Friday, May 16, 2014

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 indeed.

There appears to be something about the things I say that escapes people -- so many are incapable of nuance. They hear the word sex and assume a great deal about me personally as a result. This is why I find myself returning to the subject again and again, repeating the same basic ideas again and again. Perhaps I am wrong to do so.

At any rate, here are some accumulated comments from recent Facebook discussions that were prompted by the
article The problems of identity, real and imposed.


I use the term sahajiyā in my own way. I have appropriated the term to express something about the way that the spiritual path of devotion works, or in my view is meant to work. It contains themes that are present in all historical sahajiyā traditions, but I don't think anyone has thought about it with the same degree of sophistication as I have. Forgive my hubris.

The essence of it lies in the transition from the beginner stage to the middle stage of spiritual progress. Bhakti means love. Loving the deity in Goloka, in the temple, or in your heart, even, is the first stage of bhakti. In the second stage one becomes aware of the sacred presence of God in the other human being. In the final stage, the presence of God is perceived universally, or more practically, in community. All three levels are true and not mutually exclusive, but complementary. What is gained in the first stage is not lost, simply ripened or matured or deepened.

(1) Are you saying that sahajiyāism is closer to the original Gaudiya tradition?

There is a confusion here that arises out of the misuse of the word sahajiyā by IGM (Iskcon-Gaudiya Math). They include the orthodox babajis of Radha Kund in the scope of sahajiyāism. So when I use the term "sahajiyā Babajis," I am only appropriating a slur.

In IGM, prākṛta-sahajiyā (a term that perhaps Siddhanta Saraswati himself coined) is a blanket condemnation of all who believe that sexuality has a spiritual function. It is meant as a slur, since it assumes, a priori, that any sexuality whatsoever is bad and automatically a spiritual negative.

The true sahajiyā simply says, "Gender differentiation is basic to the human situation. Sexuality is a natural proclivity and should be used in the process of understanding and perfecting prema. There is no meaning to Radha and Krishna if there is no such thing as love in this world. Our love makes Radha and Krishna real, and Radha and Krishna transform our love into the supreme sacred reality."

(2) What do you mean by meditation on one's svarūpa?

Here we are talking about the orthodox system of endeavoring to meditate directly on Krishna lila and one's role within it, usually as a mañjarī. What I am interested in here is unpacking the symbolic meaning of this role.

So when I say conscious and unconscious in this regard I am referring to the whole constellation of material motivations that might play a role in anyone's seeking such an identity, and looking for the "real" therein.

If this meditation is not understood in relation to our actual psychological makeup, and if it does not relate to the reality of our lives as human beings, it is false consciousness and needs to be deconstructed.

Krishna bhakti of the first stage (pravartaka, i.e., what everyone understands to be bhakti, both vaidhī and rāgānugā), i.e., the direct intuited knowledge of God within oneself as well as in the superstructures of religious bhakti (temple worship, Harinam, practices etc.) are all enhanced by passage into the second stage. But something new is added.

3) Are you saying that this svarūpa can be granted for real, or do you think it is merely an intermediary step, that brings us towards Krishna bhakti as exemplified by the sentiment, "Whoever I am, Shyama, I am yours, I am doing the best that I can."

That is an interesting question and might only be answered when one reaches the end of the journey. I personally see all of it included in all of it, sarvaṁ sarvātmakam. The important thing to me, and the angle of vision I take, is that prema has to be the goal. And the means has to contain the goal within it. A process that separates or isolates you from the world cannot really be the goal of bhakti. This is not the kaivalya of yoga, the separation of prakṛti and puruṣa, but a proper understanding of their union in love, in multiple dimensions, i.e., singular, dual and plural.

It is only because I decided to focus on the word prema in all its manifestations that I have come to my conclusions. If anything, the mañjarī-deha is the form of love. So they are or should be mutually enhancing. But something like the mañjarī form, meditated on because it is the tradition or because someone said it was the "highest thing" etc., is probably going to cause confusion in the mind of the practitioner. In this I have come to agree with Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. Nevertheless, the fact that our sampradāya points to this as the highest thing needs to be dealt with in an honest and direct way.

Is it not an imposition for someone in a man's body to adopt the identity of a prepubescent girl? Unless some real life psychological purpose (one that is not pathological) can be found to justify such a transformation, with a real foundation in natural archetypes can be found whereby one's spiritual motivations can be aligned with a true sense of identity, meditation on a mañjarī-svarūpa is going to be difficult, because unnatural.

So I see this again as a distinction between the path of renunciation and the path of action. The former is about theory, the latter about practice, because unless there is practice, i.e., prema in the world, merely preserving the tradition is an exercise in dry conservation.

To give a more direct answer to the question, though. Surrender in ignorance is a first step, though the very nature of bhakti is to preserve ambiguity throughout as a necessary aspect of lila. But love clarifies one's relation with God, and rāgānugā bhakti means to become defined more clearly in the rasas for which one has the deepest taste. But because of the ever ambiguous, ever uncertain, ever evolving and infinite nature of bhakti, all steps are interim.

4) Gaudiya Vaishnavism proper, doesn't allow for the sublimation of our unconscious drives in this way, and requires something true to emerge and be given to us, something that is like a preexisting spiritual identity.

Well, since the renunciate model is the normative approach both in the orthodox and the GM divisions of GV, they accept the general orthodox wariness of sexuality. But grihasthas will obviously meet in some form or another an awareness of the relation between this-worldly erotic love and Radha Krishna lila. And if they are properly prepared, both in character and awareness, then they should be able to avoid the pitfalls associated with making such a relation conscious and to use it for a higher sublimation.

5) You are saying the challenge of that is that one can give up, if one has to wait so long, one can fall off into the alley this way also, into a sense of I am Brahman and that's it?

Certainly, if one feels that the imposition of a mañjarī identity is false, i.e., has no relation or relevance to life as lived, then one will see it only as a means to an end. Once its inherent falseness is exposed, it is to be given up. So yes that is a kind of danger that nevertheless must be faced with confidence, since we accept both identity and difference.

The only way around this is to accept the reality of universal archetypes and their functioning, and to understand the relation of our Vaishnava pantheon to that naturally existing psychological reality.

Some related points can be found here. I hope that is somewhat helpful.


The problem was and is still that the reality of the male-female complementarity, and all the things that go with it or support it, like the concept of shakti, etc., are not considered relevant to life in the world, or at least are not discussed openly as a matter of sādhanā. No thought is given to the practical matter of sexual attraction in this world and how it is to be harnessed and used as an element of spiritual culture, and in particular the culture of madhura rasa.

The IGM follows the renunciate model, which holds that sexuality is the basis of material entanglement; sex desire is bondage. Even though the scriptures say that a grihastha can be a devotee equal to a renunciate, the fact is that marriage is only looked at as a concession to a frailty. "It is better to marry than to burn" is the way St. Paul put it. The grihastha is expected to adopt the renunciate world view, and this then leads to all the misogyny and depreciation of the role of women and sexuality in spiritual life.

Masculine prejudice and misogyny lead to caricatures like the one a critic recently offered, where he characterizes the entire idea of spiritual or sacred love as a misappropriation for the purpose of bhakti to satisfying base carnal urges. This is the hammer with which the orthodoxy always beats the heads of the sahajiyās. It is not entirely incorrect, because that danger is there. But a true sahajiyā recognizes that licentiousness (strī-saṅga) is not the same as the devotional association of a spiritual partner in love (satī-saṅga).

The prominence of Radha in our tradition is not without relevance to an understanding of the workings of love in this world. The very fact that we use a symbol for God that visibly incorporates the feminine, and even prioritizes it, is an affirmation of the primary value of femininity, which is love.

Therefore, any version of Gaudiya Vaishnavism that does not accept this principle AND applies it practically as a part of its sādhanā, will have difficulty progressing to the stage of genuine community. And if you follow my logic, you will se that it is a no-brainer.

Can you present any shastric evidence to validate your advice? Where is this found in the writings of the foundational Goswamis of the Gaudiya cult?

One has to understand that pramāṇas are something that can be chosen selectively and then used as a guide to understanding the rest of a text or corpus of texts. Just like BhP 1.2.11 and 1.3.28 guide the Gaudiya Vaishnava understanding of the Bhāgavatam as mahā-vākyas or paribhāshās. This means that one should organize one’s understanding of other injunctions or prohibitions in the light of such overriding principles.

So, similarly, there are certain philosophical concepts, of which the "truth of the world" as opposed to the jagan mithyā of Shankara is the most important.

Once we accept that personhood, which includes gender distinction, is inherent in the very structure of reality, then we have to deal with the implications of such a discovery. The big mistake is to think there is no love in the world, to reduce every human interaction to lust and greed. Surely we are better than that, even if we fail in the attempt.
āmayo yaś ca bhūtānām jāyate yena suvrata
tad eva hy āmayaṁ dravyaṁ na punāti cikitsitam
O good soul, does not a thing, applied therapeutically, cure a disease which was caused by that very same thing?" (1.5.33)

Everything is an emanation from the Supreme Spirit, and by His inconceivable power He can convert spirit into matter and matter into spirit. Therefore a material thing (so-called) is at once turned into a spiritual force by the great will of the Lord. The necessary condition for such a change is to employ so-called matter in the service of the spirit. That is the way to treat our material diseases and elevate ourselves to the spiritual plane where there is no misery, no lamentation and no fear. When everything is thus employed in the service of the Lord, we can experience that there is nothing except the Supreme Brahman. The Vedic mantra that “everything is Brahman” is thus realized by us. [A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's translation and purport]

Surely something as important to human psychology as sexual love fits somewhere into "everything."
More here: Sex and Bhakti Yoga

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