Monday, June 02, 2008

Prema Das Shastri

I have been going to Radha Raman Nivas around the corner for Chaitanya Charitamrita path in the evenings. This Raman Reti area is actually one that is steeped in Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, with the Bhagavata Nivasa, Dauji Bagicha and Radha Raman Nivas forming a kind of siddha triangle for early 20th century siddhas like Kripasindhu Dasji, Gauranga Dasji and Ramakrishna Pandit Baba. Radha Raman Nivas is O.B.L. Kapoor’s guru pat, and you can still get all his books here, in English and Hindi.

The Dauji Bagicha is now the Vrindavan Research Institute, so the grounds are being somewhat preserved and there is a replica of Ramakrishna Das’s kutir. So he hasn’t been forgotten. Bhagavata Nivasa is, from what I have heard, in danger of being ruined by developers, who would no doubt love to stick another five storey retirement home just a few meters from Krishna-Balaram. But for the moment it still has that flavor of a bhajan ashram of times gone by. Lots of trees, a well. A few virakta sadhus doing their mala in the shade. Quiet, birds, flowers, swept grounds.

Another place that really does this mood nicely is Tatti Sthan of the Swami Haridas sampradaya. It is the flavor that you get when you read Jaiva Dharma—something that really does not come when you enter, say, an Iskcon temple or a Gaudiya Math (maybe a little bit at the Chaitanya Math in Mayapur). You can immediately understand how the culture has changed. This looks more like “simple living and high thinking.” Anyway, despite the creeping presence of the modern age and the inevitable kitsch (Christmas lights, tinsel decorations and fading paper flower garlands draping the Vyasasan), Radha Raman Nivas still retains a bit of that mood.

Prema Dasji is giving class every day on Chaitanya Charitamrita in front of Gauranga Das Baba’s samadhi to an audience of about 40 babajis, mostly from the ashram itself, and a handful of grihasthas and women. He speaks in Hindi, which is a little odd, as everyone there, as far as I can tell, is Bengali. But it is just as well. I met Prema Das in 2005.

He is obviously an up-and-comer despite the handicap of being initiated into Mukunda Das Goswami’s line and being the mahanta of Surama Kunja. (He is probably in his early 50’s, but looks young and vital.) He made it clear to me when I met him that he considered it his life’s mission to rehabilitate the name of Rupa Kaviraja and he chants a verse in his mangalacharan naming Krishnadas Kaviraj, Mukunda and Rupa “Kavindra.” He denies any reality to the Sahajiya connection and his presentation of Krishna bhakti is pure orthodoxy of the Vrindavan babaji set, along with all the hundreds of illustrations from books like Gaudiya Vaishnava Jivan and Kapoor’s Vraja ke bhakta.

I realized as I came into class today that his intonation and style and even his voice are a bit like Ananta Dasji, but he certainly does not match him in the sheer power of his memory. On the other hand, he compensates for it with enthusiasm and story-telling ability.

He has been discussing Sanatan siksha, and has more or less settled on doing the symptoms of a jata-rati sadhaka since I have been there, doing kshanti (tolerance), avyartha-kalatvam (non-wasting of time), virakti (indifference to worldly things), mana-shunyata (complete freedom from the desire for personal respect and glory). Today we came to asha-bandha, or constancy of hope or aspiration for Krishna’s mercy.

The class began with the quotation that Rupa Goswami uses in the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu to illustrate that particular quality. It happens to be written by Sanatan Goswami himself, which fits right into a theme of these classes, since Prema Dasji has been spending much of them telling stories of Sanatan to illustrate the other qualities.

This has always been a favorite of mine, so I quote it in full:

na premā śravanādi-bhaktir api vā yogo'thavā vaiṣṇavo
jñānam vā śubha-karma vā kiyad aho saj-jātir apy asti vā
hinārthādhika-sādhake tvayi tathāpy acchedya-mūlā satī
he gopī-jana-vallabha vyathayate hā hā mad-āśaiva mām
I have no love for Krishna, though it is love for Him that makes Him attainable. Nor do I have a devotional practice of hearing and chanting by which I might attain such prema. I have no Vaishnava yoga practice of discipline either. What qualities do I have that would make me worthy—not learning, good deeds or even—worthless as it is—a noble birth! Nevertheless, I remember you as the one who makes good, and even more, the goals of the unqualified, and therefore in my heart there is a hope that I may attain you, which has such deep roots that they cannot be cut off. O Gopijanavallabha, this hope gives me pain, for I cannot help but remember my disqualifications. (1.3.35)

From here Prema Dasji went into a glorification of Radharani’s mercy. Actually, since I had never heard the story he told of Mukunda Goswami, I will just briefly recount it. It is rather typical in many ways. Mukunda had been doing bhajan in Braj for many years and still had not attained a vision of Krishna. He had come in the first place when Govindaji appeared to him in a dream and told him to come there and do bhajan, so he was frustrated at the length of time it was taking for Krishna to come through for him.

Finally he decided that he would just go to Radha Kund and stop eating or drinking until Krishna appeared to him. Finally, he was on the verge of death (maranâpanna), barely gasping Radharani’s name when Karunamayi took notice of him. She went to Krishna and said, “Is this what you brought him here to Vraja for, to let him starve to death without showing him your mercy?” Then Krishna said, “Ah Radhe! Now that you have taken notice of him, I will certainly be merciful. Everything depends on your mercy.” And so the divine couple appeared to Mukunda and saved his life.

Just to let us know that Krishna’s mercy depends on Radha’s mercy first. And so Prema Dasji cited the following verse from Radha-rasa-sudha-nidhi

dhyāyaṁs taṁ śikhi-piccha-maulim aniśaṁ tan-nāma sankīrtayan
nityaṁ tac-caraṇāmbujaṁ paricaraṁs tan-mantra-varyaṁ japan
śrī-rādhā-pada-dāsyam eva paramābhīṣṭaṁ hṛdā dhārayan
karhi syāṁ tad-anugraheṇa paramādbhutānurāgotsavaḥ
As I meditate on Shyamasundar, remembering the peacock feather on his head, as I constantly sing his names, as I serve steadily his lotus feet and chant the japa of his mantra, I hold in my heart the supreme desire of attaining service to Srimati Radharani’s lotus feet. Oh when will Krishna give me his mercy and make me a joyful personification of that amazing rasa that is known as Radha-dasya? (RRSN 259)

And there was so much more—and a lot going on elsewhere, too. But internet time is hard to get, especially with the downpour yesterday that has cut off electricity throughout Vrindavan for most of the day.

*****

One other item for today. I went to Gopal Ghosh’s house right next to Brahma Kund and the Lala Babu mandir, where the family was completing his shraddh ceremony. Narasingha Dasji told me about it and I thought it was to be a commemorative event, but it was mostly a family affair. Vaishnavas don’t usually attend shraddh ceremonies, but a group came from Iskcon, led by their star kirtaniya Aindra Das, to chant. A very sustained, animated and musical kirtan it was, too.

Gopal Chandra Ghosh will be sorely missed. He had encyclopedic knowledge of Vrindavan history, from early times to the recent. There was a recent article about him on the Vaishnava news sites in which he is cited as saying that at first he did not show the Western Vaishavas respect, but that later he came to change his opinion and so went out of his way to help them when they came to the Vrindavan Research Institute. When I came in 2005, I met him for the first time and was greatly impressed by both his knowledge and his attitude. He was initiated in the Radha Raman line, if I am not mistaken. Anyway, they say that when a repository of oral traditions dies, it is like a library burning down, and that is no doubt true in this case. I don’t believe that he had any equal. From what I hear, the same kind of helpful spirit is missing in the rest of the VRI staff.

Sorry that I have no picture to post of any of my Vaishnavas for the day.

*****

A note about the word hînârthâdhika-sâdhaka, it appears in Brihad-bhagavatamrita 1.5.116 and in Lila-stava 13, and in Hari-bhakti-vilasa 14.1. So it seems to have been a dear expression to Sanatan Prabhu. I also found an instance in the Padma Purana.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just curious, but what is the disadvantage of being in Mukunda Das Goswami’s line and being the mahanta of Surama Kunja? Is there some connection to Rupa Kaviraja? If so, what is the controversy?

Jagat said...

Surama Kunj, according to Vishwanath's commentary in the BRS, promoted a doctrine of ignoring the rules and regulations of vaidhi bhakti, and I believe cross-dressing and some other things.

Mukunda and Rupa Kaviraj are usually at the top of the paramparas for all Sahajiyas. Premadas finds this pretty embarrassing. I went to pick up a book at his place today and he mentioned it again. Actually Gopal Ghose apparently wrote something saying that it wasn't true, so I will check out that article (which I think he gave me) and post the results.

Jagat said...

His ashram gives its parampara as starting with Mahaprabhu, then Raghunath Bhatta Goswami, then Krishnadas Kaviraja, then Mukunda, Rupa Kaviraja, etc.

BTW, I went to the Gopinath Gaudiya Math near Gopishwar and they also have Radha Krishna deities that they say were served by Tapan Mishra and Raghunath Bhatta Goswami (his son). Their ashram was where Vijaya Krishna Goswami used to stay in Vrindavan, and they say that the Bal Dauji vigraha was his.

They bought this property. Pretty nice actually, as is Vrinda Kunja (nicer in fact) just a few hundred feet away.

Jagat said...

I have been noticing the complete fearlessness of the local mouse. I should say, one of the local mice. Yesterday, one of those Indian chipmunks walked right into the assembly and jumped into the Nam Yajna setup in the middle of the room. Don't know what it did in there, but it came out a few minutes later.

One of the stories about Gauranga Das is that in one of his Bhagavata classes a bird died and fell on his lap while he was speaking. He picked it up and whispered the Holy Name a few times, and the bird came back to life and flew away.

I guess animals are comfortable in this place.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the additional information regarding Mukunda Das Goswami and Rupa Kaviraja. Much appreciated!

Anonymous said...

I have heard that the problem facing Bhagavat Nivas was that Haridas Sastri was claiming ownership and wanted to take control of it. Have you heard anything like this?

Anonymous said...

Seems like you are having a great time in Vrindavan, and interesting. I am jealous (in a well wishing sense).

What were you doing in the Gopinath Goudiya Math ?

Anonymous said...

Jagat, are you aware of the ongoing debate on women's rights in the Vaisnava community? Have you come across any discussions on this in Vrindavana? Your descriptions of different sites still holding the flavor of Gaudiya tradition sounds sweet, very smart indeed, so thank you for mentioning. But at this point in the game who is going to continue ignoring the other side of this tradition, namely its manipulation of women as a class.

You wrote, "Prema Dasji is giving class every day on Chaitanya Charitamrita in front of Gauranga Das Baba’s samadhi to an audience of about 40 babajis, mostly from the ashram itself, and a handful of grihasthas and women". Notice how automatically you classify women as a group in itself, apart from ashram, even the grihasta ashram!

"It is the flavor that you get when you read Jaiva Dharma", you wrote. You bet it is. This is a tradition of many things, not lest its blatant misogyny: In Jaiva Dharma an elderly woman, along with her husband, arrives at the gate of the ashram of a babaji who was gifted by God with the capacity to save anyone from repeated birth and death. But alas, she was told she wasn't allowed to go beyond those gates on the grounds of her being a woman. "Liberation, my dear, is meant for men", was the husband's obvious words, and which Bhaktivinode, in fear of the tradition (?), chose to never write. Instead, the mature woman, after walking miles and miles undergoing various hardships, suddenly remembers, "Oh, how awkwards, I wasn't invited, my fault, all of it, unfit class that I am. And he fact that I forgot my real position is consequently the proof of my lesser intelligence, silly me, eh, eh, alas, oh why don't we just have a world of men, only men? Isn't it logic that such would be the kingdom of God?! But what do I know, I am just a stupid woman, let the men folk tell me what is and what isn't... duh..."

Nice tradition, very nice. Want to bet your jugular vein that soon it will have not much left to talk about BUT the women issue?

Anonymous said...

"He picked it up and whispered the Holy Name a few times, and the bird came back to life and flew away. "

Must have been a male bird...

"I guess animals are comfortable in this place."

More comfortable than women, for sure.

Jagat said...

I am not up to date on the politics of Bhagavata Nivasa. As far as I know HDS is a trustee and there is some problem with the current management, which may want to sell off part of the land. But I do not have all the details nor have I asked for them.

Gopinath Gaudiya Math -- looking for a book.

Jagat said...

Well, you know I don't believe that about women. So if you want to ascribe an agenda to a description of what I saw--40 men, mostly tyagis, and about 7-8 women--then go ahead. I will welcome "misogynist" to the list of loving things people say about me.

anuradha said...

You are being attacked by some and honoured by others.
Your writings and elaborate answers to some of my questions were of great help, especially those questions concerning sectarianism, atheism and the contradictions in scripture relating to historical facts.

You are being called sahajiya, aparadhi, sex-addict and worse things by your opponents. You are a critic of the tradition, but at the same time you are part of it (in a rebellious way). Good.

I consider you a fellow vaisnava, a strong theist and a friend I never met.

You are not to blame personally for things that go astray in a tradition that is very old, dominated by males, indian and sometimes maybe a bit too conservative for our egalitarian western taste.

Anonymous, I too think the time is right to give women a equal and prominent place in the vaisnava community.

Anonymous said...

"Well, you know I don't believe that about women."

Don't worry, we know you don't.

However, to consider women an odd category is so practiced in religions that even a supporter of women's rights like yourself does not realize when you do it. Again, your words were,"40 babajis, mostly from the ashram itself, and a handful of grihasthas and women". Notice how you have three categories there: Tyagis, grihastas and women. You didn’t categorize women as grihastas or tyagis but simply by gender.

This has been the norm in most traditions throughout History, and that’s sort of expected considering contexts. But Gaudiya Vaisnavas, well, this is a tradition that claims The Edge on absolute facts…

In his purport to SB 3.12.28, Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote, "The human being is a social animal, and his unrestricted mixing with the fair sex leads to downfall." Now, the interesting thing to notice in this sentence is that Bhaktivedanta Swami makes a distinction between women and human beings, the first being worth of notice only due to them being a thread to the latter. Does he expect to be speaking of absolute conclusions here? Is this the religion that provides answers for all and any quests?

Disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling…

Anuradha: The debate rages on still on the level of man versus woman when really by now it should be moving on to human beings versus fear, apathy and incompetence.

Jagat said...

I was rather expecting that answer. If you had heard me in the teastall just a few minutes ago, talking about Barack and Hillary, I was saying, "In my opinion, we should turn the power over to women everywhere for a hundred years. Men should just make sure that they can do the needful without fear. Men have made a mess of things, all they want to do is compete for power and riches and fight. In the Gramin Bank in Bangla Desh, they made a policy of only lending money to women because they found that women can be trusted, men can't. In East Africa, men have been killing each other with such regularity, and behaving absolutely abominably with women through that time that they have completely wrecked the country, maybe for generations. The women think of the practicalities of education, food, water, raising children; men are thinking about guns and diamonds, pushing people around and, most sadly of all, rape. In Rwanda, they had the good sense after their orgy of testosterone gone wrong, their orgy of wounded male pride on the warpath, that they reserve more than 50 percent of parliamentary seats for women. Hopefully that will help stop such stupidity from happening again.

The problem for Hillary, as some writers observed, was that she had to play the game the men's way, and came out looking pretty bad, as Obama actually showed himself to be a little more of a gentleman. I am rather happy that he won in the end, though I was in favor of Clinton from the beginning to the very end, albeit with increasing disappointment in her tactics and her obligation to kowtow to the powers that be in order to prove that she can be as jingoistic and stupid American as the Republicans. I hope she takes the vice-presidency.

Anyway, with regards to the Vaishnava scene and Indian culture with regards to women, I have been currently kind of sinking into the status quo ante of my spiritual life. Things will change, but I am not going to go to Bhagavata class with a placard in my hand, at least not yet. Women and men are a different category. And despite the above, I do not believe that women are inherently perfect, nor do I idealize them. Nevertheless, I believe that Nature has constructed women with civilizing qualities, which are inherent in them since time immemorial, and that we should idealize those characteristics and allow women to cultivate and use them without the necessity of competing with men in the masculine mode.

I suppose that the above argument is more emotional than rational, but I believe that it has a real rational basis as well. It is a faith that has its basis in prema-dharma and the victory of Radha over Krishna in the battle of love.

Subrata said...

Jay Nitai,

While I see you posting about Radharaman Nivas I thought of posting about present Mahanta of there, Srimad Dinhari Das Baba at vilasakunja http://vilasakunja.net/index.php?showtopic=678&pid=4716&st=0&#entry4716.

Jay Nitai

Anonymous said...

" Things will change, but I am not going to go to Bhagavata class with a placard in my hand, at least not yet."

And why not "yet"? Isn't this a rather overdue change? Isn't our tradition endangered due to its absurd resistance to embrace evolution, its own essence?!

Indeed your words on your going to Bhagavat class could easily be the words of those who claim to understand the need for Hillary but still voted for Obama. "Not yet" has always been the downfall of otherwise ideal reforms. Those who voted for Obama failed to understand where the urgency of a real reform for this culture lies.

Everyone with a half ounce of goodwill knows that elections in America are not about administration but about manipulation of power of consumption.

Does America, and indeed the world, need yet another half-baked gentleman? Indeed, a real gentleman would have understood that the reality of our times is that the issue of gender is more urgent than the issue of race. Such gentleman would have honored this truth, and would have honestly allowed his woman competitor her actual chance.

A women, even if not the ideal one, would have been a better president than a procastinating gentleman.

" It is a faith that has its basis in prema-dharma and the victory of Radha over Krishna in the battle of love."

And those who speak of love but wait for others to bring the placards are rather a puzzle to me, so...

In any case, thanks for a nice blog.

jijaji said...

Sexism and oppression of women will continue forever in Gaudiya Vaishnavism and and other religions as long as sex is viewed in the manner it is within that religion,

The more a religion preaches the EVILS of sex the more it's women will be oppressed. It's not a matter of letting women run things, it's about this ugly attitude towards sex that prevails and has split human beings in two, on one end they they fear sex and woman and on the other extreme they are overtly fascinated some to the point of perversion and the sexuality leaks out in unhealthy ways like incest or child abuse.

Educate MEN on how sex is not an Evil sinful thing and sexism will loose it's hold, but in a religion like GV that means going against scripture and all the saints,

A very difficult proposal...unless you go off and become a sahajiya...

jeej

Jagat said...

Well history has decided that the issue of race WAS more important than the issue of gender. But the struggle goes on.

As to my own activism (or lack thereof), that is an issue for another day. To push a person like myself into activism is rather like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

But I am trying to do my part, in the way that Jijaji has expressed it. And in this I am quite in agreement, although I may put a bit of a tika on it. Sex is, like everything in this world, in need of sacralization. On its own, because of the modes of material nature, it can be misused as a way of harming oneself and others.

As a matter of fact, it is rather easy to hurt other people through sex, because it is used as a tool of commerce by both men and women, while it masquerades in the dress of love, and that makes it a very potent force. The belief that "love" or "sexual attraction" is always beneficial is a rather romantic view, something like a belief in the "invisible hand" of laissez-faire capitalism. If there are dangers in seeing only the dangers of laissez-faire, like in communism or socialism, there are similar dangers in a too romantic viewpoint.

India's attitude is analogous to communism. It represses the creativity of an entire section of society in the name of social peace.

There was just an article in the other day's Amar Ujala about a "premika-yugala" from Delhi who had run away together to Vrindavan and had rented a room. The Delhi police were looking for them and found them, but they managed to escape. So the police took in the guy who rented the room. The Vrindavan police is now also looking for the boy and girl. NOw will anyone explain to me what the hell the police in India is doing wasting its time looking for this bechari boy and girl while they have so much to do on so many other fronts? The reporter did not seem to think anything of it--a perfectly natural occurrence, a newsworthy little adventure.

So, the basic thrust of Jijaji's statement is correct.

Jagat said...

Thanks Subrataji.

Anonymous said...

"Well history has decided that the issue of race WAS more important than the issue of gender. But the struggle goes on."

No, what was decided was that certain interests are more important than honesty. And so indeed for all, the struggle continues.

Anonymous said...

"Indeed, a real gentleman would have understood that the reality of our times is that the issue of gender is more urgent than the issue of race."

I agree. Jagat shows Africa society todya is proof Africa is now naturally surpassing America in proper sociology. The extremely necessity arouse there first, but America may be next. History unfortunately, is made mostly of blood.

jijaji said...

Actually Jagat is doing the best thing he can to to battle sexism in GV and that is to teach sacredness within sexuality. Like I said it's not about a shift in power, putting women in charge or taking over commonly male help positions, if a sexuality is continued to be seen as an evil sinful thing women will continue to have live with sexism.

The truth of what I am saying can be seen in India itself, just look at the traditions that consider sexuality as a sacred act and a means to higher consciousnesses (Tantra) in Tantra SEX AND WOMEN are both seen as scared and given due respect, and as a result there is less sexism in Tantra than in any other tradition in all of India.

Jagat is doing more good work to combat sexism in GV than most probably think...

If Sex is Sacred, then it is no longer Evil or Sinful and the result will be the death of Sexism, but not with free wanton sex, that in itself will not kill sexism.

namaskar,

jijaji

shiva said...

I had to laugh when you folks start talking about how women would be better leaders just because they are women. Remember Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto (totally corrupt government and supporter of George W. Bush), Angela Merkel (neocon, supporter of George W. Bush).

Let's look at Hillary. She was the person who pushed Bill into bombing Serbia and Kosovo indiscriminantly in order to take over the region for American imperialism, the story that Serbia was commiting genocide was fabricated see this site for Hillary, Bill, and Kosovo http://www.alternet.org/audits/77546/?page=entire

She was behind all of Bill's neo-liberal policies (similar to neo-con but with a different imperialistic style), see this from a women's rights group about Hillary http://www.whrnet.org/docs/perspective-eisenstein-0610.html

I assume you folks are just being sentimental and don't really keep up with politics.

Jagat said...

Shiva you are both right and wrong. First of all, in most democratic countries, being the national leader is a complex business, and in places like the U.S., where there is such a strong conservative constituency, it is very difficult to push through liberal policies. Women who enter politics are often obliged to prove they have "balls," be strong on defense and other such crap, mainly because of the macho conservative culture which thinks that the real way of showing strength is by having lots of guns, i.e. penises.

In a country where the female legislative voice was equal to that of men, I think that you would see quite a different attitude and ambience in government. Many studies have been done of female management styles, female CEOs, etc., which shows that they tend to use a more collegial rather than competitive approach. This is really the way that democracy should be moving. What is going on in most democratic countries, especially the U.S., is frankly stupid, to use a toned-down expression, and getting stupider by the day. Bill Moyers has written some good things recently that you can see on truthout.org. I think they are excerpts from a new book.

jijaji said...

Geez my grammar and spelling seems to get messed up on blogs..

gotta be careful people my think I getting alzheimer's

;)

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