Saturday, August 31, 2013

Love and Detachment

I was recently asked how I can see a value for love when all the scriptures teach detachment. But love, especially romantic love, even as described in Radha and Krishna's lila, is full of intense attachment. And if attachment is desired, then what is the difference between such a sadhana and any ordinary love relationship?

The Gita teaches that we have to be detached from material objects and become attached to spiritual objects. When we are in a lower stage of development, these spiritual objects are usually "rocks", i.e., inanimate objects that have been endowed with sacred meaning. And as we develop in the preliminary stages of bhakti, we progressively project more consciousness to those objects. In other words, I am projecting onto the Holy Name or the Deities a dimension of my own consciousness that I identify with the Paramatma. Even thought the shastras take great pains to say that this is not a false or imaginary projection, i.e., the image of God in the temple, His name, etc., are all factually loci of the Divine Person. Nevertheless, from an objective point of view, they are inanimate.

This exercise in transformation of our mental architecture and its projection outwards belongs to the pravartaka or beginning stage.

In a higher stage you need to be able to perceive the Paramatma in an actual conscious being. In the pravartaka stage you have some experience of that with the guru, but generally in our Western experience, guru tattva is experienced somewhat differently from within the Indian tradition. But West or East, nowadays there are few who actually have a personal relation with their guru; for most, the guru has so many disciples and is so distant, that with the exception of instructions meant for mass consumption, there is little interaction. Thus, this relationship also tends to be dominated by projection, like that of a deity or a picture. The guru gives some orders and directives about sādhanā through books and lectures, but other than that, the internal relationship is like that one has with the deities or the Holy Name. It is fundamentally an external projection of a portion of one's own unconscious which is identified with the Paramatma.

But even if one does have a close relation to the guru, it is still a relation of servant to master or protector, i.e., in the realm of dāsya/vātsalya. Which is usually ideal for someone who is a brahmachari. Sakhya relationships with ones godbrothers and sisters may also happen in the pravartaka stage. But none of these kinds of relationships is as deep as those in madhura-rasa.

The madhura-rasa partnership is very complex, much more complex than any other kind of relationship, whether you are a man or a woman. At the same time the potential for encountering the Sacred Person in profound intimacy increases exponentially. It is like the difference in volume between the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi's treatment of the subject and that of the entire Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu devoted to the four other rasas.

Now the point is what? You have been trained in the pravartaka stage to a certain level of consciousness of the Divine through the process of projection. Which means that you don't always get direct feedback. The Deity does not talk back to most people in the way that a living person, e.g., the guru, does. Our imagination is given free rein and has no external obstacles or correctives coming from the object itself.

In any madhura relation, the feedback is usually quite intense. But since we are training ourselves to see the Divine Sacred in the other person, as a person, this means facing your projections, these more basic or dominant unconscious projections, i.e.., sexual animus/anima projections, directly.

Now in an ordinary non-sādhana sexual relationship something similar is happening to the degree of wisdom and knowledge that the two individuals have. If they are sāttvika, so much the better. If they are madhura-rasa Krishna bhaktas, uttama, and if serious sādhakas, atyuttama.

The bhakta sādhaka is cultivating attachment to God, Radha and Krishna, through the encounter with and love for a Person. I.e. God, the Divine, is seen in the direction of the Person who is the Object of Love. And with that comes a detachment from everything else.

But the rules of attachment are the same even where God and the Sacred are concerned, they result in the experience of joy and suffering, the only difference is the degree of intensity. Because mundane awareness in a flickering mind is petty and trivial, and ekanta consciousness of Love and the Divine Other is Great.

Vrindavan palimpsest: Guru, Grace and Gratitude

Since my visa extension was refused I have been undergoing something of a revisiting of my devotional past--visiting the seven temples, seeing an old Nabadwip friend at Gokulananda. Then on Thursday going to Iskcon for Vyasa Puja. It has been a bit like a palimpsest -- scraping off layers to see what was there below. So going to Iskcon represents the beginnings of my life as a Vaishnava, and since for better or worse I am still in this game, Srila Prabhupada remains my guru.

I heard several teary-eyed testimonials read by Brahmananda Prabhu from a published volume, as well as others given by a number of other Prabhupada disciples who were present. They recounted many stories of amazing achievements by young and inexperienced Prabhupada disciples, such as Gunarnava Das, who somehow during Prabhupada's presence were endowed with almost superhuman capabilities to achieve tasks like the building of the Vrindavan temple. Indeed, it is almost impossible for anyone who lived through those times not to be at least a little in awe of what transpired in those few short years -- whatever the aftermath.

I myself did not get the opportunity to say anything, not due to any objections but I had to leave in the middle and only came back in after the offerings had finished. Just as well, because usually I am not comfortable in these circumstances: how to speak my own truth without creating discord or misunderstanding is not always easy. Because of my particular situation I often find myself in the position of having to explain my understanding of guru-tattva. Have I not rejected Srila Prabhupada? And so on.

As I said the other day, I don't do hagiography so well. Or at least I think the best hagiography comes when we best see the reality, which then does not really need to be embellished out of a need to protect the weak devotee's faith. Indeed artificial embellishments in our day and age tend to have the reverse effect on those with a modicum of critical skills.

Recently on Facebook there has been a rehash of some of Prabhupada's more controversial statements about women and rape, which of course tends to result in quite heated quarrels. For a great number of people, these statements are so shocking and so opposed to conventional modern thinking that they cannot even discuss them without visceral negative reactions. And for such reasons, many have rejected Prabhupada completely.

A few weeks ago, when I was in Rishikesh with Swami Veda Bharati, the question came up about having many gurus. He said that the guru will only be one. One may have many instructors, he said, but the Guru is only one. I know from my now fairly long association with Swami Veda that he means his guru Swami Rama, and not some Guru Principle.

I remember when I was reading about the public scandals surrounding Swami Rama, which seem to have forced him to leave America and later Nepal, I came across an article in which Swami Veda, then Pandit Usharbudh Arya, was interviewed about the issue. Although, as to be expected, the investigative reporter was a little aggressive and Dr. Arya was perhaps taken by surprise and was somewhat on the defensive, he answered, "How can I reject my own father?"

I was a little touched by his reply. Although I confess that because of hearing such stories about Swami Rama, it is practically impossible for me to feel too much faith in him, despite having spent the greater part of the last six years in the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama environment, and even though through Swami Veda I have received much of Swami Rama's legacy. But the guru is a father, you cannot reject a father even if he commits some transgression. One's being a father is not dependent on his making or not making transgressions but on a simple biological act. Similarly, the Guru is guru not because of any material deeds good or bad, but because he created a real connection to a particular spiritual ideal and practice.

The guru opens the channels of grace; he literally gives life. So to reject the guru means to reject the life that he has given. And many people do so rather hastily in my opinion, much to their own spiritual detriment.

My personal criterion comes from the verse by Raghunath Das Goswami:
nāma-śreṣṭhaṁ manum api śacī-putram atra svarūpaṁ
rūpaṁ tasyāgrajam uru-purim māthurīṁ goṣṭha-vāṭīm
rādhā-kuṇḍaṁ giri-varam aho rādhikā-mādhavāśāṁ
prāpto yasya prathita-kṛpayā śrī-guruṁ taṁ nato’smi
I bow my head again and again to the holy preceptor, through whose most celebrated mercy I have received the best of all names, the initiation mantra, Sri Sachinandan Mahaprabhu, Svarupa, Rupa and his older brother Sanatan, the extensive dominions of Mathurapuri, a dwelling place in the pasturing grounds [of Krishna], Radha Kund, the chief of all mountains, Sri Govardhan, and most pointedly of all, the hope of attaining the lotus feet of Sri Radha Madhava.

Nearly all of those connections -- from the Holy Name to the hope for attaining the service of Radha and Krishna -- come to me from Srila Prabhupada. Every one of them still vibrates for me. So if I have to say that I have a guru, it can be no other than he. Anything I have done subsequent to leaving ISKCON has simply been to understand, supplement, correct, and perfect what he gave.

Bhakti is the path of Grace and Gratitude.The Guru embodies Grace and is therefore the principal object of gratitude. When we find fault with the guru, the flow of grace stops. Not because the guru is necessarily supremely competent and as highly advanced as one originally thought, but because the Grace that came through the Guru WAS and IS real, and is part of the eternal stream of grace that continues in all time and place.

As long as that grace takes the form of Radha and Krishna in my life, the Yugal Kishor, I can never reject Srila Prabhupada, even though I can and must revise or deepen my understanding of the siddhantas and the methods of attaining the goal of prema. If I did not do that, it would be just like the scientist who is being told not to make any new discoveries because Newton had already said everything that was needed to know. We live in a progressive universe, we have great amounts of information and more is coming all the time; studying religion and our own religious experience phenomenologically -- not purely apologetically -- is a necessary part of being a disciple.

There is no way to find the guru within without first recognizing and appreciating that grace comes from without. No matter how individualistic we may wish to become, that truth does not change.

Seeing a guru's mistake without finding fault is just being free of the duality of attachment and aversion. I expect the guru to be perfect because I have a psychological need for such perfection outside myself. And so when the guru disappoints me, I become angry (krodha) and confused (sammoha) in the classical fashion. Then I forget whatever grace he did give (smṛti-bhraṁśa) and thus my intelligence is lost (buddhi-nāśa).

The main error here is that I have not really seen the guru's grace for what it is, and instead mistook something else to be his grace: his institution, or the position I have within that institution, his charisma or his power to give boons, the ego-expansion that comes from my having a big deal guru, etc. If we recognize the grace, then we will pursue the perfection that it points to. And that is what I have tried in my own way to do.

Grace does not come from an impersonal source. Meaning that because we are persons, grace means something personal to us. And that can only be meaningful if it comes from a Person. That is why even in ignorance, we have a natural tendency to project personality onto the cosmos. This is not actually wrong, even though it might cause confusion, but pretending that "learning from the cosmos" is an impersonal process does not really make any sense.

It is the "grace" part that is the Guru. You have to be able to recognize exactly what the grace was. The need to exercise our discriminatory powers is not to be ignored. Fidelity to the guru in fact means fidelity to the Grace, not to anything else. And the gratitude one feels may be expressed differently according to the way one experiences that grace. Sometimes one is obliged to remain "at a distance," as Jiva Goswami puts it, in order to pursue the companionship of advanced sādhakas and rasikas. In my case, the restrictions against pursuing rāgānugā bhakti were what made me break out of ISKCON and take shelter of Lalita Prasad Thakur. The last few days have shown me just how enriched my life has become as a result of taking that step.

I see the old-time ISKCON devotees who have remained within the institution's confines and I believe in their sincerity and dedication, and moreover I believe in the spiritual progress that they have made and I respect all their tremendous achievements. But at the same time I can see how their submission to Prabhupada's fear that ISKCON's preaching mission would be ruined if they started getting too interested in rāgānugā bhajana, though justifiable in the sense that they seek to follow the Guru's order without deviation, has in fact held them back.

Such orders were clearly intended to keep the institution functioning. An institution needs to have rules and limits. A big institution might even find some flexibilities, but generally speaking, the rules have to be well defined, i.e., it has to be made clear what the institution's defining attributes are. But no matter what the definition is, it will always restrict the number of people who qualify for it. If you are independent, then you are not so restricted -- which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your adhikāra. But Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself said to Damodar Pandit:
tomā sama nirapekṣa nāhi mora gaṇe
nirapekṣa nahile dharma nā jāya rakṣaṇe

Amongst my associates, no one is as indifferent to social pressure (nirapekṣa) as you. Religious principles can only be defended by someone who is free from external influence (nirapekṣa). (Chaitanya Charitamrita 3.3.23)
There is a saying, "It's easy for a man not to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it." This is the situation for someone who places himself the confines of an institution. In other words, not nirapekṣa.

So, my philosophy is this: The Guru IS the Grace, and the Grace IS the Guru. People who see the physical manifestation or even the specific verbal instructions, etc., as the Guru rather than seeing guru-tattva in the flow of grace -- which by all means needs to continue -- then that is a kind of idolatry. Spiritual life must be progressive, and to be progressive one must of necessity be independent.

So going to ISKCON represents the beginnings of my life as a Vaishnava, and since for better or worse I am still in this game, Srila Prabhupada remains my guru.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Janmashtami: Darshan of the Seven Temples

Yesterday I went to the FRRO in Mathura for my visa extension appointment. Bipin Sharma, the officer, rather gleefully refused my extension, telling me that the letters from Jiva Institute no longer had any standing with the Foreign Registrations Office because they were not an accredited officially sanctioned bonafide degree-bestowing honest-to-goodness educational institution.

I had been half expecting it ever since the department chief popped into Jiva one day while I was reading Paramatma-sandarbha with Satya Narayan Dasji and were told there would be a crackdown. I was rather surprised this time when the people at Jiva seemed to think there was no problem. But Bipin told me the hammer just came down four or five days ago. Had I made my appointment just a little earlier I may have been able to squeeze in, like Kamala. But, there you go, the I Ching kept talking about me heading over "across the great water" so it seems I could not escape that destiny.

Nevertheless, I must confess, I was in a state of slight shock. Now today is Janmashtami and I was hanging out at the house again doing nothing much... still... again... finally I decided that this being Janmashtami and all, I needed to do darshan of the Seven Great and Original Temples of Vrindavan, the Sat Devalaya. And so I set off.

I went first to Madan Mohan. This time I went up the stairs and circumambulated the temple and took darshan. Then I went to see Sanatan Goswami's samadhi temple, the original Boro Baba, and gave my dandavats there.

Madan Mohan is really the lighthouse of Vrindavan, standing atop the only hill really worthy of the name in Vrindavan, Dwadashaditya Tila. And there it reigns. You can see it from quite far away. For instance, in Kiki Nagla, you have a very clear view of Madan Mohan, and I should think that is ten kilometers away up the Yamuna.

Anyway, Boro Baba wanted people to come to Vrindavan. He wanted the enchanter of Cupid to enchant many more people. Why else would he have built this iconic temple? And now they are coming from all over the world. Sometimes Vrindavan looks like a madhouse, so different from the way it was in 1975 when I first came, but that all seems to be part of the plan.

Today was Janmashtami, there were crowds of people from outside Vrindavan in the street today. All kinds of different people. Many village women, looking happy in their brightly colored saris new for the occasion. Not as many city people as usual, but they mostly go to ISKCON, Prema Mandir and Banke Bihari, and are not so interested in the old Gaudiya traditions. Or maybe they all went to the Janma Sthan in Mathura to celebrate the occasion.

But today, for the first time in many a year, it will be Seven Temples day, which means I will see and hear mostly Bengalis: widows, Babajis, ISKCON-Gaudiya Math (but less), and maybe groups of Bengali villagers or Kolkata tourists. For so many living in Vrindavan, this is a daily duty. Vrindavan parikrama, bathing in the Yamuna, sat-devalayer darshan. That is why people come to live here. To hear the bells of arati chiming on every street and gali as the twilight descends into darkness. To hear arati and kirtan and bhajan and Bhagavata and Rasa on every corner. To see tilak-dhari Vaishnavas from so many colorful sampradayas, but especially the Gaudiyas in their white rags and Radha Kund mitthi. Beadbags on every hand. To celebrate the loves of Radha and Krishna. This is Vrindavan!

I nearly continued on from Madan Mohan to take the road towards Banke Bihari, but stopped myself and turned back. Nope, today I have time for the Seven Devalayas. There are many other interesting and glorious temples in this town, but we Gaudiyas have the seven. Madan Mohan, Damodar, Shyamasundar, Radha Raman, Gokulananda, Gopinath and Govindaji. When you do the walk to get darshan of all seven, you can see how the Bengalis built this town and how, even now, they really are its flesh and blood, its life breath.

So no detours to Banke Bihari or Radha Vallabha... love them all though I do.

Next stop Radha Damodar. I split off the Parikrama Marg at the proper exit and come right into Damodar. Damodarji is rightfully one of the most vibrant temples in Vrindavan. This is Jiva Goswami's temple. The samadhis of Jiva Goswami, Krishnadas Kaviraj and Rupa Goswami are all here, and as a special added attraction is Srila Prabhupada's bhajan kutir.

Sometimes I think that Prabhupada could not have planned his life better. This residence at one of the most sacred spots in this sacred town, independent of any math, in the direct presence of Sri Jiva and Sri Rupa Prabhus. Can you just imagine what a family that was, three such spiritual geniuses! And now, Damodar is doubly dear to the Vaishnavas from all over the world because it is associated forever with Srila Prabhupada, who for better or worse brought Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the names of Radha and Krishna to the world. And so this is one place where ISKCON actually touches the traditional Vrindavan community.

Anyway, I went and had a good cry at Jiva Goswami's samadhi, and then at Krishnadas Kaviraj's, and then Sri Rupa's. My Prabhus! Not feeling sorry for myself, it was a more spontaneous happening, with only the smallest amount of trigger. It almost always happens to me at Radha Damodar, more than anywhere else.

All of my life flooded through me as I lay in sashtanga dandavats before all my gurus! All my attachment for Vrindavan, for this Vaishnava life, for Radha and Krishna, all the mercy I have received through Sri Rupa, Sri Jiva, and Kaviraj Gosai ! Radhe Shyam! Tears of ecstasy.

I went into Prabhupada's room, spoke to him in Bengali. Chanted for a while, chatted for a while. A bit one sided. I think I may have been overly familiar, but I spoke to him as though I was my age, as I am now, to him as he was then.

When Prabhupada was alive in Mayapur, the year he left, Bhavananda Maharaj berated me, "Why don't you do a bit of the Bangla bolchi, impress Prabhupada." I know Prabhupada would have loved it. But somehow, I always kept my distance, never breaching the invisible wall and the phalanx of the inner circle. Today though, I just gave him an update of what I was doing and ended up thanking him: "khair, amar boro bhagya hoyeche je ami apnar kripa patra holam."

From there I went to Shyamasundar. Kirtan was going on there, nice Bengali style, so I sat for a while. Then to Radha Raman, but first I did parikrama of Nidhivan. What a great place Nidhivan is. It really has a fairy tale feel to it. If they can get the same effect in Seva Kunj or Kishor Van, it would really be marvelous. It frankly feels like a lung in the middle of town. I will tell you that I love Swami Haridas, just like I love Hit Harivams and all the rest of the saints and songwriters who built this town. This lifetime has been too short. I could not enter all these worlds...

Radha Raman. Again, the curtains are closed. A large crowd sits peacefully in expectation of arati. There is a bhajan going on. I wait, but as the wait is too long I decide to just go to Gokulananda, since I would have to come back this way anyway.

On the way out I run into Padmanabh Goswami, sitting on his porch. I stop and talk for a while, tell him about my visa situation. He says, "This government. If you do namaaz, they will give you your visa." He is a longtime leader and even local head of the RSS. We talked about Chandan Goswami; I asked him if he is happy with his son's progress, which of course he is. I complimented Chandanji on his success. I think that he is unassuming and simple young man, even while carrying with him the generations of tradition, refinement and nobility that comes with being a Radha Raman Gosai. Just imagine what it is to live just a few feet away from Radha Raman, to be his servant, his pujari. To live in a community that is dedicated to serving one of the most "awake" deities in Vrindavan. Certainly, of the seven temples, he is the most jagrata.

You see, Radha Raman never left Vrindavan. When Aurangzeb became emperor then things became rather anxious in Vrindavan, and most of the major temples spirited their deities away to Rajasthan where there was a bit of independence from the Mughal rulers and a tacit pact of non-aggression. The Rajasthani kings took the Vrindavan deities and built temples for them in various towns. It was a bit like the stepping on a ketchup packet effect: it squished and splashed the Vrindavan mood further West. Govinda and Gopinath went to Jaipur. Madan Mohan went to Karauli. And so on. But Radha Raman was small enough to hide, so he was safe in Vrindavan. And believe me, though I love all the other temples, Radha Raman is the most vibrant living Gaudiya family tradition in Vrindavan.

On the other hand, when you see the original Govindaji in Jaipur and compare it to the deity currently presiding over the big temple here, there is really no comparison. They may all be murtis of the same one divine lord of Vrindavan, but the original Govindaji is the asli cheez, the real thing.

So living next door to Radha Raman for generations? Really, living in his "enclosure." Sure, some traditions get lost or neglected, but Radha Raman has not done too badly. Now Chandan and Pundarik and other young Gosais from the family are starting to preach internationally, it certainly is an interesting and welcome development. Padmanabh Prabhu concluded our conversation by good humoredly praying to Radha Raman that I get a ten-year visa.

Anyway, I zipped over to Gokulananda and did my riti-mata dandavat pranams to the samadhis of Narottam, Vishwanath and Lokanath Goswamis, including a nod of familarity to Tarapada Mukherjee, who was a professor at SOAS when I was there, an important member of the original Vrindavan Research Institute team doing Bengali manuscripts who inspired me to write a few articles back in the day.

Then I went inside the temple and who should be singing Krishna's birth lila but Radhe Shyam Das of Nabadwip!

I was so surprised I went right up to him and hugged him. He did not recognize me what with my white hair balding head big white beard general old guy babaji look. We were much younger thirty years ago.

Radhe Shyam and I know each other from old days in Nabadwip. We actually traveled together once to Kanpur for a program. Maybe 1984. He did lila kirtan and I gave Bhagavata to the Bengali community there. We were there for a week, billeted in mostly working class Bengalis' rather simple dwellings.

He is also Gadadhar Pran's music teacher, which may not be that great a commendation. But after listening to him sing, I think I never admired him quite as much as I did on this night, like I was seeing him for the first time, and yet so familiar. I only came in near the end, just heard him sing a couple of songs, how Rohini came with Balaram, who was just learning to walk and say a few words. How did Balaram know that Krishna had been born? But he told his mother, "I want to see my brother!" And they went into the birthing room and Balai Dauji snuggled into Yashoda's arm while she breastfed baby Krishna and to whomever came, he said, "My brother has come, see?" Sweet and corny stuff. So many of these things seem almost like cultural fossils, but today my mind is simple and childlike. I just listen and enjoy.

It has been so long since I have been in Bengal, so I don't know what is going on with lila kirtan these days. Radhe Shyam is an old style lila kirtan singer with a huge repertoire of almost every Krishna and Chaitanya lila you can imagine. I would not be surprised if he was the seniormost lila kirtaniya in Nabadwip today.

He still looks boyish and his hair is only slightly graying; his forehead is free of wrinkles. But there is a bit of sadness in him. After he finished his set, we talked only briefly since he had to go to another engagement. He told me his wife died last year and he has had difficulty being without her. His mental and physical health have suffered. He will be singing again tomorrow at Murari Mohan Baba's ashram in Keshi Ghat, so I may go there for Nandotsava lila and prasad tomorrow.

I said, "Look at that, I came for Gokulananda darshan and I got Nabadwip darshan!" Actually, my place of residence in Nabadwip was Gokulananda Ghat, and my Giridhari still goes by the name of Gokulananda, so that was rather neat synchronicity.

And then back to Radha Raman, quick darshan, a little sweet prasad. Then on to Gopinath, quick darshan as I had just been there a couple of days before. Then through Gopinath Bazaar, past Amiya Nimai to Govindaji. Temple closed... early for Janmashtami... anyway Govindaji is the least spiritually vibrant of the seven temples, in my opinion, even though it is Rupa Goswami's own temple and probably the most impressive architecturally. Rupa Goswami himself is more alive at Radha Damodar than here. Govindaji always strikes me as a big, empty ruin.

Anyway, from there I walked up the Mathura Road, which was remarkably peaceful. Actually the whole town was pretty festive everywhere I went. Crowded but not too crowded, not too much traffic overall.

Munger Temple. I decided to go and see Sadhu Maharaj. His temple is lit up with Christmas lights. They were there last time I went too, I wonder if they ever come down. Some of them are fancy. The grounds are nice. Since Maharaj started traveling, the grounds are much nicer. Even five-six years ago they were fairly run down.

In Sadhu Maharaj's room there are a group of people singing songs. They appear to be relatives of the Maharaj, or anyway people associated with him through his temporal role as [former] King of Munger. A well-to-do family anyway, but thoroughly enjoying singing Krishna bhajans together. ladli kya nazaara tere barasaane men hai!

It reminded me a little of family Christmas carols in my childhood. Everyone joining in the chorus. The father, beak-nosed, portly and mustachioed, sat in his chair and led with much gesticulation and facial expression. One of his adult sons sitting at his knee and even sometimes affectionately leaning his head against it while his father rested his hand on his cheek. The womenfolk drumming rather inexpertly; a Western girl playing kartals rather well. Sadhu Maharaj leaning back in his rocking chair with his eyes closed and a smile on his face, then suddenly sitting up to join in the chorus. A devotional family scene.

I told Maharaj about the visa. He asked why don't I just go to Nepal. I said, "I think it is time to go back to America again." He said, "Yes, it is time you should help people." I said, "Well I am curious to see what Radharani has planned. I am sure it will be interesting." He smiled. I like Sadhu Maharaj. He actually is cool...

And from there I returned home. Thoroughly in love with Vrindavan again. More than ever. And with Nabadwip... all those Nabadwip memories surged in quite by surprise. There are some parallels to my first departure from India in 1985, but the differences are probably going to prove much greater.

This time I cried when at Radha Damodar's when I told Jiva Goswami that I was going to have to leave. But really, Radha Damodar is part of every ISKCON devotee or Prabhupada disciples's personal mythology. So how could I not think that crossing the "great waters" was not somehow paralleling Srila Prabhupada's heroic journey? I have to be honest, my formula is not quite as ready-made as his was, but I felt today that if Vrindavan is as infused in me as it seems, then nothing inauspicious could ever happen.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gaurahari Zodda

I don't know much about Gaurahari Das. I met him personally once in Mayapur a few years ago. I was told at the time that he was making disciples and trying to build a following. He had a nice face, a good smile, was generally polite and curious in conversation. If I formed any opinion then, it was that it was a little early for him to be acting as guru, but then that is so typical that I did not make much of it. Later on, I followed his career a little since I had had some personal contact with him. I noticed him go through a phase of supporting the ritvik philosophy. He was constantly making videos and trying so hard to reach a state of emotional bhakti, or bhava. Then he started watching videos of Christian preachers, televangelists of the Southern Baptist variety, miracle workers and Pentecostals. His sudden conversion to Christianity took us all by surprise, however. After all, most devotees recoil before a religion that condones meat-eating, what to speak of the crass commercialism and demigoguery of these slick preachers.

It seems to me that Gaurahari was attracted by the glitter and figures he can break into those circles and do the Elmer Gantry thing himself. At any rate, we exchanged some correspondence. Here is his announcement and my response.

I just want to let you know I have had a huge change of heart and what path I want to devote myself exclusively too. Recently I realized what it means practically to serve two masters. I was doing this and did not know it. One master was Krishna Consciousness and the other one was Jesus. I was thinking that they actually were the same Master involved. I thought the Vedas and the Bible were also teaching the same principals. The Love of God of the Christians and love of Krishna was also the same. Looking deeper into this I see they are most certainly not. They just appear to be related. I could not see this clearly and know one else has the light to see that one is actually serving two different masters. Rededicating my life to Jesus as my personal exclusive savior, reading the bible, and hearing those preachers who are genuinely empowered with the Holy Spirit is revealing this truth to me setting me free of some subtle illusions. There is more discussion on this in the videos I have been making if one is interested in testing the spirits and looking at the results of following both spirits and Krishna and his followers claiming they are the same and those who are truly filled with the light of the Holy Spirit see the subtle sham that is enslaving so many in very subtle deceitful ways. The new videos look deeply into all this.Sorry eman and others for all the work you put into serving but don't worry God is leading us all to know what is the real truth to set us free. 
By serving what is actually two masters in opposition to each other I could not see this. If anyone is interested, as part of my own clearing, deepening process I am still making videos and sharing my insights. I know this change appears to be abrupt and has happened before, still I have to follow what I believe is true. Each time on my particular path and what I have to encounter due to my own destiny is making everything more clear. My roots in the truth are going a little more deeper in the right soil. If you considered me like a teacher to you and don't like new direction of exclusive dedication to Jesus without mixing it with KC ( which I can understand) please feel free to proceed the way you are personally inspired to develop your spiritual life. Any questions feel free to call or write me. I am sorry if this is causing confusion for anyone but this just goes to show that that if one is serving the real father and Son of God and the holy spirit, then there will be no confusion or darkness in them. One distinction of how I see the KC path is no one gets the real spirit of God to dwell in them one becomes dependent o some charismatic human being who disappears and one is deflated again. Those who are true servants of Jesus who are filled with the Holy Spirit are not like this and work to impart that Holy Spirit to those who listen to the true doctrine of Jesus which saved them and only they themselves know by following the right way and getting the gift of the holy spirit to dwell within them.

This is my aim and goal and if I am called by the lead of the Holy Spirit to be some kind of teacher my goal will be to lead those who comes to a relationship with Jesus as their savior and pray that the Holy Spirit enters them and abides, teaches and comforts them forever. That's Gods real program! This is the real gift and truth that God wants to give everyone. Not when the Guru or teacher, who are actually just men, goes somewhere else or dies one is confused and has to run to another living man Guru who does not have the true spirit of Christ in them.. Those who have the true Holy Spirit pray for those who come to them to hear the real doctrine of the Savior to receive the Holy Spirit which guides, comforts, leads and teaches them all things. They never take the worship and give all credit to the real savior in Jesus name. KC teaches to worship and depend on a man to save them who cannot impart the Holy Spirit, and history of the gaudiya matha and SP movement everything falls apart when they leave. KC teaches others to chant for 50 years to free one from ones sins, when just by faith in Jesus that he paid the price on the cross blotting out all the sins of all who believe on him. The videos expose more of this in detail by testing and comparing the spirits fruits of KC and Jesus, anyone who is eager and wants to be really free and know about this watch my new videos. 
So this is the next step and final teaching that I will involve myself for the rest of my life and anyone who comes around, my intention will be for them to receive the true holy spirit to keep them safe from the clutches of the evil one forever.

But you are totally wrong. And it is quite unfortunate that you have misunderstood Krishna consciousness due to your exclusively depending on Srila Prabhupada for your knowledge. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says he dwells in the heart and gives intelligence. As a matter of fact, the whole Gita can be read as a way of understanding the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Guru is the facilitator.

Moreover saying that you have to chant for fifty years before the Name takes effect whereas just faith in Jesus frees you from sin. I must say, my dear, you really have not learned much about bhakti. I am very sorry to see that your understanding was so shallow.

But there you go. I can understand your frustration with current Gaudiya Vaishnava politics, but my Lord, has Christianity fared much better in its two thousand years? Its record is so bloody that it still drives people to atheism! To find anything comparable in Hinduism, one has to dig considerably. That such external matters have swayed your thinking is just another proof that your understanding was shallow, your sadhana so lacking in true intensity.

I am a little miffed because I complimented you recently. Evidently there was something else going on besides dancing in the street. You should have come to Rishikesh and we could have had a talk. Bhakta-sanga was missing. You set yourself up as a guru before you were ready. And now you want to be a teacher again.

At any rate, your choices are yours and I don't begrudge you the decision to follow your own inspiration. But in general I find it suspicious when people repudiate something that has been the channel of Grace and source of so much spiritual inspiration in their lives. It is always best to truly understand one's path before abandoning it. You will find that though the long and rich Christian tradition has its strengths, it also has the very same challenges as Vaishnavism, and in many cases has weaknesses where Vaishnavism has strengths. Service to one's guru does not mean rote following or blind obedience, but service to the underlying essence of the message.

Ultimately, you will indeed need to go to a level that incorporates ALL religious beliefs. That is the way that each of our religious traditions is benefited, by learning from each other and finding the universal.

You excoriate temple deity worship, calling them idols and images carved by human hands, as though this was not something that has been debated for a thousands of years in Hinduism! I am literally gobsmacked. But anyway, anyone whose faith is so shallowly conceived will not have much success in his new garb either, in my opinion.

What I see here, Gaurahariji, is that you are a zealot, not a philosopher. You lost your faith in Iskcon zealotry, so you tried the Prabhupadanugas for a while, this one and that one, but you could not put your whole heart into that old time Iskcon religion. There were a lot like you; some of them went to Narayan Maharaj and could jump up and down for a while, but you did not go that route, though it would have been far better to associate with him or Sridhar Maharaj to get a little perspective. So now, hungry for your adrenaline fix of fundamentalism, you have been watching some Christian preachers, some televangelist Elmer Gantrys, and you have fallen for them hook line and sinker.

And now you think, these guys have got something. I am going to go for that Bible-thumping message and get me a gig with the Evangelical crowd. Well good luck breaking in, my friend. You will no doubt do better than the handful of followers you got from the dregs of Iskcon.

I can see where this is going. You have now seen the light and you will be the poster boy for the converted back from the godforsaken new age and eastern heresies! What a sham!

Anyway, the Christian message is strong. I just wish that American evangelicals were not so right wing. If you must be a Christian, go for the St-Francis wing of the Church. Or try St John of the Cross, or Theresa of Avila, or Brother Lawrence, or Thomas a Kempis, or Thomas Merton. But modern Protestant evangelicals are certainly not my style.

You say Christianity is simple and Krishna bhakti is not. In many ways it is the exact same message! "Anyone who says just once, "I am yours" to him I give myself forever. This is my eternal promise." That is the bhakti message. Where have you been, Gaurahari?

And what do you think of babes like Dhruva, Prahlad and the four Kumaras? What to speak of Shukadeva and so many others? And what do you think is the message of the gopis, who without knowledge or learning attained the highest perfection, which was hidden to the Upanishads? Where have you been, Gaurahari? What were you doing all these years?

The problem arises when we are too literal. "Christ crucified" and the washing away of sins, etc. There is of course no need for any such thing. A powerful God can clear away all the sins of humanity in a moment. But there is a powerful symbol there, the son of God dying for our sins. We can say, "One repetition of God's name can destroy more sins that the greatest sinner could ever commit in a million lifetimes." Why not? Why do we need something so dramatic as well as improbable??

It is just a symbol. That's all. So you like one symbol more than another, that is all it is. But in neither case does it absolve you of the spiritual responsibility of Love. Of becoming a more perfect human being. Salvation is never a magic thing that happens just because you say "I am yours" as our scriptures say. It is true, because of Grace, but Grace is only the empowerment, i.e., the strength or faith to become a worthy servant of God. This is why Luther talks about justification by faith alone. It is not that something external proves your salvation, but without inner faith you will never be transformed, you will not have the energy or power to be transformed. But transformed you must be.

So the transforming Christ then is no longer the "crucified Son of God" but "the son of Man", "the perfect man," or the ideal to be followed. And the saints are also such ideals. And they exist in all traditions.

What Christians are discovering more and more, especially of course in the liberal churches, is that there is a necessity for introducing the divine feminine, and they are having a problem doing so with the limitations of their symbolic vocabulary, because the Judaic tradition eliminated the feminine from the Divine, as has been continued in the Islamic tradition. The evangelical Christians maintain the social model of male-female relations according to the patriarchal tradition.

Now what I say is that the culture of the human heart must be developed in the model of human love, shaped by the form of Radha and Krishna. When our hearts and minds take the shape of Radha and Krishna and we learned to absorb the feminine power into our spirituality and find union in love, then we become more perfect human beings in ways that simple individual salvation and individual grace cannot.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Vrindavan parikrama: Living in a man's world

The last couple of days there has been a little bit of intensity over on a thread that I started about yet another Western woman writing of her experiences of sexual harassment in India. See discussion here.

I have been hanging out on the internet quite a bit since I got to Vrindavan. There are probably various reasons for it. The time I spent in Rishikesh was very structured and intense, not really what I am used to. Coming back here, I remained in my room, reclusively, but as soon as I got me some internet, I just dove right into. Mostly American leftist news and political sites, believe it or not. And interactions with, again mostly Americans, on Facebook.

Something of a disconnect: physically in Vrindavan during Hariyali Teej and Jhulan, but mentally in a kind of no-man's-land.

Part of the reason is that I am having a horrendous case of writer's block... again. It seems I can write and write, pontificate on unimportant matters left and right, show off my knowledge and debating skills here and there, but when it comes to doing a serious bit of work, even for money? There is some kind of psychological problem at work there that I have not been able to lick. And so, for the flickering and momentary adulation of my handful of Internet friends and admirers, I proclaim forth.

Yet I stay in my room, in the hope that the next time I sit down at the computer, something magic will happen. But it doesn't. There is nothing complicated about what I have to write, just a few words about the Gita Govinda and about the Yoga-tarangini... Soit. Laissons-le.

So today, in an attempt to decipher what transpired in the great rape debate and in order to perhaps kick start some work ethic into this lazy bag of bones, I set off on my first Parikrama since coming to Vrindavan more than two weeks ago.

It started out ordinarily enough, on the Marg from out in front of Lalit Ashram, pranams to the Mother Goddess and setting off to the slow murmur of Radhe-Shyam nam, money to a beggar woman with palsy near Chattikara Road, dandavats to Prabodhananda at Kalidaha, dandavats to Sanatan Goswami at Madan Mohan, and onward. Dandavats to the Yamuna. The ugly bridge pilons are still there, but Yamunaj is swollen to quite a hgh level, so Keshi Ghat is inaccessible. So turn into the town at Chir Ghat and head to Nidhivan, Radha Raman, Radha Raman is closed, will not wait 45 minutes, go to Gopinath.

At Gopinath Mandir, there is no one. I take a look at Paramadvaiti Maharaj's gardens before going in for darshan. Both are green with grass, but look incomplete still. Some trees have been planted, but are still in their infancy. Inside the temple I just stand there quietly, taking a pause with the Thakur. The Gosai pujari recognizes me from a previous visit and we talk. He tells me he is translating the Bhagavatam into Hindi verse. He says he has already done the Gita, being inspired by Prabhupada's Bengali Gitar Gan. He is friendly, talks about the three hills (tilas) of Vrindavan, Dwadashaditya, Vamshi Vat, and Gomukh. The three deities of Madhan Mohan, Gopinath and Govinda are each on a different hill.

Then I proceed on back to Keshi Ghat on the other side and walk steadily as far as Tatia Sthan and I decide to go for darshan. As always, Tatia Sthan brings waves of well-being into the mind and heart. Great luck, they are having Samaj Gayan. I sit down.

There is something really special about the temple there, because it is built on the Yamuna sand (tatia is derived from the word for riverbank), so is like walking on a cool evening beach in your bare feet. When you pay your obeisances, you lie down in the Braja raj. The samaj consists of three younger babas in Tatia Sthan uniform, their faces and heads covered with Braj mitti; one plays the harmonium, another kartals. There are two men playing tampura behind them. Then twenty or thirty men are seated behind them. They sing in their own classical style. There was even one Sikh gentleman I observed who participated eagerly in following along. There were only a few books to go around, but I got one. So I could also follow a bit. But I need to study this music. I really like the style. I have been thinking of going and asking Rasik Pagal Baba or someone in his ashram to give me lessons.

At a little after 6, the Mahant came in. In complete silence, but with his retinue of twenty or so people. I noticed more women in this group, which had obviously come from darshan with the mahant. All the people doing kirtan except for the harmonium stand up out of respect. The Mahant pays dandavat obeisances to the deities and samadhi temples and then sits down in an elevated seat made of Braja raj. All go and offer obeisances to him, including myself.

And then I move on. A little further on, I come to the Bhagavata Vidyalaya, a Nimbarki ashram in Pani Ghat, where instruction in the Bhagavatam is taking place. I decide to go in. The hall is fairly large and there are 50 or 60 students. They daily go through the Bhagavata verse by verse, with the acharya explaining each verse's meaning briefly. No elaborations, just so that everyone gets the grammar, the meaning and any significant implied meanings. It takes 14-15 months to go through the whole Bhagavata once. Generally, a student is expected to sit through this course for three repetitions of the Bhagavatam in order to be ready to speak publicly. I notice that the audience is not only young brahmin men in their teens and early 20s, but renunciates and older men as well. Everyone has a copy of the Bhagavata. Two young men kindly shared their Bhagavata with me. They have reached the 12th canto and have almost finished. When they do, in a few days time, they will then start from the beginning again. If I were young again, I would certainly have been tempted to join them.

Across the street is another ashram, and it seemed that everyone was going there. A young man in white told me that they were going to serve prasad and all the students, who come from various places in the town, would eat there and then go home. I did not catch the name of the ashram, though it is large and obviously well endowed.

They have a temple there called "Mangalkarini Bhagavan," in front of which a group of 15-20 women were singing bhajans, though the rest of the campus was filled with at least 100 men, sitting around and socializing with the onset of evening. The deity, if I understood the pujari correctly (which was difficult with the singing going on), is a form of Hanuman connected to Govardhan. And there is a whole story there that I did not recognize or fully understand. Hanuman came there for the sweet water after bringing Govardhan to Braj in the time of Ramachandra, since it is one of the only places in Vrindavan where the water is sweet, hence the name pani-ghat. [pani means water]. I decided not to stay for supper but to continue walking.

Through Pani Ghat, I observed that there are few cars here and that the neighborhood is very peaceful. There will be more cars further up the road where the feed road to the Yamuna Expressway joins the Parikrama Marg. There seem to be so many temples with programs going on, different kinds of groups in each one, some smaller, some bigger, some with mixed sex groups, others with vairagis. None with quite the dignity of the Haridasis, but lovely nevertheless.

Of course, the public presence in the street is, as always in India, overwhelmingly male. Still, I was struck by an overall positive feeling and freedom from tension, which I should say in India generally and Vrindavan in particular is a fairly rare feeling. I talked to an older gentleman chanting japa in the street, a retired professor of political science from Bihar who has brought his wife to live out his life in Vrindavan, near his guru's ashram there in Pani Ghat.

It is here that the thought began to strike me how much I had enjoyed these two experiences in totally male dominated environments and how completely peaceful I had found them. I also saw how easy my access to these cultural experiences had been simply because of my gender. In both circumstances I had been given a book. Maybe it is because I have a big white beard now and look like a baba. But I don't remember being spontaneously treated with this kind of spontaneous and silent respect and acceptance before. Speaking Hindi is obviously a great boon.

I thought about these young men studying the Bhagavatam. It is clear that some of them are going through the same adolescent tribulations as most young men in India today. From a segregated society to a coed society... how many generations does it take? Could any of these nice clean brahmin boys also sink into the confusion? Of course they could. But it seems to me that men are pretty confused everywhere in the world. It is just that this society is going through transition and it is going to take a while.

But I enjoyed the clarity and peace that these all-male spiritual environments created. Truth or illusion I don't know, but for those few minutes, the problems of sexualty and relations, in short "the world" were far away.

A litte further on I came to the bead shops run by Bengalis. They have been there for years, even before the road was paved. It is almost impossible to remember what those days were like any more. I was looking for neck beads. One old widow lady was closing the store and bringing her stock inside, but I just managed to find what I was looking for. I asked her how she was doing. I said she looked like she was doing OK for a widow in Vrindavan, since everyone always says how terrible it is. She told me she had just spent a couple of weeks in Gopinath Bazar at the Amiya Nimai temple doing service. Amiya Nimai is right next door to the Bhajan Ashram, which is where hundreds of widows do kirtan every day, "widow central" so to speak. Now she is back and just sits there all day and makes beads. "besh shantite achi" (Life is quite peaceful for me"). I gave her a 100 Rs note, expecting change, but ended up giving her the whole thing without regret. I liked her, called her "mother."

I walked on and not far from Mathura Road I ran into none other than Jagannath Poddar. He told me he had seen on FB that I was doing Parikrama and "he wanted to catch me"! He was obviously having me on, as our meeting was quite fortuitous as he just had that little section of the Parikrama Marg to cover before turning off to head to Kailas Nagar. I was a bit disoriented as the power had been off and I had been walking in the dark. I was not even aware that I had passed Chamunda Devi, what to speak of Gore Dauji. We talked for a while about what he is doing, etc., and then I came home. It is good to see Jagannath; it is a mark of my "official" return to Vrindavan.

So basically I take three thoughts from my parikrama. One is the extent to which I feel at home in Vrindavan, and the extent to which that is still pretty much a result of my male privilege. I had great good fortune to experience several dimensions of traditional spiritual India -- in Mayapur, in Nabadwip, in Kalna, in Rishikesh, in Vrindavan. And though this means I have become something of a foreigner to the West, I will never be completely Indian either. This cultural split in myself, however, only means that I am in a position to recreate myself as a kind of hybrid; but what form that will take.... well I suppose it has already taken...

The other is that even though there may be a lot that is good and valuable in the segregation of the sexes, a lot that may even be considered necessary and worthwhile, we are not going back to that world. So India really needs to make the adjustment. In actual fact, they have barely begun.

The third is, what is the place for Western women in this world? Clearly they could never change their expectations of being able to live in the "outer world" alongside men, as equals. And in the changing environment in India, with the persistent harassment they have to face, a great number of them have nothing but contempt for Indian men, and by extension, everything Indian, its past, its present, its future.

I have been spending these last few days on the Internet, reading the news of the world, talking with many such disappointed and disillusioned women for whom spiritual experience is pointless without social freedom and independence. I think many of them have come to the conclusion that a life without men is probably the path that makes the most sense, but this also seems to me to be an illusion. After all, the men who have discovered and developed the philosophies and practices of yoga made genuine internal or subjective research into the psyche, which is beneficial to the entire human race, regardless of gender.

What is needed now is a sadhana that accommodates and transcends the divide while giving equal status to both men and women--whether it is in India or the West. This is what we have discovered and are trying to develop in Yugal Bhajan. The goal is to release the great spiritual potential that the meeting of the sexes provides.

Radhe Shyam! Jai Vrindavan Dham!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sadhana and the Empirical World View

Several people commented on my recent note on Rupa Goswami and History, that they could not see any reason for a conflict between the empirical approach and the devotional or spiritual life.

On the surface, it seems reasonable to think that there should be no conflict, but those who are on the inside know that historical and other kinds of research do in fact conflict with what the shastras and traditional gurus with a literal belief in them say or have said. And this leads to doubt and schism. And if the doubter perishes (saṁśayātmā vinaśyati), then this is certainly going to create problems.

In questions related to the past, there is no better illustration of this than the conflicting versions of paramparā history.

The first problem is that if one is bound out of loyalty to a tradition to ignore empirical data or evidence, then certainly one's commitment to Truth, written large, is compromised. This devalues one's God-given intelligence and one develops a habit of ignoring obvious falsehoods, not only of a philosophical nature but in the behaviors of leaders and colleagues in order to maintain to maintain social relations and the so-called integrity of the community.

And at the next level of hypocrisy one starts to repeat the same falsehoods in order to maintain social position or status in that sangha. And though this little two-step may be confusing at first for those flatfooted ones who still believe in ethics -- after all, isn't spiritual life supposed to be the path of Truth? -- one can ease the difficulty by relativizing or devaluing direct sense perception and logical reasoning.

A second thing is that when you believe something is true, and if that truth has momentous import, then of course it will have implications; the realization of a "truth" will always be followed by imperatives of different sorts. It is the fear of this that keeps people away from facing even little empirical truths, because they do not know how to deal with the challenge they present to their global philosophy. Remove a brick or two and the whole edifice will collapse, this is what they fear.

Of course, the more intensely you hold to that kind of absolutist picture, an enclosed self-supporting system, the more of a self-fulfilling prophecy it becomes. Sooner or later the contradictions will fall in on themselves. To avoid this one adopts the technique of compartmentalization, the capacity to hold two contradictory ideas in mind simultaneously.

I remember Prabhupad saying something to the effect -- though I have not been able to find the quote in the archives -- that, "If there is one flaw in a philosophy, then the whole thing must be rejected." When I discovered the hazy truths underlying the so-called "unbroken disciplic succession" (which of course now has countless justifications in the wake of all the confusion – and adding to it), I said, OK, I have to start from scratch.

This is the fear. And unless there is flexibility and room for debate and disagreement, sectarianism is inevitable. The greater the fear of the truth, the more likely that there will be virulent opposition among subgroups, etc.

How can a religion survive, then? At the very foundation of religion, generally speaking, are going to be some irrational or unverifiable tenets, such as belief in the existence of God, the efficacy of ritual, the possibility of liberation, etc. Of course, we say, as religions always have, that this is a subjective matter and not accessible empirically, pace the attempts of science to find the mystical experience centers in the brain.

It may well be argued that one must accept a religion as a sadhana, as a closed system with a certain specific function, namely to realize God. Realizing God is a purely subjective matter, though we do hope that it will be accompanied by certain objectively verifiable symptoms. Nevertheless, the scriptures warn us that those who have reached enlightenment are not governed by the same ethical or behavioral constraints as the unenlightened.
A religious system, or the symbolic universe upon which the religious system is based, is closed in the sense that it is considered complete and will therefore ignore contradictions arising from a clash with other systems, such as that of empirical science, etc. It is like a machine, all of whose parts are necessary for it to function properly. If you mix an empirical world view with the closed system religious view, neither will function correctly. This is because the sadhana system is not for discovering empirical truth, but for accessing an inner reality. Or, it may be said, for creating an inner spiritual reality that has externally transformative possibilities.
There are many religious systems these days, that attempt to strip mythical elements to the maximum extent possible and adopt a kind of scientific guise. These systems are barely religious and fall into the realm of self-help and psychology more than religion. They may use some yoga or meditation techniques, but these are barely religious in nature and are often sold as purely stress relief, etc. But clearly there is a difficulty in this empirical and scientific age with myth, even when its symbolic meanings are valued. Too often, however, the symbol is reduced to its meaning and then discarded, and the consequent loss of dimension is barely recognized.
Now the Krishna consciousness as taught by Srila Prabhupada is extremely heavily balanced towards the closed system and against empiricism. The Vedic planetarium concept based on a geocentric cosmology is a sign of this. But even the most committed Western convert Krishna devotees find the doctrine of "total literal acceptance" of the closed universe of the Bhagavatam, etc., hard to swallow.
Indeed, juggling two realities, one the empirical world of daily life, the other subjective and fantastical, sounds like a recipe for schizophrenia, especially when both are in competition for one's committed attention. But, if you think about it, that is already happening to everyone to a greater or lesser degree. We are all faced with the same constant struggle to balance our subjective reality with the reality we experience externally.
We all carry within us a subjective universe, a rich universe of myth and archetype, unconscious biases and prejudices, of which we are barely aware, primarily because we tend to believe that we can be consistently committed to empirical or objective truth. And this is of course an illusion, because external reality is outside and we, i.e,. consciousness is inside and though undoubtedly connected to the observable universe, is separate from it as the observer.
Though the empirical system (i.e., the scientific method) was invented to combat the delusions of myth, in subtle form they remain. Interestingly enough, the empirical point of view produces its own mythologies and commitments that are held with religious intensity, even with the caveat that everything is open-ended. Our empirical knowledge today may be adjusted or even reversed tomorrow with new understandings, but in the mean time, we need a closed system of meaning to function in the here and now. So even though much of the modern man's mind may be informed by scientific thought or the universal laws that empiricism has revealed, the inevitable gaps will be filled by subjective attempts to create consistency. And even for such a one, compartmentalization and various other unconscious strategies are adopted to take care of any cognitive dissonance.
Now it must be said that the rishis who came up with the various puranic mythic universes were well aware of this conflict and deliberately took the side of a consistent closed universe. Their ultimate conclusion was that at some point, you had to renounce the external empirical reality altogether and accept only the existence of the inner world, whether that was Brahman or Goloka. But even so, in areas such as cosmology, etc., they made use of empirical knowledge as it existed in their time. In fact, there is no such thing as an entirely closed system.
So the main reason that religious thinking has recoiled in the face of empiricism is in great part because of its failures to deliver. When empiricism and the closed subjective system clash, reality always wins. If it doesn't, a kind of schizophrenia inevitably follows. Thus, when science and technology have brought so much improvement in human life, it seems that whatever its limitations, it has a better track record than "pie-in-the-sky hope for heaven when-you-die" religion, which ultimately counsels one to suck it up and accept suffering in this world on the faith that God will reward your goodness when you die.
Wherever there is a clash of cultures, it is impossible for a cultural fact not to undergo modification. Whether it is done willingly or not. Even the most rabid follower of Srila Prabhupada and "Vedic culture", if honest, will admit that he or she is really play-acting, i.e., superimposing one identity on another, and often that superimposed identity is pretty shallow. How few Western devotees know India? How well? How closely can they identify with it? And yet, following Prabhupada, they adopt an idealized "golden-age" India that has barely any relation to what exists or perhaps ever existed. Moreover, they use this idealized subjective system as a model that they would like to impose on their empirical reality.
And yet Western devotees often think they "know" India better than Indians. They have adopted the mythical India-world of the Puranas, the Once-that-never-was except as a distilled ideal essence of the world in which they were written. And the fact that devotees are having some success in peddling this Golden Age myth to a transforming and rapidly technologizing India itself shows that it still has some resonance here. But its limitation is obviously that of its inner inconsistency with what is now commonly accepted fact, for example, a heliocentric solar system. But we could probably create a list of a thousand scientific discoveries that are inconsistent with the Puranic world view. And if put to the test about what we really believed, we would check the scientific consensus most of the time. Does the earth go around the sun? Is the moon closer to the earth or is the sun?
Idealistic Philosophy

The Vedanti would say, "The ones who accept empirical reality are the illusioned ones. They are accepting a flawed model. Sense perception and deductive reasoning may give increased understand of external data, but the real world is that of the consciousness, and this closed system we have here is a scientific process for attaining a perfected state of subjective being free from the empirical reality, which is the realm of suffering."

Now the Vaishnava philosophy accepts the primacy of consciousness, like all Vedantis. The main which has justification even in the Vaishnava shastras, is based on the reality of the world. Devotees have heard this a thousand times, but generally speaking in gross terms: a fruit, a flower, some water—concrete tangibles that can be offered in service... Or cars, mobile phones and computers. And even the intelligence when it comes to marketing or design. Or even the intelligence to pondering and wrangling like scholastics over the meanings of words like "henceforward." But as to understanding core beliefs in the light of modern empiricism cuts a little too close to the bone.
The point really is this: By approaching a philosophy like that of Rupa Goswami with the rational capacities of a human being of the 21st century, we need to apply all the tools of the empirical and historical study of religion through psychology, sociology and anthropology, in order to discover its essence. Not to debunk it, but -- as a practitioner -- to find "the working ingredients" so to speak.

Because I think you do have to harmonize the two, but you have to streamline the enclosed system so that the conflict is less great, because ultimately the enclosed system is not without a relation to the empirical. What you think has some relation to reality. And perception is reality, in the sense that if you "see" God everywhere, that should change your way of interacting with reality.

Yoga is also a closed system. It is very difficult to go from one to another, if you have gone deeply into one. You cannot have two closed systems and be sane.

The empirical system is open, but people are always trying to close it. So you have to be an atheist, for instance. The sadhana system is closed because it is the emotional and affective digested form of reality that makes reality ordered or meaningful.

And that is where the most profound and effective communication takes place. This is of course prema sadhana. If you make love only through empirical realities without communicating on the most profound spiritual level, which is mediated by our symbolic universes, then it is superficial and not love at all. Yoga is not entirely incompatible with bhakti if you have them correctly prioritized. Mainly because yoga is already a part of the backdrop of Indianness anyway.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rupa Goswami and History

Yesterday I gave a talk at Gopinath Bhavan here in Vrindavan. On Srila Narayan Maharaj's order, his disciples hold an annual conference on Rupa Goswami in English and Hindi. The English event takes place in the morning and the Hindi assemblies are in the evening. Many speakers come, especially in the evening, most of them being sannyasis from the Gaudiya Math, though a few other scholars attend, such as Shrivatsa Goswami and Achyutalal Bhatta Goswami. The daytime program is fairly well attended, 30-40 devotees, with senior English-speaking devotees holding forth on Rupa Goswami from various perspectives.

Somehow or another, despite reservations about me personally, the organizer of that event kindly put me in as a speaker. I was not so keen at first, but then I was persuaded. I haven't been doing any public speaking in ages, and it is probably best that I get back in the habit.

In order to keep me from saying anything controversial, however, the organizer originally asked me to speak about Kheturi, but since I am trying to write a paper on Rupa Goswami and the Gīta-govinda, I asked to speak on that subject. Even so, she further warned me that, "This is about 'hagiography', not scholarly analysis, I hope you understand."

I answered, "I am speaking out of love for the devotees. What harm can come of anything I say? And even if I were to speak on Kheturi, I could make that a controversial subject too, if I chose to present it in that way. The fact is that if you have a strong realization, it is quite likely that some people will object to it. But I will not deliberately try to disturb anyone's mind. I come to glorify Rupa Goswami."

So I gave my talk, which of course was impossible to finish in fifteen minutes, but I gave a brief outline, mostly an introduction to the subject, which was that Rupa Goswami built his philosophy of rasa based on the knowledge and literature of the time, which included the Bhāgavatam, but also, most significantly, Chandidas, Vidyapati, Gīta-govinda, Ramananda Ray's Jagannātha-vallabha-nāṭaka, and Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta. And that I had done a little research into Rupa Goswami's use of Chandidas, and explained the broad outlines of what I had concluded from that.

But, I explained, Rupa Goswami was a Sanskritizer who, like many before him, took folk themes and adapted them in a way that fit a more respectable vision of Krishna, one that was more in keeping not only with the shastric or Bhāgavatam concept, but with the concept of Krishna promulgated by the rasikas, of whom Jayadeva was foremost.

In fact, it is my intention to show in my article that the fundamentals of Rupa Goswami's vision can be traced to Gīta-govinda, and the way to do so is by examining the direct quotations that he makes of GG in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi. There are 19 such quotes, of which five can be considered particularly significant; three are found in the brief summary of madhura-rasa in BRS, and two are in UN, both from the 12th chapter of GG.

The reason I say that these verses are significant is that in Rupa's work on the madhura-rasa, the very first and last verses he quotes are both taken from GG. Moreover, the first verse of GG after the maṅgalācaraṇa (1.48) and the concluding verse of the GG (12.27) describing Radharani as svādhīna-bhartṛkā are included amongst these five. Thus both works' beginning and end enclose each other. It is as though the verses quoted from GG by Rupa Goswami are to be taken as inclusive of the whole work, and similarly by putting Jayadeva at the beginning and end of his work on madhura-rasa, he is saying that the whole of UN is held within the GG. I am going to explain this in more detail in another blog as I write the article, so I won't go any further here.

After I finished my talk, the organizer stood up and stated again that she did not agree with my historical way of analysis. Though she did not specify her arguments, it was clearly because this would make Rupa Goswami a mere mortal.

Now as we now, this mortal-not mortal/not-an-ordinary-man philosophy has led to numerous problems in the past with cultish servility being given to unworthy persons. It is my feeling that unless you can objectively analyze something, even something that is connected to your experience of divine grace, you will be limited in your proper understanding. Even though such methodologies are by definition limited in what they can achieve--I am the last to say that spiritual experience can be fully comprehended through reason--fear of them is also bound to be counterproductive. In the hands of a devotee intellectual, they would rather serve to highlight the achievements of a great individual rather than overshadow them.

On the previous day also, a question arose out of this cloudy zone. Someone asked Bhagavata Maharaj, "If Rupa Goswami was Rupa Manjari, then he already knew all the secrets of the kunja, etc. So why did he need to hear from Chaitanya in Prayag, and why did he need the blessings of the devotees in Puri?" To which no satisfactory reply was given. Bhagavata Maharaja simply said, "I am only repeating what I read in the book."

So I rather audaciously stood up when there was a technical fiddle and hiatus in the action a little later on in the second session and said, "Allow me to entertain you while the projector is being set up. Since Manjari Dasi has stated that she does not like the historical mode of interpretation, allow me to defend this approach for a moment or two since I probably won't get another chance to do so."

In the brief moment I took possession of, I simply said that the "human" pastimes of the Lord and his devotees when they appear in the world means that they accept a position within history and therefore they are bound by conditions, or by their "role in the lila." They condescend, shall we say, to accept the conditions that govern a particular time, place and cultural milieu. Therefore if we wish to fully understand the value of what they did, and especially if we want to make it relevant to the present time, place and culture, it behooves us to understand them in theirs. It is really only by seeing Rupa Goswami in his historical context that we will have any hope of making him meaningful in ours.

More often than not, the hagiographical approach does us a disservice. If we are so afraid of losing our faith that we cannot make a proper attempt to understand things, it only means that we are delaying the crisis of faith that will inevitably come. That is the nasty thing about doubt.

Manjari said in an aside to me later that she still disagreed with me. So be it. Radhe Shyam.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Paurusha or Grace?

Since getting back to Vrindavan, I seem to have been going through some kind of adjustment experience. Rishikesh and Vrindavan really are two different worlds. 

Right now it is the Jhulan and Janmastami season warming up in Vrindavan. So there is a lot of action, a lot of satsanga, Bhagavata, kirtan, etc. going on everywhere. Hundreds of people on the Parikrama Marg every day, it seems.

I am mostly sleeping in my room... Like Harivams says, that is the bhakti path, just stretch out your legs and go to sleep... in Vrindavan. I have arrived!

I picked up a book yesterday about Udiya Baba by his disciple Akhandananda Saraswatiji Maharaj. These were two of the most significant Brahmavadis to move to Vrindavan in the last century. Akhandananda founded one of the largest ashrams in Vrindavan, in Moti Jheel, and Udiya Baba's ashram is right nearby. 

Akhandananda tells the story that when Udiya Baba (Purnananda Tirtha) was still engaged in doing tapasya by the Ganga, he came to visit Vrindavan and went to see Ramkrishna Pandit Baba at Dauji Bageecha, which is where the Vrindavan Research Institute is now.

In those days, Udiya Baba did not care so much about wearing saffron or carrying a danda, and somene put a white chaddar around him before he went to visit Pandit Baba, so Pandit Baba thought he was a Vaishnava and not a Brahmavadi sannyasi.

Pandit Baba asked him, "What do you think is greater, paurusha (i.e. effort) or Krishna's mercy?"

So Udiya Baba said, "Effort" since he had been following the path of tapasya. "You meditate," he explained, "and when your mind has fully taken on the form of the Lord, then you will get darshan." 

So Pandit Baba looked at him very closely and said with some suspicion, "Do you live on the banks of the Ganga?" Which was a kind of interesting question, to which Udiya Baba of course said yes.

Then Pandit Baba said, "So go back to the Ganga and study the Upanishads very intensively. When your business there is finished, when you see that you have nothing left to do, that you are not the doer, and you recognize that you are 100% dependent on Krishna's mercy, then only come back to Vrindavan."

Udiya Baba eventually did come back. This is from the book Brahma Murti Shri Udiya Baba, by Akhandananda Saraswati, pages 8-9. An English translation is available here.