Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Krishna bhakti and community

I get regular mailings from the Pure Bhakti website of Narayan Maharaj's sangha. The last few days have been full of messages citing Narayan Maharaj's warnings about Ananta Das Baba. Today was the bouquet, as we say in French, as the headlined audio file was "Satsvarupa Goswami confirms Srila Narayan Maharaja saved him and others from Ananta Das Babaji."

So the Narayan Maharaj followers that were so condescending and critical of Satsvarupa and the other Iskcon leaders who flirted with defecting to their guru or taking instruction from him but then capitulated to institutional pressure, are now lionizing the very same man because "Narayan Maharaj saved him from Ananta Das Babaji," a fate worse than death for sure. Saved from what, exactly? Radha-dasya? Raganuga bhajan? Erotic adventures with Bengali widows in Radha Kund?

All this comes in the wake of the recent news that a sannyasi from Narayan Maharaj's sangha, Srila Vaishnava Maharaj, has gone to Ananta Das Baba in Radha Kund, taken siddha pranali and bhek from him, and adopted the life of a bhajananandi Vaishnava with the name Madhavananda Das Babaji Maharaj. This has been eliciting what looks like panicked reactions from his erstwhile colleagues. After all, most of them abandoned the ISKCON ship to jump on the Narayan Maharaj bandwagon, and now it seems that the next tidal flow is about to commence... this time to their detriment.

Narayan Maharaj opened the portals to the madhura-rasa soaked literature of the Goswamis and encouraged his disciples to delve into them. There is no turning back from this. Those who are keen to cultivate the madhura mood of bhajan that all our scriptures point to will now finally find themselves going to the source, namely Radha Kund.

Ananta Das Baba is nearing the end of an illustrious career as a disseminator of the teachings of Rupa and Raghunath Das Goswamis. He is now in his 80's and when I saw him last month, it was clear to me that he is suffering physically from various ailments, but nevertheless goes on with his lecturing and writing. He will not be with us for that much longer, but it seems that Radharani nicely arranged for him to survive until all the most charismatic senior Gaudiya Math leaders had disappeared and he was left as the only person with the stature that an ambitious sadhaka would approach for shelter as a spiritual guide. And, of course, I think that is a good thing.

Though there has been a steady trickle of Western Vaishnavas to Radha Kund and the "Sahajiya Babajis" -- there are at least 50 of them living there now. Many have gone there without leaving their IGM affiliation, some without even abandoning their narrow-minded and sectarian point of view. But now it seems almost inevitable that the kind of movement that took place in the past, first with the exodus from ISKCON to Shridhar Maharaj, then to Narayan Maharaj and -- to a lesser extent -- to several other senior Gaudiya Math acharyas and so on.

This had the effect of thinning out the Vaishnava community and, at least in the first instance, increasing the potential for sectarian rivalries. After all, ISKCON officially considers those ex-members who went to Narayan Maharaj, what to speak of any other teacher, to be apostates and a danger to their institution's fledgling aspirants' spiritual life. For both ISKCON and the Gaudiya Math, the real issue is one of preserving institutional integrity. Well, no one is going to wipe these Vaishnava sanghas off the face of the earth. They will continue to exist, as each serves its own function in Mahaprabhu's greater plan, but Madhavananda Maharaj's move hopefully means that the scope of available association and discourse will be widened.

But this in turn highlights the problem about the way that international Gaudiya Vaishnavism organizes itself communally. Let us face it: for the most part we are a dysfunctional bunch. Competition and protectionism on the basis of immature spirituality continue to prevail; such attitudes are even actively promoted by many of the Vaishnava leaders. Although it is to be hoped that those who finally reach Radha Kund will be the most mature, this also may be too much to hope for. Frankly, devotees need to understand that Krishna consciousness -- if it is really to be applied as a universal spiritual science -- has to outgrow this mentality and must do so before it is too late.

Esoteric and arcane spiritualism is by nature individualistic. When applied socially, it fragments. One has to be able to find a way to make nishtha, commitment and dedication to one's own practice, compatible with compassion and empathy for others and their experience. Your individual experience and the means you adopted to get there are not necessarily going to be meaningful to others. But your compassion and the virtues that arise from genuine spiritual advancement MUST be universal. And the communal culture must be oriented in THAT direction.

There is a lot of talk about Guru Tattva, and I have spent a lot of my life contemplating the questions that surround the kind of injunctions that demand the absolute loyalty and obedience to the Guru. But the kind of problems that arise when you create mostly artificial divisions and sectarian loyalties is that you undermine community. Everyone is constantly being tested against impossible criteria of ideological purity and the very essence of devotional association is destroyed.

Krishna says in the Gita that devotees rejoice in each other's association, hearing from each other and glorifying Krishna together. The process of spiritual life is one of discovery and sharing. It goes on at different levels of realization, but in the earlier stages, one seeks security and stablity of siddhanta as a way of establishing confidence in spiritual life. But this inevitably collapses under the weight of experience, or the "reality principle." When that happens, what is needed more than anything else is compassion.

I keep seeing that quote about Prabhupad building a house in which the whole world can live. Sorry, I have yet to see the evidence.

Progress in bhajan is progress in humanity. It means progress in empathy, because how can there be love without empathy or compassion? We need to cultivate a sense of community that does not disintegrate into sectarian infighting, but takes the position that prema is our goal and lets the trappings of institutional commitment not trump basic human values of kindness, helpfulness and commitment to truth and justice.

Let us leave the fledgling birds in their nests until they learn to fly. What I want to know is how will we create a social milieu suitable for grownups. The occasional wise comments on Facebook are no doubt helpful, like a glow worm gives hope in the night. But just as the glow worm is not the dawn, the desire for mature spiritual community is not going to be satisfied on line.Let us all become experts in prema. Let us learn the art of compassion, not in the name of converting others to our view, but in the name of ending human suffering.

Radhe Shyam.

1 comment:

sungazer said...

Pamho JagatJi. I dont understand this mentality really. I have learned and continue to learn from Iskcon, Gaudiya Math, ChaitanyaGaudiya Math, Chaitanya Saraswat math, Rajendra Das Ji maharaj, srila Haridas Shastri Maharaj, srila Syamdas Ji, and Sri Kripaluji Maharaj. And so many other Sadhu and Vaishnabas who all have Priti for Sri YugalKishore Jiu in their hearts. Sure, in Gaudiya Vaishnav literature, clearly Unnata Ujjvala Sva Bhakti Sriyam, what Sriman Mahaprabhu came to give, is most appealing to me, naturally. But I have always consciously refrained from doing Sadhu Ninda, because, our Goswamis have taugt us this as the first step. I have so much respect for Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj.......I am in no position to understand who He is, how much Prema and Realisations He must have....and ditto for all the various Vaishnabas from various Mathas. What is the use of criticizing and being paranoid and doing all this aparadha? Yes, you dont get along, and its fragmented, but it is what it is. Why make it worse by mindless criticizing? Its nuts!