Saturday, August 18, 2012

Disconnect to reconnect

Disconnect to reconnect.

Radha and Krishna are my device. But there is a little recharging necessary. The recharge comes itself from the device, but it needs to be rebooted through realization, understanding, sadhana, deep penetration, application in other dimensions, etc. But the basic premise is the same.

The thing about religion is that it is full of symbolic content that requires lengthy contemplation. These contents arise from the depths of the collective unconscious through the medium of the extraordinary spiritually aware individuals who plunged those depths.

There is little way to prove the validity of their value objectively. Of course, the psychological, social, or even physical benefits of religion have been shown to some extent through various studies, but to the rational people who see the negative consequences of religious intolerance, etc., these do not hold much weight. The balance shifts to the negative side and the blame is given to irrationality. After all, their presupposition is that anything that is irrational is prima facie negative in its impact.

For me, religion enhances the experience of life on earth. The inner journey is the journey to God. And if there is one thing I would like to do in this life, it is to show that religion also has a rational component, a mature component, one that enhances human life exponentially.

Scientists mock Indian religion or spirituality for its so-called claims to being scientific. Swami Veda Bharati, who has been studying the limits of measurability in meditation and so on for decades, ultimately comes to the conclusion that the subjectivity factor, at least for the moment, is something that science, in its current state, cannot overcome and probably never will.

But my speculation is that eventually it will be found that there are states of spiritual bliss that are unattainable by any other means than those discovered through thousands of years of experimentation with the spiritual technologies (or devices) known as yoga, which are primarily verifiable through subjective means.

But it cannot be done without mature practitioners who have demonstrated by their personal integrity the value of these yoga-produced subjective experiences in their personal relationships, community and society at large.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Advaita Bhakti: Madhusudana and Karpatriji

I have been reading a book by Swami Karpatriji, Rādhā-sudhā (Vṛndāvana: Rādhākṛṣṇa Dhānukā Prakāśana Saṁsthāna, 2004), which I picked up last time I was in Vrindavan. I have to admit that I am more than a little impressed by Karpatriji's erudition, as well as by Madhusudana Saraswati, with whom he seems to have had a spiritual connection.

Madhusudan Saraswati is known mainly for a book called Advaita-siddhi, in which he counters the arguments of Vyasa Tirtha of the Madhva school, a part of the longstanding debate between the two views of the theistic and the monistic traditions of Indian religious thought. But as shown in the previous post, both in legends about him and in his own words, a distinct devotional streak can be observed in Madhusudan. His commentary on the Bhagavad-gita and another on the Bhagavatam are not the only books he wrote that have some interest for the devotionally minded. According to Anant Shastri Phadke, he wrote the following works: Bhakti-bhāṣya-nirūpaṇam, Bhagavad-bhakti-rasāyanam, Veda-stuti-ṭīkā, Hari-līlā-vyākhyā, Rāsa-pañcādhyāyī-ṭīkā, Śāṇḍilya-sūtra-ṭīkā, as well as a play on Krishna lila, Kṛṣṇa-kutūhalam.

It is sometimes difficult to follow Madhusudan's commentary on the Gita, as it seems that he is fluctuating between one doctrine and another. Devotees especially want clear statements of commitment to the reality of Krishna's form and pastimes, and easily get worried when they hear things that emphasize the monistic point of view. As we showed in our previous post, Madhusudan did make strong devotional statements, but he never abandoned his fundamental faith in the unity of all things. Nor should he have, as most Vaishnava acharyas, with the exception of the Madhva school, have conceded that the Supreme Truth is unitary, as indeed has the Bhagavatam in its lakshana verse 1.2.11, which is taken by Jiva Goswami to be the basis of his exegesis of the Bhagavatam.

But let us take a look at the Bhagavad-bhakti-rasāyanam, his best known work on bhakti, and see if that sheds any light on his doctrine, and indeed on bhakti itself.

Bhagavad-bhakti-rasāyanam is a fairly short work consisting of three chapters, called ullāsas, of 37, 79 and 30 verses respectively. The first chapter is elaborately explained in a commentary by the author himself, containing copious quotations, mainly from the Bhāgavatam, with a preponderance of verses from the 11th book. In the commentary to the first verse, he places bhakti above jnāna (See here.).

Karpatriji quotes (source to be added), which I think is safe to say represents the official post-Madhusudana position on bhakti:

dvaitaṁ mohāya bodhāt prāk prāpte bodhe manīṣayā |
bhakty-arthaṁ kalpitaṁ dvaitam advaitād api sundaram ||
pāramārthikam advaitaṁ dvaitaṁ bhajana-hetave |
tādṛśī yadi bhaktiḥ syāt sā tu mukti-śatādhikā ||
Duality leads to illusion for those who have not realized the truth. But after realization through knowledge, if one continues to imagine duality for the sake of devotion, that is more beautiful than even non-duality. Non-duality is the transcendent reality, duality is for the sake of bhajan. If one engages in devotion in a state of knowledge, then it is a hundred times greater than liberation.
Of particular interest is Madhusudana's commentary to Gita 18.66 where he says that there are three levels of śaraṇāgati:

tasyaivāhaṁ mamaivāsau sa evāham iti tridhā |
bhagavac-charaṇatvaṁ syāt sādhanābhyāsa-pākataḥ ||
Thought the maturing of the practice of sādhana, one's surrender to the Lord progresses through three stages: In the first, one thinks, "I am the Lord's." In the second, "He is mine." In the third, "I am nothing but He."
This last point is the one on which the devotee has a problem. What is really meant by the total identity of the lover with the Beloved? A popular Hindi couplet attributed to Kabir is often quoted in this regard:

prem gali ati saṁkari, tā meṁ doū na samāi
jab maiṁ thā tab hari nahīṁ, ab hari hai maiṁ nāhīṁ
The path of love is very narrow, two can’t pass through it at one time
When there was an I, there was no God (Hari), but now there is God and I am not.
To attain true love, one has to give up his ego. When the ego disappears, God appears. So the devotee must give up his ego to realize God
Madhusudan uses the Yoga-sūtra (1.22) terminology, mṛdu ("soft"), madhyaṁ ("middling"), and adhimātraṁ ("in greater measure"), in reference to the intensity of the sādhana. The first, which is an example of the state where one thinks "I am the Lord's," is the following. This verse is well known and is is quoted in Prīti-sandarbha 84 by Jiva Goswamipada:

saty api bhedopagame nātha tavāhaṁ na māmakīnas tvam |
sāmudro hi taraṅgaḥ kvacana samudro na tāraṅgaḥ ||
Even when there is no difference between us, O Lord, I am yours; it is not that you are mine. Waves are always "of the ocean," and it can never be said that the ocean is a product of the waves.
The verse is sometimes attributed to Shankaracharya, but I have not been able to find its original source. Jivapada does not reference a source.

His second example, illustrating "You are mine," is also well-known. It is found in the second century of Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta. No doubt you will have heard it before,

hastam utkṣipya yāto’si balāt kṛṣṇa kim adbhutam |
hṛdayād yadi niryāsi pauruṣaṁ gaṇayāmi te ||
You may forcibly push away my hand and run off, Krishna, what is so wonderful about that? I will only consider it an act of great power if you are able to escape my heart! (KK 2.95)
The example of the third state, "I am He," is taken from the Viṣṇu-purāṇa. It is an instruction from Yamaraj to his messengers, telling them to keep away from the devotees of Lord Vishnu:

sakalam idam ahaṁ ca vāsudevaḥ
parama-pumān parameśvaraḥ sa ekaḥ |
iti matir acalā bhavaty anante
hṛdaya-gate vraja tān vihāya dūrāt ||
Stay far away from those devotees in whose hearts the infinite Lord is fixed and who have the unshakable conviction that "All this, I too, and Vasudeva, the Supreme Person, the Supreme Lord, are one."  (VP 3.7.32)
Now, needless to say, after the first two verses, this last verse as an illustration of the highest level of conviction of pure bhakti in the sense of oneness with the Lord is extremely disappointing. First of all, the context is that of Yamaraj advising his minions to keep away from the devotees, and is mixed in with various other characteristics of the bhakta. From the point of view of bhakti itself, it does not show the grand glory of the identity in love such as that described in mahā-bhāva,
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 color to the mix. (UN 14.155)
Karpatriji has quoted the following verses (sources to be added) from less well-known works that also play with the idea of abheda-bhakti.

viśveśvaras tu sudhiyā galite'pi bhede
bhāvena bhakti-sahitena samarcanīyaḥ |
prājñeśvaraś caturayā milite'pi citte
cailāñcala-vyavahitena nirīkṣaṇīyaḥ ||48||
The Lord of the Universe is to be worshiped with love and devotion by the intelligent, even after the difference between the devotee and the Lord has melted away. Even when the Lord has been encountered in knowledge in the mind, one should look at him as though from behind a veil.
tavāsmīti bhajaty ekas tvam evāsmīti cāparaḥ |
iti kiñcid viśeṣe'pi pariṇāmaḥ samo dvayoḥ ||23||
antar bahir yadā devaṁ deva-bhaktaḥ prapaśyati |
dāso'haṁ bhāvayann eva dā-kāraṁ vismaraty asau ||24||
One person worships thinking, "I am yours." Another thinks, "You are mine." Even though there is some difference between the two, in the end they come down to the same thing. When the devotee sees God both within and without, the first syllable of the expression dāso'haṁ ("I am a servant.") drops away to become so'ham, "I am He."
In my opinion, in the rasāvasthā there is a state of complete self-forgetfulness and total absorption in the object of love. It is comparable to the relation of vyutthāna and samādhi in yoga. When this is understood, the difference between the Advaita and bhedābheda positions becomes inconsequential. However, by accepting the validity of the Advaita position, devotees are freed from the sectarian consequences that arise from absorption in duality. 

Monday, August 06, 2012

Vrindavan Bhajan

Living in Vrindavan, even for a quasi-hermit like myself, is a spiritual boon. First of all, the raj, the dust of Vrindavan itself has an inexplicable power that nurtures one's devotion. It may be imperceptible even to some who reside here, but I think that a devotee will eventually remark upon the subtle transformations that take place after enduring contact with this magic powder.

Normal, mundane-seeming activities like eating and sleeping become seamlessly tied into bhajan until there is really no distinction.

Though I don't go out much, it sometimes does happen. The occasional parikrama, for instance. Darshan of the main temples on Hariyali Teej. A few days ago Manjari Dasi (Tenant) invited me to Gopinath Bhavan for a conference on Rupa Goswami that is held there annually. I got to slip in the mud on my way and get anointed by the Braj raj to keep me nice and humble before arriving, and there I was able to hear Shrivatsa Goswami and Achyuta Lal Bhattaji speak in glorification of our beloved mula acharya. Achyuta Lal Bhatta Goswami was especially powerful in his presentation on rasa-niṣpatti, even though speaking in English in which he is not entirely fluent. I should have blogged on that...

A couple of Narayan Maharaj's women disciples of whom I had previously heard, Savita Dasi and Uma Didi, were other speakers. I met some old acquaintances and afterwards we had prasad at Rupa Sanatan Gaudiya Math. Now that is nice "living in Vrindavan" stuff.

Yesterday, Jagannath Poddar phoned me up and asked me to edit an article he had written in English. I haven't been doing anything for Vrindavan Today for a long while now. But still, the connection is there and a little external seva to the Dham is going on. Another small positive from being here in the Dham.

The other day I stepped out to buy something. Sugar, I think. I ran into my next door neighbor. I have several nice neighbors here. This one lives right behind Ananga Sukhada Kunj. His name is Jai Kishor Sharan, a Nimbarki who is also the editor of the Sarveshwar monthly magazine, which is probably the most official Nimbarki publication as it has the stamp of approval of Shriji Maharaj, Sri Sri Radha Sarveshwar Sharanji Maharaj.

Jai Kishorji was waiting to see the doctor because he has not been feeling well lately. In my usual inconsiderate way I did not inquire from him too much about his physical difficulties. The weather is giving colds and fevers to a lot of people right now. Despite my complaints about the late arrival of the monsoon, rains seem to be above average in Vrindavan this year, and that usually leads to various health problems. I was a little too happy to see him. We talked for about 15 minutes.

Jai Kishor is a householder. He has been living in Vrindavan for the last 31 years. I wanted to ask him about where he was from and how he came to live there, and so on, but never got to those questions. He told me that he is currently working on a new edition of Mahāvāṇī. Mahāvāṇī is one of the most important rasika works of the Nimbarka sampradaya. Indeed, ever since I was given a copy by Brahmachari Brajvihari Sharan at Golok Dham Ashram in Delhi (Surata Sukha from Mahāvāṇī) I have been enjoying this work, piece by piece.

Some time back I also picked up a copy of Sribhatta's Yugala-śataka, also published from Vrindavan's Shriji Mandir way back in 1973 and still available for peanuts! This has many scholarly articles and Prem Narayan Shrivastav's excellent commentary, which I have been enjoying quite a bit.

Jai Kishorji told me how he spends day and night working on this new edition of Mahāvāṇī, giving a word-for-word definition for all the difficult Brajbhasha words, depending entirely on Radharani's divine grace, since many of them cannot be found in any dictionary. (Though I must say that for Rs. 3000 you can now get Winand Callaewert's magnificent three-volume Brijbhasha dictionary, which is especially meant for the poetic literature of Braj. I will get one as soon as I can spare the change.) There are indeed many words in Braj that escape explanation even in Beriwala and Shrivastav's editions of these works.

Jai Kishor also lives pretty much like a hermit himself. He says he has no other purpose but to remain absorbed in the nitya-vihāra day and night so we shared some common sentiments there. So for the last couple of days, I have been reading Yugala-śataka as my bedtime reading and getting a great deal of pleasure from it and from Prem Narayan Shrivastav's extensive remarks liberally sprinkled with quotations from the vāṇī literature of all the sampradayas.

Here is one that I have been memorizing. Shribhatta is nearly always brief, with the words of the dohā repeated in the pada. His work was arranged probably by subsequent members of the sampradaya, and so have the same categories or chapters as found in Mahāvāṇī, but in a different order. This pada is from the Siddhānta-sukha section. For those who don't know any Hindi, just try to repeat the sounds and feel the melody in the words.

sevya hamāre haiṁ sadā, vṛndā vipina vilāsa
naṁdanaṁdana vṛṣabhānujā, carana ananya upāsa
saṁto! sevya hamāre śrī piya pyārī, vṛndāvipina vilāsī
naṁdanaṁdana vṛṣabhānu-naṁdinī, carana ananya upāsī
matta pranai basa sadā ekarasa, vividha nikuṁja nivāsī
śrībhaṭa juga baṁśībaṭa sevata, mūrati saba sukharāsī
We always serve the romantic pastimes in the Vrindavan forest. This is the exclusive worship of the lotus feet of Nandanandan and Vrishabhanu Nandini.

Oh saints! Hear me as I proclaim that our worshipable objects are the Lover and the Beloved, forever engaged in their sensuous pastimes in the Vrindavan forest, for we are exclusive worshipers of the lotus feet of Nandanandan and Vrishabhanu Nandini.

The Divine Couple are governed by intoxicated love joy, absorbed in the one flavor of the nitya-vihāra, residing in the different bowers of Vrindavan. Sri Bhatta serves that Divine Couple, the form that is the sum total of all happiness, at Bamsibat.
This is what I like about these rasika vāṇīs, simple and direct, exclusive bhajan of the nitya-vihāra.

I love this simple enthusiasm, along with this dancing joyful language of Braj. This is the upāsanā of eternal union. I have had discussions with Gaudiyas about the relative merits of union versus separation, and although I am an unalloyed and unequivocal follower of Srila Rupa Goswami, my preference is for the worship of the Divine Couple in union. After all, the culmination of separation must be union, and even separation is glorified as a kind of union!

I shared these thoughts with Jai Kishor Dasji and he of course agreed. "This nitya-vihār is the one eternal underlying Truth from which everything arises and in which everything finds its ultimate resting place."

The other day I was relishing a song from Narottam Das's Prārthanā, one of his many heartfelt prayers for a life in Vrindavan Dham.

hari hari ! āra kabe pālaṭibe daśā |
e saba kariyā bāme yāba vṛndāvana dhāme
ei mane kariyāchi āśā ||1||

dhana jana putra dāre e saba kariyā dūre
ekānta ha{i}yā kabe yāba |
saba duḥkha parihari vṛndāvane vāsa kari
madhukarī māgiyā khāiba ||2||

yamunāra jala yena amṛta-samāna hena
kabe piba udara pūriyā |
kabe rādhā-kuṇḍa jale snāna kari kutūhale
śyāma-kuṇḍe rahiba paḍiyā ||3||

bhramiba dvādaśa vane kṛṣṇa-līlā ye ye sthāne
preme gaḍāgaḍi diba tāɱhā |
sudhāiba jane jane vraja-vāsī-gaṇa sthāne
kaha āra līlā-sthāna kaɱhā ||4||

bhojanera sthāna kabe nayana-gocara habe
āra yata āche upavana |
tāra madhye vṛndāvana narottama dāsera mana
āśā kare yugala-caraṇa ||5||

(1) Hari Hari! Oh when will my situation change? When will I put all these things aside and go to Vrindavan Dham. For so long I have cherished this hope.

(2) Abandoning property, society, children and wife, I will go there, completely alone. Leaving all my suffering, I will reside in Vrindavan, begging for my food.

(3) When will I fill my belly drinking the water of the Yamuna, which is like the nectar of the gods? And when will I bathe joyfully in the water of Radha Kund, and lie down to rest on the banks of Shyama Kund?

(4) I will wander through the twelve forests, rolling in the dust wherever Krishna performed his pastimes. I will ask the local people, every one of them, where the other holy places are.

(5) When will the place where Krishna had his picnic with the cowherds appear before my eyes, and all the other minor forests? Of all these forests, Vrindavan is where Narottam Das's mind yearns to serve the Divine Couple.
This is the feeling of separation from Vrindavan. When I was singing this pada a couple of days ago, I could feel the rikshaw wallas who live in the usual poverty stricken hovels just on the corner of my street. Though living in what we would call squalor with their wives and urchins, I could feel how this Narottam Das song had dragged them here, and even the words madhukarī māgiyā khāiba resonated. Their driving rickshaws is what, if not begging for their food? Are they not treated with almost the same contempt as beggars?

And the same can be said of the widows, so popularly lamented about all over the world, making Vrindavan famous as a symbol of oppression to women! They too came to Vrindavan because of something other than economic opportunity.

I can relate to this mood of separation from the Dham. When I left India in 1985, not to return until after a long exile of twenty years, I often remembered Narottam Das, who himself never returned. This is the song I remembered over and over back then:

aneka duḥkhera pare layechile braja-pure
kṛpa-ḍora galāya bāɱdhiyā |
daiva-māyā balātkāre khasāiyā sei ḍore
bhava-kūpe dileka ḍāriyā ||3||

punaḥ yadi kṛpā kari e janāre keśe dhari
ṭāniyā tulaha braja-dhāme |
tabe se dekhiye bhāla natubā parāṇa gela
kahe dīna dāsa narottame ||4||
After so much suffering, you dragged me to Vrindavan, tying the rope of mercy around my neck. Then cruel fortune loosened that rope and threw me back into the well of material life. If you would only again show your mercy and grab me by the hair, pull me out of this hole and throw me down in Braja Dham, then things will look well. Otherwise I may as well just die. Thus says the unfortunate Narottam Das. (Song 5)
It is true that separation from the Dham itself is a rare state of mind that is bestowed on only the rarest of mortals. The vision of the Dham as real and eternal, beneath the coverings that material consciousness gives it, externally and internally, is another even rarer gift.

Vrindavan Dham is the land of Divine Union. To be here in the company of devotees, in the state of mind that is enthusiastic about bhajan, is the rarest grace of all.

Of all the millions of jivas who are in the world, only a few are even remotely potential devotees of Radha and Krishna. Of such potential devotees, only a few have heard even the Holy Name. Of those, how many have become even part-time devotees with a little positive sentiment for Krishna? And of those, how many have had the good fortune to meet a rasika devotee who will reveal to them the joys of the Divine Couple's lilas. And of such devotees, how many will commit to bhajan? And of such bhajananandis, how many are fortunate enough to be dragged by the hair to Vrindavan and left there in the company of devotees (tad-anurāgi-janānugāmī) to deepen their love for the Divine Yugala?

I am truly most fortunate. May this bliss never cease.

Jai Sri Radhe! Jai Sri Vrindavan Dham!

dhanyo loke mumukṣur hari-bhajana-paro dhanya-dhanyas tato’sau
dhanyo yaḥ kṛṣṇa-pādāmbuja-rati-paramo rukmiṇīśa-priyo’taḥ |
yāśodeya-priyo’taḥ subala-suhṛd ato gopakāntā-priyo’taḥ
śrīmad-vṛndāvaneśvary-atirasa-​vivaśārādhakaḥ sarva-mūrdhni ||
The one seeking liberation is fortunate in this world, but more fortunate than he is the one who is committed to the worship of Hari. More fortunate than such a person is one who has placed love for Krishna's lotus feet on the highest place of worship. Greater than that is the worshiper of Krishna as Rukmini's husband, then the son of Yashoda, the friend of Subal, and then as the lover of the gopis. But the most fortunate of all, who stands at the head of all the spiritualists of the world, is he who worships Krishna as the one who is totally overwhelmed by the excessive rasa that comes from the Queen of Vrindavan, Srimati Radharani. (VMA 2.35)

Friday, August 03, 2012

Banke Bihari's darshan comes a day late

I have a young friend who is teaching me the harmonium. He is also my main audience for evening classes in Dana-keli-kaumudi, thirsty for bhakti-rasa, AND he uses my internet, so he is here quite a bit.

My friend, Rupa, is going home to Mumbai in three weeks and is in some anxiety about it. His father is actually a well-known classical singer, at least according to him. Rupa also says that his father and grandfather's musical tradition (gharana) is very special and has features that are unique to it. But because he spent a lot of time over the past few years wandering around Braj, he stopped practicing for three years. He only took it up again fairly recently and has been teaching, but he feels he needs to get a little bit more from his musical guru.

Only trouble is that his father is also his music guru, on whom he depends for his perfecting his art. And his father does not care much for his Vaishnava trip. He is all in favor of him continuing the tradition, but he wants him to do it by staying in Mumbai, getting married, etc.

So Rupa is caught in a quandary. Yesterday we spent some time talking about it, and I was of course suggesting this that and the other way of approaching the problem, but Rupa was not encouraged. Finally I suggested "magic": go to your favorite temple, make some offering and pray for a solution. Go to Radha Raman, but remember that he is a bit too busy with Radha to pay attention, so perhaps one of Yogamaya's many forms--Katyayani, Chamunda, etc.--might be a better place to go.


Day before yesterday Rupa and I went for darshan to some of the main temples for Hariyali Teej. I have been living like a bit of a hermit, barely going out at all as I try to make some headway with the Paramatma-sandarbha. So I decided to accept the suggestion and we headed out around five in the direction of Bankey Bihariji.

Now, one of the things that we Westerners have a problem with is sad-achara. By which I mean a kind of habitual attitude or behavioral attitude. Me, especially, even thogh I spent ten years in India way back when, and especially when I was a babaji, adapting to the Vaishnava social milieu, the long interlude in the west, and even in Rishikesh, alienated me further from many of these cultural norms. So as we approached Bankey Bihariji, I observed that I was in this touristic mode. What one friend of mind calls the "National Geographic mindset." The most clear indication of this was the camera I brought with me -- for the first time in ages.

So I was taking photos of the crowds, the shops, which seemed to be especially colorful in view of the Jhulan season, which will bring hundreds of thousands to Vrindavan over the next two weeks. An observer rather than a participant. I remember long ago first hearing that Narayan Maharaj always began his 84-kos parikramas by educating the participants in the difference between tourism and pilgrimage.

So in my touristic mode, I went into the temple wanting to get a photo of Bankey Bihari in his "green" mood. Hariyali Teej is the beginning of the "swing" season (jhlan) and it is green becase there is supposed to be a rainy season going on here. Not that you would ever know it. But the rule in Bankey Bihari -- and, I found out, in a lot of other places, at least on this day -- is no photos. So when I started, I was immediately pounced upon by security people who tried to wrestle the camera from my hands. I managed to get out of the situation, but the photographic results were appropriately dismal. Clearly Bihariji was successful in thwarting my touristic endeavor. (This was actally the best one.)

Inside Bankey Bihari's temple with the special altar of silver and gold, the four sakhis, priests dressed in green. One feature of Hariyali Teej is that Bihariji does not disappear ever few seconds behind a curtain, but remains available to his devotees for constant darshan.
We then went on to various other temples, some allowing photography, others not.

Radha Vallabh Ji.
In Sewa Kunj I again was chastised by the priest for taking photos when it was forbidden. Among the things he said was that if I took photos, I would not myself see the deity. By the time I got to Shyamasundar, I was starting to feel uncomfortable. The Gosai was standing greeting people. I had not been bowing, not even paying panchanga pranams to any deity, what to speak of gosais. Rupa afterwards exclaimed to me that I should have offered my respects and so I felt a little more uncomfortable.

So finally, at Radha Damodar, I went in and assiduously did sashtanga pranam to Sri Jiva Prabhu, Kaviraj Goswami, Sri Rupa Prabhu and to Srila Prabhupada. The effects were immediate and transformative. When I left Radha Damodar, I was no longer a tourist, but a bhakta.

Radha Damodarji.
At Radha Raman, after darshan, Rupa introduced me to Pushpang Goswami, a young man of the Radha Raman family who has taken up the career of Bhagavata preacher. One of the reasons I posted my picture above was to show the difference in age between myself and Pushpang.

Sri Pushpang Goswami

Pushpang Gosai is young, but learned and eloquent. These things are something that I have to confess, make me feel always like a crow amongst swans. This language which has nurtured Braja bhakti, which have clothed and fed Braja bhakti for centuries until the two are indistinguishable... for me the languages of India are inseparable from bhakti.

For all our criticisms of the caste system and privilege to birth, there are those occasions when such a birth in a traditional family of Vaishnava teachers reveals its glory. What grandeur to be born in a family of devotees and to be trained from birth to speak poetically the glory of Radha Krishna and Braja Dham! What pointless arrogance to pretend that any other birth is its equal!

Our conversation passed from the briefest of formalities to wide-ranging topics of Hari katha. Some things I learned were in relation to the Radha Raman family history. Somehow the topic turned to Prabodhananda Saraswati, about whom I have written in the past. Prabodhananda was Gopal Bhatta Goswami's uncle and according to the Gaudiya Math, someone other than Prakashananda Saraswati.

Pushpangji Maharaj recounted that according to the family tradition they were indeed one and the same person. When Mahaprabhu was in South India, he stayed with the family of Gopala Bhatta where he learned of their illustrious uncle in Kashi. So one of the prime purposes of Mahaprabhu's visit to Kashi was to revive Prakashananda's Vaishnava samskara. When Prakashananda returned to the fold, he also returned to his earlier name, which was Prabodha.

So I asked about the relation of Hit Harivams to Gopala Bhatta.Here too I heard something that I had never known. Gopala Bhatta Goswami traveled to Nepal not long after coming to Vrindavan before he established himself permanently. On that trip, he passed through Deoband, which is on the way to the north. There he met Gopinath Acharya, who became his disciple. As a matter of fact, Gopala Bhatta made several disciples in the area, including Hit Harivams, who was also from the same area and a friend of the family. Later when the service to Radha Raman was established, Gopala Bhatta sent for Gopinath, but Harivams also was inspired to come to Vrindavan.

We did not talk about the falling out very much, but went on from there to talk about sectarianism in Vrindavan. Pushpang Maharaj was adamant that Vrindavan, being the topmost dham, is completely free from any sectarianism. I remembered Hariram Vyasa whose verses reveal a spirit of shared enthusiasm of all the great saints who were living together in Vrindavan at that time. Pushpang painted a nice picture of how Swami Haridas and so many others would gather at Radha Raman where Raghunath Bhatta Goswami would speak daily on the Bhagavatam. At that time there was a common unifying thread that only unraveled when the competitive spirit entered. No harm, competition to serve the Divine Couple is welcome. Even Radharani, who is without any equal, pretends to compete with Chandravali.

He quoted several nice verses from the Bhagavatam in glorification of Vrindavan.

वृन्दावनं सखि भुवो वितनोति कीर्तिं
गोविन्दवेणुमनु मत्तमयूरनृत्यं

vṛndāvanaṁ sakhi bhuvo vitanoti kīrtiṁ
yad devakī-suta-padāmbuja-labdha-lakṣmi |
govinda-veṇum anu matta-mayūra-nṛtyaṁ
prekṣyādri-sānv-aparatānya-samasta-sattvam ||
O friend! Vrindavan brings glory to the earth, for it has attained the fortune of being touched by Krishna's lotus feet. When the peacocks hear Govinda's flute, they become intoxicated and begin to dance, seeing which makes all the other creatres by Govardhan abandon their other activities to become still and simply watch.
The commentators beginning from Sanatan Goswami state that Vrindavan bringing glory to the earth ltimately means that it is more glorious than even Vaikuntha. So because of its topmost status, there is no question of anything more than apparent divisions. At the same time there is a rivalry between Chandravali and Radharani, or the semblance of one...

तद् भूरिभाग्यमिह जन्म किमप्यटव्यां
यद्गोकुलेऽपि कतमाङ्घ्रिरजोऽभिषेकम् ।
यज्जीवितं तु निखिलं भगवान् मुकुन्द-
स्त्वद्यापि यत्पदरजः श्रुतिमृग्यमेव॥

tad bhūri-bhāgyam iha janma kim apy aṭavyāṁ
yad gokule'pi katamāṅghri-rajo'bhiṣekam |
yaj-jīvitaṁ tu nikhilaṁ bhagavān mukundas
tv adyāpi yat-pada-rajaḥ śruti-mṛgyam eva ||
The greatest good fortune would be to take any birth whatsoever in this forest of Vrindavan, for here it would be possible to be bathed in the dust of any one of the cowherd community’s residents’ feet. For their entire life and soul is the Lord Mukunda, the dust of whose feet is the ultimate objective sought for by all the Vedic scriputres. (SB 10.14.34)
Here Pushpangji remarked that Lord Brahma had spoken so many verses in glorification of Krishna, many of them philosophically very deep and powerful, yet Krishna remained indifferent to these prayers until Brahma began glorifying Vrindavan and its residents.

After our talk, we were given a bit of prasad and we both bowed down to Pushpang in panchang pranam. Despite the great difference in our ages, I followed the protocol of the Ages. After all what is the harm if one is humble? Is there any loss in bowing down to one who has served such a delicious helping of Hari-katha without letting material considerations interfere?


The next day, I was giving my usual class to Rupa and I began talking of our little Hariyali Teej adventure. I was talking about the glory of darshan... as described by Rupa Goswami himself. There are 64 devotional activities, but principal among them are five: associating with devotees, chanting the Holy Name, hearing the Bhagavata and similar texts in glorification of Krishna, seeing and serving the Lord's murti, and residing in Vrindavan. Of course, it could easily be said that residing in Vrindavan is best, because it alone makes all five easily possible.

aṅgānāṁ pañcakasyāsya pūrvaṁ vilikhitasya ca
nikhila-śraiṣṭhya-bodhāya punar apy atra kīrtanam
durūhādbhuta-vīrye’smin śraddhā dūre’stu pañcake
yatra svalpo’pi sambandhaḥ sad-dhiyāṁ bhāva-janmane
Though these five pillars of devotion were mentioned previously, they have been repeated here in order to emphasize their centrality to the entire devotional process. The amazing spiritual power of these five practices is difficult to comprehend. Even the smallest engagement in any one of them results in the awakening of divine ecstasy in the pure-hearted, what to speak of their effectiveness for those who have faith. (BRS 1.2.238)
In the description of the power of murti-darshan, Sri Rupapada sings the following verse:

smerāṁ bhaṅgī-traya-paricitāṁ sāci vistīrṇa-dṛṣṭiṁ
vaṁśī-nyastādhara-kiśalayām ujjvalāṁ candrakeṇa |
govindākhyāṁ hari-tanum itaḥ keśi-tīrthopakaṇṭhe
mā prekṣiṣṭhās tava yadi sakhe bandhu-sange 'sti raṅgaḥ |
Smiling, in his famous triple-crooked stance, with his big crooked glance.
His flute resting on the red twig of his lower lip
so brightened by the peacock feather on his crown,
that is the form of Hari named "Govinda."
He is not far from Keshi Ghat, my friend,
but do not go to see him, not
if you still seek pleasure in worldly company!
(BRS 1.2.239
I recited the verse with some amusement. I remembered back a few months ago when I went to Nidhivan to see Gaurava Krishna Goswami, where Banke Bihari made his appearance to Swami Haridas. Though Gaurav Krishna and his father glorified the place and Swami Haridas, Gaurava Krishna Maharaj still quoted the paean to Govindaji as sung by Rupa Goswami. Even when talking about Banke Bihari and the exclusive greatness of Swami Haridas, he still found a place for Rupa Goswami.

Look how after describing Govindaji's beauty, he even tells his friend how to find him, just near Keshi Ghat. Walk the parikrama trail. You can't miss it. But don't bother, it's too dangerous. He will enchant you with his beauty and then, it is game over!

Somehow, as I was talking I closed my eyes and Banke Bihari appeared to me clearer than I had seen him even on the previous day in the temple. I guess my mind had taken the photo after all.

I said to Rupa, there was a definite before and after: from tourist to bhakta in the course of a few hours. This was my reward.


And, yes, while describing Govindaji and the glories of darshan, I realized that I was also talking about Rupa's family problem. If you still desire worldly association... well it was too late. Not only Banke Bihari, Radha Vallabh and Radha Raman, Radha Shyamsundar and Radha Damodar, but all in one day. No looking back from that. It reminded me of another verse from Padyavali by Madhavendra Puri:

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 ||81||
Let the moralists call me foolish, the Vedic brahmins can say I am misled. My family can say that I have gone bad and my fellow sannyasis who love liberation can tell everyone that I have a mundane intelligence. The money makers will say I have gone mad and the intellectuals will say that I am way too proud, but I don't care. I am unable to abandon, even for a moment, my hopes of attaining Govinda's lotus feet.
I just happened to have an extra picture of Govindaji that had been given me last year at Pandit Baba's feast at Bhagavata Niwas, so I gave it to Rupa to help him keep his priorities.