Showing posts from May, 2014

Editors, rasa, and the art of writing

Bhakti Abhaya Ashram posted an article on editing the other day,  How to Edit? Swamiji,formerly Babhru Das, has a background and training in English education on the college level, have been leading him to ponder this matter, and clearly the linguistic professionalization of Tripurari Maharaj's sangha is a result of his work.

Since I do a fair bit of editing, I read it with interest. In my editing work, I have traditionally been pretty timid. That probably has something to do with the field I work in. I work very gingerly where scholars like Swami Veda Bharati and Satya Narayan Dasji are concerned. I prefer to take the approach of a student who is trying to understand, and then simply try to improve the English and improve the clarity. Being somewhat slow on the uptake, wider-ranging advice usually comes rather too late to be any good. But this work is in translation and commentary, scholarly and scripturally based writing, which has a bias to the conservative.

It is not rather…

Wake up call.

It seems, strangely enough, that as we grow older, the less fearless we become. Should a lifelong sadhaka not be more ready and willing to risk or even embrace death, to take risks for Truth, Love and Justice?

Perhaps we become more fearful because we discipline ourselves all our lives to crave security. Especially if you have been a parent you habituate yourself to creating an environment where everything is stable and secure, as best you possibly can. And you often have to struggle very hard to do so. When you finally get to retirement age, you are often so exhausted with it all that you just want to rest, or like the shastra says, finally do a little bhajan, or just sit back and enjoy the fruits of your work, or just go on tranquilly in your own way.

Ah what dreams the world will only rarely permit!

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A day or two ago, I posted the following on Facebook:
Last night I had a minor bicycle accident. I swerved to miss an oncoming tempo as I turned the corner at Chaitanya Vihar…

Varnashrama and Society as we know it

As I reflect on the Yājñasenī book, I have also been thinking to some extent about kṣatrīya-dharma, which is of course the principal theme of the book as a whole. The Mahābhārata is about polity. The largest section, the Bhīṣma-parva, is almost wholly concerned with guidance for rulers. And, after all, kṣatrīyas run the place, the politicians and so on, and they have a real influence on the way people live. Even Krishna, the avatar who has come especially to reestablish dharma, to vanquish the wicked and bring succor to the dispossessed and devoted, is a kṣatrīya.

So what is the kṣatrīya ethic?

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Srila Prabhupada took a walk with his disciples here in Vrindavan and suddenly said, "We must start a Varnashram college." And he began to explain his concept of varnashram dharma and the ideal way of forming community, in microcosmic settings, close to the land, simple living and high thinking.

So, it was decided, as things were usually decide…

Memories of Birnagar Dwadash Mandir

Tonight I am back here in Vrindavan. It is very interesting for me to observe this differences in worlds as I constantly go back and forth between Rishikesh and Vrindavan, the two places where I have spent most of the last nearly seven years.

Now, in a few days, I will go to my guru's home. I am barely able to imagine what it will be like. It really will be the first time in ages. I went once a few years ago, in a rented car with Gadadhar Pran. It was a very unsatisfactory visit in that there was little closeness between the two of us white foreigners and the people living at the mandir. This time I go in the company of my godbrother, Harigopal Dasji.

Thirty years ago, I knew Harigopal as Bhakta Das when I first went to Birnagar. There were three young men staying in the ashram; Badol, Madhav and Bhakta Das. Though Madhusudan and I only stayed there a few times for an extended period of time, we developed friendships with all three of them. But Bhakta Das was always curious and f…

Answers to Questions about Sahajiyasim

I want to say something about the impression that people have that I am always talking about sex. Perhaps it is because I have been open about the subject in a way that others have not been that has created this impression. Women are ready to talk about misogyny, but fail to recognize that ambivalence and confusion about sexuality itself are an important contributing factor in misogyny, and a spiritually viable response is needed to assimilate sexuality into our culture of the sacred.

There are many people who feel uncomfortable with any mention whatever of sexuality, and tell me to emphasize love. After all, our tradition has always hidden direct references to sex and dressed it up in Radha Krishna's "love dalliances" or whatever. I think that a little direct talk is not only useful but necessary. That does not make me a sex maniac or a lusty old womanizer. Indeed, most people in the modern  materialistic view of sexual liberation would find me a fusty conservative ind…

The problems of identity, real and superimposed

The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is "knowing thyself" as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.... Therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory. (Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, quoted in E.W.Said, Orientalism, p. 25.) We all need to be deeply conscious of our own prejudices. But we should recognize that this is also part of the spiritual path, at an even deeper level than Gramsci's appeal to historical processes.

Gramsci is talking about critiquing political ideology, but we can recognize within it the imperative to the highest self-realization. In Upanishadic terms, this is knowing avidyā along with vidyā, i.e., knowing avidyā means to have taken Gramsci's inventory and said, neti. Vidyā is to know your true identity or svarūpa. The two processes are to be conducted simultaneously.

Now, the ques…

Yājñasenī (2): Beautiful women and lusty men

Pratibha Ray writes in her introduction that she was inspired to write the book after a real life experience. A woman she knew, whose name was also Kṛṣṇā (Draupadi's real name, "Draupadi" is a patronymic) returned to her parents' house after being deserted by her abusive drunkard husband. At first her well-wishers hoped she would be able to remarry, but the backward looking family and community of which she was a part would not allow it. So she went to Germany where a brother was living, got into a college and there fell in love with and married another man. This action on her part was condemned by many of her relatives, one of whom (a man, obviously) made the statement, "So just like her namesake Kṛṣṇā in the Mahābhārata was not satisfied with having five husbands, and still lusted for Krishna and even Karna, so she is not satisfied with just one husband. Where will it end?"

Pratibha Ray was insulted, she recounts, not so much for the sake of her acquaint…

Language and mental worlds

I am still not finished thinking about language and the way that it shapes the brain. I think that the way the brain is shaped in early life by language is practically impossible to really change. Even though we have some power to control the way our brains develop as we grow older, there are too many things, practically hard-wired, to completely change.

The only hope we really have is that there are common features to humanity itself, and that the archetypal forces that govern humanity are universal. This means that the kind of aspirations that lead to a life of spiritual culture, of interiority and faith in love as a guiding principle of life, are not the property of one civilization or another, but lie in the pre-linguistic fabric of our being.

Yesterday when I wrote about "American testosterone" and an Anglophone sense of universal cultural superiority, which is not without its racist undertones, I was talking about certain ego givens of the first disciples in this Har…

Sanskrit, self-realization and Krishna West

Yesterday I wrote about a book that I just finished today, the Sanskrit translation of an Oriya novel, Yājñasenī. I read through the 450 pages from beginning to end pretty much without stopping, which was an exciting new experience for me. After all, I have been studying Sanskrit for a long time, and it was a joy to be able to become absorbed in a book almost as though the language had finally become completely natural to me.

It seems, though, that a lot of what I do these days makes me reflect on the whole "Krishna West" debate. Yesterday, I spoke in favor of opening Sanskrit to foreign influences through translation. Though this may still be a good idea, it may be worth considering the view that perhaps keeping the Sanskritic tradition hermetically sealed in an India of the past may also be one.

Now learning Sanskrit is something that I did quite spontaneously without really giving it a great deal of thought, and the paths to learning it were opened to me in the Hare Kri…