Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving thoughts

One of the psychological features of devotees that atheists like to complain about is that we always want to be saved. Whenever we get a little bit weak we start hollering for God to come and save us. I haven't had that mood for a long time. But still, from time to time, I start doing it.

Reading in Vivekananda's biography, it says that in his Brahma Samaj days, he could not stand "devotees who would cry emotionally, pray for God's mercy in every sentence they spoke, or repeatedly condemn themselves as lower than worms or insects. He thought that a man should hold his head up high like a man and worship God with steadfastness and unbroken resolve." (Satyendranath Majumdar, Hindi edition, p.58)

[विशेषतः भक्तों का भावावेश में रोना, बात बात में दयामय भगवान् की कृपा के लिये प्रार्थना करना, अपने को कीटानुकीट के समान हेय मानकर आत्मनिन्दा करना अदि बातों की नरेन्द्र कठोर आलोचना करते थे । वे तो यही उचित समझते थे कि पुरुष पुरुष की ही तरह मस्तक ऊंचा करके दृढ़ उद्यम और अटूट संकल्प के साथ भगवान् की अराधना करे ।]

Mayavada is like mystical atheism, really. I often think there is an element of maturity present in Mayavada that is not there in many devotees, especially not those of the kanishtha variety.

Today in the NYTimes there is an article about the "first Thanksgiving" in North America, which was promptly followed by a massacre by Spanish Christians of the French Huguenots who had settled in Florida. I told this story to a friend who reminded me that edited out of the American mythology is the epilogue to the Pilgrim Fathers' original Thanksgiving. The native Americans who brought them food in the time of hardship were subsequently killed off. A subtle reminder that the thanksgiving of the believers could just as easily become an orgy of sacrificial bloodletting. The phenomenon of the scapegoat is still one that is poorly understood.

I often read the Guardian pages where occasionally Theo Hobbes or some other writers come and try to find something positive to say about religion or to defend it from its critics in some way.

Hobbes is very liberal, but even so, he gets jumped on by the atheist hordes every time, accusing him of everything under the sun. But what is hardest to defend against is the asinine things that human beings do in the name of religion. The abovementioned massacre is just another thing that brings disappointment to the heart of the devotee.

It is not so much that God permits evil to exist, but that people who claim that God is Love can be so hateful. It is a psychological aberration, a trick of the mind. And we have to recognize, as Christians have since the time of Bonhoeffer, that there is immature religion and there is mature religion.

This is what the Bhagavata is talking about when it talks about the kanishtha, madhyama and uttama bhaktas. The kanishtha is using his religion to prop up a material ego. For him, God is a material accoutrement. It is not so much that he does not have a genuine impetus for spiritual realization, but due to his immaturity he gets caught up in identification politics.

Though one sign of this is the "There is only one way to God" syndrome, that does not mean that there are no objective signs of religious effectiveness. Just as there are objective signs of religious error--many of which are pointed out with great relish by atheists and their more mystical counterparts.

Let us turn inwards and discover the Atma, which is complete in its simple existence, full of awareness and love. Let us know this before we start trying to change the world.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three Verses About Radha

With regard to Radha and Krishna as Rati and Smara (Kama):

ratiḥ sākṣād rādhā sakala-jaḍa-cil-loka-paramā
ramādy-atyāścaryāmbuja-dṛg aniśaṁ prārthya-dṛg-aṇuḥ
smaraḥ sākṣāt kṛṣṇo'navadhi-rati-tṛpto'khila-paraḥ
pareśaḥ pronmīlad-ruci-jaladhi-vardhaika-rug-aṇuḥ
Love (Rati) is Radha herself, the highest truth of all the material and spiritual worlds. So all the goddesses from Lakshmi on down, whose eyes are as beautiful as lotuses, all pray constantly for her merciful glance. Desire (Kama) is Krishna himself, the Supreme Lord beyond everything, who always takes satisfaction in his unlimited lovemaking, who [like the moon] causes the ocean of beauty [that is Radha] to overflow with just a single ray of his light. [Prabodhananda, VMA 11.46]
What is interesting about this verse is that it makes Rati and Smara the subject and Radha and Krishna are the nominal predicates. In both cases, the word sākṣāt is used to indicate complete identity. I have often pointed to the Brahma-saṁhitā verse where the phrase smaratām upetya is found. "Govinda becomes Kama when his sac-cid-ānanda pastimes in the spiritual world are reflected in the world of matter. In this form he easily conquers the fourteen worlds." Here basically the same thing is being said, especially since both material and spiritual worlds are mentioned. Don't forget that Krishna is the Navina-madana, whose worship is conducted with the kāma-bīja and kāma-gāyatrī. I am sorry, folks, I did not make this stuff up.

harir ayam atha līlayā sva-śaktyā
vidala-yugātma-kalāyavan na bhinnaḥ
abhavad iva pṛthak pumān vadhūś ca
svayam ubhayāṁśa-samāna-rūpa-yogāt
This Hari when combined together with his own energy in lila, it should be understood that there is no difference between them, just like the two halves (cotyledons) of a mung dahl grain. He himself became (abhavat) separate (pṛthak) like a man and his bride, through manifesting two parts, both forms being equal. (Caitanya-candrodaya 4.43)
That translation is a bit rough, but the idea of two in one is clearly expressed by the two parts of a mung dahl grain. The One became Two for the sake of lila as in the famous Bṛhad-āraṇyaka wording that seems to be the original basis for all of this thinking. The equality is not one of identity, but of equal parts of a single whole. The single whole, as indicated in the previous verse, is love; the two halves are Desire (Smara) and the Fulfilment of Desire (Rati).

I think that is clear enough. I have now put up many verses that state clearly that our iṣṭa is either (1) Krishna associated with Radha, or (2) Radha and Krishna together, which in my opinion comes to the same thing. They are inseparable. One without the other is meaningless. Neither represents the jiva. Both represent a different aspect of the One Truth as soon as it becomes differentiated in līlā.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur says, like Raghunath, that anyone who tries to worship Krishna alone, without Radha, is simply proud (abhimānī). The same applies to anyone who thinks they can worship Radha without Krishna. I include amongst such people those who try to prove the superiority of their own sampradaya by placing Radha above Krishna, even in sakhī-bhāva. Sakhī-snehādhikā does not mean that one worships Radha without Krishna. (This appears to be the mood in the Lalita-sampradaya, which is an offshoot of the Radha-vallabhis.)

Here is another great verses from RRSN (156) glorifying Radha's name.
anullikhyānantān api sad-aparādhān madhupatir
mahāpremāviṣṭas tava parama-deyaṁ vimṛśati
tavaikaṁ śrī-rādhe gṛṇata iha nāmāmṛta-rasaṁ
mahimnaḥ kaḥ sīmāṁ spṛśatu tava dāsyaika-manasām
Krishna discounts even an unlimited number of great offenses to the sadhus and being completely overwhelmed with love puzzles over what great gift he can bestow on the person who simply pronounces your immortal nectar-like name. O Sri Radhe, who then could ever reach the outer edges of the glory of those whose minds are entirely devoted to your service?
Rādhā-dāsya means sakhī-bhāva, not nāyikā-bhāva. There is no hidden secret meaning here. That is Prabodhananda's intent. If anyone tries to draw some symbolic meaning out of this that was not his intent, then he or she is welcome to it. We believe in the revelation that came to those who revealed sakhī-bhāva.

When Rupa and others claim that mañjarī-bhāva is higher than nāyikā-bhāva, then we should at least do them the honor of trying to understand what they really mean. They have been fairly clear about it. The glory of Radha does not lie in her being a woman as such, but in her being the āśraya of love. This is a quality that is generally ascribed to women, but it does not end there, because Krishna is also the āśraya of love for Radha. Sometimes they do indeed reverse roles, as Vishwanath Chakravarti elaborately describes in the Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta. But that is a part of the līlā and not meant to indicate anything more than the nature of love itself, wherein the pleasure of the āśraya is greater than that of the viṣaya. Nor does it change the fundamental or predominant roles of Radha and Krishna as āśraya and viṣaya.

As soon as you turn the āśraya into a viṣaya, you have missed the point. When we say that the jiva is a servant of the Divine Union, it means that she stays true to her eternal svarūpa of being an āśraya of love, but she does so by sharing in the very being of Srimati Radharani, the full manifestation of the Hladini Shakti, the embodiment of the highest love.

Men and women in this world, even those who are practicing sahaja-sādhanā, should think of themselves as participating in the being of Srimati Radharani, even though externally they may be engaged in playing the role of man or woman. The external role is simply a mise en scène. It is simply functioning as a trigger, like the deity form in the temple, to remembering, intuiting and actually feeling Radha and Krishna's līlā. Any pleasure they feel is recognized as prasāda and becomes a further spur to gratitude and love.

Anyone who masters this art will not only feel the love for his or her partner increase exponentially, but will also feel a sense of oneness with the līlā, a sense of joy and uplift at every aspect of Radha and Krishna's pastimes. They will see Radha and Krishna's pastime manifested in every nook and cranny of the material and spiritual universes. Thus the Gita's promise of the fulfilment of yoga will be kept. Yo māṁ paśyati sarvatra.

Moreover, they will win a victory over lust, just as promised in the Bhagavatam. Rather than waiting for a meaningless victory over lust by burning him like Shiva did. That is not a solution; trying to obliterate a problem is no solution. It is like the Americans in Vietnam, napalming villages only to see the Vietcong come out from the jungle in increasing numbers. The Hydra of lust simply grows ten new heads for every one you chop off.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


atha samañjasā— UN 14.48-51—

patnī-bhāvābhimānātmā guṇādi-śravaṇādijā
kvacid bhedita-sambhoga-tṛṣṇā sāndrā samañjasā

yathā tatraiva (10.52.38)—
kā tvā mukunda mahatī kula-śīla-rūpa-
vidyā-vayo-draviṇa-dhāmabhir ātma-tulyam
dhīrā patiṁ kulavatī na vṛṇīta kanyā
kāle nṛ-siṁha nara-loka-mano-’bhirāmam

Now “conventional affection” (samañjasā): The [more] intense love known as samañjasā is occasionally pierced by the desire to enjoy. The essence of this love is the sense of identity and mood of being a wife. It arises from hearing about Krishna’s qualities.

The example is given in Rukmini’s letter to Krishna: “O Mukunda! O lion amongst men! When the time comes, what unmarried maid of great qualities, of clear intelligence and of good breeding would not choose as a husband someone like yourself, who is equal to herself in family, character, physical beauty, knowledge, age, wealth, and influence, and who are a source of joy to the minds of all people in this world?” (10.52.49)

samañjasātaḥ sambhoga-spṛhāyā bhinnatā yadā
tadā tad-utthitair bhāvair vaśyatā duṣkarā hareḥ

tathā hi tatraiva (10.61.4)—
patnyas tu ṣoḍaśa-sahasram ananga-bāṇair
yasyendriyaṁ vimathituṁ karaṇair na śekuḥ

Whenever the desire for sexual union becomes separate from the conventional affection, then the various moods [bhāvas, which here means anubhāvas like kila-kiñcita,, etc.] that arise from it have little power to subjugate Krishna.

The example is given in the Bhāgavatam: Krishna’s sixteen thousand wives were unable to disturb his mind and senses through their actions, which were like the arrows of Cupid, their smiles, glances, their various enchanting movements and eyebrow movements, as well as all their verbal enticements. (10.61.4)
Observations: Sri Jiva states samañjasā rati has elements of concern for what is right by a worldly standard, or of what others think (loka-dharmāpekṣitā darśitā). This is the implication of the words patnī-bhāvābhimānātmā.

I have translated samañjasā by the word “conventional.” I wanted to follow Rupa and have three words that started with the same letters and for common and competent, there is no problem. However, for samañjasā, there is a bit of a limitation as it does not convey all the senses of the Sanskrit word, which might more correctly be rendered by something like "proper, appropriate." I previously used "compromising" but I think that it goes too far. Both are possibilities.

In the beginning of the discussion of the three ratis, i.e., 14.43-44, Jiva Goswami and Vishwanath present a slight difference of opinion. Both agree that the terms assigned to the three kinds of rati in question are “self-evident” in that the characteristics of each kind of loving attitude (rati) is revealed in the name itself. Furthermore, Vishwanath says they are mutually exclusive, i.e., samarthā-rati is neither common nor compromising. Sādhāraṇī rati is uncompromising, but it does not possess the characteristics of competence. Samañjasā rati is not common, but neither is it fully competent.

Jiva, however, says that since samañjasā (compromising) has a concern for the principles of religion and public opinion, it is not very competent (nātisamarthā). However, he goes on to say that we should not conclude that because this kind of love is called samañjasā (here meaning something like “proper” or “appropriate”) that there is no propriety in samarthā rati. Married love is based on an external concern for religion and public opinion, whereas samarthā rati is perfectly appropriate when viewed from a transcendental (pāramārthika) standpoint.

Vishwanath says that the first example verse (10.52.49) shows the more positive aspects of samañjasā, while the second example shows its shortcomings. Even so, some of the things that are considered positive about this married love, when looked at from the point of view of samarthā rati, are negatives. In samarthā rati, there was love as a response to pleasure. In samañjasā, there is love in response to calculations of potential pleasure. Love is not a spontaneous, all-conquering force. The very fact that loka and dharma are a consideration means that a mental calculation is being made, one that calculates in terms of one's personal losses and gains.

Vishnudas kind of nails it on the head when he says patnī-bhāvābhimānātmā means ātmany āropita-sambandha-viśeṣaḥ: "A specific kind of relationship is projected onto the self." This is a kind of contractual thing mentioned in the commentaries. Vishwanath, for instance, says that even though the gopis were "married" to Krishna according to the Gandharva "rite" (i.e., making love without any officially sanctioned sacrifice witnessed by Agni and the brahmins), they do not count as having samañjasā rati. I think what they are getting at here is the legalistic aspect of marriage as a way of tying oneself into a relationship where the rules are drawn up, expectations are clear, and responsibilities and protections are written in. In other words, it is jumping, but with a safety net. Nowadays we could say that takes the form of a prenuptial agreement.

I have said before that the idea of samañjasā must primarily be considered in the Indian context of arranged marriages. So immediately it takes a bit of a leap for most westerners to try to come to an understanding, though of course, it is still something of a living reality for Indians, even very modern ones.

In that respect, Rukmini is in a class by herself, even though we might say that she has internalized the mentality. Rather than stand by and let others make the calculations on her behalf she is making them herself. She rejects the choices offered her by her brother and father, bucking social convention and making a choice based on her own personal values and so on. But the basic compromise is one of reason and heart. She is pulled by the heart to Krishna, but at the same time, it has to be reasonable—she is assessing whether they are suitable for one another. This is how the other meaning of samañjasā is applicable.

The interesting question here, which is ultimately the theme of the three types of love, comes in the definition of love as either being distinct from or one with sexual desire. The inferior kind of love (sādhāraṇī) is said to be completely separable from desire (kāma), while in samañjasā rati, it is only sometimes distinct, in which case Krishna becomes aloof from his wives.

The valuing of pārakīyā love in Inda would not have been possible if all satisfactions were present in the system of arranged marriages. We could also put it this way: If marriage as an institution were meant to lead to the death of eros, then it could generally be considered successful.

Usually married love is regarded as inferior because it becomes boring, lacks the excitement of new loves, presents no danger or obstacles, etc. On the surface of it, none of these things is being considered in the definitions given here. Nevertheless, we must speculate that there is a connection. Generally speaking, the value of marriage is that a couple keeps its contractual obligation, recognizing that love is ephemeral in this world and that through all the ups and downs, there must be a commitment to a higher principle, namely dharma, the contractual obligation to support and serve one another in sickness and in health, in wealth or poverty, happiness or distress, or even with the abatement of passion. There is also often, in the material situation, a question of children and other extended obligations that arise from such a union.

By the same token, there is a fear of public opinion (loka), which tends to keep one captive in a situation that may have become unbearable. These are external constraints that serve as a protection for the institution of marriage, and in this world, they are justified to a great extent. One of the criticisms that arose about John McCain, for instance, in the recent elections, was that he divorced his first wife on returning from Vietnam, apparently because she had been crippled in a car accident. Since she no longer served his interests, having lost much of her sexual appeal, he abandoned her for another woman. This could be given as an example of the sādhāraṇī mentality.

The need for dharmāpekṣā and lokapekṣā to restrain baser impulses of this sort--the kind of thing we might call licentiousness or womanizing--certainly have a role to play in society, and religion has typically served this role. You could say that the cost to society of abandoning religious restraints of this type in order to allow the possibility of higher individual freedom and fulfillment means running the risk of people acting according to their lower propensities. This is the danger or risk, and the debate over whether the direction in which modern society has moved by loosening the social and religious hold over individual behavior in the matter of sexuality has had an overall positive or negative effect. I personally think that the movement in favor of freedom and choice are ultimately beneficial. We shall return to this matter in discussing samarthā rati.

Of course, when we talk about Krishna and his queens, we make the a priori assumption that Krishna is the ideal husband in every respect and that his queens are similarly perfect. How then can any blemish at all be applied to their relationship? How can it be said of them that personal sense desire pierces through the veneer of their pure love? The same basic problem that we saw in the Kubja example of sādhāraṇī rati applies here also.

Vishwanath points out that the two Bhāgavata quotations are related to the positive and negative aspects of samañjasā. The positive aspect is indicated in the definition when it is said that this rati arises from hearing the qualities, etc. You have to look to the preceding discussion in the chapter to understand why a natural love like that of Rukmini only needs a superficial impetus to be awakened. This is indicated in 10.52.37 as well ( śrutvā guṇān bhuvana-sundara).

The second example is to show how the sexual desire sometimes becomes separated from the love, and when it does it becomes incapable of conquering Krishna. Vishwanath and Vishnudas both point out that only the purest devotion has the characteristic of "controlling Krishna."


I thought quite a bit about this post before putting it up, because it felt unfinished. In fact, there is a problem, which we will have to deal with in the samarthā section especially, and that is in dealing with the distinction between the reality of love in this world and the transcendent ideal.

Married love is also an archetypal love relationship, as are the two others. What needs to be deciphered is how there can be a limitation in the archetype itself, since by definition, archetypes are ideal. In fact, the ideal nature of the archetypes is dependent on the individual psychology of the person who is in their thrall or "ruled" by them. Thus, a person for whom the sādhāraṇī archetype is dominant, love has elements of tamo-guṇa. For a person in whom the samañjasā archetype is dominant, the rajo-guṇa elements are present. What we will have to try to unravel is how the sādhāraṇī and samarthā archetypes are distinct.

In fact, for the Hindu religious thinkers, there is only sādhāraṇī and samañjasā (though they would not have used those terms): vulgar love or dharmic love. They fight, like those who live in the world of "honor killings," against any love that does not fit the strict limitations of the permitted religious definition.

Here, Rupa Goswami is fundamentally stating that there is a serious limitation to the dharmic conception of love and because of it, its power is limited.

Thought there may be many books that deal with the subject of Indian marriage, which Indians themselves tout as being a more successful model than the Western, but I was particularly influenced by Manisha Roy's Bengali Women, which I read as an undergraduate many years ago. This book was published in the 80's, I believe, and with all the changes in Indian society may no longer give a true picture of life as it is today. Nevertheless, in terms of understanding the nature of samañjasā rati, it was a great help.

I don't have a copy, so I can't quote, but I remember the rather depressing depiction of the average traditional marriage: how a young woman idealizes love, in no small part as a result of hearing tales of Radha and Krishna, and then is thrust into a situation where an entirely different reality confronts her. Whereas sexual desire, etc., no doubt help to cover a multitude of disappointments, and realism forces one to deal with the rest, Roy describes how for so many women, the only outlet for the deep psychological wound that comes from never finding true passionate love is the displacement into religion and devotion to a guru. On the other hand, for the man, it results in a glorification of the pārakīyā ideal and the seemingly universal patriarchal double standard.

Generally speaking, when people talk about "mature love," they are talking about the harmonization of the ideal with the real. Immaturity is a sign that one is still living in a world of impossible expectations; reality means making the best of a situation where human imperfections and disappointments are inevitable. But in this situation, Rupa Goswami seems to be saying that the balance of so-called maturity is too heavily tipped towards disappointment.

How true all this was then or now, I don't know. But it resonated as true with me then after ten years in India, and it resonates with me now.

Anyway, I am going to leave this discussion for the time being, admitting that there are still some holes in it, with the hope that further thoughts will mature and come up in the discussion on samarthā rati.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


It is important to recognize that Rupa Goswami's descriptions of Radha and Krishna's love have relevance for our understanding of human love.

For instance, let us examine Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi 14.45-58:

nātisāndrā hareḥ prāyaḥ sākṣād darśana-sambhavā
sambhogecchā-nidāneyaṁ ratiḥ sādhāraṇī matā

yathā śrī-daśame (10.48.9)—
sahoṣyatām iha preṣṭha dināni katicin mayā
ramasva notsahe tyaktuṁ sangaṁ te’mburuhekṣaṇa

Sādhāraṇī rati is defined as follows: Love for Krishna that is not particularly intense and nearly always arises after directly seeing him, and which has sexual desire at its basis, is called “common” affection.

For example, Kubja said to Krishna, “Come, my dear, and spend a few days with me. Make love to me, O lotus-eyed one, for I cannot abide the thought of leaving you.”

asāndratvād rater asyāḥ sambhogecchā vibhidyate
etasyā hrāsato hrāsas tad-dhetutvād rater api

Because the love is not particulary intense, it can be separated from the desire for sexual enjoyment. When the sexual desire diminishes, so does the love, since the former is the source of the latter.
Vishwanath: “The lack of intensity leads us to surmise that the love is pierced by sexual desire (sambhogecchā). “Nearly always” (prāyaḥ) means that on occasion it can arise from hearing, etc. “Having sexual desire at its basis” (sambhogecchā-nidānā) refers to the following thought process: “When Krishna’s beauty became visible to me, then I wished to have his company.”

In other words, it is a desire for sexual enjoyment based in the desire for one’s own pleasure. This is followed by the love, which has the nature of a resolve: “I would like to give something back to this person, who has brought me such tremendous pleasure through the eyes, by offering him appropriate service and my body.”

Observations: It is important to understand what is being said here about sādhāraṇī rati in order to better grasp samañjasā and samarthā ratis. The basic categories by which comparisons are will be made are being established. It has already been intimated that rati is one, and it simply has different manifestations.

Since, as bhaktas, we are accustomed to thinking that the opportunity to even see Krishna must be the result of a purity of desire that leaves no room for lust or sva-sukha-tātparya, it is a little difficult for us to understand sādhāraṇī rati. Indeed it becomes very difficult to understand all these three categories of madhura-rasa, the most powerful kind of bhakti, without some kind of reference to the nature of sexual love in this world. No impurity is possible in the spiritual relations with Krishna, and yet here we have the concept of sexual desire or lust becoming separate or distinct from prema. And in the case of Kubja, it is almost embarrassingly so. Rupa Goswami even holds out the possibility of the sexual desire diminishing and the love diminishing with it, since the one is the result of the other.

If we look at this from the material point of view, we could call this love tamasic, in the sense that the animal desires are the strongest element in it. It lacks the purity that we come to expect from the highest and most ideal kind of love.

On the other hand, it is instructive both on the level of human love and bhakti. Vishwanath says that this kind of love is a response to pleasure, which is applicable to bhakti as well as human love. "By engaging in the process of bhakti, I have experienced such delights that I must respond by rendering service to the source of that pleasure." Normally, we do not disavow this notion, but accept it as valid. Indeed it is a necessary step in the process of self-purification. Nevertheless, if bhakti is dependent on reciprocation, i.e., if it waxes and wanes as a result of the perceived delights that God provides, then it is on a lower level.

By the same token, from the point of view of erotic or romantic love, the prominent element is again the pleasure. Since the frame of reference is sensual pleasure, the love is based on a perception that the object (viṣaya) is bringing me the kind of sensual satisfactions that I seek. This is why it can increase or decrease according to the degree of gratification that comes from the other person. This is primarily self-oriented and therefore inferior.

The idea of "separating" (vibhidyate) or "piercing" (viddha) is particularly important in terms of the two other ratis, since the degree of distinction that can be perceived between lust and love is the measuring stick of the power of this love. In other words, samarthā rati, the most powerful kind of love, is that in which no distinction between love and lust can be found.

This, as you will see, is particularly important, as one of my contentions is that lust and love spring from the same source. ṣimply stated, when one is in a state of oneness with the object of love, such as described in the mahā-bhāva state, then there is no distinction between love and lust, since the desire to please oneself and the desire to please the object of love perfectly coincide. The evolution of love in Rupa Goswami's conception in the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi can be understood through this optic.

प्रेयांस्तेऽहं त्वमपि च मम प्रेयसीति प्रवाद-
स्त्वं मे प्राणा अहमपि तवास्मीति हन्त प्रलापः।
त्वं मे ते स्यामहमिति यत्तच्च नो साधु राधे
व्याहारे नो न हि समुचितो युष्मदस्मत्प्रयोगः॥
The popular understanding that "I am your lover and you my beloved," the loving prattle, "You are my life and I yours"; and, indeed, the words, "You belong to me and I to you," -- all three statements are improper [grammatically incorrect!] . In fact, O Radhe, it is incorrect for us to ever employ the words 'you' or 'I'." (Alaṅkara-kaustubha 5.11)
To anticipate here an objection: This is clearly possible in the case of the Supreme Truth, i.e., Radha and Krishna, or even a pure jiva in the sambhogecchā-mayi mood, but how can it apply to love in this world? So I will just say the following: I agree that it cannot, in full. However, as I do continue to repeat, from time to time, in a shadowy or distorted but nevertheless extremely significant way, it can.

In fact, the whole point is this: if love could be "perfect" in this world, then there would be no need to postulate or yearn for another one. At the same time, God makes it possible to imagine His world through the manifestations of small perfections in this one. Just contemplate Gita chapter 10 in this context for a moment:

यद्यद्विभूतिमत् सत्त्वं श्रीमदूर्जितमेव वा।
तत् तदेवावगच्छ त्वं मम तेजोंऽशसंभवम् ॥४१॥
अथवा बहुनैतेन किं ज्ञातेन तवार्जुन ।
विष्टभ्याहमिदं कृत्स्नमेकांशेन स्थितो जगत् ॥४२॥
Whatever great opulence that you see,
whatever glories or mighty wonders,
Know that they have all arisen in truth
from but a spark of My divine splendor.

On the other hand, what need is there
to know all these things in detail?
I pervade this entire creation, Arjuna,
By just a single portion of Myself.
And what is more powerful and captures the imagination and quickens the fancy more than love?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The purpose of human sexuality is priti

What we are really asking is the question of what is pleasure itself. What is happiness? The prayojana according to the shastras is sukham, happiness. This is the argument at the beginning of Prīti-sandarbha and that argument leads to the conclusion that it is prīti or prema for the Supreme Truth. The opposite of this, as different as day to night, is the desire for one's own self-centered sense pleasure.

So, the shastra accepts that happiness is the goal, but simply asserts that we are going about finding it in the wrong way: na te viduḥ svārtha-gatiṁ hi viṣṇum. We are looking for our own happiness, but we don't actually know who we are.

Activities in knowledge of our true self are pleasurable; those which are not, are not.

Let me make this very clear: I am not proposing an irresponsible lust and free sex program. That just does not make any sense. When the Bhāgavata and Gītā, etc., warn about lust, they are making a valid point that needs to be made. It is principally a social dharma argument that warns about the disruption to society. And, of course, one who disrupts society often finds himself in deep spiritual trouble. But we all know that we have to aim for the ultimate goal of life which is prema. By prema I don't mean something different from love of God. I mean love and service to Radha and Krishna. Nevertheless, I think that we need to look at this clearheadedly instead of simply namecalling. What I am suggesting is hardly "lewd."

A number of verses can be quoted to effect is that the only purpose of sex is procreation. For instance,

dharmārthaṁ jīvitaṁ yeṣāṁ
santānārthaṁ ca maithunam
pacanaṁ vipra-mukhyārthaṁ
jneyās te vaiṣṇavā narāḥ

Those for whom the purpose of life is religion (dharma), for whom the purpose of sexual intercourse is children, and for whom the purpose of cooking is to feed the brahmanas, go by the name of Vaishnava. (Skanda-purāṇa, quoted in Bhakti-sandarbha 202)
Now I am appreciative of Jiva Goswami, but surely we should not think that this is all that Vaishnavas or Vaishnavism is about, nor is that what he intended. Clearly if this were the limit of Vaishnavism, then thank you very much: it bears absolutely no relation to what Vaishnavas consider to be the ultimate purpose of life. One who quotes this verse to prove that this is part of the Vaishnava svarūpa-dharma is really losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Let us cut through the superficialities here: Raghunathdas nicely says that our concern is not for dharma or adharma, but service to Radha and Krishna. So can we please try to understand the question of sexuality in that context without this knee-jerk response that it has to be either procreation or lust?

Can we not apply, as I have not ceased to say since the very beginning of my attempts to explain this idea, the same criteria to sexuality that we do to all manner of activities, namely dividing aspects of it according to where they are situated in the modes of nature? We can have eating in the three modes, as well as in the nirguṇa mode, so why not sex? Can anybody actually explain to me why this analysis has not been made? Where have I ever made the claim that sex is the same thing as love?

At the same time, is there really no relationship between sex and love? If that were the case, then how is that madhura-rasa is considered to be the topmost manifestation of love in the spiritual world? And if the material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world, then does it not stand to reason that there should be manifestations that are closer or further from the standard of perfection?

This whole discussion clearly goes very deeply into human psychology, and those who simply deny sexuality, or who want to eradicate sexuality from the culture of spiritual life are suffering from a kind of excessive renunciation that to me is a symptom of the very disease that causes our conditioning. It is not sex that causes our conditioning, but a failure to recognize the nature of sexuality, i.e., the very basis of sexuality and its relationship to our core being.

"Is not a thing therapeutically treated cure the very disease it caused?" This is the Bhāgavata speaking. There is sexuality in the mode of ignorance. That is not love. There is sex in the mode of passion, that is also not love. There is sex in the mode of goodness; that is getting a bit closer. But whatever mode of nature sex is engaged in, it is closely associated to the need for love. That is why it is such a troubling entity.

According to the Gītā, you can kill without incurring sinful results, so why can you not love and have sex without incurring sin? Is sex worse than killing?

The essence of the thought here is that a Vaishnava would not do something that is not pleasing to Vishnu, and since sexual intercourse for mere enjoyment isn't something that can be offered, a Vaishnava would not unnecessarily engage in it.

But why should sexual intercourse not be pleasing to Vishnu? If two people love each other, why should their act of love not be offered to the Lord, as per Gītā 9.29? Indeed, the more I think about it, the more the whole objection becomes laughable. Krishna says in the Bhāgavatam (11.11.41) to offer to Him whatever is most dear to one, but somehow this one thing, that is for most people the dearmost iṣṭatama thing of all, is so absolutely abhorrent that it can only be done in the most circumscribed of conditions, namely at the optimum time for procreation.

This is something that I have been discussing for some time. But it is good to revisit points from time to time. The best analogy is with eating. If you think eating is simply for maintaining the material body, then you are only recognizing a relatively minor aspect of the act itself.

With regards to dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo’smi verse, I wrote about this verse at length before. Kāmo'smi bharatarṣabha. The sum and substance of the point I made there is that there is indeed so much more that could have been said, in view of the wide variety of meanings given for both the word kāma and the word dharma.
If sex were not for procreation, then why do women get pregnant of it each time? And why does one apply artificial tricks to avoid that, items of contraception that do not grow on the trees?
As to ahaṅgrahopāsanā, I discussed this earlier on this blog. There are several articles, here is one. Obviously I will have to revisit all that and try to simplify it for those who are so thoroughly indoctrinated that they simply cannot see, though I truly do despair of any possibility that there is any real hope of it. After all, they don't want to. In fact, however, I do not yet have the impression that anyone has quite caught on.

Aropa is the process by which love is offered to Radha and Krishna; ahaṅgrahopāsanā has about as much to do with it as it does with deity worship.

Radhe Radhe!

Is Radha and Krishna's love analogous to human love?

I have said that the experience of human love is the only way to really understand Radha and Krishna. It is possible, of course, to argue against this by saying two things:

(1) Radha and Krishna's love is so different from human experience that there is no way to compare the two.

(2) Since the knowledge of this love is eternal and self-luminous, we do not need to seek any external worldly experience of any kind in order to understand it. It is revealed from within without any reference to what happens outside.

We have dealt with these arguments before, but the simple answers are:

(1) Since historically the accounts of Radha and Krishna's love can be said to grow out of the secular Indian love literature, and since those accounts mostly use categories developed in Sanskrit poetics, it is ludicrous to say that they cannot be compared.

(2) The entire thrust of the bhakti concept is based on the idea that we use the God-given senses to please the sense of the Divine. In other words, the senses are the vehicle used in the bhakti-yoga (indeed every yoga) path as the way to enter and experience the inner realm.

(1) Historically, the first manifestations of theological analysis of Radha and Krishna's loves are fairly late. Since the discussions in the Nāṭya-śāstra predate them considerably and the former are based on the latter, it is clear that the bhakti-rasa theory follows the kāvya-rasa theory. So here is a case of the understanding of "transcendental love" growing out of the idealized, literary concept of love.

What is more, the various references to Bharata and Vatsyayana in the Radha-Krishna lila descriptions further confirm this. Even the Bhāgavatam uses the expression kāvya-rasa-kathāśrayāḥ to describe the Rasa-lila. This again shows that the Kāma-śāstra was at least a partial of inspiration for understanding madhura-bhakti-rasa.

The Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu also uses human love as an analogy for bhakti.

yuvatīnāṁ yathā yūnor yūnām ca yuvatau yathā
mano'bhiramate yadvat mano'bhiramatāṁ tvayi

It may be said here, as the commentators do, that this is only about the non-physical or non-sexual dimensions of attraction, but that is disingenuous. The attraction is anchored in sexuality and to separate them would be erroneous.

(2) To think that there is no need of this material world, i.e., the reflection, to understand the transcendental, archetypal world is a futile attempt to further the above argument. Even if we grant that there may be some highly evolved souls whose intuitive understanding leads them to a genuine experience of bhāva without any experience of mundane love, either in practical fact or in literature, such persons are the exception rather than the rule. Most people are obliged by circumstance to engage in sādhanā bhakti.

There is no reason to think that the analogy of material love, the so-called "allegory of love," diminishes Radha and Krishna's transcendental loves. The two kinds of love are mirror facing each other: the experience of human love as something transcendent points to ultimate reality on the one hand, and the existence of a sacred myth which states unequivocally that erotic love attains the highest dimensions of mystical experience legitimizes human romantic love.

Therefore, the concept of madhura-rasa as the highest dimension of the spiritual world has multiple consequences. Most significantly for us sādhakas is that it liberates us from the false renunciation and ambivalent attitudes that surround sexuality in this world. The attitude that there is no relation between Radha and Krishna's love and the love between men and women in this world (as if we said there is no relation between Nanda and Yashoda's love for Krishna and parenthood in this world) is not only false, but it deprives us of a way of entering this divine world that has been revealed to us. Furthermore, it deprives us of the use of the most powerful psychological and physiological force to which we are thrall and using it for spiritual uplift. This is why Paurnamasi's statement in Vidagdha-mādhava is so full of potent meaning for us all:

harir eṣa na ced avātariṣyat
mathurāyāṁ madirākṣī rādhikā ca
abhaviṣyad iyaṁ vṛthā visṛṣṭir
makarāṅkasya viśeṣatas tad atra
If Krishna had not appeared in Mathura along with Radha of intoxicated eyes, then this whole creation, and especially the existence of Eros, would have been an exercise in futility.
I guess I am repeating myself. Oh well...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Still in Delhi

Finally got my visa extension yesterday after three days of pretty much running around, or sometimes hurrying up and waiting. From what I hear, many people in the ashram, including Swami Veda, were also working pretty hard to get things done--emailing this, that and the other to present a case to the Home Ministry. Of course, the real danger is that in another year we will have to go through this rigamarole again.

Wandering through Pahar Ganj I felt almost at home, especially as I watched from the rooftop restaurant in the Krishna Hotel, where I had been indulging in a plate of momos, a kind of Tibetan dim sum and the vegetable soup I ate with Madhavananda the night I came. Seeing the lights spreading in every direction with almost nothing but pedestrians, the atmosphere is decidedly festive and familial. If it weren't for my nose feeling like a cocaine addict's leftovers from the bad air, I thought, this place could actually grow on me.

Pahar Ganj is crowded with tourists from all over the world. Each place attracts its own tourists, and those who come to India have, I would not doubt, a higher percentage of dreadlocks than the world average, though there are a lot of plain longhairs, and the British guys seem to prefer the shaved-head look. There are a lot of aging hippies from all parts of the world. Last night I was emailing next to a Russian of about 60 with what looked like a shaggy white clown wig.

The modes of ignorance and passion are strong here, so it fills me with this sense of respect that I sometimes get for simple survival. Even I saw a young guy, about twenty, with a dirty red t-shirt, crappy jeans and flip-flops, and I thought, Gee, he has slicked his hair--he is making a heroic effort to fight off total entropy, which sometimes seems so inevitable in this part of the world.

I moved from my hotel to the Chaitanya Gaudiya Math a couple of days ago. Why stay in some mundane place when you can have the association of devotees? If they kick me out, that will be my karma phala, but so far that hasn't happened. Even though I have already committed a couple of aparadhas. The first day we went to the cremation grounds since a major grihastha bhakta from the neighborhood who had helped build the math had left his body. About 350 people were in the procession to the Crematorium on Rani Jhansi Marg. But I wandered back slowly, stopping to check out a wrestling ground and an Udasina Ashram. My stuff was in the office and I had the key, so I arrived with a grumbling crowd of devotees hanging around the Math office.

Fate's payback was that with all the running around I did yesterday, I lost the key to my room somewhere. Tirtha Maharaj is here and was speaking, so it was impossible to do anything about it really, so I just listened to his lecture on the Bhagavata and the Vaishnavas whose tithi it was yesterday. I could not really bathe properly until this morning.

Lots of kirtan here. Lots of little kids from the neighborhood making a ruckus in arati in the hope of getting sweet prasad from Tirtha Maharaj when he gives darshan afterward. Lots of Hindi-speaking grihastha devotees from the local area wearing GM tilak. I bow down to the Gaudiya Math and their service in spreading Mahaprabhu's name around the world.

So I head back to Rishikesh tomorrow, and normal service will resume then.

Same old, same old

I have to thank Advaita for taking the time to respond to my October 31 posting. The fact of the matter is that it does not seem as though Advaita has read any of my arguments or that he has understood anything if he has. And so he is rehashing the same old points, which in many cases look rather like straw men, without even trying to deal with any of them.

Contradictions abound in Advaita's post, showing that like so many others who are incapable of calmly and rationally looking at an issue, they simply fire whatever lies on the surface of their brains. In the very same post he says that it is a "logical" proof that sex is for procreation because women always get pregnant from sex, then later he argues that spilling semen is not murder because they don't.

But nothing is more indicative of his bad faith than his so-called final comment:

If illicit sex would lead to enlightenment, the whole world would have been enlightened from day 1.

If he could show me where I have said this, I would much appreciate it. But Advaita does not deal with my arguments anywhere. He simply assumes that by repeating over and over again that since the acharyas have only said that dharmic sex is meant for procreation, all else is lust.

It is unfortunate that Advaita seems incapable of using his considerable reasoning powers and simply parrots a few statements from scripture that really have little relevance to the issue at hand. I suggest that if he wants to really "defeat" me and show the world what a lewd and pathetic creature I am, he start by returning to the early posts on this blog and deal with the arguments presented there in a serious, honest and rational manner.

At any rate, I don’t want to blame Advaita. It seems that we just fit into different human categories and there is no gain in blaming the one for being entirely incapable of grasping the other's point of view. The long and short of it is that he does not believe in human love, whereas I believe that, "therapeutically treated," it is the only route we have for understanding Radha and Krishna. For, according to the Bhagavatam, does not the very thing that causes the disease, when therapeutically treated, cure it?

However, it is true that Advaita makes it necessary for me to keep on refining my own point of view, as I really do not wish to become either what he caricatures me as being, or a poster boy for those who hold such caricatured views. So, I will just try to present my ideas again and those who understand them will hopefully be benefited and will learn to overcome the enemy known as lust.

I have also recently been told that my posts are too long, and this is also one reason that I am not putting as much material as regularly as I could. So let’s stop here and resume later.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

In Delhi

Got into Delhi last night at 10.30, after a pleasant trip with a group of young Americans who are planning a cycling trip across India visiting organic farms. I will put up his blog address when I have it with me.

Met Madhavananda with Uma at Pahar Ganj and ate with them. With his beard and soiled chaddar, he looks pretty much the same as I knew him, except for his naked neck. He fits into the Pahar Ganj scene rather seamlessly. Uma, too, with her long blond dreadlocks and Finnish charm.

They were off to Denmark on a flight at 6 in the morning. Madhava will spend the next couple of years until... well whatever happens. At least, he says, until he is able to renew his Finnish passport without fear of being sent to prison for draft evasion. He is full of stories of his encounters with nefarious chiselers and hustlers, from the gurus to the disciples. His love for Bengalis is wavering. Where is he at? We will wait until he is somewhere...

As for me, a day spent in the hope of a visa extension has ended in frustration. I will try to buttress my request with more papers tomorrow. In the meantime, I will take early rest tomorrow and try to find a holy piece of dirt in this city and as I await the plans of the Lord.

Jai Sri Radhe!