Friday, March 13, 2009

The Stigma of Sahajiyaism

I used the word sahajiya in the previous post, in reference to the idea of doing a Gita commentary from that particular point of view. But I think I need to say a word or two, once again, about the use of the word.

First of all, let us remember the saying, "Give a dog a bad name and then hang him." The propaganda against sahajiyaism has been very successful, and though few people have any experience of or understanding of Vaishnava sahajiyaism, which in its pure form is a legitimate and powerful process of experiencing the Divine Truth in its personal form.

Actually, I feel somewhat foolish now, thinking about it. It seems a little childish, using a word that presses so many buttons. Let's face it, Gaudiya Vaishnavas already called me a Sahajiya before I declared it myself, they will continue to do so from now to eternity. The only question is whether we can reclaim the term and make it meaningful and worthwhile. So as a deliberate act of self-definition, despite my reservations, I shall continue to do so.


Today is Sunday. The ashram has suddenly gone quiet as the programs that were running have come to an end and most of the guests have left. I did my walk to Ram Jhula to bathe in the Ganges. Yesterday, from Sadhana Mandir I saw two elephants bathing in the Ganga for the first time. One of them had imposingly beautiful long tusks.

So on my walk through the park I asked some of the road workers whether they see elephants at all, and what they do when they see one. Actually, the newspaper today had a short article about a woman who was killed while picking wood by a new mother elephant. I have been thinking of going earlier in the morning to avoid the car traffic, but I am a little concerned. The road workers laughed and said, "We get out of the way."


Yesterday I handed Srikanta over to Mrs. Nijhavan, who has been eyeing it hungrily for some time now. I wanted to make some comments about it after finishing reading it, but then I started going through it again, especially for the new vocabulary I had underlined the first time around. But I have already started going through Tilak's Gita Rahasya, so I decided to cut my losses and just drop Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya. Nevertheless, during the second reading a lot of things revealed themselves.

What interested me about this book was that it was an Indian love story that in many ways, within what I assume are cultural limitations, the absurdity of the Indian male and the situation of woman in Indian society. Sharat gives so many little vignettes of the situations that women are living through--in one scene fairly early in the book Srikanta has taken sannyas on an impulse and while begging in a village in Bihar runs into a girl of about twelve who looks absolutely forlorn. She is Bengali, but because of caste considerations has been sent to this to be married to a much older man. She was being beaten regularly, perhaps because of her inability to communicate or to function in what would have been to her a completely foreign country. Her older sister was also in the same situation, but she had committed suicide the previous week. Now this girl was also contemplating the same course of action. Srikanta writes a letter to her father in Burdwan, but never knows the outcome...

I only mention this as one example. The real story is Srikanta's inability to commit to a loving relationship with a woman who is "fallen" by Indian standards, though she too is a victim of the kinds of idiocies surrounding arranged marriage.

There is a good passage later in the book, where Srikanta stays for a week or ten days in a Vaishnava "akhra," which is mostly populated by women and only one man, it seems, a babaji. Srikanta mentions something about "parakiya" bhajan, but gets shushed down by Kamalalata, the foremost of the women. She also has a long convoluted story of unwed pregnancy and subsequent dramas, which reminds me of what I already knew, that the Vaishnavas provided some haven to people, especially women, who had such experiences.

On the whole, though, Sharat's description of the akhra is very positive and charming--even though he himself claims not to be a believer in anything, least of all deity worship. Nevertheless, the daily routine of serving the deity, the singing, the charm of the surroundings and the behavior of the devotees all left a positive impression on him. Indeed his description is so warm that I thought I might even become a Vaishnava myself.


I want to come back to Tilak and I think I will probably mention him again in the coming days. The book is about 1200 pages and most of it is quite dense. The actual Gita commentary is only about a quarter of the book, the rest is a very erudite elucidation on what he considers to be the prominent teaching of not only the Gita, but of the Bhagavata religion, of which the Gita is the foremost text. His reading, he says, does not come out of following any particular tradition, but out of a prolonged personal interaction with the text, and especially, it should be added, in relation to the rest of the Mahabharata.

Tilak takes the Gita as primarily a work on ethics (an approach I always take), he is spending a great deal of time discussing the big questions of moral philosophy. The main message of the Gita is, for him, karma-yoga. The "sannyasa" school headed by Shankaracharya are the ones who really distorted the Gita's message by relegating karma to a secondary place. His main argument is incontrovertible: a book has a purpose, which can be ascertained, according to the Mimamsakas, by six features:

upakramopasamharau abhyaso'purvata phalam
arthavadopapatti ca lingam tatparya-nirnaye

These are summarized here. Anyway, since Arjuna has a very specific problem that needs to be resolved, and that problem has a very specific resolution--namely he agrees to fight--and Arjuna asks several questions that ask for specific clarifications about the course of action and the nature of Krishna's philosophy, it is clear that action and not knowledge are the primary purpose fo the Gita. The word yoga itself is defined early on as "expertise in action," etc.

Tilak interesting says that the bhaktas who interpret the Gita ("as it is"?) also share a common feature with the jnanis in that they minimize karma and emphasize the renunciation of works. Thus, for all intents and purposes, he says, they have betrayed the Bhagavata tradition itself, which was a "pravritti" marg, or a path of action and involvement in the world and not one that calls for rejection of the world.

This philosophy, which calls for an entirely different attitude to the world and makes detached participation in it the key to spiritual perfection, has an obvious utility for an understanding of sexuality--one that Tilak himself does not go into very much, but the exposition of which seems to me to be a useful exercise.

The obvious problem is: How can such an idea be accomodated into the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, which is based on the Bhagavata-purana, which in turn emphasizes this nivritti approach? It is a bit early to answer that question for the moment, but my main line of thinking has been that mystical practices that imply intense other-worldly sadhanas, ultimately serve the purpose of reorienting one to a vision of this world. As long as they fail to do that--in other words, as long as one is still in a negative, rejectionary mode--one can be said to have not yet achieved the goal of the sadhana, which is a unitary vision of the sacred and divine nature of all reality. In other words, all roads ultimately have to lead back into the world.

Interestingly enough, I think that the general mood of India in the 19th century went in this direction, and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's rejection of bhajananandis Vaishnavas, which he would have taken as a nivritti path, one which most were doomed to fail, can be seen as consistent with this Weltanschauung. On the other hand, his wider acceptance of the nivritti scheme in his world view is, as far as I am concerned, disastrous and, whatever good might have come of it, ultimately a failure where madhura rasa is concerned. And if it fails there, it has failed utterly.

At the heart of the problem is how Radha and Krishna lila, or madhura rasa, which is said to be "inappropriate for people following the nivritti marga" (nivṛttānupayogitvāt) is in fact appropriate for the pravritti-marga, and how the particular sadhanas of sahajiyaism are consistent with the sadhanas of yoga described in the Gita.

Radha and Krishna lila, being internalized, place the emphasis on the role of love in achieving such a unitary vision. This vision has only been given oblique interest in the Gita, but I think we may be able to coax it out. The Bhagavad-gita is not, I don't think, the last word in the Bhagavata tradition, but it is certainly pivotal and we would expect subsequent expositions of Bhagavata doctrine to be consistent with it.

Radhe Radhe!


Satya devi dasi said...

Do the tatparya linga--upakramopasamharau . . . --have a sastric reference or are they something that have just been used over time?

Who says "Radha and Krishna lila . . . is said to be "inappropriate for people following the nivritti marga""?

For myself, continual involvement in the world has helped my spiritual understandings, much more than my renunciation of it.

I look forward to your continuous defining of sahajiya and hope that you include something about the Bauls.

Radhe Radhe!

Anonymous said...

I gave ten rupees to a couple of bauls singing on the intersection of loi bazaar and sevakunj gully. They tried to sing to me in retribuition but I said, no singing necessary just go get some chai. And they did so promptly, smiling all the while with rotten teeth. Sahajyias and troubled teeth... seem to go together.

Anonymous-priya said...

Anon, Bauls and Sahajiyas are two different sects altogether. You won't find either in Braj, what to speak of Loi Bazaar.

Anonymous said...

ah as if Braj can be narrowed to the limit of your experience... what to speak of loi bazaar...

Anonymous-priya said...

Bauls and Sahajiyas live in West Bengal and Bangladesh.

I've never met anyone from either sect in U.P.

Jagat, are there any Baul or Sahajiya groups currently in Braj?

Jagat said...

Radhe Radhe, Satya,

The tatparya linga verse is widely quoted (e.g., Paramatma-sandarbha 105, Govinda-bhashya 1.1.3, Prameya-ratnavali 4.1, etc.), but usually without any reference. In Sarva-samvadini, however, Jiva quotes the verse and says he has taken it from Madhvacharya's commentary to the Brahma-sutras 1.1.47, who in turn credits a work called the Brihat-samhita.

The nivritti-marga comment comes from the BRS 3.5.2. This is where Rupa explains that he does not want to deal with madhura-rasa in full, so he will write the Ujjvala-nilamani separately.

The obvious meaning to me is nivrttAnupayogitvAt "since this subject is inappropriate for sannyasis or renouncers, etc." This is basically what Jiva Goswami says, "People who see the similarity of the Godly shringara rasa with material love and are therefore have no interest in it."

The corrolary of Jiva's statement, though, is that the similarity should not be a source of indifference, but one of insight.

On a larger scale, I am thinking that bhakti is not a nivritti path at all, as we have always been led to believe. We can look at the issue in various ways, but the essential part of it is to just look at the way that the Gita develops the pravritti concept through the first six chapters, moving from the outward modes of action to the inner. Bhakti works in a similar way. I am slowly developing these ideas and small bricks come to me from time to time that I use as building blogs.

The Bauls are interesting in many ways, though I cannot say I know a great deal about them. Their main idea is a "humanism" (Tagore called it "The Religion of Man"), which is also a very important aspect of my thinking.

However, in many ways I am an orthodox Vaishnava. In other words, I don't just say that Krishna is a symbol for some kind of ideal humanity and nothing else. God functions psychologically and symbolically, but that does not mean that the fundamental theistic idea of a personal God who is both one and different from everything in existence is changed.

I think that the "this-worldly" aspect of Vaishnavism is important, but that does not take away from the "other-worldly" issues. There are verses that say, "If you don't achieve perfection in the here and now, what makes you think you will get it in another life?" But this does not mean merely finding worldly happiness. Worldly happiness without God consciousness is still an impossible dream in the way we have always understood it.

As a matter of fact, I am pretty orthodox on this--you get happiness in this world by basing your perception of this world and your interactions with the world on the basis of your consciousness of and relationship with God.

What makes me different, and though it is significant it is really only a matter of degree, is that I say that the achintya-bhedabheda philosophy implies that there is a "double-mirror" effect, where (at first) our perceptions of the Divine Reality reflect on love and relationships and dealings in this world, and then, as we become more purified and solidly fixed in that consciousness, the love and relationships we have in this world (within certain conditions, of course) inform and nourish our perceptions and insights into Divine Reality.

Radhe Radhe! Thanks for all your support and appreciation.

Jagat said...

Of course there are some Bengali Bauls and Sahajiyas in Braj, but they don't seem to have any public or visible organization that I know of.

Tagore was brave enough to publicly espouse a slightly sanitized version of Bauls--keeping the esoteric aspects of their practices quiet. But many people still find some of the things they do disgusting, like drinking your own urine and consuming other bodily fluids.

Other scholars have occasionally written favorable things about these sects from an observer role, but I don't see much in the way of honest public advocacy by well-versed representatives of these traditions anywhere. Which leads some to say that they no longer exist. This is what Ramakanta Chakravarti said to me in Kolkata recently.

Anonymous said...

"Jagat, are there any Baul or Sahajiya groups currently in Braj?"

...not that Jagat is the ultimate authority in all things or any one thing in particular lets spread the faith a bit folks shall we (sorry Jagat, just trying to keep things realistic)...

but the bauls, yeah they are more like a franchise these days, and a franchise on the rise at that - who would have thought - which means we are gonna have to drop the notion of them being a curious mix of exotic entertainers by day and blood and bile consumers by unspeakable dark nights. They have become a commercial item like everyone and everything else.

Anonymous-priya said...

You say there are Bauls and Sahajiyas in Braj, have you met them? Otherwise are you just basing your conclusion on assumption, that because Radha and Krishna are featured in Bengali Baul and Sahajiya sects, that then by default their must be some Bauls and Sahajiyas in Braj, the land of Radha and Krishna? Anyway, if you have some names and addresses, pass it on, would be interested to meet them over chai.

The Bowel Movement said...

I didn't say Jagat is the ultimate authority on jack. But this is his blog and he has spent time in Braj recently, so I asked him. Who else am I supposed to ask here? You? Do you live in or near Braj?

Bauls as a franchise? How so? There are a few CDs circling the globe with Baul music and a few small obscure concerts now and again. Is that what you consider "franchise"?

If that's a franchise than even I can be considered franchise.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jagat and Satya, Ananda K Coomaraswamy has translated a nice version of Vidyapati's Padavali published by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. A lovely binded book too.

In his introduction to the book he quotes several verses, one from Rabindranath Tagore, which is very nice:

"Not my way of salvation, to surrender to the world!
Rather for me the taste of Infinite Freedom,
While yet I am bound by a thousand bonds to the wheel:
In each glory of sound and sight and smell
I shall find Thy Infinite Joy Abiding:
My passion shall burn as the flame of Salvation,
The flower of my love shall become the ripe fruit of Devotion."

Some time ago Jagat I went into 12 months of intense Jaap of over one Lahk per day. I am a basic person. The Jaap became that intense that cleaning and bodily care where neglected. Toward the end of the 12 months a quiet meditation and voice entered my heart (very intimate) and said gently and humanly, 'if I was all these things, would you still love me?'

All these things was referring to pain, anguish and suffering of the walk so far.

I am sure you know my response...and I am not a buddhist too ;) The response was , 'Oh yes Lord (as the heart melted)'.

I appreciate your understandings and use of the word sahajiya very much!

In the eternal round all things are pure. And for me a couple of rounds of Jaap is sufficient now, if I can somehow appreciate the beauty and grace of life and His presence in all things...'even the shadow' which I truly believe is Him too. And His greatest kindness - the rest is hidden in the heart.

Anonymous said...

To utter the inhalated word "sa" when returning from the breathless state is as natural as the word sahajiya itself.