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.


Anonymous said...

One may wish to try the chord of the these combined notes:

F# (370 Hz) C (523 Hz) A (880 Hz)

on your harmonium.

Anonymous said...

Gó to:

Anonymous said...

Ghoṭikā: A boundary post bearing the representation of a mare.

Anonymous said...

In regard to you chant of the Vritra chatuhshloki:

The shining path of bhakti (is easy for my person to type in this comment; but in truth, not so easy to walk), the holding up of a mountain, bathing in the ocean of love and meditating on ones eternal form all effects of a very real cause; an to this effect the following is worthy of further study: