Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Asana siddhi

Admittedly nine hours in siddhasana is a bit hard on the back; today my back hurts a little and is tired. I skipped meditation this morning and took extra rest. The lower back has to work hard.

Nevertheless, it is the strengthening of the lower back and the progressive straightening of the upper, where I have had a pronounced curvature since childhood, that has made sitting a long time possible. Needless to say, some proficiency in breath control is also required.

The lower back is part of the manipura chakra zone; where it meets the spine is the seat of the kanda or bulb, which is the central clearing house for all the nadis. Early hatha yoga texts talk about this kanda as also being a seat of the kundalini as much as the yoni-sthana, which lies between the muladhara and svadhishthana. This may be a source of confusion to some, but if one thinks of the kundalini rising as a two stage affair, beginning in the yoni and then getting a boost from the kanda, one will understand the way it works.

This is why one of the characteristics of the kundalini rising is that one feels the energy rising from the kanda and causing the spine to straighten out in the same kind of snapping motion like a whip, or that of a snake. This awakening of the kundalini, which is a necessary aspect of asana culture, makes one less dependent on actual muscular strength, as equilibrium reduces the strain on the muscles.

In my practice, I found that once the lower back had been activated, the upper back between the shoulders and then the neck also started to insist on being restored to their natural erect posture. I don't think I am fully straightened out yet, but the strengthening of the muscles of the upper back and the skeletal structures finding more comfort and pleasure in that posture is definitely enhancing the opening of the heart chakra as well as clearing the upper channels and chakras.

These matters are to be found in the Yoga-tarangini, which will be coming out shortly from Motilal Banarsidass.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Deserving desirable association

As often happens, there was a Facebook discussion where the issue of pure Vaishnava association came up.

Though I have been known to disagree vehemently with “first deserve then desire” motto that circulates in the Gaudiya Math, I found myself saying, “The purer you chant, the more likely you are to find pure association. Remember, first deserve then desire.”

The point, of course, is that you cannot expect to even recognize or appreciate good association if your mind has not been purified and prepared for it by bhajan.

Rupa Goswami says desirable association is
  • bhajana-vijña :: a person who is fully knowledgeable about and experienced in the path of bhajan
  • ananya :: is entirely committed to the Divine Couple, i.e, exclusive
  • anya-nindādi śūnya-hṛdam :: has a heart that is entirely free of the tendency to criticize others.
If you cannot find someone who fits the bill exactly, try to get as close to this ideal as possible. And of course, one starts by trying to emulate the standard oneself. If you do that then you will naturally attract good association. Desiring something vague like "a pure devotee" is pretty pointless if one is overwhelmed with anarthas, at least where long-term close or frequent association is concerned.

In 1979 I was still a sannyasi in Iskcon, but in early September I took initiation from Lalita Prasad Thakur while nevertheless still remaining in the organization. Prabhu never told me to leave. I think he wisely figured I would make that decision myself when the time came.

In the period before I left (in December) for good, I took a couple of preaching excursions, one to Shillong and the other to Hyderabad.

While in Shillong, I was doing the rounds of people's houses (hovels more like it, these were refugees from Bangladesh mostly) and in one of them I met an aged but wrinkle free man with tilak and mala. He was bald or shaven headed, but whatever the case, I remember his smooth and effulgent pate.

We sat down and he started to talk about Radha, quoting the kamsarir api verse from Gita Govinda and glorifying Radha, how Krishna left the Rasa dance to find her because he felt no enthusiasm for anything without her. I had never heard anyone speak this way before. His speech was so musical, his feeling so intense, tears came to both our eyes. I felt as though truly this man was closer to my Swamini than anyone in my crowd.

Then a bit later I went to Hyderabad and was leading sankirtan and giving classes and doing all other good sannyasi stuff and at the same time trying to keep the gifts Prabhu had given me, but seeing management difficulties in the temple made me feel uncomfortable with my environment. Those days were intense, with the Bhajana Rahasya my constant companion.

One day in the temple room, an elderly gentleman, speaking English, just came up to me and started talking about Raghunath Das Goswami. But he kept referring to him as "Svaruper Raghu" and, seeing the expression on my face, explained the story of that name from Chaitanya Charitamrita. There was so much affection in his voice while saying these words, "the Raghunath who stayed under the protection of Svarup Damodar," that I thought, "How much love this man has for Raghunath Das! Who is this man? Where can I find those who will give me such love for Svaruper Raghu?"

The next day I set off to speak in Mumbai temple, but when the train stopped in Bangalore, I got out and took a return ticket and went straight to Birnagar. Prabhu gave me babaji vesh and after spending a couple of weeks there, I came to stay permanently with Madhusudan in Nabadwip old town, where I remained for the next five years.

While crossing the Ganges, we consecrated my danda and sacred thread into the holy river, remember Nityananda and his breaking of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's danda..

I never met those two men again, but they left an indelible impression in my mind and helped push me into an entirely different direction in bhakti. Would Radharani have sent them to me if I was not ready? Would I have recognized them if I was not ready? Would they have affected me the way they did if I was not ready?

Jai Radhe!

Making and breaking silence in Rishikesh

Yesterday was Mauni Amavashya, or Silence Day. The ashram arranged a special program of meditation and related activities which included all the paid staff, including gardeners, cleaners and office workers. Since I am have gotten back on my daily schedule of about 4-5 hours of meditation, split up into four sessions, I thought this provided me with a good opportunity to go for "asana siddhi" which according to Swami Veda Bharati means being able to sit in one's meditative posture for 9 dandas or 216 minutes without moving. I almost made it and it looks within grasp. All in all, I sat for nine hours, which I don't think I have ever done before. My lower back has become quite strong over the years, but today it was groaning. My knees are surprisingly unaffected.

I usually take a nap after lunch, and although it is customary to wake up after a midday nap, especially in winter, with a bit of a drag in the consciousness, I was for other reasons feeling a little down and even pessimistic. For some reason, I put on a prominent tilak marking, which I confess I do not do every day [usually only when I am giving a class or doing kirtan] and went for a walk by the Ganges. There was a cold breeze and the sun was feeble. I was hoping that my dress would at least attract the appearance of another Vaishnava or Vaishnava sympathizer, even though I was committed to silence for the day.

There is a Radha Vallabhi ashram not far from there, and I am friendly with the Mahanta. He usually takes a daily stroll along the Ganga with one or two of the others at his ashram and it is always a delight to see him with his Vrindavan swaroop, but no such luck today. Only one or two strollers acknowledged my presence with a furtive pranam. The general state of India in this new age of increasing materialism seemed to gnaw at my belly. My pessimistic feelings only increased. And at the 5.45 meditation session my mind did not get absorbed in samadhi of the Holy Names and meditation on the ishta as I have now become accustomed to.

Swamiji asked me to come to his room afterwards. I stood there waiting for him to finish some personal business, looking at a beautiful miniature of Radha Krishna on his wall, and a truly magnificent three-foot marble of Krishna playing the flute and the other knickknacks in his room. When he came back in he asked me if I knew Vaishnavacharya Shree Abhishek Goswami. I said that I did.

Actually, I have never met Abhishek Goswami, but Swamiji told me long ago that he had taught him meditation and that he was a childhood friend of his son, Angirasa Arya. Abhishek is of the Radharaman family and lives in the Ghera, but now has an expanding following as he takes up his dharma of being a Vaishnava acharya speaking on Bhagavatam. But he had phoned Swamiji earlier in the day to invite him to participate in the 500th anniversary of Mahaprabhu’s discovering Vrindavan. So Swamiji wanted me to speak to him and convey some messages to him. Swamiji’s physical condition is so poor that even to talk is for him dangerously enfeebling, so he had me break my vow of silence to act as a go between.

So I talked to Abhishekji for several minutes after he got over his surprise at hearing my voice instead of Swamiji’s. I was so enthusiastic to hear the sound of a voice that was emanating directly from Vrindavan, and Radharaman at that! Swamiji gave his blessings and I told Abhishek to send Radharaman’s blessings right back at him!

I told him I will be back in Vrindavan on the 24th to participate in Satyanarayan Dasji’s abhishek as a Mahanta in the Virakta Samaj and will see him while I am there. Needless to say, my whole mood completely changed. I even told him that I had put on tilak that day in the hope of attracting the mercy of the Vaishnavas, and Radharani had made exactly such an arrangement. I think Abhishekji Maharaj also picked up on my enthusiasm and we ended our conversation with a joyful round of "Jai Sri Radha Ramanlal ki jai!" and "Jai Sri Radheeee Shyam!"

"That was fun" I wrote on Swamiji's slate afterwards. He gave me a wry smile in response.

Radharaman has not forgotten me, even in exile...

अक्ष्णोः फलं त्वादृशदर्शनं हि तन्वाः फलं त्वादृशगात्रसङ्गः ।
जिह्वाफलं त्वादृशकीर्तनं हि सुदुर्लभा भागवता हि लोके ॥

akṣṇoḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-darśanaṁ hi
tanvāḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-gātra-saṅgaḥ |
jihvā-phalaṁ tvādṛśa-kīrtanaṁ hi
sudurlabhā bhāgavatā hi loke ||
The goal of the eyes is to see someone like you; the goal of the skin is to embrace the body of one such as you. The goal of the tongue is to sing the glories of one such as you, for great devotees of the Lord are exceedingly rare in this world. (HBS 13.2, HBV 10.287, C 2.20.61)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

State of Disunion

I am too split in various directions still. At my age, it is disconcerting to see me entering into the last phase of life with so many things unfinished. I have perhaps been too ambitious and now find myself in the unfortunate position of having bitten off so much more than I can chew that much of what I have done is inevitably going to remain incomplete.

(1) Swami Veda Bharati's Yoga Sutra 

Currently I am in Rishikesh working on the Yoga Sutra for Swami Veda Bharati.

Comment: Swamiji is 82 and in poor health, going through period crises related to his heart condition. Yesterday after evening meditation he called me into his room and told me that he was not certain that he would be able to live to complete the Yoga Sutra project.

In many ways I am indebted to Swamiji personally and I have given him my word that I will help him to finish his magnum opus, the four volume series of Yoga Sutra with reference to 22 commentaries and his own experience of the oral traditions of yoga as he received it from his master, Swami Rama.

Swamiji is a powerful yogi. Although he is not from the bhakti tradition, as am I, I have learned so much from him, especially in terms of yoga practice that I find beneficial to bhakti. Even now, here in Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, after seven years of comings and goings, I am feeling the accumulated benefits of the practices I learned here.

But bhakti is really my only path. Concentration, meditation and communion are all positive when brought to bear on the Divine Couple, and so I feel no contradiction in what I am doing. Nevertheless, at some point I will have to move on back to full time commitment to the path of prema-bhakti, integrating what I have gained from here.

I pray to Swamiji to bless me with the gift of his own good qualities, his assiduity, his commitment, his unswerving determination to serve his guru and to fulfill his objectives as a teacher of his path. If he can help me go from the vikshipta to the ekagrata stage, that will be enough. If I can ever have one tenth of his virtues to render service to Radha and Krishna and their devotees, I will make my life perfect.

(2) Service to Satyanarayana Dasa of the Jiva Institute.

I have too many gurus. It is the result of my deep hunger to perfect my life and to know God. Satyanarayana Dasaji, like Swami Veda, has been exceedingly kind to me. He has engaged me in the service of participating as a team member in the translation and publication of the Six Sandarbhas of Jiva Goswami.

Babaji is another great scholar and an ocean of good qualities. His dedication to Srila Jiva Goswami makes him a very important person in my life. As you may know, I completed my PhD at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies in 1992 on Srila Jiva Goswami's Gopala Champu. It was a case of extreme hubris on my part to skip to the very end of Jiva's life's work without having thoroughly studied the Sandarbhas. In actual fact, the ocean of Gaudiya Vaishnava literature is so deep and vast that even after studying it my whole life I cannot say that I have come near the end of it. After all, these scriptures are not academic knowledge to be acquired by study alone, but to be realized through sadhana.

As with Yoga Sutra, however, I am like a sieve. Most of the knowledge pours through me like water in a rusty old bucket. But I cannot call myself a Gaudiya Vaishnava without having completed going through the Sandarbhas thoroughly, especially Priti Sandarbha. We are currently working on Krishna Sandarbha, so there will only be the last volume to complete.

Besides this, I have also associated myself with Jiva Institute by taking a room there and offering my services as a teacher to anyone who wishes to study, thus helping Satyanarayana Dasaji to fulfill his goal of disseminating the teachings of Jiva Goswami and Rupa Goswami to those who will come to avail themselves of the facility given by the Institute.

This is also a promise I cannot break.

(3) Vrindavan Today. 

I have started and stopped VT several times now. This project is one that is dear to my heart and another thing that I don't want to give up, but it requires far more work than a single person can do, and so far I have been unable to find persons who understand what I have been trying to do here and are willing to commit to this important project, which goes far beyond a mere blog.

If I were young, I would live for Vrindavan Today. I cannot imagine a more exciting life than exploring the rich traditions and colorful people of Braj Dham and sharing my discoveries with the devotional world. How sad that for so many people, knowledge of the Dham and thus their love for it is vitiated by a sectarian mentality. The Dham is a fascinating place where the principal subject is love for the Divine Couple, so let Prema rule!

And prema in the Dham in these days has taken on a crucial aspect: that of preserving its essence. It cannot be done by any sect alone, but requires a concerted and combined effort and I see VT as serving a unifying role in bringing people together to give Vrindavan a strong voice for conserving its unique spiritual heritage.

Some help has been forthcoming. Jagannath Poddar has done a lot and Satyanarayana Dasaji is a supporter, but I cannot find competent and dedicated people to do the work. And with me being in Rishikesh after several months in Canada, this project has once again fallen into limbo.

(4) Dwadash Mandir

Last year I visited my guru's bhajan sthali and the birthplace of Bhaktivinoda Thakur in Ula Birnagar, West Bengal. I wrote several articles about it. (1) (2) (3). Currently Harigopal Dasji is there and doing some work on a perimeter wall. I fear for this place and its future, though perhaps it is wrong to think that it is in danger. But if there is one thing I think that will ruin it is if the 21st century or modern tendency to have to turn everything into a "preaching" center with magnificent trappings to attract the bahirmukhas to bhakti so that there will b

Gender relations : Purush and Prakriti

I just came back from an interesting group meditation session in the wake of this conversation, in which naturally sent the most interesting and joyful waves riding through my consciousness, and I have all of you to thank for it. I don't think it would really be possible to share all of the reflections that went through my mind, but I especially would like to thank Prishni for reminding me of exactly what my entire Sahajiya philosophy was about and what I have been writing about ad nauseam on my blog for the last ten years.

Even today, I was teaching Sanskrit to my little group of Gurukula students, which consists of one young Indian male and two North American women over 60. Mostly I am teaching the alphabet and basic Hindu dharma vocabulary. Since we have been learning about gender in Sanskrit, the implications of grammatical gender is a subject that we have already encountered. Today again, in the course of talking about the purusharthas, we were led to a discussion of dharma and varnashram dharma and stri dharma, etc., contrasting modern western expectations and ancient Indian civilization and its standards and mindset.

The word purusha of course implies prakriti. And these are loaded terms implying a particular relationship of the masculine to the feminine, that of male subject to female object. But Gita 7.5 places the jiva as a prakriti in relation to the purushottama. This is the model that comes to life in the mythology of the Bhagavata Rasa-lila.

A third option is the Shiva-Shakti model which also has implicit, though more egalitarian and positive, implications. If the male is energized by the female, then does the woman have no other function than this energizing role, from either the maternal or consort position? This is a rather trite way of looking at sexual motivations both in males and females, but is nevertheless true. Sexual energy empowers, but the range of manifestations of sexual energy reaches from the extremes of Kama to those of Prema, from the grossly physical to the most refined intellectual. And though this works ideally in both directions, the principal seat of Love will primarily be in the feminine. She Gives and She Takes Away.

Biology has bestowed this difference in the genders, and we wish to nurture this quality in its purest form for our own personal greatest good and for the good of humanity.

Thus we come to the Radha-Krishna model that though it has a definite relationship to that of Shiva-Shakti, in it the greatest significance is given to the surrender of the Masculine to the Feminine. In this scenario also many questions about the psychology of love are raised, but the essence of the idea is that the Male surrenders to the Female because a man cannot get by force or logical argumentation the one thing he wants from a woman, which is now recognized as Love in its highest manifestation as divine communion.

So I am glad to have been reminded of these things, by Prisni showing a certain appreciation for my intent. as I have been more or less sitting on these ideas for the last couple of years due to a curious lack of inspiration. I had perhaps fallen into a bit of pessimistic frame of mind regarding the idea of adopting the woman's point of view, which had only too late in life become something to actually strive for rather than just talk about. The samskar is still too shallow.

Yoga in its pristine form is a masculine process of spirituality, as are both jnana and karma. All have a big component of "purusha-kara", heroic exertion and an exercise of mastery. It is about the purusha breaking free of prakriti, or of accepting to merge into oceanic consciousness rather than being imprisoned in the web of Maya, woman and family.

No one likes stereotypes, and especially not one based on mythologies, or ones that are considered normative for all psychologies, I think it is natural for everyone to form certain conceptions of maleness and femaleness, and along with them, an idea of how those characteristics are complementary. Some of those conceptions come from nature and some from nurture. The human species evolves by what we nurture. The advancement of civilization should mean that we evolve in understanding these things in order to become a little more adept at love.

So it is nice to get a confirmation, however small, that this decision to nurture an appreciation for the feminine, the apotheosis of the feminine symbolized by the mythology and image of the Divine Syzygy in this particular form of Radha and Krishna, as the embodiment of perfect love due to this particular transformation of Krishna, the Purushottam, into the lover and servant of Radha.

They are my God, who includes all other gods. This Radha I serve. May it transform me, and may it transform the world.