Monday, September 15, 2008

Truth and Bhaktivinoda

Yesterday I posted the article about Bhaktivinoda Thakur, but was having a few misgivings, so I took it down. Why stir up this infernal can of worms again? Perhaps it is something about the American election, to which I am paying far too much attention, and the brazen, cynical, perpetual telling of lies that has been characterizing it, which has made me think, “Dammit, does the truth not count for anything?”

(See this post for a discussion of Truth.)

I put the post back up later, after Satya Devi told me that she had received it. Clearly there was a lot of sadness in that article, even when I wrote it. There was a disappointment in our Vaishnava history that extended into the next article about the three books, all of which was followed by a reflection on what to do with this kind of information and the challenges that it presents. I have now also uploaded these two articles, which may be useful for those who had objections, etc., most of which I have countered therein. Just follow the link at the very end of the article. There are still dead links in all these articles, I am afraid.



I went to Madhuban to give my class after having taken the post down. The Gita verse I was to speak on, by coincidence was—

prakṛter guṇa-sammūḍhāḥ sajjante guṇa-karmasu
tān akṛtsna-vido mandān kṛtsna-vin na vicālayet
Bewildered by the modes of material nature, the ignorant fully engage themselves in material activities and become attached. But the wise should not unsettle them, although these duties are inferior due to the performers’ lack of knowledge. (Gita 3.29)
The context of this verse itself is interesting in that one may ask, does it apply to the kind of situation that we are talking about here? It is preceded, a couple of verses earlier by this one.

na buddhi-bhedaṁ janayed ajñānāṁ karma-saṅginām
joṣayet sarva-karmāṇi vidvān yuktaḥ samācaran
The wise should not disturb the intelligence of the ignorant who are attached to fruitive work. Rather, he should encourage them to perform their prescribed duties, while himself setting the example. (3.26)
Both of these verses come in the context of Krishna making a distinction between jñāna and karma. Their original intent, as most acharyas agree, is that those who have an adhikāra for karma should not be persuaded to follow the jñāna path, which calls for renunciation.

Those who are familiar with Prabhupada’s commentaries will know that he puts everything in the context of devotion, which is a unique approach that not even our acharyas followed. In the Hindi translation “Krishna consciousness” is always rendered as kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta, which is a felicitous choice of words in my opinion. In my classes I have defended Prabhupada’s decision to treat karma-yoga as though it were an extension of bhakti, even though in my first few classes I took pains to explain the first part of Rāmānanda-saṁvāda, where karma and jñāna are treated as external to it. There, Ramananda follows the hierarchy of practices leading from (1) just doing your duty, (2) giving up the results to Krishna, (3) renouncing duty, (4) devotion mixed with knowledge, (5) devotion unmixed with knowledge. This is where Mahaprabhu says eho hoy.

But let us just examine this issue a little further for a second. In verse 3, Krishna said, “I have previously told you, O sinless one, that spiritual determination (niṣṭhā) in this world is of two kinds: for those who are intellectually inclined, it is attained by the discipline of knowledge, for the yogis, by the discipline of action.” (Gita 3.3)

Niṣṭhā is singular, indicating that there is only one goal, situation in Brahman. This one niṣṭhā is approached in two ways. Now Shankara, and following him nearly everyone, says that the niṣṭhā itself is represented by a type of consciousness, and that karma is in itself not a direct sādhana of brahma-jñāna, but an indirect one, leading to mental purity, which in turn makes jñāna possible. Actual liberation only takes place through a particular type of consciousness or knowledge.

Put another way, for the jnanis, direct cultivation of this consciousness is the path, accompanied by renunciation, etc., while karma (execution of prescribed duties) is a process of purification that ultimately leads to the same jñāna, or state of consciousness.

But the Gita, at this point, does not talk about bhakti. There is not a third kind of niṣṭhā called bhakti. If not, then where does bhakti fit in this scheme? Is it nivṛtti or pravṛtti? This is an interesting question, and Prabhupada's choice of the word kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta emphasizes the consciousness aspect of bhakti rather than its external aspect.

In other words, bhakti also has jñāna and karma dimensions, jñāna being the internal bhava and prema, while the karma aspect is that of the engagement of the senses in Krishna's service. This analogy can be further extended to the rāgānugā/vaidhī division. Rāgānugā is about direct cultivation of the svarūpa (as is jñāna-yoga, though the concepts of svarūpa are different), bhava and prema, whereas vaidhī bhakti is primarily concerned with the externals of devotional ritual in the sādhaka-deha.

Anyway, the point here is that the interpretation of the "don't disturb" remarks is that they are for different adhikārīs--Don't tell someone with karma (or vaidhī) niṣṭhā to follow the path of jñāna (or rāgānugā). That is just a disturbance and a source of confusion.

Prabhupada here makes some famous comments,
Men who are ignorant cannot appreciate activities in Krishna consciousness, and therefore Lord Krishna advises us not to disturb them and simply waste valuable time. But the devotees of the Lord are more kind than the Lord because they understand the purpose of the Lord. Consequently, they undertake all kinds oof risks, even to the point of approaching ignorant men to try to engage them in the acts of Krishna consciousness, which are absolutely necessary for the human being. (3.29)
Elsewhere he writes an oft-quoted passage,
Truthfulness demands that the facts be presented as they are for the benefit of others. Facts should not be misrepresented. According to social conventions, it is said tha ton e can speak the truth only when it is palatable to others. But that is not truthfulness. The truth should be spoken in a straightforward way, so that others will understand what the facts actually are. If a man is a thief and if people are warned that he is a thief, that is truth. Although sometimes the truth is unpalatable, one should not refrain from speaking it. (Comment to Gita 10.4-5)
Osho interestingly enough makes some good comments here which seemed relevant. He points out that several philosophers and thinkers--Darwin, Freud, Krishnamurti--all spoke the truth, but spiritually they were not particularly helpful. Even he recognizes that some truths are necessary, but not always relevant.

There is a great deal to be learned from all this. One is the old hackneyed dictum that people only believe what they want to. I don't know about being on such an elevated stage of advancement that I can say what is kind to the ignorant or what is not. I cannot even say with full certainty what is "Truth." That is a process of objective and subjective self-discovery, an ever moving goalpost that takes on increasing shades of validity and importance as we progress in our search. I am indeed agnostic about ever knowing an immutable Absolute Truth. This is why I prefer translating jñāna as consciousness rather than knowledge, as knowledge indicates something purely discursive rather than immediate. Knowledge in the service of love makes more meaningful sense to me, which is perhaps what Prabhupada meant.

Anyway, in the case of this statement of a truth-discovery, I think it better for everyone that we raise the questions that such discoveries make, as it ultimately reveals some truths about love.



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