মধুর ভাষ ।
মধুর যুগল নয়ন রাতুল মধুর ইঙ্গিতে চায়
মধুর প্রেমের মধুর বাদল, বঞ্চিত শেখর রায় ।।

Madhura madhura is Gaura Kishora,
madhura madhura his dance,
Madhura madhura are all his companions,
madhura their joyful fair.

Madhura madhura plays the mridanga,
sweet are the sounds that they pull
The devotees are drunk with sweet madhura rasa,
madhura are their melodies.

Madhura madhura are the waves of Gaura's movement,
Madhura madhura his gait,
Madhura madhura is his beautiful visage,
sweet his effulgence bright.

Madhura madhura are his lips, brighter
than the moon his madhura smile,
Madhura is his anxious mood, madhura his love,
and ever sweet his madhura speech.

Madhura madhura are his aruna eyes,
giving sweet hints as he looks,
Oh that cloud of sweet prema has rained,
but I have been left high and dry.

Verse for today

Someone told me the other day that my day has come and gone. I am not quite sure what they meant. But the fact is that the day of Hari Katha will never go. I have been pressing on, for better or worse, on this path for nigh on forty years, now. How different things would be today if I had remained an Iskcon sannyasi. But that day came and went. There is no end to days, and there is no end to Hari Katha. God is infinite and each person's adventure in yoga is infinite.

Anyway, this verse is from Canto I, Narada telling Vyasadeva about how he developed rati. Some versions give ruchi as the last word in this verse, but we accept the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu reading.

tatrAnvahaM kRSNa-kathAH pragAyatAM
anugraheNazRNavaM manoharAH
tAH zraddhayA me'nupadaM vizRNvataH
priya-zravasy anga mamAbhavad ratiH

There, by the mercy of those sages who sang about Krishna, I was able to hear these charming descriptions of the Lord every single day. Since I was listening attentively and with faith at every moment, my love for the Lord, whose topics are so sweet, awakened. (1.5.26)
That is all, my friends. Bless me that I may have the chance to glorify my beloved Divine Couple, and that I may serve you by so doing.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

इत: परं न किमपि जानासि ? अस्तु, श्रावयामि...

When I was in Vrindavan, I talked with Satya Narayan about Madhusudana Saraswati. He said, Madhusudan was mixed up. In one chapter he writes his famous verse about there being no truth higher than Krishna, and in the next he goes right back to his Advaita philosophy. I remarked that the verse is probably the only thing that everyone knows about Madhusudan. It is even in my little Gita Press day book, with a picture of Krishna. Even Satya Narayan knew it by heart.

vaṁśī-vibhūṣita-karān nava-nīradābhāt
pītāmbarād aruṇa-bimba-phalādharauṣṭhāt |
pūrṇendu-sundara-mukhād aravinda-netrāt
kṛṣṇāt paraṁ kim api tattvam ahaṁ na jāne ||

With a flute adorning his hand, the color of a new cloud, dressed in a yellow cloth and with lips as red as dawn or the bimba fruit, with a face as beautiful as the full moon and eyes like lotuses, I know of no truth higher than Krishna.

Yesterday I was copying some verses from an old notebook and happened on one from Radha-rasa-sudha-nidhi. It seemed like Prabodhananda Saraswati, that old Benares-wallah, was directly commenting on Madhusudan's verse, even though that is impossible, as Madhusudana was definitely in his prime after Prabodhananda had already left this world. Anyway, this is the Radha-sudha-nidhi verse:

veṇuḥ karān nipatitaḥ skhalitaṁ śikhaṇḍaṁ
bhraṣṭaṁ ca pīta-vasanaṁ vraja-rāja-sūnoḥ |
yasyāḥ kaṭākṣa-śara-ghāta-vimūrcchitasya
tāṁ rādhikāṁ paricarāmi kadā rasena ||

The flute has fallen from his hand, and the peacock crown slipped from his head. The yellow cloth has loosened from the waist of the son of the king of Braja, who has fallen into a faint after being pierced by a sidelong glance from Srimati Radharani. Oh when will I serve her with delight?

From Jagat

Monday, March 03, 2008

Sacred Space, Sacred Time

On my walk yesterday, I caught up with a Gurukula student on the road, a young man who knows enough Sanskrit to hold a conversation. He was pushing his bicycle to the repair shop and we started talking about his dvi-cakrikA. Anyway, at some point we were talking about what the proper Sanskrit words were for "second," and "minute," and it reminded me of this verse, which is a great favorite of mine:

यदा यातो दैवान् मधुरिपुरसौ लोचनपथं
तदास्माकं चेतो मदनहतकेनाहृतम् अभूत्
पुनर्यस्मिन्नेष क्षणमपि दृशोरेति पदवीं
विधास्यामस्तस्मिन्नखिलघटिका रत्नखचिताः

The time that Krishna crossed by chance our path of sight,
that vile and miserable god of love came and stole our soul.
If ever such a moment should again come to our eyes,
its every instant we will drape with jewels and gold.(2.2.36)

I explained as best I could in Sanskrit the concept of "sacred space" and "sacred time." The gopis had discovered a moment of sacred time and they naturally wanted to worship it, to guard it sacred forever. Why? So that it could be recreated, because that is what the sacred moment is about.

Then we parted ways, and as I walked along the forest road, I pulled out my verse cards, and aho! (as Gadadhar Pran would put it!), the Bengali translation of the very same verse was the one I pulled out.

je kAle vA svapane, dekhinu vaMzIvadane
sei-kAle Aila dui vairI
Ananda Ara madana, hari nila mora mana
dekhite nä pAinu netra bhari

punaH jadi kona kSaNa, karAya kRSNa darazana
tabe se ghaTi kSaNa pala
diyA mAlya candana, nAnA ratna AbharaNa
alaGkRta korimu sakala

In that moment, perhaps it was a dream,
when I saw Krishna play his flute,
two enemies came and stole my mind.
One was joy, the other desire.
I could not watch until my eyes were full.

If there should ever come a day when fate
once more bestows on me a glance of him,
I'll worship that holy moment, second, instant,
with garlands, scents and sandalwood,
with jewels and gems and all that I possess. (2.2.37-38)

Indeed, the translation has more than the original. First, it may have been a dream. Second, there were two enemies. Third, the lament, "I could not watch until my eyes were full." And then the expansion of the moment to all its subparts.

The senses. Seeing. May we see.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Raganuga Bhakti and Sahaja Sadhana, Part III

I left off talking about association with devotees and saying that aṅga-saṅga was an element of service to a devotee. In this case, however, I did mean to place some restrictions: it is not that every bhakta is somehow to receive this kind of intimate service. It is restricted to the most antaranga association; and without the central element of love, it will most definitely be counterproductive. Love cannot be reduced to a mere sentiment, nor to the mere mechanics of physical sexuality. To do so is to make the same kind of mistake the beginning devotee makes when he confuses the bliss of first discovery with spiritual perfection. The love between sādhakas is the raw material of their sādhanā.

But let us press on with our understanding of the compatibility of the Orthodox tradition with this way of thinking. Actually, no one has contributed to the revival of Sahajiyaism more than Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati himself, who emphasized the concept of yukta-vairāgya. If something can be used in the service of Krishna, hari-sambandhi-vastu, and one does not do so, that is called phalgu-vairāgya. If one uses such a thing without an attitude of attachment (anāsaktasya viṣayān), then that is called yukta vairagya.

The world is real. This is, as you may well recall, a central distinction in the Vaishnava philosophy distinguishing it from Advaita-vāda. The reality of the world is understood in this way: though it is temporary, one can extract many benefits from it if one sees the relationship it has to Krishna. The way that understanding has been handed down to us is that the world is (1) a reflection of the transcendental reality, (2) a place where Krishna is engaged in enacting an infinite number of lilas.

Thus it is possible to transform the material world and its elements into spiritual ones by proper consciousness. For this reason it is said that the Vaishnava's body is not material because his senses are being used in the optimal fashion for the development of his pure consciousness.

Now the main objections to the above from the Orthodoxy can be expressed as follows: Sexual activity and love of another person in this world automatically fall under the category of asakti. Engaging the senses in sexual activity is automatically personal sense gratification and therefore cannot be engaged in by the spiritual body and the spiritual senses.

As a reference, one could point to Jiva Goswami's following statement in the Bhakti-sandarbha 311,

ruci-pradhānasya mārgasyāsya manaḥ-pradhānatvam tat-preyasī-rūpeṇāsiddhāyās tādṛśa-bhajane prāyo manasaiva yuktatvāt| anena śrīmat-pratimādau tādṛśīnām apy auddhatyaṁ parihṛtam |

The ruci-pradhāna path is primarily executed in the mind, for since one does not have the spiritual body of a Krishna preyasī, it is only logical that it be conducted in the mind rather than the body. This precludes any kinds of excesses performed in relation to the Deity, etc.

It should be noted as an aside that this passage is primarily concerned with the sambhogecchāmayī kāmānugā bhakti, not the tad-bhāvecchātmikā bhakti. Nevertheless, the latter is also clearly executed in the mind (mānasi sevā).

But this is no more true about sexuality than it is about any other kind of sense activity. Eating, seeing, singing, hearing, all can be transformed, and the central problem in the objector’s theory is that the only good sex is reproductive sex. And, as I have said so many times, the very fact that non-reproductive sexual love is announced as the pinnacle of human experience and is used as a metaphor for the highest love for God, indicates that sexual love is filled with values that are worthwhile and cannot be rejected as universally negative. In this respect, it may even be said that the elements that are the most binding about sexuality are its reproductive elements, which lead to the expansion of saṁsāra, etc.

Nevertheless, let us accept that if sexual love takes us away from God, it certainly is problematic for someone who has made the culture of love of God the be-all and central element of his or her existence. If sexual love is automatically external and entirely sensual in nature, then this objection might be acceptable, but such an understanding of sexuality is manifestly false. Sex is as much in the mind as it is in the body. The trick is to take the powerful associations that arise in the mind from sexual love and merge them into the Divine Love of the Supreme Couple. Like everything in life that is worth pursuing, it requires technique.

Our objective is to achieve a kind of consciousness imbued with love, and that the culture is inward and not purely material. The beginning point is to learn what it means to be in the mode of goodness where sexuality is concerned. In the mode of goodness one’s intelligence is clear and effulgent and not muddled by the pursuit of unachievable performance statistics or the ultimate orgasmic experience, nor clouded by fetishistic associations springing from the chthonic regions of the unconscious. This sattva state cannot be achieved without spiritual culture, through bhakti, through yoga, through sādhu-saṅga.


From this point, one must learn the technique of āropa. I have talked about this before at length, but it is hard for many people to understand, so please bear with me. Aropa is a term used by Sahajiyas and not used much by the Orthodox, though in fact it is used in rāgānugā bhakti in relation to the siddha-deha.

Aropa means “the conscious attribution of certain properties or identity to something else.” As such it is different from adhyāsa, which is unconscious projection and applied in reverse. For instance, we say that our identification with the body, which seems so natural to the conditioned soul, is actually a false attribution. However, in order to cultivate our true identity, we must consciously attribute to ourselves a spiritual identity, "I am Krishna das. I am Radha dasi."

This is called āropa: it seems false and unnatural to the non-devotee, but to the devotee it forms the central part of their entire sādhanā. All processes are meant to lead to this. Indeed, it is so central that Jiva Goswami says, astu tāvad-bhajana-prayāsaḥ, kevala-tādṛśatvābhimānenāpi siddhir bhavati: "Enough with all the efforts at performing bhajan! Simply by having this sense of identity, that I am Krishna's eternal servant, as specifically imagined as possible, you will attain success." (BhaktiS 304).

Ahaṅgrahopāsanā (identifying oneself consciously with the Deity) is also a kind of āropa, and the Gaudiya Math sometimes argues that the worship in a mentally conceived siddha-deha is a kind of ahaṅgrahopāsanā. But please look a little more carefully at BRS 1.2.305 and its commentary, where a distinction between the two attitudes is clearly made. Identification with a nitya-siddha pārṣada like Nanda or Subala is there criticized, but not identifying oneself as a follower of these parshads in their mood.

Looked at a little more broadly, āropa is something that we are constantly doing in Krishna consciousness already. For instance, the Deity form of the Lord is a case of āropa, although the orthodox Vaishnava might consider it blasphemous to say such a thing. Saying the Guru is Krishna is another form of āropa. Saying prasāda is "spiritual food" is yet another.

What makes a statue in wood or metal Krishna's arcā-vigraha? Is it not a convention that has been agreed upon for the sake of bhakti practice? If you say it really is the presence of Krishna, then is it not simply that Krishna has agreed to follow, or has himself institutionalized this convention? After all, as critics of idol worship have stated since time immemorial, God is present everywhere. What is the necessity of specific sites of sacredness?

The entire creation is sacred with the presence of God. But in order to make it possible to experience the creation as sacred, we enter into a kind of agreement or convention among ourselves or with God to call a certain place, or time or individual sacred. This is actually a legitimate means for experiencing the sacred. The most sacred places are those in which sacred actions are performed by highly realized souls, and this coincidence of āropa of the sacred becomes genuine experience.

Those who say all things are sacred are usually in danger of making nothing sacred, because without an extremely profound spiritual culture it is impossible to maintain such consciousness. Therefore, āropa is really the essence of all sādhanā, especially in its earlier stages.

If you say, it is not the consciousness of the devotee that makes the deity a Deity, this is not altogether true. Bhaktir evainaṁ nayati. God's presence in the world or in the Deity form is still a matter of awareness, an awareness that needs to be cultivated. What appears like or is called svarūpa-siddha bhakti is simply those activities that are conventionally or traditionally accepted as bhakti and that therefore are able to more immediately create associations with the Deity. This is why svarūpa-siddha bhakti is generally prescribed for beginners who are advised to favor such devotional activities over less direct methods. The more one advances, however, the more one is capable of making associations in less direct circumstances. The highest Vaishnava sees everything as Krishna's svarūpa and knows that he is the soul of everything. This is why an advanced Vaishnava's activities may appear mysterious to someone on a lesser level of advancement.

Conversely, certain aspects of svarūpa-siddha bhakti may become problematic for one whose spiritual culture has developed past a certain point.

Three kinds of devotees

Now the Bhāgavatam clearly says that someone who only worships the Deity without a consciousness of God's presence in other creatures, and particularly in the devotees, is a prākṛta, i.e., a mundane or materialistic devotee.

ahaṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu bhūtātmāvasthitaḥ sadā |
tam avajñāya māṁ martyaḥ kurute'rcā-viḍambanam||
yo māṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu santam ātmānam īśvaram|
hitvārcāṁ bhajate mauḍhyād bhasmany eva juhoti saḥ||
dviṣataḥ para-kāye māṁ mānino bhinna-darśinaḥ|
bhūteṣu baddha-vairasya na manaḥ śāntim ṛcchati||
aham uccāvacair dravyaiḥ kriyayotpannayānaghe|
naiva tuṣyercitorcāyāṁ bhūta-grāmāvamāninaḥ||
arcādāv arcayet tāvad īśvaraṁ māṁ sva-karma-kṛt|
yāvan na veda sva-hṛdi sarva-bhūteṣv avasthitam||
I am always situated in all beings as the soul of their being. The person who shows disrespect for that soul of all being is simply engaged in a pretense of worship.

One who disregards my presence in all creatures as the Soul and Lord, but engages in other kinds of worship is simply engaged in making oblations into ashes.

One who shows enmity to me who am present in the bodies of other people, who is proud and sees things separate from me, will never attain peace because of this enmity.

I am not satisfied even by the most opulent worship or elaborate rituals if they are performed by someone who disrespects my creatures.

So one should worship me in the deity form, performing his prescribed duties, for as long as he does not know that I am present in the hearts of other beings. (BhP 3.29.21-25)

So the idea is to expand outward from this narrow understanding. We are nearly all familiar with the following three verses from the Eleventh Canto:

sarva-bhūteṣu yaḥ paśyed bhagavad-bhāvam ātmanaḥ|
bhūtāni bhagavaty ātmany eṣa bhāgavatottamaḥ||
Havi said, “O King! One who sees the existence of his worshipable Lord in all living entities and the presence of all living entities in his worshipable Lord, is known as Bhagavatottama, or best of the Bhagavatas. (11.2.45)
īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca|
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ||
One who behaves with love towards God, friendship to those who depend on the Lord, with compassion to those who are innocent, and indifference to those who hate the Lord, is on the middle level of devotional life. (SB 11.2.46)
arcāyām eva haraye pūjāṁ yaḥ śraddhayehate|
na tad-bhakteṣu cānyeṣu sa bhaktaḥ prākṛtaḥ smṛtaḥ||
One who reveres the Lord in His deity form with faith, but does not revere the Lord’s devotees or other living beings is called a mundane devotee. (SB 11.2.47)
The procedure, one will immediately observe, is one that is leading outward. The kind of bhakti that is described as the activity of the prākṛta-bhakta is the type that is usually criticized by non-devotees, and with some justification. It is, in fact, filled with certain characteristics of the mode of ignorance:

yat tu kṛtsnavad ekasmin kārye saktam ahaitukam
atattvārthavad alpaṁ ca tat tāmasam udāhritam
And that knowledge by which one sees the all-in-all in a single manifestation, to which one is causelessly attached, which is meager and bereft of clear understanding, is called tāmasika. (Gita 18.22)
By this I don't mean to say that beginning devotees are entirely covered by the mode of ignorance, but that their faith, etc., show signs of an admixture of elements of the mode of ignorance that need to be overcome. I would further say, along with many Western psychologists, that immaturity, ignorance and solipsism are roughly synonymous.

A prākṛta-bhakta can worship his deity in complete freedom and self-righteousness. Although he worships the Other, in a way, that Other is illusory, because it is exclusively existing in his mind or in the minds of his limited group. In other words, he accepts the existence of the Absolute Other, but does not accept the challenge presented by the Other. His Deity does not talk to him, or if he does, he would only speak banalities confirming his own superiority bias and religious ego. This is not, I should clarify, limited to devotees and Deity worship: All religions, indeed mind-sets, have this sequence of realization.

The madhyama-bhakta shows signs of the mode of passion:

pṛthaktvena tu yaj jṇānaṁ nānābhāvān pthag-vidhān
vetti sarveṣu bhūteṣu taj jṇānaṁ viddhi rājasam
The knowledge by which one knows the various categories of nature in all things, seeing them as divided and different, is said to be rājasika. (Gita 18.21)
The rājasika person has recognized differences and this leads to the discovering underlying unity. So the madhyama bhakta accepts the challenge of Otherness.

The person who sees the underlying unity is closer to the mode of goodness. However, this kind of analysis is somewhat uncomfortable for devotees, especially those in the prākṛta and madhyama stages, whose entire effort is based on distinctions, and anything that even smacks vaguely of Mayavada has to be adjusted and interpreted away from the obvious meaning. But in fact, there is a cultural transformation towards unity that develops with spiritual advancement, even where the very basis of the process is difference.

It should also be noted that institutions are conservative and promote differences and distinction for their own survival, in exactly the same way an individual protects his own ego. In fact, the protection of  illusory false identity is one of the reasons that institutions exist. This is why a healthy distrust of institutions becomes desirable at some point.

tasmāt priyatamaḥ svātmā sarveṣām eva dehinām|
tad-artham eva sakalaṁ jagac caitac carācaram||
kṛṣṇam enam avehi tvam ātmānam akhilātmanām|
jagad-dhitāya so'pyatra dehīvābhāti māyayā||
vastuto jānatām atra kṛṣṇaṁ sthāsnu cariṣṇu ca|
bhagavad-rūpam akhilaṁ nānyad vastv iha kiñcana||
sarveṣām api vastūnāṁ bhāvārtho bhavati sthitaḥ|
tasyāpi bhagavān kṛṣṇaḥ kim atad-vastu rūpyatām||
Therefore the dearest thing for every embodied entity is his own self. And whatever else in the world is dear is dear for that reason. Know that Krishna is the soul of all souls. In order to benefit the world he has descended and appears like an embodied being. For those who know Krishna in truth, they recognize that whether animate or inanimate, all things are simply forms of the Lord. There is really no other thing in existence. There is an essential meaning that exists in all things, and the essence of that is Lord Krishna. So what else exists other than him, pray tell? (10.14.51-54)
So this is the consciousness that we are trying to achieve through sādhanā. It is not, however, that the acquisitions of the prākṛta stage are abandoned as one progresses, it is simply that one's frame of reference widens. Those who try to skip the prākṛta stage and progress directly to the uttama mostly end up being Mayavadis. Advanced devotees, however, progress beyond this stage to one of Unity-in-Difference, which is differentiated from the bhakti of the prākṛta devotee as parā bhakti.

brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
One who has come to the stage of identification with Brahman, is entirely satisfied in the Self, and neither laments nor craves anything, who is equal to all living beings attains my supreme bhakti.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Brief Interlude: Mahamantra Meditation

हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण

For people like me, who have a tendency to get lost in the woods of faith and doubt, our Gaudiya Vaishnava dharma has a wonderful fallback position: Acintya-bhedābheda. Brahma-Paramatma-Bhagavan.

कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे

Brahman is satyam. Sat, existence. We are that. So take a deep, nasal breath. Sit down. Clear your head. Forget all the details that you are supposed to believe in and just be. Let becoming take care of itself. You are that peace, eternity and love.

हरे राम हरे राम

Brahman is oneness. Paramatman is difference. Bhagavan is inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference.

Be Brahman. Pray to Paramatman. Be one with Bhagavan in love.

राम राम हरे हरे

Take a deep breath. Forget the details. The Holy Name has no content. It is pure being. It is prayer. It is being one with God in love. Take shelter of the Holy Name.

This is the essence. The rest is filler.

Jai Sri Radhe Shyam!

Mayapur for Gaura Purnima

So it has been decided, or rather confirmed, that I will be at Gadadhar Pran's place in Mayapur from about the 13th of March and will likely stay a full two weeks. I had a nice talk with Gadadharji on the phone the other day. He said, "My best friend is my sadhana," which I thought was rather nice.

His wife, Rai Kishori, gave birth to a boy in January. The child has been given the name Premavatar. His birth came amidst great many crises, as a uterine tumor had to be removed from Rai Kishori's body, at great risk to the foetus. Finally, they removed the tumor and Premavatar at the same time. Rai Kishori is currently still weak, but joyful at the birth of Gadai Gauranga's new sevak.

Anyway, the idea, from my side of things, is that since the Govinda Lilamrita will be more or less finished, that we could spend the two weeks having readings and discussion based on that, along with other activities. Gadadhar will also, of course, share his realizations of Gaura Lila. So anyone who will be in the area for Dol Purnima is warmly invited to drop in.

Gadai Gauranga Kunj
Sri Mayapur Ghat
Sri Dham Mayapur, Nadia, W.B.

Raganuga Bhakti and Sahaja Sadhana, Part II

Now since rāgānugā bhajana focuses on the mind (ruci-pradhānasya mārgasyāsya manaḥ-pradhānatvam—Bhakti-sandarbha, 311), its principal practice is smaraṇa. Indeed, since devotion by the inner organs is the goal, smaraṇa is said to be the objective of vaidhi bhakti also.

smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucit
sarva-vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ

One must always remember the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu and never forget him for even a moment. All scriptural prescriptions and prohibitions are subservient to these two. (BRS 1.2.8, CC 2.22.113)

Narottam Das expresses the same idea as follows:

manera smaraṇa prāṇa, madhura madhura dhāma,
yugala vilāsa smṛti sāra
sādhya sādhana ei, ihā boi āra nāi,
ei tattva sarva tattva sāra

Meditation or remembering is the life of the mind. It is an abode of ever increasing sweetness, the essence of which is the Yugala Kishor’s vilāsa-keli, Radha and Krishna's most intimate pastimes. This is our sādhana and this is the goal of our sādhana (the sādhya); this particular truth is the essence of all theological teaching. (Prema-bhakti-candrikā, 61)

In Prema-bhakti-candrikā, Narottam again emphasizes the relationship of the rāgānugā devotee’s desire and the fruit of his practice.

sādhane bhābibe jāhā, siddha dehe pābe tāhā
rāga mārge ei sei upāya |
sādhane je dhana cāi, siddha dehe tāhā pāi,
pakvāpakva mātra se vicāra |
pākile se prema bhakti, apakve sādhana-gati,
bhakti-lakhaṇe tattva-sāra ||

That which you meditate on in your spiritual practice (sādhana) is what you obtain in your spiritual body, for this is the method on the rāgānugā bhakti path. The goal we hanker for during sādhana will be attained with the suitable siddha-deha; the only difference is in the degree of ripeness. When one’s sādhana matures, prema will bring one to the supreme destination. This is the essence of all bhakti tattva. (Pbc 54-55)

Now it is no doubt clear to all that though direct contact with God will always be far more wondrous than anyone could possibly imagine, it could not be different in its fundamental specifics. In this restaurant, if you order crêpe suzette, you should not get boeuf bourgignon. You get what you order.

On the other hand, it is said that Krishna sometimes shows special mercy even to a bhakta who is engaged in bhajan for some trivial reason; sometimes he brings crêpe suzette to even the non-gourmet who has ordered Kraft Dinner.

satyaṁ diśaty arthitam arthito nṛṇāṁ
naivārthado yat punar arthitā yataḥ
svayaṁ vidhatte bhajatām anicchatām
icchāpidhānaṁ nija-pāda-pallavam

It is true that Lord Krishna fulfills one’s desire whenever someone petitions him to do so. However, he does not award anything which, once having been received, will be asked for again and again. Even if these worshipers show no desire for them, the Lord personally bestows them his lotus feet, whereby they forget all their transitory material desires. (SB 5.19.27)

In the same way, though the Bhagavata says that one should remember Krishna in any way possible (tasmāt kenāpy upāyena manaḥ kṛṣṇe niveśayet, 7.1.36), still some methods are superior to others. Hatred and fear are not good, but desire is. But such examples are always accompanied by the a fortiori argument, "If such is the case for one who barely desires the Lord, such a one as Putana, or the demons who gained liberation at his hand, then how much more would he be merciful to one whose desires are for pure service in a particular mood?"

Now let us just briefly remember the exalted status that is given to the madhura-rasa, the topmost of the sentiments.

taṭastha hoiyā mane vicāra jadi kori
saba rasa hoite śṛṅgāre adhika mādhurī

If we compare the sentiments in a spirit of impartiality, we find that the conjugal sentiment is superior to all the other rasas in sweetness. (CC 1.4.44)

yathottaram asau svāda-viśeṣollāsamayy api
ratir vāsanayā svādvī bhāsate kāpi kasyacit

Each of the devotional flavors is successively tasted as having some special delightful qualities not present in the previous. [Even so,] according to the individual character of the devotee, any one of these kinds of love may seem more delectable to him. (BRS 2.5.38, CC 1.4.45)

The hierarchy of rasas can be found in the Rāmānanda-saṁvāda from Caitanya-caritāmṛta (CC 2.8), ending with Radha's love in the topmost place, which is accompanied by a brief description of the exalted position of her sakhis.

Chaitanya, “Of all songs, which is to be considered the actual religion of the living entity?”
Ramananda Raya, “Songs describing the loving affairs of Sri Radha and Krishna are superior to all others.”
Chaitanya, “Of all topics a jiva should listen, what is the best?"
Ramananda Raya, "The love games played by Radha and Krishna are the best of topics a jiva should hear."

Now here basically is where the orthodoxy ends, unless you want to argue that other zones of smaraṇa like Gaura-nāgara are in a separate category, which I do not think is possible since they too remain within the scope of madhura-rasa.

Now we have already said since bhakti is a type of consciousness, the culture of the mind is central to rāgānugā bhakti, and that smaraṇa therefore predominates in its practice. Nevertheless, prema goes beyond the mind and into the realm of pure being; therefore the real culture of bhakti is not so much in the mind, but in the heart. This is one reason for the incredible importance of the Holy Names and kirtan--i.e., the Holy Name accompanied by music, especially as sung by someone with bhāva, has tremendous power to touch the very core of our being, beyond the dualities indulged in by the mind.

This is why bhakti is divided into means and end, sādhana and sādhya-bhakti, with the principal realms of sādhana-bhakti being the body and senses (vidhi), and mind (rāgānugā), bhāva to the realm of self-identity, and prema, the ultimate sādhya, i.e., the heart. We have briefly touched upon the culture of bhāva above when talking about sthāyi-bhāva, because this is really what is meant by bhāva. Sometimes people define it as "ecstasies," but this is misleading. Bhāva means knowing one's spiritual self-identity; it means love itself. Prema is the state of divine reciprocation.

The Gaudiya Math criticizes the giving of mañjarī- or ekadaśa-bhāva to "beginning" students, but it is difficult to know how one is supposed to cultivate bhāva without it, since bhāva is so closely tied to one's specific spiritual identity. So generally speaking, if ekadaśa-bhāva is not given explicitly or formally, it will be given indirectly or informally, such as from a book like Bhajana-rahasya).

In Rupa Goswami's description in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, prema is the consequence of bhāva, and in practical terms it follows close behind as divine reciprocation.

Now in the culture of the sādhya, five activities are considered to be most valuable. Of these, one is sādhu-sanga:

Chaitanya, “What is the most painful kind of suffering?”
Ramananda, “I know of nothing more unbearable than separation from the devotees of Krishna.” (CC 2.8.248)
Chaitanya, “What is the most auspicious and beneficial activity for the living entity?”
Ramananda, “There is nothing more auspicious than association with the devotees of Krishna.” (2.8.251)

The association of devotees is characterized by friendship and love. The Vaishnavas are the representatives of Radha and Krishna in this world. There are six kinds of affectionate exchange that are shared with devotees, called prīti-lakṣaṇam, the signs of love. The devotee is a harbor, a storehouse of love. Even if we know only a somewhat advanced sādhaka, we will recognize the greater presence of natural affection in him, an attractiveness that is attributable more than anything else to his quality of love.

If one falls in love with such a sādhaka, male or female, and wishes to share the process of sādhana with him or her, then how can this be considered faulty or negative?

The use of all the senses, including touch, is included in bhakta-saṅga:

akṣṇoḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-darśanaṁ hi
tvacaḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-gātra-saṅgaḥ
jihvā-phalaṁ tvādṛśa-kīrtanaṁ hi
sudurlabhā bhāgavatā hi loke

The goal of the eyes is to see someone like you; the goal of the skin is to embrace the body of one such as you. The goal of the tongue is to sing the glories of one such as you, for great devotees of the Lord are rare in this world. (Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 13.2, quoted in Madhya-līlā, 21)

A devotee in love with another devotee, both of whom are in love with Radha and Krishna, is not the same as the sexual union of two persons whose intent is purely sense gratificatory in nature. This is, I repeat over and over again, a form of devotional association that is highly privileged and sacred.

Since sādhu-saṅga is a svarūpa-siddha devotional activity, so too is this activity. Nevertheless, because of its volatile nature and the necessity for maximizing one's devotional culture, it is still advised to exercise great care.

Now here, obviously is where we first start to lock horns with the orthodoxy and where the principal debate lies. And it is more than just a symbolic matter, because it does change rather significantly the whole way of looking at everything that has already been said above, as it transforms our way of looking at the world and of looking at Radha and Krishna. Preliminarily, it will appear that we are moving away from a "pure" concept of Radha and Krishna and compromising it with matter, but in the long run, it will strengthen our understanding of the Divine Couple, indeed will purify it so that it no longer becomes a prisoner of cultural and historical accidents but a divine, transcendent and eternal truth.

At the same time, the principal point I am trying to get across here is that in order to really understand the culture of sahaja-sādhana, it is somewhat necessary to have at least begun the madhura rasa sādhana in the rāgānugā mode, as shown by the traditional orthodoxy and described above. It is my feeling that one who approaches the subject of sacred sexualithy without having had his subconscious molded by an innocent faith in Radha and Krishna, will likely overemphasize the purely symbolic and metaphoric elements in Radha and Krishna and lose sight of the reality of the Transcendent Person existing in that form.