I was not too long ago surprised to hear a Rabindra Swarup statement that manjari bhava sadhana was not integral to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, but came about as a later development as a result of association in Vrindavan with Nimbarkis and other sakhī-bhāva sampradāyas.
Since we are accustomed to hearing Gaudiya Vaishnava defenses of their originating worship in sakhi or manjari bhava, I found this a rather striking commentary. Of course, something in that spirit has been floating around in the Gaudiya Math for a long time, in which one sees the argument that siddha pranali, for instance, does not exist in the writings of Rupa or the other six Goswamis, not even in Krishnadas Kaviraj, so therefore it is not authentic. That they can make such a claim despite Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s authentication of Gopala Guru Goswami and Dhyanachandra’s paddhatis in Jaiva Dharma is beyond me, but it is an interesting kind of development in their war against Sahajiyaism.
The essence of līlā-smaraṇam is, of course, to remember the lila and to imagine oneself as a participant in it. This is not an easy thing to do for most sadhakas, any more than any other system of visualization, variations on which are present in all Tantrik paths as mānasa pūjā. This is why the babaji sadhakas put so much emphasis on the Yoga Pith smaran, because it is a better-constructed procedure of mental puja with a clear form, etc.
Anyone who has done archan or deity worship will find the process much easier than someone who has not. Mind control techniques that are based on customary sensory impressions, i.e., including physical movements, visual impressions, etc., are more effective that ones that are based entirely on one or the other sense activities alone. Therefore, though all sampradayas agree on the primacy of sound, they tend to add other activities to engage more sensual impressions to bear on the core goal of ekāgratā (single-pointedness).
Saraswati Thakur's rejection of Sahajiyaism is in part based on the idea that Mahaprabhu gave prominence to the "Bhagavata" way of worship (i.e., Harinam), but even so, he never wholly rejected the pancharatrik system. Quite the contrary, as the Gaudiya Math seal shows. Clearly any kind of correlation of Bhagavata to viraha and Pancharatra to sambhoga cannot be held to make complete logical sense. If separation were the only sadhana, then we would have to get rid of deity worship altogether, because deity worship itself assumes the presence of God in the deity form.
But it is true that in particular the Sakhi Sampradaya of Swami Haridas and most of the Nitya Viharis (including Jiva Goswami, we may say) believe in the preeminence of union. But at the same time, there is something disingenuous about the idea of nitya-vihara, in the sense that the separation of the One into Two for the sake of love implies that there has already been a separation of sorts in the very beginning. Separation, no matter how minimal, is necessary for rasa; it is what makes the union delectable, as the definition of separation provided by Rupa Goswami makes clear (na vinā vipralambhena sambhogaḥ puṣṭim aśnute). Indeed there is no other explanation for the existence of the material world than this.
The point is that the eternal union of Radha and Krishna exists in one dimension in the mind, and that is where the intensity grows, even or especially during separation. Even so, despite this dimension of eternal union, viraha happens anyway, by the power of Yogamaya, whether one is in the conditioned or the perfected state.
There are five kinds of separation, according to the Gaudiya and secular poeticians. There is a disagreement in the taxonomy, for the reason that the Gaudiyas do not accept karuṇa, or death as valid in Radha-Krishna lila. I won't go into an argument about that here, but obviously death has a role in at least the prakaṭa-līlā, so its role in the experience of rasa should not be discounted.
- Separation in pūrva-rāga, before meeting.
- Separation after an argument, māna.
- Separation of short duration, in the regular course of events.
- Separation of long duration.
- Separation by death.
Even the nitya-vihārīs, while rejecting four of the five kinds of viraha, and reducing mana to praṇaya-māna (love sulks) and rejecting īrṣyā-māna (jealousy), still have a little space for separation, enough to create a bit of variety in the lila. So when Rupa Goswami calls them apūrva-rasikas for their sanitizing the lila to the point of rendering it lifeless, he has a bit of a point.
For the sadhaka, Sur Das nicely states:
ज्यौ बिनु पुट पठ गहे न रंगहि, पुट गहे रसहि परै
जौ आवै घट दहन अनल तौ पुनि अमिय भरै
जौ धरि बीज देह अङ्कुर चिरि तौ सत फरनि फरै
जौ सर सहत सुभट संमुख रन तों रवि रथहि सरै
Those following the path of prema should not fear the pain of separation. They believe that the cloth of love, if it falls into the bowl of separation, becomes brighter in color. If the clay pot had not been baked in the heat of the fire, how would it be able to hold its fill of nectar? If the seed did not break through its casing, how would it flourish and give so many fruits and flowers? If the hero could not tolerate the arrows that pierce his body on the battlefield, how would he ever enter Suryaloka? In this way, the follower of the path of love should never fear pain.
I assume that Bhaktisiddhanta's criticism is based on the Sahajiya emphasis on sexual practices, or union. The Sahajiya is told to "take a Sadhika partner" because this requires sexual practices as a sadhana. Nevertheless, even there viraha "just happens." It is inevitable. Indeed Manmohan Basu, when listing the reasons for the superiority of a parakiya partner for sahaja sadhana makes this one of his points:
6. The chance of viraha or separation is usually not so great in the svakiya love as it is in the parakiya amours. As there is generally no uncertainty as to the ultimate union with the svakiya mate, the viraha is less keenly felt in the married love than in the parakiya, wherein one has to depend on chance only even for the secret meetings. This makes svakiya less interesting than parakiya. Now, viraha supplies the force that is necessary for the continuous flow of the current of love, and it is as useful in love affairs as the intermediate depression for the production of two consecutive upheavals of a wavy surface.
A sample meditation
The first point to make is that there are several preliminaries. I am not going to go into detail here even though I expect that many of the people reading this will not be familiar with them.
- You really have to know how to sit straight in meditation with proper back support;
- how to do abdominal breathing and be fairly strong in mantra meditation to begin with;
- It might be a good idea to learn how to do neti and nadi shodhana, so that your nasal passages are clear and fairly well-balanced.
Kapalabhati, headstands, shoulderstands and viparitakarini are all helpful in this regard. You cannot really do any kind of meditation properly if your nostrils are stuffed up.
- It is a very good idea to do pratyahara by doing what is called dehAvalokana, i.e., withdrawing your consciousness from the external world by consciously travelling through the 61 points of the physical body, relaxing the muscles. Do this going in one direction and then in the reverse direction.
- Once this is completed and the breath is smooth, regular, even, without jerks, one can coordinate mantra meditation with the breathing.
- Another practice which all yogi adepts follow, and which is essential in this practice, is that of the bandhas, especially mula-bandha. I am going to leave that for the time being, but it is very important.
These are basics. To go on,
- You have to be familiar with and have practiced shushumna breathing, which means to bring your awareness to the point of entry of the breath into the nose, i.e., the base of the nostrils, and follow the breath through the imaginary central passage along the nose and into the Ajna Chakra, between the eyebrows. So basically all your energy is concentrated on this part of your face.
- Now turn your attention to your lips. Remember the touch of the beloved's lips on yours. Allow yourself to feel the effect of the touch of the beloved's lips and the reaction it has on your heart and your gut. Let this feeling, which is no doubt mixed with both pleasure and distress due to separation, pervade your body.
- Bring your attention back to your lips and feel the presence of the beloved there. Now think, "This accumulated sensation is the direct manifestation of Radha and Krishna."
- As you breathe in, mentally repeating the mantra, breathe Radha and Krishna in through your nose and into your ajna chakra, and from there, if it is possible, into the Sahasrara Chakra in the cranium.
- Let the feeling that is in your gut and heart, which is pervading your body, follow the presence of the breath. This is eternity, knowledge and bliss. This is the Divine Couple, all-pervading and manifest inside you. Expertly ride the wave of the bhava like a surfer to the transcendental realm of eternity, knowledge and bliss.
Note that the work here is not being done purely in the mind, but is, as with all Sahajiya sadhana, as a culture of bhava. The manifestations of the form, guna and lila are all a product of the bhava, which is all those things in potentiality. The bija of the mantra has taken root and manifested as the bhava, and now this bhava will start to take shape in the form of Radha and Krishna's forms and pastimes.
One should avoid genital disturbance in this exercise, and indeed if one is somewhat trained up it should not be an issue, but if it should come (as is especially likely in the purva-raga stage), then use mula-bandha and bandha-traya, etc., to control it.
Anyway, as you can see from the end of the meditation is that there is an inevitable point that has to be recognized. And that is that the individual lovers are NOT the full story. This is the point of conflict between the mundane and the transcendental vision that is a recurring cause for concern. But the transcendental point of view is merciless: Birth, old age, disease and death are constants. The plaintive prayer of Radha in the Jagannatha-vallabha-nataka, so brilliantly elaborated by Krishnadas Kaviraj illustrates it so nicely.
e jauvana dina dui cāri
One of the points of consternation that is often expressed about the Sahajiya path is the fear that the Sahajiyas do not believe in monogamy, fidelity or exclusivity in loving relations. Or put another way, that they believe in the interchangeability of lovers, i.e., that the human individual involved is unimportant and the real concern is purely with the presence of a warm body for a practice that is purely physical or mechanical. This then leads to licentiousness, etc. Though there is some validity to this argument, there are some subtle points to make here and I ask a little indulgence to hear this through.
Well, the fact is that there is interchangeability. That is the human experience and becomes clear from an analysis of the Vedantic texts. There is no permanence in this world, the only permanence is in the experience of the underlying, transcendent reality.
The hard Vedic truth is that ultimate happiness comes from contact with the eternal, and not from the contact with specific individuals. The high level of importance given to individuals comes from the degree of helpfulness they have for bhajan. In other words, we put a lot of emphasis on sadhu-sanga or the Guru. Is the human guru a temporary or disposable manifestation? We would all revolt against that in theory, whatever we do in practice. And the fact is that multiple gurus are not only the common practice, but recognized in Tantra and the Bhagavata as a fact of spiritual progress.
So since the practice (many gurus) is different from the theory (absolute fidelity to one guru), we are forced to revise the theory. The revised theory is that Krishna is the One Guru, and that he manifests in different forms at different times in accordance with the changing needs of the disciple. More could be said here, but let us simply say that those who stick to "one guru" theories are often floating on the surface of Guru Tattva and missing the underlying presence of Guru. As such, they as often as not cease to have dynamic spiritual lives.
Now in practice, something similar happens in male-female relationships, despite our protestations about exclusivity. There simply is no permanence in the material world, and the desire to impose permanence on it is, in this aspect, a sign of the svakiya mood.
Now this does not mean that we jettison our commitments and associations willy-nilly. But it is a guide to priorities. A person who uses the above as an excuse to be a dilettante is not likely to make much real inner advancement, which is the true goal. Most people are concerned with externals, i.e., the external show of spiritual advancement more than the actual achievement of any spiritual advancement. Once they figure they have it (like this one guy with a blog in Uttara Anchal who says, “Having realized God in 1993, [I am] able to understand the hidden truths of all scriptures of all religions of the world.”), they go on the rampage and effectively stop any meaningful spiritual progress. Commitment to externals that cease to have a meaningful relationship to the true goal of life is an error.
On the other hand, the fact is that niṣṭhā hoile upajaya premera taraṅga, "The waves of prema arise from commitment [to one or the other bhajana angas]" (CC 2.22.129). There is a sort paradox here. On the one hand there is the deep awareness of the temporality and finitude of worldly relationships, and on the other is the need to experience the full depth and power of such relationships in order to enter into an understanding and experience of the divine rasa. This cannot be had by searching continuously and idealistically for some "big wave," crossing the globe from Big Sur to Zanzibar and then to Bondi. It comes from deepening the commitments and potentiality that are found in what has come by God's grace.
There are many fine lines here, and hard rules need to be treated with delicate suspicion. There are too many who use the Infinite Value as an excuse to exploit or denigrate the Finite, without recognizing on the one hand the fuzzy line that distinguishes the perception of Infinite Value from Ego and the infinite value of the individual soul on the other. In particular, the latter, which we can call the humanist trend in religion and values, is important in Vaishnavism, as is shown by the attribution of human characteristics to the Supreme.
Paradoxes are rife here, and the Sahaja sadhana is an attempt to negotiate these paradoxes. To both have the cake and eat it too, as it were. And, as God is, by definition, that being in whom all paradoxes are resolved, at least we can say we have come to the right place.