Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eros and Guru relationships (Part IV)

Some make the unequivocal statement that it is never correct for a guru to sleep with his disciples. I would like to state that in reverse. I say:

A woman should only sleep with her guru, and a man should only sleep with his guru. All sexual relationships should be mutual guru-disciple relationships.

The guru-disciple relationship is the vātsalya relationship par excellence, in that it selflessly seeks the welfare of the other. Vātsalya, like friendship, service, and admiration, is included in madhura. But in the latter, vātsalya must be mutual, i.e., felt by both parties.

Without mutuality, if vātsalya or, worse, vātsalya-ābhāsa (the mere outward appearance of guru sentiment) is predominant, then sexual relations would be inimical to love, or rasa-virodha, to use the Sanskrit terminology.

Rasa-virodha means "distasteful", which is a rather understated translation. That is why we recoil at these guru-disciple sexual relations and why we intuitively know they are wrong. We know it cannot be pure because it is a perversion of vātsalya, which by definition is to be wholly interested in the welfare of the other.

(This is why I asked the question the way that I did: Are there disciples who feel they were benefited through such unequal relationships, and how and why?)

The Hare Krishna position, like that expressed above, takes a straight line of patriarchal thought that leads to the depersonalization of women, relegates them to childlike dependent status, and considers them inferior, less intelligent, and worse yet, the source of all dangers to men.

This is a failure to pass the first rule of love, which is to see the other person as a person. Its base point is in the duality of fear and desire, and that is within the matrix of bubhukṣā-mumukṣā, sense enjoyment and desire for liberation. Love must transcend this, and especially erotic love.

The fact that we do not see the partner as guru means that we fail to see them in their true spiritual being. We see them in terms of their body only. And that is the error. Not the love act itself, which in fact is the God-given route par excellence to the mutual communication of love, the most intimate of sat-saṅgas.

Devotee sādhakas learn the art of cultivating this sādhanā and using it as the door to understanding Radha and Krishna. Those who fail to take advantage of it are confused about phalgu-vairāgya and yukta-vairāgya.

They are people who, like the four Kumaras, wish to remain children, who refuse to accept the gift of sexuality as a path to transformation, who due to the influence of rajas, tamas and even sattva, see only its potential for bondage instead of its potential for supreme liberation in prema.

Krishna says to Radha, "Your love is my guru." When one recognizes this, then one begins to really cultivate love instead of some idol of love.

We all talk a big game. Everyone has got the words, "God is love" on their lips. And yet, we depersonalize love to such an extent that we cannot even recognize it in the most intimate relationships that we have. We fail to recognize that this is the most powerful locus of the sacred, bar none.

Radha and Krishna are not some ordinary impersonal God of "this world" dealing with progeny, worldly duty, even service to mankind or some impersonal generalized wishy-washy flower power love. They are a call to recognize the locus of the sacred in erotic love, which can only be found in committed sādhana or abhyāsa (See Yoga Sutra 1.13-14).

To enter this locus of the sacred means to experience mystic participation in the divine līlā of Radha and Krishna in the nitya-vihāra.

One who recognizes this love finds that all other kinds of love are born out of it.

Worship of Radha and Krishna that refuses to recognize this dimension is worshiping half a hen at best.

The above comments are all, as usual, contingent on adhikāra. This is why the sādhanā stage is preceded by the pravartaka stage. I suggest reading the relevant portions here: pravartaka.

Jai Shri Radhe!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The nose-thumbing spirit and community

mugdhaṁ māṁ nigadantu nīti-nipuṇā bhrāntaṁ muhur vaidikāḥ
mandaṁ bāndhava-sañcayā jaḍa-dhiyaṁ muktādarāḥ sodarāḥ |
unmattaṁ dhanino viveka-caturāḥ kāmaṁ mahā-dāmbhikaṁ
moktuṁ na kṣamate manāg api mano govinda-pāda-spṛhām ||
Let the sharp moralist accuse me of being illusioned;
the experts in Vedic ritual may slander me as misled,
friends and relatives may call me lazy and irresponsible,
while my brothers, no longer respectful or affectionate,
call me a fool. I don't mind.
The wealthy mammonites will point me out as mad,
and learned philosophers assert that I am much too proud.
Still, my mind does not budge an inch
from its determination to serve Govinda's lotus feet.
āvali 81, Mādhavasya)
Actually, I don't think it is just "I don't mind." It is a kind of relish. We Hare Krishnas have been thumbing our nose at the Establishment since 1966. And they called us irresponsible and told us to get jobs, or to be good Christians, or philosophically coherent, etc.

And then, as soon as ISKCON itself became another establishment, we started thumbing our noses at it. We seem to have something of a nose-thumbing spirit.

That may make it difficult to create a community, which is certainly a challenge for devotees. The fact is that by promoting absolute surrender to the guru, movements like ISKCON tend to attract authoritarian personality types, and quickly become ripe for "social dominators" to take advantage.

Bob Altemeyer's book linked here is a good guide to this phenomenon, especially in the context of the current American religious fundamentalism and the so-called Tea Party, but is applicable to "cults" of all kinds.

Investigation of the "true believer" and the "escape from freedom" is, of course, something that has been a source of interest primarily since the mass nationalist movements that led to the Second World War, and it received another boost with the rise of cults or New Religious Movements in the 1970s in North America.

For American devotees, Krishna consciousness was at its root always anti-conventional. As long as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami was present, he could command sufficient personal authority to keep most of his followers engaged and committed to his mission. As soon as he left and others took over, the nature of the authoritarian structure became transparent and 90% of his disciples left, at least abandoning the "hard" institution of ISKCON, though perhaps not their internal personal and emotional commitment to him as guru. Many of these obviously still felt the need for a guru figure and were later attracted by Shrila Narayan Maharaj and others; but it remains to be seen whether those other groupings will be able to resist the temptation to create another authoritarian society like ISKCON. It is just as likely that the same set of frustrations will become paramount and they will find themselves thumbing their noses again.

This is one of the reasons that could explain the drying up of ISKCON's spread in North America and Europe. Certainly in the United States there was a great return to conventionalism in the 80's and thereafter, from which America still has not recovered. With Prabhupada's departure, ISKCON stopped being a statement of open rejection and active refusal of the Western status quo, attractive to the few rebels left, and attempted to find a place in the conventional middle ground, appealing to mainly Hindus and perhaps mainstream liberals. I have noticed some American authoritarian types of the libertarian type, though most of those have flocked to fundamentalist Christianity.

Christian non-conformism in the liberal left also lost a lot of its power. Chris Hedges is to me one of the strongest voices in contemporary journalism to represent this point of view, but he is pretty much alone in the wilderness. Here is a recent example of his writing, and I strongly suggest his discussion of Kant and the moral imperative to "buck the system."

This is really where Western religious thought is strongest, in my opinion, and why religion really is or can be revolutionary. Too many people associate religion with mindless conformism, but true religion is true morality, where one surrenders to one's pure conscience, against the world. Some call this spirituality, but spirituality can also be escapism and a kind of impotent or self-indulgent individualism.

True religion is always revolutionary, janatāgha-viplavaḥ. As soon as it stops being so, it becomes just another vehicle for illusion and evil. To be one with God means to be one's self in Truth, a true person. And as Hedges quotes Hannah Arendt, “The greatest evil perpetrated is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

It is rather encouraging to know that non-conventionalism is a part of our tradition, but that means constant self-critique.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Whatever you do, whatever you do!

Whatever you do, whatever you do,
whatever you do, don't drop the bindu.

This, my friends, I share with you the secret to all sadhana.

In Radha-Krishna bhakti sadhana, the bindu is the moment of divine union between the Divine Couple.

It is the compact, condensed moment before the big bang. It is the love that existed before your conception. It is the ananda from which all things have sprung. That is the bindu.

Bhaktas! Find it, and don't drop it!!!

It is Radha and Krishna on the bed of lotus petals in the nikunj. Radha and Krishna in oblivion. The asamprajnata samadhi. The total forgetfulness of everything but pure being, consciousness and bliss. That is the bindu. Find it and don't drop it!

रेमा योऽसौ राधिकाकृष्णयुग्मं
स्वानन्देन प्लावयित्वा सखीश्च ।
शश्वद्विश्वं प्लावयन् सुप्रसिद्धः
सोऽयं बुद्धिं नः समिद्धां करोतु ॥

premā yo'sau rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-yugmaṁ
svānandena plāvayitvā sakhīś ca |
śaśvad viśvaṁ plāvayan suprasiddhaḥ
so'yaṁ buddhiṁ naḥ samiddhāṁ karotu ||

That love, it is well known,
first inundates the divine pair of lovers,
Radhika and Krishna,
with its own bliss --
and their girlfriends too --
and then constantly engulfs
the entire universe.
May this very love
here inflame our intelligence. (Gopala-champu 1.15.4)

Here one should understand yo'sau... so'yam "that love... which is this very love here."

That is the bindu, pure prema, mahabhava.

राधाया भवतश्च चित्तजतुनी स्वेदैर्विलाप्य क्रमात्
युञ्जन्नद्रिनिकुञ्जकुञ्जरपते निर्धूतभेदभ्रमम् ।
चित्राय स्वयमन्वरञ्जयद् इह ब्रह्माण्डहर्म्योदरे
भूयोभिर्नवरागहिङ्गुलभरैः शृङ्गारकारुः कृती ॥

rādhāyā bhavataś ca citta-jatunī svedair vilāpya kramāt
yuñjann adri-nikuñja-kuñjara-pate nirdhūta-bheda-bhramam |
citrāya svayam anvarañjayad iha brahmāṇḍa-harmyodare
bhūyobhir nava-rāga-hiṅgula-bharaiḥ śṛṅgāra-kāruḥ kṛtī ||

The God of Love is a great craftsman:
he has taken the lac of Radha's soul and yours,
and melted them together with his perspiring heat.
O king of the elephants in the groves of Govardhan!
He has joined your souls together and washed away
any sense you had of difference between you.
Then, in order to paint the inner chambers
of the universal mansion, he added
yet more vermilion to the mix. (UN 14.155)

Vermilion is raga. Raga is also a technical term in the Ujjvala-nilamani.

दुःखमप्यधिकं चित्ते सुखत्वेनैव व्यज्यते
यतस्तु प्रणयोत्कर्षात् स राग इति कीर्त्यते

duḥkham apy adhikaṁ citte sukhatvenaiva vyajyate
yatas tu praṇayotkarṣāt sa rāga iti kīrtyate

"When the greatest misery is experienced (or is revealed as) only happiness in the mind due to the increase of pranaya, that is called raga."

To understand the increasing categories of love in the Ujjvala, you must understand them as alternating unity and duality, union and separation. In 15.3, Rupa says that separation increases the pleasure of union like dye that renews the color of a fading cloth.

Of course, Radha and Krishna's love never fades, but nevertheless, it goes through these alternating phases purely for the sake of lila. In the nitya-lila, the nitya-vihara, where there is only union, Radha and Krishna experience the effects of separation even in union.

This is usually given the name prema-vaicittya, but even that is not necessary. It is the inherent quality of madhanakhya maha-bhava. It means that they again become separated. By which I mean that they become as if separate identities.

yoga eva bhaved eṣa vicitraḥ ko'pi mādanaḥ
yad-vilāsā virājante nitya-līlāḥ sahasradhā

There is an indescribably amazing kind of love (i.e., mahabhava) named "the maddening" (mādana) whose manifestations exhibit their overlordship in thousands of ways in the nitya-lila.

The above verse (14.155) is maha-bhava, which is the base-line for all subsequent manifestations of maha-bhava, including mādana, is the bindu.

It is there, right there. Find it. Don't drop it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Lessons from Sanskrit: Singular, dual and plural.

Very few languages in the world still have the dual number, like Sanskrit. This helps account for the large size of Sanskrit's conjugations and declensions, but it has a certain logic that has provoked a bit of thought in me about relationships. It seems that by insisting on a dual number, Sanskrit is giving a great deal of importance to the one-on-one relationship.

It is true that one is usually different when by oneself, in the company of one other person, particularly one with whom one has an intimate relationship, or in a crowd.

Prema, which is both the sādhana (means) and the sādhya (end) of spiritual life, is to be experienced on all these three levels of relationship.

The singular

Love of the personal God comes in the "singular." One might think that since there is a duality (bheda) between the individual and the Supreme Other, this is a "dual" relationship. This is philosophically true and is the main reason that we have proposed the singular-dual-plural model.

The reason I say that devotion to the personal God is essentially an exercise of practice that is individual or singular is because God is the Atman, the self. He is the "Self of the self." This means many things, but the basic idea is that realizing God is "self-realization" and thus is confined to the individual.

Our experience of God, our realization of God, is an intensely personal one and is intimately connected to our knowledge of ourselves. Although no individual exists in a vacuum, the accent here is still on one’s personal realization and individual accomplishment.

We call this the beginning, pravartaka, stage.

The Dual, or sādhaka stage

The madhyama stage is based on the "dual": love of another human being. If you look carefully at the definition of the madhyama bhāgavata given in the Bhāgavata-purana, it is about defining and refining relationships.

It is usually described in other ways, but unless one has experienced the fullness of love for the "other" in human form, love for God remains a shallow, self-centered experience. God remains primarily a projection, without the purificatory benefits of real, living, physical human reciprocation.

There are five kinds of love, but of them all, mādhurya is the most powerful in terms of its relation to the overall psychology and purposefulness of the human organism. It is also the most beneficial since only through love of another human being can you truly understand the difference between personalism and Mayavada.

The Plural: uttama or siddha stage

The uttama stage is represented by the plural number. Not because you see everything as one, or because you see God everywhere, but because you see each thing as a manifestation of God, an opportunity for service, and an opportunity for the expression of love. It is the flowering of the understanding that the world is real, not false.

Each of these dimensions of love is also a sādhana. The are interrelated and they must be cultivated simultaneously with an awareness of the other dimensions. In fact, life itself would be impossible without some degree of such awareness. Nevertheless, they are experienced fully or realized in the order given in the Bhāgavatam.

Similarly, each of these dimensions also carries its own aspect of Maya. The kaniṣṭha can become locked up in the tamo-guëa of seeing his personal vision as the all-in-all. He becomes self-absorbed even when engaged in the other relational dimensions.

Lovers can similarly become absorbed -- positively or negatively -- in each other to the exclusion of the singular, i.e., lose equilibrium or sight of their own individuality, or to the exclusion of their place in the world.

The person who engages in the world without the other two dimensions can also lose his grounding or his sensitivity.

The three dimensions of prema culture

The culture of loving God, of attaining prema, is thus done in three dimensions, which are also the three basic developmental stages.

You cannot do without any of these "stages". Without the first (whether it is conscious or not) is the development of your individual personality. The defective elements (anarthas) seem to be most numerous at this stage, but you cannot do without it.

Without individual spiritual culture there is no spiritual culture on the dual and plural levels. And to say that you can change the order of attainment is also mistaken. Each of us has to start with our individual development, which is not different from "finding God."

Parallels to varnashram: sannyasa and brahmacharya

The parallel with the varnashram system is evident: Brahmachari, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, and Sannyasa.

The main problem with the brahmachari stage of individual culture is that many people, since the time of Shankara I guess (not really, as it is part of the Indian mindset) is to equate it with sannyasa. In other words, sannyas is seen as an individual culture, not a universal one. This is the problem with the sannyas culture altogether.

Prabhupada once said the sannyasis were the "children" of society, to be taken care of by the grihasthas. But is this really desirable? The brahmachari has not exercised his sexuality nor put his individuality on the line in a relationship of love.

If sannyas is simply glorified brahmacharya, it means in effect that one remains on the level of a child. His universalism will always be subjective, i.e., objectification, projection. His tendency to egoism in his role as guru will be strong. His concept of love will always have an element of self-centeredness.

But without a strong brahmacharya, i.e., strong individual culture in the classical sense, to begin with, the other levels are unlikely to manifest. Most people are grihasthas without brahmacharya.

A person who engages in the service of humankind without full developing the two others will be engaged in one dimension of a complete spiritual culture only.

The order is subject to one's nature and proclivities. But ultimately they must all be there. For instance, if you have strong social conscience and serve the society following, let's say, the model of a Gandhi or Vivekananda, that must still be accompanied by a culture of individual spirituality, and, as I am trying to point out, a culture of the dual.

The culture of the Dual

The dual is the connecting point. This is why throughout the world, marriage is considered to be a civilizing act. A man who is not tied down by marriage is generally irresponsible. Most societies are suspicious of the celibate, and rightly so.

Here in India, the celibate monks are under constant scrutiny and the media loves a good swami scandal. This is part of the secular steamroller mechanism. But it has not been replaced by a sacralization of sexuality. Especially in India, marriage is (for the most part) a business deal. It is necessary for the economy, and everyone knows that civilization means nothing other than economic development.

But I would like to go back to the sequence. Education starts with the individual. The individual starts out ego-centered. The debate about infant purity (being-becoming again) centers on the child's sense of identity with the world due to its having been totally dependent on the mother in the womb. Life outside the womb becomes progressively harsher and he hankers for that state of pure being that was the womb-life. The "oceanic feeling" in the amniotic sea.

Becoming means facing the world, but to do so effectively and spiritually, one must remain in a state of faith that one remains always within the womb of the Divine Mother, even as one moves about and explores the wonders of the creation and finds a place within it and learns to serve.

The beginning stage (pravartaka), whether it is on the karma, yoga, jnana or bhakti paths, is self-focused. I must know who I am before all. Bhakti is subtle here, because the choice of a God is the most indicative of one's subconscious orientation. Unfortunately, too few people understand this and see their gods as literal beings instead of clues to their own inner nature. But this you know quite well. The only problem, as always, is the baby-bathwater problem. Most people become outright atheists, or pantheists, or something else that equally neglects the relationship with God-as-person.

In this respect, the Advaita-vadins had some very good insights, and we need look no further than Madhusudan Saraswati for that. But all I want to say is that, properly understood, God-as-person means recognizing one's own personhood. One's one identity is ultimately and necessarily established against something. And when we establish our own identity through God, we divorce ourselves from family, nation, society, etc., all other identities. From that we must seek out what positive values accrue to us from that divine relationship.

That is the pravartaka stage. But the pravartaka stage is just that, only the beginning. Too many people think it is the end. That is why I say that the kaniṣṭha thinks the "Big Kaniṣṭha" is an uttama bhāgavata. But you won't get to the uttama stage by pretending you can skip being an individual.

Radha and Krishna are the God of the dual. Just like the individual must free himself from the Social God who squeezes out his individuality to surrender to the Juggernaut, the Dual must be freed of the Social God who makes marriage subservient to his needs and squeezed out of its natural love for the sake of "civilizing" the rampant males.

That is the difference between svakiya and parakiya. It has the same symbolic meaning for the individual on both the individual and dual levels, but since the sexual element dominates, the latter naturally follows on in sequence, just like childhood and puberty, brahmacharya and garhasthya.

The dual is the necessary point of connection between the individual and society, but only if the individual has broken from subservience to society. Ultimately, as Simone Weil said, the God of this world is always the Devil.

Shankara's insight that the world is a place of purification was correct. But he did not give enough emphasis to the "return voyage." Individual spiritual realization or the fulfilment of love in the sadhana of prema are only steps on the way to a service to the society that is truly enlightened. Then Society evolves toward Truth instead of being an idol.