Sunday, May 29, 2016

The story of Bhagavat Rasik Dev

I have been reading a book by Suryakant Goswami, a sevadhikari at the Bankey Bihari temple, called Nikunj ka rahi, or “Pilgrim to the Secret Grove.” The story is about Bhagavat Rasik Dev, an early 19th century saint of the Haridasi or Sakhi sampradaya. The story is itself of great interest, and the telling is done in good, literary Hindi.

Goswami’s descriptions of Vrindavan as it was in the first half of the 19th century fills a reader like myself with nostalgia, though some of the things that he describes — large homes for absentee rich people, for instance — show that certain trends are eternal, only being exacerbated by India’s current economic boom.

Bhagavat Rasik Dev was a grand disciple of Lalita Kishori Das, the founder of the Tattiya Sthan. On one of his first days in Vrindavan, after bathing in the Yamuna, he had a vision of Swami Haridas with the Divine Couple sitting in his lap, like in the picture above.

But when he came to stay permanently in Vrindavan and took vesh from his guru, Lalita Mohini Das, from his desire to do bhajan, he made a decision not to stay there, but to move to Radha Bawri in Rajpur, which in those times was very isolated. His desire to meditate on the Nitya Vihar in seclusion was too strong for him, and he found that Tattiya Sthan was becoming unsuitable for that purpose.

I recently went to Tattiya Sthan, and I can see the general increase in activity there that has accompanied the general rajasic mode in Vrindavan. More sadhus, more visitors, more disturbance. But in comparison to the rest of Vrindavan it is still a real oasis.

Radha Bawri, as I recently pointed out, is comparatively more isolated, but not at all out of danger in the modern mad rush to development. But for Bhagavat Rasik, the new formation of a community of sadhus and the culture of sadhu seva that was being implanted there meant that cooking had taken on increased importance, and along with it the complications of collecting, cooking, managing, and organizing.

Bhagavat Rasik prefered to subsist on madhukari, which was common for most renounced Vaishnavas of the time. Madhukari means going once a day to a few homes and begging for a piece of bread, usually a corner torn from one of those thick Brijvasi rotis, from a few houses. The sadhus at Radha Bawri still follow this custom. Two of the babas go out each day through the local neighborhoods and come back with enough rotis for the whole ashram. They eat this with chanch (buttermilk) from their sizable goshala and a bit of kitcherie or vegetable from their own garden, when they have. It is a very simple diet. I had one of these madhukari rotis when I was there the other day and I can attest that it was pure magic, but for modern taste in variety it would be a tough sell.

And it may be said that the bhandara culture for many of the madhukari sadhus was looked down on. “One who runs here and there out a desire to fill his belly and gratify the tongue does not get Krishna,” would be their motto.

Bhagavat Rasik was learned in the scriptures and a good speaker even before coming to Vrindavan. He was, as his guru-given name indicates, a rasik and an accomplished poet. His spiritual practice was to remember the nitya nikunj and Radha and Krishna’s nitya-vihar. But because his wisdom, his renunciation and his love for his practice were so great, his reputation rapidly grew. His songs were sung and because he asked for nothing, he was loved by rich and poor alike.

But this caused some resentment in Tattiya Sthan. The devotees there, rather than rejoicing in his spiritual progress, felt that he was implicitly criticizing their practice. No doubt he had said something of the sort. Now Bhagavat Rasik participated in the general mood of the time, which was to seek a synthesis of the different strands of Radha-Krishna worship in Vrindavan and a friendly relation with those belonging to other sects.

As with most religious communities, there were in Vrindavan periodic flurries of sectarian wrangling over issues of legitimacy, doctrine and practice. In the 18th century, the “four sampradaya” solution was presented, as those in the Gaudiya sampradaya well know. At this time, the sadhus of Tattiya Sthan decided to affiliate themselves with the Nimbark sampradaya in order to gain Chari Sampradaya legitimacy.

It should be noted here in passing that there are many differences between the versions of history such as the life of Haridas Swami as given by the renounced Vaishnavas of the Haridasi sampradaya and those who are householders serving Bankey Bihariji. I tend to give a bit more credence to the version of the householders because the oral histories would be more reliable in such kinds of brahmin families where genealogy is of such importance. The Bankey Bihari Gosais are related to Swami Haridas through his brothers, who were the first sevayats. The Gosais say that Swami Haridas was from the Vishnuswami Sampradaya. The two branches have different tilak.

Anyway, that is a story for another day.

One of the problems with the Chari Sampradaya system was that the Samaj imposed certain standards on its members. These standards unfortunately included rules around food based in caste consciousness. Now in the Gaudiya sampradaya, those who do madhukari go to every Brijbasi’s house, without any regard for caste. They will even accept rotis from outcastes because they feel that caste has no meaning in the Holy Dham. But those who participate in the Samaj, which means going to each other’s feasts and celebrations, will not take any food or water from lower castes. Were they to do so, members of other lineages will not accept their invitations.

Bhagavat Rasik made the fatal “mistake” of taking madhukari from a low caste washerman (dhobi) household and this was objected to by sadhus both in Tattiya Sthan and when they got wind, other leading sadhus from the Samaj. It became an important enough issue that it was taken to Lalita Madhuri Das, the Mahant, for judgment. Bhagavat Rasik was summoned, tried and found guilty. His argument was: Why make a distinction between castes? All birth in this world is kujāt.

The Mahant sided with the Samaj. Bhagavat Rasik’s punishment was banishment from Vrindavan.

Bhagavat Rasik took his exile in good grace and without any ado, accompanied by a few disciples, walked along the Yamuna as far as Prayag and settled in Arail, where Vallabhacharya had once lived. There he continued his bhajan but he never returned to Vrindavan, dying in Allahabad.

Interestingly, Suryakant Goswami, though a brahmin, takes the side of Bhagavat Rasik. He has Lalit Mohini Das — who is also known for his literary contributions to the sect — torn between the need to keep harmony in his community and his respect for his own disciple, whom he recognized as a great devotee.

As is usually the case with the historical residue of such stories, it is somewhat difficult to assess the extent of the emotions that were prevalent in this kind of incident, but perhaps the following song by Bhagavat Rasik will give a clue:

celā kāhū ke nahīṁ guru kāhu ke nāhiṁ
sakhī laḍaitī lāla kī rahaiṁ mahala ke māhiṁ
rahaiṁ mahala ke māhiṁ ṭahala hama kareṁ nirantara
dampati ati akulāhiṁ palaka kahum parai ju aṁtara
bhagavata bhagavata kahaiṁ karaiṁ nahiṁ hama bina kelā
tāte hama parihare deha-mānī guru celā

Nobody is anyone’s disciple and no one is anyone’s guru. The sakhis stay in the palace of the Divine Prince and Princess. They stay in the palace and constantly move hither and thither in their service. And the sakhis gaze upon them with unblinking eyes, not even a moment missed. The devotee Bhagavata Rasik says, “We do not do anything but play. And so we have no need for a guru-disciple relationship based on the material body.”

Interestingly, I asked the Mahant at Radha Bawri whether they still follow the madhukari rule, and he said “We have to follow the rules imposed by the Samaj.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"It is not about you, it's about the children"

There are three articles in this series, based on a Facebook discussion. Check the labels.


I was told by a friend that "it is not about you, but about the children."

I accept that as a true critique. I would probably have ignored this film if I had not been accused personally of being responsible for Bhavananda's actions, of all things.

And if there were no residual guilt, I would not have felt it necessary to open my heart publicly.
The fact is that my putting my admission of guilt in the public eye is precisely I want it to be known, by those who may think me wise, my lack of wisdom.

More than that, it is an appeal to those who were affected by my actions to know that I am deeply sorry and that I pray for them. Even so many years later.

However, I am not going to jettison my philosophical principles, based on my belief in the great mercy of Guru, by which I can spend even a second's time in Vrindavan.

That is my own experience and I believe that Vrindavan is a glorious mine of prem diamonds. I have seen their reflections.

But isn't this about the children and the pain they suffered? It is not about you rolling in the dust of Vrindavan and dreamily saying Radhe Shyam, playing at being an advanced sadhu, trolling for disciples.

This is the question: How can the suffering of those who were abused, and yes, even of those who did the abusing, be cured? What is the solution?
The only solution I can see is for me to offer them my treasure.

The solution is love. It is the only possible solution. But in order to love, you must also become Love.

The healing of the disease of non-love can only be eradicated by Love. Nothing else.

But to have the power and wisdom to eradicate non-Love, first you must become Love.

That may sound like some kind of new-age gobbledy-gook, but I am dead serious. I am talking about the culture of prema through sadhana. And the healing can only take place through the learning and teaching of real sadhana.

Real sadhana can only be communicated by someone who is a real sadhaka. So you must be a sadhaka. Whether you are a sinner or a victim of sin. And who does not know that these are ultimately one and the same thing? Those are the starting places for everyone.

The abused is the abuser. The abuser is ever abused. And so it goes.

I am not going to belabor what it means to be a sadhaka. Because it is a lifetime of learning to find out what it means. The sadhana of prema is never perfected.

So I am sorry. I know that my apologies mean little. And indeed I want to apologize not just for my own failures, but for every sin and every sinner who ever lived, because until they are forgiven the evil they did will not die, for them or for anyone else.

The only way to counter evil is through prema. And prema is dependent on mercy.

Whose mercy? The premi devotee's mercy.

And humility is the key to prema.

And self examination is the key to humility.

And the Holy Name is the lifeblood of this process.

Drink deep of the Holy Name my friends,but don't sin on the strength of chanting.

Jai Radhe!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Karma and the Moral Universe

Modern science has "discovered' laws of action and reaction. But it does not accept these laws as existing in the sphere of morality.
This is because pratyaksha asks the natural question, "Why do the innocent suffer while the wicked rule the world?"

Accepting the moral law of action and reaction as an axiom leads to the inevitable accepting of previous and future births. Inference. Anumana.

The entire goal of Indian spirituality is to escape the inevitable cycle that is the consequence of the moral law. How to break free?

There are many answers, but one thing is sure, unless one is willing to accept that he or she is responsible for his own suffering, there can be no freedom.

That responsibility has to be accepted, non-contingent on any conditions. If you think someone must apologize or be punished before your pain of suffering will go away, it only means signing on for more of the same.

It was no joke when the rishis named meat māṁsa. "He who eats me now is the one whom I ate before. He that I eat now is what I shall become." Remember that.

It is hard for a victim to believe in karma. He sees and blames the immediate hand rather than the hand of God. Or the purpose of God's hand.

Karma is karma, but for a devotee it is direct education. A slap in the face, a wake up call about something.

Today I was talking to a devotee who believes he is directly the disciple of Prabhupada because he is acharya for the next ten thousand years. This fellow is a brilliant and capable individual in many respects, but his arrogance is beyond bearing.

Anyway I said, you have no guru because no one is there to give you a slap in the face. He did not understand what I meant, I barely did myself, but of course it means there is no one to break your arrogance.

Now he is one of those people who think that being a disciple means following all the instructions. Such people really cannot see the forest for the trees. He asked me if I had been slapped and indeed I have. Both times connected with these very child abuse incidents. You really only need to be slapped once, and that should be enough if you have half a brain.

But until you have been slapped good and hard in just the appropriate moment, -- when your hubris is particularly acute and Guru Tattva is particularly merciful --you will never know humility.

And that is why I say, you have to accept that the law of action and reaction takes place in the moral universe. Unless you accept that, you will never be free.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Child abuse and Jagat

The child abuse in ISKCON is once again a subject, with the release of Sanaka Rsi's film. I was told by one bhakta to my face that I should go to prison for my involvement in the Gurukula while abuses were going on, especially those of the leaders of Mayapur Chandroday Mandir while I was headmaster there, as well as of the teachers who worked under me.
I have publicly admitted that I was abusive. I used corporal punishment, as did nearly every other Gurukula teacher in Dallas or in Mayapur. When I was severely thrashed by the Miapore villagers in 1977, I took it as a direct sign from Mahaprabhu that I had done wrong and stopped.

I claim innocence and ignorance about the sexual abuse. It was beyond my comprehension that anyone could do such a thing. When the veil was uncovered, I saw how widespread the abuse was. I did not feel capable of changing things and felt it more important to pursue authentic bhakti, which in my view was no longer available in the ISKCON institution after Prabhupada had left.

I have had the good fortune of meeting some of my students in the 37 years since I left and all of them have been friendly and forgiving and even appreciative of my efforts as a teacher and headmaster despite the things that transpired in my tenure there. I have never failed to express to them personally my contrition for my actions.
Just now I said to the abovementioned devotee, let's blame Prabhupada shall we?

Of course, no one wants to blame Prabhupada and neither do I, but the king is responsible for his kingdom. Prabhupada thought it more important to build the movement quickly and to spread it at any cost. He was the one who recognized that in the war against Maya there would be casualties, but he pushed forward anyway, putting incompetent individuals in positions of authority and pushing them to perform at any cost. If they fell away it was sad, but that was the cost of doing things the way he did them. He took the risk.

We were incompetent. Ignorant. Foolish children. What did I know of child sexual abuse? It was outside my realm of experience entirely. Physical abuse in the sense of corporal punishment I had known in my home and in school in Canada. And in India, corporal punishment was socially accepted and approved. Even Prabhupada himself allowed for it on occasion, though he personally admonished me when he became aware of punishments I subjected students to in 1976. Even so, it took me some time to come to put it into practice,

So if I am to be held responsible for Bhavananda, for Tapomoy, for Nitai Chand, for Shatadhanya, for Venkat, for Ananta Rupa, for Srigalim, for Anirdeshya Vapu or any of the other Gurukula people with whom I worked who eventually became known for sometimes unspeakable and horrific acts of abuse, I accept. I did not see it and when I did, I did not stop them. I decided it was more important to save myself.

I was in touch with them all. I knew them, and I knew nothing of the abuses for which they were accused in later days. When I found out, I washed my hands of the problem rather than fighting to protect the children. That was a dereliction of duty and if there are hells I must go to for that, let it be so. I decided that I had other, higher duties. Let God, or if as the abovementioned bhakta says, the courts, be the judge.
I left ISKCON in December 1979. I have never regretted that decision. Prabhupada inspired me to seek out authentic Vaishnavism and authentic spirituality. I am sorry for the students who suffered and I sincerely hope that the good in their experience outweighs the bad. If they feel that blaming me is helpful to their personal progress, I cannot object.

Jai Radhe Shyam.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bhajana Rahasya (from introduction by B.P. Puri Maharaj)

I am going to post a bunch of translations. This is from the introduction to Bhajana Rahasya by B.P. Puri Maharaj.

My heroic pastimes are very pleasing to the ear and satisfying to the heart when heard in the association of pure devotees. As a result of joyfully relishing these pastimes in such association, one quickly advances on the path of liberation, passing through the stages of faith (śraddhā), the revelation of one’s divine relationship with Krishna (rati), and true love for Him (bhakti). (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 3.25.25)

satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido
bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani
śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati

Expanded translation: The mind finds joy in the Lord through association with saintly people. This verse explains the results of such association in their proper sequence. In fact, there is a preliminary stage of faith which comes after hearing that holy association should be sought out. When the neophyte finds superior association (prasaṅga), he gets the opportunity to hear about Krishna.

In other words, one may be able to engage in other devotional activities in inferior association, but there will be no elevated discussions of Krishna. The discussions in such superior association cause one’s anarthas to be eliminated and then lead to the development of firm resolve. At this point, one has a direct perception of My glories through this hearing.

This leads to ruchi, as implied in the words “pleasing to the ears and heart” (hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ), whereby one relishes the topics of Krishna with great affection. This is then followed on this path of liberation by faith, which here means attachment (äsakti), then rati, which means the preliminary stage of ecstasies, or bhäva, and bhakti, which here means prema. The system of devotional service I have established will spread through the world by this gradual process of development. (Vishwanath)

In this verse, but rati = bhava, and yes, that is what is meant by bhava. Bhava means the capacity to experience rasa, which can only come when you are fixed in your spiritual identity.

kālaḥ kalir balina indriya-vairi-vargāḥ
śrī-bhakti-mārga iha kaṇṭaka-koṭi-ruddhaḥ |
hā hā kva yāmi vikalaḥ kim ahaṁ karomi
caitanya-candra yadi nādya kṛpāṁ karoṣi ||

It is the age of Kali and the sense are powerful enemies. The divine path of devotion is covered with countless thorns and obstacles. Where can I take shelter? I am crippled, what can I do, O moon of Consciousnes, Chaitanya Chandra, if you are not today merciful to me ?

The dhara from Bhaktivinode Thakur is the stream of Nam Bhajan. For one in this line, everything, literally everything, is the fruit of the Holy Name, faith in the Name, and love for the Holy Name. No matter where you stand on the path of bhajan.

premera kalikā nāma adbhuta rasera dhāma
hena bala karaye prakāśa |
īṣat vikaśita hañā dekhāya nija rūpa guṇa
citta hari laya kṛṣṇa pāśa ||6||

The Holy Name is a burgeoning flowerbud, the amazing abode of rasa. It manifests so much transcendental power. When it is even slightly revealed, it shows me its own spiritual form and attributes. It steals my mind and takes it into the presence of Krishna.

pūrṇa vikaśita hañā vraje more yāya lañā
dekhāya mora svarūpa vilāsa |
more siddha deha diyā kṛṣṇa pāśe rākhe giyā
e dehera kare sarvanāśa ||7||

When the Name is fully revealed, it takes me directly to Vraja, where it shows me my personal role in the eternal pastimes. It bestows on me my eternal spiritual identity and form, places me by Krishna’s side and completely destroys [my identification with] this material body.

syāt kṛṣṇa-nāma-caritādi-sitāpy avidyā-
pittopatapta-rasanasya na rocikā nu
kintv ādarād anudinaṁ khalu saiva juṣṭā
svādvī kramād bhavati tad-gada-mūla-hantrī

When one has jaundice, then sweets taste bitter on account of the increased bile in the system. The Holy Name is also sweet, but we are so affected by the beginningless ignorance and avoidance of our relationship of service to the Lord that it does not taste good to us. If however, we take up chanting the Holy Name and hearing about the Lord constantly and with faith, then we will gradually experience their transcendental taste with ever-increasing intensity, for the Holy Name itself treats our disease of ignorance. When the disease is completely eradicated, we enjoy Krishna bhajan completely. (Translation in accordance with Srila Prabhupada’s Anuvritti)

When one has developed a full taste for Krishna bhajan, then he gets the good fortune of being able to follow Rupa Goswami’s next instruction, which he calls the essence of all advice:

smṛtyoḥ krameṇa rasanā-manasī niyojya
tiṣṭhan vraje tad-anurāgi janānugāmī
kālaṁ nayed akhilam ity upadeśa-sāram

One should follow the progressive path and engage the tongue, which is accustomed to speaking of other things but Krishna, and the mind, which is similarly accustomed to thinking of things other than Krishna, in attentively chanting His name, form, virtues and pastimes. When one’s taste for these things has manifested fully, he should take up residence in Vrindavan and, following in the footsteps of a senior devotee resident of the Dham and live out one’s days in hearing and chanting about Krishna, the son of Nanda.