Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Notes from a weekend at Barsana

Afternoon class cancelled, so I escaped to Barsana for two days. I love Braj.

Looking out onto Shriji Road, one of the main entry points into Barsana, watching the daily traffic... here the cows and buffalo are not so free range, but always seem to be driven by old turbaned men in dhotis and carrying a long stick. Or an ox cart with an old Brijbasi and his wife, conversing, the only cargo a small pile of cow manure. Crowds of girls going to the school next door, sadhus galore, mostly of the serious looking variety. Less of the type that goes from bhandara to bhandara. The Brijbasi women still keep their ghumta here, and the more modern ones have to have a strong sense of defiance. And there are religious tourists, not much of the other kind.

The Barsana Ladiliji temple is magic. I was walking on my way to Priya Kund and there is one spot where one gets a particularly good view of it. It is the jewel in the lotus of Braj.

There are no doubt more spectacular temples and other places of worship in India and outside, but Shriji temple does seem to incarnate, somehow, inexplicably, in its feminine curves, the charms of prema.

Yesterday, soon after arriving, I walked up the steps to the top. No wonder they built temples on the tops of hills. It is such good penance to walk those 300 steps. Pretending I am still young, I try to keep a steady pace and watch my breath. By the time I get to the top I am both exhilarated and heavy of breath. One walks across the lower balcony until one reaches that final steep staircase to the top. People are photographing themselves against the backdrop of the temple.

Inside, it is magic. The difference between Vrindavan and Barsana is not only in size, but in the dominance of a single temple. Even Bihariji in Vrindavan cannot be compared, because of the multi-sampradaya nature of the town. Here, there is no sampradaya in Shriji temple. All the sadhus all sit in the darbar of the Queen of Braja.

And the families. And the other, more local visitors. Yesterday, a group of devotees sat for an hour singing Radhe Govinda with great force. The atmosphere is ebullient. The whole town rotates around Shriji. Everyone is her devotee.

I turned around to see Binode Baba paying his shirtless obeisances on a covered piece of the marble floor. I stand and watch, thinking that I have put on too many warm clothes, it is not that cold, and marveling at Babaji's routine. The "naga" mood of his little group gives me a kick. It feels so normal to be with them, somehow. The beauty of their vairagya...

The bell rings and everyone more or less surges to their darshan spots, to engage their eyes in unblinking devotion to the Thakur. It is mesmerization. There are no prayers for anything, the mind goes silent and simply watches the flames circle around the deity, in a powerful act of joyful, bell-ridden group silence.

Arati comes to an end with a loud sigh, and a group of about ten young men dive into their energetic mangalacharan and Kripa Kataksha Stotra, concluding with a kirtan prayer for grace.

I went late to Ladliji's temple again last night. I sat for a while. The Thakurji was out on the Jagamohan with Lalita and Vishakha. A small group of city pilgrims picked a spot on the veranda and chanted Radha's names enthusiastically. They were with a Gosai who explained the songs they sang.

From down the hill came the sounds of a Rasa Lila. It sounded pretty good, so I decided to make my day by visiting the Ras.

It was quite a different experience from Ras in Vrindavan. The audience was nearly all children, all from the local community. The troupe was also local. When I walked in, intending to sit among the children, a young man invited me onto the stage and first asked me to do puja to the Divine Couple on the simhasan.

I had to stand on one of the steps to put garlands on them. Radharani was unbelievably pretty, with such big eyes. I didn't think it was a boy for a moment. She smiled at me and then held up her hand in abhaya mudra. I took her hand and put it on my head, and she laughed. She was pleased.

I was sitting on the stage watching the swaroops dancing and watching the people around. Sitting right next to me was a baby, about one or a bit more. With the big kajol eyes, just staring wondrously, mesmerized by the dancers.

It was so villagey. A little kid about two, clueless, walks across the stage while the performance is going on. So rustic, but so charming.

The singing was actually pretty good. And the troupe was a little rough as a coordinated group, but not too bad. Swirling in their sequined costumes. I gotta pick up more of these Brajabasi gopi moves. Radharani's swaroop and one other little sakhi - a new recruit it seemed - looked like they were really having a lot of fun.

There is something about a society that has lots of children. Playing in the narrow streets. There were so many babies. We just don't see so many babies in the West.

In the tempo coming up, there was a Brijbasi couple with a beautiful big-eyed baby who just kept staring at me. And I stared right back. This looking into a baby's eyes is a darshan also. Who was the genius who saw that all babies are Bal Gopal?

I thought that when you commune with a baby this way, you are actually participating in society. We are all the protectors of the babies. The feeling of mamatA arises spontaneously.

This is something that seemingly can't go on. We need to stop making babies because of global overpopulation and the strains it is placing on our global home, and yet what social cohesion is lost due to the stressing of individualism and consumerist and materialistic ambitions?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Teaching Sanskrit at Jiva

Vinode Vani, who is one of my new pupils at Jiva Institute Sanskrit, asked me to answer some general questions about my method and objectives. So I thought I would share what I wrote here.

My earliest idea was not very ambitious at all. I started teaching and developing the course and method while in Rishikesh, but the yoga students there were less interested in pursuing Sanskrit. This is not so unusual as I have found very few foreign devotees to think that it is at all necessary. After all, it is well nigh impossible for foreigners to develop the kind of fluency in Sanskrit that comes from being born in a living, breathing cultural environment.

For me personally, Sanskrit began as an inexplicable attraction, based probably on hearing Prabhupada chant shlokas like the Shikshashtakam or Shadgosvamyashtakam or Gurvashtakam, etc. So I assume that there will be some few people who will have that inclination and it is important to give them facility. Love of Sanskrit will be helpful to developing love for Krishna, or the Supreme Truth.

But since spiritual life is so multidimensional, with so many levels of adhikara, I was just hoping to teach students those portions of text such as the daily prayers and so on so that they would have some understanding and enhanced pleasure and inspiration when chanting them. My main purpose was simply to enhance for them the simplest and most common Sanskrit experience through chanting.

When it came to teaching here at Jiva I started out with pretty much the same idea, but because of the nature of the institute and the students, I am being a bit more ambitious.

So it is or will be an important part of this course to learn the Bhagavata verses that Babaji chants as a regular part of the morning program. I hope to be able to get students to that point sooner or later, but we will have to start by first reading simpler texts like the Gita. So in this way the material that I prepared in Rishikesh like the Gita verses and Ishopanishad, etc. are being made use of in this course.

The big difference between the yogi culture of Rishikesh and that of Vrindavan is the way that we Gaudiya Vaishnavas love our scriptures. The importance given to hearing the Bhagavatam is one of the most central principles in our disciplic succession. The sound vibration itself is sacred and not different from Bhagavan. So the better access that we have to the Sanskrit language, the better we will be able to put into practice the bhakti-anga of shravanam, and from there be able to enter more deeply into the other bhakti practices.

Conversational Sanskrit is an important goal, but I have not got much experience in this area so that is why I will get the Sanskrit Bharati people to come here in February when I go on a bit of voyage to the East. By then many of the forms will be familiar to the students so they will be ready. Learning a bit of conversation according to their method will make students more familiar and comfortable with Sanskrit. So I look forward to including that in the program.

In my view, language has very strong link to a person's perception of the world. Language is the operating system software that we use for much of what we do and how we perceive and interpret reality. By using the English language, we naturally swim in the reality of the Anglosphere, which is the dominant matrix of reality of globalization. It is the default system of globalized reality and most Western people are naturally using it unself-consciously.

Americans and other people born in the core Anglosphere are often unilingual and have a blind spot about their own conditioning. By learning another operating system, especially one like Sanskrit, which is the medium for an entire civilization, we have the opportunity to do more than just enrich our own personality or satisfy our thirst for knowledge : it gives us a new way of perceiving and interpreting the world, and thereby insights into the common purpose of humanity.

These insights, by their inherent power, will be able to inform the dominant globalized culture by counteracting atheism, nihilism, consumerism, totalitarianism and other diseases of the age.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Can you just concoct stories about God and the Dham and present them as fact?

It has been a couple of months since I posted on the blog. I was not inactive. In Karttik I was making a big effort to enhance the Vrindavan Today website, concentrating on writing articles related to understanding the Dham as a "final step" in rāgānugā sādhana. I was conducting a daily meditation on the Vrindavan Mahimamrita (VMA) of Prabodhananda Saraswati. This work is no doubt the result of living in Vrindavan and experiencing its spiritual power. In particular, after returning from Bengal, the first time I had been away from Braj in two years, I could feel the effects of the Dham very intensely.

I think that perhaps I will cross post the VMA articles series, either here or on an independent site, but we will see. At any rate, for the time being, people can read those articles on the VT website.

A reader of this site recently wrote to me and asked the following:
Namaskar. Throughout your writings you teach reality over hagiography. Recently, you have written that (materially motivated) historical concoctions are an important part of remembrance in temple pilgrimage. History and concoction cannot go together as their very existence is opposed to the other.

I am writing this as factors of concern I had and have about temples. After they have enjoyed the fruits of publishing their historical concoctions - extracting historical facts becomes harder or nil.

In other words, publishing a concoction as truth is directly opposed to the promotion and perpetuation of truth. I am not questioning your choice rather clarifying considerations which would explain why I was upset about your apparent change of thinking in this matter.

I am not sure specifically what article he was refering to, perhaps in connection with the Dham where one is presented with "facts" that are not at all historically verifiable. This is obviously a problem that does not easily go away in a world where skepticism is the dominant virtue. I answered him personally and he suggested my publishing the reply. So here it is:

Before I begin, I have of late been following a psychologist and philosopher named Jordan Peterson. I think that you might be interested in hearing his talks on this and related subjects. If you have been following my blog, you will know of my interest in Jung and myth, etc. Peterson follows directly in this school, but he is a clinical empiricist and, like Jung, is a believer who is trying to understand God's work, though as a scientist he is loathe to say it. Anyway, I am impressed by him as a deep thinker and social commentator. His scope is very broad.

Though I am nowhere near as erudite as he, nevertheless I feel confirmed in a lot of what I have been saying by his insights. I find this very encouraging and hope that the doors to understanding religious belief and God that he is opening up will be followed by those to whom such things are important.

What is reality? What is the relation between the experience of the individual consciousness and the actual world externally, as it is?

Now most people in this world think that the hard stuff we are surrounded by is reality. Let me assure you, it is here today and gone tomorrow. What is real is the soul, which never changes, and is simply observing the passing scene.

There is, of course, a place for empirical reality. It is really very much like a video game called life in this world. Each one of us programmed for a particular adventure to live out and then go on to other levels, and so on.

Indian religion is almost solipsistic in its creed. It says: We have faith that if we surrender to God, our existential reality will take care of itself. God will provide for my achieving that purpose. Indeed, He always has.

Such faith must also be accompanied by renunciation, because you cannot surrender to God with material benefit in mind. How much discomfort you are willing to tolerate will determine how much you compromise with giving yourself completely to God. Everyone is to be tested in this manner, and that is for sure.

But if you have such faith you set about turning inward and dwelling in the Self. When you have come to this point, the External Reality has served its purpose. At this point, whatever External or Empirical Reality offers for experience is only confirmation, immediately or belatedly, of the benevolence of the Self.

Now, to answer your question. The acharyas are busy building a house that people who wish to attain the Inner Reality can live in. The trick is that the house has to be built in the External Reality. That is the reason that there are so many paths to God. Like the light hitting a prism, the One becomes Many.

So now let us say that I am a Seer of the Truth who knows that the instant the One Non-dual Truth hits Matter, it becomes compromised. What have I seen ? And how will I go about building my house for people to move toward that goal from wherever they are, and in the meantime live together in the best possible way, in a way whereby they will be as happy as it is possible to be in this world of misery and death, where no pleasure is not accompanied by loss and imperfection?

Now, no amount of empirical knowledge of the world can do anything more than hint at what the knowledge of the transcendental self is as an experience. The masters know that there are media by which Truth can be communicated, and of those the principal ones are Myth and Symbol.

Different myths and symbols arise for a reason. They compete because they all announce to the world a higher reality and they differ in what that highest glory of God is. But for us, for Bhaktivinoda Thakur, the real world is that of Chaitanya Krishna, and whatever serves the purpose of being aware of that world is, as far as possible, to be adequately presented so that those who live by empirical reality will not be too offended, but they know there will be limits to what can be done for such people. Mimamsakas.

Some myths are more important than others. Empirical reality serves a purpose until we reach the point of surrendering and embarking on the path of sadhana. At that point it has served its purpose and recedes.

mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te.

Jai Radhe.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Vrindavan gives the power to remember Radha's name

Facebook regurgitated a memory, a status I had posted three years ago.

kvāsau rādhā nigama-padavī-dūragā kutra cāsau
kṛṣṇas tasyāḥ kuca-mukulayor antaraikānta-vāsaḥ |
kvāhaṁ tucchaḥ paramam adhamaḥ prāṇy aho garha-karmā
yat tan-nāma sphurati mahimā hy eṣa vṛndāvanasya ||261||
How glorious is Radha, so far beyond the Vedic scriptures! And how wonderful Krishna, whose single abode is in the space between her breasts! And how low am I, such a fallen creature addicted to sinful life! If her name should manifest on my lips, it is only due to the glory of this land of Vrindavan. (RRSN 261)
My friends, this is the truth! The power of the Dham is to make you remember Radha.

Even if you wonder, "Why can't I remember Radha! Why isn't Bihariji merciful to me? Isn't the Dham supposed to make bhajan easier?" You are still doing bhajan by even asking the question.

Slowly but surely you will see your bhajan bear fruit in the Dham. It will begin when your tongue chants the name of Radha day and night. And you feel the heat of the Vrindavan air as a kind of
enveloping embrace of the Hladini Shakti.

It is not easy to escape the world.
And, of course, the world is real.
And here it is especially real,
because it is SO close to that Reality.

That one Reality we have learned to crave
by the mercy of the Holy Name.
That world of perfect love,
where the desire crazed love-struck adolescents of Vrindavan
remain in that perfect moment of love eternally.

Where the tedious things of this world
Time and Duty
do not interfere with the flow of love
for even a millisecond, except to create enough waves
to make it an eternally expanding fractal game of ecstasy.

rādhā-kṛṣṇa-rahasya-dāsya-rasa eveṣṭaḥ pumartho mama
tyaktvā sarvam ahaṁ kadāpi niyataṁ vatsyāmi vṛndāvane |
itthaṁ syād api vāci yasya paramāsaktasya gehādike
nāsaktāv api saktatā-parihṛtau taṁ pāti vṛndāṭavī ||1.94||
"The ultimate goal I desire in my life is to attain the nectar of confidential devotional service to Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. When will I ever give up everything and go to live in Vrindavan forever?" If such words should even appear on the lips of one addicted to the affairs of household life, Vrindavan will take care of such a person by giving detachment. (VMA 1.94)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Reality TV and Rearranging Reality

I have to admit that Trump is a real phenomenon. His presidency is reality TV. Really.

He really could blow up the whole world!!! Will he? What is he doing? God help us all... The sickening drama... this is happening to us!! This is not TV, this is reality!

Are we to believe he does not know exactly what he is doing? That he is not an experienced reality star for years.

He creates his character: Is he mad? Is he a fool? Is he a Nazi? What exact _kind_ of mental illness is he suffering from? Oh my God! Has a madman taken over the nuclear codes?!!??!!

It is really the most astonishing thing I have ever seen.

He takes away all pretense of the kind of thing that diplomatic powerful world leaders are supposed to do and say and does the opposite. And it is riveting. It is truly the Truman show come to life in a most challenging way.

The question is very much: What is reality? What are we to believe? The fake news? Everything is fake, everyone is fake. This is the world we have deconstructed ourselves to. Forget intersubjectivity, we are going to pursue our own selves and not lose ourselves to any values other than our pure self interest.

And that confusion is the reality that is being created. That reality has sprung forth, incarnated as Donald Trump, reality TV star in charge of our common reality. Our common illusion. The fear that films like the Matrix instill, that nothing is real and that our fantasies are just as real or not real as anything else.

And yet Trump seems dogged and impermeable. He needs to press forward with his agenda, which really creating a kind of urban jungle of free enterprise and ultra rich, and very dispensible masses. He seems to be stirring rebellion because it is good television, good for ratings... he follows classic Nazi storylines, or archetypes in a new setting, the best kind of story telling.

And slowly but surely he is changing the world. You think he isn't? I am in Vrindavan and I just see enough to know that he is changing the world.

And I am pretty sure that is not a very good world that he is making.


Those without eyes will see

In response to this VT story, Alex said,

Makes me wonder if she read the same BG where Krishna instructs Arjuna to not be a coward and fight: "She said that the Gita impressed upon her that, “The path to the truth is non-violent and no one should insult anyone else.”

My thought:

Well, if you think about it a couple of steps of logic down, you could make a case. That is not a problem.

On the other hand, you could ask whether it is appropriate to deduce that the Gita was about getting along and letting each other live. To which I say a good message found in a nasty place is still a good message.

She could have said, "Right, Krishna is like fighting a stupid religious war. So Hindus and Muslims should kill each other like our good lords intended, right?"

That would also have been a rational message, perhaps a little more prosaic. A little more external an understanding of the Bhagavad Gita.

My faith is that the Gita is a spiritual book, set in a particular cultural environment, but its wisdom is on the side of eternal "good" things, like peace and love and harmony and unity. The paradoxes it presents are deliberate and necessary, because no description of reality that did not contain paradox would be complete.

That is the premise. Now further arguments ensue, but the crux of the matter is that without a dominant body of individuals cultivating peace, genuine inner peace, genuine spiritual peace, there can be no enforcing of it among the rajasic and tamasic folk.

The Gita and indeed all shastras are "desire trees" in their capacity for multiple interpretations, which means multiple frames of reference based in multiple subjectivities or adhikaras.

Of what use is a shastra if it has multiple standpoints and is unclear? you may ask.

I would say, it is intentionally unclear or contradictory. Through these flash points of sensitivity it stimulates a unique collective world view, with a frame based on a certain collection of arguments about reality, what it is, what is its purpose, and what might be done about it, i.e., what kind of reality do we want to construct?

Is that good? Of course, because the frame in the Gita is centered on discussions about the truth of the self and the ways of knowing and discovering it. These are the what create the parameters of the arguments it stimulates.

The worst kind of person is the one who wants to enforce a uniform instruction on a text like the Gita. That is because the basic instruction of the Gita is to surrender to God. Period. And the most important God is the one instructing you -- the individual -- from within, not from without.

The rest of the Gita is just explaining to you the rationale for surrendering, as well as how to go about it and so on. A manual for practical spiritual intelligence, if you will.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

What does it mean to be a Brajbasi? Part II : Revealing Braja’s true form through faith and service

Prabodhananda Saraswati is the ācārya for Braja-vāsa-sādhana, i.e., the devotional practice of living in the Dham. Sometimes people find it difficult to understand his niṣṭhā and his vision of the Dham, which sometimes seems at odds with logic. Indeed, the "city of love" (Prema-pattanam) is full of contradictions. For those who believe that Vrindavan is everywhere and there is no need to think that a particular geographical location has any special characteristic, Prabodhananda says:

वृन्दारण्ये वरं स्यां कृमिरपि परतो नो चिदानन्ददेहो
रङ्कोऽपि स्यामतुल्यः परमिह न परत्राद्भुतानन्तभूतिः ।
शून्योऽपि स्यामिह श्रीहरिभजन-लवेनातितुच्छार्थमात्रे
लुब्धो नान्यत्र गोपीजनरमण-पदाम्भोज-दीक्षासुखेऽपि ॥२.१॥

vṛndāraṇye varaṁ syāṁ kṛmir api parato no cid-ānanda-deho
raṅko'pi syām atulyaḥ param iha na paratrādbhutānanta-bhūtiḥ |
śūnyo'pi syām iha śrī-hari-bhajana-lavenātitucchārtha-mātre
lubdho nānyatra gopī-jana-ramaṇa-padāmbhoja-dīkṣā-sukhe'pi ||2.1||

I would rather reside even as a worm in Vrindavan,
than somewhere else in a blissful spiritual body.
I would rather live here, even as a poverty-stricken beggar,
than as one possessing wonderful, unlimited wealth elsewhere.
I would rather reside here in Vrindavan,
even without doing any bhajan to Lord Hari whatsoever,
absorbed in greed for the most trivial things,
than elsewhere, even if I could there know the joy
of being initiated in the service of the lotus feet of Lord Krishna,
the lover of the gopis.


Vrindavan is the soul of this universe. The ultimate truth of Radha and Krishna's divine love is the all-pervading, underlying fact of existence, which has become manifest here in the incarnation of their Dham.

Even after Radha and Krishna become invisible to the world, their Dham remains. Although it is the nature of Maya to attempt to cover the Dham, and Kali does everything in his power to do so, nothing can ever fully cover the svarūpa-śakti's presence here. Those who say that the presence of material imperfection in the Dham is an indication that it is not special or necessary are wrong.

The svarūpa-śakti exercises its influence on all who stay here. But it becomes most clearly manifest when those who reside here cultivate the understand of the Truth of the Divine Couple and devotion to them. Whether they are here from birth or come from afar due to the attractions of the Dham -- because of the potential that Prabodhananda Saraswati is revealing in his Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta -- if they deepen their understanding of the revelation given to Vrindavan's "avatar generation" – from whichever tradition or sampradāya -- then they make the Dham reveal its true form.

It is much like the story told by Rupa Goswami where Krishna was able to hide his true identity by assuming the form of Narayan. He could fool some of the gopis even though their attraction to him was diminished by his disguise, but when Radha came by, he could not maintain it. He was obliged by her devotion to reassume his three-fold crooked form, playing the flute and smiling sweetly in the mood of the ujjvala-rasa.

gopīnāṁ paśupendra-nandana-juṣo bhāvasya kas tāṁ krtī
vijñātuṁ kṣamate durūha-padavī-sañcāriṇaḥ prakriyām
āviṣkurvati vaiṣṇavīm api tanuṁ tasmin bhujair jiṣṇubhir
yāsāṁ hanta caturbhir adbhuta-ruciṁ rāgodayaḥ kuñcati

What capable person could possibly fully understand the manifestations of the gopis' mood of love for the son of Nanda Maharaj, which rises to the highest extremes of incomprehensibility? When they saw Krishna disguised in his Vishnu form in all its splendor with four arms, their attraction diminished even though they knew it was God Himself. (Lalita-mādhava 6.15, CC 1.17.281)

So it is for Prabodhananda Saraswati or Raghunath Das or any other sādhaka who has attained the level of recognition of Vrindavan's true glories. No other place, not Mathura, not Dwarka, not Haridwar or Bhadrinath, despite their purity and holiness, can ever attract the single-minded aspirant for the service of the Divine Couple.

But Radha's love is so strong, her dedication so powerful, that Krishna cannot hold onto his disguise.
rāsārambha-vidhau nilīya vasatā kuñje mṛgākṣī-gaṇair
dṛṣṭaṁ gopayituṁ svam uddhura-dhiyā yā suṣṭhu sandarśitā |
rādhāyāḥ praṇayasya hanta mahimā yasya śriyā rakṣituṁ
sā śakyā prabhaviṣṇunāpi hariṇā nāsīc catur-bāhutā ||7||

At the beginning of the Rasa dance, when Krishna hid from the doe-eyed gopis in one of the kunjas, he cleverly disguised himself by taking on the Vishnu four-armed form so that even when they saw him they did not recognize him. But just look at the glory of Radharani's love, despite being all-powerful . (Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi 5.7, CC 1.17.293).

So, the work of those who reside in Vrindavan is to make the Dham manifest. They do so by perfecting their bhajan at whatever their level of understanding or the strength of their devotion. The innermost circle may be the least visible -- those who practice devotion in hiding. Others may preach or engage in welfare work or in cleaning, it does not matter as long as they work to make Radha and Krishna's abode into a living and breathing reality, inwardly and outwardly into God's own playground, to make it manifest to as many people as possible.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Glorifying Vrindavan: Where those thirsty for Braj rasa are going these days

From Vrindavan Today: Sometimes one gets the impression that there is a certain movement afoot. Suddenly, one figure bursts into prominence and influences the general mood of the community, sets the rhythm that others follow. When the flowers bloom and their fragrance is carried by the breezes in the spring, the bees and hummingbirds who feed on the nectar automatically swarm to the colorful garden where they are arrayed.

For the past few months people have been asking me with regularity, "Have you heard Premananda Baba's Vrindavana-mahimamrita lectures? Then I started looking on the internet and saw that his enthusiasts were making his lectures available every day, so I began listening.

And today, finally, I went to Shri Hit Dham on the Parikrama Marg, in the Varaha Ghat area a bit west of the Bhaktivedanta Goshala. Vishakha Dasi accompanied me and took some photos, which you can see here: Gallery.

Madan Ter and Shri Hit Dham

Shri Hit Dham is right next to Madan Ter. It appears that the two properties, both in the hands of the Radha Vallabha Goswamis, were divided up at some time. The area now known as Madan Ter, which is the original site where Hit Harivams Mahaprabhu first stayed in Vrindavan and where Radha Vallabh was first worshiped in Vrindavan.

According to his biographers, although he was born in Braj, Harivams spent the first 31 years of his life in Devavan (Deoband) in what is currently northeastern Uttar Pradesh. He then received a dream order from Radharani who told him to go and live in Vrindavan. While on his way there, Harivamsh stopped in a place called Charthawal near Muzzafarnagar, where he again received a dream command from Radharani to marry the two daughters of a brahmin in the village, who gave him the murti of Radha Vallabha as a part of his dowry.

Harivansh arrived in Vrindavan in 1535, taking shelter in the place known as Unchi Thaur ("high ground"), which is also known as Madan Ter. The date of Karttik Shukla Trayodasi is usually given for the celebration of Radha Vallabha's Patotsava, which marks when his worship was inaugurated. This festival is celebrated annually, primarily at Madan Ter.

Though Shri Hit Dham is the property of Radha Vallabha Goswamis, the place is occupied by a few sadhus and gardeners who take care of the bagicha. There is a small temple building and a shrine to Hit Harivamsh in generally pristine surroundings, but plans for new buildings are afoot. This inevitably happens when many people start to frequent a particular site.

The mood

And there were many people, perhaps 500, who came to listen to Premananda Maharaj. The small temple building only seats thirty or forty people at most indoors, so the greater number of people sit outside in the pleasant garden surroundings, under an old but flourishing jasmine vine. Others sit on chairs under a canopy. They are of all ages and of all sampradāyas, as many women as men.

One can see the tilak of Haridasis, Nimbarkis, Gaudiyas and Ramanandis amongst others. Premanandaji's kathā is for people who are coming to take shelter of Vrindavan, who are ready to follow Prabodhananda's strong instructions to take to exclusive bhajan of Radha and Madana Mohan in the nitya-vihāra. As a matter of fact, Prabodhananda Saraswati's bhajana sthali and samādhi are just a few hundred meters away in Purana Kalidaha, right next door to Madan Mohan.

[The names Madana-mohana or Madana-gopala appear 23 times in VMA, Radha-vallabha only twice. Radha-ramana or Radhika-ramana, seven times.]

Hit Premananda Govinda Sharanji Maharaj

Those sitting outside cannot see Premananda Baba, they can only hear his voice on the microphone. You can see what he looks like clearly on YouTube, though. His hair is dishevelled and his beard untrimmed. He wears tilak of Radha Kund mitti and smears it across his forehead along with chandan and saffron.

I heard that more than twenty years ago he was an Advaita sannyasi living in Benares. Then he came to Vrindavan and took shelter of a Baba in the Radha Vallabha line, which seems eminently appropriate for one who follows in the mood of Prabodhananda. He then took up a serious study of the Radha Vallabhi vāṇī texts, especially Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi and Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta, along with the Braja bhasha works by Sewakji and Dhruva Das. But in his lectures, he also refers frequently to Rāma-carita-mānasa and the vāṇī-granthas of the Haridasis and the Nimbarkis, as well as the lesser known poets of the Radha-vallabhi line.

This openness to all the saints of Vrindavan is clear from the beginning of the morning sat-saṅga, when everyone sings a prayer by Bhagavant Mudita (initiated as a Gaudiya) addressed to the original greats of Braja from all sampradāyas, including those above-mentioned, as well as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Rupa, Sanatana, Raghunath Das and Jiva Goswamis.

Baba has only been giving pāṭha this way for the last couple of years, and most of his disciples have come to him in that time. None of his disciples lives there at Shri Hit Dham, but in other refuges nearby. They are told to devote themselves to bhajan in their own way, but to come every day for morning satsang and for another satsang in the afternoon when there are readings from the vani texts.

The pāṭha

His voice is somewhat hoarse, but clear and forceful. Indeed he thunders relentlessly in the style of one who is fully renounced and dedicated to ekānta-bhajana. His presentation is scholarly. There is no compromise in his voice.

aparataḥ puruṣārtha-catuṣṭayaṁ
bhagavato bhajanaṁ ca bhaved bahu |
dhruvam idaṁ tu vinā vṛṣabhānujā-
vanam aho na mahojjvalaṁ bhaktayaḥ ||

You can attain the four goals of life elsewhere; you can even attain the worship of Bhagavan, but outside of Radha's forest of Vrindavan, there is no attaining this devotion in the brilliant mood of erotic love. (VMA 15.24)
Verses like this are the ones that allow him to express the unique nature of the bhakti of Vrindavan Dham and the need to recognize the good fortune that one has to be there, among the trees and vines, the flora and fauna of the Dham, listening to the glories of Piyari and Pritam Shyam-Shyamaju, Yugal Sarkar, surrounded by other, chatak-like devotees who thirst for the nectar of their topics to the exclusion of everything else.

Most of the time Baba speaks with his eyes closed, except when he opens a book to cite some relevant passage. Today the principal verse was the following:

vṛndāraṇye sva-kara-racitāścarya-sat-puṣpa-vāṭyāṁ
nānā-puṣpādbhuta-racita-san-maṇḍape sat-pathena |
svāstīrṇāmbhoruha-mṛdu-dalenābhisāryāśu rādhāṁ
krīḍan kṛṣṇo’vatu sa bhavato juṣṭa-vartmopahāram ||

May the playful Krishna who has with his own hand made a garden in Vrindavan full of an incredible array of flawless flowers, and therein built a pavilion with various other wonderful blossoms, and who has covered the path whereby Radha will soon come to meet him with the soft stalks of lotus flowers, protect the gift of your chosen devotional path. (VMA 15.2)

His trance-like descriptions come especially when the verse is, like this one, a meditation on the beauty of Vrindavan or the Divine Couple, or some lila. For the first half of today's class, for instance, he was absorbed in remembering Krishna's preparing the kunj for Radha's arrival, with all the uddīpanas of ujjvala-rasa, and especially emphasizing the nature of prema as taking joy in the happiness of the Beloved, tat-sukhe sukhī bhāva.

The second half of the class was taken up with a response to a question about the gradual process of advancement in bhakti. He quoted verses from Bhakti-rasāyana by Madhusudana Saraswati giving an eleven-step sequence, explaining it in terms of madhura-bhakti in the Radha-vallabhi mood:

prathamaṁ mahatāṁ sevā tad-dayā-pātratā tataḥ |
śraddhātha teṣāṁ dharmeṣu tato hari-guṇa-śrutiḥ ||34||
tato raty-aṅkurotpattiḥ svarūpādhigatis tataḥ |
prema-vṛddhiḥ parānande tasyātha sphuraṇaṁ tataḥ ||35||
bhagavad-dharma-niṣṭhā’taḥ svasmiṁs tad-guṇa-śālitā |
premṇo’tha paramā kāṣṭhety uditā bhakti-bhūmikā ||36||

(1) Service to great souls; (2) becoming the recipient of their grace; (3) faith in the path they teach; (4) listening to the descriptions of Krishna's qualities; (5) the first sprouting of love (rati); (6) attaining knowledge of one's own spiritual identity; (7) the increase of love, (8) its manifestation in supreme joy; (9) firm commitment to the Bhagavat Dharma; (10) the attainment of Krishna's qualities in oneself; (11) the attainment of the highest state of love.

These are explained in Bhakti-rasāyana with reference to the Bhāgavatam.

It is nice to see that there is a hunger for this kind of uncompromising message of bhakti to Vrindavan. It is good that Radha Vallabh Jiu has sent someone to remind us all of Vrindavan's glories on a regular basis. Jai Sri Vrindavan Dham!!