Saturday, March 07, 2015

Is it not just selfish desire?

Yesterday I went to listen to the Bhagavatam around the corner, where a seven-day program is going on. The speaker is in the Swami Haridas line, but he is a real non-denominational Vrindavan lover and seems to have equal affection for Harivams Goswami and Radha Vallabha as he has for Swami Haridas and Banke Bihari. He also told some Gaudiya stories, like about Shyamananda finding the nupur in Seva Kunj, and Rupa Goswami’s warning not to look at Govindaji or you would lose everything.
smerāṁ bhaṅgī-traya-paricitāṁ sāci vistīrṇa-dṛṣṭiṁ
vaṁśī-nyastādhara-kiśalayām ujjvalāṁ candrakeṇa |
govindākhyāṁ hari-tanum itaḥ keśi-tīrthopakaṇṭhe
mā prekṣiṣṭhās tava yadi sakhe bandhu-saṅge'sti raṅgaḥ || 
My friend, if you still want to find pleasure
in the company of your friends and relatives,
then don't look at this form of Hari called "Govinda,"
not far from here at Keshi Ghat, smiling,
in his famous triple-crooked stance,
with his big crooked glance.
the red sliver of his lips cast placed his flute,
and glowing from the peacock feather in his crown,
(BRS 1.2.239)
One of the stories he told was about Hariram Vyas, who was the court pandit of Orcha, but who on coming to Vrindavan, found the association of Hit Harivams Goswami and fell in love with Vrindavan and Radha Krishna. He decided to give up material life and stay in the Dham and do bhajan and so sent word to the king of Orcha. The king continued to implore him to return to do his worldly duties at the court.

“What is better, acting for one’s own benefit or for the benefit of a great number of people in society?” The king challenged. “Is not your wish to remain in Vrindavan merely your own selfish desire?”

Hariram Vyas accepted the king’s logic, but his heart could not agree. So he said, “You are right, but I will only go if my guru, Hit Harivams Goswami, orders me to go, for it is from him that the desire to stay here has come.”

The king sent ministers to the Goswami and Harivams did indeed tell Hariram Vyas to tend to his worldly duties until they released him. It was a lightning bolt of shock to Hariram, who had become so attached to the life of musical devotion, writing poetry and absorption in Radha and Krishna’s name, forms and pastimes. Devastated, he began to prepare to leave the Dham.

As one last act in the Dham, the tearful Hariram came to the Radha Vallabha temple which had already closed after the midday meal. There he saw a sweeper woman standing at the doorstep with a leaf plate of prasadam from Radha Vallabha. When Hariram saw her and the prasad, he immediately begged some of it from her, and she, somewhat reluctantly, ceded some of her touched food to the brahmin.

The minister and envoys from Orcha were there waiting for Hariram to finish his prayers and get on their way, but when they saw him taking food from an outcaste woman, they quickly looked at one another and came to the rapid conclusion that anyone who showed such disregard for the caste system had gone crazy and was no longer of any use to society! So better to leave him in Vrindavan with the rest of the crazies!

The moral of the story is that you have to be crazy to live in Vrindavan!

[This story is like apocryphal. There is some confusion about dates.]

* * *

Anyway, the mood the last couple of days has been a little less disciplined on my part as I try to get my mind back into Jiva Goswami. Having the two tracks of Yoga Sutra and Krishna Sandarbha (what to speak of my own thought tracks) competing in my brain is challenging, especially challenging to the process of synthesis.

Yoga is part of the world in which Jiva Goswami lives in. Part of the world frame into which his own ideas are integrated. It is the world of the Bhāgavatam, of mystic yogis meditating in mountains. And that is also the world of the Goswamis, living lives of complete renunciation in the holy land of Braj. And that is where we have to distinguish between the devotee’s bhakti-rasa and the jnani’s and yogi’s śānta-rasa. The distinction comes from the inner identity, the svarupāvasthānam, and how that is conceived. But I will get on to that in the next article on bhakti-rasa and samādhi.

Swami Vishwananda's Bhakti Marga and Parampara

It has been a little strange here at Jiva these past few days. Swami Vishwananda is here with his troupe of disciples, of whom there are a goodly number, perhaps 80 or so.

When I arrived in Vrindavan already a couple of weeks back, almost the first thing I noticed at the corner of Mathura Road and the Parikrama Marg was a big billboard with Swami Vishwananda’s charming smile and glowing tilak staring charismatically out at the world and announcing that he would be giving darshan on March 8 at the Jiva Institute. Below him, in a smaller frame was Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji, who besides being his host will be speaking on the Bhāgavatam at the darshan event.

This is not the first time that Vishwananda and his group have been at Jiva. Satyanarayana Dasaji calls Vishwananda a friend, and indeed the relations between the two are very cordial. Vishwananda's group is mostly young and enthusiastic, predominantly European (German and points east), who are very enthusiastic about kirtan and generally float around in a bubble of love for their guru.

I took it that I was watching a fledgling religious movement – hopefully benign – in its early stages, centered around this Mauritian Indian’s personality as the “embodiment of pure love.” Being such, he has devised his own bhakti-mārga, claiming adherence to the Sri Sampradaya as well as the receipt of grace from the legendaryHimalayan kriyā-yoga master,Mahavatar Babaji” with whom he is in mystical communion. Indeed, he has written two books in which he "channels" Babaji and brings his message down from the Himalayas to today's world.

Bhakti Marg devotees whooping it up on Holi at Jiva.

Being brought up in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, like many others I naturally had a bit of discomfort with Swami Vishwananda's group from the onset. It comes down to legitimacy. We were trained by Srila Prabhupada to give importance to paramparā, the disciplic succession, despite the technical dubiousness of the Gaudiya Math's own antecedents and Saraswati Thakur's revisioning of the concept. Charismatic leaders like Vishwananda are endowed with great amounts of personal charm and natural leadership abilities can make others trust them with their spiritual lives, In our tradition we have always been quite openly sectarian, and that samskara is still with me.

When I asked about his disciplic succession, Vishwananda wrote to me the following:
I understand the nature of your doubt. I am unconventional. We are from the Sri Sampradaya and yet we worship Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and adopt many customs of other traditions. I count many Gaudiya Vaishnavas as my friends, including of course Mahant Sri Satya Narayan Dasji. 
From my point of view I am acting in accordance with what it means to be a real Vaishnava. What is the purpose of being a Vaishnava if we cannot embrace the love and bhakti of our brothers simply because they belong to a different Sampradaya? I recognise those who love God as my friends and family, irrespective of their tradition. 
Yet it is as you said, tradition is still important for guidance and focus, and with the information attached I hope your doubts are laid to rest regarding my own legitimacy and that of Bhakti Marga.

Guru Parampara 
Peria Perumal Thiruvadikalay

Peria Pirattiyar Thiruvadikalay

Alhwar Emperumanar Thiruvadikalay

Koorathalwar Thiruvadikalay

Sri Ramanuja Acharya

Sri Parangusa Das
Srimath Yamuna Muni

Srimath Rama Misra

Srimath Pundarikaksha

Srimath Natha Muni

Srimath Satagopa
Sri Venkatarya Patha Saktham

Sri Ramakya Bhattar Swami

Sri Raghunatha Harithakula Bhushanam
Sri Veddhavyasotharam Srimath Rangaraja
Sri Vedhavyasa Raghunatha Bhattar Swami Kumarar
Sri Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar Thiruvadikalay
Sri Vedhavyasa Rangaraja Bhattar Swami Vishwananda

According to Babaji, who spoke to me personally about their relation and also in his introduction at the "darshan" event, they met by accident when SND was taken to Vishwananda's German center, the two became friends and the younger Swami showed respect for SN's learning and spiritual acumen, etc.

I certainly do not know Babaji as someone who would compromise his own integrity or Jiva Goswami's teachings for the sake of any personal benefit. Babaji recognizes Vishwananda has some charismatic power, since he can attract hundreds of people to these darshan events, even in secular Germany where he himself is lucky to attract a dozen or two. But more than that, Babaji appears to have great confidence in the sincerity Vishwananda's desire for bhakti.

It seems to me that Vishwananda has "outsourced" philosophy to Babaji, and he himself along with his disciples all regularly attend Babaji's classes when they are in Vrindavan. Certainly, he is evolving in his practice and teachings, in part due to Babaji's association.

In the beginning I expressed a bit of frustration that a Swami who seems to be in a constant state of philosophical flux should be able to stir up so much interest. "It is all just made up," I said, Then, half seriously, "I think I should also start my own sampradāya," Implying that if he can do it, why can't someone with a little more depth innovate and create appeal?

"What will you call it?" Babaji asked.

I had no quick answer because I could not think of ever being anything other than a Rupanuga. Nevertheless, I know that in terms of strict adherence, it is almost impossible to be a true follower. I said to Babaji, "How can one claim to even understand the words or mood of people who lived 500 years ago when the world has so changed? No matter how faithful we are to a teaching, the times challenge us to adapt to them."

It does indeed seem necessary to adapt or innovate if we want to avoid irrelevance. We came to do good. We wanted to find the highest good so that we could do the greatest good. It is the art of the sāra-grāhī to communicate the essence. But the trouble with scholarship is that we tend to get caught up in intricate details and lose the fundamental simple message that can have an immediate impact on a seeker. Oversimplification, of course, is probably worse, since it leads to facile sentimentalism. Vishwananda talks of "Just Love" and Babaji talks about purifying the concept of love in accordance with Jiva Goswami's philosophy.

Naturally, a person of great charisma attracts various kinds of rumors, usually prurient. For the moment I prefer to see the positive side of individuals like Vishwananda because I believe in the positive side of his teaching. His disciples are keen for the practices of bhakti, which their guru has given them, so what can be the harm? If you believe in the positive values of Harinama and kirtan, then certainly he is leading them in the right direction.

Vishwananda Swami has bought a house just a few meters from the Jiva Insitute, which indicates that the relation between the two is set to continue into the future. Let us hope that Radharani's mercy and the grace of the Goswamis guide both of them.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Nala and Damayanti

Yesterday I read Sunil Gangopadhyaya’s version of the Nala-Damayanti story. This is a rather famous story in the annals of Sanskrit literature originally found in the Mahābhārata, and I must surely have read it through before, but in this case I found that it was unfamiliar and new. And it still requires a bit of digestion, but on the whole it is a story of the glories of a woman’s love. Once she has picked her man, she remains faithful until death, no matter how lost her man becomes. Of course, by the intervention of the gods and the power of her devotion to her husband, all is well in the end. And she even becomes the power of compassion in her husband’s kingdom.

The story is, briefly, as follows. Nala is the king of Nishadh. He has a half-brother Pushkar who has an unimportant role as a prince in the kingdom and he hates Nala for having received their father’s blessings. A swan acts as a go-between and brings Nala and Damayanti together at her svayamvara. Since the swan has so completely sold the young princess on the qualities of the king she has given her heart to him and will give it to no other. Four gods – Indra, Varuna, Agni and Yama – decide to attend the svayamvara in order to win her heart, and they devise a trick to defeat their chief competitor, Nala.

When Damayanti tells the four gods she will take none other than Nala, they quickly transmogrify into exact replicas of Nala, with all his mannerisms and speech. "Now choose," say the gods. Damayanti says to herself in a moment of meditation, perhaps directing her prayer to those very gods, “If my vow and fidelity to Nala is true, then may I be given the subtlety of vision to recognize which of these five exact replicas of Nala is the real one.” When she looks again, she observes that one of the figures blinks and sweats and shows other human features of which the gods are unsullied. So she picked correctly. The gods were pleased with Damayanti and Nala blessed the couple.

But one minor god, Kali, felt that Damayanti had mocked the authority of the gods by picking a human over them. So he decided to create quarrel in the Nishadh kingdom. He went and made friendship with Pushkar and found Nala’s weakness – gambling. With the help of Kali’s godly powers, Pushkar was able to bring Nala to his knees through his gambling addiction, to the point that he had to abandon the kingdom. The court ministers had already advised Damayanti, who by this time already had two children, to return to her parents’ kingdom of Vidarbha, because Nala had become so obsessed with the game that he would cause their ruin, even gambling her away if she were not careful. Of course, Damayanti is as beautiful as a goddess and coveted by all men, in particular Pushkar.

As coincidence had it, Damayanti sees Nala on the road, for he has already left on exile himself. She leaves the children in the care of the charioteer and tells him to go on to Vidarbha, but that she would stay with her husband in happiness or distress.

And so the dethroned and exiled king goes into the forest where he and Damayanti undergo tribulations, nearly starving, always in danger from the wild animals, without means or shelter. One day, Nala is hoping to trap some geese. He removes his one cloth, his only tool, to use as a net. But the clever goose nipped his cloth and flew off into the sky, leaving him completely naked. Completely shamed before his wife, she gives him shelter under her one cloth. Nala’s humiliation is complete. While Damayanti is asleep, he tears her sari in two, uses one piece to cover himself – leaving her of course inadequately covered, and runs away. He thinks, she will find the way to Vidarbha, but I have nowhere I can go and hold my head up.

Another event takes place that is the work of the gods. As Nala walks through the forest he hears someone call his name and asks to be saved from a fire that surrounds. Nala enters the circle of flames and sees a snake coiled and calling out to him. The snake tells him that he has been cursed to be a snake and that he was told by Narada, who cursed him, that when someone named Nala came by, he would release him from the curse. Nala picked the snake up and took out of the fire, but rather than show gratitude, the snake bit Nala – with only half his poison, but enough to disfigure Nala and make him look like a lesser human of lower birth, dark skinned, stunted, with inelegant features and uneven teeth. Nala has hit rock bottom. He goes looking for work, giving up any hope of returning to his family or his kingdom.

Meanwhile, Damayanti, half-naked, without defenses or protection, is lost in the forest, abandoned by her husband. She looks half-mad, her beauty clouded over by dust, her hair tangled clumped , one torn sari covering her nakedness and her eyes full of despair. She comes across a caravan and follows them and finally arrives in a town where she finds shelter and ultimately her way back home to Vidarbha. In all this time, however, she goes on wearing just the one cloth, vowing not to dress or decorate herself until she is reunited with her husband.

Damayanti's father sends out messengers to find news. She herself teaches them a song she has written, with questions that only Nala could possibly answer, "What manner of man abandons his wife, whom he has vowed to protect all her life, in the forest alone?"

Damayanti is finally able to recognize Nala for who he is by seeing his good qualities, even though he has been incognito in the disfigured form. Just as she was able to recognize him from amongst the gods, she was able to recognize him in his ugliness and loss of self confidence. Her wits and determination overcome Nala's shame and guilt and, most shamefully, his doubts about her fidelity. 

So, the story ends happily, as it must. After finally being reunited with Damayanti and the children, Nala gets back his former beauty, his kingdom, and everyone lives happily ever after -- even Pushkar -- all thanks to the princess' pātivratya.

* * * * * 

I have previously written about The Illusion of Romantic Love by Robert A Johnston, who uses the Tristan and Iseult story to illustrate the poison chalice of romantic expectations. Johnston speaks admiringly of the more realistic model of marriage in India, where gender roles are stereotyped but accepted. The dharma of a woman is to serve her husband as if he were God Himself. In the Hindu concept dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ, "If you do your religious duty, your religious duty will protect you." Doing her dharma empowers her and has its fulfillment in the proper divine social order being restored. She supports and empowers her man in his quest to fulfill his own dharma, and because his role is in the external world, he serves to protect that inner world she rules. 

These are the kinds of stories that feminists love to hate because woman is typecast in the shadow of the man rather than being something in her own right, like a man. Her role is circumscribed because on the one hand she is in need of a man's (or a man's world's) protection, yet she wants an independent role in the world that requires nothing of her other than her own abilities without accounting for the natural nurturing role that her biology conditions her to, in particular the extent to which men are formed in their identity by the women in their lives, mothers and wives.

Recently a woman said to me that everything I had proposed about Yugala Bhajan was really in pursuance of the "patriarchal agenda." Perhaps I was embellishing with a bit of mystical confabulation, but ultimately the purpose was still to objectify woman. After all, it serves a man more to divinize a woman who is the source of love, support, service, admiration and sexual enjoyment, than for a woman to divinize a man who is mortal, incapable of giving her everything she wants or needs, who demands total and unconditional support despite his failings, who seems to requires total surrender. Who is willing to accept the deal when children are no longer the issue? Does it not make better sense for the woman to strike out independently to seek out God rather than making the futile attempt to see the Divine in a fallible human?

Well, it is a myth, one of many such stories glorifying the sacred nature of the husband-wife relation. They find each other by Destiny and they believe in their Destiny. But times have changed and no one believes in the protecting arms of Dharma, or at least not one that is ready-made. Are there any women who can identify with Damayanti or are we to take her for a fool who gave the benefit of the doubt to her husband well beyond any logical expectations? Just another patriarchal story to bewilder women, bind them to their  and to misguide her from her true freedom.

Another way of looking it as that of a smart boss committing to a promising employee. Woman is guru to the man. The man's role in the external world is to protect and develop the inner world. The guru's faith in the disciple is the greatest act of compassion.

One of the other things that I observed here is that the identification of the audience is gender neutral. As a man reading this story, who would not empathize with Damayanti and hold Nala accountable for his failures and weakness? To me this is an indication that gender roles are complementary.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Asamprajnata samadhi and rasa.

I recently wrote an article in which I began to inquire into samādhi and bhakti-yoga. So, ever since I have been involved with hatha yoga, seeing what it offers to a bhakti-yogi, I have been fascinated by the insistence that many people make that the ultimate goal of all paths is one.

Now in one sense, one has to agree, since nothing exists outside of God, and whatever the varieties of enjoyments on offer to us by the three gunas, it is all indirectly and directly interaction with God and nothing else, so how can anyone say that they are not all one? And it is certain that with a little awareness one will see the God present, though hidden, in the material manifestations, the mirages that we go running after in the desert.

But the connoisseurs, those who are rasikas of the eka-rasa, want to know the mechanics of rasa and samādhi, because that is the promised land in the direction of which we have been pointed, somewhere beyond the desert.

So, generally speaking, the yoga-śāstra is describing a particular psychological procedure by which the mind is stilled to the point that consciousness experiences itself in itself, in the bliss of pure being. Now Vaishnavas are trained up to throw their hands up in horror at the idea of anything that sounds remotely like Brahma-vāda or any of its impersonalist, voidist, nirguṇa, nirākāra variants. So any time they hear something like that, they will go, "No, that is a lower level of realization."

Now the connoisseurs of rasa as a literary or theatrical experience also speak of rasa as an experience that is something akin to that of the Brahmavādis. After all, if raso vai saḥ, then it makes sense to think of the two as related. So Vishwanath Kaviraj says in Sāhitya-darpaṇa:

sattvodrekād akhaṇḍa-sva-prakāśānanda-cin-mayaḥ |
vedyāntara-sparśa-śūnyo brahmāsvāda-sahodaraḥ ||2||
lokottara-camatkāra-prāṇaḥ kaiścit pramātṛbhiḥ |
svākāravad abhinnatvenāyam āsvādyate rasaḥ ||3||
This rasa, which was earlier described as being the transformation of sthāyi-bhāvas when they are activated by the other ingredients of rasa, the stimulants and so on, is relished by some rare cultured auditors who, when brought to a high level of sattva (pure awareness) [through the culture of refined sentiment], being experienced as not different from their own form, as something that is of the character of pure consciousness and bliss, self-effulgent and uninterrupted, where there is no touch of any external percept, which is the twin experience to the knowledge of Brahman, and the life air of which is an astonishment that is out of the ordinary customary life experiences.

The words svākāravad abhinnatvena, along with most of the other adjectives used to describe rasa are indeed evocative of samādhi and of the pleasures of spiritual realization according to the yogis of the various schools. Here Vishwanath does not exactly claim that it is the same as the experience of Brahman, since he uses the term brahmāsvāda-sahodara, "the twin brother of the taste of Brahman," and the other adjectives support the points of similarity. Differences can of course be illustrated by yogis of all persuasions.

The progressive path of yoga to samādhi is described as leading from samprajñāta to samprajñāta, the basic distinction between which is the ālambana, or "prop." The form still has something upon which the mind depends in order to keep its single-directedness. In the latter, the mind leaves aside all props and exists in itself. Props can be of almost any kind, according to the Yoga-sūtra, which ends its recommendations with a cursory, "whatever you like" (yathābhimata-dhyānād vā, I.39), but most often differ according to different schools, and in this way of thinking, God is also considered an ālambanas that is to be abandoned to enter the state of samādhi, which is why the Vaishnavas hold these doctrines in abhorrence.

The rasa-shastra also has ālambanas. These are the āśraya and viṣaya of whatever mood is being created in a product of entertainment, which is usually love. These are ālambanas because they are that on which the auditor "hangs" his sense of identity, i.e., the characters with which one identifies, both as lover and as the object of love. So, for instance, both a man and a woman can watch a love story and identify with their own gender role as the āśraya, "the lover," and the opposite sex as the viṣaya, the "beloved" or "object of love." This identification is where the sthāyi-bhāva, or formless instinctual tendency, goes to take form. Then when the various conditions are applied to that sthāyi-bhāva, it is reduced to a formless state again in the explosion, like various ingredients added to saltpetre and ground together. That is rasa.

This identification is called sādhāraṇī-karaṇa in Sanskrit. Here is how Vishwanath describes it:

vyāpāro'sti vibhāvāder nāmnā sādhāraṇī-kṛtiḥ |
tat-prabhāveṇa yasyāsan pāthodhi-plavanādayaḥ | 
pramātā tad-abhedena svātmānaṁ pratipadyate ||
utsāhādi-samudbodhaḥ sādhāraṇyābhimānataḥ | 
nṛṇām api samudrādi-laṅghanādau na duṣyati ||
sādhāraṇyena raty-ādir api tadvat pratīyate ||
parasya na parasyeti mameti na mameti ca |
tad-āsvāde vibhāvādeḥ paricchedo na vidyate ||
There is a function of the vibhāvas and so on that is called identification (sādhāraṇīkaraṇa), as a result of which members of an audience have been known to jump over the ocean [like Hanuman in the Rāmāyaṇa]. Due to the sense of identification with the character in the story, when the heroic mood is aroused, then it is no flaw that someone should do such "jumping over the ocean" [in oneness of mood]. So in the same way, love and so on are also produced in the audience. When the member of the audience becomes so absorbed in enjoying the play, he can no longer tell whether the feeling belongs to himself or not, or to someone else or not, and then feels no sense of separateness from those characters [vibhāva].
So the vibhāva here means the ālambana, when one's identity becomes temporarily absorbed in that of the character in the play and so identifies with the feelings of that character that he loses himself. When this loss of identity takes place, then that is the moment that one experiences rasa. In other words, in the example, the audience is hearing the story of Hanuman's heroism in jumping the ocean to Lanka to search for the missing Sita. The sthāyi-bhāva of heroism is awakened and that commonality (sādhāraṇya) results in an identification with the hero, and so as the rhetoric flows and that sense of identity becomes solidified, when it is time for the heroic jump across the ocean, then the audience is as ready to jump with Hanuman as the storybook character himself.

Now bhakti-rasa has gone through a number of incarnations, or at least one before it reaches Rupa Goswami. That is, of course, the Bhagavatam. pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam, in which the gamut of rasas related to Vishnu are catalogued. When we speak of the gamut of rasas, we refer to the rasas of the poeticians like Bharata, whose classical formulation gives eight rasas. Bhakti-rasa has always been a problem, since it was never seen as anything more than a interceding mood that would be like a wave in the principal mood of a story. In other words, it was simply that some people who lack faith in the reality of God and of devotion, cannot think of it as anything more than an accessory to "real life" situations with "real people and things." It is a kind of psychological reductionism of bhakti before the great rise of European psychoanalysis. For those who have the faith, in other words have the sthāyi of bhakti, whether on the sādhaka or siddha level (See this article on Identification), bhakti-rasa is a reality.

And usually, the sthāyi of bhakti is produced through association with an advanced devotee. The Gaudiyas' insistence that bhakti comes from the svarūpa-śakti and cannot be uncovered or discovered by the via negativa alone is thus also supported by the poeticians who deny it a place as one of the naturally occurring sthāyis.

But I think we can leave aside any doubts as to whether bhakti is a rasa, since clearly there is a literature about the lives of the saints, and though this may be thought to have been accommodated as śānta-rasa, devotees will insist that there is a qualitative distinction between the rasa of the yogi, ascetic or saint embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage and the devotee. For devotees, love of God is not to be understood as synonymous with "peace." So the heroic bhakti-sādhaka is not the ālambana for śānta-rasa, but of love for God.

So, although the sādhaka-āśraya-ālambana is acceptable for the kind of bhakti-rasa that is limited to the life of the sādhaka and culminating in sākṣātkāra, the bhakti-yogis recognize the inherent difficulty that results in reducing bhakti to a bhāva. Rasa comes from real experience, God seems to be so purely subjective.

Thus the discourse of the Muktā-phala, which is an effort to see the standard sthāyis of the poeticians applied to the stories of the Bhāgavatam, including the madhura-rasa of the Rāsa, it does not do justice to the Vrindavan mood. Thus Rupa Goswami needs to remake the philosophy of rasa to give bhakti-rasa a truly transcendental dimension, as the Ultimate Reality (raso vai saḥ), while at the same time anchoring it in the reality of experience. In other words, the transcendence of God that makes the poeticians call bhakti a bhāva and not a rasa cannot be sacrificed in order for bhakti to be a genuine spiritual path and experience, and yet love of God as a human is the only way that

I am reading through Priti-sandarbha 110-111, where Jiva Goswami deals directly with the verses from Sahitya-darpana quoted in my previous. So I am going to take a little time to make sure I have that fully digested before I go on with my discussion of rasa and samadhi.

To be continued.

Sādhanā Sādhya 1 Sādhya 2
Sāhitya Rati (refined) Rasa
Sādhana-bhakti Bhāva / Rati Prema / Bhakti-rasa
Yoga Samprajñāta Asamprajñāta

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Identity with the sādhaka-deha

The other day I was attending Satyanarayana Dasaji’s Bhāgavata class and something came into my head when I heard it said that we are not these bodies.

So I asked him the question, “If a devotee’s body is spiritualized when he takes initiation, then would he not identify with it as the sādhaka-deha?”

Babaji’s answer was no, the spiritual identity is internal, we do not identify with the material body. I told him I would prepare my argument and submit it to him when it was ready.

My thinking goes like this: Vaishnavism is all about identity. “I am a servant of God.” That identity exists as a servant in the material body, which once we become sādhakas ceases to be, strictly speaking, material. This is the sampradāya-siddhānta: Since all the senses are engaged in devotional service, the body can no longer be called material. There is only one energy of God, which serves different functions, parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate. The appearance of difference is illusion.

So, this means that the identity one cultivates as a servant of God in the sādhaka-deha is also real. Otherwise, how would it be possible for one to identify with the sādhakāśrayālambana when reading or hearing about the lives of the great saints. A sādhaka, by definition identifies himself as one like unto the great saints of the past, and especially their own guru. No Vaishnava would ever think of his guru as having a material body, so neither should he think that his identity as a sādhaka is material. It is because of this identity, which is cultivated as the essence of the bhakti path, that one can marvel and experience pleasure (rasa) on hearing about the spiritual achievements of the saints and sages of the past, and thereby be inspired to aspire to be more like them.

Identity is the aham. If I say "I am this body" in terms of its material identifications, then that is mundane and a source of bondage, but if the mind identifies with the archetypal sādhakas of the tradition, exemplar of whatever particular station of life, his identification is not with the bhoga-deha, a body produced of a karmic past and meant for the enjoyment or suffering of prior actions, but one that is being recreated in the image of the past saints. The body is not looked upon in terms of its sexual attractiveness, or is it created in the image of the rich and powerful of this world, but in the image of a pure devotee, in both its external and internal characteristics.

So even though to the external vision, the sādhaka-deha is just another gross material identification, from both the rasa and siddhānta point of view, it is not a material identity, and so to say, "I am Jagadananda Das" is not a materially conditioned statement.

Then what is the range of possible identities? For instance, "Jagadananda Das" is a sādhaka who does not in any way resemble Rupa Goswami or any other sādhaka of our experience. He was born to a family of meat-eaters who had no concept of spiritual sādhanā, etc., etc. But Jagadananda has a long story of how he received grace from his gurus and from other devotees, and thereby his own sādhaka-deha story is being written. And the purpose of his own story is so that he can marvel at himself, and thereby get rasa, where he himself is his own sādhakāśrayālambana. When that process is complete, then his perfection in identification as a sādhaka will be complete. With that, the external energy ceases to be seen as "external." From this we can see that in this way historical reality in all its infinite manifestation is assimilated to the spiritual reality.

At that point, perhaps, identification with the siddha-deha will start to become a reality. Does this mean that at this stage one abandons identification with the sādhaka-deha, abandoning it as one abandons a boat after crossing a river? Only inasmuch as one becomes absorbed in the siddha-deha. For others, each instance of a sādhaka-deha that fits the description of it in Rupa Goswami's definition of the sādhakāśrayālambana lives eternally for as long as it becomes a source of rasa for those who follow that model of the ideal.

But it is a mistake to not recognize that we exist in multiple identity universes, which will have to be the subject of another article.

See also automythology.