Diksha, esoterism, parampara, community and sectarianism

I was astonished recently to find myself debating with many devotees over what seemed to me to be a resistance to mañjarī-bhāva. I felt obliged to ask why these devotees, most of whom were from Iskcon, felt it necessary to argue that it was not necessary to want to be Radha's dasi, but could be whatever they liked, why they did not try to figure out why that was the desired goal of all our acharyas with practically no exception?

If you follow a guru, you partake of his mood. And if the guru has a different mood from the one you seek, then why are you with that guru? If you want to be a lawyer, you go to law school, not medical college, is it not? One expects the guru to be of the same mood (svajātīyāśaya), otherwise what is the point of a guru?

And if you don't know what your guru's mood is, then what do you follow? The line of grace is in getting the special prize that is the heart of the guru. This is why I believe that paramparā is more than just śikṣā.

We give particular importance when discussing dīkṣā to the interpretation of the divyaṁ jñānaṁ verse, the etymological definition quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (2.9) and Bhakti-sandarbha (283),

divyaṁ jñānaṁ yato dadyāt kuryāt pāpasya saṅkṣayam|
tasmād dīkṣeti sā proktā deśikais tattva-kovidaiḥ ||
Because it bestows divine (divya) knowledge and causes the complete destruction (kṣaya) of sin, it is called dīkṣā by the teachers who are expert in spiritual truths.
Jiva Goswami famously interprets  divyaṁ jñānaṁ in the following way,

divyaṁ jñānaṁ hy atra śrīmati mantre bhagavat-svarūpa-jñānaṁ, 
tena bhagavatā sambandha-viśeṣa-jñānaṁ ca |
Divine knowledge here means "knowledge of the Lord's true identity in the sacred mantra" and through that knowledge of a specific relation with the Lord.
In other words, the mantra is meant to communicate or define one's particular relationship with a  specific form of bhagavān.

The guru can initiate a disciple into a general practice or in a specific practice. In the beginning one follows the general practice, but this initiation is in a specific practice. So we say that the guru should be able to initiate in the specific practice at some point, which is ekādaśa-bhāva.

There is no such comparable custom in relation to any other sambandha such as sakhī-bhāva or sakhya-bhāva. So our sampradāya is really a mañjarī-bhāva sampradāya. This is, of course, a very narrow taste and it is quite understandable that certain people wished to broaden the scope to include other rasas. But when Narottam says that Rupa Goswami recognized the inner desire or mano'bhīṣṭam of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the sampradāya understands that this means mañjarī-bhāva. That is the tradition as I received it. And if that is not your tradition, then it is not the same tradition.

Those who have Narottam Das in their paramparā should refer to Prema-bhakti-candrikā.

rādhikāra sakhī yoto  tāhā vā kohibo koto
mukhya sakhī koribo gaṇana |
lalitā viśākhā tathā citrā campakalatā
raṅgadevī sudevī kathana || 49 ||

tuṅgavidyā indurekhā ei aṣṭa sakhī lekhā
ebe kohi narma sakhī gaṇa |
rādhikāra sahacarī priya preṣṭha nāma dhari
prema sevā kore anukṣaṇa || 50 ||
How much can I say about Radha’s sakhis, there are so many of them! Let me simply name the most important ones: Lalitā, Viśākhā, Citrā, Champakalata, Raṅgadevī, Sudevī, Tuṅgavidyā and Indurekhā, these are the eight sakhis. Now let me talk of the narma-sakhīs (the manjaris). These are Radha’s companions who are also known as priya preṣṭha (“dear, most dear” or “dear to the most dear”) who engage in loving service constantly.
sama snehā viṣama snehā nā koriho dui lehā
kohi mātra adhika snehāgaṇa |
nirantara thāke saṅge kṛṣṇa kathā līlā raṅge
narma sakhī ei sab jana || 51 ||
Don’t mix up those who are sama snehā (equal in their affections to both Radha and Krishna) and viṣama-snehā, those who are unequal. I am only going to speak of those who have more affection for Radha than Shyam. These sakhis are always in Radha’s company, delighting her with talks of Krishna. This is why they are called narma-sakhīs.
śrīrūpa mañjarī sāra śrī rati mañjarī āra
lavaṅga mañjarī mañjulālī |
 śrī rasa mañjarī saṅge kasturikā ādi raṅge
prema sevā kore kutūhole || 52 ||
Śrīrūpa Mañjarī is the essence of them all, Śrī Rati Mañjarī,  Lavaṅga Mañjarī, Mañjulālī, Rasa Mañjarī, and Kasturikā Mañjarī – all serve in love with great enthusiasm.
e sabhāra anugā hoiyā prema sevā nibo cāiyā
iṅgite bujhibo sab kāja |
rūpe guṇe ḍagamagi sadā hobo anurāgī
vasati koribo sakhīra mājha || 53 ||
I will become the follower of these Narma Sakhis, and from them I will request services to perform, understanding what needs to be done simply from the signs they give. Becoming absorbed in Radha and Krishna’s form and virtues, I will always remain in love, dwelling in the company of Radha’s friends.
vṛndāvane dui jana caturdike sakhī gaṇa
samaya bujhibo rasa sukhe |
sakhīra iṅgite hobe cāmara ḍhulābo kobe
tāmbūla yogābo cāṅda mukhe || 54 ||
Radha and Krishna reside in Vrindavan, surrounded by the sakhis. I will easily know the times [for various pastimes and service] according to the rasas. When will I fan [the Divine Couple] with the chamara on the indication of the sakhis, and when will I offer tambul to their moon-like faces.
yugala caraṇa sevi nirantara ei bhāvi
anurāgī thākibo sadāya |
 sādhana bhāvibo yāhā siddha dehe pābo tāhā
 rāga pathera ei se upāya || 55 ||
Thinking constantly of how I will serve the Divine Couple’s lotus feet, I will remain always enthusiastically loving. That which I contemplate in my sādhanā is what I will attain in my spiritual body. This is the method taught in the rāgānugā path.
sādhane ye dhana cāi siddha dehe tāhā pāi
pakvāpakva mātra se vicāra |
apakke sādhana rīti pākile se prema bhakti
bhakati lakṣaṇa tattva sāra || 56 ||
That prize I seek in my culture of devotion is what I will get in the spiritual body. It is simply a question of ripe and unripe states of the same thing. When unripe it is called sādhana-bhakti, when ripe it is prema-bhakti. This is all you really need to know about bhakti.
narottama dāse koy ei yeno mora hoy
vrajapure anurāge vāsa |
sakhī gaṇa gaṇanāte āmāre likhibe tāte
taba hi pūrabo abhilāṣa || 57 ||
Narottam Das prays: May this be mine: residence in Vrindavan with passionate love. When they make a list of Radha’s sakhis, may I be included in their number, then my wishes will all be fulfilled.
sakhīnāṁ saṅginī-rūpām ātmānāṁ vāsanā-mayīm|
ājñā-sevā-parāṁ tat-tad-rūpālaṅkāra-bhūṣitām|| 58 ||
I meditate on myself as a companion of the sakhis, filled with desire [for service], dedicated to the their instructions for service, and decorated with their beauty and ornaments. (Sanatkumāra-saṁhitā)
manera smaraṇa prāṇa madhura madhura dhāma
yugala vilāsa smṛti sāra |
sādhya sādhana ei iha boi āra nāi
ei tattva sarva tattva sāra || 61 ||
The life of the mind is smaraṇa, remembering the Lord. It is the abode of sweetness. And of all the kinds of smaraṇa, remembering the līlā of the Divine Couple is the essence. So here I have told you about the process and the end goal. There is nothing more than this. You really need to know nothing more about spiritual life than this. (PBC 61)
āpana bhajana kathā nā kohibo yathā tathā
ihāte hoibo sāvadhāna |
nā koriho keho roṣa nā loiho keho doṣa
praṇamahu bhaktera caraṇa || 119 ||
I will not speak of my personal bhajan here and there in public. I will take care not to do so, and I hope no one will be angry with me because of it or find fault with me. I bow down to all the devotees' feet.
Certainly the whole issue of initiations is going to have to be figured out by the Vaishnava society sooner or later. Most people are not concerned with esoteric matters and so those things will need to be bracketed. The contentious problem with initiation as it stands is not whether initiation itself is necessary, but whether one particular line of initiation is uniquely authorized or not.

Since there are so many claimants to this unique authority, it seems that the injunctions that state initiation is not necessary, either for the mahā mantra or any other mantra should be taken as the general rule governing Vaishnava society.

It is hard to see how there can be any community strength in the Vaishnava world if we make dīkṣā a primordial differentiating characteristic, though this divisive sectarian tendency seems to be well institutionalized now. In actual fact, dīkṣā has become a separating factor as gurus claim possession of disciples as a part of their own sect or cult rather than as a sign of appurtenance to a larger community.

Even if one accepts some legalistic argument that gives his or her guru and particular lineage some unique merit, if this creates a mood of separation from the Vaishnava community, or even a sense of superiority that is not necessarily merited,  then it does not seem to me to be particularly helpful in achieving a high standard of morality or humanity, a failure is particularly counterproductive.

Yet the question, which no doubt is one that Siddhanta Saraswati must have asked himself, is what is the function of a principle that rejects religion (i.e., the social dimension of spirituality) in favor of individual esoteric self-discovery? At some point, access to the individual esoteric path must have a basis in a social ethic that is conducive to that path. In other words, children must be brought up in families and in a community that will give them the necessary purity of character and psychological predisposition to seek and understand the esoteric path. A society or religious community is needed in which the language that communicates the esoteric truths is learned.

The problem is that if the leaders of that community are not themselves educated in the esoteric, if their initiation is external or merely functional, i.e., an initiation that makes them part of a group defined not by internal realization but by external adherences only, then it will crumble into vaidhi bhakti, institutionalism, and superficiality.

So this is the sensitive issue that lies at the center of Saraswati's idea of the śikṣā or bhāgavata-sampradāya. But it does not mean that anyone following Saraswati Thakur understands that, since it is quite apparent that his creation of a separate disciplic succession has simply exacerbated the problem of sectarianism.


Anonymous said…
Was watching this (oh dear me, so very funny):


And thought of this (vata meen):


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