Saturday, April 19, 2014

Krishna West/East

"Krishna West" is a VERY big deal. What I see is that Western devotees want to appropriate Krishna bhakti, make it their own. It is as though they are saying, "Indians did okay up until now. Now it is our turn." Like every other good idea, Westerners want to make it better.

After all, the West rules the world and has imposed its ways on India, the giant sloth, for 250 years now. What will be left of Vrindavan when it has been westernized completely? Will Krishna leave Vrindavan for New Vrindavan? Is Krishna really so localized that he must stay here and bend with the times?

I am a leader of Krishna West, figuratively speaking, and who is more Krishna East than me? Hell, ISKCON was not Indian enough for me. But I am not worried about whether dhotis look like diapers -- I spend most of my frigging days walking around in nothing more than a kaupin -- I have been trying to figure out what the hell this whole Hare Krishna business is about anyway, what to speak of God and religion, human life, enlightenment and love. Krishna consciousness is my field, my kshetra. Something is good there. What are the working ingredients? Can they be isolated? Or is there a version of Krishna bhakti that is an infallible recipe, a natural Gestalt, where a single ingredient which if isolated will only change the effect it has in combination with other things? Is it a medicine for a specific disease? Or is it something that if subjected to objective scrutiny dissipates like morning mist, its mysteries those of a placebo?

I did a parikrama the other day and stopped in at Rajendra Dasji's ashram, the Muluk Peeth just near Vamshi Vat. He is celebrating his annual festival in celebration of Muluk Das, a 16th century saint of the Ramanandi tradition who established his seat in Vrindavan. Rajendra Dasji is one of Vrindavan's current leaders and most respected Bhagavata speakers, and he is conducting the festivities with the appropriate shaan.


Rasa lila was going on in the large satsang hall, with Ram Swaroop's group on stage. They were in great form. Ram Swaroop was singing with such verve and joy. He must be in his mid-70s, but his voice had immense power, and his group is top notch.

I presumptuously found an empty place behind Rajendra Dasji himself. He was sitting in his vyasasan near the stage right in front of Ram Swaroop. I sat on a chowki that was meant for the sound team, but had been miraculously left empty. I realized later it was because sitting there put one in a higher position than the acharya who was sitting in front of it, though separated by a pillar. But being a stupid Westerner, I sat there without thinking of these things.

The kids did the peacock dance, with all the jhankis or tableaux. They did things like lift Krishna onto their shoulders, with almost acrobatic flourish, who then danced and flapped the peacock feather tails, more like wings. I thought, they're letting the boys be boys! When the dance finished, they returned to the yoga peeth position: Radha and Krishna on the simhasan with the eight sakhis on either side.

Ram Swaroop's lila-mandal has two newbies. The youngest boy could not be more than four years old. He was sitting next to Krishna's swaroop, adorning the simhasan by Radha's side. But this little boy, who believe me was deathly cute and obviously reveling in the newness of the whole shebang, noticed me and turned to Krishna and told him, and they both looked at me and laughed. The little kid had noticed the Saheb in the audience. I was pleased to be noticed by Krishna himself and I smiled back.

A few months ago, a woman devotee acquaintance was describing a rasa lila performance she had seen at Jai Singh Ghera. She couldn't stay, she said, because it was too strange for her to see adolescent boys with cracking voices and stubbornly burgeoning facial hair, dancing in the dress of women. Isn't that weird? Naturally, this thought has occurred to me, and indeed does it not always occur?

And I thought about the young boy... It was clear that this child was held in great affection by the other members of the troupe. Is it possible to look at this situation and not wonder if the occasion for abuse is glowering? I cut my teeth on this issue in ISKCON when the child abuse scandal was looming; I jumped ship partly because I did not want to be there when it happened. I had seen that it was insidious and I had no solutions. Certainly, "Chant Hare Krishna and be happy" was not cutting it back then. At least not then and there. Not fast enough. My solution was to get out and go deeper into the older tradition, but you cannot escape the universal underbelly of human nature.

I just wrote on my Facebook status, "Achintya means it is time for tears." Is that an Eastern statement or a Western one?  When the babus frowned on the sahajiyas, there is nothing they hated more than their girly-man tears. And a Westerner who stumbles into a nam kirtan in Nabadwip will find the histrionics tasteless, a show, a strange cultural aberration where people caterwaul, fake tears, and pretend to feel ecstatic love for God. 

The only person I know who has pushed Krishna East as far as it can possibly go is my godbrother Gadadhar Pran. He is still pining for someone to share his vision, his world, his Nabadwip Dham, his Gauranga. Tears come readily to him; they are part of his role. He has taking "acting as a way of salvation" to the extreme. But his vision is too alien for those who have to live in a world where getting into a car while it is snowing and driving downtown to earn a crust of bread is the quotidien reality.

The woman devotee I referred to above is not a newcomer to Krishna bhakti. She has more than passing understanding of the texts and theories of raganuga bhakti, and she has close association with a very public Western Vaishnava. Her commitment is to the Braj mood, and yet this representation of Krishna lila did not match her ideal concept as it had been mediated to her and which had become her own world of sacred love.

On stage, the gopis are troubled by the sound of Krishna's flute and discussing amongst themselves what to do about the disturbance. We cannot cook or do housework, they say, the flute messes with their minds. The wildly moustachioed and turbaned jester, Madhumangal, wearing beads and namavalis everywhere, comes on stage and, after a slapstick argument with Lalita, sells his soul to the gopis for some sweets by agreeing to help steal Krishna's flute.

Does not every devotee recreate his or her Vrindavan? If you were born and brought up in the West, did you not imbibe certain "equipment" with which you view the world and Vrindavan? Krishna Kirti is right when he says this, but even he is forced to use this equipment, and to be influenced by the using of it, no matter how hard he tries to be or create something else.

So whether someone points out that another is a "consequentialist" or finds some other monniker to identify his deviations and their causes, the Real Thing ultimately has to be a principle, in our case, Prema. And the lila of Radha and Krishna become revealed differently to different people, and the myths and lilas become living reality to people as they are. But the lila is only meaningful if it effectively communicates prema. Can it?

In our line, of course, how can we NOT look to Radha and Krishna, and to Vrindavan? But is our Radha-Krishna that of Ram Swaroop's Rasa Mandali?

4 comments:

sungazer said...

Pamho JagatJi
Just wanted to say, that Srila RajendraDasJi Maharaj's lectures sometimes come on t.v., on aaastha and sanskar channels. And they are absolutely enchanting. Maharaj also sings bhajans so well, with such a voice that you feel like weeping with the intensity of emotion generated. I am so grateful for his katha.

Anonymous said...

Dearest brother Jagadananda Das, thank you for your two-part YouTube video entitled The gopis lament Krishna's departure for Mathura (Part I and II).

Regarding the word Akrūra (which you spoke of in part II), navigate your web browser to:

https://youtu.be/jtOvigkak-A?t=2m56s

and listen to Mr. Kuppaswamy.


Some further relative notes:

Akrūra ("ak" + "rū" + "ra")

"ak", cl. I. P. akati , to move tortuously (like a snake [‎“twisting, winding" {spun, whirled}]), L. Cf. √ ag and √ añc.

(L. Lexicographers [i.e. a word or meaning which although given in native lexicons, has not yet been met with in any published text]. Cf. Compare the immediately preceding statement with another statement in the same work or, more commonly, a statement in another work.)

Source: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0001-a.pdf

"rū" árūrucat (°cata; Pass. rocyate), to cause to shine, RV.; to enlighten, illuminate, make bright, ib.; Sbr.; BhP.; to shine bright; light.

Sources; http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0881-rebhasUnu.pdf

&:

http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0882-ruk.pdf

"ra" acquiring, possessing, giving, effecting, fire, heat, love, desire, speed, amorous play, going, motion, n. brightness, splendour.

Source: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0859-yauktAzva.pdf

Anonymous said...


In regard to "ak" (of Akrūra), for the equivalent English-Sanskrit etymological (like-for-like) translation of the word "tortuously", see pages 438 (tára) and 240 (Ka) of Monier-Williams (tára + Ka)

Tara: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0438-tam.pdf

and

Ka: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0240-aurva.pdf

From Tark: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0439-taraNIya.pdf

Tarku: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/scans/MWScan/MWScanpdf/mw0440-tarkajJAna.pdf

From Tarku: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E0%A4%A4%E0%A4%B0%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%95%E0%A5%81#Sanskrit

From torqueo:https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/torqueo#Latin

From tortus: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tortus#Latin

From tortuous: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tortuous

Anonymous said...

See: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/monier1/mobile1/index.php

and: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/monier1/mobile1/index.php

Why is one labouring "tortuously" over just one word? Words are important, words are vehicles of expression, expressions of ideas which allow us to see the same truth seen by the writer. If our relative understanding of the truth of what is being expressed is lost in translation, then we ourselves are lost.

My person has read so many Sanskrit texts in which the English translation has been skewed to veil the truth, either by ignorance or design.

Speak only truth Jagananda Das, the simple truth; as we are all reflections of this simple truth.