Friday, March 27, 2009

What am I doing here?

I mentioned Ma Seva Bharati the other day. After my RRSN reading yesterday, I ran into her on the promenade by the Ganga. We stopped to talk. She is still ruminating over her month-long bhakti experience with Dhanurdhara Swami and other senior Iskcon old timers.

Ma Seva was full of questions about me. "I was amazed," she said, "to learn that the devotees think that Radha and Krishna's love affairs are the highest truth, beyond even Brahman. Do you also believe that?"

That is a big question to take in one swallow. I said, "Yes. But you have to start from the point of understanding that the Supreme Truth is personal. You are a person, so why do you think that in the state of perfection you will be less than what you are now? And why would the Supreme Truth be something less than what you are now, in the state of bondage?"

"They are so strict," she said. "I think bhakti is only for the healthy. They told me that you have to take a complete shower every time you go to the toilet! Do you do that? Do you offer all your food? Do you chant 16 rounds every day?"

That was quite a bit to answer. When I saw Gadadhar Pran last year, when we had our argument, he said disgustedly, "You used to be a sad-ācārī. Now you have no sad-ācāra whatsoever. You've lost everything."

No doubt, that sad-ācāra thing is pretty heavy duty in the Gaudiya Vaishnava world. So it looks like even Iskcon leaders are now trying hard to enforce and keep those standards. In general, I don't make a lot of it, but that is partly because I am so one-sided. I do my japa and meditation most of the time, but I plunge into books almost as soon as I can and consider that to be my principal sevā.

I have Giridhari, but I don't cook for him. I give him some tulasi manjaris and flower, some incense, the occasional arati. I have in fact been offering the ashram food to Giriraj on an increasingly regular basis, but I am hardly Prithu... (pṛthuḥ pūjane, Padyāvalī 53). Arcana is not my path, but I do recognize that this is one of Iskcon's greatest achievements.

The other day I posted something about Sharat Chandra and mentioned his visit to an Vaishnava akhra mostly populated by women. The joy those passages gave me came from the descriptions of the devotional life centered around temple worship, the magic of which Sharat himself, though claiming to be a non-believer, and all the while pooh-poohing as puttula khela (playing with dolls), nevertheless senses.

An ashram with no temple has no soul, it seems. People in the world at large are used to living without a soul (or with a TV for a soul), but the Vaishnava community life is centered around the Deity. It is the soul, and even the guru, the living deity, bows down to the image in the temple. Sharat Chandra quoted many of the Vaishnava arati songs--Jaya Madana Gopala ki! It just seemed that the book came alive at this point.

I mentioned this to Ma Seva and clearly she recognized the truth of it and nodded. "So what are you doing in a Mayavadi ashram? How do you give Gita class? What do you say?"

I did not answer much. I said that there is a lot I can learn, too. We talked about meditation techniques and so on. As a matter of fact, I am very glad to have learned the things I did here about meditation and I intend to use and teach them as necessary parts of any sadhana. I have lived for much of the last twenty years without any Vaishnava association at all, so on the whole, I am not doing all that badly compared to where I was just 15 months ago. I have learned pretty well how to keep my own spiritual life to myself and not impose it on anyone. Here, at least, I can chant aloud and sing, wear tilak, be pretty open about my Vaishnavism without being treated like a pariah. I feel bhakti frothing in my heart and pouring out of me most of the time.

My devotional sanga, the Ramachandra whose sanga I beg for, will come. In the meantime, the Holy Name, my mantra, the books, are all sources of tremendous joy.

But Ma Seva is not the first person to ask me those questions. Raghunath Das said he wouldn't even go to Dvaraka, even if Krishna sent him a personal invitation. Gopa Kumar wouldn't even stay in Vaikuntha when Narayan and Lakshmi were taking the trouble to dress like Radha and Krishna just to keep him there and happy. And I am somehow passing my time here, untroubled?

I am in a waiting mode. Biding my time. What for? Every day I pray, "Radha, just let me chant your glories." I have confidence in her.

My Gita classes have mostly been pretty good balancing acts. Explaining, but not really saying everything I feel. I had been waiting, I think, biding my time through the first six chapters. I know what happens in the Seventh Chapter. In the first six--Krishna does not lay all his cards on the table right away. The last verse of the sixth chapter is really the bomb that changes the whole tone.

This evening I started the Seventh Chapter. I couldn't believe how forceful and aggressive I was. I guess something happened to me. I started by recapitulating 6.46-47. "The yoga of the Gita and Patanjala yoga are not the same. Too often, people who are interested in yoga think that only the sixth chapter is important. In fact, the sixth chapter is just a part of the story. The Gita is about action, and the test of any achievement in meditation comes when it is time for action, whether it is something as simple as hanging a picture or going to the toilet, these things can often test our spiritual gains. But here, Krishna is filling out the picture of what yoga is when he tells us that a yogi is better than an ascetic, a jnani or a karmi, and that the best yogi is someone who engages in bhajan. Bhajan comes from the same root as bhakti. It means service.

"Bhakti is much more than just offering the results of your work, karmārpaṇam. This is the definition of bhakti that is given in the commentaries to Yoga-sūtra when talking about īśvara-praṇidhāna. But what devotion or service is that. If attachment to the results of activities is undesirable because it leads to bondage, then how does turning it over to God constitute devotion? If I give you something, an old pair of trousers that I don't want any more, is that really service or an act of love?"

And then into the Seventh: "The sāṅkhya of the Gita and the sāṅkhya of Kapila and Ishwara Krishna are not the same. Krishna says the jiva is his prakṛti. He is the puruṣa. (7.4-5)"

"The purpose of the Vedanta is to inquire into Brahman. The immediate answer is janmādy asya yataḥ. Here Krishna says, ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā--'I am the origin and destruction of the entire universe. Everything rests on me like beads on a string.'"

"The Maya of the Gita is not the Maya of Shankara--daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā. Krishna says, 'Maya is my energy. The buck stops here. I take responsibility for it.' Shankara's Maya is illusion. Adhyāsa. Snake on a rope. If we are Brahman then what the heck are we in illusion for? And if Brahman is nirguṇa and impersonal, then what desire led it to want to become illusioned and suffer birth, old age, disease and death? If being liberated is better than not being liberated, then why does Brahman want to be conditioned? Is Brahman an idiot? And what is this 'want' anyway?"

I was a little out of character, you might say. But my hands are not trembling as they often do after speaking strongly to a non-receptive audience. I have the usual adrenaline overload, but I don't feel anxious. I just told the Gita the way I saw it.

I really feel like a puppet, dancing on strings being pulled by Who Knows Who. Who knows where I will end up. I will be back in Canada in two months, with no real plan, no clear path before me. Swami Veda wants me to come back here, and that seems to be the likeliest turn of events, unless Who Knows Who has got something up her sleeve that she is waiting to spring on me.


If you missed them, I recently posted two backdated articles.

* Nivritta and Rasika

* Nagari Das


Zvonimir said...

Dear Jagat

No, you were not out of character, but you were brilliant, especially in the last part, where you showcase the actual immaturity, futility and confusion of the advaita worldview.

I also concur with the heading of your post: "What am I doing here?" Indeed, our dear Jagat, what are you doing there in India?

An educated, inspiring, open Vaishnava with a rare stamina and a capability of great synthesis wastes his time in a place where no one cares about what you say.

I know, I'm probably selfish now, because I'd like you to come back here and do your part of service to Radha by preserving this tradition from extinction, and its emotional and intellectual emptiness.

There are many people like me who'd love to have you here. And you may start something incredible out of all this because you'll be surrounded with an environment that supports inspiring and positive change. Moreover, you're already a part of it.

The heart of this aesthetic vedanta now lives in this part of the world, and we need those who can breathe in some life into it.

Neil (and manohara) said...

jagat, thx for the article, don't worry so much about the adrenalin in the hands. for me it is more like an adrenalin throughout every neuron ;) so public speaking is not a manifest reality - yet ;)

i appreciated you bringing up the last verse of chapter 6 today, and it helped me 'pen' my own thoughts and current understandings (and devotion). it may not be in toe with gaudiya tattva so much (i am no expert on the gaudiya way - even though i chant, and associate within it)...but this realization is where i feel my bhakti, at this point. it manifested in my heart after one year of extended morning to night jaap.

so even the simple things like cooking, washing, and even mental strain (and general thinking) become an act of devotion. here is the article from my blog. who knows, i might be a baul (looking forward to picking up a lay-by mahdal drum this week ;)- i definately practice spiritualism, and see very little divide between transcendence and the shadow:

I would like to open this article with a sanskrit wording:


I am no sanskrit scholar but I can speak from some degree of self realization, and I wish to begin to open up the theme of this 'crisis-blog' now. We can break down the word 'yuktatamo' into two words.

'yukta': yoke
'tamo': shadow

There is a very famous Bhagavad Gita verse with the word 'yuktatamo' in it:

BG 6.47: Of all yogis, he who abides in me with full faith, worshipping me, is most intimately united with me and considered the best of all.

'yuktatamah' in this verse is often translated as 'the best yogi'. The Bhagavad Gita teaches various yoga's that are integral, and in a higher sense are One (summum bonum).The western mindset has long lived with a basic dualistic understanding of christian doctrine. Good/Evil. Light/Dark. God/Satan. But any clear thinking christian knows the inner meaning of Christ...where this duality fades...

So, how does the shadow come into play for the enlightnened man. My experience can be found here – click.

The translation of 'yoking with the shadow' is also in harmony with the translation 'best of yogis'. Christ said, 'my yoke is not a heavy burden'.

Years ago I had a Near Death Experience which I will describe at a later date on this blog. The wonderful thing about that NDE is that realization of its finer purport grows and grows, just as spirit is eternal and forever unfolding. Inconceivably spirit is unchanging, so what unfolds? It is simply (love) devotion. The yoke of bhakti. Bhakti-yoga.

According to Sri Krsna, the topmost yogi (one bound by desire) is the one who performs worship (bhajan). And what is this 'esoteric bhajan'? In my opinion and realization it is this:

When the 'profundity' and 'vastness' of all existence appears within the soul (an exceptional human experience)...the dark the light, the stars the heavens, the paranormal and unexplainable, the synchronisities, the beauties, the sorrows, the quantum, theories of relativity, the ghastliness and horrors....

The 'bhajan' is this: A small still voice that comes to the soul, almost human and frail (even though it be God), and says, 'my dear one, if I was all these things, would you still love Me?' And a tear from the devotees eye appears and she says, 'oh yes', as her heart melts and body erupts in shivers of bliss. That is the bhajan, and it is 'simple'. It is my truth!

It is not a striving for perfection, or is just a petition, 'would you love me?'

I am a personalist and believe that this earth is the sacred place of 'bhajan'. I believe that the shadow is a part of that Divine but not the total. I believe the Summum Bonum truth is inherently simple and delicate, with a fragrance that enchants the mind. I know that the Total contains endless possibility, that consciousness by its very nature - an eternal layer upon layer – is not bound by time space or direction. I believe the human soul can choose what 'it wants to be!' And I call that spirit.

I believe we are one family upon this earth, and we can choose now, more than at any time in modern history, to unite – under the banner of simplicity, devotion, and love. To bring forward Reality the Beautiful!

All that we need to do is realize that if we are bound within 'the dark and light', 'right and wrong' etc humble ourselves and realize we may not be seeing the full reality of consciousness. And if we realize that, then bend the knee and ask to understand.

To realize that the shadow can become the grace of God. Then we can 'Be!'

'Every particle that awakens in beauty, awakens in service to the whole'.

And when we falldown and hurt the 'other', we simply ask, 'if I was all these things, would you still love me?' And the tears transform into joy...

Jagat said...

Dear Zvonomir,

If that is going to happen, I am totally dependent on others making it possible.

Radhe Radhe,


Neil (and manohara) said...

Let's pray for that then. The blog would get even sweeter...surrounded by open hearts to encourage truth (jai Radhe).

Anonymous said...

"A room without books is like a body without the soul"


Jagat said...

There are actually a lot of positive things to say about this place and my experience here.

First of all, from the point of view of material comfort and facility, I am very well served.

The surroundings are frankly more pleasing than nearly anything in Vrindavan. The ashram itself is beautiful in terms of architecture and gardening. The Ganges in its clearest and purest state is nearby. And the weather has been pretty ideal--neither as hot nor dry as Vrindavan.

My workload is not great. I have two small classes of students and the weekly Gita class. My students like and respect me, and I actually enjoy teaching, for what it is worth.

I get a stipend which is generous for what is really a voluntary position, considering that food, board and facilities are provided. My rooms are clean, with a kitchenette and modern bathroom facilities.

In terms of bhajan, I have my private quarters where Giridhari patiently tolerates my presence, and the silent group meditations provide an atmosphere of intense concentration in which I can just as easily do manasa japa of my mantras.

My temperament is not terribly social, so that even the lack of devotee company is not especially troublesome to me. I get my association from books, and somewhat from the internet.

Swami Veda has made money available for me to purchase any book that I want for the library, so from that point of view, I have no complaints. I have practically speaking no obstacles to doing any scholarly work that I would want. Good office space, good internet connection.

The ashram residents may not be Vaishnava devotees, but on the whole they are sattvika and peaceful. This is nothing to be sneezed at, as there is very little disruption to the overall equilibrium of the atmosphere. And from what one sees and hears of devotees, this is not always the case with them.

Finally, Swami Veda Bharati is himself a remarkable gentleman with a warm heart and very broadminded attitude. Besides which, he is an estimable scholar of the Yoga tradition of the first rank and I have learned a great deal from him, not only in terms of knowledge, but in terms of character.

It is not Vrindavan, but it is Rishikesh... and there are few bhaktas... but my daily RRSN readings down by the Ganga are attracting more people every day.

The only thing that would or really should move me from here is external pressure. In practical terms, I would think that the opportunities staying here provide me should be fulfilled rather than me pushing things to achieve some rather unclear goals. I have so many unfinished projects, which even with the facilities I have, are still regrettably making little headway.

If what I say is of interest to anyone and they think they have something to learn from me, beyond what they can get by reading my blog, it remains to be seen. I don't think these things are in my control, so I don't try to control them.

I like being appreciated, but really have no ambitions for self-aggrandizement.

Clearly, however, I am being forced to go to the West, so we will see what comes of that. I like to talk about Radha and Krishna, but my doing that depends entirely on people wanting to hear from me. That has not been so evident as yet, so why push things?

Radhe Radhe!