Saturday, September 19, 2015

The purpose of the historical quest

The evolution of religious ideas

As I return to this theme of svakīyā-parakīyā and the research work I did while doing my doctoral dissertation in connection with the current work on Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha, some thoughts have been coming to me about the general thrust of my own thought about the history of religions and what I see as being the purpose of my own intellectual quest in this regard.

Krishna consciousness, like any other thought system, is based in positive principles that where universal are or should be exportable to other religions and ideologies. In other words, they are translatable.

Now in order to translate religious experience from one linguistic and symbolic conversation, often one that has been going on for thousands of years, first one must discover what that experience is, not just by looking at the entire complex in isolation, but also by looking at the universal experience of humanity.

This is the logic behind the study of comparative religion, just as it is with comparative linguistics. The Chomskian theory of a natural linguistic hardware in the brain can be exported to thinking about religion also. And such a language includes atheism, as that is part of the conversation, which is the question of life's ultimate meaning or meanings.

The first thing to do to pass from the relative to the universal where religion is concerned, is to dissolve literal beliefs into symbolic understandings. The symbols themselves may or may not easily communicable or exportable because of their cultural or historical anchoredness, though by their very nature they do touch some deep aspect of human consciousness, and as soon as one insists on the absoluteness of a certain symbol system, one automatically undercuts the sense of unity, i.e. love.

This is one of the reasons why the analogy with language is accurate. Nearly all religions have a sacred language, the loss of which -- in the interests of democratizing religious experience and participation -- required an elite of religious professionals, who were then required to communicate that to the non-professionals at whatever level they were capable of doing. But to translate jala to "water" we have to dissolve the phonemes of the first word, look to the significand, and then find the appropriate equivalent in the second language.

But as soon as one undercuts literal beliefs, then that necessarily means changing the very tradition itself, since all traditions begin in literal belief and develop philosophical and theological systems to discover exactly what it was that was being believed in, and then to either protect and defend it, or supersede or embellish it. The goal is to further the conversation so that the truth hidden away in it is indeed that Truth in which I can believe.

This process is observable historically, and indeed, this is the purpose of the current ongoing discussion on this blog about svakīyā and parakīyā. What is the meaning of this debate? Why is Jiva Goswami so conflicted and yet so driven to bring Radha and Krishna together, to not allow them to be forever separated, as the cruel Krishna of the Bhagavatam seems to wish, making empty promises, "I will return, I will return." (āyāsya iti dyotakaiḥ).

In my opinion, it really is about understanding love in this world. The tradition itself points to human love as the highest value, as the locus of the Divine, and so the conversation that is taking place is about the dynamics of love, as humanity experiences them, and is furthermore an attempt to deepen the understanding of love in such a way as to enhance humanity's individual and collective experience thereof. In other words, it is evolutionary, which means there is a traceable historical development of the interpretation of symbols.

And if you don't understand the historical ground where a particular seed sprouted, warts and all, i.e., in what might be considered a "backward" or "less-evolved" culture, as it were, then you will never clearly understand the plant, nor fully enjoy its flowers or fruits.

The insight of our version of devotion to God, i.e, religion, arises from direct experience of Love of God. This is where our microscopes and telescopes are focused. This is where the seed of revelation first comes into view. Now how do we view its growth and transformation? A seed that grows in a dark room does not flourish like one in a natural environment, or an enhanced one. So we examine the seed (the vision of pure love of God) and its manifestations and subsequent historical transformations. Has it remained true to its destiny?

But whether we accept all change as degradation and loss of pristine archaic primitive purity, or as the divine hand of evolution and "aren't we all so grand and wise and enlightened nowadays!", it happens. Call it adjusting to conditions at the worst. But in our particular case, that of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, we have been told a few things about the specific glory of a historic event, namely the appearance of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, whose inner world was known to Rupa Goswami. And by extension, we incorporate a Chaitanya world, and a Rupa-Raghunath world, and a Radha-Krishna world in this complex.

So what is the nature of post-Chaitanya Vaishnavism, and what is the necessity or importance of pre-Chaitanya Vaishnavism or Hinduism? Do not many things get rejected when we say things like na dharmaṁ nādharmaṁ śruti-gaṇa-niruktaṁ kila kuru and so on.

All the scriptures are about rejecting other parts of the scriptures. Gita tells you to revamp your understanding of yajna and not to bother with the old, superficial understanding. Mahaprabhu says eho bāhya āge koho ār. This means that choices are being made and certain things are considered necessary and others are considered problematic and create obstacles.

Of course, obstacles of various sorts must be present so that every variety of material temptation can be evoked, but whereas the purpose of sādhanā, if there is one underlying discovery that is at the basis of the whole Indian system or approach, it is that you must be ekānta, ekāgra. One-pointed. You pick a sādhanā and you follow through on it. And you focus so closely, like Arjuna and the target bird's eye, that you see nothing else.

If your goal is madhura-rasa, then madhura-rasa is your sādhanā. Madhura-rasa is your object of study. Because that is the empirically verifiable source of our minds and bodies.

That is what Rupa Goswami did: He showed the purpose of eroticism as a path to the divine. A trained and pure eroticism, that eventually becomes so refined that it permeates every corner of the universe, but that is the subject, that is the means and that is the end. Prema.

Borrowing, influences

But the point is that borrowing does take place. Some things are hard to place exactly, i.e., clear and direct lines of influence are not readily available. For instance, few Hindu believers would enthusiastically admit to Muslim influence, and yet the Muslim presence in India for 700 years would necessarily have resulted in cross currents of influence. We readily hail "Muslim poets writing about Krishna" but what direct and indirect responses were there? The entire bhakti movement can and indeed SHOULD be seen as a reaction to both Islam AND Brahminical orthodoxy. In a sense, their respective critiques of each other have both been embraced, especially in the nirguṇa schools.

So now the goal is this: Having experienced the Krishna consciousness movement as it appears to us in the late 20th century and early 21st century in Western countries, which messages are ours? Whose insights can we use? What WAS the intent of the Goswamis? Can it be distilled and essentialized without losing its cultural vitality, and if it can't, then what are we holding on to?

And of those above questions, the first one which I have tried to deal with is, "What is the evolutionary flow of the Vaishnava religion, and what is its direction?"

My answer is that it is Prema. It flows towards prema.

And therefore the goal is to understand according to our acharyas what is pure prema and how does that get implemented in practice.

Then once we know that, then we can apply it in foreign environments (beginning with our own brains). Then we can start to see how prema is the universal human goal into which all human beings have some insight and therefore can make some offerings to the universal human quest for prema, from which we, as participants in this universal quest, can borrow.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for going global on YouTube (-:

Even when talking to others, we are ultimately talking to our own selves, (I) talk to myself all the time...

16th century Gaudiya Vaishnavanism is important.


Because the triune prism of 16th century Gaudiya Vaishnavanism directly imparts from THE source a working model (of an archetypal vehicle) to liberation in this body and life back into the consciousness of 21st century minds.

And if it works, in truth, why not use a little 'vicissitude' to drag it out of the 16th Century as a working template for 21st century minds?

Krzysztof Medor Kalatuta said...

"Do not many things get rejected when we say things like na dharmaṁ nādharmaṁ śruti-gaṇa-niruktaṁ kila kuru and so on." - shouldn't be a question mark on the end of this sentence instead of a drop?

Anonymous said...

And if through the prism of your well chosen words just one sees the true light of man, just one...

And in the love of truth, crosses the threshold of life-and-death through this prism and returns to become the word made flesh, THE truth personified.

Then upon reflection, (I) would rather be at the feet of a hermit talking to myself with some well spoken words than anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, one read through a paper entitled "Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual to Changing the World" written by a Swedish civil rights activist named Rick Falkvinge.

Direct download:

In this text (page 90) Mr. Falkvinge has written:

"The recipe is ridiculously straightforward: communicate your vision to everybody, and let the thousands of activists translate your vision into words that fit their specific social context. Don’t make a one size-fits-all message that everybody has to learn. It will be one-size fits-none."

And further on page 92:

"This is why you need the activists — thousands of them — to translate your vision into as many different social contexts as you have activists. Only then will you be able to electrify their friends with your vision, as that vision is clad in the language of their respective social contexts."

and also page 93:

"It is also important, and imperative, that your activists not only are encouraged to translate your vision, but also to interpret and apply it."

Now change the word "activist" to "reader", and this text has an interesting model, a template for 21st century liberation on a digital platform with unprecedented freedom of access, a peaceful revolution of mind with a potential of geometric progression on a scale that will blow your mind.

Just imagine what "can't be done" by one hermit with a mind to change the world with a few well chosen words.

Krishna consciousness unwrapped, naked and free; written in an exact language devoid of any divisive constraints, a simple language easily understood by all.

Anonymous said...


Prem Prakash said...

Jagadananda das, This is exquisite, beatiful writing. Truly prema for Radha-Krishna must have touched your heart. Thanks for sharing with us.

Prem Prakash said...

Jagadananda das, This is exquisite, really beautiful writing. Truly, prema for Radha-Krshna must have touched your heart. Thanks so much for sharing with us.

Anonymous said...


I will be a recluse
I will sing Rām.
I love the sound that cannot be heard.
I will go to the home of the homeless.

I will not go to holy places.
I will not bathe in sacred waters.
I will not hurt any living thing.
My guru has shown me sixty-eight holy places
and they are all within me.
There I will bathe.

I will not chant the Vedas, Purānas, the Gitā.
I will not be a poet declaiming verse.
I will sit playing my silent flute
in the limitless land without form.

Controlling my breath, I will enter the yogic veins.
Moving the sun to the moon
I will merge into the light supreme.

The beauty of the mind has five faces.
I will not be called good or bad.
I meditate on Krishna.
I will live in effortless contemplation says Nāmdev.


Anonymous said...