Sunday, May 18, 2008

More Answers to Swami Prem Ananda

With regard to some of the questions raised by Swami Prem Ananda in his letter here.

“In trika-shaivism it is also said that Shiva is the Supreme Lord and the only Person in the whole of creation… Trika-shaivism answers that the veiling is happening because Shiva wants it to. Shiva enjoys this game of veiling and revealing himself. It is His Lila.”

I don’t think that there is a substantial difference between this and the Gaudiya viewpoint, except that we would say that the distinction between the jiva and the Lord is nevertheless real and therefore indicates an implicit, eternal relationship. Therefore we insist on this difference as well as the oneness and consider the status of jiva as real and eternal, existing both in the conditioned and the liberated state. Nevertheless, the only way to really conceive of this liberated state rationally is in the identity of oneness with God, a oneness that pervades our mutual participation in Absolute Being.

This helps to explain the problems that you have with the idea of “das or nath.” And here, I am afraid, I am forced to recognize the astuteness of the Gaudiya position. If Shiva is functioning in the role of living entities in order to enjoy the game or lila, then why has he made service the essence of the jiva’s existence? Is service then not pleasurable? Or if it is not, then why is the desire for mastery (ahankara and mamakara) seen as the very root of all problems in all Vedantic schools?

The fact is that service (or work) is the essence of life itself. I cannot exist as an embodied being without serving in some way. Even those creatures who exist in essential ahankara/mamakara mode still end up making the ultimate sacrifice to serve the continuation of life—giving their bodies as food or manure. But certainly, the human society, especially in its economic aspect, is based on the principle of exchange or barter, meaning you have to have something of value which you can barter in order to simply survive. If your karma is good you enjoy and if not you suffer the weight of serving.

But this distinction of suffering and enjoying is all Maya. The real secret lies in the act of service itself, which the Gita tells us over and over again is inextricably linked to life: “One cannot even maintain the body without work” (3.6). Perhaps even more apropos is the statement: “Yoga is the art of work” (2.50). Bhakti yogis recognize that of all the various attitudes towards work, the one that sees action as the essence of love is the best. Work performed grudgingly out of duty, work performed selflessly, stoically, etc., is all basically empty and misses the point. That point is illustrated perfectly by your philosophy, which acknowledges the oneness with God, but not the true difference.

It is not a question of God standing in highness and mightiness, like a dictator, and crushing the individual will of tiny jivas in order to extract from them their allegiance and worship in some horrendous spirit of coercion. How terribly distorted, and how precisely the kind of propaganda that one sees purveyed in the circles of non-belief! (A recent discussion on the Guardian CIF page (Good God?) on the question of theodicy illustrates many of these kinds of arguments.)

You rightly point out that Krishna’s relation to his devotees is of various kinds, but the essential characteristic in all these relationships is the service of the part to the whole. As the jiva becomes perfected in his understanding of what service means, God reciprocates accordingly. Because the truth of the matter is that it is also God’s nature to serve. As the jiva renounces more and more fully ahankara and mamakara, the more God renounces his divinity and comes closer to the jiva in intimacy, as an equal. This does not remove the idea of service, but only makes it purer, more sophisticated in its character, more complete in its giving.

A visceral aversion to the idea of our constitutional position of service to God is the true root of the material condition and suffering. It is the real reason that the devotees are neither attracted to the ideas of “Mayavada” nor able to bear the mind-bending efforts to avoid the essential truth of spiritual life: The constitutional position of the living being is to be a servant of God.” Everything else in Vaishnavism is a footnote to this truth. Prema is simply the outward manifestation of this truth, realized.

As to your questions about sex, Orthodox Vaishnavas are far from being the only spiritualists or transcendentalists who have ambivalent feelings about this issue. Please remember that liberal ideas on this subject are, for the most part, a very modern thing, and especially in the West. Even now, this is probably the area in which religion and secularism are in most conflict, with those trying to practice religion most often having difficulties with the question and materialists in great part rejecting religion on this very basis. Nothing has exacerbated this conflict more than the ability to point the finger at hypocritical renunciates. (See this article for a recent example.)

I doubt that your Shaiva traditions are any different. Indeed, my intuition is that in India, anyway, impersonalist philosophies (beginning with Buddhism) tend to be the most dogmatic on this question. If desire, tanha, is the root of suffering, dukkha, then the only approach in a pessimistic philosophy is to rout desire. Vaishnavism, to its credit, recognizes that desire is inherent in the jiva and prescribes the transformation and purification of desire, not its obliteration.

But I do not necessarily think that “the natural way” that you describe Osho upholding is the perfect answer, though I do agree with your presentation in many ways, as the last sentence of the previous paragraph implies. Nevertheless, the assumption that the elan vital if given free rein will necessarily be benign is not at all a given. Quite the contrary. This is why I make such an important distinction between sexuality in the modes of ignorance, passion and goodness, what to speak of using it as a means to transcendence. To think that sexuality in the mode of ignorance could in any way, shape or form lead to any kind of uplift is hopelessly misguided.

We need to admit that it is perhaps the recognition that sexuality is a powerful force that needs to be properly channeled that has led to its repression or at least its restriction in civilized societies. For a better understanding of this question, I think there is still no better book than Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents.

Indeed this brings us back to the question of service. In our modern Western world, we have made a few developments that result largely from the high degree of repression that is necessary to conduct the modern way of life. We are forced to live fairly intense lives of self-discipline if we want to achieve success, are constantly under social pressure to succeed, and the reward of sense gratification is what is held up as a reward. Nevertheless, the cycle of working like an ass to enjoy like a pig is not exactly what was really intended by traditional societies repressive attitudes. The subtler satisfactions of material fame, prestige, recognition are higher. The satisfaction of a job well done yet higher, and the knowledge that one is helping human society higher still. And alongside these traditional values, we still maintain a hierarchy of sexual attitudes, which though still in flux, value fidelity, true love, abhors bestiality and pedophilia, especially incestuous pedophilia, etc. So our liberal democracies basically recognize that these pressures on the side of pravritti (action) and nivritti (repression) lead to certain activities which though not altogether approved, must be freely permitted or at least not punished for the sake of release. Without the higher purification of spiritual realization, these things cannot and should not be controlled by society.

Nevertheless, I am in fundamental agreement with the traditional wariness about sexuality that pervades all religions and my proposition is this: We must restore, through ritual and myth, the sacred character of sexual love. Some people have difficulty with the mythical aspect of Radha and Krishna. Why, just yesterday, someone wrote to me comparing it all to Santa Claus. This again comes from a misunderstanding of how myth and ritual function. Certainly we cannot think of myth in the same innocent way that the primitive tribesman might have (I could even say, like an Iskcon brahmachari novice is expected to), but this does not mean for all that that the Divine cannot communicate His nature through myth, and not only that, but in order to make himself measurable for the sake of sharing his loving intimacy with his eternal parts and parcels, accept the conventions of that myth. This is what is generally refered to in Gaudiya Vaishnava circles as the principle of reciprocation. We usually refer to the following verses:

ye yathA mAM prapadyante
tAMs tathaiva bhajAmy aham

As all surrender unto me, I reward them accordingly. (Gita 4.11)

yad-yad-dhiyo tvam urugAya vibhAvayanti
tat-tad-vapuH praNayase sad-anugrahAya

Out of kindness toward Your devotees, you take the very form that they meditate on, appearing to them in that form. (SB 3.9.11)
This Bhagavata verse also refers to the scriptural or traditional (parampara) content of such forms. I have mentioned this before somewhere I believe, probably in relation to the same quote: There is a value in accumulated human experience. The fact is that this particular vision of the Divine does not really exist as a religious tradition anywhere else. It is attractive, it has built up around itself a literature, musical forms, a set of competing theological outlooks that are engaged in an internal debate about the various interpretations of the symbols, etc., techniques and methodologies for realizing them, and so it provides a rich source of possibilities on the basis of which we can seek further insight into this process of understanding and loving God.

The point again I would like to emphasize here is that the primary goal is God-realization through bhakti. Nevertheless, divine truth must do its work in the world of humanity. Freud himself recognized the problem: repression is not a solution. If this is what is required of civilization (i.e., the realization of the highest human aspirations), then certainly one can expect discontent.

The orthodox tend to think that Radha and Krishna’s sexual passions are meant to offer a kind of reward for prolonged sexual sublimation. This is in my opinion entirely wrong and indeed falls exactly into the kind of unhealthy state that Freud was observing and critiquing. I agree with you here. Nevertheless, I differ from Osho in that I am a bhakta, and I see the act of making love with one’s beloved as an act of mystical participation through which one’s devotion to God as the Divine Couple is enhanced and deepened. Not only that, but I believe that it must be conducted under a certain amount of control, as an act of mindfulness, as a sadhana, and not in a kind of false freedom of dythirambic intoxication. This is the intent of the word “sacred.”

(Those religious festivals that allowed some kind of permissiveness during a period to give a break from normal repressiveness, like Holi in India or Mardi Gras in the Catholic world, or Saturnalia, etc., were not giving a sacred character to sexuality, but only recognizing that sometimes you have to release steam from the pressure cooker. Traditional religion only gives sacredness to the procreative aspects of sexuality, but that is another subject.)

When I wrote the articles on aropa, etc., I was dealing with the orthodox objection that sexual activity is incompatible with release from ahankara and mamakara and the principle of service to God. I will have to return to this question again in the future and refine my response, but I am certainly happy that you read it.

One last word on the analogy of your relationship with your daughter. This is not really applicable here, since your relationship with your daughter is not eternal, or at least not as father and daughter. That is a purely karmic accident. This again has a relationship to the sahaja sadhana, but I will deal with that in a coming blog.

Radhe Radhe.


jijaji said...

"Nevertheless, I differ from Osho in that I am a bhakta, and I see the act of making love with one’s beloved as an act of mystical participation through which one’s devotion to God as the Divine Couple is enhanced and deepened. Not only that, but I believe that it must be conducted under a certain amount of control, as an act of mindfulness, as a sadhana, and not in a kind of false freedom of dythirambic intoxication"

What makes you think that Osho did not encourage mindfulness and awareness during sex? That was part of his whole emphasis. I hear so many misinformed statements like this about Osho from people who barely have taken the time to hear what he said, but base conclusions on hearsay or second hand sources, like I heard one of those people from GR say not too long back one time that Osho taught left-handed tantra..
LOL, LOL and a Ha Ha!

shiva said...

The idea of "service" is misunderstood by most people, including most bhaktas, as shown by Swami Prem Ananda's reaction to the concept of "service" as being similar to a dictator, or his example of the relationship between parent and child being one of love and giving rather then demand for "service".

The true meaning of the jiva being meant to be a servant of God can be understood when we understand the ontological relationship between God and the jiva. The jiva functions naturally under all circumstances as the servant of God just like the hand naturally is the servant of the person whose hand it is. The hand cannot function when cut off from the body. Similarly the jiva can only function under the control of God.

In the Gita Krishna says that:

"everyone follows my path in all respects".

Why? Because the jiva is unable to do anything other then what God guides the jiva to do through the antaryami or paramatma. In the Gita Krishna says:

"I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness."

The jiva is dependent on the antaryami for the functioning of the mind. You cannot do anything nor understand anything without antaryami giving you all memory through which knowledge is understood. You are a servant of God because you cannot do anything other then what God makes you do, you simply do not have the capacity for independent action. In the Gita Krishna tells us

prakrteh kriyamanani
gunaih karmani sarvasah
kartaham iti manyate

mayadhyaksena prakrtih
suyate sa-caracaram
hetunanena kaunteya
jagad viparivartate

The jivatma under the delusion of ahankara thinks that he is the doer of action. When in reality all action is carried out by Krishna through his control over the jivatma.

If we are already servant of God then why are we asked to take up bhakti in order to serve God? The purpose of bhakti is to make people happy, to liberate them from suffering, and to bring them closer to God ultimately bringing them to the liberated state of jivan mukti. The process of bhakti has been designed by God to achieve those goals. Of course over time the true proper teachings become distorted in various ways making it difficult to tell which is the true bonafide vedic path. There are many different schools and gurus who all claim to have THE TRUTH and they all differ in their teachings in a variety of ways. But God as antaryami will take you where you need to go, where God feels you need to be on your path to liberation. Karma is not an unconscious impersonal system, it is antaryami guiding you at every moment to your destiny.

About sex

In most vedic traditions sex is seen as either a distraction in a spiritual path which can lead you away from the path, or it is seen as unhealthy for the male due to loss of vitality from loss of semen. Many traditions believe in both of the above. Then there are the traditions which believe that sex should be used as sadhana. They may teach that trying to repress sexual thought and desire is pointless and almost impossible, especially if you are not very old. And there are various ways that sex is turned into a sadhana practice depending on the tradition.

The Gaudiya tradition as it is generally understood is in the mainstream of vedic traditions in the seeking to repress sexual desire and even go to the point of claiming that sex itself is not just a distraction and bad for your health, but that sex desire is a sign of a low level of spiritual advancement. They usually teach that the sign of spiritual advancement can me measured by the level of sex desire, with no sex desire as the highest level.

I believe that the above is a distortion that has crept into Gaudiya vaisnavism. Giving up sex is recommended in order to devote your time and energy with as little distraction as possible to the path of bhakti. But the idea that sex desire is a sign of low consciousness is not a bonafide teaching. Nor is the idea that sex is unhealthy or causes less brain power or the loss of vitality. These ideas are distortions which have crept into the bhakti traditions from yogic traditions.

The bonafide gaudiya teaching is that giving up sex is recommended for quick advancement if you use that time and energy that you would ordinarily use in pursuit of sex life, in sadhana practice. This is the basic paradigm that sex should be thought of in the bonafide bhakti tradition. When you advance beyond the need to do sadhana then there is no restriction against sex.

Some gaudiyas think that sex is something which jivas should never have anything to do with, other then for procreation, because they believe that their eternal role in the "spiritual world" of Goloka is meant to be sexless. That is a distortion taught by bhaktas who are deluded into thinking that they are knowledgeable about things they have had no direct experience with. They rely on books and words of bogus gurus or misunderstandings of esoteric texts which are above their level of ability to properly understand.

Jagat said...

I am sure he did. Thank goodness you are there to remind us.

jijaji said...

"I am sure he did. Thank goodness you are there to remind us"

Is this a response to me or Shiva..?

If it is for me, I will say your very welcome, I know you wait with baited breath for Osho nectar being a closet lover of his wisdom...


Jagat said...

For you. I have read some things by Osho and things about him. But I am admittedly not expert. I suppose I will have to read a bit more as it seems inevitable that our paths will cross.

Swami Prem Ananda said...

Namaste, Jagadananda Dasaji!

Thank you for honoring me with such thorough and lenghty answers. You made many comments to my comments, and I think I will need some time to reflect on them.
I think your arguments are good and carry a great deal of sense.
How good to have you back online :-)

I can see from YouTube that you have been visiting good friends and been doing some exiting translation work. I am also happy to discover that you are such a tolerant and friendly man. Our views may correspond or differ, but I must say I am starting to like you ;-)

Love from Prem Ananda

jijaji said...

Here's a good link for some of Osho's talks:

jijaji said...

You better be careful my friend, your reputation as a Sahajiya is now well known and on top of it you went to the land of Mayavadis which raised a few eyebrows..

But NOW you are associating with Osho Sannyasins and carrying on with them in some wanton manner which may get you branded as heretic #1..


(Swami Dhyan Moksha)