Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ramabhadracharya, Faith and Hearing

Did my usual Ganga walk on Sunday. Had a bit of a treat. Swami Ramabhadracharya was giving a Bhāgavata-saptāha at Paramarth Niketan. I just found out now by looking at the linked page above that he is blind. Anyway, there is no doubt that he is one of the top draws in the Bhāgavata-saptāha field, and there was a pretty big crowd, including quite a number of sadhus.

He is, I think, a Ramanandi, even though his tilak suggests Ramanuja. Thinking about it, his being blind might explain why his movements were a little strange, like a bhāvuka, but somewhat awkward. Also, his tilak also looked a little weird, like when you don't use a mirror... not in this picture, though. Have to be impressed by anyone who gets a PhD when blind.

I split my participation in two, first going before bathing, and returning afterward. You have to be impressed by the fact that these Bhāgavata speakers manage to keep an audience's attention for 4-5 hours at a time. The crowd had not diminished in the approximately three hours that I was around. When I was first there, Acharyaji was talking about the Mathura lila, that is Akrura coming to get Krishna and then Krishna's leaving for Mathura.

He actually quoted a verse that he said was from Vidagdha-mādhava, but isn't. At least I tried to find it, but couldn't. Radha asks Krishna to teach her what to say on this occasion that would be meaningful, because everything falls short of the emotion of the occasion. It was a good verse, I'd like to track it down. Ramabhadracharyaji chanted a couple of the verses that the gopis sing at that time, but on the whole barely scratched the surface of this lila.

Anyway, that part was not bad, but I found on the whole that the Bhāgavata-saptaha format is not very conducive to any kind of in-depth discussion. Ramabhadracharyaji went from one lila to another, straight from Rukmini's marriage, which he kind of did up with Vedic mantras, etc., to Sudama Vipra, in which he skipped what is really the most important bit about service to guru. But that is evidently a popular lila, because he sang three songs in that section, some of which people were able to sing along with. Then he went right to the end of the tenth canto, skipping Kurukshetra milan altogether. Did a little of Śruti-stuti but not much, as far as I could tell. I left around this point.

The crowd applauded after Ramabhadracharyaji said some things. Sudama's wife sent her husband to see Krishna in Dvaraka. "Wife" means Wonderful Instrument For Enjoyment. That's what English speaking culture is about. Patni has two meanings, one pat = patanāt, ni = nayanam. "One who leads the husband away from falldown, i.e., protects the husband." Another, jagat-patim prati patim nayati. "One who leads the husband to the supreme lord of the universe." A bit hokey, but the audience got a good laugh.

As always, everything was being videotaped for showing on one of the religious television channels. You can also buy CDs. I noticed that Tirtha Maharaj in Delhi was also being taped and shown on Internet whenever he spoke publicly.

One great regret I have is that I never learned to sing, because it seems like a necessary talent. Now it really seems too late--I am still trying to learn Hindi, for God's sake. Svarupa Damodar Goswami's comments always haunt me that I will never really be able to deliver on this kind of rasa-pariveṣaṇa approach to the Bhāgavata. On the one hand, it is very hard to master the language to that level, on the other, my mind is too busy. Too many years being trained up in the IGM, so I find it hard to think of speaking on the Bhāgavata in terms of entertainment. I am a siddhānta man, even if a poor one... On the other hand, the Bhāgavata itself says pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam.

I sometimes remember a Dr. Phil episode I once saw where a middle-aged, not terribly ideal physically, woman had an ambition to be a professional tap dancer. Her day had obviously passed and now she was spending every last penny, getting in debt, to try to fulfill her dreams through her daughter. Dr. Phil was advising her to cut her losses and "get a normal job." He was doing a whole series on these people who had unrealistic ambitions.

Anyway, I think this is something different. Nehābhikrama-nāśo'sti. I am gathering my riches in heaven. The sky is infinite. There is lots or room for lots of different kinds of birds to fly around in. If Radha is merciful, she will speak through me sometime to someone who finds that I have something worthwhile, both meaningful and relishable to say. In this life or the next.


On the walk to the Ganga, I got a lot of pleasure reciting the following verse from Narada's talk to Vyasa--

tatrānvahaṁ kṛṣṇa-kathāḥ pragāyatām
anugraheṇāśṛṇavaṁ manoharāḥ
tāḥ śraddhayā me'nupadaṁ viśṛṇvataḥ
priya-śravasy aṅga mamābhavad ratiḥ

By the grace of those saints I was able to hear the enchanting topics of Krishna katha, for they sang every day. As I listened with faith to every word, I quickly developed love for Krishna, whose descriptions are so dear to the ear. (1.5.26)

This caught my attention because of the verses in Gita 13.24-25:

dhyānenātmani paśyanti kecid ātmānam ātmanā |
anye sāṅkhyena yogena karma-yogena cāpare ||
anye tv evam ajānantaḥ śrutvānyebhya upāsate |
te’pi cātitaranty eva mṛtyuṁ śruti-parāyaṇāḥ ||

Some see the self within the self by the self through meditation, others by the process of sankhya-yoga, others through karma-yoga. Yet other persons, not knowing [the Self] in this way, worship it after hearing from others. They also overcome Death due to being dedicated to the process of hearing. [Gita 13.24-25]

Tilak makes a lot of these verses. The second verse refers to devotees and the bhakti marga (the Gita Press edition goes so far as to call them "dull-witted," though there is really no justification whatsoever in the verse for them to get insulting), since the act of faith in others' words is implied. However, Tilak himself makes a good argument that most knowledge--even that which we call scientific--is ultimately indistinguishable from faith.

[You hear this argument quite often in atheist/believer debates. The essence of the scientific endeavor is the faith that the world is governed by laws that are rationally comprehensible. Even though some philosophers still insist that there is no rhyme or reason to anything.]

In actual fact the last verse, by saying "not knowing the Self in this way [evam]," simply refers to all sādhakas who have not yet attained direct vision. Whichever path they follow, they do so according to the faith in teachings received from one source or another.

Tilak makes another big deal out of the fact that bhakti is not a niṣṭhā like jnana and karma, mentioned in Gita 3.3. This is indeed interesting, and my response to that is that bhakti is not a niṣṭhā in that sense because it encompasses or underlies both. In other words, these are niṣṭhās of what? Attitudes leading to spiritual realization, which is bhakti. And bhakti in its perfection includes both a consciousness and action. On the level of sādhanā, I think they may be roughly equated to Jiva's ruci-pradhāna and vicāra-pradhāna approaches to bhakti.

I will have to think about this a bit, because there are differences as well. Jiva says that bhakti is a kind of knowledge (actually we really should get used to translating jnana as consciousness), and certainly when we are interested in perfecting bhakti, which is a kind of consciousness. It is undifferentiated consciousness, but still consciousness that at the same time has an object.

And now, believe it or not, Verdi's Nabucco is showing in the Meditation Hall.

Radhe Radhe!


Anonymous said...

WIFE (With Intention For Enlightenment) has left a new comment on your post "Athapi te deva":

The crowd applauded after Ramabhadracharyaji said some things. Sudama's wife sent her husband to see Krishna in Dvaraka. "Wife" means Wonderful Instrument For Enjoyment. That's what English speaking culture is about. Patni has two meanings, one pat = patanAt, ni = nayanam. "One who leads the husband away from falldown, i.e., protects the husband." Another, jagat-patim prati patim nayati. "One who leads the husband to the supreme lord of the universe." A bit hokey, but the audience got a good laugh.

What a turn off. With all due respect to his vaishnavatva, I'm really sick of Indians making derisive comments about "the west".

How would he know what "wife" means in "english speaking culture"???

Has he ever had a wife from any of those cultures?

How about this;



Put All To Nidra In (order to become a slave to your husband and his entire extended family).


Nidra meaning sleep here and all meaning one's own personal hopes, dreams and aspirations.

Indians come across as really insecure in that they always have to compare their "culture" to the West.

If it's good, it will stand on it's own, no need for comparison.

Jagat said...

I did not find it particularly tasteful, either. I guess that is why I mentioned it.

Tattwamasi said...

Ha ha ha. You know it's Kali when people judge and rate saints by their intellect. For somebody who is a Sanksrit Mahakavi (having composed a 2100 verse Mahakavya in 33 verses), and Prasthanatrayi Bhashyakaara (also in Sanskrit) and arguably the greatest Pandit alive today, one is impressed by his "PhD"? Anyway rating saints and philosophies and passing judgements without having ANY experience is a hallmark of Gaudiya Vaishnava followers, so no point debating with you.

Jagat said...

Did I rate or judge Swami Ramabhadracharya? I did not notice. Should I not have been impressed by his many accomplishments, most of which I know nothing about, of which I mentioned his PhD? And thank you for telling us of some of them.

And it is truly the Kaliyug when someone can only speak of the people he admires by adding criticism of the people who praise them for praising them insufficiently.

Tattwamasi said...

"skipped what is the really the most important bit" (so sad he did not take your opinion), "barely scratched the surface" (yes you know it in much more detail), "quoted something which is incorrect" (you cannot even assume that the edition you have may not have the verse), "little but not much" (too bad you weren't the speaker), "not bad" (probably a certificate?), "not tasteful so I mentioned" (kudos to the critic), "turn off", "insecure indian", - if all these are not critical/judemental then my English or comprehension needs improvement. If one does not get the rasa in katha or poetry (characterised by horripilation, tears, blockage in throat or dancing), one is bound to make judgements.

Jagat said...

Well, I congratulate you for your grand capacity to extract the vinegar from a mixture of milk and vinegar. If anything, I criticized the format of the Bhagavata-saptaha, which makes one try to cover too wide a range of material and makes it difficult to focus.

I started by saying it was a treat, and it was. But I am never one to accept anyone uncritically.

The reason I say that Bhagavata is ultimately unsatisfying is because it fails to concentrate exclusively on madhura-rasa lila. That is a personal taste and opinion and does not reflect on Ramabhadracharya, who like so many others, is a scholar and bhakta far beyond my meager qualifications.

Jagat said...

And, of course, I am sorry that your personal feelings, as an admirer of Sri Ramabhadracharya, were hurt. For this I apologize.

Jagat said...

From today's Times of India, Fury in Ayodhya. More info about Rambhadracharya there.

Tattwamasi said...

The indiatimes article is biased and misses the whole point about a critical edition. Critical editions of Ramayana and Mahabharata have been brought out in the past, and what Jagadguru Rambhadracharya has done is the same for RCM.

Anyway to read more on him you may visit



3. is based on Swamiji's critical edition and is his Sanskrit magnum opus, an epic poem larger than all the works of Kalidasa, Bharavi, Magha and Sriharsha.