Friday, December 19, 2008

Rest in Peace, Rients

About three months ago, my cousin Rients, whom I had not seen for several years, suddenly emailed me to tell me that he was coming to India. He had just gotten divorced and was going traveling to follow up on a long-held desire to go on a spiritual adventure.

I immediately told him to come and see me first here in Rishikesh and that is what he did. I was waiting outside in the tea stall out in front of the ashram when he went trundling past in a three-wheeler, wearing his tilley hat and khaki shorts. I went chasing after the vehicle shouting at the driver to stop, and soon we were embracing in the midday sun.

In our childhood, Rients and his family were frequent visitors to our home in Montreal. At various junctures throughout our lives, our paths crossed. When I came back from India in 1985, he was in New York, trying to make it as an artist with his dark, brooding, almost frightening chthonic visions. Much later, I saw him in Montreal when he was on his way to England to stay at a Buddhist monastery, hopefully to commit his life to attaining enlightenment. Throughout it all, the underlying theme of his life was always that he was a seeker.

Most of the details of his life remain unknown to me, but he told me that when he was 18, he joined a kind of cult on Vancouver Island, which was led by a former Catholic monk who taught a potpourri of meditations. Rients stayed with this group for several years during which time he developed his artistic side. Besides being an artist, he was also a potter, cook and handy-man and undoubtedly had many other talents of which I know nothing.

But his main interest was always in meditation and exploring the spirit. He stayed for extended periods in several Buddhist retreat houses and monasteries, and served the monks and devotees as a cook at one such retreat near his home on Denman Island in British Columbia.

He spent three days here, which was probably the longest extended association we had ever enjoyed, sharing my room, where we had long talks into the night. He liked the atmosphere here and was even thinking of doing a silence retreat, but only one night alone in one of the cottages made him realize that it was not the right time for that. He needed to travel and explore.

From here he went to Dharamshala and Mcleod Ganj where he volunteered as an English conversation teacher, having what seemed like a great time meeting Buddhist monks from Thailand and elsewhere and teaching them English. He sent out irregular missals from there and then, when it started getting cold in the mountains, from Goa. After that, he continued south to go to what had always been his main goal, the Bodhi Zendo in Tamil Nadu.

On December 12, those on his list received the following email, ironically titled "This is It," in which he announced that he was truncating his stay in India, cutting short his six-month itinerary.

The end, and now to the beginning of the end. Yes three factors brought me to abandon india. Which one was the straw that broke my resolve? First of all I read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

If your heart bled for the bare-footed rickshaw driver in City of Joy then you'll be happy with what the next generation of Indian writers has done for him. In The White Tiger, his son becomes a chauffeur and murders his rich employer for a huge amount of money destined for a Delhi politician. Then he escapes to a large city and creates a successful business. This is a great moral tale, aimed straight into the heart of the ruling classes. The effect is of opening a door into a dark world that a tourist can avoid to see but is feeling all the time. You can't hide from the distress any longer.

Then there was the temperature. Each day became progressively colder in the mountains and so I raced down to Kodaikanal, a hill station in the deep south. And discovered that the temperature on the southern plains around Madurai was nearly perfect. Then 50 km up the mountain rising a meter for every 100. Although you pass through an absolutely gorgeous florid tropical forest, you end up at 7,000 ft. When I got out of the bus at dusk the town was freezing in a blanket of cloud. Like Vancouver in December.

Got into the hotel and, as the power was out, the room was stone cold. Laying under sweat-smelly blankets, it took two hours for core heat to reach my toes and the lights to come on. They gladly gave me clean blankets the next day, but wanted more than my rent for a heater.

I went down to Bodhi Zendo, just below the clouds. Wow, what a sweet place. Really the best retreat/monastery I've seen. Very quiet and simple. But no heat. There was no way I was going to spend my winter retreat bundled in blankets. It turns out that December and January are cold and rainy up there near the equator.

Third, imagine you've been moving for days and are finally in bed imagining that today is the day. Snuggle in after a cold shower and have this feeling in your anal sphincter that someone left a cigarette burning and there is not way to butt it out. Really it got so bad that my mouth refused to open. No amount of reasoning would allow one more spoonful. Having already lost 12 lbs I decided to escape to Sri Lanka or Thailand. Fear overcame me, aren't those ass-burning countries as well? That was checkmate. For 200 Canadian I got a flight to Vancouver.

Now I'm at Dad's in Penticton. Luckily he's in Spain for a month visiting an old childhood friend who looked him up. Now I have to decide what to do next. My imagination is going east. First it was Regina, then Montreal, but it may take me all the way to Halifax.

Lots of love, I enjoyed writing this.

Yours, Rients

Two days later, on the 14th, an email was sent to everyone on Rients' list announcing that he had been driving on the Trans Canada near Kelowna and had been in a serious accident. He was in a coma in very serious condition. Today I received the news that he passed away at 12.10 on the 19th.

For the past few days, a Sufi story has been ringing in my head. I believe it is one that Idries Shah tells, perhaps it is older. It is about an Arab merchant who was traveling on business and was in Damascus selling his wares in the market when he suddenly saw the frightening apparition of Death. He and Death looked at each other, the one with apprehension and dread, the other with a kind of bemused astonishment. The merchant immediately got on his horse and dashed the many miles back to his home in Mecca, where he let out a sigh of relief as he locked the doors to his house. The next morning, however, he heard a knock on the door and who should be there but Death! Shocked, the merchant expressed his astonishment, "But I saw you yesterday in Damascus!" "Yes," replied Death. "I was surprised to see you there, too, because I knew that I had an appointment with you here today."

Rients never seemed to be the luckiest of people, never quite finding himself despite his long and persistent search, but he had a simple good nature that won him many friends. I am glad that I had the chance to spend three days with him so near the end of his life, during which time a strong bond of affection was renewed between us.

All my love to you, Rients. All the best to you as you continue your spiritual quest, wherever that may be.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gita 3.3

I have been giving a weekly class in the Bhagavad-gita at the ashram. We are currently doing the third chapter. A couple of months ago, one student gave me a Hindi edition of Osho's Karma-yoga, which is a series of lectures on the third chapter. Somewhat to my own surprise I found it not only fairly orthodox philosophically, but insightfully so.

In his discussion of 3.3, Osho made much of the introverted and extraverted personality types, which he said were these two--jnanis and karmis. Shankara, as everyone may well know, introduces the Gita with a discussion of karma and jnana, saying that jnana or consciousness alone gives liberation and that no amount of "works" will liberate one. Shankara also denies that there is any possibility of liberation by a combination of knowledge and works. Now, devotees know that our acharyas say that bhakti alone grants liberation, or the results of jnana and karma. But where is bhakti in this verse? So far, in the second and third chapter, there have been only two things discussed--sankhya and yoga--so where does bhakti fit in?

Madhusudana Saraswati, in his introduction, states that the middle six chapters of the Gita are meant to form a bridge between the earlier karma section and the later jnana section in the final six chapters, since karma and jnana are so radically opposed. Osho, however, says that though the two kinds of nishtha ultimately result in the same attainment, the two natures (introvert and extravert) are radically and irreconcilably opposed, "ne'er the twain shall meet." At the same time, he accepts the siddhanta stated in 5.3 that the attainments of the yogi and the jnani are the same.

It should also be remarked that this third chapter, though often interpreted by devotees in terms of bhakti (Prabhupada, for instance, consistently explains the chapter in terms of "Krishna consciousness," which has barely a hint or mention anywhere in the entire two chapters (except 2.61, mat-paraH, not in all editions and rather out of context, and 3.30, more credible).

Another thing, we generally think of the yogi in the ways that the sixth chapter speaks of him, as someone who is inner-looking. But when Krishna brings up the subect of yoga in 2.39, he is speaking of the external process, as he again does here in 3.3. Devotees also generally consider themselves to be antar-mukha rather than bahir-mukha (I am speaking here of a psychological disposition, not an attitude towards God). However, after mulling over the abovementioned considerations

The following diagrams are an attempt to clarify my thinking on the subject.

(1) This diagram shows the usual conception described by Shankara and his followers. The bahirmukha is a pravritti-marga follower, the antarmukha follows the nivritti-marga. These are otherwise refered to in the Gita as (1) yoga or karma and (2) sankhya or sannyasa. The identity of the atman and brahman are said to be the knowledge or consciousness that is the state of liberation, tat tvam asi. Shankara and Osho say, never the twain shall meet. There is no compromise between the two attitudes and one has to follow one's predisposition to the very end. For Shankara, the extraverted attitude is NEVER the source of liberation. In other words, you cannot attain Brahman by any means other than the introspective process.

(2) This diagram shows where bhakti stands in this scheme, along with various other attitudes and qualities. Becoming, i.e., the characteristic of the phenomenal world, is on the external side. Bhakti is principally seen by Advaita-vadins as a part of the external scheme that must ultimately be discarded. In the achintya-bhedabheda scheme, we need to recognize the identity of Brahman and Atman, but they are held in mutual tension.

Karma and bhakti are sometimes confused, even by Bhaktivedanta Swami and most of the modern karma-yogis. This is because they do not really think much past Paramatman. If you understand yoga in the Gita way as karma-yoga, it is easy to see how Paramatman is the goal of yoga. It is not as easy where Patanjala yoga is concerned, for their goal is kaivalya, which has through the ages become entirely assimilated to Brahma realization. Bhakti to Bhagavan is the only pure bhakti; bhakti to Paramatman is usually on the lesser levels discarded by Mahaprabhu in the teachings of Ramananda Raya (CC Madhya 8, eho bahya age koho ar).

(3) This last diagram is meant to show the psychological divisions where introversion is seen as particular to the culture of the ashraya, extraversion as the culture of the vishaya. This has various aspects, including the contrasting ideas of rasasvadana as a form of enjoyment as opposed to active and selfless seva. Again, the mutual intersectedness and nourishment of one for the other cannot be discounted.

The two principal attitudes of Vaishnava bhakti are also separated here, one in which Krishna alone is the vishaya and Radha the ashraya, in which the bhakta identifies with Radha as the samashti or macrocosmic manifestation of bhakti to Krishna (Bhakti Devi), and the other where Radha and Krishna together are the vishaya and the manjari is the ashraya.

For the Advaitins, etc., the division of ashraya and vishaya is automatically suspect, and both are considered upadhis, one on the microcosmic, the other on the macrocosmic scale. This is meant to be understood to take place within the inherent intuition of oneness.

Radhe Radhe !!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Radha Shyama nama

Radhe out, Shyama in. That is all.

Actually, all such sexual meditations are dependent on a certain amount of built capacity to resist orgasm. If either partner has an orgasm, this results in a break in the meditation and thus a decrease in the pleasure.

Krishna enters the kunja where Radha awaits. Radha chants Shyama. Then Radha rushes forth to greet Krishna. Krishna chants Radhe.

Start slowly, meditating on the picture of Radha meeting Krisha in the kunja. Feel their bhava. Witness the union of the Divine Couple after you and your manjari companion have achieved the goal of your service and brought them together after a long separation. Feel the sights and sounds, smell the fragrances of their sacred bower.

Gradually build up until the chanting of Radha and Shyama's names becomes a all-encompassing explosion absorption in the sound and all else but the names are erased from the consciousness. Continue until exhausted. Then slow down and start again. Or, simply return to the eighteen-syllable mantra or kama-gayatri.

This exercise is admittedly a bit rajasika, but it is very powerful in rapidly clearing the mind and heart by total absorption in the Holy Name. It thus leaves one calm and ready for the vision of the Divine Couple in the kunja and for manjari-seva.

It solidifies the association of the pleasure of union with the Divine Name. Later, in meditation on the Holy Name, one is left with just the vibration of the joy of Radha and Krishna's loving union permeating the sounds of Radhe Shyam. One will be free of any gross sexual desire.

This exercise imprints the forms of the Divine Couple on the mind and soul like no other.

Backdated from 2009.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Surya Kunda Tragedy

I just heard about the sad turn of events at the annual Surya Kunda festival in honor of Siddha Madhusudana Das Babaji. Ananda writes about it on his blog, after getting first hand information from Malati. He also links to Madhumati's blog where more is available.

That is basically why we do all these things [like question the meaning of our existence], because things like this happen. May the end result be that everyone's faith, compassion and love is deepened, and not weakened.

New Dimensions

From time to time I listen to New Dimensions, a program on New Age teachings hosted by Michael Thoms. I discovered it on the Australian Broadcasting Company, which is where I usually listen to it. This program gives me an introduction to many of the current popular meditation teachers in the West.

Today I am listening to More love, more compassion, more joy with Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist psychologist.

The reason I am blogging this is what this program is making me reflect on the differences between Vaishnavism and this new realm of popular New Age spirituality. It is also making me reflect on what I am doing here in this ashram? These thoughts are also connected to those in the post I made on Thanksgiving.

As Kornfield demonstrates in the beginning of this program, these people take pains to distinguish their activities from religion--it is a philosophy, it is practical psychology, it is a process of self-improvement, etc., anything but a religion.

This is that "scientific" way of talking that even Prabhupada adopted in coming to the West. This is an experimental process. You try the process, and you are sure to find it works, etc., etc.

Publicly, Swami Veda Bharati fits right into this world of modern new ageism. But he has not compromised his own vision. That is OK, there is little to compromise there. But he has a great deal of wisdom. In that post where I said that Mayavada has some aspects of maturity that kanistha bhaktas don't have, that is what I meant.

I am also so strictly religious. I don't think I will ever compromise, but if we want to make it popular or meaningful to other people, we have to make it practical in these kinds of things--the cultivation of human qualities. This is what that psychologist who was criticizing me for promoting infatuation, etc.

I don't ever want to compromise the essential truth of GV. That is why I go straight to the meaning of Radha Krishna. What this is is really a different approach to spiritual life. But it has to be in contact with the other realizations that are inherent in Buddhism and Advaita-vada. Before people want to love God, they want to be better human beings. And if, as is so often the case, religion somehow seems to diminish us, then people ask, what is the point?

That is the real danger of the api cet sudurācāro verse. It makes us think that our trivial service to God is somehow more important than the offering of our being.

What is it about our psychology that makes this approach so much more intuitive?

They just showed a film on meditation that was partly made here for Dutch TV. This continues on from that letter I sent you about the Buddhist meditation, etc. All this scientific brainwave testing, etc. That was what this film was about. Basically, Swami Veda, who was interviewed a lot in the film, says that people want these "tangible" proofs that something works. But if people do meditation for all these other reasons--relief of stress, lowering blood-pressure, conquering anger, etc., they will derive more lasting spiritual benefits in the end.

Can we do anything like that? I guess Dhira Govinda did some kinds of studies along this line. And of course there are so many studies showing that (1) belonging to a church group, (2) having faith in something, (3) having a loving partner, etc., all lead to better quality and longer life. But like Swami Veda says, those are all secondary results. You can't really show the benefits of these things externally, the real benefit is a change in character. That can be intuited through the personality of the teacher.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Infatuation, Mature Love and Sahajiyaism

Radha and Krishna's loves do not appear like mature love in the modern psychological sense to which they would appear more like "infatuation." If that is the case, then how can they be "ideal"? Are they ideal in the sense that they are supposed to be exemplary to couples who want to develop a mature relationship between them? What does Sahajiyaism have to say here?

To begin with, I am not against mature relations between the sexes. And, hopefully, the purpose of everything that I am saying will help lead to mature spirituality in which other, objectively higher realms of agape and caritas are practically realized in behavior.

So I not only honor the idea of maturity in love, but hope that all Sahajiya practitioners work to cultivate mature relationships in the modern sense. The ideas of Christian love and so on that are often refered to as superior to erotic love should be familiar territory to anyone who tries to advance in spiritual life.

But that is not exactly the primary territory of Sahajiyaism. I am operating in a totally different sphere of reality, where mature relationships are only an element of the sattva-guṇa, primarily as a prerequisite to spiritual practice and experience. In other words, that is external.

What I object to is that most people preoccupied with this vague idea of relational maturity are actually looking at things in terms of a rather unstructured world view, or at least one that is entirely materialistic in foundation. Or, should I say, one that has no foundation. Sure, maturity in relationships is a necessary element in finding happiness, but is it everything? What we are really looking for is transcendence.

What I am getting at basically is that there is something primal that lies both beneath and beyond the development of psychological maturity. We have to see the basic sexual urge as existing on a continuum from the basest to the highest planes of consciousness, whether or not actual physical sex ultimately continues at higher stages of consciousness.

Radha and Krishna symbolize the very essence of that attraction in its purest form. Call it infatuation if you like. In the beginnings it may well be immature, "teenybopper love." But for most healthy individuals, there is an instinctual faith in the essential purity or holiness of love. It is not the external manifestations of the love that count so much, at this stage, but its sheer power, the essential quality and purity of the emotion itself.

I can sympathize with those who wish to psychologize Krishna, but as far as I am concerned that is missing the forest for the trees.

First of all, there are two different kinds of stories about Krishna. Though the two are linked, some are theistic parables, some are archetypal stories about, as some would have it, infatuation. In these, Krishna is the dhīra-lalita nāyaka. Hardly your exemplar of mature adult perfection. But don’t think that this was not consciously understood by Rupa Goswami. There are plenty of other exemplars he could have chosen if he was only interested in teaching about psychological maturity (at least according to the standards of Hindu society of the time). But that was not his purpose. The teachings about Vaishnava standards of mature human behavior (the 26 qualities of a Vaishnava) are a separate business. They stand in relation to the culture of mystical experience as the yamas and niyamas of aṣṭāṅga-yoga stand in relation to dhyāna, dhāranā and samādhi.

Try to understand what the two different kinds of stories mean. On the one hand we are talking about a mystical process of union with God. In a sense, it is only incidentally that this has anything to do with human love which, as world-weariness tells us, is ultimately a failed endeavor.
The Supreme Lord cannot be attained by mere study of the Vedas, nor through the intellect, nor by hearing. Only one who is blessed by the Lord can attain Him, and only to such a person does the Lord reveal His form. (KathaU 1.2.23)
Here is the upshot. Sahajiyaism does have a psychological relation to the mechanics of fantasy. In that respect, it may seem to have more to do with pornography and entertainment than with these psychologies of mature interrelationships. But in fact, these are two entirely different realms. The first is about rasa, i.e., religious experience; the other is about the external framework in which that experience is cultivated. The latter without the former is, for the transcendentalist, completely pointless. The latter may be helpful for the former, it may come as a consequence of the former, but it is not independently meaningful.

Sahaja-sādhanā is about two people learning to communicate on the spiritual level through correlation of the "divine fantasy," both outside and inside the self. The archetype of the Divine Couple is the marrow of the self, primordial, primeval. The external dance between two human individuals is the delicate operation that makes it possible for them to experience the Divine Couple.

For most, maturity means, at least in part, giving up the romantic fantasy of two becoming as one flesh or the four-legged beast finding its separated half, etc. But that is only one aspect of the sādhanā, the external part. The Sahajiya couple recognize they are both sādhakas who have been brought together by the bond of erotic attraction, and that attraction is the raw material that they have been given to cultivate the ideal of human perfectibility. Sādhanā is sacrifice in the crucible of love.

The sheer impossibility of that oneness in external terms has to be kept intellectually. A clear distinction between the ideal and the human limitations of the imperfect sādhaka couple and their indispensable need for sādhanā has to borne in mind at all times. It is not that love is something that just happens. It may just "start to happen," but that external archetypal experience is just the raw material for the practice. A pointer, a hint, if you wish.

Its culmination is in the ultimate vanishing point, which is Radha and Krishna. But Radha and Krishna are real, otherwise everything I have been saying makes no sense. They are the all-pervading sac-cid-ānanda form of Mahā-bhāva and Rasa-rāja. They are experienced in the union of lovers, and experienced most perfectly when the lovers are both yogis and pure devotees. All other kinds of love are the byproducts and side-effects of Radha and Krishna's love. That is the meaning of this verse:

rādhāyā bhavataś ca citta-jatunī svedair vilāpya kramāt
yuñjann adri-nikuñja-kuñjara-pate nirdhūta-bheda-bhramam |
citrāya svayam anvarañjayad iha brahmāṇḍa-harmyodare
bhūyobhir nava-rāga-hiṅgula-bharaiḥ śṛṅgāra-kāruḥ kṛtī ||

The God of Love is a great craftsman:
he has taken the lac of Radha's soul and yours,
and melted them together with his perspiring heat.
O king of the elephants in the groves of Govardhan!
He has joined your souls together and washed away
any sense you had of difference between you.
Then, in order to paint the inner chambers
of the universal mansion, he added
yet more vermilion to the mix. (UN 14.155)

The "universal mansion" is meant to explain the words yāvad-āśraya-vṛtti that is found in the definition of mahā-bhāva.

In order to understand the mechanics and psychology of this sādhanā, you really have to get a grasp on rasa theory. That is how you make all this business about fantasy, etc., that goes on in the conscious and unconscious minds become a part of your spiritual practice. And if your practice does not impact the deeper recesses of your psyche, then what is the purpose?

Without this sādhanā, mature love is just a theory. Devotion to the Divine Couple softens the heart so perfectly, so absolutely, that it makes all other kinds of love possible.

A last picture of me crosslegged?

Yesterday I went to the HIHT to check out my knee, which has been giving me a lot of trouble of late. A couple of weeks ago, I took the brisk walk through the hills to Ram Jhula and afterwards my right knee was all swollen for several days. It has been exceedingly difficult to sit crosslegged, which needless to say is a great handicap for me, with all that sitting on the floor you have to do in my profession...

The doctor told me that it was a sign of OA Arthritis. What brought it on, I don't know, but it is not uncommon in men of my age. Basically he said, "It is never going away. Watch out it doesn't get worse. That is about all you can do." And he prescribed some painkillers, which I have no intention of taking.

I have enjoyed pretty good health throughout my life, and I confess that the knee problem has affected me more than it should. I am getting used to the idea now, but I may never sit crosslegged again...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Backlogged postings

I have a tendency to sit on posts for various reasons. Sometimes I feel it is better to think about something for a while rather than posting in the heat of the moment. It is really because I don't want to get into the kind of tit-for-tat debate that characterized Gaudiya Discussions and other forums of that type. So I often respond very belatedly, sometimes I take an objection or an argument under advisement and meditate on it, and it comes back out in some other form later on. The basic reason is just that I am a slow thinker and not particularly clever when it comes to that kind of debate.

Anyway, here are a few backdated posts that may be of interest (or not):

Samanjasa (2007-12-06) I wouldn't be surprised if I update this one again.

HIHT Annual Festival (2007-12-05) Moved to Jagat Jindagi

Swami Krishnananda's Visit (2007-12-05) Moved to Jagat Jindagi

Same Old Same Old II (2007-12-06)

I have also finished the third part of the series on Na Hanyate. If you missed that one, the first two parts of which were already backdated when I first posted them, here are the URLs:

Na Hanyate, Part I

Na Hanyate, Part II (2007-12-05)

Na Hanyate, Part III

There may be one more in that series, as I am still trying to figure out what fascinates me about this story. I have a bunch of notes in a file waiting to be sorted out.

Verses for the hell of it (2007-11-27)

Prayer and Utopia (2007-11-19)

And a quick look suggests there are five or six unfinished posts of varying degrees of value awaiting editing, revision and/or approval. I will try to notify in this way any such future backdated posts when they go online.