Sunday, December 27, 2009

Raganuga Bhakti and the Yamuna Bridge to Nowhere

The following comment came to me today:

Vrinda-van "itself" is nowadays already a forest of buildings.... Vrinda-van is in reality a magical forest, one can get into ONLY by the magic of raganuga sadhan. This is where I want to get.

If somebody would have so much punya, to get from Krishna the blessing to turn the forest of buildings into the forest of Vrinda, with all the wonderful trees, latas, flowers, birds and animals, then Krishna will be forced to do it....

We may sit under a tree, overwhelmed by those uddipanas and... as Gaura in the form of Sri Caitanya taught, we may go through the magic of raganuga sadhan, far from the any other thoughts in the lila.

"The villagers" don't live in that forest, Vrinda-van, but in a village, which is outside of it. That Vrinda-van was lost long ago and what comes after its demise is just a natural consequence.

This is an interesting comment and is quite often heard. And really, it hits at the very root of the problem in more ways than one. I will leave aside most of my thoughts on the question and just state some of the basics of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, which raganuga bhaktas sometimes forget.

We are not Mayavadis, as everyone no doubt knows. Now the essence of Mayavada is to say, "This world is false, only Brahman is real." Vaishnavas don't say that: They say, God is real and so his energies, which are part of him, are also real. Therefore Jagat Satyam.

This is why Prabhupada's translation of the Gita is revolutionary. He starts from this point and does not distinguish karma from bhakti. In every one of Prabhupada's purports, he always reminds us that karma means service to Krishna.

This does not sit well with most people who see karma and bhakti as a progression towards jnana. But essentially, he is correct. It is a question of perception. When Arjuna came to his senses and was situated in knowledge, he ceased to see the world as a field of action separate from his relationship with Krishna.

Now, the Bhagavad Gita is not enriched with devotional mellows quite in the way that the entire bhakti movement evolved, but essentially that message has not changed. Hrishikena Hrishikesha sevanam. There is no separation of the lila from the action of this world.

If we cannot connect the lila to our everyday actions in every way, if we cannot infuse our everyday actions with the love of the Divine Couple, if we cannot live in the kunja when we are walking, talking, eating, sleeping, mating and defending, then our bhajan is futile.

Now this is indeed a challenge, and so I don't say like Bhaktisiddhanta or Vivekananda that you stop your bhajan and act in the world. Bahire nayan na deo kokhon, bhavakranta chitta nahi jad avadhi ("Do not turn your eyes outward until your mind is overcome with love.") You have to infuse your mind and senses with bhava and until then, it may be necessary to remain inward looking. But this is essentially a kanishtha stance. The madhyama bhakta and uttama bhakta have attained several degrees of ability to interact with the world without losing their focus, their center, or their prema. In fact, their consciousness has developed to the point that interaction with the world is an act of devotion in itself. Because they don't see it separate from the Divine Couple.

The siddhi of the siddhas is the model for the sadhana of the sadhakas, it is said. The Goswamis served the dham in order to make it a model, a kind of heaven on earth, a kingdom of God, where even those who were not alive in the love of Radha and Krishna could still be inspired by the land and its residents to remember them and to become infused with that spirit of love.

If their project, Vrindavan, fails, that is OUR failure also. Of course, there are competing visions of what Vrindavan is, but one thing is certain, the materialistic model of development at the cost of smarana, at the cost of kirtan, at the cost of shravana and all the bhakti angas, at the cost of rasa-asvadana, is not just the failure of the Vrajavasis, it is the failure of every bhakta on this earth.

If you become passive and sit back and take the "que sera sera" approach, then you are complicit in the failure of Mahaprabhu's prema dharma. This is a new test, my friends. Thousands of devotees around the world have taken up the Holy Name and come flocking to the Dham. For years they have felt mixed emotions--on the one hand seeing the beauty of Radha-vallabha, Radha-ramana, Radha-gopinath and all the other forms of the Divine Couple manifest there, and on the other hand seeing the neglect and poverty of the environment, slowly deteriorating on the other.

But if you are a devotee, you have five services that are most powerful. Chanting the Name, hearing the madhura-lila, serving the Form, associating with the Devotee, and living in the Dham. Only living in the Dham makes it possible to fulfill all these conditions equally. Serving the Dham is serving all of these most important angas of bhakti. Therefore Rupa Goswami calls it his upadesha sara.

But serving the Dham means more than rolling in the dust. Besides what dust will you roll in when they pave it all over? The manjaris sweep the kunj to make it fit for Radha and Krishna's lila, so that is our task now. We must sweep the kunj and make it fit for the Divine Couple, and for the devotees.

There is a great need for Raganuga bhaktas to understand this. They have been infused with a grace that not all devotees have even glimpsed from a distance. This grace will give them the strength to lead and to persevere and not to succumb to pessimism.

This too is a kind of Kuru-kshetre, a field of action, a Dharma-kshetra, a field of duty. If we are truly lovers of the Divine Couple, we will do what is necessary. And right now that means stopping this travesty of a development project. And in the long run, it means changing Vrindavan from a forest of buildings, as you put it, and turning it into a garden.

Lord knows it will not be easy. But a Raganuga bhakti is special because he has inner vision. He has seen that garden with his eyes, moistened by the salve of love, by his tears. The siddha, as you may know from the example of Chakleshwar Siddha Krishna Das Baba, is one who can manifest the vision of his smaran in the external world. Krishna Das dropped a bottle of perfume in his smaran and the devotees by the Manasa Ganga smelled the sweet fragrance for days.

Success is to be able to transform an inner vision into an external reality. To make one's inner vision visible to others. The mundane successes of the developers are a petty siddhi. To realize the vision of Vrindavan as the playground of the Lord and Lady of Love, now that is a real siddhi.

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