Thursday, January 28, 2016

Meanwhile, Back at the Blog

Meanwhile, back at the blog. Poor blog has been quite neglected these past few months. It really started in Karttik when I was doing both Krishna Sandarbha and Vrindavan Today.

Even so, a little surprisingly, readership has not diminished overall, and I am still running an average of close to 10,000 pageviews a month, which is up slightly from before I stopped posting. In particular I notice I have been getting a surge of Russian readers of late and Russia surged to the top of the list of countries from which readers are coming. This is not altogether unsurprising. VT, on the other hand, gets triple that, over 60% from India, 40% just from Delhi alone, which is also unsurprising. Articles are generally shorter and less demanding.

Vrindavan Today is a fantastic and important project, but so far I haven't been able to find good people who will be able to help move it forward, other than the occasional contributor. We have had a few promising candidates, but so far haven't been able to keep them. Jagannath Poddar is doing a great job, but he also is being pulled in many directions for his seva. Luckily, he does understand VT and is doing what he can, but we need some other Vrindavan lovers who can write. Anyway, the site is still growing. I would like to see much more in depth informative articles about all aspects of Vrindavan history and culture, as well as the environmental and heritage issues we tend to emphasize.

Right now I am back at working on Swami Veda's Yoga Sutra in Rishikesh and this is also a very challenging project, mainly because I make it so and because I believe that Swami Veda had my interests in mind when he entrusted this work to me. Or, to put it another way, God decided I should learn more about yoga, not just intellectually but experientially. This has also led me to undertake a more serious study of Sankhya philosophy, namely Īśvara Kṛṣṇa's Sāṅkhya-kārikā. I have also been lecturing on Sankhya to the Gurukula students here.

Usually when I get into a job like this or Krishna Sandarbha, I do not write much about it publicly, partly because I am usually too absorbed in details to be able to make a coherent presentation. Not only that, but writing for the blog or elsewhere requires time and an effort that I don't always have the intellectual energy to follow through on, especially when the intellectual demand on me are greater.

Whatever the nature of this blog, and I don't expect that it is easy for most people to follow, and certainly the overall philosophy to which it is creeping towards is not firmly grasped by many, or agreed with, but on the whole I strive to achieve a certain standard of professionalism in what I do. Out of respect and love for my gurus, I wish that their legacy should be honoured through my efforts to understand the process and purpose of bhakti-yoga. So that takes time that I usually guard jealously. Thus, whatever reflections I make on the text are primarily reinvested in the work itself rather than externally.

Also, the mind is always in the process of accepting and rejecting. Some of the philosophical conclusions of Sankhya and Yoga do not match my own, and certainly are opposed to the conclusions of the Gita and Bhagavata. It is easy to make light of theological differences, but they do matter, as I will elaborate on in one of the articles to which this is a preamble. And, indeed, Swami Veda Bharati himself, though a worshiper of the nirguna, was a universalist. He felt (and I agree with him on this) that the method of yoga, of inner movement of the mind towards the Self, was universally applicable, whether one is Christian, Muslim or belonging to some other religion. It would probably be more correct to call Yoga an attempt at a practical scientific psychology. As such, the process of inwardness will be the same, regardless of what meditation objects (ālambana) one uses. Other religious followers will no doubt disagree about the merits of the Meditation Object, and that is as it should be. One should only meditate on that which has been invested with numinosity by way of experience. But the processes and external symptoms in the mind, i.e., attaining full absorption in that Object or samādhi, will be more or less the same.

Every sutra of this Chapter III has multiple demands that cannot be understood without following the process of meditation itself. For most people, yoga or religion are confined to what is considered by Patanjali himself to be its external portion. Religion is to be held in the most external limbs, according to yoga, as īśvara-praṇidhāna, which is something that needs to be explained properly to religious people who have not really entered its more spiritual dimensions or are less self-aware. I call these people kaniṣṭhas and there is plenty of stuff on this blog about what a kaniṣṭha is.

There is no harm in being on some external level, since everyone is situated in their own situation and cannot pass beyond it without passing through it, but the real test of yoga is in its internal dimension. This is the subject of the Third Pada, where the three internal limbs (antar-aṅga) of yoga, namely dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi, are discussed.

For me, all this work is ultimately bahiraṅga. But as I just said bahiraṅga here does not mean negligible. You cannot skip steps. Taking a plane to Vrindavan does not get you there any faster than walking. It takes the time it takes in other words. And intervening steps are beautifully important.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Catching fish in the mud

This was one of the sights that fascinated me when I lived in Bengal. I can remember seeing this in Mayapur after every rainy season when the ponds and ditches start drying out, especially in the Ganges flood plain. Gadadhar Pran had problems with people raiding a part of his property that usually contained fish flapping in the mud.

But even in the flood of 1977, I went with the cows to the Chaitanya Math because there was higher ground at Ballal Dighi, and I was amazed to see how many people were catching fish in the Ganges current as it came flowing over the road embankment. I guess they were thinking, our houses might go but at least we will have fish for dinner.

From Uddhava-sandesha (122):

“When the sun of separation
dries the lake of the heart
until all that is left are sands;
I know that your life, oh emaciated one,
like that of the fish,
is caught in your throat
and ready to escape.

And I, meanwhile, far away from you,
drown in the ocean of thirst
what can I do,
unable to cross the waters
of luxury and pleasure,
and held back by the forceful winds
of my numerous kinsfolk?

नीते शोषं विरहरविणा सर्वतो हृत्तडागे
जाने कण्ठस्थलविलुठितप्राणमीनासि तन्वि।
दूरे संप्रत्यविरलसुहृन्मारुतैर्वारितोऽहं
तृष्णाम्भोधौ विलसतमृतालंकृतः किं करिष्ये॥

nīte śoṣaṁ viraha-raviṇā sarvato hṛt-taḍāge
jāne kaṇṭha-sthala-viluṭhita-prāṇa-mīnāsi tanvi |
dūre saṁprati avirala-suhṛn-mārutair vārito'haṁ
kṛṣṇāmbhodhau vilasatamṛtālaṁkṛtaḥ kiṁ kariṣye ||

Friday, January 08, 2016

Consciousness exists not just for itself

The world exists for bhoga (experience) and apavarga (liberation). These are the two options the material world gives you. The spiritual world, however, offers you the added option of prema. It is the hope of this prema, its transmutation, sometimes into bhoga and sometimes into apavarga, that keeps saṁsāra rolling around and around.

One of the other important ideas that comes up in Yoga Sutra and has its origins in Sāṅkhya is the following: "Prakṛti is parārtha (for another), Puruṣa is svārtha (for itself)." This terminology is very significant, as it pervades "normative" Hindu philosophy, including both Advaita and Vaishnava Vedanta, though with some adjustments, especially in the latter.

According to Sāṅkhya, the Consciousness Principle is called Puruṣa. In this philosophy, the Puruṣa is consciousness only. To even be aware of the world requires that consciousness be reflected in the material nature, starting with its subtlest form, which is buddhi or Mahat.

The universe is, as the Gita says, the result of the combination of Puruṣa and Prakṛti, the former providing the life-giving properties to matter. But in this Prakṛti exists for the Puruṣa. Matter presents itself to the consciousness principle through the chain leading to Buddhi. Matter serves the consciousness principle by availing it of bhoga and apavarga, experience of the world and liberation from it.

When one comes to the point of recognizing that even the capacity for awareness of this world is the result of identity with it, and one attains para-vairāgya, the highest level of renunciation, where one no longer even holds to that, then freed of the final kleśa, abhiniveśa, the fear of self-annihilation, he enters into the kaivalya state.

In the first delineation of the Sāṅkhya tattvas in the Gita (after of course separating Prakṛti and Puruṣa in the second chapter) is in the seventh chapter, where Krishna makes a huge departure from traditional Sāṅkhya by saying that the jiva, the individual consciousness, is ALSO Prakṛti, which means that the jiva also exists for another, and not for himself alone. And that is for the Puruṣottama.

So the Sāṅkhya argument that Consciousness exists for itself is contested. This is easy to understand if we consider the question of Love. We crave love, not isolation. Is love then only a transformation of matter? Love is the perfection of both bhoga and apavarga, the synthesis of both.

So for the devotee Sāṅkhya philosopher, the Other is not Prakṛti, but only the Divine Person, presenting himself in an infinity of forms in order to awaken your love; and when you love you will see Him in that infinity of forms.