Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bhakti Sandarbha :: Tirthas and Sadhu Sanga

I just want to say that as I slowly start to get deeper into Bhakti Sandarbha (I reached Anuccheda 10 today), I am gaining even more appreciation for Satya Narayan Dasji, not only of his understanding of the Sanskrit text, but his commentaries. These, I feel, are getting better as we go through the Sandarbhas, and I am sure that the Priti Sandarbha will truly be the crown jewel, the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. In the meantime, we follow Jiva Goswami's path through these six books, where we have just now arrived at the abhidheya, bhakti.

In a sense you could say that the other four books were just preparations for this. The actual journey really starts with Bhakti Sandarbha. Jiva stated in the very beginning that you should know what to do now that you have gone through the first four books (and in fact, just by going through them, you already have), but now you are going to stop looking so much at the external tattvas and start to consider what is going on inside you. This is really the journey of your soul. Jiva starts with the verses of Suta Goswami starting with sa vai puṁsāṁ paro dharmo, which is in every way appropriate, for it is a succinct argument for and summation of the bhakti path from beginning to end. I would like to give you a sample of one anuccheda, which I rather enjoyed. Note, it has the word Vrindavan in it. [This is not the final version as it will be printed, but I give it anyway as it stands at this point in the editorial process. I hope you enjoy it too.

Anuccheda 11:: Bhakti Begins with Service to a Devotee or a Holy Place

नन्वेवमपि तस्य कथारुचिर्मन्दभाग्यानां च न जायत इत्याशङ्क्य तत्र सुगमोपायं वदन्, तामारभ्य नैष्ठिकीपर्यन्तां भक्तिमुपदिशति पञ्चभिः (भा. १.२.१६)— शुश्रूषोः श्रद्दधानस्य वासुदेवकथारुचिः । स्यान् महत्सेवया विप्राः पुण्यतीर्थनिषेवणात् ॥
In spite of the fact that hearing Bhagavān’s pastimes can easily slash the knot of karma, unfortunate people may not develop a taste for them. Considering this possibility, Sūta Gosvāmī offers an easy method to awaken their taste. In five verses, he delineates the progression of bhakti beginning from getting the taste for kathā, hearing the pastimes of Bhagavān, up to naiṣṭhikī, or fixity in devotion:
"O learned ones, by visiting or dwelling in a holy place a person gets an opportunity to associate with great devotees and to render service to them. By such service a person is blessed with faith [in devotees and their practices].This results in an interest in hearing narrations about Bhagavān that brings about a taste for such narrations.” (1.2.16)

भुवि पुरुपुण्यतीर्थसदनान्यृषयो विमदाः (भा. १०.८७.३५) इत्याद्यनुसारेण प्रायस्तत्र महत्सङ्गो भवति इति तदीयटीकानुमत्या च पुण्यतीर्थनिषेवणाद्धेतोर्लब्धा यदृच्छया या महत्सेवा तया वासुदेवकथारुचिः स्यात् ।

In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is said, “Humble sages live in the holy places,” (10.87.35), and Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “Generally, the association of sages is obtained there.” In accordance with these statements, if one dwells in or visits the holy places, then by the grace of Bhagavān one may attain the service of a devotee, from which a taste for hearing Kṛṣṇa-kathā develops.

कार्यान्तरेणापि तीर्थे भ्रमतो महतां प्रायस्तत्र भ्रमतां तिष्ठतां वा दर्शनस्पर्शनसम्भाषणादिलक्षणा सेवा स्वत एव सम्पद्यते । तत्प्रभावेण च तदीयाचरणे श्रद्धा भवति । "तदीयस्वाभाविकपरस्परभगवत्कथायां किमेते सङ्कथयन्ति ? तत् शृणोमि ? इति तदिच्छा जायते । तच्छ्रवणेन च तस्यां रुचिर्जायत इति । तथा च महद्भ्य एव श्रुता झटिति कार्यकरीति भावः ।

Even if one should wander into a holy place for some other purpose, one automatically gets the opportunity to see, come in contact with, or talk to devotees, who may be walking or sitting there, and these activities constitute a type of service. By the influence of such service, one develops faith in their conduct. Devotees naturally talk among themselves about Bhagavān, and a person who comes in contact with them develops a desire to hear, thinking, “What are they discussing? Let me hear.” From hearing their talks, he develops a liking for them. But the full effect is immediate only when one hears from great devotees. This is the sense of the above verse.

तथा च श्रीकपिलदेववाक्यम्—सतां प्रसङ्गान् मम वीर्यसंविदो भवन्ति हृत्कर्णरसायनाः कथाः (भा. ३.२५.२५) इत्यादि ।
Śrī Kapiladeva makes a similar statement: "By association with devotees, one gets an opportunity to hear discussions of My pastimes, which illustrate My prowess and act as a tonic for the ears and the heart. By listening to these pastimes, faith, attachment and devotion to Bhagavān Hari quickly manifest one after another." (3.25.25)

Satyanarayana Dasaji's Commentary

Bhakti is the internal potency of Bhagavān. It belongs to Him alone. He gives it to His devotees who can further pass it on to another living being by their causeless grace. Without the grace of a devotee or Bhagavān, no one can have bhakti. Bhagavān is not manifest to common people except when He descends into the material world as an avatāra. At the time when there is no manifest avatāra on earth, therefore, the only way human beings can get bhakti is by the grace of a devotee. The devotee's grace has no specific cause because they are not in need of anything material. Their grace usually comes through the medium of hearing their words and doing some personal service to them. The grace first descends in the form of faith, śraddhā, in devotees themselves. One gets a feeling that a devotee or devotees are good people and one likes to associate with them, listen to what they say and to do some service to them.

In the beginning one just likes to be with them, observe their behavior and listen to them speak. One thereby comes to have an appreciation for them. This is the beginning point of bhakti. To facilitate the possibility of meeting such holy people, the founders of Vedic culture prescribed visiting holy places like Vrindavan, Jagannath Puri, Haridwar, Kurukshetra, Kashi, Ayodhya, Ujjain, and so on. Usually there are devotees residing in temples and ashrams in these holy places. By visiting them, an ordinary person gets the opportunity to see devotees and hear them speak. In India it is customary to go and visit a saintly person for darśana. Sometimes saintly persons themselves travel and give people the opportunity to meet them. There are also various festivals such as the Kumbha Mela where saintly people congregate and give discourses. The Kumbha Mela was and still is like a spiritual supermarket. The real purpose behind such festivals was to give the common person a chance to meet a variety of saintly persons following different sādhanās all in one place. Traveling in the past was not easy – for most it meant walking – and could be quite dangerous because of the many ferocious animals in Indian forests, as well as robbers who were just as dangerous.

Even up to fifty years ago very few people were able to make pilgrimages to the holy places mentioned above. Sometimes relatives would cry when a member of the family decided to visit a place of pilgrimage because no one could be sure if he would return alive or not. Indeed many people went to holy places specifically to leave their body. Then, when someone returned from pilgrimage, the village people would flock to hear about his adventures and about the holy places and the sadhus residing there. Once a person has got the initial quantum of faith by the grace of a devotee, then this faith impels him or her to seek further association of a devotee. When one meets and further associates with a devotee, one’s faith become more firm and one develops a desire to do some service, śuśrūṣā.

The common meaning of the word śuśrūṣā is service, but literally it means the desire to hear. The word has come to mean service because hearing is the beginning of service and the cause of further service. By hearing and serving regularly one develops a relish for the narrations about Bhagavān. One’s doubts are dispelled and one puts one’s faith in the scripture. This is called śāstrīya śraddhā, scriptural faith. One who has acquired this has a firm footing on the path of bhakti. There is also another type of śraddhā that comes because of one’s birth in a particular family or community. It is not rooted in scripture but on the opinions of people and may even be contrary to the scriptural injunctions. This is called prākṛta- or laukika-śraddhā, material or social faith. It is faith that has not sustained scrutiny. This is the faith referred to by Arjuna in his question to Kṛṣṇa: O Kṛṣṇa, what is the status of those who, endowed with faith, perform worship but set aside the injunctions of the scriptures? Are they situated in sattva, rajas or tamas? (Gita 17.1)

Kṛṣṇa answers by saying that everybody has some faith based upon his or her personal psychology. It is not just spiritualists or religious people who have faith, but scientists and even atheists have some kind of faith. For example, no atheist has conclusively proven that God does not exist. It is his faith based on some scientific theories, or personal logic, or both. This faith of an atheist, being a negative, is not conclusively verifiable, but one can have experience of Bhagavān by following śāstra. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī comments that if one hears from the mouth of a great devotee, a mahā-bhāgavata, then its effect can be seen immediately. It can moreover be added that hearing directly is more effective than listening to a recorded talk. The word tīrtha in the verse is also used in the sense of a spiritual teacher or guru, as stated in Amara-koṣa, “The word tīrtha can mean water near a well, scripture, holy water related to sage and a spiritual teacher” (nipānāgamayos tīrtham ṛṣi-juṣṭe jale gurau, 3.3.86). This results in the meaning that by listening to an authentic guru one gets faith, which leads to further hearing and serving him or her. This then results in a taste for hearing the narrations of Bhagavān.

The appearance day of Gadadhar Bhatta Goswami

The appearance and disappearance days of Gadadhar Bhatta Goswami, the disciple and successor of Raghunath Bhatta Goswami, come on successive days, the dwadashi and trayodashi of the dark fortnight in Bhadrapada month. This year that fell on August 28th and 29th.

Raghunath Bhatta (1505-1579) was especially noted for his sweet presentation of Srimad Bhagavatam and as the innovator of the Bhagavata vachak tradition in Vrindavan. Gadadhar Bhatta was his successor and to this day his descendants maintain the tradition of preaching from the Bhagavata Purana.

Gadadhar Bhatt was a reservoir of all virtues and a bringer of pleasure to all. He was naturally gentleman and a strict follower of the teachings of the acharyas. He was free of flaws like envy and desire, and an ocean of compassion to the less fortunate. It was as though he had taken birth only to awaken exclusive devotion to Radha and Krishna in the people of the world. Once he had come to stay in Vrindavan he never left, absorbed in speaking nectar from the Bhagavata Purana. When the Supreme Truth in the form of Shyama Shyam are present in one’s heart, all the other divine attributes come of their own accord to remain there.

The topics of the Shrimad Bhagwatam are nectar. But sometimes the narrative becomes distasteful because the speaker unnecessarily becomes argumentative and promotes one point of view while criticizing another with harsh words. A sadhu condems the Brahmins, a Brahmin condemns the Sadhus. Gadadhar Bhatta would always explain that Krishna is dear to everyone and though he would speak the scriptural conclusions, stating which position was superior or inferior, he always did it in a sweet manner so that everyone was pleased. Whenever he was speaking on the Bhagavatam, people came from even remote villages to hear him speak.

Once, there was a sant who lived nearby in Vrindavan. People urged him to come to listen to Gadadhar Bhatta’s Bhagavatam, but he never went. Finally, at someone’s insistence, he finally came to listen and sat in the audience, listening attentively. Bhattaji was recounting the story of Balaram’s destruction of the Dhenukasur demon. He told the story – how Krishna and Baladeva went grazing the cows with the cowherd boys, how they were tempted by the tal fruit and began to shake the trees to make the fruit fall. Dhenukasur came running and kicked Balaram with both hind legs. When he heard this, the sant’s heart was torn and he fell unconscious.

The people in the audience became anxious for the sant. Some physicians who were there felt his pulse and declared the sadhu dead. But Sri Gadadhar Bhatta calmed everybody down, telling them to listen to the story to the very end. One who hears the Bhagavatam does not die but becomes immortal. If the sant is revived then our faith in Hari katha will be forever fixed. Indeed, when the Bhagavata katha came to an end, the sant came back to external awareness, and Gadadhar Bhatta’s glories were spread far and wide as a result.

How Gadadhar Bhatta came to Vrindavan

Not much is known about Gadadhar Bhatta. The main source of information comes from Priya Das’s commentary on Bhakta-māla, which tells the popular story of how he came to stay Vrindavan.

Though Gadadhar Bhatta was originally from Telanga, he wrote songs in Braj Bhasha in the mood of a gopi. One of these songs became popular and was even sung in Braj, though he lived somewhere outside the holy land. That song was the following:
sakhi hauṁ syāma raṁga raṁgī
dekhi bikāya gayī vaha mūrati sūrati māṁhi pagī
saṁga hutau apanau sapanau sau soī rahī rasa khoi
jāge huṁ āge dṛṣṭi para sakhi naiku na nyārau hoi
eka ju merī aṁkhiyana meṁ nisi dyausa rahyau kari bhauna
gāya carāvata jāta sunyau sakhi sodhauṁ kanhaiyā kauna
kāsauṁ kahauṁ kauna patiyāve kauna kare bakavāda
kaise ke kahi jāta gadādhara gūṁje kau guḍa svāda

Oh Sakhi! I have been transformed by the colors of Shyam.
On seeing his beautiful form, I sold my soul to him.
I lost myself in his beauty.
When I fall asleep I lose myself in dreams of him,
And when I awake, I don’t see anything as separate from him.
It is as though my eyes have been trapped by his form,
like a bumblebee trapped at night in a lotus flower.
When I hear that he has gone to graze the cows,
I don’t know of what Kanhai people are talking [for he is with me always].
Who will listen to me? Who will believe me when I say it is all nonsense.
How can Gadadhar explain any of this?
I am like a dumb person trying to explain the taste of gur.

One day, Sri Jiva Goswami heard someone singing this song, he was simultaneously delighted and disappointed, for though the author had obvious devotion and talent, there was no mention of Srimati Radharani. Nevertheless he thought, I would like to have the association of such a devotee and hear more of his songs. When he found out that Gadadhar Bhatta lived somewhere outside of Braj, he thought that such a devotee belongs in Vrindavan Dham. So he sent him a letter with two confidantes. The letter contained only this one verse written by Raghunath Das Goswami.

anārādhya rādhā-padāmbhoja-reṇum
anāśritya vṛndāṭavīṁ tat-padāṅkām |
asambhāṣya tad-bhāva-gambhīra-cittān
kutaḥ śyāma-sindhau rasyasyāvagāhaḥ ||

Not having worshiped even once the dust
that sprinkles from Śrīmatī’s lotus feet;
not having taken shelter even once
of Braja Dhām, marked with her dainty tread;
not ever having spoken with the souls
so laden with the weighty love for her,
how foolish they who think that they can plunge
into the secret sea of nectar that is Śyāma!
(Sva-saṁkalpa-prakāśa-stotra, 1)
According to Priya Das, Jiva Goswami’s message was, “I don’t know how you got this mood when you are living outside of Braj and have no association with the servants of Radha. It is no doubt the result of some previous lifetime of service to great bhaktas. But in order to perfect it, you must follow in the mood of Radha and live in the association of her devotees in Vrindavan. Otherwise, it will never attain its fulfillment.”

When the message came to Gadadhar Bhatta in his village, he was sitting next to a well brushing his teeth. He was overjoyed to see two sadhus early in the morning and when they told him they had come from Vrindavan with a message from Jiva Goswami, he fainted and fell to the ground. When he came back to consciousness and read the letter, he touched it to his forehead, dropped everything and returned to Vrindavan with the two associates of Jiva Goswami.

Gadadhar Bhatta in Vrindavan

Gadadhar Bhatta studied with Jiva Goswami and Raghunath Bhatta Goswami and when the latter left the world, then Gadadhar took over his permanent spot at Govindaji temple speaking the Bhagavatam. His reputation as a speaker of Bhagavatam was his main claim to fame and he has been mentioned in the writings of Dhruvdas (Bhakta-nāmāvalī), Nagaridas (Pada-prasaṅga-mālā), Bhagavat Rasik (Rasika Devajū kī Vāṇī) and Chacha Vrindavan Das (Bhakti-rasa phūṭakāra prasaṅga) for this reason. Some of these authors have also recounted other legends about him.

Raghunath Bhatta’s temple to Madan Mohan, whose seva is in the hands of the Gadadhar Bhatta’s descendants, stands next to the Radha Vallabha Ghera near Athkhamba Mahadeva.

Gadadhar and the thief from Mant

One night a burglar from Mant village came to Vrindavan. Gadadhar’s door was never locked, so the burglar went in. Gadadhar slept very little and even though it was late at night he was awake and chanting japa. When he saw that a thief had come into the house, he lay down a pretended to sleep while observing his activity. Actually, he became absorbed in thinking of child Krishna going into the gopis’ houses and stealing curds and butter. So rather than getting angry, he thought, “My Thakur Hari has come to my house to play at his lila of stealing.”

In the meantime, the thief had collected a great many items from the house and tied them with a sheet into a big bundle. There was so much there that he was having difficulty getting it onto his head to carry away. So Gadadhar came quietly up to him and helped him lift it up. When the thief saw this, he was astonished. “Who are you?” he asked. When he learned whose house he was robbing, the thief fell to the ground and begged forgiveness. Gadadhar said, “Don’t worry. This is how you make your living. Take the bundle with you. I am not concerned for myself. Krishna will send me ten times this much tomorrow.” The thief was so impressed by Gadadhar Bhatta’s kindness that he became his disciple and gave up his profession of burglary.

One of the thief’s companions from his village heard about this and chastised him. He said, “How can you be so stupid? You could have taken those items and he would not have stopped you. And to become a disciple on top of that!! I will show you how it’s done.”

That night he also went to Gadadhar’s house, filled a sack with valuable items from the household, but when he came into the street, he could not find his way. He wandered in the alleyways of the village all night, going back and forth until he found himself at the house of Gadadhar Bhatt the following morning. He too fell at Gadadhar Bhatta’s feet and prayed for forgiveness. “I did not know your power,” he said. “I am a thief and I came here to steal from you. But I seem to have gone blind and cannot find my way back home. Please be merciful to me and give me back my sight.”

So Gadadhar Bhatta was merciful to the second thief also. In this way, even those who came to him for some material benefit were blessed with spiritual insight.

The story of Kalyan Singh

One of Gadadhar Bhatta’s disciples’ name was Kalyan Singh. He was a Rajput who lived in a village in Braj called Dhaurhara. He was a regular attendee at Gadadhar’s Bhagavata lectures. Indeed, he became so influenced on hearing him that he became quite renounced and gave up amusing himself with his wife. She did not take kindly to the change in his personality and began plotting a way to bring down her husband’s guru.

She paid a sum of 20 rupees to a beggar woman who happened to be pregnant. She told this woman to publicly announce that Gadadhar Bhatt was her lover and the father of the expected baby and to ask him to take care of her and the child. This the woman did in the middle of Bhagavatam class. Some of the people in the audience became very angry with her, not believing her claim and worse yet accusing her of trying to blacken the name of a saintly person. Some were even ready to beat her. But Gadadhar himself surprised them all by remaining calm; he pacified them by saying, “Brothers, don’t be angry with this goddess. She has committed no offense. She is telling the truth.” Everyone fell into a shocked silence. In order to protect someone from danger it is sometimes necessary to tell a lie, and this is why he spoke like this.

Gadadhar turned to the lady and said, “Don’t worry, I have not forgotten you. Where have you been all this time? Of course I will take care of you. Just sit here and listen to the Bhagavatam and we will take care of this immediately afterward.”

Soon the truth came out. Kalyan Singh was furious that his wife would do such an evil deed. He drew his sword from its sheath and started running to his village with the intention of killing his wife. Gadadhar sent four of his disciples to stop him from committing such a crime in his name and to bring him back to the Bhagavata class to hear the Harikatha.

There Gadadhar gave the following discourse, “By giving these Bhagavata classes, I have become famous and my influence has increased. This influence is like a witch that has cursed me. There is a danger that my fame will become an obstacle to my bhajan. This woman has done me a great service by spreading this malicious rumor, which will help to keep me humble and keep people away from me.”

In the end, all the people involved in the story, Kalyan Singh, his wife and the beggar woman, all were astonished by Gadadhar Bhatta’s humble and compassionate nature and so they asked him for forgiveness and became regular listeners of the Bhagavatam and all increased their devotion to the Lord.

Another sadhu heard the glories of Gadadhar Bhatta’s Bhagavata recitals and came to listen. Being a Mahant, the devotees gave him a seat in the front of the assembly. When the katha began, the sadhu noticed that everyone around him was showing ecstatic symptoms — their eyes filled with tears and some were trembling and some even fainting in loving ecstasy. Everyone was so absorbed, but the sadhu felt nothing. This made him feel a great deal of regret, that he had somehow been deprived of the taste for hearing about Krishna. He felt like an outsider and an inferior. He was a mahant, after all, so he should be showing the symptoms of advanced love of Krishna like the ordinary people listening to Gadadhar Bhatta’s recital.

The next day he came with a concoction of pepper that he rubbed in his eyes at the appropriate moment to elicit tears. Tears came to his eyes, but his heart was still filled with anger and envy. Someone in the audience, however, saw the subterfuge and told Gadadhar Bhatta after the class. When everyone else had gone, Gadadhar Bhatta went to this sadhu and embraced him, tears pouring from his eyes, and he said, “If I desired to have tears pour from my eyes as much as you do, my life would have been successful long ago.” Gadadhar was crying so much that the sadhu’s clothes became wet. He could not resist the depth of feeling coming from Bhattaji and his heart began to melt and his eyes also filled with natural tears of love for the Lord.

Gadadhar Bhatta’s exact dates are not known. He was certainly alive in 1608 since he is one of the signatories on Jiva Goswami’s last will and testament, which is held in the Vrindavan Research Institute.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

More on Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 1

So in the previous post I left things open a bit in order to follow up on the context, to see whether the asti nāsti was specifically refering to any particular debate. The chapter does begin with an inquiry into differences of opinion about the number of tattvas according to different analyses of the Sankhya categories. Krishna said they are all okay depending on the particular point of view. After explaining what the different enumerations of the tattvas intend and how these differing views can be reconciled, he stops at verse 11.22.25. Uddhava then asks further about the Sankhya philosophy, in particular about its dualism of Consciousness and Matter, prakṛti and puruṣa.
prakṛtiḥ puruṣaś cobhau yady apy ātma-vilakṣaṇau |
anyonyāpāśrayāt kṛṣṇa dṛśyate na bhidā tayoḥ |
prakṛtau lakṣyate hy ātmā prakṛtiś ca tathātmani ||

Consciousness and Matter, though differing in essence, appear to not be different because of their interdependence. Thus the ātmā is observed in Nature and Nature is similarly observed in the ātmā.

The immediate problem here is the two different uses of ātmā in the verse. The immediate way that I read the words ātma-vilakṣaṇau are “different from the ātmā” which cannot be, since puruṣa and ātmā are synonymous. So the commentaries of S and VC use svarūpeṇa (“in essence”) to explain it. Now the question is: In verse 34, does ātmā mean essence? Or Self? Or both?

Krishna’s answer to this question in verses 29-34. [Note that numbering differs since some editions count the half verse 32 separately or as included in 31. So BBT has 34, Gita Press 33.] The passage, with the exception of the last verse, is about the distinction of spirit from matter and the transformation of matter through the working of the three gunas. Verse 32 (we are going to follow Gita Press numbering) talks about the threefold division of ahankara. So verse 33 is introduced by Shridhara, “So how do we get rid of [ahankara]?”

So the verse is not really about the first part; the asti nāsti are not about anything in particular, but are just away of changing the subject altogether. It is saying that due to ignorance of the Self [here I think it is justifiable to say “Supreme Self”] one becomes involved in arguments about whether something is or is not; it does not really matter. The highest truth is non-dual, and it is the second part of the verse that Jiva wants to draw attention to.

This indeed what Jiva Goswami says in his Krama Sandarbha. He cites the verse we looked at the other day (11.2.37), a parallelism that is also found Bhakti Sandarbha, even though in this case the text is not cited word for word. So how do we get rid of ahankara? Jiva says, “In keeping with the verse 11.2.37 one does so by turning inward towards me (mad-antar-mukhatā, which puts an end to one’s external orientation away from me (mad-bahir-mukhatā).”

In other words, when a person’s attention is diverted from me, who am everyone’s true shelter (sva-loka), then their true identity does not manifest (ātmāparijñānaṁ sva-svarūpāsphūrtiḥ) and this is what leads to differences of opinion and argument. In other words, as long as one is turned away from Krishna, there is disagreement and debate, and real knowledge is never attained. It is thus a waste of time. On the other hand, when one is turned inward, towards Krishna, then knowledge arises as a secondary result; the main result attained is Krishna himself, who is the supreme goal of human life. That is the message of this verse according to Krama Sandarbha.

The Bhakti Sandarbha comes to the same point where it states what is found in Krama Sandarbha, which is to summarize the abhidheya. As already stated in the above-linked note, Jiva says that upon the delineation of the Supreme Truth, the sambandha, as given in the first four Sandarbhas, the course of action to be taken and the ultimate goal of such action, should be understood automatically, but that is usually not the case. He uses the example of Prahlada, who in exemplary humility says to Nrisingha:

naitan manas tava kathāsu vikuṇṭha-nātha
samprīyate durita-duṣṭam asādhu tīvram
kāmāturaṁ harṣa-śoka-bhayaiṣaṇārtaṁ
tasmin kathaṁ tava gatiṁ vimṛśāmi dīnaḥ
O Lord of Vaikuntha! This mind of mine does not take pleasure in hearing Your pastimes because it is polluted by sinful desires, utterly impious, agitated by lust, and afflicted by ardent desire, lamentation, fear and worldly hankerings. With a mind such as this, how can a pitiable person like me ever come to know Your truth? (7.9.39)

In other words, the mind is so contaminated that it cannot directly perceive what is to be done and not to be done and so the scriptures are there for the benefit of mankind to help choose a course of action for realizing that truth. That is called the abhidheya, which can be summarized as “Placing oneself before God, because this is the way to oppose the movement away from Him.” (tatrābhidheyaṁ tad-vaimukhya-virodhitvāt tat-sāmmukhyam eva). That is characterized by His worship, whereby which proper knowledge appears.

The prayojana, Jiva elaborates, is direct experience of God, which is characterized by seeing Him in all things internally and externally. Through such direct experience, all suffering comes to an end forever.

So the two verses (11.22.33 and 11.2.37) are shown to be saying basically the same thing: The non-dual Reality is realized through turning inward towards the Supreme Self. Confusion about Reality, which produces fear, comes from turning away from Him.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

First Anuccheda of Bhakti Sandarbha :: Guru Devatatma

So, I have finally been able to retrieve my mind from its incessant detours and brought it squarely back into Jiva Goswami’s mind and the Bhāgavata-purāṇa.

I am working on Bhakti-sandarbha now. And I am thinking about this verse, which Jiva Goswami is going to use as the first cornerstone of that book, in the first of nearly 400 anucchedas or sections, each centered around a single important verse from the Bhāgavata-purāṇa.

The central verse of the first anuccheda (11.2.37) is important and worthy of extended reflection, and thus somewhat difficult to translate. This is my job: to edit Satyanarayana Dasaji’s translation and process it through my understanding to most perfectly illustrate Jiva Goswami’s thought process. I don’t pretend to understand better than Satyanarayana Dasaji -- I consider him my Sandarbhas guru and that is the way I do this work. But we are both serving Jiva Goswami, and as a servant of the servant of Jiva Goswami, I try to present my understanding of his thought processes. And Babaji has a third capable member on this editorial team to again check against misdirections I may have taken. And the entire process is followed and finalized by Babaji.

But of course this is what will makes this edition of the Sandarbhas so good is that there are three persons of considerable experience bouncing the text and ideas around each other, stimulating each other. It is in fact, the Gita shloka in action:

mac-cittā mad-gata-prāṇā bodhayantaḥ parasparam
kathayantaś ca māṁ nityaṁ tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca

[What can be said of the wise who know I am the source of all things and that everything proceeds from Me, and who worship Me with great feeling? The following:] Their thoughts dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from enlightening one another and conversing about Me. [Gītā 10.9]

So, back to Bhakti-sandarbha. But believe me, the aforestated is very much related and relevant.

This is a verse begins with the Upanishads and ends in the present day, right now, to explain sādhanā bhakti.

bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād
īśād apetasya viparyayo’smṛtiḥ |
tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet tam
bhaktyaikayeśa guru-daivatātmā ||

Now the problem we face here is: Why did Jiva Goswami decide that this was the verse that explained the necessity for bhakti as well as defining what it is, concisely transitioning us from the subject matter of the first four sandarbhas into the question, “Now what do I do? If such is the status of the relations, then I ask, like Arjuna, “How does he walk? How does he sit? How does he talk? How does one who has stable knowledge of the Self, who has attained samadhi, act?”

The Bhakti-sandarbha is to be lessons in walking and talking.

For this verse I have too many translations, each of which requires evaluation. The fundamental problem seems to be the order of causality in which people understand the different words. Are things happening in a sequence, and if so, what is that sequence? How are all the parts hanging together?

It starts dramatically: FEAR!

Fear is a foundational problem and even the sound of the word can penetrate your foundation. Here the Bhagavata presents the Upanishadic conclusion:

dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt 
Fear arises from the abhiniveśa in the Second.

so’bibhet | tasmād ekākī bibheti | sa hāyam īkṣāṁ cakre yan mad-anyan nāsti | kasmān nu bibhemīti ? tata evāsya bhayaṁ vīyāya | kasmād dhy abheṣyat ? dvitīyād vai bhayaṁ bhavati ||

“He became afraid. Therefore, being alone one fears. He studied carefully and saw that there is nothing but Me. So why should I fear, he thought. And so he gave up fear. From what will one fear? Fear comes from the Second.” (Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.4.2)

The word abhiniveśa may seem tautological here. It really means “absorption in”. It is what the yogis call abhiniveśa, the fifth and stickiest of the kleśas. It is the fear of non-being, annihilation of the self.

In Dualism there is no mercy, only the binary: you are in or you are out. So, to whatever degree you are absorbed in the “Second” and not in the One Self, you are bound to experience fear. And all fears are really born of this one major fear of non-being.

And it comes from an illusion. The “Second” here means “that which is not this One Absolute non-dual (ekam evādvitīyam) substance”, in other words, the “Other.” So from now on, let us just translate “Second” as “Other”, a reasonable immediate understanding of the word dvitīya, like dusra in Hindi.

Before mentioning Maya, the speaker Kavi makes sure that we know a personal god is involved. After giving us this concise summary of the Vedanta, he seems to abandon non-dualism for dualism anyway.

īśād apetasya

“of one who is turned away from God.”

So the accumulated thought becomes: “The fear that would arise from absorption in the ‘Second’ is [experienced by] the person who is turned away from God.”

Can this be real dualism? So brazenly stated in the same sentence right after the uncompromising Upanishadic truth? “One who is turned away, who has moved away, from God.”

Now we know from the Upanishads that Atman and Brahman are one and the same. So how can you turn away from God? If God is everything, internal and external, then I too become one with that reality.

On the jñāna path we have to keep on hearing that over and over again, reflecting and meditating on it until we become totally and utterly convinced it is true and actually see it.

For the Vaishnava however, absorption in the Other means exactly the same thing as turning away from God. But in a sense it is prior to absorption in the Other. One turns away from God, who is the One, and becomes absorbed in the not-God.

bahūnāṁ janmanām ante jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ

After innumerable births and deaths, when one becomes wise and knows “There is nothing but Vasudeva,” he surrenders to Me. Such a great soul is very rare, indeed. [Gītā 7.19]

So what else happens to the poor guy who is in ignorance? Parts two and three:


reversal and forgetfulness

These are expressions that remind us of all the the other tribulations of life, which you may or may not enjoy. Viparyaya means “reversal, upheaval, dismal upsets of fortune; change for the worse, reverse of fortune, calamity, misfortune,” in short, misery.

A-smṛtiḥ means non-remembrance. Non-remembrance means increased self-forgetfulness, the perpetuation of the ignorance of who one truly is, constitutionally.

Vishwanath nicely says that the fear with which we started is to be seen as having these two aspects, which are viparyaya, meaning a reversal in the sense of self by thinking “I am this body, etc.,” the non-self, and that is combined with asmṛti forgetfulness of the true self.

So which words should we choose? I will go for “calamity and forgetfulness”. I will choose the most immediate direct meaning and let the head of the reader work to parse the possibilities of interpretation.

So, is there anything else involved in this whole equation?


By His Maya.

Now we have an instrumental. What is the immediate agent of this fear, upheaval, and forgetfulness? It is His, īśa’s, Maya. All this awareness of the Other, the fear, the upheaval and the ignorance, are caused through the agency known as Maya, God’s “magic” and often, Maya is taken to mean His “love.” How this creation, this illusion can be called a manifestation of God’s love is the problem that will need to be addressed, but not here.

ato budha ābhajet tam īśam

For this reason, the awakened soul will worship that God with complete attention.

Vishwanath here says that the ā means without any ulterior desire or motive. And that is confirmed in the next line.

bhaktyā ekayā

With single-minded devotion.


Now here we run into a little trouble because this is a compound word and one has to decipher it in various ways. What are the relationships between the words of the compound? The last word is of the most importance. Indeed, this compound word is the most important thought cluster in the entire passage. In Sanskrit, if the end is not the strongest part of the sentence, it has failed the poetic test. The poetic test is the one that leaves one with a sense of wonder, adbhuta-rasa, when the whole combination of clustered ideas blossom forth into a coherent, wonderfully formed whole, and when one perceives that entity and is astonished, then that is rasa. All the rasas are based on astonishment, on newness, some wondrous and unexpected combination of tastes in a delicious new preparation.

And in poetry, that is where the genius lies. Each picture is self-contained, a picture with a point. That point is conveyed through rasa.

So here, the point of the message can be many, because compound words allow for complex and multistoried complexes of meaning. But we will take the words guru-devatātmā to mean:

“one whose very self, whose worshipable god, is his Guru.”

This word is the heretofore unmentioned subject of the verb “worship” above. So the entire idea is “The one who is to worship in the pure and single-minded way named above, must be one whose very self, whose worshipable god, is his Guru.”

Shridhara stretches it further. He breaks it down as a bahuvrīhi-samāsa: gurur eva devatā īśvara ātmā preṣṭhaś ca yasya. “One for whom the guru is God, and the dearest beloved.” I like that and I think it is perfectly acceptable as a first reading understanding of the verse for someone who is not exceedingly well-versed in these things.

So now, before I go into an analysis of the other translations, let’s see if we can piece these ideas into a single coherent whole. I am feeling at this moment a bit like someone uncovering squares in a silly television game show, to see what the final outcome will be.

Fear arises from absorption in the Other in the person who is turned away from God, [and so too come] calamity and forgetfulness, through the agency of His Maya. For this reason, one who has awakened [to the above] will worship that God with complete attention, with a single-minded devotion, [himself being] one for whom the Guru is God, the dearest beloved.

So I will leave it there for today. Come back soon for Part II.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Starting work on Bhakti Sandarbha: Entering the first anuccheda

As anyone following me will know, I am working as part of a team with Satya Narayana Das Babaji of the Jiva Institute in his great project of making an authoritative and comprehensive translations of the Bhāgavata Sandarbha or "Six Sandarbhas," Jiva Goswami's principal contribution to the world of Indian philosophy and theology. The first three volumes have been published and my work on the Krishna Sandarbha has been completed, and so I am now turning my attention to the fifth book, Bhakti Sandarbha.

The first four deal with sambandha, the fifth with abhidheya and the sixth with prayojana. The first anuccheda, or section, (of which there are 382) is introductory in nature and serves to act as a bridge between what has gone before and the subject of this book, which is the abhidheya.

The word abhidheya is an interesting one in itself and seems to have acquired its technical meaning in the context of the anubandha-catuṣṭaya, or four things that an author sets out to clarify before starting a book, where it is the equivalent of the viṣaya or subject of the treatise. In Sri Jiva’s case, he is establishing the meaning of the Bhāgavatam. In this context abhidheya means that which is intended purpose of a text. Since the purpose of a text is to get you to do something, to undertake a particular instruction, the word abhidheya becomes, for most Gaudiya Vaishnavas, bhakti itself.

What this means is that any knowledge, i.e, that of a certain set of conditions or relations (sambandha) implies an action, and any action has a purpose to fulfill (prayojana). But the important thing, as it was for Arjuna at the beginning of the Bhagavad-Gita, is “What do I do?” That is what we need to know.

The first thing Jiva does is to summarize the first four books, i.e, sambandha-tattva, in one very dense sentence.

अत्र पूर्वं सन्दर्भचतुष्टयेन सम्बन्धो व्याख्यातः । तत्र पूर्णसनातनपरमानन्दलक्षणपरतत्त्वरूपं सम्बन्धि च ब्रह्म परमात्मा भगवान् इति त्रिधाविर्भावतया शब्दितमिति निरूपितम् । तत्र च भगवत्त्वेनैवाविर्भावस्य परमोत्कर्षः प्रतिपादितः । प्रसङ्गेन विष्ण्वाद्याश्चतुःसनाद्याश्च तदवतारा दर्शिताः । स च भगवान् स्वयं श्रीकृष्ण एवेति निर्धारितम् ।

"The first four books taught the sambandha, which is the Supreme Truth -- characterized as complete, eternal, and the highest bliss. This Supreme Truth is known by its three nomenclatures, which are a result of its three manifestations as Brahma, Paramatma and Bhagavan. Of these, it was established that the manifestation as Bhagavan is superior to the three others. In the course of explaining this His avataras like Vishnu and the four Kumaras were also shown. And also it was ascertained that Shri Krishna is the Self-form of Bhagavan."

Next, he summarizes the position of the jiva, which was one of the topics discussed in Paramatma Sandarbha--

परमात्मवैभवगणने च तटस्थशक्तिरूपाणां चिदेकरसानामपि अनादिपरतत्त्वज्ञानसंसर्गाभावमयतद्वैमुख्य-लब्धच्छिद्रया तन्माययावृतस्वरूपज्ञानानां तयैव सत्त्वरजस्तमोमये जडे प्रधाने रचितात्मभावानां जीवानां संसारदुःखं च ज्ञापितम् ।
"When enumerating the various energies or opulences of the Supersoul, it was told that the jivas, who are His marginal potency and are in reality pure consciousness, experience the misery of material existence because of His illusory energy which covers their knowledge of their true nature and makes them identify with this unconscious material world composed of the three qualities of goodness, passion and ignorance. This is possible because she is able to find the defect of the jiva in his beginningless lack of any connection to knowledge of the Supreme Truth."

Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji notes here: “ The exact word used here for ignorance is saṁsarga-abhāva. This is a term used in the Vaiśeṣika school of philosophy. Saṁsargābhāva is of three types: prāg-abhāva, pradhvaṁsa-abhāva and atyanta-abhāva. The type of ignorance referred to here is prāg-abhāva, or “pre-nonexistence.” This refers to the absence of an object before it is acquired or produced. It implies that the absence had no beginning but comes to an end once the object is acquired or produced. In the present context prāg-abhāva refers to an absence of knowledge of the Absolute Reality. It means that this ignorance, although beginningless, will come to an end when a particular living entity attains knowledge of the Absolute Reality.”

So right away, the question of the jiva’s having once been in Goloka, as it is often framed, is settled. No, the jiva never had knowledge of the Supreme Truth, and due to that he became susceptible to the influence of Maya, which has the dual function of covering his knowledge of his own nature and to make him identify with the material energy. These are generally called āvaraṇa and vikṣepa.

Now here he quotes a verse from the Eleventh Canto, which is thus the first quoted verse of the book, but not the principal verse of the anuccheda. I may already have mentioned that each section will have one verse from the Bhagavatam as its principal pramāṇa. So this verse is not the principal verse, but is meant simply as a summary statement of what he has just said and also to serve the function of taking us into the subject of abhidheya, “What is to be done?”

आत्मापरिज्ञानमयो विवादो ह्यस्तीति नास्तीति भिदात्मनिष्ठः।
व्यर्थोऽपि नैवोपरमेत पुंसां मत्तः परावृत्तधियां स्वलोकात्॥ इति।

This verse is not overly difficult, though it has a few problems for the translator. Let’s take it word for word and see what happens.

ātmāparijñāna-mayo vivādo
hy astīti nāstīti bhidārtha-niṣṭhaḥ

I read this as astīti nāstīti bhidārtha-niṣṭho vivādo hi ātmāparijñāna-mayaḥ. “‘It is’ ‘It is not’: this controversy fixated in the sense of difference is full of ignorance of the Self.” That is my bare-bones translation.” This is also the way that Shridhar Swami reads it.

Madhva has a bit of a different take. He reads the first part as ātmā parijñāna-mayaḥ, i.e., “the Self is composed of complete knowledge.” The rest is then another sentence. Here again he reads bhidā as an instrument meaning “topsy-turvy” (viparyayena) “Arguments as to whether it is or is not always end up with a meaning that is topsy turvy, i.e. “What is is said to not be, what is not is said to be.”

The second half :
vyartho ‘pi naivoparameta puṁsāṁ
mattaḥ parāvṛtta-dhiyāṁ svalokāt
“Even though serving no purpose, it will never come to an end for those human beings whose minds are turned away from Me, who am their own abode.”

This is Babaji’s translation as it now stands: “The controversy over whether the Self as distinguished from the universe exists or not is the result of not knowing the ätmä or the Supreme. Although it is useless, it does not cease in the case of men whose mind is turned away from Me, their real Self.” (11.22.34)

He has obviously borrowed from the Gita Press [all the more reason to revise it]: “The controversy over whether the Self as distinguished from the body exists or not is the result of not realizing the Self. Though meaningless, it does not cease in the case of men whose mind is turned away from Me, their real Self.”

BBT: The speculative argument of philosophers — “This world is real,” “No, it is not real” — is based upon incomplete knowledge of the Supreme Soul and is simply aimed at understanding material dualities. Although such argument is useless, persons who have turned their attention away from Me, their own true Self, are unable to give it up.

The BBT translation is following Vishwanath. Well, I am still at some distance from understanding exactly what is going on with this “is, is not” controversy. For that I need to understand the context better. Indeed, Vishwanath reads the previous verse together with this one, and it is clear that we need a larger overview. So this is where I leave off my thinking out loud for the moment. Jai Radhe.

Monday, August 15, 2016

New Book :: Sadhaka Pathyam

Along with several other titles, Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust has published a book I did to facilitate Sanskrit teaching to the students of Swami Rama Sadhaka Gram. This publication was made to coincide with the first anniversary of Swami Veda Bharati's Mahasamadhi.

This book contains first of all a guide to understanding the Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary of many of the essential materials used at SRSG, such as the morning and evening prayers, many of Swamiji's favorite verses from the Bhagavad Gita, and so on.  There is also a section of additional materials and exercises to help the Sanskrit student, such as sandhi rules, principal parts of verbs, as well as supplementary reading exercises.

This handbook was originally conceived as a collection of supplementary reading exercises for students of Sanskrit at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. The primary goal was to help non-Indian students of yoga and Indian philosophy to acquire a working knowledge of textual Sanskrit as well as familiarity with some important Sanskrit texts.

Since the students at the ashram are of widely differing levels of commitment and practice, the first section of this book is devoted to the prayers and other verses that are chanted in the morning and evening at the ashram. Each word is explained grammatically, so that even those who are not interested in acquiring a deep knowledge of Sanskrit can still have a better understanding of the meaning of each word in these prayers.

The second section includes various readings, including a short Rāmāyaṇa-based text meant for easy reading, some of the principal verses from the Gītā, the Upaniṣads, etc., which have also been the subject of Swami Veda Bharati’s lectures during the time I spent at the ashram. Recordings are available of his lectures on the Sapta-ślokī Gītā and the Sthita-prajña-lakṣaṇa section of the Gītā.

The last section of this volume gives a number of supplementary lessons and exercises to use for easy reference and to which the notes on the verses often direct the reader. Here one will find more information about sandhi and some other features that I felt were inadequately described in the textbooks we were using for the course.

Though I have tried to make this volume as user-friendly as possible, materials such as this are best read with the help of a teacher and as a part of a more elaborate course on the, etc. of Sanskrit. I have tried as far as possible to give page references for verb roots and declensions from the little volume Rūpa-candrikā (ed. Brahmanand Tripathi, Varanasi: Chaukhamba Surbharati Prakashan, 2003), as well as to Thomas Egenes, Introduction to Sanskrit, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2006 (reprint), which was the principal textbook I used in the course.

It has been a great opportunity for me to contribute to the life of the ashram over the years and to the students’ study of this great ancient language, knowing which will only increase one’s love for the spiritual culture that lies at the basis of India’s civilization. I thank Swami Veda Bharati for giving me the opportunity to make this small contribution.

As we will be starting a serious program for Sanskrit students at Jiva in the autumn, the five-year Bhakti Tirtha course, I am planning another version of this book geared to the Vaishnava scriptures, etc. Look for it in another year or so. In the meantime, you can purchase this from the Himalayan Yoga Publications.

Jai Radhe.