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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are a great person Jagat, nice to read your writtings :-)

Jagat said...

You are most kind, and I am honored by your appreciation. Radhe Shyam!

Ram das said...

I liked these two passages:

»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.«

»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.«

That‘s so true. The scientific approach does not at all harm the divine feeling instead clears it and strenghtens it. Only the mythical and blind faith issues are washed away by rational approach, not the spiritual essence.
We have to progress to a trans-rational approach instead of sticking again and again to a pre-rational approach. Pre-rational is the old style of blind faith which rejects rational and scientific consideration as blasphemy or atheistic. Trans-rational approach transgresses rational thinking without rejecting but instead including it. See for this idea in detail: Don Beck - Spiral Dynamics.
The bhakti-movement MUST advance to the trans-rational modus. Otherwise we will never achieve any success in preaching or delivering the path of bhakti to the world. Instead we will remain an exotic marginal sect.

ndas said...

very good """ know the real history "" to know what you need to do yourself .... strange how all say that acharyas came to teach by examaple, but some not ready to see the whole picture.... one question : were the nityasiddha acharyas "in illusiory maya" or not ? ie bhaktivinod thakur fish or Rupa go as mortal or other????????