Confessions: Sahajiyaism and Guru Tattva

So  I have decided to return to my confessions. One of the things I have been thinking about of late is the Sva-likhita-jīvanī of Bhaktivinoda Thakur. I have been reading a lot of his other writings, especially the earlier ones, along with the SLJ and trying to form a proper understanding of his life and work. I have also been reading some of the scholarship about BVT mostly from devotees in academia and trying to imagine this man, who has played such a big part in my life.

I have just been talking with a critic here who like so many others objects to my writings about Sahajiyaism. This critic has also very calmly told me that I am self-absorbed and a poseur, and that I am dishonest when I claim to have received the grace of various gurus because I don't follow any of them, as none of them would approve of my Sahajiya doctrine..

Do I feel entirely comfortable with my self-claimed title of Sahajiya? I occasionally get letters from people who sympathize with some of the things that I have written, but I will be quite honest and say that I do not often feel like they are kindred spirits. I believe that my Sahajiyaism is closer to orthodoxy and actually in keeping with orthodoxy in most ways and I have made my effort to align or synthesize the two. By this I mean that I felt that one of the great shortcomings of the Hare Krishna movement was its failure to create community due to its seeming rejection of worldly human relations, especially those between men and women. How can there be a society without family, and how can there be family without genuine erotic love? It seemed perfectly logical to me that having Radha and Krishna as archetypal lover instilled value and sacredness to the act of love, and indeed I still do.

One of the things that came out of my previous meditations on Bhaktivinoda was an early influence on myself was the attempt to follow the Thakur in his modern approach and his traditional practice of raganuga bhakti. To me the SLJ was also a "modern" feature of the Thakur's career, since we have no other such examples in the tradition. Perhaps it was the fact that he was a convert and came to bhakti after long interaction with his childhood Shaktaism and eclectic Hinduism and his youthful dedication to studying English literature and philosophy, which continued through his life in his government service and brotherly Anglophilia.

This was all one of the reasons I chose to write a blog that was "confessional," and an attempt to be honest about my personal experience was the determination that I will speak of my engagement with spiritual life, warts and all. This may have been a "modern" or "Western" approach, which got some inspiration from BVT's memoir, but it also fit in with an attempt not to be a false prophet -- or as I said recently, to engage in a kind of ongoing subversion of my own desire to be a guru. Since I am no one's guru, you could say I have been quite successful.

However, my concept of Sahajiyaism as a life philosophy has been very difficult to talk about confessionally, i.e., honestly and with reference to personal experience and that is because there are other people who have to be considered. Perhaps for the true story to come out one will have to be offer it as a posthumous autobiography, otherwise it will never be written.

I am not perfect, and I doubt I will ever achieve perfection. Indeed, as a modern man, I am bound to consider perfection an impossible and unrealizable goal. But perhaps I am going about things in an entirely wrong way and depending entirely too much on my independent spirit. For instance, my friendly critic told me that I don't submit to the teachings of any guru. That is no doubt one of the reasons that I was unable to write coherently about Gurut-tattva for this Guru Purnima when I really wanted to.

I had a Sahajiya guru, but I never kept contact with him. To have a guru means to follow a path given by a guru and to stick to that. Perhaps my current return to Bhaktivinoda Thakur means a return home to the pure orthodoxy as represented by him. The trouble is that BVT is not entirely orthodox, and that is in great part because of his modernity. Indeed, my openness to Sahajiyaism has been in great part the result of being a child of the 60's.

Shastra tells us there are two kinds of guru, one external and one internal. And in my view, the internal guru has always been the  more important of the two. I have said that the purpose of then Gita is to show how to purify the mind so that one can hear then internal Guru, dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṇ yena māṁ upayānti te. This is by no means a minimization of the living representative of the internal guru, but it simply means that to be a mature human being we are forced to make decisions that are not necessarily provided for by shastra or an ambulant guru who stands looking over one's shoulder. Moreover, we are individual creatures who must act independently. Without that there is no meaning to free will. The guru helps us to discover ourselves, not to turn us into clones of himself.

A guiding voice for me has always been this verse by Uddhava in the Eleventh Canto

naivopayanty apacitiṁ kavayas taveśa
brahmāyuṣāpi kṛtam ṛddha-mudaḥ smarantaḥ
yo’ntar bahis tanu-bhṛtām aśubhaṁ vidhunvann
ācārya-caittya-vapuṣā sva-gatiṁ vyanakti

The great philosophers, O Lord, can never reach the end of your deeds, even if with enriched joy they meditate on them with a lifetime as long as that of Brahma. What are those deeds? Both within and without you remove the inauspiciousness suffered by living beings, and in the form of the acharya and of the conscience, you reveal the path to yourself. .(11.29.6)

This is also the meaning of the Yoga-sutra 1.26.

As I was contemplating the issue of Guru-tattva, I was trying to explain my own unfortunate situation in that since I had met my guru only when he was very senior in age, I never had the opportunity to study with him in the way that some other more fortunate disciples, such as Ananta Das Babaji or Vinoda Bihari Baba or Satyanarayana Das Babaji had. They took shelter of their diksha guru and remained faithful to him for the duration of his lifetime and continued their one-pointed loyalty for their entire spiritual career. This is a kind of fortune and faith that is perhaps lacking in me and can be considered a defect. My critic says, why not just surrender and take absolute guidance from Satyanarayana Dasji? All I can say is that by circumstance my path is not his path.

Perhaps I suffer from the independent spirit or Western mindset where everyone is independent, there is no need to follow any guru and that one's own inner intelligence is sufficient guidance as well. But I don't believe I have approached things in that way at all.

As a matter of fact, I found it necessary to follow the paths that I did follow by the grace of God and I will not take it any other way. If I follow a wrong path, then for my own education that is what God intended for me, to learn from my mistakes. I am not ashamed to admit that. And that is one of the reasons that I chose to write autobiographically in my blog, to show that I am an explorer and someone attempting to understand right and wrong through experience. And if I followed a mirage, well let people know how I found out that it was so. Like BVT, I think it is necessary to bridge the world of modernity, empiricism and rationalism, etc., with my spiritual tradition and training. That means having a deep understanding of both.

There is a saying that the intelligent learns by hearing once, and the fool has to learn from mistakes. So I place myself firmly in the category of the fool. But by the same token, I am willing to be proven wrong. The example I give is that of Gopa Kumar in the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, who although initiated by a guru, that guru disappeared immediately after his initiation leaving him only with the instruction to chant his mantra. Gopa Kumar then embarks on a journey that takes him gradually through many realms of spiritual accomplishment, and each time he takes the instruction at that level and then moves on when he comes to a point of dissatisfaction with what he had been taught or learned.

My life in Krishna bhakti has not been a straight line, such as those of the mahatmas whose names I mentioned earlier. Nor that of Swami Veda Bharati, whose devotion to Swami Rama survived even scandalous accusations levied at him. There are few who could do that, but I saw Swami Veda and I learned from him, just as I have learned and taken inspiration from the others in that list.

So what then was the attraction of the Sahajiya path? When Sahajiyaism is the evil bogey man of orthodox Vaishnavism, how dare I have experimented with it? Or, rather, as my spiritual partner used to say, allowed it to experiment with us?

And indeed that is how things happen in life. We don't always choose what happens to us. These are things that are forced upon us, either for us to learn from our erroneous ways or to be pleasantly surprised by the happy results. I made many arguments in favor of my particular brand of Sahajiyaism and even as I read Bhaktivinode Thakur I realize that there is something there in his philosophy, which may surprise everyone, that opens a door to a particular vision of Sahajiyaism that is quite close to my understanding.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur offers a few explanations of Vaishnavism, especially in his earlier writings, that offer some rationale for a Sahajiya approach to understanding the sādhana of bhakti. This is the philosophy of the perverted reflection. For BVT, through sahaja samādhi (yes, he uses this term and very frequently), the individual can get an intuition of the spiritual world. The sāragrāhī is one who takes the essence of this world as reflecting the pure world of Goloka. In other words, the essence of this world is that which reflects most purely the states and relationships of the spiritual world. One can thus understand admiration of the great, service to the great, friendship. nurturing love and erotic love through the experiences of this world because they are reflected here and one craves them.

A few days ago, one of Iskcon's leading academics, Garuda Das (Graham Schweig) posted the following on his Facebook page along with a picture of his wife:
Quick summer thoughts: No matter what one's gender, no matter what one's race, no matter what one's type of living style (āshram), no matter what . . . there is no greater wealth, no greater treasure, nothing more precious, nothing more valuable . . . than the sweetness of very close companionship (saṅga), than the coming together of two hearts with such depth of affection that opens up yet another world of purest love (premā) that transcends this world. I took this pic of such a one who shares this kind of companionship with me.
This is so much similar to the concept of Sahajiyaism that I have been arguing for, taken in a simple and unaffected manner, that I have to say, "Here Garuda, you take over. I am done with it." But I doubt even if he does he will be subject to the opprobrium that I have. This is because he is an undeclared Sahajiya, like I am sure many of the other devotees who have found happiness in human relationships are. His Sahajiyaism is likely to be seen as sahaja, or natural, which of course it is.

The objection to Sahajiyaism by the orthodox is not this kind of svakīya relation. The real problem that a conservative society has is with adultery, or parakīya love. How can there be any justification for that? Of course, without any scandal mongering, we happen to know that Garuda left a previous wife to be with his present companion, so there once was a parakīya element there also. To go from one, purely functional relationship, to another that enters the depths of passion, the finding of a soul-mate after conventional dutiful married life. This is not so uncommon in the world from which we come.

The question simply asked is the kind of passionate devotion in rāgānugā bhakti really available to someone who has not known this kind of passionate love in the world. I don't doubt for a moment that the scriptural answer is an immediate and resounding "no!"; of course it is. But forgive me if I continue to wonder. It requires a change of thinking though. The culture is of bhāva primarily; one sees the object of love as Krishna, instead of trying to make Krishna the object of love.

Quite simply stated, rāgānugā bhakti cannot be ordained. You cannot order someone to have passionate love. That is contradictory to rāgānugā bhaktiand immediately converts it into vaidhī bhakti.

So the confessional part is this. I wrote a few years ago that I felt my attempts at practicing Sahajiyaism had come to an end, at least to the extent that it met my expectations of a felicitous denouement. There was to be no "transcendent companionship" as Garudaji puts it. The human frailties and the difficulties presented by material circumstances in general, the mundane practicalities of life in this world, had proved too much for my philosophy, or so I thought.

I did not know that to be tormented with constant draughts from the poisonous chalice of separation. Does anyone truly know the meaning of separation except as a lover in this world?

pīḍābhir nava-kāla-kūṭa-kaṭutā-garvasya nirvāsano
nisyandena mudāḿ sudhā-madhurimāhańkāra-sańkocanaḥ
premā sundari nanda-nandana-paro jāgarti yasyāntare
jñāyante sphuṭam asya vakra-madhurās tenaiva vikrāntayaḥ

O beautiful one, if love for Krishna, the son of Nanda Maharaj, awakens in the heart of anyone, then its powers of crooked sweetness can be known by that person alone: It makes one suffer pain that banishes the pride of the freshest and most deadly poison. At the same time its bliss minimizes the pride of nectar in its sweetness. (Vidagdha-mādhava 2.18)

Or as Kaviraj Goswami tells it:

ei premā-āsvādana, tapta-ikṣu-carvaṇa,
mukha jvale, nā yāya tyajana
sei premā yāńra mane, tāra vikrama sei jāne,
viṣāmṛte ekatra milana

If one tastes such love, he knows it to be like hot sugar cane: the mouth burns, yet he cannot give it up. Similarly, if one has but a little of this love, he can perceive its powerful effects. It can only be compared to poison and nectar mixed together. (CC 1.2.50)

Is that desirable? Is that something that can be taught as a path? Can a path that makes suffering inevitable be taught, when all of spiritual life is always a paean to the true happiness of the soul?

Well, there is an indication in the Bhagavatam itself, in the pastimes of the Rasa-lila

nāhaṁ tu sakhyo bhajato'pi jantūn
bhajāmy amīṣām anuvṛtti-vṛttaye
yathādhano labdha-dhane vinaṣṭe
tac-cintayānyan nibhṛto na veda
O friends, I am different in that I do not simply respond mechanically to the devotion of those who worship me. Rather, [I wish to see their love increase until], like the poor man who has lost a fortune and in his loneliness can think of nothing else [they can think of nothing but me]. (BhP 10.32.20)
But that is what I have learned, just as I learned much about other kinds of love through experiencing them. My version of Sahajiyaism says that it is difficult to talk about love that is anumāna rather than vartamāna, as the Baul put it. Can the love of a God in heaven match the intensity and immediacy of direct, human love?

But that is my own unfortunate experience that places me outside the pale of orthodoxy, and as long as I am entrapped in the orthodox world, I will continue to be a bit of an outsider and have to face the opprobrium of my detractors. I am fortunate that at least some are allowing God's grace to function on the basis of my personal experience. I don't see how it can be another way. May my well-wishers continue to pray for my reform, if their prayers are for the Truth.

The thing about a broken love is that it is the natural process of the world. That is the way we have to learn. I often joked with my lover that she was playing the role of Chintamani, the famous prostitute who who acted as Bilvamangala's guru by reminding her of the temporary nature of the body and of love in this world. "If you only had the intensity of love for Krishna that you have for me, you would already have attained him." No matter how wonderful love in this world is, it is interrupted and temporary. Bodies grow old, people die. A million things happen to prevent the full experience of bliss that we hope for because it is impossible. In the end, God is our only shelter. Why pretend otherwise? The real Sahajiyaism is not an endless marathon of Tantric sex.

Whomever we love, the object of love is ultimately only a substitute for Krishna. I have never really stated otherwise. Indeed, my Sahajiyaism was based on this very idea, that the object of love is in fact a reflection of Krishna. We are to see God in the object of love, and that is how love in this world becomes a part of our transcendent sādhana of love, whether svakīya or parakīya.

But parakīya love can never be recommended as a path, though svakīya love can. Svakīya love is part of dharma, but parakīya love can only exceptionally be within the realm of dharma. Perhaps Garuda can be taken as an example of that. But generally speaking, parakīya means disruption, alienation and incompleteness and an anathema to any doctrine of society. These defects are however the very things we are told are attractive about parakīya love, but they are also the very elements that make it adharma. It cannot be recommended, and this is what makes traditional Sahajiyaism wrong.

bahu vāryate khalu yatra pracchanna-kāmukatvaṁ ca |
yā ca mitho durlabhatā sā manmathasya paramā ratiḥ ||20||
laghutvam atra yat proktaṁ tat tu prākṛta-nāyake |
na kṛṣṇe rasa-niryāsa-svādārtham avatāriṇi ||21||

Cupid's supreme completion in love comes when there are many impediments, when one's love has to be kept hidden and the lovers cannot be available to one another. The pettiness of the parakiya lover that is condemned refers only to the mundane lover, and not to Krishna, who appears in the world to taste the essence of rasa. (UN 1.20-21)

It might happen, but in all likelihood it is material lust playing with the minds of fallible human beings. A person who can suffer the pain of unrequited love and transform it into love of God is someone who must be very strong in his sādhana.

So that is where I stand: A fallible human being and a fallen sādhaka. I will let Garuda preach love in this world. In my old age, I will preach the mortality of the flesh and the fallibility of human love, without condemning those who still hope to find crumbs of reality in the mists of impermanence, while learning its lessons, which come in the form of pain.


Anonymous said…

For those readers wishing to understand authentic Sahajiyaism, a good place to start is Shashibhusan Dasgupta’s book 'Obscure Religious Cults'
Anonymous said…
interesting to read ... interesting thoughts...thanks
Jagadananda Das said…
A "authentic" Sahajiyasm is pretty hard to find. It is one of the most diffuse traditions of all. Basically it is a combination of bhakti with yoga, but how that happens takes on myriad shapes. My personal approach, as I said, is to stick with the authentic Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy, which is deeper than that of yoga, and to utilize the processes of yoga in the service of bhakti. So the sambandha and prayojana are exactly the same as in the orthodox school. The difference is in the abhidheya, on the middle platform of relating to devotees, as in Garuda's comments about "sanga."

Dasgupta's account is based on a gathering of assorted manuscripts from different traditions and cannot be considered more than a useful help in finding direction, but it is not parampara-based knowledge. In that respect, Manmohan Bosu's book is a little better, but it too suffers from the same difficulty.

Most of the Sahajiya texts tend to emphasize the yoga and tantric dimensions of the path and ignore the Bhagavatam and the fundamentals of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosphy. This makes the entire process totally misleading if they are studied independently.

Anonymous said…

Yes, you speak the truth, practitioners of authentic Sahajiyaism are very hard to find.

Few are truly able (by breath) to draw-up and raise the procreative life-force energy and reverse its flow, pierce out above the skull to impregnate the void.

Remaining in this prerequisite state (of reverse flow), even fewer (whom are celibate) go on to further accumulate this sublimated life-force energy as light illuminating essence and then perceive (and hold) the light before them (the true fire of yajña).

In 25 years of searching, my person has not spoken to another who in the breathless state has laid down the physical body and crossed over the threshold of life and death to become as one with the primordial light (Guru).

Those looking for the truth must choose a tradition and earnestly practice that tradition; it is very easy to get lost in the diffuse without clear direction of purpose.

jñānena tu tad ajñānaṁ
yeṣāṁ nāśitam ātmanaḥ
teṣām āditya-vaj jñānaṁ
prakāśayati tat param

Bhagavad Gītā 5.15:
Anonymous said…

My apology, the previous should have read "Chaper 5, Verse 16" of the Bhagavad Gītā.
Anonymous said…

See verses 77 & 78
Prem Prakash said…
You are one in a million. Thank you for your sweet and sincere writing. Perhaps some of your experiments in prema were not successful in terms you had hoped, but we can boldly declare that whatever you did learn has turned you into a maha-mensche!

Jagadananda Das said: "Since I am no one's guru, you could say I have been quite successful."

Anon replied: Yes, in truth you are "no one's guru." No one successfully surrenders at the feet of a true Guru.


Success from Latin successus, from succedere ‎(“to succeed”‎), from sub ‎(“next to”‎) + cedere ‎(“to go, move”‎).
Anonymous said…
Jagadanada Das, please will you kindly cite Manmohan Bosu's book so we may find and read the same.
Anonymous said…
For those readers yet unable to find the book Jagadanada Das Quoted, see:

The Post-Caitanya Sahajiā Cult of Bengal
By Manindra Mohan Bose
Published by the University of Calcutta (1930)

Download Adobe Pdf:

Read online:

(Use the zoom function to read this text)

Anonymous said…
If you also prefer reading real books; a hard back copy of the original 1930 book can also be found republished (print on demand) via Abe Books from Gyan Books Pvt. Ltd. (Delhi, India):
Areopagitica said…

“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

John Milton



From Proto-Indo-European (s)peys- ‎(“to blow, to breathe”‎).

Blow - From Proto-Indo-European bʰleh₁- ‎(“to swell, blow up”‎)

bʰleh₁- This may be a specialization of the root for "to cry". The Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben reconstructs a single root meaning "to howl".

Spirit = "to breathe", "to swell", "to blow up", "to cry", "to howl."

A tall order, which is perfectly in order...

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