Saturday, February 28, 2015

What did I learn from Yoga-tarangini?

There is, of course, much more to the story, but we will leave it for here and I will conclude by giving a summary of the contents of my first lecture on Yoga-taraṅgiṇī.

The GS course in yoga starts with a lesson in anatomy. This is something that needs to be learned as the beginning of the yoga journey inwards begins with an internal inspection of the physical body, which especially in later Nath Yoga texts is seen as the microcosm, where everything found in the universe can be found. The later Nath Yoga texts like Siddha-siddhänta-paddhati take this quite seriously and have a series of meditations on these correspondences.

Nowadays research into yoga by the empirical method is being given increasing favor, and this means that the yogis' understanding of the body as viewed from within is not given anything more than arcane importance, without much scientific or objective value. But thousands of years of investigation through practice should not be minimized or discounted. Subjective knowledge of the body, in the way that one knows one’s tools to do one’s work, is the first lesson of yoga, and indeed, progress in yoga means fine tuning one’s awareness of it.

The main elements of yoga anatomy are the chakras, the ten airs and their functions, and all the nāḍis. A basic principle is any movement in the body is caused by the movements of air, which is mediated into the body through the breath. It is a bit difficult to see the muscular and joints, etc., all moving by the actions of the breath as it takes these different forms in the body. From the modern perspective, we tend to see them as electric current nerve signals, but by meditating on the main channels of energy in the body, and mentally associating the breath to acts of tensing and releasing wherever there is a stretch or stress in the muscles, one can start to see the relation.

The stillness of the body, free from twitching and other unnecessary movements, voluntary or involuntary, on even a subtle level, means that the airs are coming under control and are being properly channeled.

Within the description of the chakra system, GS gives particular emphasis to the yoni-sthāna in the perinaeum and the kanda bulb in the small of the back. Both of these places are said to be loci of the kuṇḍalinī.

The emphasizing of these two zones, as well as the prāṇa and apāna of the ten life airs, and the iḍā, piṅgalā and suṣumnā of the ten nāḍis, shows that the principal purpose of this anatomy, its primary goal, is centered around the raising of the kuṇḍalinī. Raising the kuṇḍalinī or śakti-cālana thus comes at the beginning of one's practice immediately after being able to sit properly with the spine erect. Indeed, its immediate effect is to further straighten the spine and to add pranic energy to the seating posture. And when the channel is cleared, then one feels the effect in the crown no doubt.

But raising the kuṇḍalinī is far from being an end in itself, as this clearly illustrates. It is more or less a prerequisite for meditation. The holy grail of “raising the kuṇḍalinī” that one hears so often, is not mentioned in the GS, but it should be understood that if one’s meditation session begins with kuṇḍalinī, it serves the meditation itself. The “setting into motion of the power” (śakti-cālana) means the redirecting of the bodily energies, mainly the sexual energy, inwards. This is meant to be a permanent state when those energies are raised to the crown and flow there.

There are said to be 8,400,000 āsanas, but they are reduced to only two in GS. This indicates clearly that the purpose of all the āsanas is to be able to sit in a meditative posture. The two, siddhāsana and padmāsana, are also the correct postures in which to most efficiently practice all the other bandhas and prāṇāyāma exercises, in particular those that raise the kuṇḍalinī. Siddhāsana emphasizes the activation of the yoni-sthāna, while the baddha-padmāsana favors the kanda.

The five bandhas, which includes two mudrās (at this point in the tradition, no strict separation has yet been made), are mūla-bandha, uḍḍīyana-bandha, jālandhara-bandha, khecarī mudrā and mahā-mudrā. Of these, it is possible to do the first four while in a meditative pose, while mahā-mudrā, being done on either side with one leg outstretched. I have found this to be especially good for relief of the legs after long sitting cross legged. It also relieves the back while helping to settle the balance of the left and right meridiens. Since the heel remains firmly in the yoni-sthāna while in this posture, the stimulation of the kuṇḍalinī energy continues throughout.

As to the question of whether mūla-bandha is to be maintained at all times or not. This is not stated in the GS, but I have heard Swami Veda say both yes and no, so obviously it is dependent on the adhikāra of the sādhaka, the level of achievement of the practitioner. Certainly it is not the diligent and intensive practice that is meant to simply strengthen the complex of muscles used in these contractions. But as one internalizes the smooth diaphragmatic breathing of a yogi, a gentle contraction will naturally follow on the exhalation, which will not require conscious effort.

Yoga is probably the only exercise system in the world where the original and only purpose is to master of doing nothing. Those who think that it is only about relieving you of stress so you can go back to working hard like a mule are only partially correct, i.e., for a certain level of adhikāra. Yoga āsana is the art of sitting completely still for long periods of time; that of prāṇāyāma, that of settling the breath ... the goal of kevala-kumbhaka being to stop it for long periods of time, at least so that it becomes practically unnoticeable. This then frees the mind to begin its inward journey. This also frees one from desire as one starts to experience the joy that comes from the inner life.

The first stop is the gross body, as viewed from within. This is concluded in the pratyāhāra stage, when one visualizes and interacts with each joint and muscle from the tips of the toes to the crown of the head. As one progresses, one becomes more aware of the subtler energies that are flowing in and out of those regions. This enhances the power of the mind to take control of any anomalies that may be occurring in them. This consciousness should be carried over to any yogic posture that one takes up. One relaxes and lets go, step by step. But once one is finished with pratyāhāra, one is now ready to forget the body entirely. That is the meaning of pratyāhāra.

Of course, the GS has a special alternative meaning for pratyāhāra, which is one of its unique and original esoteric features. But in this opening lecture we did not have time to discuss that.

So that is why the first three of the six aṅgas are considered external, while the three that follow are considered internal. The first three are about mastering the body and breath in order to forget them. Then one is ready to start directing the mind into definite meditations for increasing lengths of time until one forgets the mind.

The story of this translation, Part III

My last night in Rishikesh, Swamiji called me upstairs. He had called me up earlier in the day, but was unable to talk as he was undergoing another hypoglycemia attack. He was rolled out in his wheelchair onto the balcony. Bhola, the manager of AHYMSIN's publishing department, was also there. Swamiji wanted to talk about how long the Yoga-sūtra work was going to take and would I get it done “before I die”?

The scenario, no doubt staged, but still a reminder of the urgency with which Swamiji is approaching this work. Swamiji may live another twenty years, but he takes each health crisis to simply push harder to get certain things done before he quits the world. On top of that, he seems to keep finding new stuff he wants done. At least, as he deals with major priorities, he feels free to start pushing on other projects.

Not that I am not also feeling a great need to be done with these yoga texts so I can get to the business of tending to my own life's work! My life is also coming to an end, Swamiji, I am 65!

As I had to go to give a lecture on the Yoga-taraṅgiṇī and was already late, I was a bit distracted, but Swamiji wouldn’t let me go until he had said to me, again with some sadness, “I made a big error with Yoga-taraṅgiṇī. This is a yoga shastra. But it also needs a prayoga shastra. That I didn’t do. I will do for the second edition.”

Prayoga means implementation. In other words, Swamiji was implying that perhaps my own insights into the practices spoken of in the book were lacking. Which I did not take as an insult, since I had from the beginning realized the limitations that I had in understanding due to my fairly recent exposure to this text and due to the lack of close association with others who had such experience.

When Swamiji dropped the bomb on me about my singing, I decided that now, in order to be able to finish the introduction, in which I felt that a coherent understanding of the text as a whole and of its individual parts had to be provided. This meant reviewing the finished translation and analyzing the effects of the sādhana by applying myself even more assiduously to it.

It is not that I had been entirely inactive prior to that, but as I did the introduction, it became clear that there were many subtle things about the very basics of yoga anatomy that required meditating upon. I had already recognized the nature of the book as a paddhati which required a sequential treatment. In some sense, since the Gorakṣa-śataka is a foundational text of the haṭha-yoga school, it could be viewed as the meru-daṇḍa or backbone of the entire body of haṭha practices, into which all other practices are subsidiary and meant to assist in their accomplishment. I went back to the beginning and started working on āsana with the view to being able to do the siddhāsana and padmāsana properly (āsana-siddhi) and to master the five bandhas.

To some I had already been doing extent these practices, and especially I was doing a large number of kapālabhāti and bhastrikā, along with bandha-traya and kumbhaka in a cycle for an hour each day, and had been doing this in Vrindavan also. As a matter of fact, in Vrindavan I had been following a fairly rigorous program of āsana and prāṇāyāma, and to some extent that program had taken more and more of the Goraksha method, but even a year or two could hardly be a match for a lifetime’s experience. Some other practices, in particular khecarī and viparīta-karaṇī promised benefits on gross and subtle plains that required careful attention. Anyway, I did the best I could!

So I blurted out, “But Swamiji, I was asking you at the very beginning!” Swamiji smiled and acted as though he hadn’t heard and then started talking about collaborating on the Bṛhad-yogi-yājñavalkya, with me doing the translation and he doing the prayoga commentary. I let out an groan of protest and ran off to my lecture.

I have given many lectures at SRSG and I will confess that not many of my previous ones have been satisfyingly successful. It has been a great test for my mastery of communication skills and a challenge to understanding what communicating bhakti consists of. I have always approached speech from the intellectual and academic side, that is to say, what it provides in terms of knowledge as opposed to feeling, and from my own personal perspective rather than for consumption by a general audience. I have not been thinking from the point of view of the entertainer, to plan and direct the effects of speech on an audience, and so it could be said that my lectures are in general unprofessional. Impromptu rather than well thought out. Rather like my writing.

Perhaps my most successful program at SRSG was when I read passages from the Upanishads in the candle-lit hall to a group of teacher training students from all over the world. These were passages that are popular in Vedanta. I chose the edition by Juan Mascaro, one of the most poetic renderings I know of, read them with flair and it worked well.

I prefer everyone sitting close in a circle on the floor, with the candle providing the focus of attention, even more than the speaker, in a kind of involuntary trāṭaka. I had been influenced by a section of Eliade’s Images and Symbols and wanted to recreate an ambiance from the pre-electric age, a throwback to the past when natural circadian rhythms were maintained and the village elders would tell the ancient stories of wisdom around a community campfire.

The effect of creating and using this ambiance was immediately noticeable as it helped bypass the purely critical and intellectual faculties and seemed to strike something more profound in the audience. I recognized this as rasa, without which there is no communication.

I had tried so many ways to communicate the riches of the bhakti tradition, but it never seemed to be able to click. I also tried giving Rasa Lila classes to candlelight, and it worked to some extent, but generally whenever I tried to present some aspect of Rupa Goswami’s philosophy in any format, it fell flat. This was mystifying to me and still remains a bit of a challenge, but today of course bhakti was not on the menu, but Yoga-taraṅgiṇī. And the format was classroom: lots of lights, people sitting in chairs, with a chair set up front for me. With a whiteboard to scribble on.

After completing the maṅgalācaraṇa I of course started by telling the story of how the manuscripts were gathered and how Swami Veda had commissioned me to do this work at the behest of his guru, and how it had been finished last year on Guru Purnima in a confluence of time and sacred time. But I also told the audience that when I had asked Swamiji for guidance in the work, he had said, “as you like,” which I had taken to mean that I was being given full responsibility to understand the meaning of the text through personal application of the sādhanas contained therein, and to take it as far as my scholarship and practical understanding could take me.

So not altogether surprisingly, I found myself speaking rather authoritatively about the text. Simply by virtue of building on what I knew and by experimenting with the practices on my own, as well as by consulting other sources, I had been able to come to certain conclusions about the merit and purposes of different practices. Interestingly, many of these are familiar to yoga students who have progressed beyond elementary stage, but still, taken as a whole and also explored in depth to the exclusion of too many other practices, certain insights were available.

The things that came out in the talk:

(to be continued...)

Friday, February 27, 2015

65th birthday in Vrindavan

I posted on Facebook:
Message from Prabodhananda Saraswati: If you respect me, you have to respect Hit Harivams Goswami.

Yesterday was my birthday, and as I had just arrived the day before from Rishikesh, I went on parikrama. Parikrama for me started near Kaliya Daha, which is where the little frequented samadhi temple of Prabodhananda Saraswati lies.

I think that the coincidence of having Prabodhananda, the author of Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta right at the beginning of the parikrama, as the first major spot on the circuit, to be a fortuitous and particularly inspiring accident. I have cherished Prabodhananda Saraswati ever since Ananta Das Pandit Maharaj first "turned me on" to Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi more than 30 years ago.

I made up my mind to do the following for my birthday: I would go to Prabodhananda's samadhi, recite a few verses from his work, and then go to Banke Bihari, Radha Vallabha, then Radha Damodar to visit the samadhis of Sri Rupa, Sri Jiva, and Krishnadas Kaviraj, and the bhajan kutir of Srila Prabhupada, and then go to Seva Kunja to do something I had wanted to do for many years: chant the whole 270 verses of RRSN in one go. At least that was the plan: a pleasurable tapasyā to celebrate my birthday.

Now I don’t want to go into the whole Prabodhananda controversy, or complex of controversies, but I won’t be able to explain what I meant above without saying something about it. The main controversy is that Gaudiyas say that RRSN is written by Prabodhananda, and I also believe that, and the Radhavallabhis consider it a foundational dogma that Harivams, the founder of their sect, is the author. For the Radhavallabhis, RRSN is the sacred text, whereas in the Gaudiya world, Prabodhananda has always been something of a secondary figure. Certainly he was in every way qualified to be considered a seventh Goswami, but for some reason he never is. It is only recently that his writings have sprung into prominence in the Gaudiya world.

As far as I can tell (and bear in mind that my version is not accepted by either sampradaya), there was a controversy between Gopala Bhatta and his disciple Harivams, and Prabodhananda, even though Gopala Bhatta's guru, took Harivams’s side. Externally the controversy took the form of whether certain external rules were to be followed or not, with Harivams favoring laxer attitudes to regulations especially where Ekadasi is concerned. But it is more likely that Harivams was completely uninterested in anything other than Radha and madhura-rasa lila, and had no time for philosophy or the Bhagavatam, or even Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Surprising though it may seem that the author of the Caitanya-candrāmṛta, 142 verses glorifying Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the first and most celebrated of Sanskrit panegyrics to Mahaprabhu, should take the side of Harivams, but he did. And I believe that he wrote the RRSN and allowed it to be circulated in Harivams's name. It was, as it were, his gift in support of Harivams's Radha absolutism.

The outcome of all this was what might be called the first schism of the Gaudiya sect in Vrindavan, and it is not written about much from this point of view. But if we Gaudiyas want to appropriate the Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, it does make sense that its author's actions in making this gift to his protégé be recognized. Radhavallabhis consider Prabodhananda to be a disciple of Harivams.

After I had arrived at Prabodhananda’s samadhi and chanted a few verses, I was doing my dandavats when I heard the message: “If you respect me, then you must respect Hit Harivams.” To which the voice added, “I wrote 142 verses glorifying Mahaprabhu and only eight for Harivams, so at least show him that much respect.”

I got up, mulling these words and as I walked past the pujari’s hut, the young baba came out and offered me a bright marigold garland. I took this as a confirmation of the message, fell to my knees in obeisance and then continued on my way.

I gave my pranams to Sanatan Prabhu and Madan Mohan from the Parikrama Marg and then went into Banke Bihari through the narrow alleyways of the old town. It felt so good to be back in colorful Vrindavan. Spring is here and the dull, depressing fogs of winter have lifted. Holi is here and each temple is being visited by lively Vaishnavas from near and far who come to celebrate the festival of colors. Banke Bihari is bustling with devoted raising their arms and calling out his jaya jayakar. At Radha Vallabh, a brightly dressed gosai was dancing with four aged and corpulent women in bright saris, their faces covered with delicately smeared phagu.

I met Gokulananda Baba from Jiva who was lumbering along the Seva Kunj road to Radha Damodar on his daily darshan tour of the main temples. I gave him the garland and he hugged me. I told him it was my birthday and he asked, “Where are my sweets? I did not get a sweet. You’re supposed to give people sweets on your birthday.”

A similar Holi scene prevailed at Radha Damodar. I even blurted out to some of the others taking darshan, "This is the best religion in the world! No other religion is so full of pure joy!"

After darshan, I sat down in front of Jiva Goswami’s samadhi and chanted my three favorite verses from Gopāla-campū. Then when I got up from my dandavat pranams, the pujari there also gave me a garland.

Just as an aside here, Jiva Goswami was a junior contemporary of both Hit Harivams and Prabodhananda Saraswati. Prabodhananda was probably senior in age to just about everyone, including Rupa and Sanatan. If he was Gopala Bhatta’s uncle and guru, as most people think, then he was no doubt quite influential through him on the entire Gaudiya philosophy, since it is well known that Gopala Bhatta provided the outline and much of the content of the Sandarbhas. And that goes doubly without saying if he was also Prakashananda Saraswati, another opinion towards which I lean. We also have a strong indication that Prabodhananda’s commentary on Gopāla-tāpanī influenced that of Jiva Goswami, so at least for some time he did exert influence on the rest of the sampradaya.

Perhaps it was because I saw Dr. Demian Martins in the Krishna Balaram temple on my first day back in Vrindavan. Dr. Martins is doing the most intense manuscript search I have seen in anyone since Haridas Das, as he wanders around India looking for anything that might have a relation to Baladeva Vidyabhushan. He read my article about Prabodhananda and started looking for a book, Viveka-śataka, which was mentioned in early notices of manuscripts but I had not been able to find.

Dr. Martins found a couple of manuscripts in Bengali libraries, transcribed them, translated it, and is going to publish it soon. He showed me a few verses that seem to cast doubt on the Prabodhananda/Prakashananda connection as I had argued for it and seem to support a different version of Prabodhananda's life, .I have yet to read the whole work or to see how it fits in and look forward to seeing it when it is completed. At any rate, I had developed a certain image of Prabodhananda, as indicated above, and that has kind of stuck.

But the residue of the controversy goes on in that the Radhavallabhis and the Gaudiyas do not have much to do with each other. From the Radhavallabhi side, the break is total and absolute, or rather, it never existed.

But there in Seva Kunja, where every one of the 270 verses of Harivams’s Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi is engraved on a marble plaque inscribed with his name on the perimeter wall, the verses Prabodhananda wrote in his honor precede those prayers. I read them aloud, and then, before starting my planned vrata, I prostrated myself and began to recite the verse to Chaitanya that precedes the Gaudiya edition of Sudhā-nidhi. I was surprised to hear that voice in my head again, asking, “Here in Seva Kunj, the RRSN is Harivams’s. I gave it to him, so it is his. Here you must treat it as though it was his.”

In actual fact, I have taken this attitude in the past when speaking on Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, so there is nothing spectacularly new. But still, in the spirit of ecumenism, I thought I would just recount to the world what happened to me on my 65th birthday.

I previously wrote about the aṣṭakam:
Prabodhananda's aṣṭaka glorifying Harivams is the first external evidence attesting Harivams's existence. It shows that Prabodhananda was primarily impressed by Harivams's songs, particularly those concerning Krishna's lila, and by his voice (verses 1, 2, 3), even describing him as the incarnation of Krishna's flute, which is of course an interpretation of the name Harivams itself. According to Prabodhananda, devotion to Radha and Krishna could be had from Harivams (5); the moons of Radha's toenails (nakhara-pada-candrāṁ) illuminate the sky of his heart and, in the form of a girlfriend “attained by feeling” (bhāva-labdhālī-mūrtiḥ), he is present in Radha's pleasure grove (6) where he serves Radha and Krishna by their direct order (8). 
Though Prabodhananda does indicate that Harivams was “like a thunderbolt that easily beheads the mountain of pride” (7), indicating perhaps an element of truth in Bhagavat Mudita’s biography, the overall mood of this aṣṭaka is rather more reserved in its glorification of Harivams than that of Chaitanya found in Caitanya-candrāmṛta. There is no evidence within these verses that Prabodhananda considered Harivams to be his own spiritual master.
I only managed to get as far as verse 114 because it was time to close for the afternoon. I had already been getting fatigued, as I chanted each verse three times in order to be sure to savor it as completely as possible. So I will have to go back and complete the task soon.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The story of this translation Part II

The task of completing a task

Even the most basic insights into the mentality of the haṭha-yogis did not come immediately. It took some time for the realization to come that the book itself was a paddhati to be looked at as a whole rather than piecemeal. I had been too busy looking at the forest for the trees. And even then, they were not transmitted into action right away

I was content with my own practices, for which I had accepted the guidance of Swami Veda, by a combination of factors, proximity to him personally and through life in the ashram, I slowly imbibed the ethos emanating from Swami Veda. I admired him for numerous reasons. When one has already taken a guru, one is loathe to give that psychological space to anyone else. Indeed, I had come to feel that in the interests of my personal liberation and individuation it was rather time to attempt sticking to my inner guru's guidance. But clearly, a different kind of grace brought me into contact with Swami Veda.

It came to me that this book was something more for me than a job that I had been commissioned to do. It came to me that Swamiji was giving me an opportunity to simply complete a task. Now this may seem like a relatively innocuous thing to most people in the world: what is it to complete a task?

But here a weakness of my character is revealed. Other than one book of translations (The Mystic Poetry of Rupa Goswami) that was published in 1999, I have completed no independent project. Not even my doctoral dissertation saw publication. The dissertation itself would never have been finished if I hadn't been placed in a situation of extreme pressure. But since then it seems I became ever more incapable of bringing any project to completion and the problem seemed to be getting worse rather than better. Untold projects from my own field of bhakti, in which I had invested great amounts of time and effort, many of them in half finished form on this blog, lie still waiting for final touches and publication. As a result, this project began to take on psychological dimensions that were disproportional to the relatively simple work of editing a Sanskrit text and translating its words into English, etc.

Here, it seems that the typical problem that the guru fulfills can be expressed in a Freudian way. The guru is a stand-in father, a father figure who incarnates in some way the superego and plays a role in one's existential situation. To say there is some kind of "father complex" going on in the life of a student who takes a guru, whether in the official Indian way or in a more subtle or unconscious hero-worship, etc., is trite. In this particular case, even though I had passed the age of 60, it is hard to admit that I am still a child in so many ways and still needed to be “saved” by a guru. The purpose of a guru, psychologically, is not to restrict a disciple's growth to maturity, but to enhance and support it.

I cannot explain my own life. It is a mystery that has accompanied me, with new aspects of life and the self, new manifestations of illusion that engulf and distract me with new pleasures and pains of ever enchanting fascination with its infinite variety. It is shameful. But before whom am I ashamed? What representation in my mind pushes me to shame? In my mind, whatever the psychological explanations Freud or any other thinker might give, the existential truth of the situation, however pathological and infantile it be, it is the factual state that is gradually being revealed to me through its unfolding. That is divine grace and that is līlā. That is my life.

I evidently cannot explain the entire complex dynamic that led to my coming to Swami Rama Sadhaka Gram for the first time in 2007, it had numinous features that made me feel that I was being "saved." When I came to live near Swamiji, I observed his character and accomplishments from close by and I came to admire him as an accomplished human being.

Swami Veda told me the story of his life. He was a child prodigy whose life contained the conditions of genius. [See Thomas J. Scheff. Microsociology. "Language Acquisition versus Formal Education: A Theory of Genius." Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990. pp. 156-175.] Not only did he have extraordinary intelligence, but his father recognized that and expertly educated him. Indeed, his father's investment in Swami Veda's childhood education was total. An Arya Samaj member, he abandoned his business and family to dedicate himself to teaching his son Sanskrit and the Vedas. By the time Swamiji was seven, he was already giving discourses to public audiences on topics like the Yoga-sūtra. At the age of eleven he sprung into notoriety when in an assembly of learned scholars he showed that he was capable of explaining Vedic hymns in four different ways. This led to a hectic life of travel and speaking to large audiences until he was 17, when he came to a crisis that led him to run from the engulfing dominance of his father. He fled to Guiana in South America where he served the Hindu diaspora community as an educator and priest for many years before he went on to post-graduate education in Europe and a university teaching post in the United States. His spiritual élan was renewed on meeting his spiritual father, Swami Rama, to whom he has maintained unswerving devotion, and this led him to a career of lecturing and writing on the science of yoga and meditation that has continued to the present day.

Swamiji would stay up all night working calmly and efficiently on writing and administrative duties. He was consistent in his mood. If ever angry, it was always controlled. He had consistent clarity of purpose. He once told me that the development of his independent mission and ashram had taken place without his direct effort but had taken place in a natural manner, by God's grace. And I believe him. His effort was exclusively in teaching. Over the years I came to admire and respect him immensely, even as I continued to work through my own niṣṭhā as a Vaishnava, attempting to solve its riddles through sādhanā and the hope for grace.

One day in 2010 when I came into the full meditation hall late, Swamiji made a place for me directly in front of him and said, "This is your place." Over the next few days, I had a few strong experiences that led me to write him the following letter. I realize on rereading this now, quite some time after writing it, that it contains much that is confidential, but despite my reservations, I will share it here.

I wish to say first of all that you are without a doubt a guru to me. More than just a senior or a teacher, but a genuine spiritual guide on the highest level. I feel it is my greatest good fortune to have come into contact with you and to even be able to know you personally, what to speak of having the opportunity to talk with you and know you as a person.

More than that, you have played such an important role in my life through the kindnesses you have shown me, by bringing me to India, by giving me the opportunity to renew and rekindle my spiritual life, by showing me new ways of practicing spiritual life through yoga and meditation. You have in fact inestimably enriched my devotional life as a bhakta of Radha and Krishna. In the beginning I may have felt there was some conflict of purpose, but I no longer feel that way. In your association, I feel that my devotion is enhanced.

Therefore there is no wonder that when I chant the first verse of the Gurvaṣṭaka of our tradition I think of you also as the latest in the manifestations of the Guru in my life.

trāṇāya kāruṇya-ghanāghanatvam
prāptasya kalyāṇa-guṇārṇavasya
vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam
I venerate the feet of my guru who is the ocean of auspiciousness which has taken the form of a compassionate cloud that delivers the world that is being burned by the forest fire of repeated births and deaths. 
I want to share three things that came to me in the days that I have been meditating with you. The first is that intimated above, but the first moment that I sat in front of you, besides all the other sphūrtis that came, was this verse from the Bhāgavatam--

ācāryaṁ māṁ vijānīyān nāvamanyeta karhicit
na martya-buddhyāsūyeta sarva-deva-mayo guruḥ

Krishna says, "One should know the acharya to be me. Never disrespect him or envy him, thinking him to be an ordinary mortal. The guru is the sum total of all the gods."
I have been thinking for some time that the greatest good fortune is to be close to the guru, despite the possible dangers that come from familiarity. Tonight I think I crossed the bounds of familiarity and that is the source of great distress to me. Yet I feel the immediacy of your grace simply in the awakening of these reflections. 
On I think the second day, I had the impression that you began to sense a bit of difficulty with your heart and I felt the great effort that it takes for you to simply keep your heart functioning in your body. For a full half-hour I meditated on your heart muscle hoping that somehow I could help you do this work and give you some relief. Tonight I forgot this lesson and the delicate balance that you are forced to maintain to keep functioning.

Third. On the last day at one particular point I started to feel the presence of the Tara image in the temple here at SRSG. I felt I could feel your great love for the mother goddess, not as a child loves the mother, but as one who loves motherhood itself and indeed embodies motherly love. This one vision has in itself, I think, washed away any sectarian feeling I may have had, or any sense of superiority related to my self or my tradition.

Just to conclude, I want to say that I have come to think of your significance to me as a kalyana mitra, and I want to acknowledge that and beg your indulgence. I do not wish to continue behaving as a thoughtless child, but I must beg your forgiveness when I am swept away by the gunas.
Looking back at this letter, I realize again that for devotees it will seem like a bit of an apostasy that I show such reverence for a "Mayavadi" guru. And indeed there are some people who feel that my bhakti credentials have been sullied irrevocably by this association. And yet, the reason I am speaking of this at all is to remark on the way that circumstances, God's grace as it were, have combined in a unique way in my life to make my understanding of spiritual truth deeper.


By the time June 2013 rolled around, I was beginning to feel anxious about the completion of the book. Swamiji had taken his five-year vow of silence in March of that year and I hadn't seen him for several months. I came to the ashram, again underestimating the time it would take for me to complete the work, fully expecting to be finished in a month or so. After a day or two in the ashram, it became clear that I would need to apply myself more than I did habitually and so I joined Swamiji in his vow of silence, hoping that the social isolation would help me to focus my attention.

Although the daily regime included four hours of meditation and my customary āsanas and so on, I also "cheated" considerably, spending much time writing epistles to my significant other, singing kirtans and learning harmonium in my room, voraciously reading books on subjects totally unrelated to yoga, these were interlaced with considerable absorption in the subject at hand as well. I took my evening meals with Swamiji in silence, though the presence of other disciples at mealtimes helped diminish the grave atmosphere somewhat.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact transformations when they happened experientially. The three months that I spent working on the task ended with the completion of the main work of editing and translating, but that still left the understanding unfinished.


At one point in the three month period, apparently I had been singing too loud, even though I usually did so with my doors and windows closed and at undisturbing hours of the day. Nevertheless, I had disturbed someone who had his cottage nearby and he or she complained directly to Swamiji. A day or two later I received an email from Swamiji himself, who wrote:

vāg gadgadā dravate yasya cittaṁ
rudaty abhīkṣṇaṁ hasati kvacic ca
vilajja udgāyati nṛtyate ca
mad-bhakti-yukto bhuvanaṁ punāti
He whose voice is broken with emotion and whose mind melts, who cries constantly and sometimes laughs, who shamelessly sings aloud and dances such a person endowed with devotion to me purifies the entire world. (11.14.24)
Though the above may be true of you, Jagadanandaji, people are complaining that you are singing at all hours of the day and night and disturbing their meditation. I am sorry to have to ask you to quieten down.

Although the letter was written in such a fashion that it was impossible to take umbrage, I felt serious difficulty as a result of the accusation. The principal thought was, once again, "What am I doing here? Am I obliged to renounce sankirtan in order to stay here? That is too much to ask of me."

In fact, it is necessary to say that I am not a great singer, nor have I shown any great affection or attachment to kirtan in any part of my life, and certainly made no effort whatsoever to develop musical skills, even though many opportunities were there. Indeed, it was only after coming to the environment of the ashram where there is so little song that I found myself involuntarily singing almost everywhere I went.

Part of the reason was the peace and silence itself. The other thing was that when I first came here in 2007, I began with great enthusiasm to attempt to recapture the glory days of my life as a monk in the 1980's. I would rush to the meditation hall at 4 in the morning chanting various ashtakas, and people had noticed. But unlike the one who complained, I had been almost universally appreciated. I got a reputation for always singing, and when I left and then returned, members of the ashram would almost always remark that they had missed my presence. At some point, I suppose, it went to my head and I started to think, "Why in God's name have I never learned to sing properly? I am supposed to be a follower of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who taught the chanting of the Holy Name as the primary sadhana of this age, and yet I have never taken it seriously!"

golokera prema-dhana harināma saṅkīrtana 
rati nāhi hoilo kene tāya

So when I made my move to Vrindavan, determined to make it my permanent base, I had the good fortune to meet the young Rupak Goswami and I asked him to start teaching me the harmonium and the basics of classical Indian sangit. It should be remarked that SRSG is also fortunate enough to have had many guests who are professional musicians and who have performed for the residents and visitors to the ashram, many of whom impressed me tremendously and gave me a further taste for music.

So the conundrum seemed to have a paradox at its center: The desire to sing came from being here, and now it seemed that I was being told to renounce that desire. I made my decision: I would buckle down, finish the work and leave as soon as I could. Vrindavan was the only place for me.

But there was still the matter of finishing the work responsibly, of making a genuine scholarly effort, even though I was working in a field in which my degree of expertise was limited.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Samadhi and Bhakti-yoga

I wrote the following a couple of days ago and would not have made it a blog, except that I am posting the story of my experience here at SRSG and these thoughts seemed relevant.

On Friday I was going to skip meditation, but the vortex of spiritual energy sucked me in like a black hole. It reminded me of times when I was a devotee living in Hare Krishna temples and mangal arati would call.

I have been living or visiting and staying in this ashram in Rishikesh for more than seven years now. And I have been noticing a definite sharp increase in the overall level of meditation sessions, especially when Swami Veda is present. It has a level of sustained intensity that I can only attribute to Swamiji's own depth of samādhi as he prepares himself for final samādhi. His five year silence was broken, you could say, but the intensity of a vow of silence has not decreased.

I would say to anyone who has affection for Swamiji and meditation practice to not miss the opportunity to be immersed in the Guru's mind-field, as it were.

To exclusive devotees I may seem a bit mixed up, yoga-miśra. I posted some remarks about this earlier today, and no doubt will have more to say about it as I complete the article on how I came to do the Yoga-taraṅgiṇī work.

As it is, I have this yogi side of me I have come to believe enhances the depth of my bhakti. I find that I am still a bit defensive about it when associating with devotees, and sometimes perhaps I even overcompensate on account of that, to prove that I am not an apostate. But on the whole I find that these practices have made me more sāttvika, and do so more effectively than vaidhī bhakti ever did.

And yet, it is simply the application of yogic techniques to those things that are already a part of vaidhī bhakti. What is japa of the Holy Name, done silently and with concentration but a joyful magic?

I came to appreciate the necessity of using yogic techniques to still and control the mind when the expectation that the natural attractions of the rāgānugā path could not overcome the wild and raging tempest of my conditioned mind. I remembered the story of a young babaji who came to Siddha Krishna Das in Govardhan lamenting that he had not been able to do his aṣṭa-kālīya bhajan because he had become lost in meditation on Radharani's feet while doing smaraṇa of her morning bath. Siddha Baba naturally told him that he had been successful in his bhajan on that day. So I thought, why am I trying to bite of more than I can chew by trying to memorize the entire aṣṭa-kāla līlā when even one single image, one single meditation from the līlā texts would be a great success.

Besides, the revelation of the līlā does not come immediately, according to Jiva Goswami, but follows in a sequence, from the name, to rūpa, guṇa and then līlā, so why not start with really focusing on the Holy Name and becoming fixed in samādhi on that?

What is samādhi? According to the Yoga-sūtra (3.3), it is defined as

tad evārtha-mātra-nirbhāsaṁ sva-rūpa-śūnyam iva samādhiḥ
When in meditation the true nature of the object shines forth, not distorted by the mind of the perceiver, it is called samādhi.
Jiva Goswami gives several definitions in Bhakti-sandarbha, which are confirmation of that found in YS:

(a) dhyānam eva dhyātṛ-dhyeya-viveka-rahitaṁ samādhiḥ |
When meditation itself comes to the state where one loses a sense of the difference between himself and the object of meditation, that is called samādhi. (BhaktiS 226) 
(b)  dhyeya-mātra-sphuraṇaṁ samādhir iti |
Samādhi is the manifestation [to the meditator] of the object of meditation alone. (BhaktiS 278) 
(c)  kvacil līlādi-yukte ca tasminn ananyā sphūrtiḥ samādhiḥ
Sometimes samādhi is the exclusive manifestation or appearance of Krishna along with his līlā and so on. (BhaktiS 279)
In this last case, the example of Narada Muni's instructions to Vyasadeva is given as the example:

atho mahā-bhāga bhavān amogha-dk
śuci-śravāḥ satya-rato dhṛta-vrataḥ |
samādhinānusmara tad-viceṣṭitam ||

O fortunate one, because you are unfailing in your vision, your reputation is flawless, you are devoted to the truth and fixed in your vow, so remember constantly the activities of the great Lord Urukrama in trance so as to liberate yourself from all bondage.(BhP 1.5.13)
It is perhaps no accident that in the famous verses of the Bhagavatam (1.7.4) describing Vyasa's vision of the Lord, received after following Narada's instructions, the word praṇihita is found, i.e, the past participle of praṇidhāna, the word used as the equivalent of devotion in Yogasutra (1.21).

Vyasa in his commentary to YS 1.1 gives his fundamental definition of the word yoga as samādhi, and Jiva Goswami also follows in BhaktiS 280 confirming this definition in his comment on the word a quoted verse: yogo’tra samādhiḥ.

In the relevant section of the Bhakti-sandarbha, Sri Jiva Goswami gives a five-fold division of smaraṇam, the third of the nine angas of bhakti found in the Bhagavatam. These are smaraṇa, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, dhruvānusmṛti, and finally, samādhi. The word smaraṇam itself is only used as a general, basic term meaning "the slightest seeking out of the object of meditation" (yat kiñcid anusandhānaṁ). The second and third terms, dhāraṇā and dhyāna are taken from the yoga tradition, but Jiva adds dhruvānusmṛti "fixed and constant remembering" before coming to the final stage of samādhi. Dhruvānusmṛti applies when one's meditation flows uninterrupted like a stream of oil (taila-dhārāvat). The example for this stage of remembrance is taken from the Bhagavatam in one of the verses describing nirguna-bhakti:

mad-guṇa-śruti-mātreṇa mayi sarva-guhāśaye |
mano-gatir avicchinnā yathā gaṅgāmbhaso'mbudhau ||
On just hearing my glories even in passing, the devotee's mind flows towards me, who am seated in everyone's heart, in an unbroken stream just as the Ganges flows to the sea. (3.29.10)

There are other verses about samādhi in BhaktiS and the Bhagavatam, but I won't multiply these references unnecessarily. My point is simply that the culture of mind control, directing it towards the Supreme, is one of the angas of bhakti, and although it is a part of the whole of bhakti, it is definitely a part of kṛṣṇānuśīlanam.

Jiva Goswami does comment in BhaktiS 280 that asamprajñāta samādhi is different from the devotional samādhi, and this is something I will return to in a future article.

I would just like to conclude here that when one has slowed the breath and mind sufficiently that one can lengthen to focus on the kāma-gāyatri mantra on the exhalation, then it seems to draw my mind like a docile cow on a leash towards the Divine Couple, sitting patiently in their lotus throne and looking in my direction.

And as one becomes more sāttvika, one's mind and body become still, free from distractions, then one naturally becomes more receptive to sound as well as to other mediums of sensory input, whether it is meant for the intellect or for the soul. It thus enhances one's experience of other devotional practices, especially hearing and chanting kirtan. By the same token the taste of spiritual sound or silence becomes too great to tolerate intellectual blatherings for their own sake.

The capacity to be immersed is increased, for whatever purpose, but our prefered purpose is prema-samādhi, about which I will share thoughts later.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Yoga-tarangini published: The story of this translation (Part I)

[I am happy to have finally received a copy of the Yoga-taraṅgiṇī, which has been published by Motilal Banarsidass with the Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust. When I was writing the introduction, I started also to describe the adventure that working on this text represented, and became quite bogged down as the self-examination and other external factors made it seem impossible to conclude. Finally, I just gave up on the idea and handed in the manuscript without this part of the introduction. This is the first part, which discusses the apparent conflict between the bhakti and yoga paths.]

In the SRSG library and research center.

Bhakti and Yoga

I often wonder about the relationship of a translation to the original text. The famous Italian saying that "to translate is to betray" indicates that any translation is inevitably an interpretation of some kind. A third person enters between the speaker and his audience, and neither the third person nor the audience were intended by that original speaker, except inasmuch as universal humanity – as he understood it – was intended by him.

In the case of a text like the Yoga-taraṅgiṇī, the problem is increased, since much of what is said is mysterious, even deliberately couched in a symbolic language that only sustained engagement with the practice itself can properly elucidate. Such a sustained engagement with a sādhanā is a story in itself that rarely gets told in detail. Indeed, the hagiographies lead us to believe that the process is straightforward, mechanical even, or so dependent on destiny or grace that any inner effort seems almost irrelevant.

Most of the time we are presented with works like Gorakṣa-śataka and in a fairly impersonal way, in the way of a general manual of instruction, with barely a hint of a personal story into which it can be properly set. The tacit assumption is that the author is a perfected or successful soul, a siddha, and herein lie the steps whereby anyone can reach the same elevated state of perfection as his. The world of his context, in all its human complexity, is an accepted a priori for the audience he actually intended. And, indeed, the book itself would only be a general outline to be supplemented by the same contextual world within worlds, a tradition or paramparā, within the wider world of India at the cusp of the last millennium.

For such a text, there is usually a hagiographical tradition, oral or written, often quite thin in content, which provides the framework into which we are meant to fit the work itself, but that would seem to mainly serve the purpose of inducing faith in the greatness of the author and his reliability as an authoritative guide to a particular sādhanā.

In the case of Gorakṣanātha, to whom this book is attributed, we have numerous legends of dramatic mystic powers. But as is frequently the case, his birth is miraculous and his powers already manifest from an early age. A siddha who pops into the mortal sphere from another plane, fully formed, will not, by definition, be a sādhaka. The usual term applied to such persons is nitya-siddha as opposed to sādhana-siddha. He is defined by his iconic role rather than by any specifically personal characteristic.

[Of course, the story of Gorakṣa and his guru Matsyendranātha does present some interesting idiosyncratic features where hagiography is concerned, taking more complex mythological forms. The theme of guru-bhakti is demonstrated by Gorakṣa's disguising himself as a woman in order to save his guru from an enchanted land of women, where he was the only male who could survive a curse that meant automatic death for any man who remained in that realm after sunset.]

What we rarely get in traditional Indian texts is the real-life account of a saint or author as a human sādhaka, whereby the step-by-step program outlined in his work is presented as the true account of his personal journey to the state of beatitude. This is an approach that is of limited usefulness in our modern analytical and scientific age, where the contemporary sādhaka's individual story can serve not only as the primary source of inspiration and guidance for other sādhakas, it can even give insight into routes for empirical research into spiritual techniques.

In fact, it might be said that liberated souls, if there is any such thing, can only truly demonstrate their authority and communicate the genuineness of their insights by giving an account of their journey, as a true revelation of their character. Spiritual life is human life, and a life without failings is not a human life. Nobody gets to perfection without a fight, and the demons encountered by the Buddha, or Desert Fathers, or Taoist adepts in mountain caves, may well be worth describing to those who will take up the same fight, now or later. Even a story of failure, recounted honestly, is more beneficial to fellow travelers looking for hope and community than a thousand injunctions declaimed from pulpits by preachers of ancient laws. And in fact, paramparā means being able to communicate to subsequent adepts whatever one has attained through one’s own path, either as a guidance or as a warning: “Go not ye by this way.”

I was commissioned to edit and translate this book by Maha Mandaleshwar Swami Veda Bharati, who was acting on the express wish of his spiritual master, Swami Rama of the Himalayas. Nevertheless, when requesting me to do this job, he expressed sufficient confidence in my capacities that he could tell me it was to be entirely my own work. He, being in a state of physical weakness and busy with his own sādhanā and Yoga-sūtra translation work, what to speak of administrative duties, was unable to divert too much of his attention in this direction.

This statement of trust came early on while I was still working on one of the early verses and I asked him a question about the translation of a particular word and he simply wrote on his board, "As you like," and smiled. Being given total freedom to do the job was a vote of confidence, but it also presented me a more difficult task, which became increasingly apparent to me as the work went on. I was being given a challenge to understand the concepts on my own, without taking the guidance of an external authority, except to the extent that prior to that I had already been given some basic knowledge of yoga and meditation techniques by him.

But it meant that I was being challenged to do far more than simply translate the words of the book, which can be done with the help of dictionaries, with any controversies noted in passing: It could be this, it could be that. In order to translate the book authoritatively, I had to immerse myself in the world of Gorakṣa and his yoga system. One time at the dinner table, when Swamiji had already started his silence and I was still too talkative, I joked that his engaging me to translate the book was merely a plot to convert me into a yogi. Little did I know what I was getting into.

So, as a response to that freedom, and indeed in response to the kinds of psychological challenges that surfaced during the time of doing this work, and especially the last six months or so, most of which was lost writing this very account that you, whoever you are, are now reading. And indeed, I am writing it now, already months after I agreed with Swamiji that it really did not have a place in a work that at least resembles an honest scholarly production. The work has gone to the publisher and I am thinking that I need to complete the sense of this piece of writing that is yet unfinished.

I am taking the unusual step of giving an account of my engagement with this book. But of course, I am still far too modest to completely bare my soul on paper, though I understand that without doing so, my purpose will not be accomplished. It is only too natural to expect that there will be some willful dissimulation, conscious or unconscious, the very kind of personal dishonesty that contradicts the spirit of the spiritual quest. La mauvaise foi.

But this really was the problem in my original attempts to write. It was too personal, even narcissistic, to write about myself in what was primarily intended to be a work of scholarship. Had life been a routine process, whereby doing a number of exercises and entering into a transcendent dimension of pure bliss was a straightforward, mechanical procedure, a technique that simply needed to be continued repeatedly in a disciplined and consistent manner, then I might have been able to communicate some of the more straightforward technical things. Through following the practice assiduously I may well have understood subtler points of the various bandhas and mudrās, the raising of the kuṇḍalinī and the import of the cakras. Were I a yogi, it may have been so. Clearly I am not. The yoga path demands complete, lifelong commitment and dedication, to the exclusion of the world.

Let us call it a reflection on a micro reality in spiritual life, where the only testimony by way of fact is the personal account of the journey one has taken. Swami Veda teaches his students to keep a self-observation diary. Let this be a retrospective on one such journey.

Though I had been an on-and-off practitioner of haṭha-yoga since my teens, as well as a dabbler in yoga meditation, I came to learn of the Himalayan meditative tradition only after becoming associated with Swamiji. By the time he entrusted me with this task, I had known him and the Himalayan yoga tradition for close to five years, living for much of that time in Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh where I was engaged as the resident Sanskrit teacher. When after three years I left the ashram to establish myself in Vrindavan, I still kept in touch with Swamiji, first by working with him on the revision of the Yoga-sūtras first volume, and then with some other of his translation projects, the entire collaboration concluding with this Yoga-taraṅgiṇī translation, which he left to me.

Even though I learned the practices of the ashram during my time there and indeed fairly diligently followed some of them with regularity, following a regime of meditating four hours a day, I cannot say that I was a serious practitioner of yoga in the terms expressed by the yoga tradition itself. By entrusting me with this work, Swamiji was in fact challenging me to deepen my own yoga practice and to encounter the tradition more directly and personally.

The Gorakṣa-śataka represents but one early school of the haṭha-yoga or nātha-yoga tradition and is moreover a paddhati text, outlining a program of discipline that is meant to lead to results only after long and assiduous practice. This program differs in several respects from any that I had been following in terms of its emphasis on particular practices and goals, all of which can only be studied internally through actually doing them both sequentially and simultaneously, with the mastery of one technique being succeeded by the next while not being abandoned. Twelve years seems to be the minimum time the text itself predicts for reaching samādhi, clearly more time than I had to test the results.

But here I should state that there was another obstacle, one that contains within it a constellation of other obstacles. My personal religious and spiritual background is in the bhakti tradition of Bengal, which expresses the goal of spiritual endeavor in terms of prema or love of a personal God rather than the kaivalya, mukti or union of various opposites as usually described by the various yoga schools. The prescribed practices in most bhakti traditions are chanting the names of Radha and Krishna in kirtan, hearing stories and theological discourses related to Krishna, meditating on the saguṇa Brahma in the form of Radha Krishna, and so on. Progress is measured by the depth and intensity of one's love for Krishna, which is more the fruit of grace than the result of any practice. Indeed the practice itself is considered to be the result of grace and is meant to culture an awareness of grace, which is the great resting place of prema.

For their part, the Nātha yogis are uncompromisingly nirguṇa in their conception of the Supreme Truth. They are not much interested in theologizing or writing philosophical treatises. Their truth is situated within the body, not externally in either temple or text. Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati (2.74) lists the Vaishnavas as just one among the numerous sects and schools that are "cheated of the real Truth, engaged in arduous processes and following hopeless paths" (kaṣṭa-ratā vṛthā-patha-gatāḥ sat-tattvato vañcitāḥ).

Brahmānanda in his Jyotsnā commentary on Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā 4.114 takes up the argument that bhakti is subordinate to haṭha-yoga, since it is equivalent to īśvara-praṇidhāna and can thus be incorporated within the aṣṭāṅga system as one of the niyamas or as the kriyā-yoga of Yoga-sūtra 2.1. Even yoga texts such as Yogi-yājñavalkya that have a Vaishnava flavor are ultimately committed to a nirguṇa concept of the Supreme, much in the way of Vaishnava tantras like Gautamīya-tantra.

Philosophically, the difference between the nirguṇa yoga and saguṇa Vaishnava schools seems irreconcilable. All Vaishnavas lineages are agreed that liberation defined as merging of the self into the Self, i.e., the complete identification with Brahman, the formless consciousness that is the ground of being, as far inferior to bhakti. Gaudiya acharya Rupa Goswami says bhakti is, "capable of making even liberation seem insignificant" (mokṣa-laghutā-kṛt, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.17). Of the many examples of verses in which this idea is stated, he uses the following example:

tvat-sākṣāt-karaṇāhlāda-sudhāmbodhau sthitasya me
sukhāni goṣpadāyante brāhmāṇy api jagad-guro
O Lord, teacher of the universe, now that I am situated in the unlimited ocean of blissful nectar that is your personal association, all other kinds of happiness -- even that of Brahman realization -- appear as insignificant to me as the water contained in a cow's hoofprint. [Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 14.36, quoted at Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.39]
This general abhorrence of the dissolution of personality in liberation is succinctly expressed by poet Prabodhananda Saraswati with the words kaivalyaṁ narakāyate, "the liberation of the yogis is the equivalent of hell." (Caitanya-candrāmṛta, 95.)

But Bengal Vaishnavism is rooted in the Bhagavad-gītā and Bhāgavata Purāṇa, in neither of which there is any shortage of instruction in yoga. According to the bhakti tradition, the yoga of the Gītā is to be understood hierarchically, with the last verse of the sixth chapter establishing the yoga of devotion as the highest. The Bhāgavata (11.20.6) considers bhakti a separate system of yoga, along with karma and jñāna, outside of which there is no third way. It is also full of verses that instruct in yoga, such as,

mana ekatra saṁyuñjyāj jita-śvāso jitāsanaḥ
vairāgyābhyāsa-yogena dhriyamāṇam atandritaḥ
Ever alert, the yogi should conquer the breath and posture, and fix the mind on one thing, bringing it under control with dispassion and constant practice. (BhP 11.9.11)
Thus, though aṣṭāṅga-yoga or haṭha-yoga practices are nowhere mentioned as aṅgas of bhakti, and yoga as understood in its sense of aiming at the state of asamprajñāta-samādhi is considered to be a covering over pure devotion, bhakti-yoga, like all other yogas, aims at the mastery of the mental processes by directing them exclusively to the Supreme Truth, but here conceived of in personal terms.

[Bhakti-yogis accept the concept of samprajñāta-samādhi, but as indicated above, abhor the "consciousness in itself" goal of asamprajñāta. I have spent a lot of time mulling over this latter concept and whether it could be reconciled with the bhakti system and believe I have found a way to synthesize the two, which I will present in another article down the road.]

In the Bhāgavata, the purpose of all yoga is to remember the personal God.

etāvān yoga ādiṣṭo mac-chiṣyaiḥ sanakādibhiḥ
sarvato mana ākṛṣya mayy addhāveśyate manaḥ
The yoga instructed by my disciples such as Sanaka, is to withdraw the mind from all things to absorb it directly in me [Krishna]. (BhP 11.13.14)
Rather than use the word dhyāna, bhaktas tend to use the word smaraṇa, a synonym that even Gorakṣa-śataka uses (2.61). In Bhakti-sandarbha (278-279), the terms dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi are all used as subcategories of smaraṇa, with samādhi specifically described as the constant subjective experience of Krishna, the Supreme Truth in his personal manifestation (līlādi-yukte ca tasminn ananyā sphūrtiḥ samādhiḥ syāt).

Nevertheless, most devotees who are strictly aligned with the orthodox bhakti tradition do so because of verses that indicate that there is really no need for the techniques of yoga. It is the spirit of devotion to God which is all-powerful, and even aspirants for yoga need bhakti to achieve their goals:

na sādhayati māṁ yogo na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma uddhava
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo yathā bhakti mamorjitā
O Uddhava, the practices of yoga, philosophical separation of matter from spirit (sāṅkhya), the following of religious duties (dharma), study of scripture (svādhyāya), austerity (tapas) or renunciation (tyāga) are incapable of helping one attain me in the way that the intense performance of devotion (bhakti) does. (SB 11.14.20)
bhaktyāham ekayā grāhyaḥ
śraddhayātmā priyaḥ satām
bhaktiḥ punāti man niṣṭhā
śva pākān api sambhavāt
I, who am the Supreme Self and dearmost to the holy, can be attained only through exclusive devotion and faith. Such devotion to me purifies even the dog-eaters from [the sins that caused] their low birth. (BhP 11.14.21)
The bhakti-yoga path is further divided into the rules-oriented, rational, vaidhī bhakti approach and rāgānugā, which is based on pure grace and attraction. According to the former, one who has no natural attraction for Krishna's service engages in such service because the scriptures have so enjoined it and because he has been convinced by reasonable arguments. The Gaudiya Vaishnava school theoretically promotes the latter, but in my case (and probably that of most practitioners), the psychological distinction between the two attitudes or adhikāras was not always clear.

Renounced rāgānugā sādhakas of my Vaishnava tradition attempt to train the mind to concentrate on God in the form of Radha and Krishna through an elaborate and somewhat challenging technique of visualization. [Perhaps best described by David L. Haberman in Acting as a Way of Salvation.] Therefore, despite the warnings in the bhakti school that the yoga practice is more difficult, and though it is often presented as an "easier" practice designed for less capable and even less intelligent persons, bhakti so conceived ultimately demands the same kinds of discipline, including brahmacarya or renunciation of sexual activity, that are central to the yoga system most broadly conceived.

After the external training provided by the yamas and niyamas, the yogic discipline proper begins with bodily culture or āsana, leading to the ability to sit still for longer periods of time, and prāṇāyāma, mastery of the breath in order to still the mind to facilitate concentration, and so on. The later states of dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi will be filled with content that is particular to the specifics of one's sampradāya.

I was thus happy to read, as already noted above, that Yoga-taraṅgiṇī approves of sectarian practices such as doing japa of the mantras of one's own iṣṭa, even though the Gorakṣa-śataka has its own separate symbol system based in Śaiva tantra. Later I came across the following verse from Ṣaṭ-cakra-nirūpaṇa (44) that confirmed this liberal understanding:

śiva-sthānaṁ śaivāḥ parama-puruaṁ vaiṇava-gaṇāḥ
lapantīti prāyo harihara-padaṁ kecid apare
padaṁ devyā devī-caraṇa-yugalāmbhoja-rasikā
munīndrā apy anye prakṛti-puru
a-sthānam amalam
Śaivas will look upon [the thousand-petaled lotus] as the abode of Śiva, the Vaiṣṇavas as that of the Supreme Person, and some others as that of the combined form of Śiva and Viṣṇu, Harihara. Those whose pleasure is in the lotus feet of the Goddess see it as her abode, while the great philosophers (the Sāṅkhyas) see it as that of Prakṛti and Puruṣa.
As a result, I never used any mantras but those I had received from my guru at the time of initiation in the Vaishnava tradition and continued to direct my mental concentration to the various names of Krishna and other prescribed meditations.

This Tantrik idea of visualizing Krishna in the crown of the head is most explicitly stated in the Brahma-saṁhitā, a Pañcarātra Vaishnava text accepted by Gaudiya Vaishnavas as canonical, which begins with the words sahasra-patra-kamalaṁ golokākhyaṁ mahat padam. However, the orthodox Gaudiya Vaishnava literature nowhere draws any conclusion to this in practice, nor any subsequent delineation of the cakras, etc. On the other hand, early texts of the heterodox Sahajiya Vaishnavas do, even though their systemization of sarovaras ("ponds") rather than cakras is idiosyncratic.

[I use the terms heterodox and orthodox for convenience. Orthodox simply means the dominant tradition, which is Sanskritic, has a strong textual tradition, is led by Brāhmaëas, etc. The heterodox are the ones they do not recognize or consider deviant, apasiddhānta.]

Moreover, even though orthodox Vaishnavas may accept the mental disciplines of yoga, and prāṇāyāma is enjoined as an element of Pañcarātra arcanā ritual, though somewhat neglected, they certainly have no interest in other techniques like haṭha-yoga's mudrās and bandhas, which are considered a distraction from more direct acts of devotion and service to Krishna.

These practices (mudrās and bandhas) are directly related to the somewhat arcane matter of seminal retention, which lead to the hallowed goal of ūrdhva-retas of the ancient śramaṇas mentioned in the Vedas and throughout the Purāṇas and epics. The retention of semen, as described in the Gorakṣa-śataka 1.68-69, is an underlying prerequisite goal of yoga and the bandhas, etc., are its techniques by which the external flow of energy represented by the semen (carama-dhātu) is restrained and redirected upward (ūrdhva). The bhakti school only promises a natural weaning away of the sexual desire through natural means or attrition, bypassing physical means to act directly on the mind. [Viz. Bhāgavata 10.33.40.] Though it is nowhere said that to retain the semen is a necessary aṅga of bhakti, in practical terms, from what I have seen in circles of renounced bhaktas of various lineages, most tacitly adhere to this pan-Indian understanding.

On the other hand, the above-mentioned heterodox subsects of Vaishnavism, broadly categorized as "Sahajiyā," incorporate these practices. These sects are among the many species of religious flora that grew in the fertile union of yoga-tantra with bhakti after the 15th century. They were particularly influenced by the romantic or erotic symbolism of Radha-Krishna mythology, but also accepted parts of the yogis' physical practices, considering the sexual control characterized by seminal retention an essential part of their path, calling it deha-sādhanā.

I was myself initiated into one such tradition in 1985, but due to circumstance was unable to follow up with a thorough understanding in that particular paramparā of teachings, though I maintained my mantras and continued research by other means. Working on the Yoga-taraṅgiṇī seemed to provide an opportunity to make a practical synthesis of the various above-mentioned understandings of yoga with bhakti. Since the Nātha sampradāya was the dominant school of yoga in Bengal at the time of the bhakti revival after the 16th century, and in fact large numbers of the descendants of the yogis in Bengal are weavers, just like Kabir, who converted en masse to Vaishnavism, I thus thought it would be very helpful to study and attempt to follow the teachings of the Gorakṣa-śataka, which is a concise as well as clear program.

All of this gave me motivation and cleared away most of the obstacles to undertaking the practice, but even so there were always going to be limitations to what I could achieve within the time allotted for the project. Even though by that time I had managed to synthesize most of the externals of the haṭha tradition accepting them as anukūla or favorable to my goal.

And to be completely honest, at no time -- even at the height of my practice -- was I able to complete any of the practices for the number of times, or for the length of time prescribed by the text, or over a sustained period. Ultimately, I stopped concerning myself with numbers or lengths of time and simply tried repeatedly to observe the effects of the practice and to find the pleasure that it offered.

Six kinds of useless servants or disciples.

There are six kinds of useless servants or disciples:

alir bāṇo jyotiṣakaḥ
stabdhībhūtaḥ kimekakaḥ
preṣita-preṣakaś caiva
ṣaḍ ete sevakādhamāḥ

(1) One is like a bee (ali) that wanders from flower to flower, i.e., is not loyal.
(2) Another is like an arrow (bāṇa), who wounds his master.
(3) Another is the procrastinator (jyotiṣaka), always waiting for the right alignment of planets before he acts.
(4) The fourth is stabdhībhūta, i.e., lazy, bewildered, dull and inactive.
(5) The fifth (kimekakaḥ) is someone who lacks initiative or courage to act alone, saying, "I can't do this by myself."
(6) The last is one who passes the buck (preṣita-preṣaka), shifting responsibility onto others rather than taking it himself.
Fifteen years ago I posted this verse on the Indology list because I had some difficulty with a few of the words. Who knows where I found it, probably in a text related to Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj, as I was working for Mandala at the time. I could not find the original source reference. Someone doing a google search found my original post and inquired about it so I thought I would post it here.

A bee usually is seen positively because of its pleasant buzzing sound and its associations with flowers and honey, what to speak of the western image of a "busy bee." Even in relation to gurus, there is a statement in the Bhagavatam that the example of the bee going from flower to flower to collect honey is a good thing.
madhu-lobhād yathā bhṛṅgaḥ
puṣpāt puṣpāntaraṁ vrajet
jñāna-lobhād tathā śiṣyaḥ
guror gurv-antaraṁ vrajet
Just as a bee goes from flower to flower in its greed for honey, so a student goes from one preceptor to another in search of knowledge.
.Although the bee is often given positive associations in Sanskrit literature, that is not always the case. For instance, see this verse from Gopālacampū:
dvirepho barbaraḥ proktaḥ
parapuṣṭaś ca ceṭakaḥ |
tau cāgraṇyau madhor dṛṣṭau
yāpyatā kāpy ataḥ kim u ||

"The bumblebee is known to be a fool or a savage,
and the cuckoo, one maintained by others, a lowly slave.
If these two are the harbingers of the sweet season,
then what further knavishness can we expect from it?"
Gopālacampū 1.22.47
In this case, the explanation is made explicit Somadeva´s Kathā-sarit-sāgara, (10.5.118)
avṛttikaṁ prabhuṁ bhṛtyā apuṣpaṁ bhramarās tarum |
ajalaṁ ca saro haṁsā muñcanty api ciroṣitāḥ ||

Servants [leave] a master who has no means of livelihood, 
bees [leave] a flowerless tree, and geese leave a lake without water even after a long habitation.Of course, the bee's proclivity for abandoning a person is stated by the gopis in an accusatory tone when speaking of Krishna in BhP 10.47:
anyeṣv artha-kṛn maitrī yāvad-artha-viḍambanam |
pumbhiḥ strīṣu kṛtā yadvat sumanaḥsv iva ṣaṭpadaiḥ ||
One sees that friendship usually lasts only as long as some purpose is served by it. So it is with men after they have enjoyed a woman, as with bees who leave the flower once they have tasted its honey. (10.47.6)
According to Jiva Goswami, one is loyal to the diksha guru, but continues to associate with other advanced Vaishnavas and siksha gurus if they are in the same mood as the guru. Here, the problem is those who are never satisfied and abandon the guru as soon as they have "extracted" whatever they wanted from him.

The term bāṇa was a bit problematic, as I can't recall having seen that example, but it would appear to intend the pain that a disciple who is disobedient or arrogant gives the guru. Or, one who finds fault with the guru.

The other terms are rather self-explanatory, even though original, and I will not bother with excoriations of those who have not learned the art of service. Detailed lessons and examples can be left for others. All the rasas of love have service as their central feature, so one should learn to avoid these defects of dasya-rasa.

Yoga-tarangini is out!!

Well, my book is finally here. Yoga-tarangini: A Rare Commentary on Goraksha-samhita. Published by Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust and Motilal Banarsidass. Just got my copy.

It is just a book, but in my case, blood, sweat and tears. My gratitude to Swami Veda Bharati for making it happen. I will have to finish my blog article on how this thing got written and what I went through doing it. I will post that in a day or two.

I did post a bit of the introduction on this blog a year or so ago. You can find it here: The Restless River of Yoga (Intro)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Erased a few comments by mistake

I just erased a few comments by mistake. Subrata, Darwin and one other. I am really sorry. There is no retrieval of lost comments in a trash bin, so I cannot recover them. I am spacing out due to inactivityon this blog.