Showing posts from August, 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, …

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 tho…

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 mu…

Gaurahari Zodda and his conversion to Christianity

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 commer…

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 deba…

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 …

Literalism and theological progress

Q. (Aug. 26, 2013) Someone wrote the following: I was reading about the perception of Bhaktivinode Thakur's essay on Bhagavata. Some people view this book as his preliminary view before he became uninitiated and still engaged in a somewhat empirical mode of thought, or at least influenced by such things. However, they say, he subsequently abandoned all these views and believed in the traditional version of shastra and literal interpretations. I just wanted to know your opinion on this issue? Do you think did he abandon his previous views because of peer pressure of identifying with traditionalists? Christianity has always made non-literal interpretations for a long time. However, theistic Indic traditions have difficulty doing that. Right? 

A. Did I mention ruchi and vichara pradhana? Bhakti-sandarbha 202, I think. Sooner or later, you have to get back to ruchi.

At a certain point, one's innocence comes back. One suspends disbelief where disbelief is not necessary. That is the…

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 …

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 Vrind…