Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Kant and Moving Goalposts

There are several questions left open here.

When I was reading Kant and his critics, I could not help but be reminded of Walter Kaufmann's comments on the Gita, in which he objected to the overwhelming pre-eminence of duty for its own sake, excluding all other rewards, which he found a dry and empty approach to life.

Kant also seems to think that if it doesn't hurt, if one doesn't find it a struggle to fight one's instincts in order to obey the categorical imperative of moral duty, then it is of no inherent value. Righteousness is its own reward. Kant does not hold out any transcendental joys, no heaven as compensation, but only a kind of sense of rational justification that comes to one who follows this impersonal categorical imperative. Neither does Kant think much of sentimental human motivation, i.e., love, as a rationale for moral action, for these things belong to the realm of the passions.

Of course, the Upanishads, in the bhūma-vidyā section of Bṛhad-āraṇyaka, state unequivocally the utilitarian principle that happiness is the motivator behind all action. And that therefore we should seek our "enlightened self interest", to again use a phrase from the same school of thought, which is bhūma-sukham, the greatest pleasure. Or, as the Bhāgavatam states: na te viduḥ svārtha-gatiṁ hi viṣṇum, "The foolish do not know that Vishnu is their ultimate self-interest."

We have returned again and again to the statements about the ultimate identity of Self and self (achintya-bheda/abheda): by serving the interests of the Supreme Self, we not only serve our own personal interests, but those of the entire universe. This cannot be proved empirically, but only intuitively, i.e., it has to be taken on faith.

These are fairly Randian, right-wing ideas for me to be espousing, considering that I am a life-long lefty, and still tend to heavily sympathize with the Left. When Thatcher says, "There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families," I cannot help but feel instinctively that she has gone too far. [See this article, which defends Thatcher.] Why bother to include families (or community) if she cannot include the rest of human society? Vasudhaiva kutumbakam, as it were.

The Vaishnava claim is that egoism is common to all. Progressive consciousness sees the widening of self-identification to progressively include various levels of ego-centered consciousness (oral, anal, genital), mental, intellectual, family, community, society, nation, humanity, all creatures, the universe and finally God Himself. yathā taror mūla-niṣecanena... These are all degrees of enlightened self-interest.

The problem with God, philosophically, is that it can be seen as an "empty" concept. Although believers feel God to embody the categorical imperative, we can all project culturally or individually conditioned prejudices onto God. This is a common enough psychological occurrence, and the numerous religions with conflicting values or even the changing values within a particular tradition's history are proof enough of this. In the context of religious apologetics, such an awareness is a great guard against fundamentalism, but it forces us to use reason to examine the values that may have been identified as eternal in particular times and circumstances.

In other words, "God" is a moving goalpost. But don't think that the Gita is not aware of this. As a matter of fact, its acknowledgement of the dialectic of the Absolute and the relative is one of its glorious features. The Gita tells us that we follow socially imposed moral imperatives until our moral sense and self-awareness are sufficiently elevated to bring us to individualization, at which point we are capable of making immediate moral judgements in harmony with the Divine Will. This is the meaning of sarva-dharmān parityājya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja. Becoming free of social conditioning, which has the code-word of varṇāśrama in Hinduism, is the key to moral independence. However, as I mentioned parenthetically in a previous post, it does not mean that one acts contrary to one's socially-conditioned nature. Krishna says that even a wise person acts according to his nature.

So varṇa is about nature, but āśrama is about adhikāra.

=============


When I say "God is a moving goalpost", that does not mean that I am reducing Radha and Krishna, or Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to a psychological construct. First of all, I do consider the choice of iṣṭa-devatā to be a profound step in one's spiritual life. Those who are spiritual dilettantes are not thought much of by Rupa Goswami, nor by me. The choice of iṣṭa-devatā is a crucial step: it is the principal feature of dīkṣā (it is the meaning of divyaṁ jñānam). It is a revelation of self, of our personal psychology, as well as of our profoundest spiritual needs.

The theology of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, and I am principally speaking of Rupa Goswami here, is the first step to understanding the deeper meaning of this choice. Nevertheless, it is important to know that God reveals himself to each of us in a particular way: the Infinite lets himself be known to us, according to our adhikara, so that we can marvel in his glories.

Therefore, Rupa (and other Hindus) will not debate the authenticity of the different forms of God, but it does hierarchize them, it evaluates them, relativizes them. The God of varṇāśrama is bāhya āge koho āra. But the process of hierarchization and relativization implies higher and lower values. The Gita tells us that there are three modes of nature and that a certain kind of faith is true to each of these modes. The Bhagavatam introduces the concept of transcendence, and this is what all this discussion is really about.



Sunday, November 26, 2006

An answer to the letter from a devotee

Dear friend,

First of all, I want to express my sympathies to you for all you have gone through. Moreover, I would like to thank you, since it is clear to me that you were deeply affected by something I have written and wanted to share your experience with me. I was very moved. I will try not to disgrace myself by writing platitudes.

Who can count the ways, subtle and gross, in which Maya makes us suffer? Suffering is always personal, and reducing it to headers like adhibhautika, adhidaivika and adhyatmika or other categories seems to be of little help in unveiling its mysteries. But the miseries that come to us through nature, other creatures, or our own mind and body all contain, through the workings of the illusory potency, a mystification of agency.

Suffering comes to us through personal and impersonal agencies, just as do love and happiness, but the true and ultimate cause lies beyond them. All psychologists will tell you that forgiveness is an important step in healing, and forgiveness comes more easily when we realize that everyone is ultimately innocent of their crimes. They are merely agents, dealing out to us the cards that we are to play in this great game of karma.

The thing that we want to do more than anything is not to continue being unconscious agents ourselves, but we remain in the game by reacting to the reactions, as it were; we continue to participate in this ultimately unsatisfying dance. This is called samsara-chakra, the ever-turning wheel. What we must become are conscious agents of God's love, knowledge and works.

There are no doubt similarities between your situation and mine, or my situation and your father's. I cannot know your father's truest motivation for abandoning you, but we must all ask ourselves the question of where, in the final analysis, our responsibilities lie. Is there one morality for all, a one-size-fits-all universal morality to which we must always adhere? And to what extent do extenuating circumstances make breaking such universal laws or dharmas permissible? Can there be a hierarchy of dharmas?

Was it permissible, for instance, for your father to abandon his responsibilities to you and your mother for the sake of some higher purpose, known only to himself and to God? That is something that we can never really know. Humans judge according to laws based on purported universal principles and are often blind or deaf to motivations or fundamental good will.

You feel that you have been irreparably harmed. Personally, I don't believe that is the case. No doubt, the absence of love and guidance that a father could have given you in your formative years presents a great obstacle for your personal and spiritual development, but that is all it is--an obstacle, one that you were destined to face and, believe me, one that is not insurmountable. Perhaps you would never have had the same attitude to love, nor to your own son, if this had not happened to you. In the long run, your experience, no matter how painful, will have given you a richer understanding of life.

This is not a repudiation of or accommodation with evil. It is my faith in the ultimately benign nature of God and the creation, a faith that is needed for us to experience life most fully. This is rasa, for it provides the template for a story of triumph over adversity.

All that being said, I think we have to examine what our scriptures say about dharma and try to see what it means in this context. You were right to say that dharma is intrinsically related to karma. Our psycho-social makeup is the result of our karmas, and our dharma is dictated by this nature--even by, as the verse that I was meditating on last time said, our desires. The varnashram concept indicates that one's dharmas inevitably change even within a single lifetime--that is what is meant by ashram. But the Vaishnava dharma tries to put things into a higher perspective yet.

It is not that Vaishnava dharma rejects the kinds of moral imperatives that arise from social orientation and the familiar networks of obligations and duties that keep the social contract alive and make human goodness possible. Rather, it tries to establish a higher principle that places all other duties and obligations into perspective. This, however, does not make the values or the morality inherent in human society inoperative. Rather, it provides them with a rationale, and thereby offers a means to perfecting them.

Vaishnava theology begins from a very individualistic and subjective idealist premise. This is, in fact, the source of its revolutionary nature, which can lead to a host of problems from the standpoint of worldly morality. I alluded to this when I said that my entering household life (for the second time, quite different from the first) was in great part motivated by a feeling that it was necessary to acknowledge "worldly" concerns, which in our Iskcon experience had been neglected to the great detriment of the movement, despite Prabhupada's attempts to find solutions through establishing a Varnashram-type social system. However, the absolutist, non-compromising, what I see as kanishtha, understanding and attitude of Iskcon led to myriad abuses, the traumatic effects of which will be with Iskcon for as long as it exists, as much as the traumatic effects of your childhood has shaped and will continue to affect you. [Reading through Bryant and Ekstrand's collection of articles again showed me that: so many of those articles leave you trembling and heartsick.]

You comment that your father was a "romantic." Krishna consciousness, as most mysticisms, is very romantic. It is quite different in that sense from religion. I was just rereading Immanuel Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals in order to try to deepen my thinking on the issues of morality that are being brought up here. Kant presents a few basic concepts that are useful. Here is one: "The imperative of duty may be expressed thus: Act as if the maxim of your action were to become, by your will, a universal law of nature."

In other words, if you do something, you must test its moral validity by and its categoric nature by asking whether it is contingent, that is, whether it is contingent on circumstances or ends. When you write, "However, I know that a certain cowherd boy would see me sink into Maya and abandon Him utterly if I were to leave my family and my responsibilities to them," you are, in effect, saying that you find this moral imperative, the duty of staying and caring for your family, to be a universal principle, which by extension is applicable to all. This is your faith, and yo yac-chraddhaH sa eva sah. If I did not agree with you that there is a potent rationale behind this, I would not still be where I am, nor would I be able to empathize with you.

Another of Kant's dictums was extremely familiar, and I think shows the extent to which his ideas have penetrated into the very marrow of Occidental thinking on morality. It also can be seen as an influence on Buber, whose writing was mentioned earlier in this Blog. "...the practical imperative will be as follows: So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as a means only."

This statement, which might be considered a rephrasing of the Golden Rule, sets an almost impossibly high benchmark for morality. But it shows the danger of religious thinking in which priority of service to God is used to trump basic humanity. ["God uses the good. The bad use God."] This is the characteristic of fanaticism and fundamentalism, which I will need not elaborate on it. Suffice it to say that many of us who lived through an Iskcon experience can recall unsentimental dealings with individuals who were in some way crushed under the wheels of the higher purpose preaching steamroller.

My point is not to criticize or condemn Iskcon. I am simply restating something that is well known--we are all formed by our experiences, and those of us who by Prabhupada's grace came to love Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Divine Couple also had many other formative lessons, which will affect us as much as your childhood affected you.

Nevertheless, I must return to the ultimate principle of sarva-dharmAn parityAjya mAm ekaM zaraNaM vraja and ask how this transcendental injunction jives with the worldly ones of duty to family and society. I already said that, according to the Hindu vision, dharma is and must be individual. This means that no matter how hard-wired we may be with universal principles of morality [Scientists are looking for a morality gene, I heard on a quite interesting report on the subject on the Australian Broadcasting System yesterday.], individual circumstances will inevitably challenge those principles. Sometimes to test our integrity as moral beings, and sometimes to test our integrity as individuals.

[In Arjuna's case, the external manifestation of mam ekam saranam vraja was exactly the same as acting according to social, psycho-physical, etc., imperatives. It was his consciousness that was different.]

This, then, is where adhikara comes in. Varnashram is an adhikara-based system in which one progressively and naturally transcends conditional and contingent duties to face that one duty that comes to us all--facing death, the most individual act of all.


This answer has already gotten rather long-winded, and I am afraid that I am not very close to fully answering what I see as the question here: Can it ever be right to abandon immediate worldly obligations for the sake of some higher purpose? Can the higher purpose be an illusion as much as the duties in which we find ourselves embroiled, even entangled?

In much Hindu discourse, family life, etc., are seen as the products of egotistical desires, or kama, and therefore always relative. The claim of individualistic, romantic, mystical religion, is that by attaining the greatest good individually, we automatically do the highest good for all.

To get back to the concrete here. I see bhakti as a process of cultivating love. Human love is both a revelation of God's love and an indication of our duty toward God. Hence the words "Where lies our kama, there lies our dharma." Vaishnava consciousness means cultivating prema through kama. The "worldly" way of applying the bhakti vision is to cultivate those loving relationships that have been given to us in tandem with the bhakti-yoga processes in order to create a dialectic that generates ever increasing prema.

This is why I am most troubled by your admission that your wife and your family circumstances are not devotional. Though this may not, at this particular juncture, be overwhelmingly pratikula or damaging for spiritual progress, I am afraid that it may eventually leave you increasingly alienated from your own being and your own calling, your own path.

I have been working with the idea of kama leading to dharma, but of course, we are more familiar with the concept of kama as the primary obstacle to dharma. (Which Kant would agree with.) Though pure kama is intrinsic to the jiva, the ignorance that covers self-knowledge makes it hard for us to see our real duties clearly. This leads to choices that have contingent and conditional empire over us. The obligations that result from such choices will ultimately become so alienating that we have no choice but to abandon them. An alienated person will only bring misery to those he should love and to whom he should bring joy. A sadhaka must be a sadhaka and cannot expect to be a siddha.

But, as I hope I have made clear, moving out of such conditions is very much a question of adhikara. To return to Kantian terms: We have to be able to see clearly the higher good that comes out of abandoning one thing for another. Until that comes, you are quite right, Krishna will send you back to complete the lesson you were meant to learn, which in this case is to love.

sthira hoiya ghare jao, na hao batul /
krame krame pay loka bhava-sindhu kul //

And, of course, in anukula circumstances, there is no need at all for tyaga. The problem comes when circumstances are so alienating that one is under obligation to save oneself first at the risk of going under with everyone else.

So thank you, my dear friend, for provoking in me an attempt to go deeper into this huge question of moral philosophy. I doubt that I have done the question adequate justice, but I found it a useful beginning.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Letter from a devotee

I received the following letter from a young devotee, which rather nicely illustrates the conflict. I will reserve comment for now, but I want to stress that the question has complex aspects, which I would like to continue discussing.

Radhe Radhe!
My father abandoned our family when I was only 5. It was an agony for him to stay. He was an artist - a musician, a bard in the classical sense. His muse and his heart demanded that he flee the family home and seek his fortune on the wide open road. Quite the romantic!

To this day I remain so fundamentally damaged from being abandoned by him that it infuses every aspect of my life. There is no situation so mundane, trivial, or grand that it escapes the filter of the absent father.

Dharma dictates various karmas. These karmas are unique to each person. Dharma is mysterious and hard to fathom. By following dharma one does not escape pain in this life nor karma in the next. It is simply done because it is dharma.

The pain and psychological wounds that I carry because my father broke dharma to pursue his highest heart's desire will never be forgotten in this body. I hold them in my heart and my son will feel them also. He is two. I can feel the scars in my heart when our two hearts rub up against each other. Does that make sense?

My wife is not a Vaishnava. My family are not Vaishnavas. I have no support for sadhana. I dream every day about leaving everything to live with the sanga. Anywhere at all. Just to live with the sadhaka samaja. This desire will only get worse with time. However, I know that a certain cowherd boy would see me sink into Maya and abandon Him utterly if I were to leave my family and my responsibilities to them.

I was once told a story of a disciple of Papa Ram Das. She was told that her 13-year-old child was dying of fever and calling for her in his final hours. She begged her guru to absolve her of the duty of going to see him. She said, "Baba, all over the world children are being born and dying. What does this have to do with me? Please let me never leave you."

This used to be somewhat inspiring to me. That one could so lose their my-sense and ahankar that they could let their only child die alone and in agony, abandoned in their final hour by the only human truly responsible for them, due to having created their body and raising them. Now, I spit on her memory and all those who revere it.

When I become a perfect sadhaka, then maybe I will have the adhikar for leaving all responsibilities and running to Krishna's charan. Until then, it is better that I burn in separation and fulfill my dharma in the filthy samsara of home life than run away to Vraj and take my samsara there. When I am chanting 64 rounds in secret while my family sleeps, relishing smaran when people think I am dozing, and feeling real humility and not the mocking pose that I feel now, then I will go.

I think I wrote this to give you the perspective of a child who has lost a parent to the parent's dream. Your situation I am sure is quite different. Maybe I used this opportunity to think out loud and wasted your time. Please accept my most sincere apologies and feel free not to post this or delete it later. You are my senior and are owed my pranaams and respect.

Joy Nitai! Joy Gaur!


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Whatever a man desires, that for him is his duty

I need to explain more what I mean by dharma. This is a continuing meditation on my own poem. When I reposted it, by some coincidence I reread the post I made about the Gita verse kāmo'smi bhāratarshabha. I was struck by the words from the Mahabharata (14.13.9-10)--

In this world, men do not commend a man whose very self is desire, and yet there can be no progress (pravritti) without desire, for the gift of alms, the study of the Veda, ascetic practice, and the Vedic sacrificial acts are all motivated by desire. Whoever knowingly undertakes a religious vow, performs sacrifice or any other religious duty, or engages in the spiritual exercise of meditation without desire does all this in vain. Whatever a man desires, that is to him his duty (dharma). It cannot be sound to curb one's duty.

"Whatever a man desires, that is to him his duty."

This describes, of course, the idea of Berüf or vocation. Prabhupada once said, "Find Krishna in the direction of your service." Or, find Krishna in the direction of your desires. We generally see dharma in terms of the unpleasantness that must be overcome. And of course, even when trying to fulfill a desire, there are challenges that must be overcome. Tests. But one who is faithful to God is faithful to his original inspiration or desire, recognizing ultimately that it comes from God.

There are subtleties related to the modes of nature or the purity of desire, but the whole point of the Gita is to show that one's desire indicates his level of qualification or adhikara. He says, when someone chooses to worship a particular demigod (to fulfill a particular desire) that he strengthens the person's faith in that god. Why? So that he can come to a knowledge of that particular (partial) manifestation of God. And he continues doing so until he comes to an awareness that prema is the prayojana.

The obligations that are imposed upon us by society, nation, family, our inner gods and demons, our "Superego" are the dharmic obstacles that are placed upon us. These are often harder to give up than adharma, precisely because we associate the duties related to this body with religion.

Of course, this is a huge debate in religion itself--and something to which we originally objected. Gaudiya Vaishnavism _is_ mystical. It is about cultivating direct experience of God--bhagavat-sākṣātkāra--the true price of which is sarva-dharmān parityājya.

So what is this obsession with "worldly religion"? Which, I may add, also has a connection to my Sahajiyaism. Ah... This shall have to wait. I have surely been down this road before... It starts with "This world is real."

Nostalgia for the days before the fall

Truly, truly, I am really feeling strange today. For the first time in several months, I am doing something that I did as a matter of course for several years--sitting at my computer, translating, thinking, writing, without worry about anything else. I just went for a tranquil japa walk in the crisp autumn sunlight...

The fact that I have been pulled away from this life because of my need to meet my financial responsibilities to my family has been an extremely painful experience. Sometimes I feel that my arm is being twisted harder and harder while the Twister says, "Let go, let go! You know what your real life is! All the rest is just a mirage! Let it go and nothing evil will befall anyone. The misery is in getting your arm twisted."

Would I not be better able to serve the world by continuing the work of the Grantha Mandir, or by translating, or by writing original works on Krishna consciousness, both devotional and academic (all of which is pretty much at a complete standstill)? Is it not just a matter of my choice--just doing it, as the Nike folk say? And yet I work in a job for which I am paid a pittance and am replaceable by 100,000 others.

Indeed, the choice does look simple. I wish that it were. One of the reasons I am so attached to dharma is that I was critical of the way that Iskcon treated worldly responsibilities so cavalierly in the name of a higher dharma--causing a loss of reputation and much confusion in many individual lives on the way. I came to the conclusion that if Krishna consciousness is to function in the world, it would have to evolve into a worldly religion. This is how I came to understand Prabhupada's insistence on the development of Varnashram Dharma. However, clearly, this is a shell or framework that one must pierce through in order to attain genuine Krishna consciousness.

My first problem is that I don't have a "Krishna-samsara." But even there, genuine Krishna consciousness means direct response to Krishna/Guru in the heart. There would be something of a balm to my heart if I had managed to impose a temple atmosphere in my home, but I failed to do so. I let things go their own way, and now I find that I cannot find the will to correct the distortion. Indeed, I feel as though I myself am the one who needs to be picked up by svajatiya-sanga. I know how I would preach to myself, and yet I am resisting due to an unshakable desire to shake everything and take shelter of the Dham.

I can quote at least fifty verses that are forgiving of abandoning dharma if one seeks the essence of spiritual life. Some of them have been ringing in my ears for months--na dharmaṁ nādharmaṁ śruti-gaṇa-niruktaṁ kila kuru. And yet I am hanging on to the rags and shreds of this samsara, knowing that I should be somehow sharing this with my family, preaching from my home, doing what Bhaktivinoda Thakur would have wanted me to, and being instead afflicted by a paralysis of charity.

I am trying to discipline myself and not indulge in lamentation. "aśocyān anvaśocas tvam prajñā-vādāṁś ca bhāṣase" about sums up one of my Inner Voices' attitude. I know that God helps those who help themselves, but I throw myself on the Divine Couple's mercy and ask them to please make an arrangement. Either make it easy or give me the brains and the strength to deal with it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Day Off

I haven't been visiting this site much. The temptation is too great to reveal too much of my personal life. What is a blog but another version of what writers and poets have done since time immemorial? There is no way that anything spoken could ever be the absolute honest truth, because the desire to create an image will always come in the way. And the greater the compromise with matter, the greater the tendency to lie. It is a curious Catch-22: The moralists will tell us that the truth sets us free, and yet one feels that one is never free enough to tell the truth in its entirety. We use the portion of the truth that favors our amour propre and negotiate our place in Maya with it. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I feel more alive when I write. Whether there is a public listening to me or not...

This is sankirtan. The description of the life of a devotee, even one as degraded and lost as myself, whether in the first or third person, is preaching. This is what Rupa Goswami was getting at when he said that Bilvamangala was a "sadhaka" ashraya alambana, or when Ananta Dasji says that the life of the sadhaka devotee, as in the case of Raghunath Das Goswami's Vilapa Kusumanjali, is full of rasa.

In the modern context, the literary sensibilities of the general public have become more sophisticated than they would have been in an age of widespread illiteracy, or even in any of the classical periods of literature. Archetypal stories told in bare bone fashion, even with all the embellishments and finest literary conceits, can be admired by those with the appropriate sensibility, but they don't easily produce sattvika vikaras. Those come from stories to which we are able to relate more directly.

In the case of someone like myself, who finds his devotional aspirations so far from realization, whose practice of devotion is so feeble, how can it be said that there is any rasa? This is where the debate in rasa theory about the location of rasa comes in. Does the writer himself experience rasa when he suffers in separation from his beloved? It takes an almost superhuman effort to transcend the personal experience of pain. This is why writing or talking are remedies, because they separate the person from his own experience. The isolated experience can then be experienced as rasa. In the case of bhakti, the experience of the devotee is mapped onto the eternal image of God, making the experience of rasa transcendental. Actually, all rasa experiences ARE transcendent, that is why they are called "brahma-sahodara."

Ah, writing truly is an act of freedom.

* * * * *

Anyway, today I am taking a day off samsara's more stifling manifestations to prepare a course on Gaudiya Vaishnavism I am to be giving at McGill this January. I have to prepare a "course pack" of readings. I want to include a liberal mix of primary and secondary readings, but appropriate texts are still not always available. Of course, my library of translations is hopelessly out of date. There have been a lot of busy bees in Iskcon and elsewhere bringing a great deal of the corpus into the public eye. I have certainly not played the role I was perhaps meant to play in this effort. I want to spend at least two weeks on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's life--one on the Chaitanya Bhagavata, the other on the Chaitanya Charitamrita. But I am not too happy with the CBH that I found on the Internet (probably an old version of Sarvabhavana's translation), so I am making a revision of several chapters: Adi 17, Madhya 1, and probably Madhya 24-26. Though I will use Tony Stewart's translation of the Jagai-Madhai story found in Religions of India in Practice. I am also thinking that some of the more egregious manifestations, such as the Maha Prakash theophany, or Mahaprabhu's play in the house of Chandrasekhar, would be good for eliciting a reaction from students.

I think a good new general academic volume on Gaudiya Vaishnavism would be welcome.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Some photos


Madhavananda and I, Varshana 2004.


This photo was taken by Madhavanandaji in February 2004, at Varshana.


This photo was taken in 2004, at Ananda Dham, Vrindavan.

This photo was taken at Radha Kund by Mark Tinghino in 1984.

śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ

(Sept. 27. 2005)

The gods of this earth
dragged me bound and chained
to the battlefield of choice.

Amidst the noise and rain,
they laughed and said,
“Behold the armies here aligned;
survey now what will be lost,
and what, if aught, you'll gain.”

My feet were motionless,
locked in the hardened mortar
of my dharma.
I rattled my hapless chain.

The gods cackled and shrieked, “Look:
There is no worldly goal, no aim,
no task before God but dharma:
Do your duty, day after day,
There’s no Sabbath, so claim no rest.
There is no rest to claim.” (1)

Another whispered hoarsely—“Yes!
Stick to your wretched dharma,
given you by Nature, God and Guru!
There is only hope for you
if you unravel your hopes:
For these are the binding ropes.” (2)

I strained to see the Vraja fields,
once held up to me as hope.
“Will I get this from my dharma?”
I cried. And they said, “Nope.”

“Surrender!” urged the worldly gods.
“Do your karma! Take your karma!
Fear for sankar of the varna!
Worry ‘bout the kula dharma!

"Oho! Show your stuff to them
who disdain your God.
Love means you’re not a stain
on your guru's spotless raiment.
Love means you take the pain,
even when there’s nothing
in this world or the next to gain.”

And, as an afterthought, they said:
"Save yourself from shame."

“Make your choice, make your choice!” They egg'd.
“The choice has long been made,” I said.
“It has been made by my concrete boots,
and by this tree with both upward
and downward roots,
for I have eaten of its
shrivelled, lifeless fruits.”

[**This cannot be! This cannot be!
Did I have no real choice
that would have set me free?]

*Based on (1) and (2) from Religions in Four Dimensions by Walter Kaufmann (NY: Reader's Digest Press, 1976). Pages 290 and 242 respectively. Originally these were quoted in full, but have now been totally altered.
** To be whispered.