Monday, July 22, 2013

Silence in Rishikesh (3)

There was a kirtan for Guru Purnima last night, but I went to my room and conked out early. Had good meditation this morning. Feel more normal after a disruptive few days. Hopefully it will mean improved work ethic. Silence is actually a good thing, but requires a bit of getting used to.

One thing is that here in this ashram, people are used to other people doing a mauna-vrata, and they just ignore you. You become practically speaking invisible. Then, as I found out, when you finally do talk, they still ignore you! You realize that most of what you say is not really of any great significance -- to you or to others.

Observing my own body is not something I have done very well in this lifetime. Even now, with the yoga, it feels like I haven't explored my own body very well. But with the Yoga Tarangini work, I have been zeroing in on at least the essential original hatha yoga practices, which require a lot of internalization focused on the body itself.

That is really what hatha yoga is about. Like the universal form is not just about seeing God outside in the universe, but seeing God in your own body manifesting in various ways. And so it is just another way of become aware of the presence of God. God is present in my body, not only as the indweller of this temple/field, but he is the very body itself.

And then you observe the breath -- especially the breath -- and the heartbeat, and then all the complex functions associated with each of the chakras, and see God present in each of those.

And the presence of God means the presence of grace. And recognizing the presence of grace means the heart floods with gratitude.

And that is the basis of devotional ecstasy. The experience in itself is grace, and the gratitude, i.e., the reflection on the meaning of grace, is rasa.

Guru Purnima

Tomorrow is Guru Purnima. So you should meditate on ALL your gurus. From the earliest... parents... to all the rest, teachers, priests, diksha gurus, shiksha gurus, books....

And then progress from the outside inside. Think of your intelligence as a guru, as the Lord within your heart. And try to capture the great epiphanies you have had, the times when the lights went on.

And now merge the external with the internal. Observe how your very own story -- even in suffering --, the story of your evolution towards perfection in love, is being guided by the sweet hands of the Lord's grace. And focus on the source of that feeling.

Swami Veda wrote as part of his meditation for today:

The guru tradition is a universal in all ancient cultures... Seeking a guru, therefore, is an innate part of our nature; part of our spiritual urges. Many resist this urge out of ego. They think ‘I can make it on my own’ and sooner or later they stumble or become disappointed or confused as to their path.

A guru may appear in an embodied form or in a disembodied form, for a guru is one who infuses into our individuated consciousness the divine consciousness. Consciousness has no form. Our Gurudeva continues to guide thousands from his bodiless state. The body-bound do not understand this.

The contact with the bodiless guru is to be established through guru-chakra, but an embodied guru is needed to initiate us into that chakra. So let us not allow our ego to be an obstacle on this path.

Many who have been guided by the guru are tempted to declare themselves as gurus several incarnations prematurely. It takes one, yes, many incarnations to reach the status of a guru who can lead aqualified disciple to the highest divine consciousness. On the other hand, our Gurudeva Swami Rama said, “a guru can transmit his entire knowledge to a qualified disciple in one night of silence”.

Let us just gather the qualifications of purity required and wash our minds of heterogeneous vrittis, replacing them with a continuous calm flow of single vritti of atman-awareness. Our task ends at gaining the qualification and the guru will take care of the rest.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Love and being yourself

Being yourself is not being someone you remember being in the past, someone lost in the judgment of others. Being yourself, finally, is about becoming that which you feel is perfect. Be yourself. Make yourself.

Sartre says, "Hell is other people." Because of other people's judgment we are never free to be ourselves. Therefore, in a way, the worst hell is to love and be loved, because as soon as we become involved with another conditioned human being, we immediately become wrapped up in their expectations of what we should be or become.

On the other hand, Scott Peck defines love as the ability to "extend oneself" or to make sacrifices for the spiritual welfare of another person. I think that what he means here by "spiritual welfare" is that selfish expectations are not what a person who loves is interested in, i.e. conditional love.

But, of course, we are all fallible and conditioned, and even our concept of other people's spiritual welfare is not always pure. Moreover, even when we extend ourselves, we are often inexpert, often causing more trouble than good. So even in Peck's conception, love is a very tenuous business.

Anthony de Mello says as soon as you have any expectations, as soon as you even want someone to love you, you become revealed as a clinging and selfish weakling.

Another person said that love means a feeling that in the company of another person, the beloved, I will not only become a better person, a better person in the sense of becoming what I really want to be, but that there will be mutuality. At least in that "I am happy because this other person also feels that they can be a better person by being with me."

In other words, love is sadhu sanga.

Now what you have written above is an example of what I call the "singular." It is very important, no doubt. And usually when we are disappointed or frustrated in love, we retreat to the singular. Actually, it is a necessary result or consequence of our failure to love or be loved adequately. For without being personally adequate, without being complete in ourselves, self-fulfilled and self-complete, how can we love adequately, or be worthy of love?

Nevertheless, there is a limit, in my opinion, as to how far we can go with the singular alone. To me, not only the rewards but the challenges of the dual are necessary for the true fulfillment of the singular. As are the rewards and challenges of community. No one can be a complete human being without perfecting love.

No one is an island. We do have to make compromises. Anyone who achieves singularity still has to come down from the mountaintop.

Can intense love exist without any attachment, as Anthony de Mello seems to think? Is it possible to have both intense and spiritual love side by side the kind of detachment that makes it possible for both lovers to experience the fullness of their individuality even while being in the orbit of another? And what would be required to make that a reality?

The singular, though necessary to the limits that it can achieve, is incomplete without accepting the Other. Mayavada is ultimately denying the other because it is felt that the other limits you. You are Brahman, all expansive, all encompassing, so why let another person confine you or restrict you with either their hatred or their love?

Yet, at the same time, without acquiring this awareness of the self-limitation that comes from bodily consciousness (the upādhis), one cannot love either. One will be caught up in the game of expectations. Not only do I have expectations, others have expectations of me, and I bounce around like a ping pong ball between these two poles.

De Mello is not a Mayavadi (a Jesuit who is much influenced by Eastern thought), but he accepts that attachment and expectation limit your capacity to love, because it puts you in the trap of attempting to be the viṣaya. (He does not use this language.) He nicely points out that the vicious cycle of attraction, passion and boredom, are the consequences of this mentality. But he is not in favor of dry renunciation either.

Here is how de Mello defines love: "What is love? It is a sensitivity to every portion of reality within you and without, together with a wholehearted response to that reality. Sometimes you will embrace that reality, sometimes you will attack it, sometimes you will ignore it and at others you will give it your fullest attention, but always you will respond not from need but from sensitivity." (p. 149, The Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello).

"It is a sobering thought that the finest act of love you can perform is not an act of service but an act of contemplation, of seeing. When you serve people you help, support, comfort, alleviate pain. When you see them in their inner beauty and goodness, you transform and create."

"[Love] is so frequently equated with good feelings towards others, with benevolence or nonviolence or seervice. But these things in themselves are not love. Love springs from awareness. It is only inasmuch as you see someone as he or she really is here and now and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection that you can truly love them, otherwise it is not the person that you love but the idea that you have formed of this person, or this person as the object of your desire, not as he or she is in themselves." (132)

So, the point here is that kaivalya, i.e., being in one's aloneness, i.e., singularity, is the only tenable position in which one can love, because only there can you harmonize with Sartre's fear of other people. And yet, love is a necessity for further progress in personal development. You cannot love until you are alone, but if you are alone, there is no love. Of course, for the Vaishnava or theist, there is no such thing as being alone, in the sense that the self is with the Self.

You cannot actually be in a liberated state until you have perfected love, and yet you cannot perfect love unless you are liberated. This is the meaning of acintya-bhedābheda.

Love is not male or female

Radha's superiority is not because she is a woman. And Chaitanya's taking Radha bhava shows what is meant. It is about love. Radha's superiority comes because she is more expert in loving; she is an āśraya, whereas Krishna is the viṣaya, the object of love.

In my experience of my own personal character and observing other men, I think that it is true that men, by virtue of both nature and nurture, tend to be more driven in the direction of being a viṣaya than an āśraya of love.

But it is better to love than to be loved. Better to give than to receive. This is the clichéd truism that lies at the basis of the myth.

At the same time, no woman is free from the desire to be loved. No one is so selfless. And in fact, it is wrong to be selfless in such a way. The normal spiritual state is to experience the reciprocation of God, and all love seeks reciprocation, otherwise it is not in fact love. Love of necessity invites reciprocation, and if it is appropriate, it will be reciprocated. In the case of God, that reciprocation will come is considered to be inevitable as the grace of a loving God.

But women in this world are conditioned souls, just like the men. And no one is free of the kinds of expectations and attachments that confine and constrict love. Our love of God is limited because we limit God. Our love of the Other in human form is similarly limited because we constrict and limit the objects of our so-called love (or cathexis) to our own mundane aspirations. That applies to women as well as men, sometimes even more so.

My point though is that Radharani is not superior because she is in the garb of a woman, but because she embodies the truth of love. And that is our ideal. If we reduce things to sexual politics and who wears the pants, that really goes against the very principal of love. Love is not male or female.

So the fact that the ancient scriptures were written by men, who described the female as coming out of the male, as in the Jewish creation myth, and therefore naturally inferior, is not the point. The question is how did something come from nothing? Or how did duality arise from the fundamental unity? One should not be confused by the difficulties that are imposed by language.

I am taking Love as equivalent of Brahman, that universal impersonal essence that requires expression in duality. If there is no duality, Love cannot be actualized. Therefore the impersonal and the personal are both needed equally and both exist eternally. There is no before and after.

Similarly, since the original duality conceived by the Upanishad is that of sexual polarity, it is not a question of Eve coming from Adam's rib, etc., but of the One becoming Two, locked in embrace. Language and gender prejudice confuse the issue.

Prema: As it is above, so it is below

Personalism or impersonalism?

Impersonalism or personalism, what is the real difference?

It is not so much in the doctrine, but in the behavior that the real test comes. The problem is projection. We see the body or the religious affiliation and so on and we don't see the soul, the person. We don't see the divine or sacred reality of the other.

That happens, sadly, as often if not more with people who identify themselves as theists, because they see the religious affiliation as the identifier, i.e., they see the upādhi or covering as the truth, and not the spiritual being. And, like it or not, your religion is an upādhi. You cannot dance around that fact with philosophical word jugglery. So-called impersonalists are often more aware of this problem than so-called personalists.

Now whether you call that spiritual truth Brahman or anything else, if you accept that the person with whom you are engaged is a sacred entity and you treat them accordingly, that is personalism. This is true whether you do so on the level of full realization or as an aspect of your sādhanā.

If you believe God is a bearded old man or a flute-playing cowherd, but you treat other people as objects, in whatever guṇa of nature, you are an impersonalist.

Our personalist philosophy ultimately tells us to see Krishna in the proximate personality. In our I-Thou (dual) relationships, in our I-We communal relationships. What we do in the singular remains that, singular. And therefore only the baby step in spiritual life. Genuinely achieving the singular means being equipped with the spiritual character and knowledge to function in the dual and plural. It seems rather premature to think that one can really progress to Love without an adequate culture of individual character. Which means that the dreams of many a romantic materialist are dashed.

The impersonalist philosophies or spiritual paths emphasize the letting go, the negation of any belief or doctrine as being capable of describing reality, so that one can thereby enter into an unmediated experience of reality.

They may consider bhakti a helpful means, an ālambana that also can be an obstacle, which is in fact true. If I see God as something "out there" and am unable to recognize his direct presence in the immediate, then even the idea of God becomes an obstacle to higher realization.

Nevertheless, we say that personhood, relationship and love are the highest values, and that this should also be reflected in our philosophy. But at the same time, the practices of the impersonalist schools, i.e., the negation of upādhis, entering into a direct experience of the Other as an experience of the Sacred by recognizing the essential unity of all things, etc., are essential for a personalist as well. In this respect there is really no difference.

Most people nowadays who adhere to impersonalist doctrines, spiritual or material, will in fact agree with the idea that love is the highest value. But that does not mean that they have any more awareness than a kaniṣṭha Vaishnava. Nor, in fact, does the kaniṣṭha Vaishnava really have much more awareness than they.

In both cases, they there is a huge difference between pretending to know and real knowing, between the experience of the Divine limited to a trivial or accidental epiphany or two and the person who has become a beacon of true spiritual love.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Silence in Rishikesh (2)

I am slowly coming out of silence. I don't really know if I still am or not. The actual vrata was to stay in silence until I finished a particular project, which is still not finished. So it feels a bit like an incomplete vrata and I will probably have to plunge again. It has been and is being a very interesting experience overall.

I tried so many times to do a perfect vrata in my life, especially when I was younger. In ISKCON and as a babaji I started to do very strict Chaturmasyas on at least three occasions. Even eating plain kitcherie for weeks in yoga mudra and so on. But it never lasted to the fullest extent.

Once, when I was a babaji in Nabadwip, I did a vrata in Agrahayan, the Katyayani vrata. This is in around 1984. I tried to keep it simple. I went at 2 a.m. every night to Porama Tala (Paurnamasi Tala) and meditated for two hours, chanting japa. It was only to be for a month.

It was a very interesting experience, because Pora Ma is a very powerful Shakta and Tantric center. People forget that Nabadwip is also an important Shakti peeth, with Krishnananda Vagisha, one of the major Bengali tantrics of the 15th century, a contemporary of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, living there. Going there in the middle of the night with no one at all around (though sometimes a Tantric would show up and do some midnight puja) was a new kind of experience for me.

But it was still not perfect. At the end, on Purnima, I went and begged in the market until my bag was full, and I went to see Jiva Goswami Prabhupada at Shrivas Angan and I gave him all that I had collected as guru dakshina, he being a respected member of the Nityananda vamsha.

I told him what I had done and asked for his blessing. He said, "Did you do it perfectly?" I had to admit that I hadn't. Then he said, "You won't get the results right away."

It is not that no results come. There is no loss or diminution. But we don't always get what we want, and we rarely get it directly. The most important thing that happens during a vrata is that your own desires are revealed to you. You begin with a purpose, a desire, and in your interiority, you focus on that desire in relation to your True Being. The result of the vrata is the interaction of those two things. The extent of the benefit is the result of the intensity of that interaction.

But it rarely takes an external form, though it can. Indeed, if it only takes an external form, it really shows that you did not get the mercy you were truly seeking. The gods see many levels deeper than you can even imagine. They know what you really want. Your vrata pushes your human adventure into unforeseen directions. Which is really what makes life interesting. And what makes the vrata worthwhile.

We have desires. As long as we do, we are captured in the drama of life. It can be fun, but it is totally unpredictable.

I have to finish this translation. I had a little partial sense of accomplishment by completing the Sanskrit critical text (i.e., where the different manuscripts are compared and the best reading for the text is established and the variant readings are catalogued). So I suppose that this milestone led to a softening of my resolve. But I still have to translate quite a bit.

The text is not all that difficult, but I always make things more difficult for myself. The Goraksha Shataka is a difficult text to pin down. But let us say that it is the "original" Hatha Yoga. Quite different from what we know as hatha yoga today. So you could say that the practices are the basic practices that led to the expansion of hatha yoga into the forms that we see today, but which have practically been pushed aside entirely for the sake of physical culture.

Goraksha precedes even the Hatha-yoga-pradipika, which like many of the later Hatha Yoga texts tries to harmonize with Patanjali and Advaita-vada. Nevertheless, the value of these practices has been more or less accepted on one level or another in the pan-Indian kaleidoscope of spirituality.

So my slow style of translating is based on realization. I cannot translate about Maha Mudra or Nadi Shodhana or any of these other practices without at least a fairly good idea of what they entail.

To some extent, because I have now been involved with this Himalayan Tradition through Swami Veda Bharati for nearly six years, staying altogether about four of them here in Rishikesh, I have gotten a little bit of an idea. It has taken a while, but I have assimilated most of the practices in Goraksha Shataka already... some even from before coming here. This ashram has given me the opportunity to be silent and to go deeply into meditational states.

Currently Swami Veda, who is now 80, is in complete silence. He has told me several times that he never wants to speak again. He carries a tablet with him and interacts through writing when it is necessary. So evening meditations at 5.45 are pretty intense. More so than they ever were before in all the previous years. Swamiji has stopped traveling, which also means that his intensity is accumulating in that way also.

So there has been great value in this experience, and it is still not finished. Just thought I would let my friends know.

Probably the hardest sacrifice was not writing my own ideas here on this blog, where about two months has gone by without any new posts. But that has probably been the most deliberate and important part of this vrata. To take myself out of the "wisdom game" for a minute and reboot the computer a little, allow new, fresh ideas to enter and percolate in solitude... not perfect solitude, not perfect silence, but pretty intense overall.

I am certainly blessed.