Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kurma Rupa's last day

Yesterday I went with Jaya and Manjari to Kiki Nagla where Kurma Rupa was resting. As it turns out, it was his last day in this body and it was our good fortune to see him one last time.

He had an incurable stomach cancer and had been suffering for several months. Just a few days ago his condition took a turn for the worse and he was moved to the hospital for rest and comfort. Kurma Rupa and I were acquaintances. I liked him. I thought him an exemplary person, someone who was trying to find a way to make a contribution to the growth of bhakti culture. He was actually a closer friend to Babaji and was a frequent visitor to Jiva for Bhagavatam classes. Babaji had gone to visit him a few days earlier when he heard that he was in serious condition, but before he had been moved back to Kiki Nagla.

When I was doing the Vrindavan Today project I went to him a couple of times to ask him to become our “cow protection” correspondent. Somehow that never worked out. I saw him around the time he was being forced to move the Goshala from Sunrakh out to Belvan and to Kiki Nagla. Kurma Rupa’s periodical magazine “Care for Cows” appeared regularly and his mission to protect Vrindavan’s cows was his life.

Kiki Nagla is a breath of fresh air itself. It is nice to know that there is still so much of the rural and agricultural Braj so close to Vrindavan. The fields are open and even though the development along the Chattikara Road lines the horizon, and although the road from Sunrakh is also clearly being marked for development, Kiki is still open countryside.

Kurma Rupa’s goshala takes up an important part of the Food for Life (FFLV) campus there, along with the hospital and high school. And the cow dung is piled high to be recycled as compost for a large organic garden, which mostly goes to feed FFLV schoolchildren their daily meals.

Kurma Rupa’s room has a large balcony that overlooks the open fields of Braj and to one side you can see a portion of the goshala, where fifty cows mill around placidly, looking up, oddly enough, in the direction of his room.

The door has a sign on it warning everyone not to cause a disturbance to “prabhu.” And indeed, once inside, the atmosphere is hushed, even reverent. There are half a dozen devotees of various ages busying themselves with providing comfort to Kurma Rupa. The whole time we were there, people were constantly coming and going, offering some greetings and a word, or simply standing by.

Kurma Rupa seemed barely to recognize anyone. People were talking to him, but he wasn’t answering. Someone would help him sit up so he could be toweled down. Kusha Devi toweled from one side, a young Indian man dressed in the Iskcon fashion from the other. Manjari and Jaya rubbed his feet. Everything was done in whispered tones. Brajavasi Devi Dasi came in wearing her customary saffron sari. She sang various kirtans in a soft voice. A young western woman came in and sang along with her. A couple of other Indian men also seemed to be directly involved in Kurmarupa’s care. The patient himself seemed resigned to the attention.

I decided to just sit in the only chair in the room. I thought the best way would be to commune in silence. Beside me on a table was a computer with Prabhupada’s japa tape playing on a non-stop loop. The far wall was covered with pictures of cows, Kurmarupa with cows and, in the center of the collage, of course, a picture of Srila Prabhupada in one of his most brilliant smiling moments.

Some of the best pictures of cows were taken by Kurma Rupa. He managed to show his love for go mata through his photography.

I went into a meditation on Kurmarupa, trying to feel his vibration and communicate mentally from my seat, though I could see that in a way the attention he was getting seemed to be more of a distraction from the inner-mindedness that one might crave in one’s last moments.

Kurma Rupa is a unique character in our Krishna consciousness movement in the west. Dying in Vrindavan, still surrounded by cows.

agrataḥ santu me gāvaḥ gāvo me santu pṛṣṭhataḥ |
gāvo me pārśvataḥ santu gavāṁ madhye vasāmy aham ||

May cows go before me, may they follow me.
May cows surround me, I live among cows.
HBV 16.252, Skanda-purana

So I was sitting in Kurma Rupa’s room, with the background sound Prabhupada chanting japa determinedly, like an army general beating the drum of discipline and purpose, while a number of well-meaning people were looking at the dying man as a saint. There was little fear of death in that room. It seemed more like a very reverent sending off party.

Because he is dying in Vrindavan after remaining true to the message of Vaishnavism in one form, a form that was bestowed on him by Srila Prabhupada, this mysterious, even esoteric religion of "cow protection." And what to speak that this man is a convert, someone who most probably used to eat cows before becoming a devotee. And now in a country where eating beef is increasingly considered a healthy sign of progress and defiance to a ridiculous superstitious past.

What is the benefit of cows? What does it mean to live among cows, to serve cows, to love cows?

A friend of mine has a firm belief in the beneficial effects of living in the proximity of cows, especially the breeds that are special to Vraj, the tall, noble looking white bovine with a hump and a flap hanging from its neck. They are imposing and even a little intimidating to the uninitiated, but a more peaceful and affectionate creature cannot be found. And to live among cows means to become calm and gentle.

So this was a man transformed by Guru’s mercy, the dust of Vrindavan and the company of Krishna’s favorite beast. He took one segment of his guru's mano'bhishta and made it his life. As a result he helped make cow protection a real issue for devotees.

Was Kurma Rupa a saint? I think that Iskcon and the Western Krishna movement is in need of saints right now. It has had its blemished leaders, but like all religions, the simple devotees will look for those who remained simple in their devotion, who eschewed power and leadership roles and exemplified saintliness in non-official capacities, by their character and commitment to service. Aindra Das, the kirtaniya, was one such person.

Coincidentally, it was just a few days ago that Brahmananda Das left his body.

I saw a bit of his video memories of the 40th anniversary of Krishna-Balaram, which he helped construct, one of those early Iskcon pioneers without whom Prabhupada would have accomplished nothing. Brahmananda had long ceased to be a player in Iskcon, but he was a great fountain of Srila Prabhupada lore, and his presence in Vrindavan to speak at every occasion was an exercise in oral history that confirmed the mythology of Prabhupada and Iskcon’s destiny.

In the video he says, with tremendous humility, that the temple was built in spite of him. Actually the story is quite good and quite indicative of the kinds of relations that early American devotees had with Indian people back in the early days when the big construction projects in Bombay, Vrindavan and Mayapur were all going ahead full steam. I was in Mayapur so I have a little direct experience of that time.

Luckily, Prabhupada was able to find good Vrindavan contacts to help, his influence was considerable, but the direct management of the western devotees was problematic. Cultural differences, language differences, perhaps a dose of racism, and a general lack of experience were the obstacles these young men faced, who had little more going for them than the natural innocent hubris of being young and American, the current masters of the human race.

In an event that would not have been atypical, Brahmananda recounts that he and Prabhupada were living in the first building to be completed, which was Prabhupada's house. He had bought a nice new gamcha and after bathing would hang it on a clothesline in the middle of what was a construction site. And of course one of the workers stole it.

This happened twice and Brahmananda was getting all disturbed and self righteous. So, after buying a third gamcha, he placed it on the line and then hid in waiting to see who took it. Sure enough, a scrawny laborer came into the courtyard after work, looked around and then, sure no one was looking, grabbed the gamcha. Brahmananda immediately pounced on the man and started to pound him. Brahmananda was stout even in his youth and I am sure he was a giant compared to the average village laborer in Vrindavan of the epoch. It was not a fair fight.

Immediately the entire work force went on strike and refused to work for as long as no reparations were made. Prabhupada gave Brahmananda a good talking to and sent him out to prostrate himself in front of the worker and ask for forgiveness. I am sure Prabhupada thought it would be a good exercise for his devotional growth. How do you teach civilization to those who are already more civilized?

But there is no doubt that Brahmananda will always be a noble part of Iskcon’s history. He did things I never could have done to make it possible for me to do what I do today. And also what Kurma Rupa did.

Now the long slow process of Srila Prabhupada's initiated disciples dying off is well underway. More and more we will ask, Who is left? It will take thirty or forty years for everyone who had their second birth in that time to die off. They will be sought out, like Siddhanta Saraswati's last disciples, because the ones who last the longest have the greatest chance of aging gracefully into wisdom and saintliness.

When we went out, I went to Kurmarupa and we exchanged looks, I folded my hands and said Jai Radhe. He looked at me with recognition and folded his hands and nodded. Jai Sri Radhe.

Look closely at the picture of Kurma Rupa and see what a good man looks like in death. Look at the lips that were habituated to chanting the holy name.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Back in Vrindavan

Arrived in Vrindavan this morning after a grueling bus ride. Five hours waiting in a kind of Corner Gas, Indian style, with parking lot with bus stand, convenience store with tea shop, a venue for the local public to watch television -- American wrestling shows are apparently quite popular -- people walking in and out. Sharing a chillum. A young girl and her small brother in rags, laughing and running around amongs the adults. In short, the neighborhood.

Only one or two modern Indian in jeans and teashirts with real luggage and not just clothes wrapped in an old sari or gamcha. Most of the waiting travelers are from some Rajasthani village patiently squatting and talking, like me. It may not be altogether wrong to think that this is the Indian way of life, just clear a space in the detritus, let it be, do the minimum, it is too hot for anything but to sit and contemplate.

This 21st century Haridwar corner café has an interesting feature in that it is the property of the Niranjani Akhara, which is adjoining. The Akhara cowshed is behind a pile of emptied boxes and other refuse through an open door, and there are sadhus of various stripes wearing orange cloth. They walk in and out as they also come to drink tea, buy a snack or hang out with the locals. Most of them look a bit sleazy; one better dressed and coiffed sadhu smoking a filter tip cigarette and talking on an expensive phone strode purposefully through. There was another bunch of frolicking young sadhus, slapping each other on the back and joking, looking somewhat destined for a life of learning the tricks of the sadhu trade.

There is, of course, a coterie of dogs, as there must be, the real owners of the place. They are a pretty cheerful bunch, well fed, well entertained and accommodated by the sadhus, who scratch their stomachs with their feet. They get lots of old biscuits and every kind of akhara food, which means they get bhandara leftovers on a regular basis. I must have disturbed the atmosphere when I was softly chanting the Holy Name because one of the dogs was irritated by it. Suddenly the whole canine tribe -- five or six of them -- were all barking at me in unison in a display of dogged determination to frighten me into silence. Luckily I was not affected and after a few moments, they saw that they were unable to cow me and left me alone. As a matter of fact, they looked a bit ashamed of themselves. I chanted for the original bitch (sorry to say it was one), who was still lying a few feet away from me, and after a few moments of eye contact she seemed to decide that it was okay for me to chant after all.

Then the nine hours to Mathura. Taking the Aligarh route, which in some places has been improved with the main exception of the section from Aligarh to Mathura, the last leg of the journey. It's only 60 kilometers, but the roads are a total mess; and then the Mathura bridge is still closed and we have to take that detour over the Gokul Barrage. The last bit was pretty torturous. What with the constant rattling of the body on interminable potholed roads, and being more or less confined to a space that gives about five centimeters of room for movement if you are lucky. A test for the yogi aspirant who fancies that he has an inkling of asana siddhi.

Arrived just as the day's heat began to make itself felt, and it took me the whole day to adjust.

There was no marching band to greet me, my room had not been painted, some things seemed to be missing, most notably my harmonium, so I was grumpy. It took a three hour nap and about three baths, and a big cup of strong tea, but by evening, after taking dinner with Satyanarayan Dasji I feel like I am finally back in Vrindavan.

Babaji told me of a chacha guru, a man who had served Haridas Shastri’s guru, who came to see him and with whom he shared Harikatha. The man, Babaji said, has the whole of Bhāgavata, Vilāpa-kusumāñjali learned by heart, and quotes them frequently. He was also lamenting the loss of that culture among the modern Vaishnavas, which has been a common plaint ever since I have know the Vaishnava world. Nevertheless, the quality of āsvādana does seem closer to the original when it is done in the original language, and the quest for authenticity leads one to the original works.

This led to some talk about Krishna West. Neither of us huge big fans, partly for the reasons just given. My position is that everything has its place for people according to their level of capacity, and that from the theoretical point of view they are alright, but from the rasa point of view it seems they are going to be partially handicapped. Babaji was talking mostly about the role of dress in the sādhaka deha and how at the very least for sādhana, during those times of day that are consecrated to remembering the Lord, one should prepare and purify the mind by dressing as a Vaishnava. But for me the problem really seems to lie in a general rejection of India itself, and many of the Indian social and cultural ideals, and that most of this was focused on the treatment of women.

All of which led to a very interesting discussion on sex and the habits of modern man and woman. Babaji has a disciple in German who works as a psychiatric nurse treating women and girls who are victims of various kinds of horrendous sexual abuse.

He said, "I talk to people in Europe this way. I start by saying, you are going to think that I am from the stone age, but at least I can tell you the way people used to think and you can judge for yourself. Critics talk so easily about rape in India and the way that the suppression of natural sexual impulses leads to all kinds of evil, but when you see the effects of modern so-called sexual liberty, the results are not any better. Indeed they are worse.

"Sex has two purposes, one is reproduction, the other is producing pleasure. But it is like eating. Eating is both nourishing and pleasurable. If you eat for nourishment, you will get pleasure. That is actually a side effect. But if you eat primarily or only for pleasure, then you will get sick. Everyone supposedly knows this. But where sexuality is concerned, any connection to reproduction has been eliminated in the modern world and so people think it is only meant for pleasure. And the results are not good. In fact, sex really is for reproduction only. Sexuality is so powerful and when it is so cheapened, then it can only have a negative effect. And that is what we are seeing."

Of course, I agreed with Babaji, but with the caveat that it is not so much that sex is not for pleasure. In my view it has other functions besides reproduction. But the fact that sex serves the biological function of reproduction, one of the most sacred functions of the human species, the creation of life itself, one has to be conscious of its sacred nature. And along with that is the sacred nature of the semen for men, and the rajas for women, awareness of which is integral to the practices of Sahajiyaism and yoga. Indeed, it is ingrained in the entire Indian tradition, including Ayurveda.

The Sārṅgadhāra-saṁhitā, a medieval Ayurvedic text, shows that this was a generally held and medically orthodox point of view:

rasād raktaṁ tato māṁsaṁ māṁsān medaḥ prajāyate
medaso'sthi tato majjā tasmāc chukrasya sambhavaḥ
strī-saṅge'pi na patitaṁ reto yasya parecchayā
sa dhanyaḥ puruṣo loke kāma-jetā sa kathyate
From chyle comes blood, from blood muscle, from muscle fat, from fat bone, from bone marrow, from marrow semen. [These are the eight dhātus or bodily secretions. Semen is thus commonly known as the carama-dhātu, or ultimate and therefore most concentrated and valuable of secretions.] A man who, even when in the company of a woman does not spill his semen due to external influence is most fortunate and is said to have conquered over lust.
But the point is that the semen is sacred because of its reproductive function. Therefore when not being used for that function it should not be spilt. Once one has awareness of the sacred character of sexuality, then this is the first way that one honors that sacredness. The next way is to use the power of sexual attraction in a way that heightens one's awareness of the sacredness of all life.

Anyway, it is good to be back in Vrindavan in the company of devotees, where every word is a song and every movement a dance.

And this morning I read a verse from Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi that made me think of starting posting on Vrindavan Today again if I can do it. This has an especially interesting commentary by Harilal Vyas that will be of interest to many I am sure.

sarve'py adbhuta-san-mahimni madhure vṛndāvane saṅgatāḥ |
ye krūrā api pāpino na ca satāṁ sambhāṣya-dṛśyāś ca ye
sarvān vastutayā nirīkṣya parama-svārādhya-buddhir mama ||
All those who have come to this sweet Vrindavan
with its wonderful, eternal glories
possess forms that are eternal
and can bestow the concentrated sacred sentiment;
they are easily visible only to
those who are the greatest of the yogis.
When I saw them as they are --
even though some are cruel or sinners,
and others not worthy to be spoken to or even seen by the pious --
I came to consider them supremely worshipable. (265)

Friday, June 19, 2015

The four essential verses of the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu

We already know very well that there are four seed verses from which the entire Bhagavatam is said to have grown. The Gita also has its four essential verses, or seven essential verses. I posted those, but did not make much commentary. On the other hand, I thought this series on the five principal verses of Gita Govinda was very important. Prior to that, I had already pointed out somewhere that there are four key verses to the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, but somehow I had never posted or commented on these on this blog.

The four verses come in the beginning of the second sector of the BRS, where Rupa Goswamipad is going to explain the various ingredients of rasa, using the categories of the rasa-śāstra. There are five chapters in all, on the vibhāvas, anubhāvas, sāttvikas, vyabhicāris and sthāyi-bhāvas. But before doing so, Rupa Goswami gives his own expanded version of the rasa-sūtra.

bhakti-nirdhūta-doṣāṇāṁ prasannojjvala-cetasām
śrī-bhāgavata-raktānāṁ rasikāsaṅga-raṅgiṇām
premāntaraṅga-bhūtāni kṛtyāny evānutiṣṭhatām
bhaktānāṁ hṛdi rājantī saṁskāra-yugalojjvalā
ratir ānanda-rūpaiva nīyamānā tu rasyatām
kṛṣṇādibhir vibhāvādyair gatair anubhavādhvani |
prauḍhānanda-camatkāra-kāṣṭhām āpadyate parām ||
For those whose faults have been entirely removed by the performance of devotional practices and whose minds are peaceful [making them suitable for the appearance of pure goodness’s special features] and effulgent [and thus equipped with full knowledge], who are attached to hearing the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, who find happiness in the company of rasika devotees, for whom the joy of service to Govinda has become the raison-d’être of their existence, and who are always engaged in the most confidential process of developing love for Krishna, namely hearing and chanting about his qualities and pastimes, have a love (rati) for Krishna which is effulgently manifest due to the conditioning of both the past and present lives. This love, which is an embodiment of the divine joy, is led to the state of being relished, and when combined with the direct experience of the vibhāvas like Krishna and the other ingredients, attains the very limits of mature bliss and wonder. (2.1.7-9)
The rasa-sūtra is a famous passage in Bharata's Nāṭya-śāstra, tatra vibhāvānubhāva-vyabhicāri-saṁyogād rasa-niṣpattiḥ: "Rasa is effectuated when the vibhāva, anubhāva and vyabhicāris are combined." Out of this he then develops his theory, clarifying that the rasa is produced by combining all these ingredients with the sthāyi bhāva of the qualified audience member.

After Bharata, nearly everyone who wrote on rasa gave their own version of the rasa-sūtra. I particularly like one written by Vishwanath Kaviraj 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. (3.2-3)
Now, as Bharata has made clear in his work, Vishwanath is also talking about the experience of watching a play, although by Vishwanath's time, literature is also considered to independently have the object of producing rasa. For Bharata, literature is the spoken word in the play, which incorporates all the art forms--music, song, dance, etc.

I have talked a bit about sthāyi-bhāvas before. Suffice it to say here that they can be divided into primary and secondary. The secondary ones are naturally occurring emotional states, of which there are the eight original ones taught by Bharata, along with the tagalong nirveda, which leads to śānta-rasa. What we call the five primary rasas includes this śānta, along with rati. Actually, Rupa Goswami says that in bhakti-rasa there is only one sthāyi-bhāva and that is love for Krishna. This love for Krishna has five different principal flavors.

At any rate, even this small description indicates how Rupa differs from the earlier writers on rasa. The principal difference is in the sthāyi-bhāva. Rupa basically says that the naturally occurring emotions that lead to sentimental appreciation of literary works are, by their very nature, mundane, i.e., within the scope of worldly experience. Even though Vishwanath Kaviraj has indicated that there is a sophisticated appreciation of "high" art that requires assiduous culture before one can rise to the level of refined taste that makes one a true connoisseur, for Rupa Goswami he is still operating within the mundane realm and it is a mundane refinement, because it is not directly connected to God, specifically not God in his form as Krishna.

Rasa is Krishna, according to the Upanishads. So Vishwanath can truly say that the experience of rasa is brahmāsvāda-sahodaraḥ and, as we shall see from Madhusudan's Bhakti-rasāyana, this understanding is important for getting the fullest experience of rasa (since Krishna is in fact engaged in human pastimes (nara-līlā) without which there would be no way for a human being to access it.

But for Rupa Goswami, the special nature of Krishna's activities, as opposed to those of any other man or hero of any other entertainment product, is that he is God. And to get to that position, an observer has to go through a more extensive program of "brainwashing."

Madhusudan talks about this "brainwashing" process in his book:

tataś cādruta-cittasya nirveda-pūrvakaṁ tattva-jñānam | 

druta-cittasya tu bhagavat-kathā-śravaṇādi-bhāgavata-dharma-
śraddhā-pūrvikā bhaktir ity avadhitvena dvayam apy upāttam | 
tato'ntaḥ-karaṇa-śuddhyāṣṭāṅga-yogam anuṣṭhāya 
taila-dhārāvad avicchinna-bhagavad-ekākāra-pratyaya-
paramparātmakaikāgratā-yogyaṁ manaḥ sampādayet |
The next step for someone whose mind has not been melted (the jñāna-mārgi) is to attain knowledge of metaphysical truths preceded by nirveda. But one whose mind has been melted by hearing Bhagavat-kathā and engaging in the practices of Bhāgavata-dharma with faith attains bhakti, which is the upper limit for both karma- and jñāna-yoga. Then in order to purify the mind further, [evehe should practice aṣṭāṅga-yoga until the mind becomes fully fit through a single-pointedness that develops through a succession of percepts in which it becomes one in form with the Lord, in the manner of a single stream of oil.
So I am more in tune with this way of thinking, which is also closer to the Sahajiya way of seeing progress in bhakti beyond the purely literal approach. I suppose some may call my approach jñāna-miśra, yoga-miśra, or even mixed with worse stuff than that, but I am sticking to my plan here.

citta-dravyaṁ hi jatuvat svabhāvāt kaṭhinātmakam |
tāpakair viṣayair yoge dravatvaṁ pratipadyate ||4||
kāma-krodha-bhaya-sneha-harṣa-śoka-dayādayaḥ |
tāpakāś citta-jatunaś tac-chāntau kaṭhinaṁ tu tat ||5||
drute citte vinikṣipta-svākāro yas tu vastunā |
saṁskāra-vāsanā-bhāva-bhāvanā-śabda-bhāg asau ||6||
śithilī-bhāva-mātraṁ tu mano gacchaty atāpakaiḥ |
na tatra vastu viśati vāsanātvena kiṁcana ||7||
dravatāyāṁ praviṣṭaṁ sad yat kāṭhinya-daśāṁ gatam |
cetaḥ punar drutau satyām api tan naiva muñcati ||8||
The material of the mind is like lacquer: by nature it is hard, but when in contact with something hot, it melts.The heating agents of the mind-lacquer are desire, anger, fear, affection, excitement, grief, compassion and so on. When they are removed, the mind again becomes hard. 
In the melted mind, the sameness of form that has been imprinted there by some
substances is given the names saṁskāra, vāsanā, bhāva, or bhāvanā. When the mind has merely been softened by heating elements, then the substance does not enter it nor remain as a vāsanā. That which enters the mind when it is melted and then becomes hard again, will not go away even when the mind is melted again.
So even in these four verses from BRS, the emphasis is on the imprinting of that image of God on the mind. According to the yoga concept, whatever you use as an ālambana is not particularly important, because the goal is to abandon that ālambana and to enter a state of consciousness-in-itself. But the bhakti path does not. Without that solid imprint through the Bhāgavata-dharmas, which is the sthāyi-bhāva according to Madhusudan Saraswati, rasa cannot happen.

A great deal more can be said about these verses, but for the time being I am just posting them here for availability and future cross posting.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Here we go again: Prabhupada's comments about rape

On Facebook the other day, I posted a link to an article by George Monbiot, one of the few journalists whose work I admire, from the Guardian. Monbiot laments about the corporate culture and compares it to cult-like indoctrination and brain washing. He seems to be on a bit of a run about this because he had another similar article a couple of days later.

Of course, having experienced a religious cult, spending nine years in the Hare Krishnas, I thought of Prabhupada's statement that he was indeed engaged in a brainwashing exercise, precisely because our brains did need to be washed. And that is quite true. The idea of "cleansing the mirror of the mind" is central to all yoga systems. We willingly submitted to the brainwashing process because we wanted to change our way of consciousness, our way of being. To fill our minds and senses with Krishna. To become Krishna conscious.

And on the whole, I am glad of it. The process was based on the Bhāgavata-dharmas of the scripture, and is efficacious to the extent that one applies oneself and has the capacity to understand it on an increasingly subtle level. I may have moved on, but I do not regret the direction my life took when I joined the Hare Krishnas. It gave me an alternative to the "Establishment" and it warms my heart to see that enlightened writers like Monbiot and Chris Hedges recognize that human civilization is actually in danger from this so-called civilization, as Prabhupada would have put it.

When I first joined ISKCON, the very first verses from Prabhupada's Bhagavata that I read were the words that gave me hope for a way out of .a life submerged in the corporatist establishment to which society and family all seemed to have predestined me to.

Here is just one passage that shows the revolutionary tenor of Prabhupada's words:
But here the idea given by Srila Sukadeva Gosvami is that the reserve energy of human life, which is far superior to that of animals, should simply he utilized for self-realization. Advancement of human civilization must be towards the goal of establishing our lost relationship with God, which is not possible in any form of life other than the human. One must realize the nullity of the material phenomenon, considering it a passing phantasmagoria, and must endeavor to make a solution to the miseries of life. Self-complacency with a polished type of animal civilization geared to sense gratification is delusion, and such a "civilization" is not worthy of the name.
Nevertheless, though I was not altogether surprised, I found it strange that so many people who responded to those posts remarked negatively on the similarities of the indoctrination into corporate culture and life in ISKCON. I myself have not hesitated to speak quite negatively about institutional dynamics and how they can quite easily turn into a spiritually negative situation. That was one of the reasons I left ISKCON in 1979 and went to my guru, Lalita Prasad Thakur, because he was a believer that small is beautiful.  Les folies de grandeur were not appreciated by him, nor for that matter by Rupa Goswami, mahārambhādy-anudyamaḥ (BRS 1.2.28), nārambhān ārabhet kvacit (1.2.84).

ISKCON no doubt has changed a great deal since 1979. I left when things were still relatively small, despite the fact that I was in Mayapur which was and still is where Prabhupada's ambitions were the most ambitious. So I cannot speak to defend it against those -- especially those women -- who seem to have found the experience to have been an unmitigated horror from beginning to end. I am loathe to lay the blame for their grudges on Prabhupada himself. But, much in the way that Godwin's universal rule for internet conversations is that someone will sooner or later be compared to Hitler or the Nazis, it seems that when Prabhupada is under discussion, someone will sooner or later bring up his infamous comment about rape: "Women like a man who is very expert in rape."

This was not a part of Prabhupada's teachings. But it has troubled me. I have gotten embroiled in this before; I have tried to understand what mentality such a statement could have arisen from, what he meant, what the context could have been, for whom he intended it. My immediate reaction, of course, is usually to defend Prabhupada simply for the reason that I personally feel indebted to him in a way that I feel towards no one else. My feelings have not changed much from the article I wrote earlier on the subject, Guru, Grace and Gratitude, except that with my increasing gratitude for the life Prabhupada gave me, I probably feel even stronger now.

Spiritual life begins with gratitude, and it remains vibrant for as long as there is gratitude for the grace one has received. And the channel of grace has a name, which is "Guru."

I have tried to understand what Prabhupada meant. There is even an article in my drafts that I will never publish in which I looked into the whole idea of "rape fantasy" on the part of women. Certainly there are men and women whose sexual tastes are quite varied and even rape fantasy has been seen by biologists as a part of humanity's primate heredity. I think of sexuality as an activity in the gunas of material nature. Modern apologists for unrestricted sexuality use the primate past as an argument in favor of their vision of a completely sexually liberated human society. I argued in this article ("Proselytizing for a brave new world") that you cannot have it both ways: you cannot say we have evolved as humans, but that where sexuality is concerned we should revert to our primate heritage. And, in my view, the evolution of sexual behavior, which includes the restrictions place upon it by culture, is the evolution of humanity. Negotiating civilization and its discontents does not mean returning to bonobo culture.

Now in yesterday's article, I was still clearly in the mood of exulting in my mood of gratitude, in the spirit of remembering just how entirely my life was factually changed by Prabhupada, and how I like the results. Here in my old age feel like I am just beginning to cash in on a lifetime of stamping Radha and Krishna on my brain, on my tongue, on my heart.
ramante yogino'nante satyānande cid-ātmani
iti rāma-padenāsau paraṁ brahmābhidhīyate 
The yogis take pleasure in the transcendental Self, unlimited Truth and Bliss, and for this reason, the Supreme Brahman is also known as Rama.
But, in my little memory of previous lives reveals something about me, as do those first verses I read, which are so strong in their spirit of vairāgya. I am not an ascetic, but compared to most people, I am fairly indifferent to worldly comforts and goals. In fact, Sahajiyaism is part of the Indian dialogue about asceticism and one about which I am concerned. Sahajiyaism does not accept some of the fundamental life-denying premises that are ubiquitous in Hindu literature, even though it accepts the goal of synthesizing them with the affirmation of the world. You cannot actually enjoy without detachment and the mastery of desire.

This is basically what I am writing about separately in the series that I am working on about the sthāyi-bhāvas. One of my next articles will be about śānta-rasa, which is the rasa of the yogi, the ascetic, the seeker of God. It is also the path of knowledge. It is the bias in the direction of world denial and the via negativa. And, as a consequence, it is also the bias of patriarchy, because it idealizes the separation of purusha and prakriti, not their union

So my last comment in the abovementioned discussion was that by Prabhupada's grace I have become a Sahajiya. To be a Sahajiya means to reject a particular model of Vaishnavism, but not Vaishnavism itself. In fact, in my view, only a Vaishnava can be a Sahajiya. So, after due consideration, it is not just one isolated statement about rape [I had been saying, "Do we throw out everything we have imbibed from Prabhupada for this one stupid statement?") but a pattern of traditional patriarchal misogyny to which the "liberated" human instinct of the modern world rejects.

Looked at from this point of view, my defense of Prabhupada comes from a knee-jerk masculine bias. Those who supported me were mostly men, while those who were worked up about the rape quote were mostly women. And of course, a statement like "women like rape" and all the rest of the misogynistic material that is available in Prabhupada's writings and recordings, based in the bias towards disgust for sexuality and worldly love, are obviously going to be more hurtful to women.

So on self-examination I had to admit to a particularly profound insensitivity to their concerns. But more importantly, in terms of my Sahajiya viewpoint, most recently expressed in articles about male ego and manjari bhava, it had to be looked at as a kind of self-contradiction.

India has many strong goddess traditions, with quite different moods. Radha Krishna bhakti is oriented towards the feminine through identifying it with the principle of love. That romantic vision may not appeal to all feminists, but it nevertheless is a picture of a world that is entirely dominated by women: Vrindavan.

Rape is the very antithesis of love. For anyone to say that any woman enjoys it, or that any man should cultivate rape or any dimension of the rapist mentality, which at its base is the patriarchal mentality of domination and objectification, is to promote a kind of non-love. Non-prema is anything in which sexuality, in its infinite psychic manifestations, is not pointed towards the Transcendent.

The goal of prema, in the Sahajiya view, necessitates love between the sexes, not in "cheap imitation" of Radha and Krishna, but in order to approximate the highest concept of purity, by which the deepest mystical communion with God in the form of the Yugal can be reached.

For a Sahajiya to tolerate a statement like the one under criticism is to say that the path of prema and the path of disgust are one and the same. They cannot be. And this is just another, but perhaps the most important, of our multiple positions in opposition to Iskcon and to Prabhupada.

Sahajiyaism is, however, in my view, best suited for the Vaishnava. Indeed, I cannot conceive of it without much of the external and internal actions of bhakti-yoga. Divorced of Radha and Krishna bhakti, sexual love is limited in the mystical meaning it can achieve. This is why it is entirely incorrect to call this path "refried tantra."

Prabhupada, whatever he did in terms of promoting an attitude towards women that is patriarchal and conservative in the extreme, was perhaps unaware of the subversive nature of the Radha and Krishna symbol as a glorification of romantic love. Indeed Radha and Krishna tell us that spiritual love is not just the serene love of compassionate angels, but finds its apex in the passion of a pure sādhaka and sādhikā, a devotee man and devotee woman, whose love is their sādhanā and whose perfection of God-realization comes in their love.

So how can I reject Prabhupada, who brought me to this? And yet how can I not reject Prabhupada when he says something which to me denies the very essence of Rādhā-dāsya?

Perhaps I have not been vociferous enough in declaring these things. And to some extent it is true that I don't want to offend those who still have sentiments for Srila Prabhupada, when I also share them, but women in general have the right to be appalled at the statement in question.

I am not at all opposed to those feelings, which I think are perfectly in line with Sahaja. And Sahaja perhaps really begins with the recognition of how diametrically opposed it is to the varnashram kind of system Prabhupada tried to establish. But, as always, let us find the proper balance here.

Jai Radhe.

I posted that backlogged article here. I hope that this is enough on this subject.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Previous lives

As if in preparation for my return to Vrindavan, a Bhagavata saptaha has been going on within close loudspeaker distance, with a very good musical team. We have been graced with renditions of the best of Rasik Pagal, Gaurav Krishna Goswami and Vinod Agrawal's greatest hits. It has had a nice effect on me.

In the meantime, I am reaping the benefits, slowly of my Yoga Sutra work. Today I was working on 3.18, which says that by concentration on samskaras, one can know one's own and other's previous lives. Since I don't have much time left and still quite a bit of work, I was going to avoid evening meditation, but something impelled me to go today.

So, quite buoyant actually, with the Bhagavata going on this way, and the Yoga Sutra going on that way, I sat down in meditation and started thinking of YS 3.18.
संस्कारसाक्षात्करणात् पूर्वजातिज्ञानम्।।
saṁskāra-sākṣhāt-karaṇāt pūrva-jāti-jñānam
By realising, seeing as real, the saṁskāras, [there arises] the knowledge of previous birth(s).
I should say that earlier in the day I had been in the library for a moment when I saw, to my surprise, a copy of Neal Delmonico's PhD thesis about Rupa Goswami. I was doubly surprised because it was not my copy, which had come with my books, but had been nicely bound. Needless to say, I was quite astonished that Swami Veda should have been so interested in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu [his own copy of BRS is well marked with signs of his having read it closely] that he had procured a copy of Nitai's thesis. So, quite amazingly, there are two copies of it in this Rishikesh library! Perhaps nowhere else in the world is there such a concentration of interest in Nitai's work!

When I took took the book down from the stacks, a folder dropped from between the books. It contained a typewritten letter written by Swami Veda in 1952 at the age of 29 when he was applying for his postgraduate studies in Holland. In it, he gave a some of the details of his life, most of which I already knew. Nevertheless, SVB's story, his life adventure, his clear sense of identity, his personality, his ambition, his worldly situation at the time -- all was very clear. This reminded me, in sum, of his saṁskāra.

But of course I have known Swamiji for many years now. I have worked on many of his books and have allowed myself to learn from him and to take his blessings. I talked about that before also.

yasya yat-saṅgatiḥ puṁso
maṇivat syāt sa tad-guṇaḥ
sva-kula-rddhyai tato dhīmān
sva-yūthān eva saṁśrayet
Like a mirror, a person takes on the qualities of those with whom he comes in contact. One who is intelligent should therefore seek the company of those who have the same ideals in order to develop their good qualities in himself (BRS 1.2.229).
And I also meditated on my own saṁskāras, my own story, who I am and so on. One commentary (VA) in YS goes like this:
The yogin does saṁyama on: Who was I? Of what nature was I?
Similarly he does saṁyama on others: Who was he? Where was he? Of what nature was he?
Similarly he finds out about the present:
Who am I? How have I gained this body?
Am I happy or unhappy?
Who is this person?
What is his condition in this body?
Is he virtuous or non-virtuous?
So also about the future: Who will I be? Where? Of what nature?
In this way he knows the details of his own and others’ lives.
The last few days I have really been thinking of how great my life is; how lucky I am to have had this great adventure of bhakti and Krishna prema, and I can list all the wonderful things that have happened to me on this journey, but not now.

So all these things were passing through my head, how all these languages and texts and sadhanas have become known to me and practised by me, and how I have been so extremely blessed in so many ways, by so many gurus and friends. It was, in part, in response to a recent FB discussion in which I found myself telling the world that I owe it all to Prabhupada, much as I did in this article: Guru, Grace and Gratitude. Prabhupada used to say that we were fallen yogis who had taken birth in the West just so that we could take part in spreading the sankirtan movement.

Then by meditating on my saṁskāras and Swamiji's saṁskāras like that, I had a vivid vision of myself as a young Bengali in my early teens wandering through the Himalayas, along the Ganga and in the caves. With jatas and a brownish loincloth. And I saw that Swamiji had been my yoga guru in that other life. But I left the mountains and went to Vrindavan, as I will again, and again.

As I came over to the library to get the internet, the ether was resounding with glorious calls of "Jai Radhe! Jai Radhe! Jai Banke Bihari Lal ki jai!!" I could feel the dancing.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The higher sthayi bhavas and their relation to Yugala Sadhana

In an earlier article we discussed briefly how the three divisions of sādhāraṇī, samañjasā and samarthā corresponded to actual human relationships, along the axis of kāma to prema, in accordance with Rupa Goswami’s definitions. Indeed, they do constitute a bit of a mystery where the lila is concerned, since Kubjā is described as having lust for Krishna, a lust that is differentiated from that of the gopis, whose love has become undifferentiated from their sensual desire for him.

Therefore it was stated that sādhāraṇī rati's limit where the higher sthāyi-bhāvas are concerned is prema, the first rung on that ladder.

ādyā premāntimāṁ tatrānurāgāntāṁ samañjasā |
ratir bhāvāntimāṁ sīmāṁ samarthaiva prapadyate ||
The first (sādhāraṇī) only reaches as far as prema (i.e., the sthāyi-bhāva of that name), while samañjasā goes as far as anurāga. Only samarthā reaches the absolute limits of mahā-bhāva. (UN 14.232)
This verse makes it clear that there are limits to what can be achieved by these different kinds of rati, and their differences are manifest in each of the stages.

We have been discussing the sthāyi-bhāvas on and off in several articles of late. I would like today to simply point out an interesting correspondence between the stages of sādhana-bhakti given by Rupa Goswami in BRS 1.4.14-15 and the higher sthāyi-bhāvas, which form the substance of the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, chapter 14, and summarized in UN 14.59-61:

syād dṛḍheyaṁ ratiḥ premā prodyan snehaḥ kramād ayam |
syān mānaḥ praṇayo rāgo’nurāgo bhāva ity api ||
bījam ikṣuḥ sa ca rasaḥ sa guḍaḥ khaṇḍa eva saḥ |
sa śarkarā sitā sā ca sā yathā syāt sitopalā ||
ataḥ prema-vilāsāḥ syur bhāvāḥ snehādayas tu ṣaṭ |
prāyo vyavahriyante'mī prema-śabdena sūribhiḥ ||
The rati of love for Krishna as it becomes firmer is first called prema, then it develops to sneha next in sequence. Then it would become māna, praṇaya, rāga, anurāga and finally bhāva. These are compared to the development of sugar from seed, to cane, to juice, to molasses, to jaggery, to sugar, to hard sugar and then to sugar candy. These are all the play of love in six divisions from sneha and so on, but the sages generally refer to them all by the one word, prema.
The first thing to note here is that the prema spoken of here is a sthāyi-bhāva and not exactly the same thing as prema in the sequence of the sādhanā bhakti. The word is the same but being used in slightly different ways, as the above verses already make clear.

So Rupa Goswami is talking about a progression from a lower stage to a higher in both of these sequences. We often hear it said that these higher sthāyi-bhāvas can only be experienced in the līlā itself and not in the sādhaka deha. In other words, only the first list is of concern to a practitioner of bhakti, the second list belongs to something outside the realm of direct experience. It is our contention throughout this blog that such a simple bifurcation of the two realms is false. And so, in this view, the latter are indeed progressive stages of sādhana; but in the Sahajiya view, the first set of progressions belongs to the pravartaka stage, the second to the sādhanā stage as conceived in that system.

In other words, the first set of progressions is in the singular stage, the second in the dual. The two progressions can be paralleled in the following way.

mādanākhya, etc.

This is not the place to get into an exhaustive analysis of each of these stages, as there are numerous subdivisions of each.

The strongest places of correspondence are:
  1. śraddhā and prema
  2. anartha-nivṛtti and māna
  3. niṣṭhā and praṇaya
  4. bhāva and [mahā-]bhāva
Being the first stage, śraddhā corresponds to prema.

The definition of śraddhā in BRS given by Rupa and the commentaries as dṛḍha-niścaya, "firm certainty." Or, śāstrārtha-viśvāsa-rūpatvam, "belief in the purport of the scriptures." This is the only qualification (adhikāra) for the practice of bhaktiŚraddhā is experienced on three levels, which differentiates the adhikāris for bhakti. The lowest of these three has "soft" (komalā) faith. The middling adhikāri has faith, but the uttama adhikāri has faith that is prauḍhā, strong or fully developed.

According to Vishwanath, a person with soft faith means that because he is capable of being defeated by scriptural or logical arguments he momentarily becomes uncertain of his choices, but not completely. If he were completely overcome he would not be a devotee at all. So despite the inner turmoil that comes from contact with non-devotees, by his very own powers of discrimination is able to realign himself with the purpose of his guru's instructions. (komala-śraddhaḥ śāstra-yukty-antareṇa bhettuṁ śakyo, na tu sarvathā bhinnaḥ | tathātve bhaktatvānupapatteḥ | bahirmukha-kṛta-balavad-bādhe sati kṣaṇa-mātraṁ cittasya dolāyamānatvam eva komalatvam | paścāt svakṛta-vivekena gurūpadiṣṭārtham eva niścinoti; BRS 1.2.19)

Interestingly, a parallel division is found in the prema on the UN's list. The definition of prema given there is as follows:

sarvathā dhvaṁsa-rahitaḥ saty api dhvaṁsa-kāraṇe |
yad bhāva-bandhanaṁ yūnoḥ sa premā parikīrtitaḥ ||
Even though there are many reasons for it to come to an end, when the relationship between lovers does not break, then that is called prema. (UN 14.57)
Here again, Rupa Goswami subdivides into three categories: strong (prauḍha) middling (madhya), and weak (manda). Sri Rupa gives two alternatives as a description. The first describes the effect on the loved one. If the love is strong, in times of absence, the pain of the āśraya is transmitted to the viṣaya, i.e. Krishna. In the lesser levels, he can tolerate it or even ignore it.

In the second classification, if the prema is strong, separation is intolerable, tolerable only with difficulty, and in the weakest division, one can even forget.

I would like to draw attention to Rupa's words (14.77) that in the lower stage of prema, there can sometimes even be forgetfulness (kutrāpi vismṛtiḥ). In other words, momentary forgetfulness does not stop it from being prema, according to Jiva Goswami because there is regret afterwards.

For the sādhaka in a man’s body, it is crucial to note that though these descriptions are of the āśraya, i.e., the particular consorts of Krishna, that they apply equally to the male. The male, according to this scheme, is forced to respond to the particular sthāyi-bhāva of the female partner.

yasyā yādṛśa-jātīyaḥ kṛṣṇe premābhyudañcati |
tasyāṁ tādṛśa-jātīyaḥ sa kṛṣṇasyāpy udīyate ||
According to the particular love that arises in the beloved towards Krishna, the same category of prema towards the beloved arises in Krishna also. (UN 14.62)
(2) Māna, which defined by Rupa Goswami as adākṣiṇyaṁ, or uncooperativeness. And this is really the main point of this article. Māna is equivalent to anartha-nivṛtti. I don't think that I need to say much more than I did in the article on Radharani's māna in the Gīta-govinda, which I strongly recommend.

The idea here is again that of mutual guruship. The fundamental dynamic of purification in the Dual relationship is that of union and separation. Māna is found discussed in two places in the UN, once as a sthāyi-bhāva and once as an aspect of separation in the lila. Although the two are obviously connected, we are in it here as a sthāyi-bhāva. The connection is that of rati to rasa. Radharani's anger towards Krishna is meant to function as a purification for his sense of ego, "I am God." As long as the vestiges of aiśvarya are present in him, mādhurya remains inaccessible. 

On the level of the sādhaka, new levels of purification are found in the Dual relationship, new levels of anartha-nivṛtti that are almost impossible to address without directly facing practical questions of sexual behavior, desire and interaction. 

In actual fact, māna is the withholding of union, even where lovers are together or potentially together. That withholding can be intentional or unintentional. Krishna says, "Neither I nor the gopis really know what is going on. Yogamaya is in charge; she brings us together and separates us." Yogamaya here means that Love itself is in charge and Love cannot tolerate even a spot of impurity. When one has surrendered to Love, then one must expect that Love will withhold her own power, i.e., the power of pleasure that is experienced in union or communion, in order to purify one's love of any impurities.

The contract of love is basically this: "I give everything, I demand nothing. I will be satisfied with my feelings of love alone, and even in the absence of reciprocation, I will not falter."

This is the purport of Krishna's verses in the Rasa-lila chapters, where he speaks as the personification of Love, not as one subordinate to the same rules:

nāhaṁ tu sakhyo bhajato'pi jantūn
bhajāmy amīṣām anuvṛtti-vṛttaye
yathādhano labdha-dhane vinaṣṭe
tac-cintayānyan nibhṛto na veda
O friends, I am different in that I do not simply respond mechanically to the devotion of those who worship me. Rather, [I wish to see their love increase until], like the poor man who has lost a fortune and in his loneliness can think of nothing else [they can think of nothing but me]. (BhP 10.32.20)
evaṁ mad-arthojjhita-loka-veda-
svānāṁ hi vo mayy anuvṛttaye'balāḥ |
mayā parokṣaṁ bhajatā tirohitaṁ
māsūyituṁ mārhatha tat priyaṁ priyāḥ ||
Thus, because you gave up worldly happiness, religion and family in order to attain me, O weak ones! even though you could not see me, I was always there beside you, rewarding your love. So therefore, you should not be angry with me, as lovers [always forgive] their beloved. (10.32.21),
na pāraye'haṁ niravadya-saṁyujāṁ
sva-sādhu-kṛtyaṁ vibudhāyuṣāpi vaḥ |
yā mābhajan durjara-geha-śṛṅkhalāḥ
saṁvṛścya tad vaḥ pratiyātu sādhunā ||
I am left powerless, for even if were given the lifetime of the gods to try to repay you for your good deeds [in loving me], I would be unable, for you have dedicated yourselves to me completely, breaking off the powerful chains that kept you bound to home and family to do so. May you therefore be satisfied with your good deeds alone. (10.32.22)
This is obviously the stage with the most turmoil emotionally. Though all separation has the effect of purifying love, none is quite as strong as māna, because that is where the relationship, ego, etc., are all put on the line for the purification of love.

In his commentary to UN 14.59-61 Vishwanath is of the opinion that since the progression of sugar from seed to sugar candy means a transformation that is not reversible, so also the progression of sthāyi-bhāvas is non-reversible. If this is the case, then one has the hope that one can progress beyond the stage of elimination of defects, but it seems to me that as an element of lila, the purification process goes on infinitely, though in the higher reaches of prema, the smallest impurities, the tiniest separations, become increasingly intolerable.

(3) The stage after māna is praṇaya, which is characterized by viśrambha or “trust.” I am equating this with niṣṭhā first of all because of its place in the line. Māna is characterized by distrust. Even though the interactions of love and the inner commitment have taken place, there is still doubt due to the remaining impurities or anarthas. When those are cleared away, just as one can take up the path of bhajana with niṣṭhā, the lovers are once again able to trust one another.

Jiva Goswami says that viśrambha means feeling oneself to be inseparable from the beloved (viśrambhaṁ priya-janena saha svayābheda-mananam). But the usual definition is more like that given by Vishwanath: "It means belief without fear or formal reverence" (viśvāsaḥ sambhrama-rāhityaṁ). Elsewhere, the definition is given simply as gāḍha-viśvāsaḥ or intense belief. Here the parallel with niṣṭhā is clear, since niṣṭhā is often viewed as a kind of turbo-charged faith.

This is also Rupa Goswami's definition in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, where it is an important part of defining sakhya or friendship.

viśrambho gāḍha-viśvāsa-viśeṣo yantraṇojjhitaḥ 
Trust means a particular kind of deep belief, free of compulsion. (BRS 3.3.106)
So, in that other sequence of sthāyis, i.e, the principal five rasas, this is where sakhya within madhura develops and reaches full flowering. It is free of sambhrama, i.e, the sense of inequality, and the freedom from compulsion indicates the sense of oneness with the beloved. This abheda-mananam now becomes stronger and stronger until in mahā-bhāva it reaches that state of nirdhūta-bheda-bhramam.

(4) Bhāva and mahā-bhāva. This is a big subject and I will not get into it here, even though we have tried previously to disambiguate the usage of this term. Suffice it to say that mahābhāva is the archetypal mood of love from which all others arise, just like when we use the word īśvara or maheśvara it ultimately finds its meaning in bhagavān. 

bhāvas tv asyātraiva prakarṣān mukhyatayā tac-chabdas tv atraiva paryavasyati īśvara-śabdo bhagavatīvety abhiprāyaḥ | kintu mahābhāva-śabdas tv atra maheśvara-śabdavaj jñeyaḥ ||

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Male ego and Manjari-bhava

I am currently engaged in a multi-pronged research into the intersection of compassion, rasa, vātsalya and madhura-rasa, with specific reference to the rasa-śāstra. Since I am under pressure to finish my work here in Rishikesh on the third volume of the Yoga-sütra, I am surprised that I find the time to write anything on this blog, but frequently, this is the way things happen. Creativity often arises when there are conflicting pressures that percolate and hubble and bubble, bringing many thoughts to the surface. Anyway, I rapidly wrote the following on Facebook as a reply to the post that I put up yesterday.

I would think that there would have been a personalized description somewhere. Mādhurya-kādambinī is the closest thing we have in our sampradäya to such a thing, which otherwise in most mystic lineages is fairly commonplace. It is a very nice book. Anartha-nivṛtti is presented as a catalog of flaws rather than a road map, but I guess it is the closest thing to what I was thinking about.

But the reason I bring it up is rather more subtle.

Because sexuality is so central to this whole business of Radha and Krishna bhakti, it requires a great deal of thought on a profound psychological level. Even if it is only to counter the obvious direction of arguments that modern psychologists and atheists would levy at the process. And this is indeed something that I have thought long and hard about.

If you are a Westerner, it will be hard to think of Radha and Krishna lila for very long without having to face these kinds of considerations. You may dance with a smile on your face, but real religion is not for simpletons. And religion that expects to be taken seriously, no matter how many beautiful Sanskrit hymns it has, must have answers for questions like why does a man want to become a prepubescent girl who is sold out to her 15-year-old adolescent girl-tribal leader in a scenario that sometimes resembles Degrassi High more than paradise.

I know I am caricaturizing there. But I have been trying to understand Radha and Krishna as a psychological phenomenon. What does happen if you let Radha and Krishna take over your mind?

Leaving aside everything else, just meditate on Radha and Krishna in the kunja. What does that mean psychologically? What does it mean as a yoga exercise of visualization? What makes it so different from koans (though a koan it is), or [to give an example from Patanjali Yoga] meditations on the distinctions between nirodha-pariṇāma and ekāgratā-pariṇāma? What does it mean to have THAT bhāva? And is it at all possible for a person in a man's body to even imagine it?

It seems to me that Radha and Krishna are telling us that desire is central to existence, and the beauty of the manifestation of love should be the all-absorbing focus of our meditation.

Maleness and femaleness are the medium through which such desire is experienced and transformed. So it is altogether unnecessary to give up maleness in the sādhaka body. The femaleness in the siddha-deha is internal. It is a way of shaping the mind. The only way to do that is to surrender to a woman guru in love.

In fact, the implicit meaning is that one has to really beat down that dominant male ego, the one that thinks it knows it all.

Before we can be mañjarīs, we need to try to understand Radha and Krishna's love. And I really don't see any way of doing it other than loving in this world. And I don't think that this means giving up the male sexual role either. Far from it. Because for a man who is straiṇa, who is always subject to his sadhika guru, he will become a woman inwardly, because he knows that without doing so he cannot get prema. He will be like a donkey always running after the carrot.

The very task of becoming humble is in itself the principal sādhana for mañjarī-bhāva. And mañjarī-bhāva is the principal sādhana for prema. But mañjarī-bhāva is not simply sitting and imagining the pastimes. It is a part of the living life of love. And unless we can activate mañjarī-bhāva and make it meaningful here, all this imaging of lilas and so on will simply be seen as another religion with a set of very strange beliefs.

A few more articles on this blog about mañjarī-bhāva: