Thursday, November 28, 2013

Radha-rasa-sudha-nidhi at Munger temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* *** *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radhe Shyam.

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