Thursday, September 17, 2009

Downtown Montreal

Some work is being done on the house and that has made it necessary to go into town each day for the last few days. Honestly, I don't know why I haven't done it before. I have been enjoying it a great deal and it has snapped me out of the doldrums.

Riding in on the Metro, as you take the Green Line from Lionel-Groulx, you pass Guy-Concordia, Peel and McGill stations, all of which are stops for university students and staff. You can almost immediately sense a heightening of I.Q. in the train, as compared to the suburban buses full of high school students and service industry workers.

At McGill, I feel as though I have been given a shot of intellectual adrenaline. It is like a cup of coffee after six months without. I have been coming back to this campus every few years since the 60's when I was a teenager. It is here that I first saw devotees chanting by the Leacock Building in 1967. Every time I come to the university I feel as though I am in a time warp; at the same time it is a place where I always seem to be most aware of the changes taking place in the city.

The campus seems much more crowded than before, but that may be just because it is the beginning of the school year. It is also still warm, so you see the throngs of students enjoying themselves outdoors on the lawns.

The MacLennan Library has been upgraded all around, but Birks is still unchanged. The reading room with its worn parquet... it may be one of the few libraries where you have to take your shoes off.

I am working well, better than in the house, that is for sure. But I don't really belong, any more than I belong at the Iskcon temple. As I reflect, I realize that I don't really see myself as either an intellectual or a devotee. It may be the cause of my relative lack of success in either department.

Swami Veda wondered why I didn't have a job in a university somewhere. But even when I had university jobs, I always felt that I was not really home. I much prefer the bhakti life, but I don't really have much of a home anywhere in the devotional universe, either. A person in my situation has to create his own world.

I have been writing like crazy. If I read a page from a book I practically have to write for hours to keep up, until my brain wears down.

Today I worked in the Bibliothèque Nationale du Québec, which is also downtown. It is a relatively new building, maybe four or five years old. The building itself doesn't photograph well, though I like that sculpture outside it. Its best features are actually inside. But I was rather astonished to see how much it is being used by the public. There were about 100 people at 10.00 waiting to get in, and it has been bustling the whole day. There are hundreds of computer terminals available for free public use for up to three hours a day. At McGill I wasn't able to use the computers because I am not a student. I might have been able to get a special guest i.d., but this has been much easier.

There are a number of homeless people who come in and hang out, but basically it is full of people who like knowledge and reading. The BN is right next to UQAM, one of Montreal's two French universities, and so many of its students are here too.

UQAM has an interesting architecture with its red brick buildings weaving in and out of church husks. Montreal has four big universities, three of which are right downtown, so there is a large student population.

In short, I am getting a lot of work done. Eventually you will get to see some of it here. I have started writing commentaries on the first two verses of the Dana-keli-kaumudi and also taking notes on other points related to the folk/classical interface of Krishna bhakti in the time of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I have also been writing stuff in relation to the subjects that are currently being discussed in the comments here, but I forgot my memory stick at home and so am still unable to share any of it. My brain loses a bit of its shine about this time of day.

So, see you later. Jai Radhe!


Asian Fetish said...

"But even when I had university jobs, I always felt that I was not really home. I much prefer the bhakti life, but I don't really have much of a home anywhere in the devotional universe, either. A person in my situation has to create his own world."

This is a common dilemna for all of us who have spent considerable time living in India.

What to do?

Jagat said...

Every life has its challenges, AF, and you have to decide where you can do the most good. Every individual has to synthesize his own experience into a workable philosophy of life, and if he or she is successful at such a synthesis, it is sure to have an effect on others.

After long thought on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that I have things to offer on both sides, in India and the West.

When Kipling said "East is East and West is West and ne'er the twain shall meet," he did not know about the Hare Krishna movement.

Prabhupada used the andha/pangu nyaya, the metaphor of the blind and lame man, to suggest the mutuality of East and West. But I think that it is more complex than calling India the eyes and the West the legs of this new chimera. We started out disenchanted with the West, and were then disenchanted by India. Now we must ask oursleves where the enchantment really lies. You cannot do that with facile negativity. But it is very demanding, because to lead, you have to think out every issue thoroughly.

Probably more in India than in the West, there is a crisis of identity--as indeed is the case in many developing countries. Religion plays a big role in both the conservative and liberal elements in such societies. In fact, without reinterpreting and recycling religious symbols, it is difficult for any culture to be transformed. This is a clearer route for KC in India than the West, where an entirely new symbol system has to be introduced.

That doesn't mean it is impossible, but it is a less direct route. It is easier to make adjustments on an old model than to start with something entirely new. This is also true where Western devotees are concerned.

For the potential Western audience, devotees or not, the cachet of someone who has lived and imbibed the Indian spiritual culture seems to remain one of the most important assets. This, for me, means that making India my base of operations is a sensible strategy.

Of course, on the whole, since I will always be more fluent in English than Hindi, Bengali or Sanskrit, my primary audience will always be English-speaking. Nevertheless, the route to that audience will come primarily via India.

There are many problems involved here: first of all, the synthesizer and innovator has a harder job than the true believer and unquestioning repeater, the angry critic or the detached scholar.

The Krishna consciousness movement in the Western countries is in desperate need of leadership, as far as I can see. The hard core followers of any of the existing groups are, for the most part, closed-minded, but not all. There are, however, many others who are, to one degree or another, in the same situation as us, i.e. alienated. What environment can they be given that they can call home?

In terms of purely making a living, that is another matter, but I am sure that Krishna will take care of you. There is nothing more humbling than having to make a living, because you have to "serve somebody." And serving always means "on someone else's terms." Or, if not that, then at least using resources that seem unrelated to spiritual life. But nothing is unrelated to spiritual life and everything is an opportunity.

So keep your eye on the ball of prema prayojana and do the needful. I wish you all of Radha's love, strength and intelligence. Bhaktir eva bhuyasi.

Jagat said...

Just after writing that, I was linked to a Niranjan Swami lecture in Russia, where he is being translated by an interpreter. Now there is a TRIPLE identity crisis. Prabhupada, I have to admit, saw this. People only have a vague idea of India, but everybody still believes in America.

Socrates said...

The Krishna consciousness movement in the Western countries is in desperate need of leadership, as far as I can see.

I think it doesn't need any leading.

Who is eligible to lead it? Who deserves to be a leader? Old school devotees, literalist gurus and initiates of Bhaktivedanta Swami et al? No, sorry to disappoint you, but they'll only do more harm because hey cannot change any more.

Some of them probably would like something to be done, at least in theory because they're strong in that department and some still care about their public image. But they have neither strength or idea what to do exactly. If they want to lead it into a new age and society, it would mean they'll lead it through the inevitable change. And yet, they're not willing to embrace change.

Because if they were ready, they'd already start to change themselves and we wouldn't be taking about much needed change. They'd show us by example, not just 'calling for change'.

Thus your generation of devotees love to talk, to philosophize, to analyze trends and point fingers to (what they see as) 'watered down' attempts of all others who somehow try to validate principles of good religion and spirituality amidst today's world of science, rising atheism and popular culture.

They are actors, and quite funny ones, like Mr. Waldorf and Stattler of The Muppet Show. They observe the show and have something to say about every actor (and laugh about it) but never moving from their chairs at the balcony. (Well, unless angry Miss Piggy doesn't throw something at them, urging them to hide for a second).

Leave it by itself.
And it will find its own way to sprout in a new ground. It's a tough, reliable plant. It will sport in a way no one can imagine or predict.

Nirguna said...

Your comments reminded me of an essay by Sri Madhava Ashish.
"Kipling said:
But there is neither East nor West,
border, nor breed, nor birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!

Mankind is one. If we cannot see this, if we are so identified with the material accidents of our racial environment that we cannot recognize the common bond of humanity which bridges all differences of culture, language, symbolic vocabulary, and psychic attitude, then we should at least have the humility to admit our inferiority in the scale of human evolution."...

..."Like everything else, the individual Self must evolve and grow, passing from unrealized potential to a clear focus in the transcendental light. But it is the Self of man - not an Eastern or Western Self. Nor is the distinction between an Eastern and Western psyche any more than that between a peasant and a citizen anywhere in the world. These racial distinctions are not fundamental differences in human types, but are, rather, stages along man's evolutionary path which are reached at different times by different peoples. But neither East nor West is more or less advanced because one has taken a stride with the left leg while another has taken a stride with the right"

Anonymous said...

One advantage of not being a university professor is you have alot of freedom.

For example, the lady who wrote Diet for a Small Planet, was not a professor at Cal but spent alot of time on the UC Berkely campus.

Because she did not have TAs to supervise, committtee meetings, academic responsibilities, she had alot of time to look things up in the Cal library.

That's how she found all of her research for her book.

In addition, she was able to use research from across disciplines. She noted that academics are often deeply entrenched in one system/ field/ point of view/ world view.

As an independent person, she was able to draw from whatever disciplines she liked to write her book.

It freed her to note connections between disciplines using research that other people did.

So perhaps it is a bit the same in your case, too... ?

You have alot of freedom to be a free thinker and the time to do alot of research on your own terms, in your own way.

A type of intellectual freedom.

Jagat said...

Still working at the Granda Bibliothèque, which I am enjoying immensely. Having worked at the old British Library, the old British Museum Oriental Collections, the NY Public Library on 42nd St., and even once Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, as well as numerous other university libraries, I have to say I really like this one. Yesterday, I spent the day in a comfortable armchair by a window under a four-storey ceiling. Though the constantly patrolling security guards told me to put my shoes on... Rules, rules, rules. The price of civilization.