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.

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