Lockdown in Vrindavan (2)
Here it is April 23, 2020. We have been in lockdown for more than a month. For some time now I have been reluctant to write and especially indifferent about revealing my personal situation. There were a couple of things that I did want to say.
I came back from Canada after a three month stay back in September last year. I think I was already on a bit of a downturn before leaving, with the residue of all that Vrindavan Today business that I went through back then. The whole episode still traumatizes me. Dr. Martins is here on the Jiva premises somewhere, but he is practicing social distancing with vigor and I have barely seen him once or twice since this lockdown started. When I see him I bow my head and give my namaskars and he studiously ignores me or looks the other way.
I am rather ashamed of the way that I responded to the whole incident, especially towards Demian, but he is a difficult person and is impenetrable in his disdain for me and my sinful character. So be it, namo'stu tasmai. It is for my benefit that he acts thus.
No matter. I continue to honor his service and I must say that since Babaji's disciple Vilasa Das, a German who has spent several years in Brazil and speaks fluent Portuguese, has taken over the Grantha Mandir project, a kind of bridge has been formed in which Dr. Martins knowledge and experience are being tapped. For every little thing he does I am grateful and I harbor no ill-will to him. But I am really happy at Vilasa Das's work on the project. He has been getting volunteers to edit and correct texts, as well as to scan and enter new ones, so it is definitely on an upswing for the first time in years.
Interestingly enough, some of the other players in that saga have recently surfaced. In fact, if we are looking for advertisements for the ill effects of Vaishnava aparadha, we need not look much farther than them. One has even written me in a somewhat conciliatory tone, but I will not say anything at this time because I do not have much confidence in his reformation, or indeed complete sanity. But slowly, slowly the whole matter has receded into the mists. I have had little to do with Vrindavan Today for the past year and it seems to be struggling. I would really like to see VT realize its potential, but it is up to Jagannath now. I certainly wish him all the best. My full attention right now is going to Prīti Sandarbha, which is a large project and only assiduous dedication will bring it to completion.
May my offenses to all the devotees and Brajavasis be dispersed so that I may go on serving in the way that my Gurus and the Goswamis have so kindly engaged me.
I have been wanting to write a little something about my visit last summer to Montreal. It has been nearly a year now since I went and only now do I feel that I am recovering from it. That is one of the reasons that I have not spoken of it or of my mental condition since returning. I was hopeful that during the three months that I was to spend in Canada I would have the opportunity to make some friends in the Vaishnava community there, but I found that there was very little interest in me. I went with some pride, I must admit, that having lived in Braj for so many years that I would hold some attraction for the devotees, but even on the occasions I did have to speak to [small] audiences I was unable to make a connection. Moreover, when I went to ISKCON I was treated with suspicion, understandably I must admit, since they are naturally competitive and treat me like a wolf who is in search of their lambs. Before I left, Babaji admonished me for not having a plan. He said that his foreign trips are preceded by at least a year's planning and indeed that was true.
On almost the first day of arrival back in Vrindavan in September, I lost my passport. The Canadian consular services replaced it with a two-year passport. My visa situation still has not been properly taken care of, so it is inevitable that either this year or next, I will have to do it all over again, in which case I certainly hope that I will make better use of my time.
Despite my current incertitude about my status here, I have made an application for Indian citizenship. I wish to write more about this at some other time, but despite all that has changed here, there is still no place for a devotee like Vrindavan. Even now, in the lockdown, there has been a great reduction in noise and activity. Even though I am shut away on the Jiva Institute campus and haven't been able to move about and see the current situation outside, the general atmosphere feels more like the old days when Braj was a sleepy backwater and people spent a lot more time just doing bhajan.
The hot season is here and that seems to be the most appropriate time for life in Vrindavan, with its natural influence. (though I must admit it has been mild and there have been several cloudy days with rain, temperatures have yet to exceed 40 degrees. Somehow the hot season is my preferred time in Braj, as I wrote nostalgically in this post a few years ago: Vrindavan heat stirs up old bhajan memories.
One of the things I wanted to talk about in relation to my visit to Canada and my subsequent readjustment to life in Vrindavan As those following this blog may remember, before leaving for Canada I was working on Bhaktivinoda Thakur's autobiography and had written twelve articles as an introduction. That is an important work, but I am giving it time to breathe while I concentrate on the Prīti Sandarbha. Some of the things that need still to be resolved in relation to that work is really the question of the necessity and purpose of initiation itself. Rupa Goswami puts it at the very beginning of the limbs of vaidhī bhakti:
viśrambhena guroḥ sevā sādhu-vartmānuvartanam
First take shelter of a spiritual master, then take initiation in the Krishna mantra and instruction about Krishna from him. Then serve the spiritual master with confidence and trust and follow the path established by previous saints. (BRS 1.2.74)
Evidently it is important. Taking initiation is really the beginning. But when analyzed according to the Bhakti Sandarbha, it seemed that initiation has a special connection to deity worship. In my article on Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's innovations (Charismatic Renewal in Gaudiya Vaishnavism), I showed that Saraswati Thakur made a distinction between the Bhāgavata and Pañcarātra schools, which he associated with rāgānugā and vaidhī respectively. The Gaudiya sampradāya is a Bhāgavata tradition. Bhāgavatī dīkṣā was initiation in the chanting of the Holy Names and the teachings of the Bhāgavata paramparā and was primary. The "Bhāgavata tradition is centered on hearing and chanting. The Pāñcarātra initiation was secondary and therefore not the principal source of continuity in the tradition. For him, the tradition of the siddha praṇālī was a kind of Pāñcarātra initiation related ritual, a part of bhūta-śuddhi, and therefore the arcanā-mārga. To Siddhanta Saraswati the siddha-deha was awarded to the worshiper of the Holy Name without any need for external initiation. For him the important references to Bhaktivinoda Thakur are from Kalyāṇa-kalpa-taru:
rāga-mārge karāna prabeśa |
rāga-baśabartī haiẏā pārakīẏa bhāvāśraẏe
labhe jība kṛṣṇa-premābeśa ||
To the person fixed in the regulative principles, The Holy Name gives the jewel of independence, placing him on the path of spontaneous devotion. That person, overcome by spontaneous attachment to the Lord, takes shelter of the parakéyä mood and goes on to become absorbed in love for Krishna.
And from Kṛṣṇa-māma dhare kata bala
hena bala karaẏe prakāśa |
īṣat vikaśita hañā dekhāẏa nija rūpa guṇa
citta hari laẏa kṛṣṇa pāśa ||6||
The Holy Name is a burgeoning flower bud, the amazing abode of rasa. It manifests so much transcendental power. When it is even slightly revealed, it shows me its own spiritual form and attributes. It steals my mind and takes it into the presence of Krishna.
dekhāẏa mora svarūpa bilāsa |
more siddha deha diẏā kṛṣṇa pāśe rākhe giẏā
e dehera kare sarba-nāśa ||7||
When the Name is fully revealed, it takes me directly to Vraja, where it shows me my personal role in the eternal pastimes. It bestows on me my eternal spiritual identity and form, places me by Krishna’s side and completely destroys [my identification with] this material body. (Kṛṣṇa nāma dhare kata bala, 6-7)
The argument in Bhakti Sandarbha 284 : The Difference Between Mantra and Name and the Need for Initiation seems somewhat ambiguous.
"...human beings are by nature prone to non-virtuous behavior and mental agitation due their bodily identification. In order to curb these tendencies, the ṛṣis have established certain regulations [related to certain mantra] to be followed on the path of arcanā. So if those regulations are not followed, scripture prescribes various forms of atonement. Thus there is no incongruity between the name and mantras, in that neither one by nature is dependent on dīkṣā."
So this pūrva-pakṣa led to me to reflect on the arcanā-mārga and its necessity for a sādhaka on the Bhāgavata-mārga. While in Canada, however, I had occasion to reflect on it from another vantage point. First of all, my personal neglect of the arcanā-mārga and the role that played in my weak bhajan, but more than that, the role that neglect had played in my family life.
While in Canada I stayed with my wife and son in her house in Laval, which is where I had lived with them before leaving for India in 2007. There is no doubt that something had gone wrong. It was in part a failure in leadership. I was mostly absorbed in my books and giving little attention to the family cultural and aesthetic dimensions. The Catholics had a saying that I often heard while I was growing up, "The family that prays together stays together." Our family didn't and it didn't. And though I changed religions, I did not change that centrifugal family pattern.
There is an important logic to this. Deity worship provides a family cultural center; it places God in the center of the family home, makes God a part of the family (a rāgānuga principle, sambandha). Because I was not strong in my practice of arcanā I never recognized its importance and thus was unable to establish a binding family culture. In fact, this idea was somewhat central to my entire sahajiya theory, that through devotional culture one enhances the possibility for mutual love relations in this world.
Furthermore, for devotional outreach also, arcanā is necessary. What will be the center of attraction and ritual when devotees gather? But most of all the idea of personal purification and its relation to rāganugā bhajan in general was something I had seemingly never grasped. "In order to curb these tendencies, the ṛṣis have established certain regulations to be followed on the path of arcanā." It is the personal discipline of arcanā that creates the awareness of the personal presence of God in service that enhances the sattva guṇa.
Throughout my life, I have had a great difficulty keeping a regular discipline in my bhajan. Even doing sixteen rounds on a regular basis is not a practice that I have maintained unfailingly throughout all my years as a devotee. It seems that book learning has been my primary sevā and sādhana, but after reflecting on my failures as a family man and as a preacher while in Canada, I decided to cultivate the arcanā mārga more extensively on my return.
I started by doing maṅgala and sandhyā ārati, primarily with kirtan, making at least one food offering a day, offering flowers and tulasi, etc. I still haven't become absolutely regular in the way that I would like to. Some of the others in the ashram here are very devoted to a punctual and unswerving rigorous schedule and they are a source of inspiration to me. Babaji himself, as I stated elsewhere, is extremely regular in his habits. Even more so is Gadadhar Pran Prabhuji, who very cleverly organized his life around the worship of Gaur Gadadhara, and even though his family life has not been without its ups and downs, nevertheless it is clear what is the center of his samsara.
Bhaktivinoda says, kṛṣṇera saṁsāra kara chāḏi anācāra: "Make your family life centered on Krishna, giving up sinful acts." His vision of householder life centered on deity worship is very clear:
parama ānanda haẏa
prasāda sebā karite haẏa,
sakala prapañca jaẏa
Seeing the deities of Radha and Krishna, I feel supreme happiness. Taking the remnants of the food offerings, I conquer over all the material elements.
gṛhete goloka bhāẏa
caraṇa sīdhu, dekhiẏā gańgā,
sukha nā sīmā pāẏa
On that day I see in my worship that my home has become the spiritual world of Goloka. I see the water used to wash the deity caraṇāmṛta is the Ganges itself, and there is no limit to the happiness I feel.
So the change is slow, I have learned a lot of songs for ārati, etc., and am becoming more scrupulous in following my daily program, but it is far from perfect yet. Nevertheless, the beneficial effects are being felt. I am not being as scrupulous as if I were running a temple, I only have Giridhari Gokulananda, after all. Mahaprabhu gave the Govardhan śilā to Raghunath Das and told him to follow a sāttvika pūjā, a simple recipe for the renounced life, so I keep it simple, but try to be more conscious. (See Antya-līlā 6.287-308)
At the very end of the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, Gopala Bhatta Goswami has summarized the activities of a renunciate who has completely committed himself to a life of worship—
kurvatāṁ parama-prītyā kṛtyam anyan na rocate
bhāvena kenacit preṣṭha-śrī-mūrter aṅghri-sevane
syād icchaiṣāṁ sva-mantreṇa sva-rasenaiva tad-vidhiḥ
vihiteṣv eva nityeṣu pravartante svayaṁ hi te
Exclusive devotees engage in practically nothing other than chanting the Holy Name and remembering Krishna’s pastimes. Doing this with supreme love, they have no taste for any other activity. They may serve their beloved Deities according to their own particular mood, following their own desires and using their personal mantra. They also set the rules for this worship according to their personal taste. Regular duties (like bathing, etc.) are conducted automatically (without external prodding). (HBV 20.382-384)
The second thing I have been changing is my diet. My wife is a very careful eater and had certain health problems that she had cured by fasting and a vegetarian diet. She now is vegan and though 65 was still taking a demanding workload as a high school teacher. She was able to continue that work with an abundant supply of energy when younger teachers around her were dropping with exhaustion by eating an almost entirely raw food diet. So I have slowly been adopting her diet as a part of my reformation.
I have been shunning more and more the cooked food diet typical in the ashram. In the morning I can get bananas and other fruit. The fruit vendors have been coming each morning to the ashram door. The garden has been supplying fresh spinach and with some other vegetables -- unfortunately less available with the change of season -- I am able to make a very nice salad for lunch, which I offer to Giriraj Gokulananda. I have started skipping the night meal also. It is time to practice being hungry, that instruction to leave the belly one quarter empty after a meal is an important practice.
So this is having an effect. I am getting up at about 3.30 a.m. and doing japa and meditation until mangal arati and then engaging in other activities until breakfast. My brain is becoming less cloudy and distracted. The clouds have not cleared entirely, but I am feeling much more encouraged today.
The test will be if I can maintain my diligent discipline without interruption in doing the Prīti Sandarbha work.
So that is my progress report. Jai Sri Radhe!!
|I asked Alanah Correia to take a photo, even though I realize that with my face being plastered on the videos it is a bit overkill to have yet another one.|