Thursday, September 17, 2009

More on cultural specifics

Art by Shyam Nadh

You try to explain or retain the symbolism of Radha Krishna Lila by Jungian archetype theory which does not make any link between the material world and the transcendental world as BVT's theory does. I agree that it has some explanatory power. However, this view requires a different view of rasa theory from that of the Goswamis.

First of all, as I already stated previously, there seems to be a little bit of confusion about the "dustbin of Maya" comment, which is indeed Mayavada. I do not hold that view myself. I am a Vaishnava and I believe strongly that the material world is real, though temporary. Maya means taking temporary phenomena as having ultimate value. They have only reflected value. I am in perfect accord with Bhaktivinoda Thakur here.

Nevertheless, we do have a problem, and I don't see how it can be resolved by taking a purely literalist approach. That may be what Bhaktivinoda Thakur did; it is quite possible, but I do not find that it adequately deals with the problem of cultural relativism and the Absolute Truth, which by definition must be beyond any such relativism. I already mentioned somewhere that Satya Narayan said that the historical accident (historically when?) of the Indian culture at the time of Krishna's incarnation perfectly replicates the spiritual world. As though there is some concrete spiritual world that can be found on Google Earth (leaving aside Bhauma Vrindavan and all that).

In my way of understanding this, the cultural situation represented in the mythical Vrindavan existed only in people's minds as an approximation or ideal, whenever it came into existence. That is why I find it so funny when these Indian scholars try to portray something like the "Bengali society as depicted in the Sri Krishna Kirtan" or whatever. It makes as much sense as trying to reconstruct medieval Europe from Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales or from the legends of the Knights of the Round Table. We may get some idea, but it will only be a subjective ideal with its roots in the time of the author, not a real picture.

Radha and Krishna's lila arises from a composite image that from the very beginning was meant to contrast the real and defective world of human experience in Indian society; it extrapolated an ideal vision of love and then mapped that onto the Supreme Truth as a metaphor. It was never real. In the article "History is Bunk" I quickly jotted down some of my ideas about this.

My tendency, as I have indicated before, is to accept that whether Mayavadi or Theist (broad use of terms), all spiritually minded people are idealists in the philosophical sense, i.e., they believe in the primacy of consciousness. This is what the word chit really indicates. Consciousness contains within it an infinite number of possibilities, and since they all come from the same source, i.e., God, they have, on one level, equal value.

On another level, there is no meaning to variety without hierarchy. Even the Mayavadi "idealizes" his "ideal" of the non-differentiated Absolute. This is philosophically persuasive because God is really the Ideal beyond all ideals, the Archetype beyond archetypes. As soon as we identify God in phenomenal terms, we are immediately restricting Him in some way. This is why the negative path is an essential part of any theological discourse. In Christianity and Islam, this is the constant fight against idolatry or shirk, in Advaita Vedanta, against Maya.

And we too, even as Vaishnavas with our commitment to Nama, Rupa, Guna, Lila, etc., are also engaged in the same process of cutting away material concepts of the Supreme Truth. We simply negate the limitations placed on the Absolute by depriving It of personality, relationship and variety. We validate this by saying that God's glory lies in his accessibility, in his making himself available to an infinity of fragmented consciousnesses, His own separated parts, for the sake of experiencing rasa, which is another way of saying the infinite varieties possible in love. Nearly all religions around the world, as far as I can tell, whether incipiently or as a result of cultural transfusion, accept the idea of love as somehow being central to the idea of God.

Central to the Gaudiya Vaishnava doctrine is the distinction between Mahamaya and Yogamaya. In one sense, all of Krishna's energies are one and non-different from Him. parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate. Maya for the Vaishnava really means the medium which God uses to relate to the jiva soul. Maya is the illusion of separateness. This applies equally to Mahamaya and Yogamaya, the difference being that the essence of Mahamaya is discovering God as God, whereas Yogamaya is about discovering Love of God. It is something like stepping through the looking glass out of the Bizarro world.

The major theme of Mahamaya is that God is hidden; He is the unconscious center or object (vishaya). Put another way, where the vishaya appears to be something other than God, i.e., where God is not recognized as the object. In one sense, Yogamaya is no different, since a nitya-siddha devotee similarly does not recognize God as God, but accepts an apparently phenomenal manifestation as vishaya. That, we recognize, is God.

Gaudiya Vaishnavas do, however, accept that there is a difference between prakata lila and nitya lila. Sri Jiva and Vishwanath's commentary on 10.14.37 is particularly instructive in this regard. Vishwanath seems to postulate the necessity of a material world in order to show by contrast the value of the transcendental. Jiva says something similar in his comments on UN 1.20. So variety implies hierarchy.

In other words, love is the unrealizable ideal in the material world, and so humans project this ideal onto the spiritual and then try to emulate it in the phenomenal world, according to their distorted sense of Truth.

Now though I keep using the term "projection," and this really is the crux of the matter, it does not mean that "Man creates God" instead of "God creates Man." Actually, I find this opposition to be a real red herring. God and Man create each other together. Or, the Jivatma and Paramatma are engaged in simultaneously creating a lila together. You cannot separate the Jivatma from the Paramatma at any time.

This chicken or egg question is relatively meaningless and we have to look at it in an entirely different way. The infinite God is trying to reveal Himself to finite human beings through their experience of the world. Humans have a natural tendency to see the ideal of the Good, the True, the Beautiful, and that is what they call God. And wherever they are, in whatever cultural circumstances they are, they produce artefacts that in some way or another reproduce their perception of that ideal. Even in the most negative moments, e.g. "shock art", they are really saying "see how far we have fallen."

Radha and Krishna, as I keep saying, are a symbol of the ideal. This symbol is Transcendent, even though it appears within a particular culture. Our thinking and meditation on this symbol is and should always be informed by the striving for the highest perfection of Love, which must be reflected by our behaviour and actions in this world. If the "ideal" does not inform the "real", then the ideal is emptied of its reality, i.e., its transformative power.

Then it ceases to be a religious symbol and becomes a mere fable. It ceases to be transcendent and needs to be refreshed by revision.

The error we all make when we are literalist is to see God in linear terms. We think Krishna is literally living on a planet somewhere, expanding physically into various Vishnu forms, etc., etc.

Radha and Krishna are real subjectively (that is what I mean by idealism). There is nothing wrong with saying that they are a projection because the potential for envisioning the ideal comes through God and His representatives, i.e., those who come in parampara, i.e., those who preserve and expand the symbolic tradition through explanation and execution.

The parampara, through its cultural products, through its success in creating community, turns a symbol into a kind of objective reality. When we strive for an ideal, when symbols take on deeper and deeper meaning on multiple levels, they produce individual and collective experiences of rasa. In a sense, that experience itself IS God. That is the way God makes himself known. That is how we enter into communication with him. This is how Yogamaya works. Raso vai saḥ.

13 comments:

KRISHNA DASA said...

Dear Jagat, I do not think you really answered my comment. You did not address the visesana-visesya relationship I had pointed out. I am wondering if you can elaborate on that.

And in fact, I do think that what you say differs from BVT's reflection theory, because according to his theory material forms are reflection (mayika praticchaya) of spiritual forms. Advaitins deny reality to this world, but that is not the issue here. I did not mean to say that you consider the material world unreal. The problem which makes you differ from BVT is that you seem to deny the existence of the "cultural specifics" of Krishna Lila in the spiritual world. Hence, you cannot claim alliance with BVT's reflection theory because there is nothing to be reflected. The "cultural specifics" are something concrete that stands for somethings abstract, formless, undefinable. They exist in the material world only, and not in both worlds as BVT has it. Please correct me if I am wrong and misread you.

Jagat said...

Yes, I started on that viseshana-visheshya thing, but never finished because I don't really understand what you meant. Perhaps you can give references also.

I was going to refer to BRS 1.3.1, 1.4.1 and 2.1.9, but I would have to think of what Rupa Goswami meant about the relation between rasa and prema. But I would like to hear more about what you intended.

With regards the other, I would call it a development on BVT's theory. How would you defend his (or Satya Naraya's position), other than by appeal to shastra?

The main point of my argument is to disagree with a kind of linear or "gross" way of looking at the nitya-lila and the svayam bhagavan concept. I accept the logical arguments that place Radha Krishna lila at the innermost level of the bhakti universe, etc. So, in a way, you could call it a six/half-dozen question.

KRISHNA DASA said...

Jagat, I was re-reading your articles and I think I am starting to get your point. I need some time to give it further thought, though. Thanks for the answers.

Anonymous said...

In the field of cultural psychology the approach to culture is almost opposite as in other social studies, like sociology.

Culture is not seen as a given that explains behaviour, but as something that needs to be explained, as something that happens between people.

We know very little about culture from this perspective.

Anonymous said...

"In the field of cultural psychology the approach to culture is almost opposite as in other social studies, like sociology.

Culture is not seen as a given that explains behaviour, but as something that needs to be explained, as something that happens between people.

We know very little about culture from this perspective."

Assuming that "we" here refers to human society in general and scientists in the field of psychology in particular, I think the observation above is very very timely. In other words, actual experts in the field recognize that in reality culture does not explain behavior but instead presents even further questions as to why individuals (and by extention societies) behave as they do. My wild guess is that it has something to do with genetics/biology. But only something, not all.

AF said...

More on cultural psychology;

"Cultural psychology is a field of psychology which assumes the idea that culture and mind are inseparable, thus there are no universal laws for how the mind works and that psychological theories grounded in one culture are likely to be limited in applicability when applied to a different culture.".....


this became obvious to me while living in India.

Anonymous said...

"Cultural psychology is a field of psychology which assumes the idea that culture and mind are inseparable, thus there are no universal laws for how the mind works and that psychological theories grounded in one culture are likely to be limited in applicability when applied to a different culture.".....

So because both are inseperable their is a mental aspect to culture. Culture is mental. Culture is people. Cultural context is people. Psychological theories are as grouned in culture as they are in mind. The paradigma has always been to explain culture as a constant variable when it comes to theories about the mind. That is a mistake, a logical connection argument, the assumption that they can be seperated and then assuming that one causes the other.

So it is interesting if this approach helpes us as westeners and indians alike to gain insight in what vedic culture actually means not as a static given, but as a dynamic between people.
Even the color of a sari or dhoti can cary more (psychological)meaning than that we previously held possible.

AF said...

"So it is interesting if this approach helpes us as westeners and indians alike to gain insight in what vedic culture actually means".........

Who cares what "vedic culture" means? It's over. If it ever even existed at all.

Anonymous said...

"Who cares what "vedic culture" means? It's over. If it ever even existed at all."

Woah easy there now, lest we start applying the same logic to the myth of Radha herself. Of course there is always Mr. Buddha to live with, and that is one fellow who, if he didn't exist, we can always invent on demand. My own private buddha right now - he needs cash.

AF said...

I've yet to read anything written by Rupa Goswami about "vedic culure". Why do western "devotees" talk about it so much? What does it have to do with bhakti?

Who started this "vedic culture" fetish, and why?

Anonymous said...

"Who started this "vedic culture" fetish?"

The same people who started the Asian women fetish, i.e., insecure males.

"and why?"
To keep women under control.

Next question?

Jagat said...

Who invented children? It was all a plot.

We don't have to be silly about the history of civilization in order to be better humans.

Anonymous said...

I think, Jagat, that if the history of civilization wasn't silly to begin with, we wouldn't be striving to be better humans as a consequence.