Thursday, November 28, 2013

Radha-rasa-sudha-nidhi at Munger temple

We were discussing the third verse in which it is being said that the dust of Radha's feet is a magic powder that immediately brings Krishna under control.

yo brahma-rudra-śuka-nārada-bhīṣma-mukhyair
ālakṣito na sahasā puruṣasya tasya |
sadyo-vaśīkaraṇa-cūrṇam ananta-śaktiṁ 
taṁ rādhikā-caraṇa-reṇum anusmarāmi ||
I constantly meditate on the dust of Shri Radha's feet, which has limitless power, being the magic potion that immediately brings under her control that Purusha who is imperceptible to even such great souls as Brahma, Shiva, Shukadeva, Narada, and Bhishma. (RRSN 4)
So the general discussion was centered on why should it be considered a good thing that the Purusha Krishna should come under the control of Radha. What is the meaning of a statement such as "controlling another person through love"? Needless to say this is a vast topic.

The specific context from the commentary by Harilal Vyas was that Krishna is warned by the sakhis who side with him, the priya-snehādhikā sakhis, NOT to bow down to the sthala-daivata or deity presiding over the particular place, in this case the kunja, when he entered. The reason was that Radharani had been praying to the sthala-daivata and if Krishna were to go to the spot where she had gone to express the depths or her innermost desires, which of course are related to her love for Krishna, has made it particularly potent. If he were to even touch his head to the dust that she had sat upon, dust that was imbued with this meditation and ecstatic anxiety in love, he would be overwhelmed and lose himself totally, becoming completely under her control.

In this context I had to explain the very concept of a sthala-daivata. After all, this is a beautiful idea that is general to the entire complex of Hindu genius: that of recognizing the presence of the sacred in all times and circumstances. I talked about "personal deities" and how if you respect a person, you respect their deities. You enter someone's house and you offer respect to their shrine, because the shrine represents what is sacred for that person.

If I go into a house and say, "I like you, but I do not like your God," this would  actually be a contradiction in terms, or outright hypocrisy. Even though it is the behavior of a believer that is the most convincing evidence of the likability of their God, if the person is likable, it is certainly an evidence that he has found a likable God, even if he lives in a tradition in which God has a rather menacing attitude. But if you think that your God is better independently of the character of His acolytes, then the worst thing you can do to convince another of His superiority is to disrespect that person's gods. And the reason is of course that it is the Same God who has simply appeared to that person in another form.

Now I know there are many possible caveats for this position, but I think that the general principle holds. And the same principle applies to atheists also, because their highest ideal, whatever it is, is woven in with their atheism, and because no one can live without a highest ideal of some sort, whether noble or pathetic, that too is a form of God.

So if God appears to such a person in such a way, even as "no-God," then that too must be granted respect. Grudgingly, perhaps, but granted anyway. God in His infinite splendor manages to appear to so many in such a variety of ways, both in presence and in absence, who are we to argue? Without seeing their gods, we will not see them, nor God in them. And seeing God in someone is the same thing as saying loving them. It is not something different.

From sthala-daivata we come to communal devatas: villages or communities would set aside a sacred space that was common to all. Each of these sacred spots represents the center of the universe. The sacred space always represents the psychic center, singularly or communally, the axis mundi. And though different people have different centers, spiritually or materially oriented, it is my job, if you want to call it that, to understand how Radha and Krishna represent the real psychic center, and why.

This particular approach may sound alien to many devotees, but if I speak of Freud and Jung side by side with Rupa Goswami, it is because I believe that they each can be used to shed light on each other. Indeed, this is where difficulty arose with Sadhu Maharaj.

* *** *

My exit from the IGM world has been a very slow one, but my full exit is a little closer today. I am not really a courageous man. I like being liked and I don't like confrontation much. But even

Sadhu Maharaj does seem to represent the outer limit of the IGM culture, a kind of last stop for people who are still devotees and can't quite leave that scene, but at the same time have nowhere to go that really helps them feel at home, for whatever reason. Sadhu Maharaj is loving and tolerant of most kinds of waywardness, and at the same time directly committed to the ultimate goal of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, service to Radharani, rādhā-dāsya.

But where is the true intellectual shelter for devotees? So this is where I maybe started to exceed the strict limits of decorum: I began mocking -- gently I hope -- the effort Srila Prabhupada put in motion to disprove Darwin, as though the salvation of Krishna consciousness hinges on proving the falsity of evolution. What a confused and futile row these individuals have chosen to hoe!

On the one side we have apologetics, scholasticism, taking refuge in the authority of revelation, and over on the other, New Age bromides coupled with transparent public relations exercises. When you start to dissect what is there, you realize that the house is made of cards, and the emperor has few if any clothes. What is the meaning of rādhā-dāsya? How can we understand this goal when it is such a challenge at the very foundation of our, i.e., the males', most deeply cherished sense of self, which is tied in with our masculinity?

While discussing this -- with three IGM sannyasis sitting in front of me -- I pushed the envelope a little further and said that men in ISKCON and the Gaudiya Math spend their time cultivating a particular kind of ego in order to become sannyasis, I myself once was an Iskcon sannyasi and I know whereof I speak. I have lived it, and my conclusion, which was confirmed by my guru, Sri Lalita Prasad Thakur, is that this ego is fundamentally a male ego and therefore pratikūla or unhelpful to the culture of Radha-Krishna bhakti.

viṣayāviṣṭa-cittānāṁ viṣṇv-āveśaḥ sudūrataḥ |
vāruṇī-dig-gataṁ vastu vrajann aindrīṁ kim āpnuyāt ||
When one's mind is absorbed in material objectives, then how can one truly be absorbed in God? How will an object that is moving to the west ever end in the east? (Bhakti-sandarbha 147, attributed to Vishnu Purana).
The problem with the varnashram ideal, daiva or otherwise, comes in the context of bhajan to Radha and Krishna. There is undoubtedly utility in the concept, and dharma in the context of vocation is noble and purifying. But it is said in the Chaitanya Charitamrita:

eta saba cāḍi āra varṇāśrama dharma
akiñcana hañā laya kṛṣṇaika-śaraṇa
Giving up all such bad association as well as one’s varnashram duties, the Vaishnava becomes renounced and take exclusive shelter of Krishna’s lotus feet. (CC 2.22.90)
I think this is the ultimate requirement of Radha and Krishna bhajan. The shastra says you have to give up your puruṣābhimāna. A man may invest twenty years of his life to get approval so that he can be a sannyāsī, but why? So you can be in the top position on the totem pole. Some people may be able to break through, but most sannyāsīs are not free of sex desire, they have simply channeled it towards their ambition for sannyāsa.
Giving up puruṣābhimāna actually means stop playing that game. Like the saying, "The only way to win the game is to stop playing altogether."

Vaishnava Maharaj asked whether Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati deliberately created the daiva-varnashram system in the context of renunciation, and of course I agreed with him. This is why Ananta Vasudeva made Audulomi Maharaj take white cloth when he quit the Gaudiya Mission to retire to Vrindavan. As a matter of fact, the way I heard the story was that he said whoever wanted to be his successor as acharya had to take bābājī-veṣa, paramahaṁsa-veṣa, to show at least symbolically that he was beyond the varnashram system. So even though it was an implicit contradiction to the Gaudiya Math way of thinking, it was nevertheless still a powerful statement.

People came to listen to Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi. My duty -- in this context at least -- is to share what little I know of Radha and Krishna bhajan. To show my listeners how it is meaningful, so that their love for Radha and Krishna will increase. That is why I respect my audience, because all who come are at least nominally interested in Radha dasya, being official Rupanugas, and they came to hear RRSN. And why should I not do that honestly and to the best of my ability?

If you expect your realization to be an exact copy of what is in the books, then your description of it will probably just be a repetition of what you read. Explanations that come from one's own realization will always require reflection. And not everyone wants to be bothered to do the work of synthesizing their experience with the tradition, or vice versa. And nowhere is this more evident than in IGM, which has very rigid and dogmatic ideas about truth, and where people are trained to think in terms of received authority and to adhere to a group dynamic. Varnashram dharma in the IGM context is a very specific institutional role, rather than one based in self-knowledge and vocation. I bow down to all these devotees, since I am also or at least have been one of them. But I thank God that I am moving on into the realm of marami

Radhe Shyam.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Getting terminated at Munger temple

I suppose it was only to be a matter of time before it happened, but last night Sadhu Maharaj asked me to discontinue giving my Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi classes. After discussion, I understood that his principal objections were that I was deviating and that what I said was rasābhāsa.

I suspected that there were in all likelihood more factors involved in his decision. No doubt he was starting to get feedback from those who were starting to dislike the fact that I was speaking in a Gaudiya Math affiliated temple. But the first thing he said to me was something to the effect, "I cannot follow what you are saying. I am a simple man. I want to hear Radha-Krishna kathā by the book. I told you to speak to the verses and not say anything of your own. I am now seventy years old, I don't have time for anything else."

Innocently enough, I explained that Westerner devotees have no understanding of Radha Krishna lila and without a proper background, explained to them in ways that are relevant to their own experience. And I offered to speak to him in Hindi for a Hindi-speaking audience, for whom the style of presentation would be quite different. It is just that this time, the audience was mostly Western and I said what I thought they needed to hear in order to understand just what Radha and Krishna are. They are not figurines on an altar or "little Krishna" cartoon fairy tales. I am afraid that is going to cause waves when the orthodox position is fundamentalist and literalist.

It is true that over the last two days, indeed from the beginning of the classes, I have been getting progressively more honest and more elaborate in my explanations. The last two days, in particular, I had been speaking rather strongly about things like sannyas. Nothing different from the stuff I have said on my blog, but speaking out loud in mixed company brings out their controversial nature.

Some may find my positions meaningful despite their controversy in the Gaudiya Math milieu, but it is more than likely that others have complained that I am speaking apasiddhānta. But when you mix Freud and Jung in with Radha and Krishna, there are VERY few people in traditional Vaishnavism of any branch that are going to be able to swallow it.

I expected that sooner later I would reach the limit of Sadhu Maharaj's liberalism and open-mindedness. But it was a good experience. I am extremely grateful to him. Nevertheless, because in the last two classes I gave, I found myself speaking to riveted audiences and I found myself getting rather fond of speaking to people for whom my point of view is both incisive and persuasive.

Some may think that my goal in coming to Sadhu Maharaj's domain was to convert his disciples or followers. I should therefore have expected expulsion. Of course, my primary goal was truly to speak of Radha, but my Radha is MY Radha. And so I will explain my Radha to you if you come to listen to me. But my purpose is only to glorify Radha and to seek to understand prema by looking through the eyes of those who glorified Radha in the past, as well as through my own.

Sadhu Maharaj helped me to find a little more of my voice and for that I am exceedingly grateful. He took a risk in having me speak at his temple. Perhaps he was not fully aware of the depths of my depravity and apostasy. As a matter of fact, only a few months ago, I confided to him that I was feeling that did not know if I was ready to teach yet and he gave me his blessing, saying that he sensed my time was coming near. I remember feeling quite pleased by his blessing.

But serious teaching should only be done if one has something more than repetitions of things other people said. If one can weave those things into a coherent and meaningful pattern for people. For those in the West, they have to "cross over" so to speak from their conditioned state into the world of Vrindavan. The gulf is wide. The conditioning is very deep and intricate and the Western critiques of religion are extensive and well thought out.

And those who claim to be preachers KNOW that in most cases they are swamped and incapable of dealing with any intelligent critic other than to hide in the bunker labelled "a 5000-year-old authentic religious tradition."

And we have Rupa Goswami on our side. Rupa Goswami is not a theologian, he is more a psychologist who has given us a guide to cultivating sacred love. But that requires expertise. It requires study. It requires knowledge. You don't become a scientist of sacred love without real life experience. Book learning ain't gonna do it.


In a way, it may just be that I had to find my voice directly in the IGM environment. Telling them exactly what I thought clearly. So really it was totally expected, and I have made my statement. I don't know that I consciously was intending to do that. After all, I was on their territory.

It is his place, why should I not honor his wishes? I said that I spoke to the audience, and that unfortunately he was the only one on that level. I would gladly arrange to do that also, but with the audience of predominantly non-Indian devotees who have come through the IGM mill and are practically out the other side, that I should say what they need to hear. Then they will actually be able to taste Radha Krishna katha, but right now, man, there are very few who are past the children's coloring book stage.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another failed attempt to explain love

One of the reasons that I have been silent on this blog is because of the particular confused nature of my love life. I bifurcated my path from that of the Gaudiya Vaishnava orthodoxy and called it “Prema Prayojan.” I recognized that I was influenced by Sahajiyaism, and even called myself a Sahajiya, but at the same time I wanted to make a distinction between my own viewpoint and that which is traditionally identified with Sahajiyaism.

In fact, let us face it, most people have little real knowledge of what Sahajiyaism is. Most of what has been disseminated in the orthodox or Gaudiya Math worlds is a mish-mash of criticisms that stretches over a very broad area, from the traditional practitioners of Raganuga Bhajan (like Ananta Das Mahant of Radha Kund) to those doing kirtan professionally and making displays of emotion, to those who engage in some kind of sexual practices with apparently prodigious promiscuity in the name of Radha and Krishna.

In fact, I would say that Sahajiyas themselves are not a monolithic sampradaya with clear and consistent ideas that are held by all. But in several points, I am in agreement with what is generally held to be Sahajiya doctrine. The principal one is that the relationship of love in this world is a means to attaining a transcendental state known as prema.

One thing I have to say here, though, arises from the idea that the relationship with woman is purely utilitarian.

মধু আনি মধুমাছি চাক করে যবে
নানান পুষ্পের মধু যোগ করি তবে
বহু পুষ্প হৈতে মধু করে আয়োজন
সেই পুষ্পে পুনঃ তার কোন প্রযোজন
দীপ হস্তে করি যদি প্রবেশযে ঘরে
তিমির করিয়া ধ্ৱংস দীপ্তিমান করে
যেখানে যে দ্রৱ্য তাহা হয বর্তমান
পশ্চাৎ প্রদীপে আছে কোন্ প্রযোজন

madhu āni madhumāchi cāka kare yabe
nānāna puṣpera madhu yoga kari tabe
bahu puṣpa haite madhu kare āẏojana
sei puṣpe punaḥ tāra kona prayojana
dīpa haste kari yadi praveśaye ghare
timira kariẏā dhvaṁsa dīptimāna kare
yekhāne ye dravya tāhā haya vartamāna
paścāt pradīpe āche kon prayojana

Beehives are filled up with honey collected from many flowers. When the honey is collected, the flowers are of no use to the bees. In a dark room, a lamp is used to drive away darkness and to ascertain the positions of things it contains. As soon as this is done, the lamp can be dispensed with. Quoted on 76-77 by Manindra Mohan Bose (Post Chaitanya Sahajiya Cult)
I was forced, in the very beginning to admit that I was learning, experimenting with this concept on the inspiration of several elements, which I shall review here. And the purpose of making it public is simply to analyze my experiments, make my findings public, and to then go on in the direction that the laws of science take me. When one is trying to create the philosopher’s stone, it may become an obsession. Similarly, my life is either openly or not-so-openly, about my obsession, which is called prema prayojana. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said that “divine love is the purpose of life” and as far as possible I have dedicated my life to this project.

In doing so, I have committed mistakes, offenses to individuals and to Love itself. And many people will be critical of the conclusions that I have come to, but after experimentation, I am fairly certain that much of what I have learned is true and transmissible. That is, useful to other people.
Since I have decided to write this, which will take a bit of time and several chapters, I am going to begin with an overview. Because this is all about prema and my personal life here is not separate from that sadhana. I will use the letter R to indicate the person who has been designated by Shrimati Radharani to be my partner in this endeavor. R stands for Radha, but I will not call her by that name. She is a representative of Radha in my life and therefore merits to be called by that name, but I would avoid offending her sense of propriety or that of other devotees. But Shrimati Radharani is the Mahabhava Svarupini.

Basically stated, the prema prayojan project has three wings: the most important is bhakti, the other two are sexuality and yoga. These things will be hard to explain to the narrowly orthodox Vaishnava, and to some extent or another, I have been doing so. But let me start by saying that the recognition of sexuality’s role in spiritual life does not mean that there is a base sexuality going on. This accusation has arisen, and in my particular case, even R has been quick to point out her perception of impurity in my own behavior, and that is something that we will of necessity refer to and discuss again, and no doubt in the future.

Shastra says that the love of the gopis received the name kama because of the external similarities of the two. But even this is misleading, because such a point of similarity between kama and prema is only based on a few points of similarity. There are many points of difference. The main one is always given that the difference between kama and prema is that the former is done out of a desire for sense gratification and the latter is done for the pleasure of the beloved. Priti in the Priti-sandarbha is defined both as receiving pleasure as well as as acting for the pleasure of the beloved. In the case of the samartha-rati, Rupa Goswami says that love and desire are so intertwined that they are never separated from one another. They are not two separate things.

If we don’t understand how these things are possible and visible in human experience, then there is no possibility of experiencing Radha and Krishna’s love as a manjari. This is my humble but very audacious statement. Because human beings are equipped with fundamental sthayi bhavas, i.e., because we all have the inborn capacity to experience the sentiments of love, fear, anger, pity, bravery, disgust, horror and humor, even a person without a real-life experience of love, etc., may through poetry, etc., experience them to some degree.

A sannyasi who feels disgust (as one person quoted Prabhupada to me, “the only rasa in the material world is that of disgust”) for the erotic life of lovers in this world is unlikely to be able to fathom what is going in Radha and Krishna’s nikunja. One who has not felt the heartbreak of an argument with a lover will have a hard time truly understanding what is going on in Radha’s māna. No one who has not felt the separation over a long period of time will understand the psychology of this great trial of love, its dangers, its tests.

But it is not enough to experience something materially. From that one will get some reflection of Radha and Krishna, but it will be totally inadequate to the task of the sadhaka. When I say materially, I mean even the experience of sattvika love, though that is better than tamasika or rajasika love.

I humbly implore everyone who simply thinks that sexual love is all the same to recognize that the Gita says “all phenomena in the material world must be understood as having divisions according to the three gunas” (18.40). It is a little unfortunate that the Gita does not specifically give the three divisions of sexuality according to the gunas, but we have enough information from the Lord’s song to be able to extrapolate for ourselves.

As I have said before, the rapist’s explosion of violent sexuality is at the other extreme to the sadhana of sexual love, in which the partner becomes the entry point for the Divine, and “making love” is truly about making love. Through the perfection of exchanging pleasure, through the sadhu sanga of mutually purifying the understanding of Radha and Krishna’s perfect love, the sadhakas gradually become mirrors of the Divine Couple and their love itself becomes a service to the Divine Couple.

Their love mirrors the love of the Divine Couple, accompanied by sankirtan and smaran that is on a level of concentration and depth that the mere sentimentalist cannot begin to conceive. But the effects of this love are far reaching and transformative on the consciousness of the sadhakas. It enhances all the other sadhanas of meditation and hearing and chanting because it informs them with reference points of real experienced sensations and emotions.

It is transformative for the sadhaka couple in many ways. But if we remember that the work of the sakhis and manjaris is to serve the union of the Divine Couple, we will get an idea of what is happening.

The definition of māna in the Ujjvala Nilamani says that māna is the particular emotional state (bhāva) of the lovers who, though still deeply in love with one another, prevents them from experiencing or engaging in the desired activities of loving, such as embracing, etc., even when the opportunity is there.

dampatyor bhāva ekatra sator apy anuraktayoḥ |
svābhīṣṭāśleṣa-vīkṣādi-nirodhī māna ucyate ||

The curious ability of the human psyche to split itself makes it possible for two individuals to play the role of both the lovers and the sakhis, but perfection comes in the nitya-vihāra. There is much to be said about this and it will be discussed in detail as we go on. Without a doubt this is the hardest part of the lila, since Lalita and other sakhis are persuading Radha to be stronger in her māna, while others are taking Krishna’s sideand persuading her to relent. Eventually, she has to relent because she is as attached to the nitya-vihāra as Krishna is. But Radha is the mistress, the ishwari, the adhishtatri devata of the lila of love.

Much is made of the manjari identity. Manjari bhava is called bhāvollāsā rati because the manjaris take ullāsa in Radha’s bhāva. Their love for Krishna exists inasmuch as Krishna is loved by Radha. tad-bhāvotsavataḥ paraṁ bhavatu me tat-prāṇa-nāthe ratiḥ. The expression in the Gaudiya sampradaya is based on its attempt to keep a historical connection to the Vaishnava sampradayas. This leads to some confusion on the part of scholars.

But the emphasis on Radha’s bhava means basically that Radha rules love. And without understanding this, all Sahajiyaism fails. The main accusation of sexual misconduct in Sahajiyaism is based on the misconception, either real or imagined, that men rule the sexual act. When men rule the sexual act, it falls into the modes of passion and ignorance. When sexuality is equal between partners and controlled by conquering the orgasm, it is in the modes of goodness. And when such love is enveloped by the Holy Names and smaran of the eternal nikunja, it becomes an entry point to that divine state.

Radha rules love. The aropa (identification) in practice of the male and female bodies and roles with Radha and Krishna may be called ahaṅgrahopāsana by some, but to do so would be to totally misunderstand the goal of such prescriptions in the Pancharatra, Gopala-tapani Upanishad and other late Upanishads. In fact, this whole direction has been clarified by Mahaprabhu in his taking of the sannyas mantra.

Someone asked me the other day whether tat tvam asi can mean “You are his.” The answer is no, it cannot. But what is the state of perfection? It is a state of non-dual consciousness. The statement gopālo’ham means, “The world of Gopala is the Supreme Truth from which all things come. I am that. I am not different from that. I am part of that.”

This can only be understood through manjari bhava, where the separation of the Radha-Krishna dimension, where one can be misguided by the sense of ownership or ego doership.

In fact, one enters a state of samadhi.

In such consciousness, one who experiences the dynamics of a loving relationship with another devotee sadhaka, who shares the taste for love, who loves the effects of love on his or her consciousness and behavior throughout life, will see how his own engagement in the actions of love soften and strengthen his character.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Choosing between Spirituality and Activism: Vira-rasa and Madhura.

After Karttik Purnima I came down with a cold and a bit of exhaustion, and have been either sleeping or sitting here sipping brahmastra tea and catching up with international news of various kinds. Though many things, mostly same old same old, are features of the current world situation, I would summarize the following three principal points:
(1) The American empire is expanding at a speed that I never would have imagined. If anyone had any illusions that Obama was progressive on this front when he promised to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is now clear that this was a smokescreen. The Military-Industrial Complex in the USA is the single most dominant force in dictating the international situation. The technological capacity to survey, control, and coerce ordinary citizens, combined with the total domination of the media in [at least] the USA for propaganda and control of information, is at levels that Communist and Fascist dictatorships of the past could only marvel at in envy.
(2) Fear of terrorism is simply the external raison-d'etre that is used to sell this policy, which is of course only meant to support the domination and control of international business. "It is the manifestation of a new vision of global geopolitics in which human beings in need are to be corralled, their free movement criminalized, and their labor exploited." (Tom Dispatch)
(3) There is no such thing as a coherent force to speak of expressing the "collective interest" of humanity. Any democratic institutions or international agencies that were meant to serve this purpose, like the UN, etc., are completely marginalized. The most important symptom of this is world leadership's total disinterest in taking real practical steps to counteract global warming. In fact, I suspect that the privileged classes actually welcome the possibility of decimating the world population as long as their own safety and comfort are assured.
In all this, I wonder where a person like myself, who places spirituality and spiritual culture above everything, stands. The increasingly monolithic domination of ordinary personal life means that survival itself comes at a great cost to our freedom. Spirituality and religion, if apolitical, does not represent a significant threat to the powers-that-be, and therefore is actually favored by them -- just as some non-economic issues like homosexual marriage, etc., are ultimately tolerated if they keep people apathetic about challenging the entrenched power structures.
And yet, apathy to a control of the world by what can only be called the forces of evil seems to be wrong.
Personally, I have nver been active politically. I am able to tenuously remain here in Vrindavan by the grace of the Indian government. It is clear that terrorism paranoia (even more justifiable here in India than it is in America) has resulted in an official distrust of all foreigners, even those here to pursue spiritual goals. As a matter of fact, the Indian mindset, currently dominated by anglo-americanized English-speaking elites, is fearful of Hinduism as a political force and thus conducts a rather transparent project to reshape it into a kind of anodyne and apolitical New Ageism and self-helpism. This apparently creates policies where foreigners overly committed to traditional Hindu spiritual goals are treated with some ambivalence and even suspicion.

New Ageism is, of course, an apolitical spiritualism, which as stated above is most convenient for ruling elites, for as Napoleon is supposed to have said, "Religion is what keeps the poor from killing the rich." Today, however, it is probably suburban isolation and electronic entertainments, if not drugs, that are keeping the poor from killing the rich. Teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for life. Give a man enough food to survive and a television or the internet and he may never wonder why his life has so little meaning! And if religion is needed as an added opiate, that does not burden the scheme of promoting political apathy.
The argument of progressive Christians is that of a theology of concern for the poor and so on. Since one cannot love without empathy, universal love means universal empathy for the suffering of others. For Christ said, "As you have done to the least of these, you have done to me." This is a great and noble sentiment and is reflected in the concept of the madhyama Bhagavata and even, I think the Christian would say, in the uttama Bhagavata. Or we could say, the former as sadhana and the latter as sadhya.
This is, in fact, what Vivekananda was getting at with his Daridra Narayan philosophy. See the presence of God in the poor person and serve him as a way of bring the sacred presence of God into these most debased of social relationships. The rich are less empathetic; study after study shows that material comfort and privilege feel contempt for those less privileged. Such persons isolate themselves from the reality of suffering and from practical empathy towards the poor except in "official" types of charity or public posturing.
It is not surprising that there are many who wish to accelerate that process by revolutionary acts. If the society has become so corrupted by the rule of evil, then one must combat it with arms or whatever means are at one's disposal. Is not the struggle with evil for the sake of justice for all a service to God? Indeed, is it not a service in the mood of heroism? In other words, is it not a service to the cause of Love? And is it not, for one who is but a mere sinner in this world, a sadhana for achieving Love through sacrifice?
I am far from arguing with this point of view. Who would not feel a surge of emotion at the thought of participating in a just and heroic struggle? And of course, like Arjuna in the battle of Kurukshetra, the path is open to such an attitude in the wide world of bhakti.
Though I am somewhat sanguine about achieving any short-term success in changing the way the world works, I see that done with detachment is indeed an admirable endeavor. And perhaps such efforts will indeed contribute to an eventual evolution of humanity wherein -- in a few millennia -- an ideal state will exist where everyone can realize the full spiritual potential that human life offers.
But Krishna also tells Arjuna to know himself: Know your nature and through following your nature perfect your life. In keeping with my own nature, I must admit that I am not exactly of the heroic type, i.e., I am not driven by a taste for the heroic flavor, the vira-rasa. And I must further say that not everyone is, though we are all called upon to perform acts of heroism in our lives. Nevertheless, my feeling is that we must, in whatever our calling, serve the cause of Love.
For what will be a world of justice where no one has learned the art of love? And how will a world of justice be created if no one has learned the art of love? We must each choose our task, and I choose the task of understanding the gift of prema as it was given by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and expounded by Srila Rupa Goswami.

vāg gadgadā dravate yasya cittaṁ
rudaty abhīkṣṇaṁ hasati kvacic ca
vilajja udgāyati nṛtyate ca
mad-bhakti-yukto bhuvanaṁ punāti
person endowed with devotion to me, whose voice is broken with emotion and whose mind melts, who cries constantly and sometimes laughs, who shamelessly sings aloud and dances, purifies the entire world. (11.14.24)

Jai Sri Radhe.

Monday, October 21, 2013


This is a couple of old posts from Gaudiya Discussions. I made no changes.

utpanna-ratayaḥ samyaṅ
nairvighnyam anupāgatāḥ
kṛṣṇa-sākṣāt-kṛtau yogyāḥ
sādhakāḥ parikīrtitāḥ
“These devotees who have attained rati (or bhāva), yet are still not completely free from obstacles, who are worthy of attaining a direct vision of the Lord, are known as sādhakas.” (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 2.1.276)
Bhaktivedanta Swami : “A person who has attained the stage of attraction for Krishna and who is not freed from the material impasse, but who has qualified himself to enter into the kingdom of God, is called sādhaka. Sādhaka means one who is cultivating devotion in Krishna consciousness.” (NOD, 203)

Dhanurdhara Swami : “Sādhaka refers to an advanced devotee, not just to any practitioner. Only one who has ecstatic love can inspire that love to arise in others. Therefore, in this context, Srila Rupa Goswami has defined sādhaka as a devotee on the platform of rati, or one who feels attraction for Krishna. In other words, it refers to a bhāva-bhakta."

Such a sādhaka is at the stage of bhāva, he is qualified to periodically receive Krishna’s direct darshan. However, since he has not yet attained prema, he is not quite out of the material impasse. Bilvamangala Thakur (see verse 279), who began to manifest sāttvika bhāvas in the process of attaining perfection, is the example of this. (Waves of Devotion, 174)

Comment : Dhanurdhara Maharaj has astutely picked up on the idea of "inspiration" ("Only one who has ecstatic love can inspire that love to arise in others."), but I don't think that he has made sufficiently clear what Rupa Goswami is getting at.

In order to understand this section of four verses (276-279), we must understand the context. Srila Rupa Goswamipada is discussing the various ingredients of rasa; this is the chapter on the vibhāvas, which consists of ālambanas and uddīpanas. He has described the viṣayālambana, Krishna, and is now discussing the āśraya. The āśraya of Krishna bhakti is obviously Krishna’s devotee, who can be either in a sādhaka-deha or a siddha-deha.

There are three kinds of vibhāva: āśraya, viṣaya and uddīpana. These may have interchangeable aspects. So a devotee may be any one of these in different circumstances. Recently I heard a discussion of the "reaction shot" in films. The speaker was making the point that the "reaction shot" (i.e., when in a film, you see someone reacting to an event -- e.g. the child with eyes popping out when Superman flies overhead; closeups of people in the crowd smiling as the baby is returned to its mother, etc.) is really a cue to the audience how to react.

Now the “reaction shot” may help us to understand the āśrayālambana. The two examples I gave parenthetically above are adbhuta and karuna rasas; the people in the reaction shot are the āśrayas of those sentiments, and they are providing the cue to the audience how to feel.

Bhakti-rasa is analogous to the rasas of ordinary entertainments, but endowed with specific significance because God is not limited and therefore genuinely present in the rasa. But in the case of the saints as āśraya-ālambana, they give us the cue how to react. In this passage, however, the sādhaka is not just an "inspiration" or uddīpana as Dhanurdhara Maharaj says in his Wave of Devotion comment above, but the āśraya of rasa.

Now this passage is not meant to be a commentary on who or what is a sādhaka, i.e., it is not meant for the instruction of edification of practising Vaishnavas, but it is rather to explain the questions of whether and how a practicing devotee (either in literature or reality) can function as an element in the process of creating rasa in you or me.

The significance of Bilvamangala as an example comes directly from his book, Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta, which at least in part is about Bilvamangala the sādhaka, who is not relating to Krishna in his siddha-deha, i.e., as a participant in the eternal pastimes directly with Krishna, or at least not all the time, but rather as one who is seeking a vision of Krishna.

Of course, the sādhaka's consciousness of his siddha-deha may also be part and parcel of his sādhaka personality. This is why you get the Gaudiya tradition of commentary on books like Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta, Vilāpa-kusumāñjali and Rādhā-rasa-sudha-nidhi, where the hearers are asked to visualize the author (Bilvamangala, Raghunath Das or Prabodhananda) slipping in and out of his siddha identity.

And that is exactly the point that Rupa Goswami is making here. He is continuing the discussion that began in BRS 1.2.295 (sevā sādhaka-rūpeṇa siddha-rūpeṇa cātra hi). Rāgānugā bhakti is essentially about cultivating the rasa experience, which is one of the reasons Kunjabihari Dasji's Manjari-svarūpa-nirūpana is such a useful book.

This is something that I have also been pointing out in relation to guru-tattva, because for a Gaudiya Vaishnava, the guru is precisely this: a sādhakāśrayālambana. Even though we may consider the guru a siddha, he is in fact on the cusp of the material and spiritual worlds. The guru is a half-real, half-mythologized person. Thus we see in the guru the play of devotional bhāvas in his sādhaka-deha; we believe that he is experiencing the siddha-deha, and this can indeed inspire the initial experience of rasa.

So, once again, the point of this verse is not to ascertain which sādhakas are eligible to be considered sādhakāśrayalambana, but only that he is one of those Vaishnavas we are supposed to be following in our sādhaka-rūpa: Gopa Kumar in Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, Narada, Rupa Goswami himself--these are the sādhakas Rupa is talking about.

There is further significance to this in that this allows that rasa also exists in the context of sādhana  This is why Rupa specifies in the verse that this sādhaka is not free from obstacles (nairvighnyam anupāgatāḥ): rasa cannot arise in a non-dramatic situation. There must be obstacles to overcome, which provides drama to his spiritual quest.

This is why reading about saints, like the devotees of Vrindavan or Bhaktivinoda Thakura or Bhaktivedanta Swami, is a source of joy to the devotee. Rasa is being experienced through hearing about the devotee, and sometimes even more so, than we do in hearing actual Krishna lila katha.

Finally, this is one of the reasons there is significant rasa in Gauranga-lila.

Some may object to the characterization of Bilvamangala as a sādhaka as offensive. Is Bilvamangala not a siddha-mahapurusha whose śikṣā guru was Lord Krishna Himself?

This misunderstanding of Rupa Goswami’s intention is quite typical. This is exactly why the passage has been consistently problematic for devotees who wonder, "Bilvamangala is siddha, so how can he be a sādhaka?"

The point I am making is that he is sādhaka-āśrayālambana, not a sādhaka. He is "doing a lila" in the sādhaka-deha, if you like.

Of course, I made the point above that since drama, or obstacles, are a part of the process of generating rasa, therefore it is more glorious to think of those obstacles mentioned in Rupa Goswami’s definition as real, rather than illusory. (Of course, that is a shaky distinction: the only obstacle to attaining Krishna is his will to reveal himself.) So for me, to think of the guru as being genuinely human makes his quality as an āśrayālambana that much more acute.

Part of the confusion in the BRS section under discussion is verse 2.1.277, where Sri Rupa gives the Bhagavatam 11.2.46 as the first example of a sādhaka.

īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ

The devotee of the middle class loves the Lord, makes friendship with those who depend on Him, is kind to the innocent, and avoids the enemies of God.

This is the famous description of the madhyama bhakta, so it seems as though Rupa is saying that Bilvamangala is a madhyama bhakta. Not so. A madhyama bhakta is one who deals with the world in four distinct ways. Mukunda's commentary points out that this example is rather being given specifically to show that such a bhakta still faces external obstacles (madhyamaḥ samyaṅ-nairvighnyābhāvāt), even though it clearly states that he loves Krishna, as given in the definition of the sādhakāśrayālambana (2.1.276)--prema karotīty utpanna-ratitvam.

This has nothing to do with whether Bilvamangala is a “Sri-Rādhā-bhāva-rasika saint.” Whatever Bilvamangala has on the inside, this definition is concerned with what he has on the outside.

Most people know the frame story for the Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta that visualizes Bilvamangala as a blind man walking to Vrindavan while being led there by Krishna. This is the way that at least Gaudiya commentators like Krishnadas Kaviraja look at the story.

So when we say "siddha" or "sādhaka" in this context, we do not mean that Bilvamangala was an ordinary human being or anything like that, or that his inner bhāva was not perfect, but that as a literary character he is functioning as a sādhaka.

Let us take another look at what is meant by āśraya. This is a psychological function that goes into the appreciation or tasting of rasa. Whenever reading a book, poem, watching a film or play, the audience (sahṛdaya) undergoes a subtle or unconscious process of identification (sādhāraṇīkaraṇa) with the āśraya or seat of the particular mood that is being created.

Normally, the major (or at least significant) rasa in any dramatic work is śṛṅgāra, or love, but in this case we are talking bhakti-rasa. In other words we ourselves are sādhakas who are cultivating or developing bhakti-rasa, and it is thus natural for us to identify with other sādhaka devotees who have also suffered in Krishna's absence, who search to encounter Krishna, and who have achieved success, etc. So Bilvamangala is just one example. But we can also think of Narada in Bhagavatam 1.5-6, which is an extremely good example. Or Dhruva, or Prahlada, or Raghunath Das in Chaitanya lila. Indeed any story of the struggles of a devotee to achieve perfection functions as an example of the sādhakāśrayālambana.

Because these great devotees appear as a sādhakas, it makes it possible for other aspirants like you or me to identify with them. It is in fact easier to identify with a sādhaka and experience bhakti rasa through them because they, as āśrayas of the bhāvas, are setting an example that is more akin to our own.

This is an important aspect of Mahaprabhu's āpani ācari dharma jīvere śikhāya.

This identification is extremely important on the bhakti path, but only Rupa has talked about it in this psychological way on the analogy of the aesthetic experience. It would be silly for anyone to think that this means that Rupa was minimizing Bilvamangala, Prahlada, Dhruva, Raghunath Das, or Mahaprabhu because they are acting like sādhakas.

And, as I intimated above, Rupa's rasa theory is intimately connected with his ideas about raganuga bhakti and manjari bhāva. Why is Radha dasya more important than Radha bhāva itself? The manjaris identify with Radha, but they certainly don't want to be Radha, because that would mean a diminishing of their bhāva.

This is the purport of verses like these from Govinda-lilamrita.

sakhyaḥ śrī-rādhikāyā vraja-kumuda-vidhor hlādinī-nama-śakteḥ
sārāṁśa-prema-vallyāḥ kiśalaya-dala- puṣpādi-tulyāḥ sva-tulyāḥ
siktāyāṁ kṛṣṇa-līlāmṛta-rasa-nicayair ullasantyām amuṣyāṁ
jātollāsāḥ sva-sekāc chata-guṇam adhikaṁ santi yat tan na citram

Radha’s girlfriends are the twigs, branches, and fruits,
of the vine of the essence of love, Radha herself;
they are equal to even her--the pleasure-giving potency
of the Moon of the lilies of Vraja.
Considering this, it is not so strange
that when she is sprinkled with the nectar
of Krishna's embrace and soaked in that bliss,
her girlfriends are a hundred times more joyful
than had they themselves been watered.

spṛśati yadi mukundo rādhikāṁ tat-sakhīnāṁ
bhāvati vapuṣi kampa-sveda-romāñca-bāṣpam |
adhara-madhu mudāsyāś cet pibaty eṣa yatnād
bhāvati bata tad āsāṁ attatā citram etat

If Krishna should touch Srimati Radharani,
then lo and behold! her sakhis start to tremble;they sweat and their body hairs stand on end,and tears well in their eyes.
And if Krishna should attentively sipthe spirituous liquor of Radha’s lips,it is they who become intoxicated!Is this not something truly wonderful?

This does not mean that one cannot identify with siddha bhaktas as well, for the passage following the one refered to above, that is BRS 2.1.280ff., includes a variety of siddha bhaktas up to and including the nitya-siddha Vrajavasis. But even the sādhana-siddha and kripa-siddha devotees here are being named in terms of their "literary" function, i.e. as āśrayālambanas to be identified with. Thus their attainment of siddhi is a source of rasa that we mystically participate in through the magic of bhakti rasa.

Indeed, it may be said that the complete bhakti rasa would include all aspects--from sādhana to siddhi. This is why O.B.L. Kapoor's book about Vraja bhaktas is such a delight. It is fun and inspiring to read about bhaktas who decide to sit down like Ramakrishna Pandit Baba and do a purascharan, saying "I ain't getting up until Srimati gives me her mercy." We take part in his success through identifying with him, even if we are incapable of chanting more than four rounds of japa a day, what to speak of sitting in one place for seventeen days without eating. We identify with his sadhana, and we identify with his siddhi. And of course, the deeper our own sadhana, the more meaningful this rasa experience becomes.

And, it must be said, that the dīkṣā sambandha, the special relationship established through initiation, makes these identifications more real and personal. Ramakrishna Baba is our guy, and we are his. So his bhajan is especially meaningful to us and therefore a source of rasa.

This is one of the ways that bhaktas spread their mercy in the form of bhakti rasa. Just by their doing it, just by their experiencing it, they make it real for us all.

And what is happening here is a universal religious principle. The various prophets establish different variants on the bhakti-rasa principle. So that when a Bhaktivedanta Swami or a Kripalu comes along with his own particular personal myth, it takes on meaning for their disciples that shapes their (the disciples') own specific spiritual character.

Having been in Iskcon for a long time, I also feel that certain elements of the Prabhupada myth infuse my spiritual life--the long wait in householder life, Krishna's powerful hand pulling him out of it--yasyāham anugṛhṇāmi hariṣye tad-dhanaṁ śanaiḥ, being given shelter in Jiva Goswami's own home at Radha Damodar and then thrust out into the great exploit, the Hare Krishna explosion. This is a powerful myth that will keep Iskcon illuminated for centuries, no doubt.

Many Indians seem to prefer the avatar model--the nitya-siddha falling out of the sky, ready made. Personally, I find this a less rasika and more passive model for the sādhaka, but that's me.

These are all variants of the bhakta-āśrayālambana. And inspired by them, we create our own personal myth, which ultimately follows the pattern of the rasa lila, from the call of the flute (ādau śraddhā), to finding Radha (guru) in the woods, and so on to the great circle dance. We participate mystically, and when our own lives truly become realized myth, that is when we become guru.

And that could happen today, with Radharani's mercy.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Vrindavan: Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday

Old entrance to Bhagavat Niwas.
I don't go out all that much, but whenever I do, the transformations that are taking place in Vrindavan on a day-to-day basis are constantly at the forefront of my perceptions. The other evening I cycled the length of the Chattikara Road from NH2 to the house and found it quite amazing to see how rapidly everything is mutating.

But that is quite the road at night now. New buildings -- hotels, ashrams, guesthouses, apartment buildings, residential developments, temples -- popping up everywhere, many of them looking quite posh in the night with their glass and polished granite facades and colored neon signage. With the dark night backdrop obscuring the old Vrindavan from view, one could be forgiven for thinking we were actually in at least the 20th century.

I went into the huge Akshaya Patra complex and attended arati there. It is a separate ISKCON, just a couple of centimeters different enough to be a "not-ISKCON", with a personality quite different from Krishna Balaram and yet certainly a brother or cousin. And so it is with all these sects and sampradayas that make Vrindavan their holy center: all brothers and sisters and cousins, all with their own unique personalities, some crazy, some avaricious, so many saintly, so many talented, so many beautiful.

I am old enough that I have seen 35 years of Vrindavan. There are many of Prabhupada's disciples who have been here longer and seen more than me. And indeed it was Prabhupada I thought of as I cycled along, observing the new world of Vrindavan. Because, after all, more than anyone he is the architect of the "new" Vrindavan, just like Rupa and Sanatan Goswami, and all the other Vaishnava families built their temples and made Vrindavan the holy center it is. They attracted people from all over India, and now we have this: People coming from all over the world to see this amazing place.

We really have to make sure it stays amazing. But of course it cannot but be amazing. Because it IS Krishna's own place. Even though it is undergoing huge changes, there is an inevitability about it and people like Rupa and Sanatan or Srila Prabhupada, acted on history to push it in that direction.

The day after I wrote the above, I went -- completely by accident, I must admit -- to Bhagavata Nivasa. I was walking past and noticed that speeches were being given and realized that it was their annual utsava in honor of Ramakrishna Pandit Babaji.

The speakers reminisced about the old days -- not so long ago really. There is one senior Brijbasi, Bhagavatpada Gautam, who is perhaps (with the exception of Haridas Shastri) the only person left alive who actually had darshan of Pandit Baba. He was only a child when Pandit Baba entered the nitya-lila.

Bhagavatpada Gautam is from a family that owned a lot of the land in the area, such as Sheetal Chaya. So he has watched the changes -- and profited from them -- but at the same time it is hard not to be nostalgic about the world in which Ramkrishna Pandit Baba was royalty, a Maharaja. He could still live like the six Goswamis, but such a lifestyle is now gone and for all intents and purposes impossible in the new Vrindavan.

There are still pictures of the Raman Reti area as it was. It still had not changed much even in the early 70s when the Krishna Balaram temple first started construction, or even in 1975 when I first set foot here. All that is long gone now.

As always, there was a lot of talk about Pandit Baba's legendary ascetism and dedication to the life of bhajan. He owned nothing but his kaupin and his karua. One sadhu told the story of how the king of Scindia came to have darshan of the great saint, no doubt accompanied by his entourage, and after an uncomfortable silence, asked, "Is there anything I can do to serve you?"

Pandit Baba answered, "Yes, please never come back here again."

Pandit Baba wold not take service from anyone, not even his younger, renounced followers. One speaker told a story of Kripa Sindhu Baba, the founder of Bhagavata Niwas, which lies just across the street from Dauji Bagicha (the current home of the Vrindavan Research Institute). One day Kripa Sindhu Baba was incredibly thirsty and he could not slate his thirst though drink to his fill. Finally, he had the idea that it was Pandit Baba who was thirsty and that somehow he was experiencing his thirst.

Now Baba did not keep a jug of water in his hut, but only when he came out after his long hours of bhajan would he walk all the way to Baraha Ghat to the nearest sweet-water well and fetch water. Baraha Ghat would have been a fair distance on the Parikrama Marg to the north of Dauji Bagicha.

On this day, however, when Pandit Baba came out into the light, Kripa Sindhu has obtained a big clay jug (gharaa) and filled it with water so that he would not have to go all that trouble just for a drink. But rather than being pleased, Baba was irritated because he was so free of the desire for any possessions that he did not wish to even have a clay pot in his hut.

He inspired Gauranga Dasji, and Kripasindhu Dasji, and many others also, even from other sampradayas. He encouraged everyone to follow the tradition they were in. He could give each sampradaya's siddhanta and convince them to accept it. Even though he had very strong ideas about Gaudiya siddhanta also.

So this is the guy that Siddhanta Saraswati said was a kanishtha. Who knows? If I follow Ramkrishna Baba, I would say, "Follow your GM siddhanta. Do bhajan according to your sampradaya's tradition."

But it may be that for these bhajananandi traditions to survive... well it is hard to see how they will. At least not in the town of Vrindavan. They will all just have to build air-conditioned marble rooms suitable for international spiritual tourism.

I am not even saying it is bad. That is what is happening, that is the way it is going. The world is forcing change on everyone and the forces of time are not gentle. Religion has to adjust to the circumstances like everyone else, like every other department of human existence.

In another anecdote, one speaker recounted that when Pandit Baba was living in Raghava's gupha in Puchari. I once spent three months there in 1980, just a few meters away from this "cave," basically a hole dug in the side of Govardhan, helped by big rocks, where he did his tapasya and bhajan. When I was there it was still empty, semi-desert sandy with many trees, big ones. Like Vrindavan, the Govardhan parikrama has completely changed since the walk was paved, but you can still find spots here and there where the old mood still prevails somewhat.

One day Pandit Baba was chanting the Holy Names and suddenly got the desire to learn how to play the mridanga and sing nice padavali kirtan. This inspired him to go to Govinda Kund to learn from one of the Vaishnavas living there. But after spending three years at it, he managed to learn only one bol, tere ke tinaka te or something, and only one verse from a padavali describing Krishna's beauty. His problem was that he would get so absorbed in that meditation that he could not go on any further.

For three years he remained stuck on that. Finally some older Vaishnava told him it was pointless for him to learn kirtan, and so he gave it up and went back to nāma-japa and līlā-smaraṇa.

Baba would get so absorbed in līlā-smaraṇa that even though he had memorized the whole Govinda-līlāmṛta, he would sometimes forget what pastime came next. So he would prod Kripa Sindhu Baba, who had also memorized Govinda-līlāmṛta, and ask "What's next? What's next?"

Achyutalal Bhatts was there, as he is every year. More than anyone, perhaps, he spoke enthusiastically and authoritatively to the essence of why we were gathered there to take the dust of Pandit Baba's feet. Taking the first verse of Smaraṇa-maṅgala-stotra as his inspiration, he made his short speech a prayer for lobha or eagerness for līlā-smaraṇa. This verse, which is a vandana Krishna's aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā, is the seed from which the Govinda-līlāmṛta grew.

Generally speaking, those who come in the Gaudiya Math tradition have a somewhat one-sided view of Vaishnava history and usually describe the time as one of complete decadence, but in fact, the improved communications installed by the British meant that Vaishnavas in Bengal had much easier access to Braj. From the middle of the 19th century, the search for manuscripts and their translation and publication meant that extensive information was available about the sampradaya's bhajanānandī tradition, including the hagiographies of the practitioners of līlā-smaraṇa. Ramkrishna Pandit Baba was at the forefront of this interest as he more than anyone personified this ascetic devotional lifestyle.

śrī-rādhā-prāṇa-bandhoś caraṇa-kamalayoḥ keśa-śeṣādy-agamyā
yā sādhyā prema-sevā vraja-carita-parair gāḍha-laulyaika-labhyā |
sā syāt prāptā yayā tāṁ prathayitum adhunā mānasīm asya sevāṁ
bhāvyāṁ rāgādhva-pānthair vrajam anu caritaṁ naityikaṁ tasya naumi
Loving service for of the lover of Radha is beyond the comprehension of even Brahma, Shiva and Shesha. It can be attained only by those dedicated to his pastimes in Vraja and who have a deep and exclusive greed for it. That loving service is obtained through mental service (mānasīm sevā) which is to be meditated upon by the practitioners of rāgānugā bhakti. And it with the purpose of making such mental service possible that I bow down to the daily activities in Vraja

Achyuta Lal Bhat said, "Greed for prema-sevā, which is impossible for even the great gods to understand. That greed, that laulya, was manifest in Ramkrishna Pandit Baba. The dust here in Bhagavata Nivas contains that lobha. The lobha that is the only real qualification for attain prema-sevā, which does not care for anything else, not scriptural injunction, not rational argument, just the desire for that service alone. That is all. So we pray to Baba's feet and we take the dust of Bhagavata Nivasa to get that lobha."

So there was a lot of talk about vairagya today. Along with a lot of little digs at those building big ashrams and the such. All that is fairly standard fare in any assembly of renounced Vaishnavas. Bhagavatpada Gautam even said to me privately, while lamenting the current state of Vrindavan, that he could even find 500 Asarams in the town!

So with all this talk, the juxtaposition of a rapidly changing Vrindavan that has relegated the world of Pandit Baba to a past almost as distant as that of Rupa and Sanatan and the other founders of Vrindavan themselves, I found it a little ironic that even the babas in Bhagavat Niwas are building a new arched gateway at the main entrance. Bhagavata Niwas is disputed territory, and one great defense that is forwarded for keeping the status quo is that it is maintaining the bhajananandi tradition.

When the King of Scindia politely requested some opportunity for service, he was told by Ramkrishna Pandit Baba that the best thing he could do would be to stop disturbing his bhajan. And now even Bhagavata Nivas is going to have an arched gateway to announce to the tourists, "Come in!" And hopefully donate for Thakurji's seva. This is how times change:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Shiksha Patra of Hariraya

Harirai Goswami

Another book I picked up since my return to Vrindavan and which I read from beginning to end, all 650 pages of it, is Śikṣā-patra. 41 letters by fourth generation Vallabhi guru Harirayji Mahaprabhu. I first read it in the English translation by Krishna Kinkari, a disciple of Prathamesh Goswami and godsister of the famous bhajan singer Shyamdasji, who passed away not so long ago. Despite the numerous flaws in the edition, such as spelling and layout, etc., on the whole it is a very readable translation and an illuminating book, understandably one of the important works in the Vallabha sampradaya.

The commentary by Gopeshwar, to whom the letters were written, is also very illuminating with plenty of verses quoted mainly from Vallabha's Sixteen Treatises. Anyway, there are several themes running through the book, mainly to give up anxiety and lamentation as a big impediment to spiritual life, sadhu-sanga, separation, etc. But the idea of grace, puṣṭi, seems to be the most important. śrī kṛṣṇa śaraṇaṁ mama.

I quite enjoyed it. It truly put me in the mood of bhakti again. I would like to have commented further, and if I get the chance, I will do so later, time permitting. The Vallabha sampradaya is one with which I have less than adequate familiarity and I rather liked the mood of this book.

Here is the website for this book, which I do recommend, for a bit of a different bhakti flavor:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Restless River of Yoga (Intro)

Over the next two weeks, I will be giving my attention back to Yoga-taraṅginī commentary to Gorakṣa-śataka as this project needs to be completed, and all that is left to do is a final redaction of the text and translation, and writing an introduction. So I will try to communicate those portions that I think are important or which affected me as I was doing the work.

I must confess that there has been a considerable change in lifestyles between the way I was living in Rishikesh at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama and the way I am right now in Vrindavan. The three months at SRSG were fairly intense. Most of that time I spent in at least verbal silence, although I still used the internet. But even in that I was far more disciplined than I am now, as I kept my personal computer internet free. Besides that, I regularly meditated three hours a day and did hatha-yoga on a regular basis, including many of the disciplines that are described in the book I was working on.

Since coming back, one of the major problems -- besides this opening out to the external world through the internet, etc. -- has been the return of my knee problem. I was sitting for up to an hour in padmasana at SRSG, but here I twisted my knee and that has made it impossible to even sit in siddhasana. Although theoretically one should be able to do pranayama and meditation while sitting on a raised platform, for me it is really a complete letdown and disappointment. It has meant that the intensity of practices has really just fallen tremendously. Chanting japa while pacing, etc., is really not as effective, as I have been saying for years and years now. The situation has forced me to coast in terms of sadhana and turn to more serious writing, which is God's will I suppose.

In one sense I am trying to come to terms with my experience in SRSG and as I as I go through this final redaction of the text and composition of the introduction, I will try to describe how I engaged in those practices and what I got from them.

Before I do that, I would like to say a word or two about the mixing of mellows that comes from being a bhakta in the Vaishnava tradition and combining it with yoga. The Bhagavata Purana contains a great deal of material from various strands of the yoga school, and indeed the yoga school is universal enough within Hinduism that it can barely be separated. Practically speaking the reciprocal influences of the different practices and philosophical systems are so universal that it is often hard to unravel them.

At the same time, there are clear lines of difference. The Bhagavata also clearly states that no system of spiritual practice is as effective in pleasing God as bhakti:

na sādhayati māṁ yogo na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma uddhava
 na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo yathā bhakti mamorjitā

My dear Uddhava, the unalloyed devotional service rendered to Me by My devotees brings Me under their control. I cannot be thus controlled by those engaged in mystic yoga, Säìkhya philosophy, pious work, Vedic study, austerity or renunciation. (SB 11.14.20)
So what kind of faithless apostate am I that I have taken to a non-devotional practice, or at least have accommodated and adapted yoga practices into my bhakti sādhana

To some extent these questions have been answered here and there on this blog. Maybe this blog written early in my stay in Rishikesh will answer somewhat how I had been thinking about it then. Therefore be a yogi, O Arjuna. Or another discussion of the Sixth Chapter of the Gita. And since this is one of the least read articles on my entire blog, I will include it here, Mindfulness

A couple of others: A few words about sitting. And one last Rasika Bhakti and Yoga.

Of course there are many more, as over the past six years I have spent considerable time in Rishikesh and had a great deal of opportunity to associate with the very learned and gentle yogi, Swami Veda Bharati, who is truly a unique individual whom I much admire and from whom I have learned a great deal. I worked on re-editing his first volume of Yoga-sutra, and indeed he is still asking me to help him do the third and fourth volumes, which as a scholar, I really should, for my own personal edification.

The principal point, I think, is that whatever one's particular spiritual practice, the goal is to control the mind, to focus it and quieten it down. Essentially, you want to focus the mind on God, however you conceive of God. And yoga is the science of perfecting the control and concentration of the mind. If one thinks that concentrating on externals is the most effective way of doing so, he will eventually find out, in my opinion, that all yoga is about the "internal organ" (antaḥkaraṇa). Though the bhakti-yoga methods tend to differ in certain fundamental ways, the yogic techniques are quite useful and, in my opinion, complementary -- if one has a clear sense of what one is doing.

Since March, Swami Veda has been in silence after taking a vow to not speak for five years, but he told me several times (in writing) that he never wants to speak again. He was 80 years old when he took the vow, and as he says, he has been speaking publicly, lecturing and teaching, since he was seven years old. He continues to write, but his lecturing days are finished.

I can tell you quite honestly that in the three months I was in Rishikesh this time, I could person observe and experience the depth of interiorization to which his silence has taken him. I meditated for one hour and took my evening meal with him each day during this period, besides which I worked in his personal library, often at the same time that he did. He has always shown great affection for me, making the entire six years, and particularly these three month at SRSG particularly memorable.

When I said to Swamiji that with all the responsibilities of a worldwide organization of disciples and managing the Rishikesh ashram, what to speak of his duties as chancellor of the HIHT University in Dehra Dun, he answered that he had been planning to go into silence since he was a child. He has, it is true, always been an outspoken (!) advocate for silence, and visitors to the ashram are encouraged to take short vows of silence of one, three or ten days. Experienced disciples are often asked to undergo longer vratas of 21, 40 or 90 days.

But in all the years that I was there, I resisted silence to the point that I was even considered by some people there to be something of a nuisance. This time, though, it became clear to me early on in my stay that it would be tremendously helpful to me in getting the translation work done and in order to get a bit scientific here and personally investigate to the extent I could the practices that are spoken of in Gorakṣa-śataka and Yoga-taraṅgiṇī, that it would be best to avoid socializing as much as possible. The hot season is a quiet time at SRSG, with only the most serious and full-time residents on-site, so it was an easy decision to make, though not always easy to follow. The idea was to remain in mauna until the work was finished. Although I did not do so as perfectly as those who attempt it usually do, I can say that I got a little insight into the benefits of keeping my mouth shut for an extended period of time.

I wrote a few reflections of the silence as I was going through it back at the time, none of which are particularly insightful: Silence (1)Silence (2)Silence (3) 

Introduction to the Text

Gorakṣa-śataka is a a small book of 200 verses, an early text from the Nātha-yoga tradition. Gorakṣanātha is one of the early founders of this particular branch of yoga, called haṭha-yoga, which has since developed and become a widely popular set of practices in the Western world, though generally speaking it is limited to its aspect as a kind of physical culture, i.e., dealing with physical postures or āsanas. But its influence had already spread throughout India well before coming west, as well as Nepal and Tibet and beyond, primarily as a specific development or refinement in the older yoga systems that are far more ancient.

The Nepali Gorkhas take their entire jati name from Gorakṣanātha or Gorakhnath. Descendants of his line in Bengal are called jugis or jogis and have the surname Nath or Debnath. In many other parts of India, the weaver caste, to which Kabir belonged, also have a connection with the yogi line descended from him, the influence of which is felt in many other ways also. Although currently the Nath sampradaya is much smaller and less influential and has little to do with the current interest in hatha-yoga, it does seems to be experiencing something of a revival. The miraculous powers and adventures of Gorakṣanātha and his guru Matsyendranātha are the stuff of legend that kept the mythology of yogic siddhis alive throughout the centuries to even the present day.

The Gorakṣa-śataka, being an early text from this tradition, has therefore attracted some scholarly attention and various translations have been made. More recently, renewed attempts have been made to establish what the original Gorakṣa-śataka is or was, as there are several books carrying that name, which differ considerably from each other. I myself noticed this many years ago when I first read through the book and typed it out for the Grantha Mandir in two different versions. But I did not delve into the problem or make any attempt to resolve it at the time.

These variants of this same work also go under the names Gorakṣa-paddhati, Gorakṣa-saṁhitā and Viveka-mārtaṇḍa. In particular, Gorakṣa-paddhati (GP), having been published several times from the Venkateshwar Press in Mumbai, has more or less become the dominant version of the text and most resembles the Gorakṣa-śataka used by our anonymous YT author, even though there are significant differences of verse order and reading. The most important problem being that though the book is widely known as a śataka, i.e, a work of 100 verses, it nearly always contains 200, or two śatakas. Briggs in his Goraksha and the Kanphat Yogis (1933) translated the first hundred of Gorakṣa-paddhati and called it Gorakṣa-śataka. Researchers at the Lonavla Yoga Institute in Pune claimed on studying a large number of manuscripts to have solved the mystery and in 1987 published a version of 100 verses that they claimed to be the original.

We were quite fortunate that while our work was going on, we had a visit from Prof. Mark Singleton, who had come to India to do some research on the Viveka-mārtaṇḍa (VM), particularly investigating a manuscript in Rajasthan that he had caught wind of. He put me in touch with James Mallinson who has also done research in the matter of the original Gorakṣa-śataka and has come up with quite a different conclusion than that of the Lonavla researchers.

Mallinson's conclusions are based primarly on the evidence of the earliest manuscript of the text, which he identifies with VM. In his estimation, verses were added to the other versions, which were then given a variant of the name Gorakṣa-śataka. Then since the problem arose of too many verses, abbreviated versions were made, such as the Lonavla edition. Mallinson's original GŚ is a completely different text from this set of texts and bears greater similarity to the Yoga-kuṇḍalī Upaniṣad, with which it has some 80 verses in common. As the content of the two works diverges, we have not preoccupied ourselves with this GŚ, even though it would be tempting to attempt an in-depth comparison. But I will leave such work to Prof. Mallinson, who is no doubt far better equipped for such a task than I.

The popularity and influence of VM can be seen in the number of verses drawn from it that found their way into some of the Yoga Upanisads, particularly the Yoga-bindu and Yoga-cuḍāmaṇi, as well as in the Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā (HYP) in both its four-chapter and expanded ten-chapter version, published simply as Haṭha-pradīpikā (HP). We have given a concordance of the verses from these various sources in an appendix at the end of this book.

As is to be expected, the variants in the readings between these various versions are considerable, but since our primary objective has been to establish the correct reading of the YT and to give a translation of it, we have only commented on the reading of the verse when it was felt that our author had unfortunately been saddled with an incorrect or distorted reading of the original that corrupted his understanding. In some cases, this has forced him to make somewhat convoluted interpretations that would have easily been avoided had a better text been available to him.

* * * * *

When I began teaching Sanskrit at SRSG, I learned from Swami Veda Bharati of his attempts to collect a commentary on the Gorakṣa-śataka called Yoga-taraṅgiṇī. His guru, Swami Rama, had praised this commentary and asked him that if he ever could manage to publish it, he would be most appreciative. Swami Veda had been working on this project for some time and had finally managed to find four manuscripts in various libraries—from Benares, Nepal, Mysore and Bengal. Of these four, I looked at the one from Benares, which in actual fact was a fairly recent (1930) Devanagari copy of a Telugu script held in the Adyar library in Chennai. Of our four manuscripts, this was the only one that was complete, covering the full 200 verses. One of the evident problems related to the Gorakṣa-śataka is that there are not 100 verses as the title suggests, but twice that number. Briggs, for instance, who published a version of the work in his book on the Gorakh Panthis, took the first hundred verses as being the entire text. It seems that others also followed this instinctive approach to the book.

I also typed out the Benares manuscript several years ago, but it was full of mistakes that were difficult for me on a quick reading to decipher. Finally, through the work in particular of Bibek Banerjee of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, three of the manuscripts were collated and variant readings noted. These three manuscripts only covered the first śataka, but the fourth, the one from the Nepali government collection happily provided alternate readings for the second śataka, without which it would have been very difficult to establish correct readings.

* * * * *

So my first task was to come up with a clear and correct text. One of the first things that was noticeable about the YT was that there was clearly an ur-text which had taken two directions due to the emendations and additions of later scribes. Most of these are not major, but in some cases they are not in agreement.

Thus we had three MSS for the first śataka, only two for the second. Our D manuscript (from Nepal) was a terrible mess, yet somehow or other it often was correct exactly in those places where our A text was confusing. If not correct, it was mistaken in ways that complemented A and made it possible to extract a decent reading.

What immediately became apparent is that any hope of finding an ur-text was not tenable with the materials at hand.

It is clear that the Mumbai Gorakṣa-paddhati mentioned above, which the Lonavla editors call the "Vulgate" edition, made use of the Yoga-taraṅginī and Bāla-prabodhinī in its Hindi translation. Some of those details are imported from an external source other than Yoga-taraṅginī in this translation, such as the description of a meditation on Nārāyaṇa in one verse, but we did not have access to this Bāla-prabodhinī, which I suspect has some common ground with the YT. This is admittedly another lacuna in the research done on this project.

Nevertheless, even within the MSS that we do have of YT, there are sufficient variants that we can recognize independent interpolations made on an earlier text. So it is quite possible that an original document was elaborated on and emended by various subsequent copyists. In view of that and because we had limited materials to work with, we determined that the best way forward was to simply come up with a text that scanned, i.e., yielded syntactically comprehensible language that added the most insight into the original GŚ  Thus we have adjudged each individual variant reading for the one that fits this description.

A second major problem in editing and translating the text and commentary comes from the clear inadequacies in the text that the commentator was using. It is clear from the variegated destinations that the GŚ has known (please see the appendix: Concordance of texts of GŚ), that a wide variety of variant readings can be collected, not simply from the VM or GŚ, but also from the texts that directly quote or copy these sources, such as YCU, HYP and HP. I have refrained from providing all these alternative readings.

At any rate, we have not gone into this tangled web of trying to establish an original reading for GŚ. Nevertheless, here and there we have commented on the verses to point out that the reading our commentator was dealing with was clearly not the best or most appropriate reading.

* * * * *

We know absolutely nothing about our commentator, nor can we make anything more that the most general conclusions about his time nor place. The only indications that we can use to divine anything about him are the texts he quotes here and there in his commentary. These are the following:

Gobhila-gṛhya-sūtra and Nirṇayāmṛta. In probably the only digression from the subject of yoga, the commentator goes into a discussion of the compound word sūryācandramasau, refering to Pāṇini and these two works on karma-kāṇḍa to make a somewhat arcane point. In discussing mantras, he makes it clear that he does not approve of non-Brāhmaṇas chanting the Sāvitrī-mantra, recommending that they chant the mantras of their own sect, but other than there is no particular bias to Brāhmaṇism. (Cf. 2.2), though it seems clear that he was himself a Brāhmaṇa.

Mānasollāsa: The work of this name is a commentary on the Dakṣiṇāmūrti-stotra attributed to Śaṅkarācārya, written by Sureśvarācārya, one of the four direct disciples of the founder of the Advaita school. We were able to trace these verses.

Besides these citations of Sureśvarācārya, there are two references to Ācārya-caraṇa and one to Śāṅkarācārya, as well as a verse introduced as Krishna speaking to Nanda, none of which we have been able to identify.

Nāradīya-purāṇa: Only one verse which we could not find in our edition.

Nitya-nātha-paddhati: This text is not available to our knowledge. It clearly covers the same territory as texts like Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati and Siddha-siddhānta-saṅgraha. The YT seems to assume that this work, also being ascribed to the Nath tradition (SSP is usually attributed to Gorakhnath himself) is in agreement with GŚ, which is not the case. The fragments that our author cites from NNP also reveal some minor differences between these three paddhati texts.

Other yoga works to which our author refers are Yoga-cintāmaṇi, Yoga-sāra and Yogi-yājñavalkya. Of these three, we were only able to get access to the last. YT only refers to this work to discuss the ten yamas and ten niyamas, making up for their absence in the GŚ. Other than one verse fragment, nothing from later texts like the Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā are to be found here (see GŚ 1.82). This particular verse is likely not original to HYP, which is a compendium drawn from numerous extant sources including GŚ itself, than which it is later. There are of course occasional quotes from the Yoga-sūtra (1.89) as well as the occasional paraphrase.

To be continued.

Monday, September 16, 2013

That mysterious first verse of Gita Govinda

The first verse of the Gīta-govinda has been a source of confusion to scholars and devotees probably since it first appeared. There are a number of problems with it, all of which can be summarized as "it does not fit" what we know about the Radha-Krishna story in any source, Puranic or folk, prior to GG. Moreover, it seems to have little to do directly with the rest of GG.

To begin with, here is the verse:

meghair meduram ambaraṁ vana-bhuvaḥ śyāmās tamāla-drumair
naktaṁ bhīrur ayaṁ tvam eva tad imaṁ rādhe gṛhaṁ prāpaya |
itthaṁ nanda-nideśataś calitayoḥ praty-adhva-kuñja-drumaṁ
rādhā-mādhavayor jayanti yamunā-kūle rahaḥ-kelayaḥ ||1||

Lee Siegel:
The sky is densely clouded, the forest grounds are dark with tamala trees; at night he [Krishna] is afraid. Radha, you alone must take him home. This is Nanda's command, but Radha and Madhava stray to a tree in the grove by the path and on the bank of the Yamuna, their secret love games prevail.

Barbara Stoller Miller:
Clouds thicken the sky.
Tamala trees darken the forest.
The night frightens him.
Radha, you take him home.
They leave at Nanda's order,
Passing trees in thickets on the way,
Until secret passions of Radha and Madhava
Triumph on the Jumna riverbank.

The first observation we need to make about the opening verse of the GG is the similarity that it has to two other verses that have the exact same provenance, namely the court of the Sena kings of Bengal. These two verses are found in the Sad-ukti-karṇāmṛta as well as in Rupa Goswami's own collection, Padyāvali. Like the GG verse, these two both have rādhā-mādhavayor jayanti in the beginning of the fourth quarter of a verse in the śārdūla-vikrīḍita.

Although it is impossible to make any certain conclusions, it would appear to me that this may have been the result of a poetic contest in which certain conditions were set, the concluding line being primary among them. By examining the verses we can see a little more what the conditions would have been.

kṛṣṇa tvad-vanamālayā saha-kṛtaṁ kenāpi kuñjāntare
gopī-kuntala-barha-dāma tad idaṁ prāptaṁ mayā gṛhyatām |
itthaṁ dugdha-mukhena gopa-śiśunākhyāne trapā-namrayo
rādhā-mādhavayor jayanti valita-smerālasā dṛṣṭayaḥ ||
A cowherd child, so young he was still breastfeeding , said, "Krishna, in some forest bower I found this wreath of peacock feathers for a gopi's braid that someone has entangled in your garland of forest flowers. Please take it back." May Radha and Madhava's awkward, smiling and languishing looks, lowered in embarrassment, be ever victorious. (Padyāvalī 202, SKM 1.55.2)
And perhaps even closer in spirit is this one by Keshava Sen, one of Lakshman Sen's sons,

āhūtādya mayotsave niśi gṛhaṁ śūnyaṁ vimucyāgatā
kṣīvaḥ preṣya-janaḥ kathaṁ kula-vadhūr ekākinī yāsyati |
vatsa tvaṁ tad imāṁ nayālayam iti śrutvā yaśodā-giro
rādhā-mādhavayor jayanti madhura-smerālasā dṛṣṭayaḥ
"I invited Radha to a party today. She left the house empty and came here at night and the servants [who accompanied her] are all intoxicated. How can a chaste wife like her go about alone? So, my child, you please take her home." May Radha and Madhava's sweet, smiling, languishing looks, on hearing these words of Yashoda, be ever victorious. (Padyāvalī 206, SKM 1.54.5)
So the theme that clearly runs through the three verses is to have Radha and Madhava be reminded or even given the occasion to make love as a result of statements made by someone unaware of what is going on, in particular the parents.

There are other verses of this kind in the two collections mentioned here, so it appears to have been a popular theme. Another type of verse in the genre would be those that have Krishna as a baby showing some signs of sexual awareness (śaiśave tāruṇyam). So in that vein, it appears that the prima facie reading of the verse is correct. This is Nanda's comment, spoken in ignorance.

Whatever the case, it would seem to me, judging from not only these verses but from many of the others dating from the same period, and even from the same milieu as the above (for which Sad-ukti-karṇāmṛta is a particularly helpful source), that there was a spirited freedom from the letter of the Puranic accounts and that attempts were being made to use the raw material of the Radha-Krishna legends to create rasika poetry in the dhvani style, where the external meaning is deliberately obscure and meant to raise questions, imply contradictions, etc., that will charm the reader.

Those who accept this understanding of the verse generally point to some later Puranas, such as Brahma-vaivarta (BVP), where this theme of Nanda telling an older Radha to take Krishna home is expanded upon.

There are many reasons why we do not accept BVP as an old work. Its language and subject matter all point to a later provenance. Most scholars agree that the story as told there is likely derived from the GG and is intended as an explanation, and not the other way around.

Anyone who is in the habit of reading Sanskrit – or any language for that matter -- comes to recognize linguistic styles. No one would mistake Chaucer or Shakespeare for Hemingway. Nowhere is this more evident than in the difference in language from the classical period, from the end of which the Bhagavata is usually dated, from that of BVP or the heavily interpolated Padma Purana, which come in the late medieval period. So to pretend that these texts are sources for the GG version is just not going to be acceptable.

Jiva Goswami [writing in the latter portion of the 16th century] argues in his commentary to UN 5.10-11 that GG 12.27, since it talks about Lakshmi and her choosing Narayan as her husband, and equates Radha with Lakshmi, there is no possibility of parakīyā being real.

tvām aprāpya mayi svayaṁvara-parāṁ kṣīroda-tīrodare
śaṅke sundari kālakūṭam apiban mūḍho mṛḍānī-patiḥ |
itthaṁ pūrva-kathābhir anya-manasā vikṣipya vakṣo’ñcalaṁ
rādhāyāḥ stana-korakopari-milan-netro hariḥ pātu vaḥ ||
"It seems to me that Shiva drank the ocean of poison because he had become so bewildered after you chose me on the shores of the Milk Ocean and rejected him." By recounting these events from a previous life, Krishna distracted Radha and cast aside the cloth that covered her breast and gazed at the nipples of her breasts. May that Lord Hari protect you. (GG 12.27)
Therefore, Jiva says, in the first verse of the GG "Radha is envisioned as a young girl slightly older than Krishna" (sā śrī-kṛṣṇāt kiñcid eva prauḍhā kumārīti matam). This of course is different from the Brahma-vaivarta version, where Radha is considerably older and Krishna a mere babe. Then when they are alone, Krishna suddenly is transformed into a youth and the two then spend a night of Brahma in various rahaḥ-kelayaḥ.

At any rate, Jiva Goswami accepts the version that Nanda is speaking to a somewhat older unmarried girl when he asks her to take Krishna home. Presumably he would not have asked a married woman to do so. Whichever premise one takes here (i.e., What ages are they? How old is Radha? How old Krishna? Is she married? etc.), the verse only works if Nanda Maharaj is innocent of his facilitating their lovemaking, which presumably he would not do if he was in any way suspicious. Therefore, Jiva Goswami's conclusion does not seem particularly necessary.

Please note also that Jiva Goswami does not cite BVP for support, even though the story as told there leads to a marriage between Radha and Krishna, taking the word "home" from the verse in the way the commentator Kumbhakarna takes it: Gṛha means gṛhiṇī according to the dictum that "A house is not a home, but a wife is what makes a home." (na gṛhaṁ gṛham ity āhur gṛhiṇī gṛham ucyate). So "take him home" means "make him your husband (gṛhiṇīmān).

Hariraya Goswami of the Vallabha sampradaya (17th century) mentions the first verse of GG in his 41 Śikṣā-patra (4.10-11) in the context of Krishna's contradictory qualities (viruddha-dharmāśrayatva). He states that although Krishna is never older than 11 in Vrindavan, he still has pastimes as an adolescent such as the rāsa-līlā. He uses this verse as an illustration of how Krishna's divinity makes such an impossibility possible.

As a side note, Gopishwar, the Brajabhasha commentator, recounts the apocryphal story that Nanda Baba brought 16,000 unmarried girls from Goḍadeśa (Bengal?) to give to King Kamsa, but because they were following the puṣṭi-mārga and wanted to serve his son, he kept them in Braj.

We now turn to three commentaries that reject the prima facie explanation given above. King Kumbhakarna of Mewar is, as far as I know, one of the earliest to comment on GG, though his dates are given as 1433-1468. The other two commentaries are of Caitanya Das, who lived in the first part of the 17th century, and another ascribed to Prabodhananda Saraswati, about which I have some reservations. If indeed Prabodhananda is the author, then this text would be dated to the first half of the 16th century.

Now let us look at Kumbhakarna's commentary. KK is interesting because he appears to be the first to reject the prima facie reading, which he cites and refutes. The salient points of the rejected interpretation, are summarized by Kumbhakarna as follows:
  • Krishna is a fearful and dependent infant who needs to be taken home. (nāyakasya śiśutvena paravaśatvaṁ)
  • Radha is seen as an older woman, a nurse figure. (tasyāś ca dhātrītvaṁ)
  • Nanda is acting as a go-between for their union. (nandasya ca dūtī-karma)
  • The impeti for the erotic mood, namely darkness, clouds, etc. are taken as causes of the fearful rasa (śṛṅgāra-vibhāvānāṁ bhayānaka-hetutvaṁ)
  • All of which contradict the principal mood of the GG (nirūpita-rasasyānyathātvaṁ cāpadyate)
KK's solution is to take the first two lines of the verse to be Krishna's own speech. There is a convention in Sanskrit that out of humility one sometimes talks of oneself in the third person (ayam, imam in this verse); nanda-nideśataś is explained as "away from Nanda." He says there are three meanings for nideśa: speech, order and proximity. He prefers the latter meaning to the second, which is what most people follow.

The word "fearful" should be taken to mean "I am so afflicted by the attacks of loving desire that I am afraid I cannot tolerate it." (bhīrur ity ebhir bhāva-hetubhiḥ smarāhatīḥ soḍhum asamarthaḥ). The clouds and darkness, etc., are thus to be considered uddīpanas for śṛṅgāra-rasa. Since GG is dominated by this rasa, only someone who has misunderstood would interpret the verse in a way that brings Nanda -- who is otherwise irrelevant to the story -- into the picture, for this one and only time. Nanda's presence creates a contradiction in rasas.

Chaitanya Das says that these are a sakhi's words. He takes the word nanda to mean "giving joy." So the sakhi's instruction gives Radha and Krishna joy.

"O Radhe ! At night, meaning on a previous night, Krishna left you and went dancing and singing with other women, and this offense to you has made him afraid. He is fearful that you will think of him as a womanizer who just wants to have every woman love him. This is causing him great suffering so please [forgive him] and take him 'home', i.e., to the flower forest bower. He will there show himself to be completely devoted to you."

CD also adopts the idea that "home" is a hint at lovemaking. He further argues that the conditions, i.e., the darkness of the forest and the clouds, etc., are uddīpanas, and mentioning them has the purpose of saying it is dark and no one will see anything.

Prabodhananda's commentary is the lengthiest and he also quotes KK extensively as an alternative interpretation. He tells the following story: "Once upon a time, in a manner appropriate to the kind of close family relationship that existed between Vrishabhanu and Nanda Maharaj's families, Radha brought Krishna to Barsana to milk their cows. Of course she had the underlying purpose of being with him. Nanda Maharaj happened by at that time and observed that clouds had come and said to Radha with loving anger, 'My dear girl, Radhe, since you brought him here, you take him back home." This is the explanation of the emphatic eva following tvam, which is best translated as "you alone."

Prabodhananda notes that Krishna often milks Vrishabhanu's cows while Nanda Maharaj's cows are milked by Sridama, etc. (śrī-vṛṣabhānor gavāṁ kṛṣṇa-vatsalānāṁ dohanaṁ śrī-kṛṣṇaḥ karoti, bhagavat-priyāṇāṁ śrī-vrajeśvarasya gavāṁ śrīdāmādinā kriyata iti |)

Prabodhananda also remarks that some people read nanda-nideśataḥ as nandani-deśataḥ, claiming that there is a sakhi named Nandani, with deśataḥ meaning instructions. But he says that since no such sakhi is mentioned in any text, it cannot be accepted.

However, he gives another alternative meaning, in which nanda means joy-giving. It is a narmokti or humorous statement. Since such an instruction given by a friend, giving direction to engage in the very activities they desire, would enhance their pleasure. The signs of coming darkness, etc., are seen as incitements to erotic love, especially the clouds are mentioned in 10.21.16 as being Krishna's friends.

So Prabodhananda has accepted all three possibilities: It could be Nanda, a sakhi, or Krishna himself who speaks the words of the first two lines.

More discussion found here.