Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Archetypal psychology, rasa and the Bhakti path" and my audience

A look back on the Rishikesh classes

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been in Rishikesh the past two weeks, teaching a dwindling number of students an impromptu course that I spontaneously entitled, "Bhakti, rasa and psychology."

There are three subjects in one which, when taken together, form the basis of my philosophy, but it was a pretty big chunk to get across in ten classes, especially to an audience that for the most part was not conversant with any of them. It is said that a good teacher is one who can explain a complex subject matter simply, and I am working towards that goal. As always, my primary objective was to try to integrate the three subjects as best I could, in short, to come to a better understanding of the subject matter and put it into words; and, if it could be communicated to others, so much the better. Some parts of the course naturally worked better than others.

Many of these subjects are well represented on this blog, though not in a linear fashion. My only concern, as always, however, is understanding the sādhya of prema and its sādhanā.

Some have noted that there are some issues with my model of the bhakti path or the path of prema when it is juxtaposed with the orthodox or traditional models of spiritual life. The fact is that I have tried synthesizing a number of different psychological models, which means that things may still look a little jumbled from time to time. I am working on it, and that was one of the reasons I may have been or still am a bit confusing from time to time.

There are several positions that I take that would be problematic for most devotees. The first thing is the symbolic and non-literal approach that I take to Radha-Krishna mythology. Like Jung, I take these myth-symbol systems to ultimately represent models of the psyche itself. This goes for the kundalini-chakra system as well, which I will also try to discuss to some extent as I develop these ideas.

The reason I agree with this position is not because I reject the philosophical God, or God as an object of devotion, the reality of God or anything else like that. But the Hindu scriptures, including the Gita and Bhagavata and just about every other text that I know, are fundamentally in agreement. God reveals himself to the individual according to his psychic reality. Whatever the devotee's concept of God, that is how God appears to him. The arguments about the superiority or inferiority of the various forms of God is not really a philosophical argument: it is an aesthetic and a psychological one.

Arguments about the nature of a God "out there" are misleading because they do not recognize God's real locus as internal. If we recognize the personal God as having his primary locus of existence in our minds, we will make quicker progress.

This is why Rupa Goswami can say rasenotkṛṣyate kṛṣṇaḥ. This means that although all the different forms of Deity form a similar psychological function, there are still gradations of achievement. By recognizing through the hierarchy based on rasa a particular form of the Divine Couple (or Syzygy) as the ultimate symbol of the integration of opposites or psychosynthesis, Rupa Goswami is making some very important points about human psychology, which coincide greatly with the findings of Carl Jung.

This does not mean that we deny the reality of Radha and Krishna. Because God reveals himself to the mind and heart of the devotee primarily through symbol and archetype does not mean a denial of God. That is just the way his reality manifests itself. Believe me, that is how God does it. But the hierarchy of archetypes means that there is still a higher and lower in the standard of achievement, and this is important to know.

God is a symbol of synthesis, and that synthesis is represented by a human ideal. Achievement of this goal is related to the attainment of prema.

The second thing is the functional or practical aspect of the approach. We have previously quoted a Bengali verse of unknown origin,

sādhana-o ekhāne, siddhi-o ekhāne, bhāvera gocara se
ekhāne jadi ihā dekhite nā pāo, marile dekhibe ke ?
Sādhana is to be practiced here this world, but the attainment of siddhi must also happen here. The Divine Truth is accessible [internally] through love. Therefore, if you are unable to see this Truth here, then who [do you think] will see it after you die?
I agree in principle. Let us leave what happens after death to whatever forces deal with that. If religion and spirituality do not have a transformative effect on the consciousness in the here and now, by which we mean a full life, lived with a sense of meaning and happiness, then what can we expect after death? Our next lives are to be a continuation of this one; we take up from where we left off, so let us push forward to the goal of prema and not settle for anything less. The possibility that other lives follow is perhaps a consolation for what may be our inevitable shortcomings, but that possibility should not be an excuse for letting things float.

Our main work is mastering the art of love, and facing the truth seems to be an essential part of that process. Not taking shelter of pies-in-the-sky.

Carl Jung's contribution to psychology was to include the instinct to individuation and synthesis of the psyche as a part of human nature. This is because human beings seek happiness. The natural economy of the psyche leads one to growth. Not just in the individual but in human society.

If the seeds of the vine of love have been given to us, by the grace of God, then we must become gardeners and help the plant grow until the flowers blossom and the fruits ripen. We want them to blossom and fructify in this life. Prema is too important to leave to some later date. It is not that we must "first deserve, then desire." We will never really deserve. It is when we truly desire that we do everything we can to deserve. Indeed, the desire itself is what makes us deserving.

This approach is rational. You don't have to believe ten impossible things before breakfast to be a devotee of Radha and Krishna. You have to understand what They mean -- intrapsychically, relationally, and socially. As I have said before, the symbol is more important than the myth. Myths change as people try to control the message of the symbol. The most powerful and enduring myths are the ones that most completely and intuitively communicate the meaning of the symbol, which has powers of endurance that go beyond the myths.

Both myth and symbol contain theology, or discursive reasoning, as they search for explanation. To not use reason in the service of Prema is foolhardiness. Using reason to avoid Prema, sometimes in the name of Prema, is a worse tendency that many will be surprised to know truly exists.

In this matter, we need to look for as much insight as possible. The key, in my opinion, is to look at the goal: Prema. Prema can indeed only come to those who are deserving. If prema comes by grace, it will make you deserving. Prema itself will act as a guru and show you the way. First desire, then you will come to deserve, through the mutual interaction of your desire and the grace of Prema itself.

Communicating to bhaktas and non-bhaktas

The classes in Rishikesh, which ended with only three attendees, led me to think again about my audience. Who am I talking to? The values referred to above are decidedly modern and for many religious people undermine the very foundation of their beliefs. For most Indians, who are still engaged in the hard work of catching up to the West in terms of technical knowledge, the processes of critical thinking, especially where psychology, and even more, where the relation of eros to the psyche and spiritual life is concerned, have barely been touched.

But for those who have been touched by the "poison" of critical thinking and deconstruction, myth and symbol often become nothing more than the lifeless objects of some mild intellectual interest or curiosity, without any numinous power. Even if such persons can detect some aspect of Ultimate Concern in the symbol through discursive analysis and explanations, the symbol itself is not alive for them and therefore not activated in their psyche. Indeed, they feel there is no necessity for such things. They take the symbol as a sign, i.e. pointing to something and therefore discardable once the message has been received, like a finger pointing at the moon has no further purpose once the moon has been seen.

A symbol of Ultimate Concern does not work like that. It must remain a constant companion, a direct manifestation of the Divine with which one remains in interaction throughout one's culture of that Ultimate Concern, which in our case is Prema.

This does not mean it will be impossible to awaken the symbol, i.e., to do the prāṇa-pratiṣṭhā of that symbol, in the heart of a seeker through such explanations, if the speaker is speaking from the level of the heart. If such seekers are committed to other paths, of course, it becomes more difficult and in all likelihood unnecessary and, indeed, improper to try to "convert" them.

So, almost by default, these teachings are for those who have already been illuminated by the symbol of Radha-Krishna and the avatara, Krishna Chaitanya, even though most of the above considerations are foreign to them, much in the way that they are for the majority of Indians.

For those who have come through the Vaishnava paramparas, however, questions to me are usually centered around issues of authority -- Why don't you accept what this or that guru says? Where is the shastra support for your philosophy? Why do you trust your own experience and mental speculation when the acharyas have all stated that following Shabda is the best way to the Truth? You are blind, listen to those who have seen the Truth.

A recent contributor to the comments on this forum feels that I am constantly denigrating Prabhupad and the Gaudiya Math. There may be some truth in this, because I have come to disagree fundamentally on several issues. But from the time of my spiritual birth I belong to that very same family that comes through Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Even after going through many changes, becoming "modern," as it were, I still remain tied to this family. How could I not love my twice- or thrice-removed cousins? How would a lack of love for them be helpful? At the same time, how would it be helpful if I did not, through honest self-assessment, highlight the differences, which become greater with every day that I follow my own path?

The great preponderance of people reading my articles are devotees who have become become attracted to Krishna through association with IGM in one way or another. For whatever reason, usually through a random click, they end up on this site and, most of the time, click right through it. Skimming or glossing, as they say. After all, these articles are admittedly too long.

But still, if anyone is going to try to understand what I say at all, it is probably they. Because, to some extent or another, as a result of their samskaras in those organizations, they usually have faith in Rupa Goswami and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, etc. Then, even if they haven't grasped the meaning of Radha and Krishna, they still have their names and forms printed on their minds to a greater or lesser extent, so that they are Radha-Krishna-maya. And as some of them have lost their faith -- for whatever reason -- in the institutions they frequent, they see some hope in me for salvaging their hopes for Prema.

The Krishna consciousness movement attracts a wide range of personality types. Prabhupadas Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami were no doubt doing that on purpose, but they were not amiss in pointing to Radha Krishna, the Divine Couple, as the topmost among a wide range of possible choices in the forms of God. The Goswamis themselves did their best to show that the worship of Radha and Krishna is the apex of the entire corpus of Vedic literature. But that does not mean that one has to know every aspect of the Vedic literature, or have followed every Vedic and Pancharatrika injunction in order to come to Radha and Krishna and their pastimes in the nitya-nikuñja.

So if I continue to hang on to Radha and Krishna as the highest reality, why should I not be grateful both these preachers for the mercy I have received from them and those that they have graced? Such ingratitude would be fatal. So this is primarily a conversation within our family, and I am happy to acknowledge that.

It will not necessarily be looked upon kindly, of course, by those who feel that my philosophy and practice are diametrically opposed to theirs and who will fight tooth and nail to prevent their sheep from being misled by me.

The importance of experience: the direct route

With regard to the question of my personal experience and the validity or non-validity thereof. I have been told that the blind must be led by those that see. Must I assume then that we are never to see on our own?

People talk about experience as though it is something we can accept or reject, as though we can avoid acknowledging experience as a part of our spiritual path. But we cannot. Whatever we have read or heard will always be challenged by what we experience. And we cannot, in any matter, honestly remain serious sādhakas without allowing that to take place. In other words, by profound self-examination that is not anchored in the guilt of the errant, but honestly appraises every side of a question including the validity of one's authorities.

The IGM formula says, "Take the slow and indirect route. Follow varṇāśrama and vaidhī bhakti until you become qualified for rāganugā." I say, "Remember Radha and Krishna in the kunj, without considering shastra or yukti."

vana-vipina-nikuñje divya-divyair vilāsaiḥ |
niravadhi rasamānau rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau
bhaja sakalam upekṣya tāvakāḥ śāstra-yuktīḥ ||

Radha Keli Chand’s most secret and divine Vrindavan nikuñja-keli oozes an ocean of delight. Hey bhaktas! You who relish the divine moods and flavors! Just discard all your scriptural injunctions and philosophical argumentation and perform exclusive bhajan of the Divine Couple as they constantly relish these lovemaking pastimes!
The great compendium of Gaudiya Vaishnava literature is there for catch-up, or catchup. Like Google. When in doubt Google it, for fun or deeper understanding. Those who have come to the end can either go back -- or not.

Some people learn from experience and change their understanding as a consequence. Others pretend the experience never happened or that it was an aberration; they then have to find other ways of affirming their faith in their authorities, which usually requires some kind of denial of the experience, or at least reframing it or marginalizing it in some way.

I personally am a great believer in experience, because Prema is a life-changing experience without which everything else is meaningless. Book learning can only take you so far. If they do not become a reality for you, books are just words. Though words have their own powers of enchantment, we need to go beyond words, no matter how brilliant, to enter Reality. You have to become so identified with Radha and Krishna that you experience what they experience.

The philosophy of Krishna consciousness is not meant to precede Radha and Krishna, but to follow them from behind. You start with Radha and Krishna and let the pieces fall where they may. Hear about Radha and Krishna's loves first, then let whatever happens happen.

When I was a babaji and "fell down" after doing rāganugā bhakti for six years, immersing myself in Radha Krishna lila, I had this sudden realization that this was supposed to happen. Of course, that does not mean I got it right right away. As a matter of fact, I got it really wrong more than once. And yet, despite the errors, I have never stopped feeling that my first instinct was correct: this is supposed to happen.

Saying that making such mistakes is a part of the process is not a particularly good for those who would like a nice, tidy society where everybody is faithful to their wife or husband. I honestly don't know if the philosophy of love can ever be anything but subversive. For most people, my mistakes are the proof of the error of my ways. But Danish scientist and Nobel laureate Niels Bohr said, "An expert is a person who has made every possible mistake within his or her field." So we go on making mistakes, but we do not stop looking for expertise in the yoga of love.

We have to mature and understand what love is for, what its perfection looks like. The best I can say is that in order for it to happen right, you need to have a companion, a partner who is a sādhaka of madhura-rasa, a rāganugā devotee, with whom you can constantly chant the names and glories of Radha and Krishna through a sense of identity and service. And you have to fall in love with such a person. That is a hard thing to say, because falling in love has a nasty way of happening at the wrong time, in the wrong place, without apparent input from any higher intelligence, internal or external.

Any talk about the only good sex being that which has the goal reproduction and functions as a duty in varṇāśrama dharma, or at best sublimation in service, is Lakshmi-Narayan talk. And devotion to Lakshmi Narayana may be good, but I believe the soul won't really rest until it has found Radharani's mahā-bhāva. And even the sannyasi's ūrdhva-retaḥ is confined at best to yoga and śānta-rasa. Sex is just the outermost covering of a specific spiritual adventure, which most have not even begun to penetrate, because whether they are sexually active of not, they have not made the subject a true point of self-analysis.

The recent example of Prabhavishnu is an excellent case in point, but all these sadhus and gurus seem to skim over their falldowns as if they were no more significant than falling off a bicycle rather than an existential shock of the highest order that puts their entire world-view into question. And those who do not "fall down" are perhaps worse, because they make it seem as though their world-view has validity.

In this Kali-yuga, when we have Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's mercy, then to not avail ourselves of the opportunity to enter into Radha and Krishna's śṛṅgāra-rasa in the name of adherence to dharma or because we can only see as far as the Lakshmi Narayan contained within Radha Krishna, is in my opinion offensive, and indeed leads to all kinds of real disturbance. Without a solution that genuinely goes to the very root of the problem, we are bound for disappointments, personal and social.

Such disturbances and disappointments are really meant to push us further, so we learn by our mistakes. You have to learn from experience. You have to take the lessons. If you don't, you will never get to the bottom of your psyche. Hiding your head in the sand is not an option. And basically, that is what brahmacharya and sannyasa are: one long avoidance of the problem which, because unresolved, inevitably returns.

Learn by seeing both Radha and Krishna together on the altar and understand how Radha got there, onto the highest platform of worshipability and sacredness. And why she is not there as a mother, but as a divine lover, the hlādinī-śakti in its fullest, most complete form, the mahā-bhāva, the supreme nāyikā of śṛṅgāra-rasa.

Taste this rasa from every possible vantage point, and don't worry about the rest. It will all come throught the grace of the Navina Madan, the Cupid of Sacred Love.


pareshadasa said...

Im very gald about these late writings posted in short time and sequence. Please, post more articles and writings like these. You range a scope of issues and aspects that invite us to meditate upon it and read it one, twice and more during all week a long. I appreaciate read Krishna Consciousness in such way of comprehension.

Brian said...

Western psychologists like Jung have explored religious archetypes as models of behavior - especially Romantic and Nordic traditions. Writers like Thomas Moore also come to mind.

What of the Vedic traditions? As an Australian in now in Madhya Pradesh I have read Gurcharan Das "The Difficulty of Being Good'. I suppose I am trying to understand the impact of India's ancient stories on her (very diverse) thinking.

Do you have any suggestions?

Brian Sulivan