Back to Blogging, January 2020
Babaji and his disciples are having a japa retreat for the next week. I am witnessing it for the first time and more or less participating in it by osmosis. There are, as I understand it, no rules other than the usual daily prayer together and an informal ishtagoshti once a day.
The vibration is strong as everyone is maximizing their individual sadhana rather than study or classes for the next week. There are also some other devotees who have come specifically to participate. The whole things is a bit secretive as everyone is told to strictly follow the rule, āpana bhajana kathā na kahibe yathā tathā.
Some people have asked me about the Bhakti Sandarbha, which I suddenly stopped posting more than a month ago. The reason for that is that I had to hand it in to Babaji and I could not do that without going through the whole thing once again, thinking of him as the intended reader. As a professional, I may be slow, but let me at least be diligent. That work has now been done, so I will resume posting the remainder of the text, as before several anucchedas per day, in a few days. From here to the end is primarily about rāgānugā bhakti, so it should be of some interest to my readers.
However, it is quite likely that I take down the other Bhakti Sandarbha posts since they have already been changed and will be changed even more. Besides, they are not mine to share. We'll see, but ultimately it will depend on Babaji. Let me at least apologize for the last month's silence.
I seem to have reached a kind of turning point with the end of the year. My trip to Canada was a hiatus in my Vraja-vasa, and it is has taken me almost three months just to recover my bearings and find my rhythm in bhajan. This is something I will try to write about this also as it relates both to what I am going to say about the Guru issue and the Bhakti Sandarbha.
There was a cold spell that had me running to find a heater that would keep me from shivering under a pile of blankets. I had much to remember regarding Bhagavad Gita's practically very first teaching of stoicism: śītoṣṇa sukha duḥkha dāḥ.
It is somewhat strange that I have almost entirely stopped writing autobiographically. I don't think that it is merely an accidental result of living in Vrindavan and India for more than a decade now, as someone who directly or indirectly has some connection to the spiritual practices of this country, which is really the only place I can now call home.
Writing in any circumstances is difficult, but writing autobiographically is perhaps the most difficult because it makes honesty an imperative -- if one wants to use writing in a spiritual way at all. Originally, in the early days of this blog, I saw it as a kind of diary, a record of my life as a sadhaka, warts and all, and it still is so. But the more I think about the path of rasika devotion, I have hit upon the big difference between the Indian way of mysticism and the search for truth in the Self and the path that sees the world as the real playground of truth, where science saves humanity from "the curse of subjectivity."
When I was working on Bhaktivinoda Thakur's autobiography, I was impressed by Shukavak's first impressions on reading it. He found that it spoke to him in ways that the mythological aspects of our tradition did not. Reading about the Thakur's life connected him to his world in a personal way. Though Bhaktivinoda Thakur by no means revealed himself completely in his memoir, he did so sufficiently to make us aware of his humanity. The Guru is, of course, the connection between the inner and outer worlds, the via media. If he is not human, what hope is there for us? And if he is not divine, then what hope is there for us?
It is a little over 40 years ago that I took initiation from Prabhu and left Iskcon. Nevertheless I mark January 1, 1980 as the day that I crossed the Ganga with my beloved godbrother Madhusudan Dasji, dressed in white, and threw my sannyasa danda and sacred thread into the water at the confluence of the Ganga and Jalangi. My Rubicon, I guess.
I wish I still had the poem I wrote the night in Hyderabad when I made my fateful decision. In it, I dreaded the inevitable feelings of being hated and cursed by the friends and community with whom I had served Srila Prabhupada and his mission faithfully for nearly a decade. I knew it would not be something that I could make any of them understand, and that is unfortunately still the situation.
At the time, I did not see how anything other than bhajan itself, directly hearing and chanting about Radha and Krishna, living the life of the Goswamis and the traditional way of bhajananandi renunciation. This was not something different from what Prabhupada was giving, it was the very thing that he was giving us. But, in his wisdom, he created a structure primarily directed towards beginners. Nothing wrong with that, but that was different from making sure that the prasad hall was cleaned at night and so on.
At any rate, I crossed that Rubicon forty years ago. Here in Vrindavan I have very little to do with Iskcon, but when in Canada, I find that I still have more affinity with the mood of Iskcon than of any other Hindu organization -- kirtan, deities, etc. They are still recognizably of the same general geographical area of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Externally, the differences are minor. But for my friends in Iskcon, I am a "guru tyagi" and that makes me a pariah, someone to be feared and reviled. Well, we are familiar with the cult mentality and recognize this as one of its characteristics. I find it hurtful, of course, and misplaced, but not unexpected.
The Montreal temple devotees, at least those who know me, fear me that I have come in the spirit of a thief, one who has come to bewilder some innocents and lure them away from Prabhupada's movement. I had a little bit of an unfriendly talk with one of them, who regurgitated to me the life of Jagadananda Das as seen by an Iskcon devotee, guru tyagi, giver up of sannyas, poacher of a prospective Iskcon disciple (my wife!) and whose presence in the temple was only bound to cause a disturbance in the devotees' minds.
My foolish logic was that Iskcon is historically now in a particular situation where it has much of the infrastructure needed for a thriving community life for devotees, but its exclusion of other devotees from other groups created an unnecessary sectarian divide. If they were to open doors to teachers from other Vaishnava schools, speakers who could give insight into the meaning of the Bhagavatam and so on, then would not everyone benefit? Of course, I was not thinking like an Iskconite and so this kind of idea certainly would not float in their isolationist mentality. I did write it up in French, however, and posted it on Facebook and got a fair amount of favorable reaction from some of my friends from the non-Iskcon Vaishnavas in Quebec. One pro-Iskcon devotee from Montreal, presented the opposing arguments and pointed out how the various positions on guru tattva and doctrine, etc., would inevitably be compromised and Iskcon would be adversely affected by such action. So be it. I am not trying to get into the Jagannath temple here. It was natural that I gravitate towards a place where there is Krishna bhakti. But if it comes to talking about Krishna bhakti...
Lately I have been watching Premananda Baba's lectures in Hindi a lot. Though my Hindi comprehension is way below 100%, it seems to me to be much higher when I listen to him. I will talk about him more in the coming days, when the other clutter in my brain has cleared a bit. I will probably do so when I write the rest of Vrindavana-mahimamrita, whenever that will be. Yesterday a Russian girl asked him publicly for initiation. She was not the first, but I expect that the doors that Iskcon opened to Vrindavan are going to lead to a considerable number of people from around the world coming to Baba, even though he speaks only in Hindi.
Anyway, he gave a talk the other day about Guru Tattva and before I finish Bhaktivinoda Thakur's autobiography and have it published (here by Jiva), I need to settle up how to write about the issue when it is to be put down in hard copy. The trip to Canada helped to open up the wounds sufficiently to allow for closer examination. What it comes down to is: Can I give a coherent justification for my decision to "renounce" Srila Prabhupada and take initiation again from Lalita Prasad Thakur.
I am, by now, rather sick of the subject altogether. Hopefully, when I finish this book, the scope of which has yet to be determined, I will be finished with it and will be able to open up more mental space for more direct forms of bhajan. Babaji said to me, "After you, no one will be left who knows these things, so it is important that you clarify both the history and the tattva." So that will be my intention.
Premananda Baba has been lecturing on Rupa and Sanatan Goswami and their lila with Mahaprabhu. He started the lecture with a quotation from Dhruvadas's Vaishnava-Namavali.
Then the other day I went to Bhagavata Nivas to listen to Chandan Goswami, whom I had never heard before. He was talking on Radha Rasa Sudha Nidhi 61. I was pleased to hear him tell stories from what I will call the Vrindavan Rasik tradition.
This includes Nimbarkis, the Haridasis, Radhavallabhis, as well as some Gaudiyas, but not all. This is the line to which Prabodhananda Saraswati belongs. There may be disagreements on the RRSN's author, but the mood is Radha dasya and that is the nature of rasika bhajan, to have ekanta nistha for Radha. Call it sahacari bhava or manjari bhava.
This is the logical conclusion of the entire body of shastras that was produced by the Six Goswamis. This is what the Vrindavan sadhana is all about.
The Vrindavan mood is above sampradaya. At some point in history, sectarian attitudes entered and divisions arose. But in fact, the Vrindavan rasika mood is a consensus of mutual admiration and respect for the devotion of others, regardless of their sampradaya.
Even if there are historical quarrels, still we see the glory of those who glorify the Divine Couple and aspire to serve them in the nitya-vihara.
Sampradayikata leads to offenses. Offenses lead to deprivation of the very thing in which we consider ourselves to be superior.
I really recommend Gaudiya Vaishnavas who know Hindi to listen to the story of the Rupa and Sanatan who is supposedly "ours" but is as much Premananda Baba's, because he embodies the ideals of the vairagi Vaishnava. Listen to the whole series and try to understand how the Vrindavan mood stands above sect and the value of the sect is only in how you attain the Vrindavan mood.
But all the sects agree on one thing, and that is central to Mahaprabhu's teaching. Humility and respect for the Vaishnavas.
Listen to his daily introductory speech. See all the creatures in Vrindavan as embodiments of Radha's mercy. If you want to enter Vrindavan "as it is" then you have to be able to recognize it when you see it. And that is all that our sadhana consists of.
A devotee asked me if I was going to "switch" to Premananda and take initiation from him. Again, this is a mistake. At any rate, these are a few of the things that are going on here and I will try to follow up in the coming days. Jai Radhe.