Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sādhāraṇī-karaṇa Revisited

I mentioned sādhāraṇī-karaṇa in my poem the other day, and though it might be worthwhile to revisit the subject not only in this context, but also in the context of the discussion about Chandi Das and another post that will be coming up soon, O Mind! Meditate on Radha's Breasts.

Without understanding what Rupa Goswami intended by sādhāraṇī-karaṇa, we will be severely handicapped in understanding mañjarī-bhāva, what to speak of Gaudiya Vaishnava rāgānugā sādhanā. Furthermore, a proper understanding of sādhāraṇī-karaṇa will be helpful in transcending the minefield that is the kaniṣṭha adhikārī's confusion about myth and rational understanding.

I have tried to explain these things before, but it is time to revisit the subject; hopefully I will be able to make myself clear and I hope this helps to get an insight into Rupa Goswami's concept of sādhanā.

The process of identification

Any such discussion has to begin with the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, so I will quote the relevant verses in full and explain the meaning of the concept as given in the tradition and how Rupa Goswami differs from the earlier literary critics or poeticians. I will use the word "media" to describe any kind of literary or aesthetic product, such as plays or poems, which would be expanded to include films or any other method used in order to produce the sentimental effect known as rasa.

alaukikyā prakrityeyaṁ sudurūhā rasa-sthitiḥ
yatra sādhāraṇatayā bhāvāḥ sādhu sphuranty amī
eṣāṁ sva-para-sambandha-niyamānirṇayo hi yaḥ
sādhāraṇyaṁ tad evoktaṁ bhāvānāṁ pūrva-sūribhiḥ
This rasa experience is very difficult to understand, due to its transcendent nature. In it, all the bhāvas manifest spontaneously through the process of identification. The process of identification, in which the audience [in this case devotee] loses a sense of the distinction between self and the other, namely the characters in the literary production [in this case Radha and Krishna, etc.], is called “the commonality of emotions” (bhāvānāṁ sādhāraṇyam or sādhāraṇī-karaṇa) by previous authorities. (BRS 2.5.101-102)
Bharata Muni describes this in the following way:

śaktir asti vibhāvādeḥ kāpi sādhāraṇī-kritau |
pramātā tad-abhedena svaṁ yayā pratipadyate || iti |
The bhāvas, i.e., vibhāvas, etc., have a particular power at the time of identification, by which the audience feels non-different from them and accepts them as their own. (BRS 2.5.103)
In explaining these verses, Jiva Goswami quotes the Sāhitya-darpaa to give us a better idea of how the term is used in traditional literary circles.

vyāpāro’sti vibhāvāder nāmnā sādhāraṇī-kritiḥ
tat-prabhāvāt parasyāsan pāthodhi-plavanādayaḥ
utsāhādi-samudbodhaḥ sādhāraṇyābhimānataḥ
nṝṇām api samudrādi-langhanādau na duṣyati
sādhāraṇyena raty-ādir api tadvat pratīyate
parasya na parasyeti mameti na mameti ca
tad-āsvāde vibhāvādeḥ paricchedo na vidyate
The bhāvas have a function known as sādhāraṇī-kriti, by the influence of which it is sometimes seen that people in an audience watching the Rāmāyaṇa get up and “jump across the ocean” with Hanuman. Their heroic spirit has been awakened though a sense of common identity with Hanuman. This attempt to “jump across the ocean” is not a flaw on their part. The experience of love and the other rasas also takes place through this process of identification. At that time, what is or is not the other’s and what is or is not mine are indistinguishable in the relishing of the vibhāvas, etc. [SD 3.9-12]
Jiva also says that as long as the bhāvas remains confined to the characters in the play (or in our case Radha and Krishna, etc.), then there is no rasa, i.e., somehow or another, their experience must be transmitted into the devotee audience. Please note, I emphasize THEIR experience. When Vishwanath Kaviraj here says that there is no fault, it means that it is desirable. You actually want to have this aesthetic experience of self-forgetfulness and entry into the universal that is the experience of commonality.

In modern literature, aesthetics have changed though the basic principle of self-transcendence and entry into a universal dimension is still the watchword or holy grail of entertainment.

Take, for instance, the latest phenomenon of Susan Boyle, the rather plain Scotswoman who sang on a talent show and demonstrated that she had an extraordinarily beautiful voice. Clearly the promoters of the show knew what they were doing and what was to be expected--they downplayed her because of her appearance, perhaps even deliberately making her wear a frumpy dress and outmoded hairdo.

Why? Because they knew that the contrast of her voice to her appearance would create rasa. The diamond in the rough. It is a story as old as, well a prince amongst the cowherds, a prophet in the bullrushes. It is a variant on vīra-rasa, and it works.

If tears came to your eyes when you heard her sing, with the āśraya ālambanas cheering like crazy in the background and the reaction shots of the judges being amazed and flabbergasted, then that was the expertise of the manipulators of rasa working their magic on you.

However you explained it to yourself, this was satisfying not because of any real event, so much as the fact that you for a moment tapped into a universal ideal moment.

This is why the expression brahma-sahodara came to be used when trying to explain the nature of the rasa experience. In other words, the aesthetic experience is close to a spiritual experience.

sattvodrekād akhaṇḍa-sva-prakāśānanda-cin-mayaḥ |
vedyāntara-sparśa-śūnyo brahmāsvāda-sahodaraḥ ||2||
lokottara-camatkāra-prāṇaḥ kaiścit pramātṛbhiḥ |
svākāravad abhinnatvenāyam āsvādyate rasaḥ ||3|| 
Because of the heightened sense of pure being, rasa is spiritual, self-revealing, unbroken ecstasy. In the experience of rasa, one loses all awareness of anything else and so it is called "the brother" of the taste of Brahman. Its essence is an astonishment that lies outside the realm of everyday experience. Some rare individuals experience this rasa as non-different from themselves, like their own form. (Sāhitya-darpaṇa 3.2-3)

The Culture of the Audience

When talking recently about Chandi Das’s Kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, I refered to the kind of audience that would be watching and what their reaction would be. The question that interests me is what would be the difference between his audience and the audience in the post-Chaitanya, post-Goswami period. For instance, at the beginning of the each of his plays, Rupa Goswami glorifies his audience. Like this verse at the beginning of Dāna-keli-kaumudī:

bhaktaḥ ko’pi tanos tanoti pulakair nrityan nihotphullatāṁ śuṣyan ko’pi cirād vivarṇa-vadano dhatte vidīrṇaṁ manaḥ |
garjjan dhāvati ko’pi vindati patan ko’py eṣa niṣpandatām
udyaty acyuta-vibhrame gatir abhūt kā stheyasām apy asau ||
One devotee over there is stretching his limbs,
dancing as his hairs stand on end in jubilation;
another has become motionless, his face losing color
as though his mind has been split asunder;
another is running through the crowd, shouting,
while yet another falls over, motionless.
In the confusion of love for Krishna,
such an incredible variety of reactions
is manifest in this group,
even though by nature they are very grave.
In other words, Rupa’s expectation was that he would have a particular kind of prepared audience. Nowhere is this stated more clearly than in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu itself, where it talks about the rasa experience in the devotional context.

bhakti-nirdhūta-doṣāṇāṁ prasannojjvala-cetasām
śrī-bhāgavata-raktānāṁ rasikāsaṅga-raṅgiṇām
premāntaraṅga-bhūtāni kṛtyāny evānutiṣṭhatām
bhaktānāṁ hṛdi rājantī saṁskāra-yugalojjvalā
ratir ānanda-rūpaiva nīyamānā tu rasyatām
For those whose faults have been entirely removed by the performance of devotional practices and whose minds are peaceful [making them suitable for the appearance of pure goodness’s special features] and effulgent [and thus equipped with full knowledge], who are attached to hearing the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, who find happiness in the company of devotees, for whom the joy of service to Govinda has become the raison-d’être of their existence, and who are always engaged in the most confidential process of developing love for Krishna, namely hearing and chanting about his qualities and pastimes, have a love (rati) for Krishna which is effulgently manifest due to the conditioning of both the past and present lives. This love, which is an embodiment of the divine joy, becomes experienced as rasa. (2.1.7-9)
The bracketed comments here are based on the commentaries. So Vishwanath Kaviraja’s sattvodreka is identified with the first line, etc. Both the poeticians and Rupa Goswami indicate that for a higher rasa experience, you need to have a culture—in the case of ordinary rasa experience, for instance, language skills are a must.

The need for sattva-guna is stressed by the Indian Sahityikas, but they are speaking about a refined rasa experience, which is why the Vaishnavas can talk about something more elevated also. But we see that all human beings are capable of some rasa experience; if the medium is powerful it more or less forces attentiveness on the audience and produces some kind of reaction.

Think of an action film with its dramatic special effects. Or think pornography. Even an uncultured intoxicated person who has no attention span whatsoever can be affected emotionally on a very base level by such entertainments.

This is in part because there is a lower common denominator in rasa that extends from the mode of ignorance all the way to the transcendent: sex and violence. Madhura-rasa has its basest manifestation in pornography and its purest manifestation in the transcendental love of Radha and Krishna. Similarly, vira-rasa has its basest manifestations in tamo-guṇa, and most elevated manifestations in the life of sādhanā, etc.

Arguments about highbrow and lowbrow culture are very old, but we will take it as a given that the word culture implies some kind of training, and to the extent that this is refined and sāttvika, the higher the aesthetic taste will be. The culture of bhakti-rasa, which follows up on the association of aesthetic with spiritual experience, is about seeing this as an inroad to the highest spiritual experience.

So those who are not qualified by the appropriate culture are ignored.

udāsatāṁ nāma rasānabhijñāḥ
kṛtau tavāmī rasikāḥ sphuranti |
kramelakaiḥ kāmam upekṣite’pi
pikāḥ sukhaṁ yānti paraṁ rasāle ||
May those who are ignorant of rasa be indifferent to this play, while the rasikas take delight in it. Koils find the greatest pleasure in the mango tree which is completely ignored by the camels. [VM 1.9]
In his book on the history of Bengali literature (Bangla Sahityera Itivritta), Asita Kumar Bandyopadhyaya makes a similar observation when distinguishing between the SKK and the other Chandi Das. [I will have to explain the complexities of the Chandi Das problem one day.] The sensibilities are quite different.

He there quotes Bangladeshi literary historian Muhammad Shahidullah, who says, “The mood of the later Chandi Das is in completely opposition to Boru Chandidas. One is writing about a sāttvika love, whereas the other is writing about the agony of lust (kāma).” (p. 593) Or as another writer quoted says, "Boru Chandidas rarely comes close to any kind of spirituality, except perhaps in the Radha-viraha section, whereas the superior poet Chandi Das is full of spiritual feeling."

That is at least in part true. According to the audience’s status in the modes of material nature, the character of the media product in the modes of nature, etc., we can expect different kinds of rasa experience.

In the post-Chaitanya era, the form of entertainment (the pālā kirtan) would have been much the same. The audiences, in all likelihood, would not have been all that different, but there would have been an element in the audience that would have more refined taste and understanding, and aware Vaishnava kirtaniyas would cater to them. This is natural in any performance art: the performer is naturally attracted to the elements in the audience that are attentive (sāttvika), most in tune with his mood and who have the tools to appreciate it.

Identification and Empathy

Any process of identification implies some empathetic capacity. This is why there is a necessity for both viṣaya and āśraya ālambanas. In fact, Rupa Goswami is right when he says that the devotee is to identify with the devotee and not with Krishna, because Krishna is the viṣaya and not the āśraya.

vartitavyaṁ śam icchadbhir bhaktavan na tu kṛṣṇavat
ity evaṁ bhakti-śāstrāṇāṁ tātparyasya vinirṇayaḥ
rāmādivad vartitavyaṁ na kvacid rāvaṇādivat
ity eṣa mukti-dharmādi-parāṇāṁ naya īryate 
Those who wish for true joy (śam) should identify as devotees and not as Krishna. This is the conclusion of the devotional scriptures. "One should identify with Rama and not with Ravana, this is the method followed by those who are devoted to deliverance and justice." (UN 3.24-25)
I discussed these verses in some detail in this post so I won’t go into further detail here. The point I was trying to make is that in the experience of love, one has to experience empathy and identification with the viṣaya as well as the āśraya.

In Rupa Goswami’s conception, the manjaris are identifying with the Divine Couple, except that they have a preference for Radha. Nevertheless, Radha, who loves Krishna, has to understand perfectly what he wants—even better than he does, in order to be able to serve him. The same is true in reverse. Rasa (astonishment) comes as a result of the impossibility.

This is very important to understand. It is also important to understand about empathy in greater detail, but we cannot do so here. Love is based in the ability to empathize. We are horrified by child abuse, etc., because the perpetrators lack the ability to empathize with their victim. Or, that empathy is totally subjugated by the egoism of the perpetrator. This is also known as being a sociopath.

The state of love that is being described in Rupa Goswami’s literature is one where the lovers (the Divine Couple) are so empathetic that they are one. In this oneness, there is no more reticence or fear of hurting the other. Look at this verse spoken by Paurnamasi to Madhumangala in Vidagdha-mādhava:

stotraṁ yatra taṭasthatāṁ prakaṭayac cittasya dhatte vyathāṁ
nindāpi pramadaṁ prayacchati parīhāsa-śriyaṁ bibhratī
doṣeṇa kṣayitāṁ guṇena gurutāṁ kenāpy anātanvatī
premṇaḥ svārasikasya kasyacid iyaṁ vikrīḍati prakriyā
What you are seeing is the working
of some spontaneous kind of love:

where praise is seen as a sign of indifference
. . . and even causes the beloved pain,
where insults cause hilarity
. . . and only make the loved one laugh.

No lapse makes this love disintegrate,
no virtue can cause it to inflate.
(VM 5.4)
For fear of making this post way too long, I won’t go into the Manjaris, who Raghunath Das Goswami calls niḥsaṅkocita-bhūmikāḥ—they are totally unabashed about watching and even going into Radha and Krishna’s most intimate moments because they are a totally absorbed part of that Maha-bhava-maya world.

Sādhāraṇī-karaṇa and sādhanā

Gaudiya Vaishnavism does not accept that the kind of sādhāraṇī-karaṇa experienced in the course of ordinary plays or works of literature, etc., i.e., the identifications with characters in a play or film, is the exactly the same as in the bhakti process. One has to cultivate rati, or a transcendental identity, which makes such identification possible.

In other words, by listening to Radha and Krishna lila, the natural tendency would be for a man to identify with Krishna and for a woman to identify with Radha, just as there is a natural tendency to identify according to one’s own sex when watching or reading a love story. [This is, of course, not necessarily so, as a good writer or filmmaker can elevate his or her audience well beyond sexual identification to a level of humanity.]

But the culture of the devotee extends far beyond mere literature. In the pravartaka stage, the goal is to inundate the consciousness, to interiorize the symbol system so that it can become universalized. The ultimate goal is to have so envisioned the presence of the Divine Couple that the entire universe becomes an uddīpana for rasa.

At this point, the literal understanding of the myths become much less important. In other words, the importance of specific lilas described in specific texts, even though they continue to be relished by the devotee, are not venerated as literal truths, but as mythical truths, in the sense that they are always happening everywhere.

The obsession with aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā and how many rooms there are in Nanda Maharaj’s house, etc., what color is Vrinda Devi’s dress, etc., dissipates.

Yes, Radha and Krishna are in Vrindavan, but if they were only in Vrindavan, they would not be God. There is a paradox here that I humbly entreat you to try to understand.

Now the Sahajiya sādhanā says something more here that the Orthodoxy finds shocking. As if the above were not shocking enough. And that is this: In the middle stage, the sex act is the supreme act of sādhāraṇī-karaṇa.

To think about spiritual life in terms of puruṣendriya-vikāra and the heroic conquering of physical desire is, besides being against nature, a superficial and wrongheaded assumption. Yes, there is a great necessity of mastering the art of making love. But when it becomes a spiritual practice, that follows naturally—though one may take a little help from yoga techniques.

But in the joy of embracing one’s beloved partner in the spiritual adventure, in remembrance of the eternal Divine Couple, one replicates the eternal sacred act of union that is at the core of the Upanishadic creation myth, whereby the One became Two in order to experience his own joy in the act of love.

That is personified by Radha and Krishna. If Radha and Krishna have become cardboard cutouts, or if the lila stories have started to wear a little thin, in other words, if there is no rasa there, then it is because you have not learned the art of sādhāraṇī-karaṇa.

This is the path to prema.


dr.jaya said...

Sadharanikarana - Universalising an EmotionBharat and succeeding Acharyas - scholars, explained how arts
universalized an emotion and made it an instrument of universal
appeal. They asserted that an actor, while seeking to reveal the
emotion of his subject, would himself become such emotion's
courier; and, a powerfully revealed emotion would drag the
spectator also into its periphery. Thus, the subject's emotion,
reaching the spectator through the actor, becomes the emotion of
all; it thus gets universalized. This universality of an emotion
is the essence of arts, as individuality might interest a few,
but an emotion, when universalized, becomes everyone's delight.
Indian aestheticians perceive this transfusion of emotion as its
An excerpt from the article by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet, available at:

Anonymous said...

Part of me wants to accept this, and part of me gives it up as absurdity. Truly a unique take on Rupa Goswami. The Manjari's are experiencing the joy of sambhoga. Intuitively, as a rasik, you need to be a cultured member of the audience. If we are to lack that refined aesthetic culture, how can we understand the rasa that is present in the divine? If we cannot understand what mundane love is, how can we hope for the emotion involved of the divine?

Have I gone off here? I'd like to think that what you're saying makes sense to me.

Anonymous said...

About Sarah Boyle, her dress wasn't really frumpy; it was age appropriate, discrete and actually quite elegant. Her hair; well, at least she did "something" with her hair which looks like the type of hair that usually you cannot do ANYTHING at all about. And her shoes were cute, like something the royals would wear, so she didn't do that bad.

But... she DOES need a makeover. I hope she gest a makeover. She needs to get her neck done, I am sorry but thats just what needs to be done. Pluck the eyebrows, some upper lip hair removal, and lose about 15 lbs. Anything else? I think thats it.

Oh, oh, oh, the hair. Just some good treatment for volume and color. Some cool earrings, make up, she will be good to go.

Anonymous said...

Ok, we got her name wrong, its not Sarah Boyle, ist SUSAN Boyle. Please correct, thanks.

Jagat said...

Correction made. Sarah to Susan.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for that distinction of myth and literalism. It's a fine line to travel. Internal and external is a good way to say it. What is appropriate internally may not work externally. But when it is really gotten internally it is envisioned everywhere. Paradoxically.

If the whole universe is Uddipana for rasa then why not the details of our lives. If Radha and Krishna are seen everywhere an abundance of Prema would permeate all. then there would be no places where Love could not run. You say it's in the middle stage. The supreme stage would have you be as an assistant to the lila?

This is really cool. Bringing one and difference together. The puzzle takes shape. The tendency to lose ourselves in something other... the urge to merge.. it is real and it's great to address it in personalist philosophy.