Friday, May 29, 2015

How do you give up the male identity?

Someone was chastising me the other day that in order to attain the siddhi of the gopis one had to give up the puruṣābhimāna and think of oneself as a beautiful gopi maiden expert in the arts and dressed in the remnants of Radharani’s own wardrobe, with flowers in her hair, and so on.
He is pleased by our prema for Him in one of the five rasas. But it requires a change in identity, from thinking you are this material body, to knowing that you are His lover, young friend, servant or parent. If you want to be His lover, you have to identify as a young and very attractive woman, expert in all the arts, witty, expert in word jugglery and thus equipped in all ways to bring Him pleasure. You cannot approach him, thinking you are an old man, and that the material illusory form of your partner is Radha. You cannot enter madhurya at all with a male form or identity.
A beautiful picture indeed. And it seems so easy. Just like that, puruṣābhimāna disappears. Now what makes anyone think that this is so easy?

I have been going through the Third Pada of Yoga Sūtra rather thoroughly of late as my work for Swami Veda. I am on Sūtra 3.50 where, after having listed a progression of siddhis or vibhūtis, Patañjali finally names the big prize of kaivalya. This is where the knowledge of discrimination of spirit from matter results in tremendous spiritual power and omniscience. But when one lets go even of this knowledge, then the seed of all bondage is destroyed and the soul attains kaivalya, or “ultimate isolation” or “going solo,” as Swami Veda puts it. Then there is no puruṣābhimāna because the puruṣa is pure consciousness through negating any contact with prakṛti.

Though we call the system of the Yoga Sūtra aṣṭāṅga-yoga, having eight limbs, with samādhi only being the last of these, in fact there is a whole array of stages within samādhi, which are explained from a couple of different points of view in the first, third and fourth padas. The Yoga view is that the puruṣa is the witness and everything he experiences, even to the very perception that he is different from prakṛti is a manifestation of prakṛti’s hold over him. So to let go of even this knowledge means total separation from matter. What is left then? The puruṣa is situated in his own true being. What is that? We don’t really know. Patanjali is not forthcoming. It seems to me to be very close to total self annihilation.

But the fact that Patanjali says nothing on the subject is the reason that the yoga system, abridged or adulterated or not, is adaptable to other Indian systems of yoga, including bhakti-yoga.

Now when one recognizes that there are eleven or twelve different levels within samādhi, I have to ask my friend, do you really think it is so easy for a man to give up puruṣābhimāna? It is easier to think of one’s self as a nothing, a monad floating eternally like a baby in the amniotic fluid of the universal womb, than it is for a man to get to the bottom of what it means to be a male, to understand what womanhood is, and then to give up the former for the latter in a way that is genuine and absolute.

Gaudiya Vaishnavas have tried many ways, and it is not surprising that transvestism and trans-sexuality play a historical role. There is a process of changing gender that modern surgical technology has mastered, and .some men do undertake it in what seems to most people like a tremendously daring and radical fashion. But Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and other levelheaded individuals saw that a religion that caters to such a peripheral element in human society could hardly point the way forward for humanity as a whole.

No one has really discussed the process of giving up male identity in the way that the Yoga Sutra does. Jiva Goswami writes about the levels of smarana, up to samādhi, but the actual process, in minute detail, of how the puruṣābhimāna disappears is not described. It is assumed that you want to become a gopi and that by meditating on yourself as such you will like it more and more until that is what you naturally identify yourself as that. Just as Yoga says one must be situated in one's own svarūpa, so do Gaudiya Vaishnavas, intimating that the natural self is feminine and that purification of the ego can only be done by adopting the ideal feminine nature.

But as to what that process is, other than a gradual diminution of the one and and adoption of the other, how it actually happens step-by-step, is nowhere described. A trans person could probably describe in more detail the process, and they start from a sense of opposite gender identity and still have to undergo various transformations.

The yoga system, which is allied to the knowledge system of sankhya, is mostly concerned with the nature of the material world as composed of an array of elements – buddhi, undifferentiated matter, matter set into motion by the disequilibrium of the gunas, ahankara, the five great elements, the senses and the sense objects, the mind. These are each seen in relation to one another and in each case one is given meditations in which these are broken down and separated.

Yogis are not interested in anything to do with human psychology that relates to rasa, by which I mean human interactions with life in the world. The difference is that of mechanistic psychology to depth psychologies and psychoanalysis.

So what are the interim steps that proceed from being attracted to Krishna’s Vrindavan lila, thinking of Krishna dancing with the gopis in the rasa dance, seeing the bhakti of the gopis, ramyā kācid upāsanā vraja-vadhū-vargeṇa yā kalpitā, and saying “I want that” and actually wanting it to the point of (to exaggerate) wanting a sex-change operation? And what is the point of a sex-change operation if one is still mentally more of a man than a woman? And why not dress like a woman, and dance like a woman, and feel like a woman, and even be attracted to men, in a way of seeing Krishna reflected in them?

It is very easy to say, as often is, that this is not a material gender change, but where do we see the mental gender change without thinking, “Is this latent homosexuality? What else can it mean?” The male mind rebels. And it will rebel even as long as one takes on masculine roles. It was this problem that led me on my course of investigation that led through a number of different paths and led me to where I am today, by way of reinterpretation in accordance with modern psychological findings.

Let us say that as good and faithful followers of our school of devotion, we accept the literalness of the Goswamis' intentions and of all those who were inspired by Radha and Krishna’s loves to imagine a world of beauty, love and play, a Neverneverland of permanent escape into Love. And that the secret to entering this world is to imagine yourself a young girl in love with a beautiful prince. Or, as a manjari, to idolize the most beautiful girl in the world and to love the ways she loves the most handsome flute-playing hero.

The process is one of identification, sādhāraṇīkaraṇa. But how can a man, a sannyasi, who accepts the male power roles, who separates himself from woman out of fear of sexuality, truly identify with that of which he has only minimal experience? Is it a refuge for those who harbor the love that dare not speak its name? Perhaps this whole process does require the same kind of absolute bifurcation with the world that Patanjali and the other serious yogis taught, and as was followed by the great exemplar tyagis of the Vaishnava schools.

We are in the rather strange situation in the current Vaishnava world of having male tyagis teaching women what it means to be a gopi, while women remain marginalized. And this manifests in the rather strange idea that Radha and Krishna have nothing at all to do with love in this world.

Is it possible, or necessary, to look at this business of gender identity in a way that confronts these kinds of questions directly?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A tentative overview of rasa psychology

Whiteboard from class on rasa.
[Earlier articles on psychological models in the context of Radha Krishna can be found here and here.]

We have been studying Madhusudana's Bhakti-rasāyana and some other texts on rasa and I finally managed to diagram things in a way that seems to me to explain the idea as a kind of psychological model, and which can be used to include all the rasa theorists from Bharata to Rupa Goswami.

Actually Madhusudana does not fit this model exactly, even though he provides an important element in the understanding of the interface of rasa and psychology. There are a number of posts that explain aspects of this model, others that are forthcoming and hopefully we will be able to tie them all in together eventually.

The overall idea is based on the concept that the personality is formed by impressions that are the result of emotional experiences that leave imprints on the unconscious mind.

There are, according to Bharata, eight rasas, with śānta in a separate category that later scholars like Abhinava Gupta, the Kashmir Shaiva, elevated to full status as a rasa. Abhinava Gupta not only promoted the concept of śānta-rasa, with the sthāyi bhāva of nirveda or the disillusionment with material life, but argued that it was the beginning and end of all the rasas.

Of course, the countervailing view, which dominated, progressively gave the primary status to rati, or love. Mostly, when speaking of the arts and entertainment products, this is a reference to romantic love. But any perusal of a book on the dramatic arts will show the extent to which śṛṅgāra dominates discussion. Where only a few paragraphs are sufficient to deal with the secondary rasas, the bulk of most authors' energy is in describing the nāyaka and nāyikā and so on. Nowhere is this more clear than in Rupa Goswami's work, Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi.

We are also in philosophical agreement that śṛṅgāra is the ādi-rasa, the primary and original sentiment. It is the basis of phenomenal existence and therefore stands at the opposite extreme from śānta. We hold that uniting these opposites is the goal of human psychology, which seeks homeostasis. But we do not believe that this is possible within the material framework alone. Bhakti and Radha-Krishna are, for us, the process and ideal through which the proper psychic equilibrium and experience of Prema, Divine Love, are possible.

Nevertheless, since the two are connected as archetype to type, without understanding the dynamics of love in the psyche, for which purpose we take shelter of rasa theory, it would be impossible to see the development or evolution towards Prema.

It should be noted, however, that in the following schema, we are not talking about bhakti-rasa, at least not in the first instance. Bhakti-rasa is about transcendence, where the opposites have been reconciled. Here we are simply classifying the different sthāyi-bhāvas in a global scheme, which will have its application to bhakti-rasa  (not shown on this board).

In the history of the rasa-śāstra, there are various suggestions about bhakti, which in its broadest and original definition only means the respectfully affectionate relation of a subordinate to a superior -- God, gods, guru, parents, teachers, kings, brāhmaṇas, employers, etc. Prior to Rupa Goswami, despite such works as Muktā-phala of Vopadeva, there is little or no defense of bhakti as a separate rasa. Most authors subordinate it either to rati or śānta, calling it a bhāva, by which they mean a sañcāri bhāva, or a minor emotion that serves the purpose of the dominant sthāyi.  Different arguments are given for this, which we will deal with at a different time.

The mukhya rasas

Clearly śānta and śṛṅgāra stand at opposite poles as other-worldly and worldly concepts of rasa. Spiritual perfection, by the transcendentalists' axiomatic definition, has to be the highest peace and highest joy, ergo rasa.

But from the natural perspective of entertainment products, Eros dominates everywhere. Rupa Goswami's idea is that in bhakti-rasa, śānta and śṛṅgāra represent opposite poles of love. He includes śānta-bhakti as the bottom rung of kṛṣṇa-rati. Though the traditional concept of śānta fits more closely to the model of Advaita-vedānta, or even more closely to that of Patañjali's yoga system, the fundamental similarity of mood is similar. It is the result of the nivṛtti process of rejecting the world. Śṛṅgāra, whether taken materially or spiritually, is a confirmation of the pravṛtti mārga, the optimistic world view.

So keeping these two rasas as the poles of emotional experience, we can construct the following dualistic table:


Yin Yang

The presence of the yin yang symbol at the very center of this diagram is not an accident, since the dualisms shown above are the field of our activity here. The parallels will not necessarily be exact, as yin/yang attributes will be different, especially in the "gender assignation" part of the duality here.

For the moment, anyway, I take the nivṛtti path as being essentially masculine, intellectual, inclined to the jñāna-mārga and sāṅkhya-yoga, which negates the world; it aims at apavarga or liberation as a result of a pessimistic (nirveda) view of the world-view; it has a tendency to find solace in the other-worldly. Its perfection is to erase all distinction, abheda. To equate it with tamas and Thanatos is not, I believe, a stretch.

The pravṛtti-mārga is feminine, positive, organic. It takes the world to be real, not false. It revels in bheda, bhoga. It is optimistic, despite the ample evidence to the contrary. It can be associated with rajas, action and creativity. It is Eros.

So the bhedābheda problem is that of unifying these two opposites, as the goal being sought is the coincidentia oppositorum. The śānta-rasa, in this scenario, is considered a rati, but perceived in a negative way. One loves by universalizing love and by negating its material implications, particularly those of Eros, which is temporary and spiritually unsatisfying. We will post a separate article on śānta-rasa and compassion that will hopefully clarify what I mean here.

The rasas are paired with their opposites (across the circle). The right hand side is the path of pravṛtti, the left hand side to nivṛtti. Nivṛtti leads to śānta through the process of nirveda, pravṛtti to śṛṅgāra or madhura. More on nivṛtti and pravṛtti here.

Of course, yin-yang is an archetype also. The central line probably squiggles a lot more than that as it looks for balance between the conflicting personality traits.

The rati complex

Besides bhakti, two other candidates for rasa historically have been sneha (love between equals) and vātsalya (love of a greater for a lesser). Again, like bhakti, these have also generally been subsumed by those who accept the eight or nine rasa dogma into rati.

Taken as a trio, however, bhakti, sneha and vātsalya can be seen as equivalent to the brahma-vihāras and parikarmas of YS 1.33 and the madhyama-bhakta's attitudes of prema, maitrī, karuṇā (leaving out upekṣā as already being present in śānta).

They are also equivalent to Rupa Goswami's prīti, preyān and vātsalya.

The three modes of relating
Rasa śāstra Sthāyi/rasa (BRS) Common name Parikarmas (YS 1.33) Madhyama Bhāgavata
bhakti prīta/prīti dāsya muditā to the pious prema to God
sneha sakhya/preyān sakhya maitrī to the happy maitrī to devotees
vātsalya karuṇa/vātsalya vātsalya karuṇā to unhappy kṛpā to bāliśa

The 'prema to God' (īśvare prema) here means bhakti as defined above, not the same prema as understood in Rupa Goswami or Sri Chaitanya's teachings.

As the madhyama label indicates, however, these modes of relating serve as a medium for the sādhaka to progress from the lower to the higher level. They themselves contain an implicit hierarchy also, with bhakti at the bottom and vātsalya at the top. As the yoga and Buddhist systems indicate, these would be subordinate to their highest truths of nirvāṇa or kaivalya (which frankly seem barely distinguishable), i.e., śānta.

The gauṇa-rasas

The bottom circle shows the seven other rasas, which are universally accepted. For Rupa Goswami, these are the secondary rasas because they are not relational and so do not fit the bhakti model, which is based on a development of the concept of love, or rati, as the primary organizing principle of the psyche. So he speaks of them as being almost like sañcāri bhāvas, coming and going. This is why I have separated them also.

Rati is primarily relational (dual), i.e. Gestalt. The other rasas fall into the realm of individual psychology.

These are paired as opposites. Though Bharata and other poeticians have made some effort to pair the eight rasas into four couples, I have taken an independent approach here. On the one hand I see them as forming a linear progression which can be viewed as moving in either direction, and on the other, they are related to each other as opposites.
  • The opposite of comedy (hāsya) is anger (krodha). To understand this you only need to think of a bad joke gone wrong. The line between joke and insult is indeed thin, and often comedians project anger in order to get laughs.
  • The opposite of wonder (adbhuta) is fear (bhayānaka). 
  • The opposite of compassion or empathy (karuṇa) is disgust (bībhatsā). Bībhatsā
  • The opposite of rati is vīra (heroism)

Special significance of vīra-rasa

The bottom of the tableau shows vīra, the quintessential male rasa, and rati at the top as the quintessential female rasa. To understand the male and female rasas, one has to simple meditate on the idea of a chick flick romantic comedy and a guy's action flick and you will get the picture. The rasas on the left side of the chart are more often associated with the masculine taste, those on the right with the feminine.

The purport of having vīra at the bottom is that this rasa is associated with heroic effort, vīrya. This is made somewhat clearer by the name given to the sthāyi-bhāva of this rasa, which is utsāha or enthusiasm. The sublimation of this energy is the secret to the middle path. The nivṛtti path negates, the pravṛtti mārga affirms (materially). The central channel is the balance.

The path, as always, to auspiciousness, follows the middle. Nor is the implicit reference to the chakra system and the suṣumnā, etc.

The central channel

You have to travel in the middle to find the place where the two meet. The [generic] jnani's assumption is that everyone should finish in śānta rasa, while the goal of the pravṛtti-mārgī (karma-yoga) is kāma (in both the broadest and narrowest sense).

Where desire and desirelessness meet is the desirable goal.

But this diagram is entirely for the āśraya, because it represents sthāyi-bhāvas, not rasas. It is the subjective mind, including both conscious and unconscious.

The diagram as a whole represents the [conscious and unconscious] mind. According to Madhusudana, our psychology develops according to emotional upheavals that produce transformations in the citta. So one's mental diagram, one's personality, will be formed by the eight triggers, of which love is the most important and highly developed.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

I am not...

I am realizing more and more that I am not and never really was a scholar, not in the sense that academics are, gathering interesting facts in enormous detail.

Nor am I a journalist, nor an activist. Nor a preacher.

I only aspire in some lifetime to become a lover of God.

I would just like to be like this description of a Vaishnava by my parama guru, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur:

vaiṣṇava dehete thāke śrī-kṛṣṇera śakti |
sei deha sparśe anye haya kṛṣṇa-bhakti ||52||

Krishna’s potencies take up residence in the Vaishnava’s body
so that by merely touching him, one develops devotion to Krishna.

vaiṣṇava adharāmṛta āra pada jala |
vaiṣṇavera pada-rajaḥ tina mahā-bala ||53||

The remnants of the Vaishnava’s food, water that has washed his feet,
dust from his lotus feet—these are three powerful spiritual substances.

vaiṣṇava-nikaṭe yadi baise kata-kṣaṇa |
deha haite haya kṛṣṇa-śakti niḥsaraṇa ||54||

If one should sit near a Vaishnava for a few moments,
he will feel the spiritual power exuding from his body.

sei śakti śraddhāvān hṛdaye paśiyā |
bhaktira udaya kare deha kāṅpāiyā ||55||

That spiritual potency then flows into a faithful person’s heart,
causing devotion to well up in him and his body to tremble.

ye basila vaiṣṇavera nikaṭe śraddhāya |
tāhāra hṛdaye bhakti ha-ibe udaya ||56||

So anyone who sits down near a devotee with an attitude of faith
will certainly experience the awakening of devotion in his heart.

prathame āsibe tāra mukhe kṛṣṇa-nāma |
nāmera prabhāve pābe sarva-guṇa-grāma ||57||

The immediate symptom is that he will begin chanting Krishna’s name;
then, by the influence of the Name, he will obtain all good qualities.

(Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Harināma-cintāmaṇi)

I suspect that Bhaktivinoda Thakur was talking about some mahatma that he met in Puri in 1870-1875, who seems to have impressed him a great deal as an ideal bhajananandi Vaishnava. Perhaps he first felt this power of a bhajananandi Vaishnava then and was remembering that when he wrote this.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thoughts on a lesson in sakhya

This is a post that has been somewhat long in coming, but I think that it needs to be done and said publicly. A few weeks ago I posted on this blog an article about Vishwananda Swami, the founder and acharya of Bhakti Marg.

I had my doubts about posting it and knew almost immediately that I was headed for trouble. When I talked to Satyanarayana Dasaji, shortly after which I removed the article, he said to me in an exasperated tone,
प्रयोजनमनुद्दिश्य मन्दोऽपि न प्रवर्तते
prayojanam anuddiśya mando'pi na pravartate
Even a fool does not undertake an action without having some purpose to fulfill.
So what was my purpose in writing such an article?

Well, I have to admit, that I had not really thought it out carefully. For one thing, I just wanted to write something. I was going through a somewhat dry period and I felt that I really should write anything at all.And since Swami Vishwananda had been around, I decided to write about what I had seen and thought and heard.

But my article, being written in a journalistic style, was rather shallow. A critic would say, justifiably, that I had "phoned it in."

I have reposted it in an edited form, for which I hope no one will be offended, as I still think that it was worth thinking about this friendship, and indeed how friendship works. And for that I have to thank Satyanarayanaji especially, but also Vishwananda Swami.

Now the thing that really struck me in all this was the idea of friendship. Satyanarayana Dasaji has proven his friendship to me on a couple of occasions, as well as his character, i.e., his character of friendship. For example, I was very impressed by Ananda Gopal Das Shastri's testimonial to me about how when he had a heart condition and needed an operation, Babaji took full responsibility for costs and so on. Ananda Gopal Dasji nearly broke down when he spoke of the extent to which he felt indebted to Babaji. They of course had become friends through their common love of Vaishnava shastra, the Sanskrit language and the Goswamis.

Not long before Vishwananda came to Jiva this time, a Western devotee came to Satyanarayana Dasaji and spoke ill of me, reciting a litany of semi-truths and a number of downright interesting lies of the type that easily could become tasty fodder for the gossip mill. Whatever the case, Babaji sent that person packing, backing me up fully.

The point is, of course, that Babaji could very easily think that being associated with me is damaging to his reputation. Already before the above incident someone came and told him that I was preaching Sahajiyaism and illicit sex 24-7 and that my participation in the Sandarbhas work would be disastrous, as nobody would go near them on account of my association with the project. Babaji had a clear answer for him also, "Nobody cares for my books in ISKCON or the Gaudiya Math. I am on their blacklist, so what should I worry about what they think? They already think the worst!"

And, to be honest, that is exactly what Babaji told me here also. I had been thinking as though ISKCON and orthodoxy and everyone else who is bound by sectarian rules matters. Babaji clearly said Vishwananda is his friend and that stands above the rules made by institutions and sects.

And Vishwananda Swami shows that this is mutual. A few months ago he came with a number of his disciples from Europe and Africa to participate in Babaji's Mahanta inauguration. His disciples were an important part of that very festive celebration, especially in providing enthusiastic kirtans for several hours. Vishwananda Maharaj himself sat quietly without drawing any attention to himself.

When I say "I phoned it in" I really mean it. I had ample opportunity to talk to Vishwanandaji and address any concerns I or anyone else might have had. I could have stated my intent to write something to Babaji. That might have made a decent article. But instead, I wrote like an outsider and that was a mistake of friendship. If you decide to make public statements about your friends, you had better be doubly careful if the friendship is meaningful to you. It is what you call a conflict of interest.

I was still working another angle... the scandalous. It was based on an attitude of distrust. But my mistake was not to think, "The friend of my friend is my friend."

Now some people, with that journalistic spirit, the digging-up-the-dirt spirit, could have done a number on Vishwananda. It is almost impossible nowadays for even the slightest dirt to remain a secret. My Lord, I am surprised that there is no page dedicated to revealing my sins, true and imagined to the world.

The most popular article on this blog is one I wrote about Kripalu, which was in the vein of an exposé as well as a philosophical interrogation into the issues it raised. Not long after I wrote this Vishwananda article, I received a call from an Indian friend of mine who happens to be a disciple of Kripaluji. A very learned gentleman with remarkable openness. Of course, we had talked about these issues before.

And the two verses came up, as they must, in such discussions.

api cet sudurācāro bhajate mām ananya-bhāk |
sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ samyag vyavasito hi saḥ ||
kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā śaśvac-chāntiṁ nigacchati |
kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati ||

Even if a person of very bad behavior worships me with undivided devotion, he is to be thought of as saintly, for he has the proper resolution. He quickly becomes righteous and attains everlasting peace. O son of Kunti, let it be known that my devotee never perishes. (Gita 9.31)

satāṁ nindā nāmnaḥ paramam aparādhaṁ vitanute
yataḥ khyātiṁ yātaṁ katham u sahate tad‑vigarhām |

To blaspheme the saintly is a supreme offense to the Holy Name,
for how will the Name tolerate insults to those who spread Its glories?

I have been thinking that we don't really approach the "offense" question correctly. Maybe the verses themselves emphasize a negative rather than a positive. But the point is that those people who establish the path and who bring people onto it are doing a positive service. That is, unless you think that religion itself is the source of all evil -- as many people today do. I think that it is better for people to come to the devotional path, even if it is imperfectly taught or exemplified. And those who manage to do so are worth more than those, however pure, who choose to criticize them.

But the fact of the matter is that a devotee who eschews gossip and mundane talk has to give up journalism. The journalist is always tempted to highlight the negative as he appeals to those who seek the "truth", and as we know, the truth is always a skeleton in the closet. And search long enough, you can always find some dirt, true or imagined.

I made an attempt at journalism with Vrindavan Today. My concept then was not to start a Vrindavan smut rag or gossip sheet. But it is hard to avoid that kind of thing when you are engaged in journalism. And from the very beginning that Vrindavan Today, whatever its brilliance as an idea, it was not my real calling. I want to be a real Vaishnava.

It is my greatest good fortune that at this time in my life I have the opportunity to work in security and comfort for people of quality like Satyanarayana Dasaji and Swami Veda Bharati.

I would like to do more independent teaching and preaching, and perhaps one day I will. But in the meantime, I will try to learn what it means to be a friend. And try to become someone whose heart has no place or time for gossip (nindādi-śūnya-hṛdam).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Small excerpt from Bhakti-rasāyana

proktena bhakti-yogena bhajato māsakṛn muneḥ |
kāmā hṛdayyā naśyanti sarve mayi hṛdi sthite ||
All material desires in the heart of the wise person who constantly worships me through the process of bhakti-yoga as it has been described [here] are destroyed, for I am situated there in his heart. (11.20.29)
Comment by Madhusudan Saraswati in Bhakti-rasāyana, 1.1:

By following statements like this by the Lord and having firm faith in the practices by which one attains bhakti, one sends the entirety of the love one has for his objects [of love] and [thus] his mind becomes indifferent to the sense objects.
The mental modifications (mano-vṛtti) of such a greatly fortunate person, whoever he is, are imbued with the form of the Lord upon being melted by hearing works of literature that gather together the profound glories of the Lord, and this taking of the Lord’s shape is the goal of all sādhana [whether bhakti or yoga, etc.]. 
This taking on of the Lord’s shape is known as the sthāyi-bhāva of rati [love], and when it is combined with the other ingredients, i.e., vibhāvas, anubhāvas and vyabhicāris, it is manifest as rasa, which is the direct experience of the highest bliss. Those who are in actual knowledge of rasa call such bhakti-yoga the ultimate and supreme goal of human life.

Madhusudana Saraswati in Bhakti-rasāyana has a very interesting take on bhakti, quite original in many ways. It is rather difficult to trace any particular paramparā for bhakti within the Advaita tradition, but there clearly is one. It seems that it results from a direct engagement with the Bhāgavatam, to which Madhusudana Saraswati is said to have written a commentary.

According to what is known of his life, Madhusudan is another son of Nabadwip Dham, though perhaps unremembered there. Still, he was there in the immediate post-Chaitanya period and seems to have gone to Jagannath Puri and then to Benares after finishing studying Nyaya and the such in Nabadwip. There he wrote a famous rebuttal to Vyasa Tirtha of the Madhva line, Advaita-siddhi, which is one of his most famous books. The commentary to the Gita (Gūḍhārtha-dīpikā) is another famous work.

But for us, we are particularly interested in the great affinity he shows for bhakti, which he defends in his Gita commentary also. And in this BR he quite clearly states near the very beginning, "Jñāna-yoga’s upper limit is bhakti-yoga." (asya ca jñāna-yogasya bhakti-yogo'vadhiḥ), by which he means that when you have fulfilled the purpose of jñāna, you are ready for bhakti.

And Madhusudana quite directly states that "According to these words of the Lord, aṣṭāṅga-yoga should be see included within the jñāna path." (bhagavad-vacanenāṣṭāṅga-yogo'pi jñāna-yogāntargato draṣṭavyaḥ)

But his approach is somewhat different from the bhakti theologians, and so is of great interest.

Many years ago it came to me that all philosophies are fundamentally bhedābheda, they simply slice the cake in different ways. But rarely is there a perfect balance, or at least the mystery of the "perfect balance" is something that cannot be easily put into words. When this world and that, internal and external become one, and yet remain intact, their interplay, however interpreted, an endless source of rasa, one might be said to be truly liberated.

But "balance" is the key. The force needed to achieve it might be madness, especially for one who has been confined by dharmas and has to make a break. For another, one who is particularly tamasik, a nice little suit of dharma might be the best fit -- as it was for nearly everyone who joined Iskcon, at least in my generation. And there are as many prescriptions for how to find the balance as there are individuals seeking.

So after this insight came to me, I realized that we devotees had really put all our eggs into the bheda basket. Which is all very well and good... up to a point. What about the abheda? I asked, what is this abheda in bhakti? What does it mean experientially? And how does it compare to the abheda in Advaita?

And this of course leads to an analysis of rasa. What is this famous rasa of which everyone talks so exultantly?

And what is this prema, which in its ultimate state is abhinna-bhāvanam, a sense of complete identity with the Beloved?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What is sthayi-bhava?

We are talking about rasa a lot, and an understanding of the terms is important. As one progresses in knowledge and experience, such understanding is likely to undergo refinement. I was just asked to clarify some terms, so here is a short article doing so.

āgamenānumānena dhyānābhyāsa-rasena ca |
tridhā prakalpayan prajñāṁ labhate yogam uttamam ||
There are three roads to wisdom: hearing from the wise, sharpening one's reasoning skills, and relishing the taste of repeated practice of meditation. One who cultivates this threefold wisdom attains the ultimate yoga.
The jñāna-mārga (the path of philosophical knowledge) has three divisions to its practice: śravaṇam (hearing from a knowledgeable source), mananam (contemplating what one has heard), and nididhyāsanam (intense meditation on the conclusion of one's intellectual processes). There is rasa in the practice of meditation, which is called śānta-rasa, about which an article is following shortly.

The experience of rasa, which is famously difficult to translate (Cf. "mellows", "aesthetic rapture," etc.) is dependent on something called the sthāyi-bhāva, which can be translated literally as "permanent mood."

Sthāyi-bhāva is an ongoing subject that is dealt with on the blog many times because of its importance in bhakti. But because the term is derived from the millennial tradition of poetics, etc., there is a lot of discussion about various subtle points. It is the basic raw material that makes the creation of rasa possible.

Sthāyi-bhāva really means the global personality of an individual based on his or her emotional makeup, refined or unrefined. There are eight of these sthāyi-bhāva in the traditional depiction starting with Bharata's Nāṭya-śāstra. These are rati (love), hāsa (laughter), śoka (grief), krodha (anger), utsāha (enthusiasm), bhaya (fear), jugupsā (disgust), vismaya (astonishment). Each of these is related to a rasa, i.e., when the fundamental or permanent mood of an individual is excited by hearing a story, etc., then that mood is awakened and experienced directly. That is called rasa.

Let's take śoka, or grief as an example. Grief resides within us as a potential emotional state. Through life experience one experiences losses and in accordance with the intensity of the experience, one's unconscious impressions are formed and become a part of one's makeup.

Thus when one hears or watches a cultural, artistic or entertainment product (poem, novel, film, play, music, work or art, etc.) then this provokes an emotional or, more accurately, sentimental response. In this case (śoka), one experiences the rasa known as karuṇa, which is often translated as "the pathetic sentiment." Actually this translation does not convey adequately the meaning, compassion is probably better.

It just means that when you watch a sad story and you are able to identify with the situation and the characters -- partly because of natural human instinctual empathy, and partly because of personal human experience -- your eyes well up with tears, your heart feels heavy and goes out to those who suffer, indeed becomes (temporarily) a universal experience of identification that makes you sympathetic to all human suffering and inclined to alleviate it.

This is of course an ideal kind of situation, because sentiments are manipulated for propaganda purposes like crazy. You could even say that rasa theory was originally intended as propaganda, religious propaganda to make people follow the path of the straight and narrow. But "compassion" can be manipulated for political purposes and converted into one of the other sentiments -- anger, fear, disgust, heroism, the "male" rasas, are most popular in this process.

In Rupa Goswami's concept, the sthāyi-bhāva concept is a bit different. In the original description of Bharata, love or rati is the main rasa, and that is pretty much agreed upon by all the followers of the poetic tradition. But "love" starts to get subdivided into different categories, which some people try to bring into the rasa category, especially bhakti and vātsalya, which are the respectful love of a subordinate to a protector (child to parent, servant to employer, subject to ruler, etc.) and the reverse of that, respectively.

Bharata also discusses a sthāyi-bhāva called nirveda (disinterest) or śama (pacification of desire) which leads to the rasa called śānta or peace.

Rupa Goswami says that bhakti means love for the supreme object, Krishna, who is ultimately the object of all the kinds of love (akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti). He says there are five kinds of loving relationship, with numerous subdivisions of each. These are the five kinds of loving relationship -- śānta, dāsya, sakhya, vātsalya and madhura. These are the customary names we are used to hearing. The technical terms Rupa Goswami uses in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu are a bit different.

But although the different kinds of love are common to human experience, it is not common to direct that kind of love towards Krishna, nor indeed to have any specific feeling to God, especially not in the form of Krishna.

This can only happen when one hears from and gets the grace of a devotee who is the seat (āśraya) of this kind of love. As a result, it is an important point in Vaishnava philosophy to say that bhakti and its mature development into the sthāyi-bhāva of love is a result of a descending process of the internal potency into the heart of a person, who then becomes a devotee. Through hearing about Krishna from a devotee, one's feelings for Krishna are aroused and one experiences rasa. The first purpose of sādhanā is thus to cultivate a particular sthāyi-bhāva or relation (sambandha) with Krishna.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Some scattered thoughts about Prema

Love is the sthāyi-bhāva. Prema is its rasāvasthā.

According to Madhusudana Saraswati, God himself is the sthāyi-bhāva of love. When certain emotional upsurges heat the heart and allow him to be imprinted there. He is both the vibhāva and the sthāyi-bhāva. The first of these being the bimba, the latter the pratibimba, or reflection, related in exactly the same way as īśvara to the jīva. The same idea expressed in Vaishnava terms would be that it is the reflection of the svarūpa-śakti.

Only God is capable of melting the heart fully. Since He is all things, even the mundane nāyaka and nāyikā are nothing but He, but incapable of fully melting the heart, since they are He covered by Maya. Maya is God's own potency for self-covering.


Here is Rupa Goswami's definition of prema:

samyaṅ-masṛṇita-svānto mamatvātiśayāṅkitaḥ |
bhāvaḥ sa eva sāndrātmā budhaiḥ premā nigadyate ||
When that very same bhāva described in BRS 1.3.1 completely melts the heart altogether, is marked by a sense of unseparatedness from the object of love, and is very dense, the wise call it prema. (BRS 1.4.1)
Here are two more translations:
When bhāva becomes very intense and completely softens the heart, through being endowed with a great sense of intimacy with Krishna, the learned call it prema. (BRS 1.4.1)

When bhäva attains to the very essence of intensity, completely melting the devotee’s heart and marked by a profusion of the trans-egoic sense of “myness” [in relation to one’s beloved Lord], it is called prema by the wise. (TS)
Bhāva here means the sthāyi-bhāva, which is the same as a samskāra or vāsanā, i.e., subconscious conditioning and the shape it gives to the psyche. These are the latent desires and tendencies in the subconscious that are awakened by external stimuli into a manifest state. When that assimilated nature or character (bhāva) becomes manifest, it is rasa or prema.

The primary inspirator for rasa is the reciprocation of the object of love. In that sense, bhāva or love as it resides in the subject, is never full on its own even though it is, on its own, śuddha-sattva-viśeṣātmā, etc. 

Although Madhusudana Saraswati is later than Rupa, the two seem to be sharing a fundamental similarity of understanding about the psychological mechanics of rasa. Remember that Rupa Goswami is in the process of marrying the concept of bhakti/prema to that of rati/rasa. Madhusudana is doing the same, but approaches from the Advaita standpoint. But his defense of bhakti from that stance is extremely insightful

He says that when strong emotions are produced, e.g., lust, anger, affection, fear, etc., the mind melts and it is possible for an imprint to be made on the unconscious mind. These imprints then affect the character. The composite of these samskāras is our personality.

The process of bhakti is one in which one deliberately acts on the mind in such a way that the emotional experiences we go through, i.e, the "mind-melting-moments" should be connected to God directly.

The goal of the bhakti-yogi is to make his mind "God-shaped."

Madhusudana Saraswati says that the mind is generally hard, ossified, intractable, not subject to emotional interference. So we tend to continue along familiar paths of thought, habitual actions, etc., until there is a "mind-melting-moment". But most of those are incomplete melting of the mind.

So only when the mind is completely melted, then if God's face is impressed on it, then when the mind returns to its natural state of hardness (sāndrātmā), it will continue to retain that shape. The the sthāyi-bhāva is truly permanent.

Then when God's face has been fully imprinted on the mind, one sees God everywhere.

However, most emotional experiences are inadequate to fully melt the mind, and those result in bhāvābhāsa, which means something that can come or go. This is in relation to the sthāyi-bhāva, because bhāvābhāsa means at the same time a vyabhicāri, or temporary emotional state, not the fundamental or permanent one.

So what makes the mind melt? On the path of Love, It is reciprocation in love. This is where mamatvātiśayāṅkitaḥ comes in. Of the above translations, I would prefer "a great sense of intimacy."

It thus seems that both Madhusudana and Rupa Goswami are describing bhāva and prema in very similar terms. But Rupa Goswami is somewhat less clear, making it seem that they are the same thing, only a difference of degree. But if this is so, then why make a distinction and call both of them sādhya bhakti?

[It may be pointed out that the relation of the sthāyi to rasa is much discussed by the poeticians. The general conclusion is that they are indeed the same thing, but that the former has been altered by the addition of the other ingredients which give it the enhanced flavor. It is like rice, raw and cooked, or like milk and dahi, etc. For a devotee, this alteration can only mean reciprocation of some kind, however slight, however imagined.]

Mamatvātiśayāṅkitaḥ means a sense of complete identification with the Object of love. One does not conceive oneself as separate from the Object. The mind is tad-ākārākāritaḥ, it has taken on the shape of the Beloved.

This is why Jiva Goswami says that the samyaṅ-masṛṇita-svānta and mamatvātiśayāṅkitaḥ are the external symptoms, and that its svarūpa-lakṣaṇa is that it is sāndrātmā. In Madhusudana's language, dhārāvāhikatā.

drutasya bhagavad-dharmād dhārāvāhikatāṁ gatā |
sarveśe manaso vṛttir bhaktir ity abhidhīyate ||
The function of the mind that has been melted by the performance of Bhagavad-dharmas, which have attained a continuity of flow towards the Supreme Lord, is called bhakti. (Bhakti-rasāyana 1.3)
mad-guṇa-śruti-mātreṇa mayi sarva-guhāśaye |
mano-gatir avicchinnā yathā gaṅgāmbhaso’mbudhau ||
lakṣaṇaṁ bhakti-yogasya nirguṇasya hy udāhṛtam |
ahaituky avyavahitā yā bhaktiḥ puruṣottame ||
The primary sign that pure union in devotion, free from any material quality, has appeared in someone’s heart comes when, upon hearing about my qualities, that person’s thoughts are drawn immediately and irresistably towards me, the indweller of all beings, in the same way that the waters of the Ganges flow toward the sea. [Like the flow of the Ganges] such devotion to the Supreme Person is unmotivated and unimpeded. (SB 3.29.10-11)


The other thing I would remark on in this definition verse is that it is entirely devoid of any moral admonition, i.e, it does not ordain specific behaviors (vidhi). Prema is a state of consciousness only. When we reach the higher stages of the sthāyi-bhāva, i.e, mahābhāva, then we see that the primary concern of the descriptions is to measure the degree of spiritual unity or identity that the lovers experience. In these different states there are corresponding natural behaviors and emotional responses, but nothing ordained. Moral admonitions are like yamas and niyamas, training behaviors, external to the culture of consciousness but assimilated to one's character. It belongs to the category of "making oneself a worthy object of love."


So my current operating definition of Prema, or “Love for God.”

Love is a profound and blissful state of consciousness characterized by continuous absorption in a positive attitude towards its object, and which reaches fullness when enriched by direct awareness of the object’s reciprocation.

That same love when harmonized with an awareness of its spiritual dimension and relation to God, becomes prema.

When one sees both God in the object of love and the object of love in God, one attains prema-rasa. When that happens, the mind takes the form of God and one sees God everywhere.


Since the element of God is the third dimension, one has to measure love in the context of its capacity to attain prema-rasa.

This means that in the sädhanä of love, the positive side of love can be overshadowed by the negative due to residual käma. That is purified by aligning it with the Divine. If it loses its alignment with the Divine it becomes dysfunctional.

Love is a positive emotion. The via negativa is only ancillary to the force of loving attraction as part of the move towards purity and worthiness.

The way to love is by loving. By doing as a lover would do. The psychic power of pure love is very great and affects the object of love.

The way to not get love is to stop loving. The absence of love in the subject also affects the object of love.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Bhagavad Gītā catuḥ-ślokī 4

Gītā catuḥ-ślokī 4
|| 10.11 ||

तेषामेवानुकम्पार्थमहमज्ञानजं तमः।
नाशयाम्यात्मभावस्थो ज्ञानदीपेन भास्वता॥

teṣām evānukampārtham aham ajñāna-jaṁ tamaḥ |
nāśayāmy ātma-bhāva-stho jñāna-dīpena bhāsvatā ||

ahaṁ anukampārthaṁ teṣām ātma-bhāva-sthaḥ, (teṣām) ajñāna-jaṁ tamaḥ jñāna-dīpena bhāsvatā nāśayāmi.

·         anukampā = (f) mercy, compassion. dayā.
·         anukampārthaṁ = (adv.) add ārthaṁ in compound to another word and that shows the purpose. “for the sake of” dayā-hetoḥ.
·         ajñāna-jam = (adj.) “born of ignorance.” –ja is a suffix you can add to any word to make “arising from, born of.”
·         tamas = (n.) darkness. In sandhi, tamo.
·         nāśayāmi = “I destroy, I cause destruction.” (causative of naś, naśyati)
·         ātma-bhāva-stha = lit. “situated in the love/being of the Self” For ātma-bhāva: Rāmānuja mano-vṛttau, Śaṅkara = antaḥkaraṇa, Śrīdharaḥ = buddhi-vṛttau; "in the mind or functions of the mind or in the functions of the intelligence."
·         dīpam = (n.) lamp
·         bhāsvatā = shining (bhās + vat, “possessing light”)

Out of compassion for them, I, seated within the self, destroy the darkness born of ignorance with the shining lamp of knowledge.

Baladeva: aham evātma-bhāvastho’ravinda-koṣe bhṛṅga iva tad-bhāve sthito divya-svarūpa-guṇāṁs tatra prakāśayaṁs tad-viṣayaka-jñāna-rūpeṇa bhāsvatā dīpena jñāna-virodhy-anādi-karma-rūpājñāna-jaṁ mad-anya-viṣaya-spṛhā-rūpaṁ tamo nāśayāmi. 

"I am situated in the being of the self, like a bee in the whorl of a lotus and there I reveal my divine essence and attributes, and with the shining lamp that in the form of this knowledge I destroy the darkness that is any 
contrary knowledge, which has arisen from timeless ignorance and one's absorption in the cycle of work and its reaction, and which takes the form of desiring anything other than me." 

Although these four verses are being touted here as the essence of the Gita, it should also be noticed that they present some original features for the Gita. Words like bhāva, tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca, and prīti, which indicate love and joy, the parama-puruṣārtha. This concentration of words indicating affection. love and joy are nowhere else to be seen in the Gita. Generally speaking, the word bhakti, which is derived from the root bhaj, carries the sense of affection of a lower for a superior, such as a disciple for the guru, the wife for the husband, or the subject for a king, and so on.

In this case, it may be debated whether bhāva and prīti are outside the scope of this dāsya-bhakti, but certainly Vishwanath thinks they are, as he expressly introduces rāgānugā bhakti  to verse 9 on the basis of the word ramanti, which carries the hint of madhura-rasa in it. (tadaiva bhāvi-svīya-sādhya-daśām anusmṛtya ramanti ca manasā sva-prabhuṇā saha ramanti ceti rāgānugā bhaktir dyotitā). On the whole it is not so important, since the mechanics of  dāsya-rati will be incorporated into all the other rasas, including madhura.

The proper response of the superior to the inferior, on the other hand, is called vātsalya, which is characterize by compassion. The word compassion can have a fairly wide scope of meaning, and some may not see how parents, the classical āśrayas of vātsalya, are being "compassionate" to their child, but if we see it in the general category of benevolent action conducted by someone who is in a superior position of knowledge, etc., towards those who are dependent or suffering.

In this verse, for the first time in the Gita, a word that means compassion, anukampā. Words for compassion are indeed rare in the Gita, and generally using variants on the word prasāda. [In 11.44-45, Arjuna is fearful and asks for Krishna in the Universal Form to be pleased or have mercy by showing his human form. In 11.47 Krishna says he is pleased (prasanna) and does so. Then in 18.56, 58, 63, the word is used to indicate that Krishna's grace is the key to attaining the supreme destination, crossing over the material condition, and attaining peace. Arjuna says in 18.73 that his illusion has been dissipated, his memory revived by Krishna's grace (prasāda). And finally Sanjaya says that he has witnessed this conversation by Vyasa's grace in 18.75. The word kṛpā, which later is a favorite for compassion, is only used once in the Gita (2.1) in order to describe Arjuna's feelings for his kinsmen, etc., at the time he makes a decision not to fight.

So Krishna shows the path by which we can attain him if we are already engaged in the fundamental sādhanas of the madhyama-bhakta. This was stated in the previous verse. Now, in the second verse, it can be said that a higher prayojana is being shown. The path to prema begins with bhāva. The path to rasa begins with rati, i.e., sthāyi-bhāva. Krishna here says he is situated in the spiritual bhāva of the devotee, and it is from there that he shines this lamp of knowledge. Here the shining of the lamp of knowledge means prema-bhakti, the state of rasa, wherein Krishna and his devotee are united in the inseparability of love.

That is only attainable by grace, and there is no more sādhanā left for them except to await the Lord's grace, the way the chatak bird awaits the cloud in order to get a drop of water, and will go nowhere else, so it is with the surrendered devotee. The intelligence to find Krishna and the grace of Krishna, which is prema-bhakti.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Compassion and Bhakti-rasa, Part II

The capacity to recognize and empathize with another’s suffering.

Though it is rather unexciting from the literary point of view, I will do some academic basics, like looking in the dictionary for clues about where to go with the research on the topic of compassion. After all this is a blog. And a blog is basically a diary notebook, so for my own edification and future reference, I will do a bit of academic legwork. I haven't been excercising my due-diligence muscles here for some time now.

Let us start from Amara-kośa, the most basic and universally used Sanskrit lexicon. Sanskrit lexicons usually are more like thesauruses, in that they give lists of synonyms grouped together. The group in which we find karuṇā goes like this: snigdhas tu vatsalaḥ ghṛṇā | kṛpā dayānukampā kāruṇyaṁ karuṇā. Here are the relevant definitions taken from Monier-Williams (MMW).
  • vatsala = child loving, tender, affectionate towards offspring, kind, loving.
  • anukampā = sympathy, compassion
  • anukrośa = tenderness, compassion
  • dayā = sympathy, compassion, pity for
  • ghṛṇā = a warm feeling towards others, compassion, tenderness.
  • karuṇā = pity, compassion
  • kāruṇyaṁ = compassion, kindness
  • kṛpā = tenderness, compassion
  • sūrata = well-disposed towards, compassionate, tender
The word anugraha, which is usually connected to these meanings, is not found in Amara. According to MMW, it means: favor, kindness, showing favor, conferring benefits, promoting or furthering a good object, assistance. For some reason, it is often used in the specific sense of bestowing initiation. [See HBV 1.47ff anugrahaṁ mantra-pradānādikam, 1.121 The mantra is given gurv-anugrahāt, etc.

Another word that comes up is prasāda, which basically means pleasure. In the sense that compassion is the pleasure of the person giving it. If I please you, then you will be grateful and bestow your grace. Whereas the other words are unidirectional, prasāda in this sense is given a reciprocal and conditional aspect.

yasya prasādāt bhagavat-prasādo
yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto'pi

Another expression frequently seen, especially in the epics and Puranas is hita, which usually is translated as welfare, hita-kārī, "acting for the welfare"; sarva-bhūta-hite rataḥ, "engaged in welfare acts for all beings." (Gītā 5.25, 12.4)

Now it may be possible to do an in-depth search through different textual genres to find out how often and in what way each of these terms is used, how they overlap and differ, but for the time being, I think that the commonality of meanings indicates that they are all fairly semantically synonymous. Of this list, an intuitive hierarchy of frequency [not that much due diligence, sorry!!!] would put anukrośa, ghṛṇā and sūrata near the bottom, dayā, kṛpā and karuṇā at the top.

In the English dictionaries, we get the following definitions:
  • compassion: feeling of sympathy for another’s misfortune
  • mercy: compassion shown to an enemy or an offender
  • grace: favor, good will, mercy, clemency
The English thesaurus also gives the following as synonyms: pity, compassion, commiseration, sympathy, empathy, fellow feeling, tenderness, humanity, mercy, clemency, charity, grace.

In the Bhāgavatam, the qualities of a devotee sādhu are listed and include several characteristics that are related in one way or another to empathy. I am going to just quote the whole set of verses, adding insights from the commentaries, since they are such a worthy subject for meditation:

kṛpālur akṛta-drohas titikṣuḥ sarva-dehinām |
satya-sāro 'navadyātmā samaḥ sarvopakārakaḥ ||
kāmair ahata-dhīr dānto mṛduḥ śucir akiñcanaḥ |
anīho mita-bhuk śāntaḥ sthiro mac-charaṇo muniḥ ||
apramatto gabhīrātmā dhṛti-māñ jita-ṣaḍ-guṇaḥ |
amānī māna-daḥ kalyo maitraḥ kāruṇikaḥ kaviḥ ||

  • Devotees are compassionate (kpālu), that is, they cannot bear to see anyone suffering in this world.
  • They do not make enemies (akta-droha), even when others act towards them in an irrationally aggressive manner.
  • They are tolerant (titiku), meaning that they forgive the offenses of all other creatures, even those who insult them.
  • They are committed to the truth (satya-sāra), in other words, they take strength in the truth.
  • They are faultless (anavadyātmā), i.e., free of flaws like envy and so do not cause a disturbance to the least of God’s creatures, whether in word, thought or deed.
  • They are equanimous (sama), taking happiness and distress, praise or criticism without being disturbed.
  • They are helpers to all (sarvopakāraka), in other words, they are the well-wishers of all creatures and act for their welfare, especially by helping them to understand their constitutional position as spiritual beings.
  • Their intelligence is not disrupted by sensual desires (kāmair ahata-dhīḥ).
  • They have control over their external senses (dānta).
  • They are gentle (mdu),
  • They are clean (śuci),
  • They are not accumulative (akiñcana), which can be extended to mean indifference to any of the four goals in life, including liberation.
  • The devotees are inactive (anīha), in the sense that they do not engage in purely mundane activities, whether based in sense gratification or renunciation.
  • Their eating is controlled (mita-bhuk), which means not only that they eat sanctified and sāttvika foods, but that they only consume what is absolutely necessary.
  • They are peaceful (śānta), for they have no desires.
  • Devotees are steady (sthira); if they take up a service or duty, they see things through to the end without being perturbed.
  • Devotees take exclusive shelter of Krishna (mac-charaa). According to Kaviraj Goswami, this is the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa, the others are all taṭastha-lakṣaṇa
  • They are sage (muni), possessing all the qualities of the sthita-dhīḥ described in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.
  • They are careful (apramatta): being always fixed in bhakti, they are never swept away by obsessions.
  • They are profound (gabhīrātmā): their actions are not always easily understood by others due to their detachment from the customary motivations of ordinary people and their deep meditation on the Lord.
  • They are patient or steady (dhtimān), meaning that they have conquered over the tongue and genitals and are capable of distinguishing between the permanent and the impermanent or good and bad.
  • They have conquered over the six “knots” or “waves” (jita-a-gua) – hunger, thirst, grief, bewilderment, old age and death.
  • They are humble (amānī), seeking no honor for themselves.
  • They are respectful (mānada), willing to give all honor to others.
  • They are capable (kalya), meaning that they are expert in explaining spiritual matters to others and engaging them in bhakti.
  • They are friendly (maitra), which means that they do not cheat others, especially not when it comes to spiritual teachings.
  • They are merciful (kāruika); unable to tolerate the suffering of others, which is a result of ignorance of spiritual truths, they do everything in their power to help them.
  • And finally, they are wise (kavi) – they know what is liberating and what is entangling. (11.11.29-31)
In a shorter description of the Vaishnava qualities Kapila says to Devahūti in the Third Canto:

titikṣavaḥ kāruṇikāḥ suhṛdaḥ sarva-dehinām |
ajāta-śatravaḥ śāntāḥ sādhavaḥ sādhu-bhūṣaṇāḥ ||
The devotees who are ornaments of the saintly are tolerant, compassionate, the well-wishers of all beings, never create enemies and peaceful. (3.25.21)
From these verses, although it may be argued that compassion still does not have the central role that it plays in the Buddhist scheme, it remains very much a part of the concept of the Vaishnava character.

The compassion of the devotees no doubt takes many forms, as we may think of compassion taking place on numerous levels, from aiding the body, to the mind, to the soul. In the Ayurveda world, Charaka (here seen as the incarnation of Ananta) is described as expounding the medical science for the benefit of the suffering:

tatra lokān gadair grastān vyathayā paripīḍitān.
sthaleṣu bahuṣu vyagrān mriyamāṇāṁś ca dṛṣṭavān. 
tān dṛṣṭvā'tidayā-yuktas teṣāṁ duḥkhena duḥkhitaḥ.
anantaś cintayāmāsa rogopaśama-kāraṇam. 
There, in many places he saw people in the grasp of diseases, suffering from pain, agitated and dying. Filled with great compassion on seeing them, suffering from their suffering, Ananta (Śeṣa) thought about the means for pacifying disease. (Bhāva-prakāśa of Bhāva-miśra 1.59-60)
But the devotee is concerned with teaching bhakti, which in his mind is the greatest good. This is nicely stated by Raghunath Das in his homage to Sanatan Goswami:

vairāgya-yug-bhakti-rasaṁ prayatnair
apāyayan mām anabhīpsum andhaṁ
kṛpāmbudhir yaḥ para-duḥkha-duḥkhī
sanātanaṁ taṁ prabhum āśrayāmi
I take shelter of my master Sanatan Goswami, the ocean of mercy (kṛpāmbudhi) who is distressed to see the sufferings of others (para-duḥkha-duḥkhī). Though I was blind and had no desire for it, he made so much effort to make me drink the rasa of devotion, which contains the flavors of dispassion. (Vilāpa-kusumāñjali).
So let us not think that the devotees are passive in their compassion. Indeed, delving into the depths of the teachings of the rishis of bhakti-yoga and expanding on them is compassion of the highest magnitude. To be compassionate one must certainly understand the causes of suffering and the means for alleviating suffering. If someone is hungry, the problem is simply diagnosed and countered. The spiritual condition of the individual is not always so easy to diagnose. To be a doctor of souls no easy task for one who is still afflicted by ego.

One more verse to complete this installment of this survey: The speaker of the Bhāgavatam is said to be motivated by compassion:

yaḥ svānubhāvam akhila-śruti-sāram ekam
adhyātma-dīpam atititīrṣatāṁ tamo'ndham |
saṁsāriṇāṁ karuṇayāha purāṇa-guhyaṁ
taṁ vyāsa-sūnum upayāmi guruṁ munīnām ||
I take refuge of Śrī Śukadeva the teacher of all sages, the son of Vyāsadeva, who, out of compassion for those entangled in the cycle of birth and death who yet desire to cross over the dense darkness of material existence, spoke this most confidential Purāa [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam], which is self-endowed with supra-mundane power, being the essence of all the Vedas, one without compare and the light of supreme transcendence. (1.2.3)

Compassion and Bhakti-rasa, Part III

A Vaishnava guru is characterized by compassion:

nigrahānugrahe śakto homa-mantra-parāyaṇaḥ |
ūhāpoha-prakāra-jñaḥ śuddhātmā yaḥ kṛpālayaḥ |
ity-ādi-lakṣaṇair yukto guruḥ syād garimā-nidhiḥ ||
The guru, the treasure-house of depth, has the following qualities: he is capable of both showing mercy and chastising, i.e., recognizing both the qualities and defaults of the disciple and either rewarding or punishing him; he is dedicated to ritual activity and mantra-japa; he knows the process of argumentation and establishing rightful conclusions. He is moreover a pure soul and the abode of compassion.(HBV 1.41)
I suppose that depending on your world view, you will have a different concept of compassion. It starts with God or the state of perfection. In Vedanta, the state of perfection is bliss without any touch of illusion. Illusion means suffering. Therefore suffering is existentially not real. It is only subjective, due to ignorance, like the person who sees a rope and takes it for a snake. He suffers from fear, but to become free of that fear, he needs to be released from his ignorance.

Similarly, birth, old age, disease and death, separation from one’s true blissful nature are all illusion. This is where the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, begins.

For one who is situated in his “true nature” (svarūpāvasthānam) there can be little or no awareness of one’s own sufferings, past present or future. The Vaishnava opinion is that God Himself, in Himself, does not feel the sufferings of the illusioned souls because he is completely absorbed in his own bliss. Nor is he, in this aspect of his being, directly involved in the act of material creation, etc., which are the source of suffering and misery.

Yoga-sutra 1.24 defines God not by his acts of creation, etc., but by this characteristic, which confuses some people about whether the God spoken of in YS is even God at all! kleśa-karma-vipākāśayair aparmṛṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa īśvaraḥ || “That special spiritual being who is unaffected by the conditioned state and its consequences is īśvara.”

This is why it is said that the devotees are para-duḥkha-duḥkhī, either because they still have memory of suffering, or because they are on the path of transcendence to suffering, and therefore they have empathy and can feel compassion.

Now generally it is not thought that someone who ignores others’ suffering is a “good thing.” We see in the world that rich people not only are incapable of understanding the suffering of others, but even blame them (usually citing laziness or some other personality default) for their suffering. This in itself would not be so bad if they did not then act in ways that increase others’ suffering. For those who are ignorant, this same fault is projected onto God, and onto those who are absorbed in love of God.

Nevertheless, the question arises: Is compassion possible for someone who is not truly happy himself. Is it possible to be compassionate out of anger or disgust? Is there a difference in the compassion of a sadhu and that of a material welfare worker? Feed the hungry, clothing the naked… these are acts of compassion, but they do not strike at the roots of suffering, which is ignorance. And if one is oneself in ignorance, empathy often is misplaced and manipulated by others, who use that element of goodness to achieve other ends. Think of Afghanistan and the condition of Muslim women under the Taliban and how that was manipulated by propagandists to make people enthusiastic about that war.

The compassion that arises out of experiencing or awareness of the highest bliss, which is prema, is bound to be of a different quality and nature from such “material welfare work,” though by no means opposed to it.

We are in the world and so we are aware of suffering and the causes of suffering, and we stand in opposition to them. But we do it in the knowledge that the core of being and knowledge to be pure unadulterated bliss, then the highest compassion is to share that. The best way of sharing it is to reveal it to others and to allow others to partake of one’s own blissful state of being.

Thus we have the concept of “descent” or avatāra. God Himself, though situated in his own bliss or glory, comes into the world to create awareness of the possibility of being freed from ignorance and to join him in that state. But the siddhānta of Vaishnava theology is that in the highest manifestations of the descent, God merely reveals that state of bliss without exhortations or teachings. He shows that and lets it be observed, and through the process of observation, awareness of the possibility of bliss enters into the faith-consciousness of the faithless. When faith arises, the possibility of extricating oneself from the material condition and misery becomes possible.

This is considered to be the highest compassion. Be happy and teach others how to be happy.
Compassion is thus usually placed in the middle rung of spiritual life, not only in the Bhāgavatam, but in Yoga-sūtra also:

īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca |
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ ||
One who behaves with love towards God, friendship to those who depend on the Lord, with compassion to those who are innocent, and indifference to those who hate the Lord, is on the second level of devotional life. (SB 11.2.46)
The word innocent is defined in the commentary as "those who don't know about bhakti and are indifferent to it." (bāliśeṣu tad-bhaktim ajānatsu udāsīneṣu kṛpām ) and Prahlad is cited as an example:

śoce tato vimukha-cetasa indriyārthā
māyā-sukhāya bharam udvahato vimūḍhān |
I only lament for those fools whose minds are turned away from you and who carry the heavy load of labor in this world in order to enjoy illusory happiness. (SB 7.9.42)
bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam ||33||

“Cultivation of friendship to the happy, compassion for the miserable, pleasure at pious work and indifference to impiety lead to peace of mind.” (YS 1.33)

These are called parikarmas in Yoga, and in Buddhism where these same modes of behavior are called brahma-vihāras.

The commentaries there say that through desiring to remove the distress of the miserable as though they were one's own ends the mind's tendency to do ill to others. (duḥkhiteṣu ca karuṇām ātmanīva parasmin duḥkha-prahāṇecchāṁ bhāvayataḥ parāpakāra-cikīrṣā-kālūṣyaṁ cetaso nivartate |)
“Let this compassion be practised towards all those who are in pain, whether they are friend or foe.”

This compassion is central to the middle section of devotional practice, which we call the sadhaka stage. The reason for this is that empathy is the baseline of love and one cannot really cultivate the higher stages of love without it. Swami Vivekananda was not wrong when he called attention to the Bhagavatam verse by Kapila to speak of "Daridra Narayana":

ahaṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu bhūtātmāvasthitaḥ sadā |
tam avajñāya māṁ martyaḥ kurute'rcā-viḍambanam||
yo māṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu santam ātmānam īśvaram|
hitvārcāṁ bhajate mauḍhyād bhasmany eva juhoti saḥ||
I am ever situated as the Supreme Indwelling Self in all living beings. If a mortal being disregards me, yet worships my deity form, his worship is simply a mockery. One who disregards me, Bhagavān, the Supreme Soul existing in all beings, and worships the deity out of foolishness, is no better than one who pours oblations into ashes. (3.29.21-22)
For myself, the highest compassion comes as a result of the most complete realization. But clearly the cultivation of empathy and compassion through various acts is a part of the rasa complex, since it is one of the rasas. We will address this in another post.