Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part IV

These essays have become a bit scrambled and perhaps lost their direction somewhat. They should be seen as notes for something that will come out of it all at some time in the future. I would, however, like to make a couple of points here, by way of a résumé:

  1. In my understanding of this process there is no fundamental difference in the sambandha or prayojana for the Orthodox and Sahajiya schools, though there are some differences in the abhidheya.
  2. Ahangrahopasana is, as we have shown, acceptable when interpreted according to the correct sambandha and prayojana, and only rejected when it disagrees with the metaphysics and ultimate goal of Vaishnava practice. When it agrees, it is called aropa. This aropa is similar to, but not exactly the same as the aropa in aropa-siddha bhakti that has been discussed in a previous post.
  3. The goal of bhakti is bhava and prema. The word bhakti does not make a clear and specific difference between external activities and internal moods; bhava and prema are clearly and specifically internal. The spiritual world is sometimes called "bhava-rajya" because it is, essentially, formed out of bhava (hladinir sar bhava). This is very important to understand and I have been returning to it again and again: the spiritual world is within and it is created out of bhava or feeling. This is the Vaishnava position, as opposed to the jnani or karmi.
  4. Three terms that are in need of analysis: ahangrahopasana, sadharanikarana and aropa. They all have some relation to the concept of identification with someone other than oneself. What exactly is the relationship between the three terms? Ahangrahopasana refers to identification with God; it was stated that such identification is not altogether excluded if it is understood as identification with the Godhead, i.e., God and his energies.
  5. Sadharanikarana is described as the natural mechanism of identification taking place on hearing a story. This is a somewhat mysterious process, but Sri Rupa Prabhu has identified it as an essential ingredient in the experience of rasa. Rupa warns against identifying with Krishna, but rather with his devotees, i.e. Radha. But when Radha and Krishna are One, how does one distinguish the Two ?
  6. We have looked at one definition of Aropa, as in the idea of Aropa-siddha bhakti in order to help understand its meaning. Aropa is about an apparent artificial process of attribution. It is much what is attempted when one identifies as a manjari. In the case of a devotional lovemaking, it is but one part of a somewhat complex combination of psychological procedures that are put into play. I'd like to leave that for now.

Now I would like to explain the table I posted earlier:

BhagavataSahajiya
Kanistha
  • Sadhana-bhakti (Vaidhi and Raganuga)
  • Sees the sacred in specifically ordained and restricted times, places and activities.
  • Svarupa-siddha bhakti.
  • Sraddha to nishtha.
Pravartaka
  • Vaidhi-sadhana (including the orthodox conception of raganuga bhakti).
  • Namashraya, Mantrashraya.
Madhyama
  • Sees the sacred in the devotee as well as the Deity.
  • Sanga-siddha.
  • Nistha to bhava.
Sadhaka
  • Raganuga-sadhana.
  • The culture of a specific personal devotional relationship.
  • Bhavashraya.
Uttama
  • Sees the sacred in all things.
  • Aropa-siddha.
  • Bhava and prema.
Siddha
  • Ragatmika-bhakti.
  • Sees the sacred in all things.
  • Premashraya, Rasashraya.


  1. The first thing you might notice is that I have placed svarupa siddha bhakti in with sadhana-bhakti. Svarupa siddha bhakti is not in itself bhava. It is powerful for its ability to produce bhava. Sanga siddha and aropa siddha bhakti do not have that power; indeed they are dependent on a degree of bhava to give them their devotional value. Sanga-siddha bhakti means activities that are sacralized through the accompaniment of svarupa-siddha devotional activities, including mental ones. Though aropa-siddha bhakti is the least powerful kind of bhakti, being without any real devotional essence, for a person in the most advanced stage of devotion, since he is filled with bhava and prema, he sees all things in a devotional way. Therefore, there is an "aropa" or attribution of sacredness to things that ordinarily would not be seen in that way.
  2. Another thing that will be noticed is that in the Sahajiya system, Raganuga bhakti is defined differently and in some respects closer to Gaudiya Math thinking on the matter. The Sahajiyas consider the orthodox practices of raganuga bhakti to fall within the vaidhi category. For them, raganuga bhakti starts on the sadhaka platform when one takes shelter of bhava (bhavashraya).
  3. As stated above, the spiritual world is "bhava-maya." The goal of sadhana bhakti (in general terms, not as in the Sahajiya terminology) is to achieve inner states known as bhava. The Sahajiya understanding of Raganuga bhakti is that it focuses on the inner states or moods, which being associated and identified with those of the spiritual world are transcendent and give direction to the bhava-rajya. In other words, the focus of the Sahajiya is on the bhava, rather than the technical details of asta-kaliya lila-smarana, though these should have been internalized in the pravartaka stage. (Namashraya refers to Orthodoxy's vaidhi bhakti, mantrashraya to its raganuga bhakti.)
  4. Evidently, in the sadhaka stage, yogic practices are added to the equation as a certain physical culture is required to aid and enhance concentration. Nevertheless, one does not altogether stop the sadhana practices of the pravartaka stage, even though these may be loosened. This is because one's ashraya is different.
  5. Since the Sahajiya follows the bhava rather than the scriptural details prescribed in the various smarana-paddhatis, which as I mentioned in a prior post in this series, provide primarily intellectual interest which is lost when the novelty wears off, it opens the doors to the kind of sacralizing perception that Eliade talks about and which is announced in the Bhagavatam as the goal of bhakti practice. (See BhP 11.2.55ff) But it also enriches his experience of the svarupa-siddha devotional activities in the madhura mood.



Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Vrindavan as Reality

I just finished today's course on Vrindavan. The readings we used were all from the Journal of Vaishnava Studies:

Gelberg, Steven J. “Vrindavan as a locus of Mystical Experience.” JVS 1.1, Winter 1992. 9-41; Kapoor, O.B.L. “Vrindavan, the Highest Paradise.” JVS 1.1, 42-60; Haberman, David L. “Shrines of the Mind.” JVS 1.3 Spring 1993. 18-35.

I would like to say that I really enjoyed Gelberg's article. For those who are not familiar with Gelberg, he was known in Iskcon as Subhananda Das. He was in Harvard when he wrote this piece, and then went on into writing things about Iskcon as a religious movement, quite good stuff too. Somewhere along the line he decided to leave Iskcon and last I heard, he works as a photographer now. He is best known to devotees for an article he wrote called "On Leaving Iskcon". Too bad, really. A very intelligent guy and a very nice article about Vrindavan with a lot of good references to a variety of modern authors that show a good deal of insight and appreciation.

Haberman's article also is something of a precursor to his book on Vrindavan parikrama, which has garnered a great deal of respect latterly.

One of the things that Gelberg brings up is the same Eliade discussion on the sacred and the profane with which I ended my last post today. Gelberg writes:

The phenomenological term "ontological thirst" was coined by the historian of religion Mircea Eliade to indicate what he felt to be one of the essential characteristics of humans as religious entities: a desire for being. Homo religiosus, "religious man," desires "to live as much as possible in the sacred... [because] the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being."

[Eliade writes]..."The sacred is pre-eminently the real, at once power, efficacy, the source of life and fecundity. Religious man's desire to live in the sacred is in fact equivalent to his desire to take up his abode in objective reality, not to let himself be paralyzed by the never-ceasing relativity of purely subjective experience, to live in a real and effective world, and not in an illusion. This behavior is documented on every plane of religious man's existence, but is particularly evident in his desire to move about only in a sanctified world, that is, in a sacred space." (The Sacred and the Profane, NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1959, pp.12-13.

Now I realize that I have been arguing previously to devotees about the possibility of sacralizing sexuality, something which seems completely impossible to most of those in the orthodoxy, and which now seems to me completely self-evident and natural (sahaja). I don't know if I will be able to use Vaishnava texts alone to make it convincing; ultimately I think I am trying to convince myself: I know the arguments against this idea, but I don't believe them. There are certain logical problems that I am trying to deal with, in the perhaps ludicrous belief that once the objections have been met in my own mind, I will be free. Maybe not so ludicrous.

Sexuality is, in fact, the locus of the sacred par excellence, precisely because of its liminality. Aropa is what makes it a devotional practice. But I am going to have to discuss this in the another segment of "Ahangrahopasana and Aropa."


Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part III

As I have been pointing out, Vaishnavism is about engaging the senses in the service of the Lord. In some cases, this sense activity seems to contradict the service principle. After all, the conception of Vrindavan is distinct from Svarga precisely on this point: that the latter is a place of elaborate sense enjoyment (divi deva-bhoga), whereas the former is a universe predicated on pure love. Have we not ourselves mocked the Muslim heaven and the virgins one the faithful will there deflower?

So how does Madhumangal serve the Lord when he demonstrates the character of a glutton? We assume that he has a spiritual body and does not need to eat in order to maintain it for the sake of service, as can be claimed by those who cite the need for prasad to keep body and soul together. Obviously, "service" has a wider semantic range than that which immediately springs to mind in the classical sense. How is Krishna pleased when we look on his image or even chant his name? If the goal is to engage our senses in the service of the owner of the senses (hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanam), does this mean that we cannot experience any pleasure (harṣa) at all? Such a concept would make verses like the following completely meaningless--

tasyāravinda-nayanasya padāravinda-
kiñjalka-miśra-tulasī-makaranda-vāyuḥ
antar-gataḥ sva-vivareṇa cakāra teṣāṁ
saṅkṣobham akṣara-juṣām api citta-tanvoḥ

Even though [the Four Kumaras] were fixed in the Imperishable, their minds and bodies became agitated when the breeze entered their nostrils carrying the sweet fragrance of tulasi mixed with saffron from the lotus feet of the Lotus-Eyed Lord. [SB. 3.15.43]
So the concept of using the senses to "serve" the master of the senses is a little more complex than simply carrying water or pan bidis to the Divine Couple. The teaching of Gaudiya Vaishnavism is that even though ontologically we are not these bodies, we are sensual beings and these bodies, when engaged in a particular attitude toward Krishna called bhajan, are spiritualized in order to make these senses capable of being used spiritually. sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ.

There are several ways of looking at activities and defining them as devotional in nature. In Bhakti-sandarbha 217-224, Jiva describes three kinds of bhakti: saṅga-siddhā, āropa-siddhā, and svarūpa-siddhā. Those in the first category (āropa-siddhā) are activities that are not directly connected to Krishna or bhakti and are only consecrated in some way after the fact. The verse given as an example is:

kāyena vācā manasendriyair vā
buddhyātmanā vānusṛta-svabhāvāt
karoti yad yat sakalaṁ parasmai
nārāyaṇāyeti samarpayet tat
Whatever one does in following his nature, whether in body, words, or mind, with the senses, intelligence or soul, one should offer it to the Supreme Lord Narayan. [BhP 11.2.36]
So in this widest definition of devotion, scope is given to acts that follow one’s own nature (anusṛta-svabhāvā) as devotion. The yat karoṣi verse from the Bhagavad Gita (9.29) can also be quoted in this connection, as well as the injunction to offer "whatever is most desired to oneself" [11.11.41].

Saṅga-siddhā bhakti is another name for mixed devotion. For instance, renunciation, compassion, or friendship to all creatures, which are not in themselves devotion, are counted amongst the Bhāgavata-dharmas in the 11th canto because they are cultivated in association with svarūpa-siddhā devotional activities. Without the latter, they are not devotion, but when done in “companionship” (tat-parikaratayā) with direct bhakti, they are counted as pure devotion.

Svarūpa-siddhā bhakti is that which stands on its own, for it contains innate devotional power, such as hearing and chanting about Krishna. The proof of the direct potency of such activities is that even if performed unconsciously, like Prahlada in a previous life who performed Ekadasi, or the Puranic story of a falcon that had been pounced on by a dog and was being carried around in the dog’s mouth. After the dog had circumambulated a temple of Vishnu three times, the bird died and went to Vaikuntha. So even though these beings were mūḍha, they were benefited by the devotional activities that they unwittingly performed. How much more beneficial, it is asked rhetorically, would such activities be if performed in full consciousness and with purity of intent!

Thus, the general idea here is that svarūpa-siddhā activities, i.e., those that are directly devotional in nature and prescribed in the scriptures, are the best and most effective in nourishing the sense of devotional relationship with Krishna. Nevertheless, the first two kinds of devotion are not to be thought of as entirely inconsequential, nor can they be entirely absent from any sādhanā, since life itself involves actions that are not always directly devotional in nature. Even rajoguṇa and tamoguṇa are not entirely rejected as they can be useful to the devotee to a degree when employed for devotional service. Jiva finds it necessary, therefore, to divide all three of the above kinds of practice into akaitava or sakaitava (Bhakti-sandarbha 217), meaning sincere or hypocritical, depending on the motivation that spurs the particular activity. Thus it may be possible for one person to engage in āropa-siddhā bhakti sincerely, while another engages in svarūpa-siddhā bhakti hypocritically, with the former practitioner getting greater benefit from his efforts than the latter.

In other words, the inner attitude of the devotee counts for a lot here. It must be remembered that the purpose of all external devotional activities (vidhi-bhakti) is to purify the heart and to develop love for Krishna. As the consciousness of the devotee is transformed, his attitude towards phenomena changes and he becomes more and more aware of the world without as a manifestation of Krishna, making the distinction between the three kinds of bhakti somewhat moot.

Now I imagine that most devotees brought up in the orthodox tradition will not find any way to see sexual activity to be svarūpa-siddhā bhakti: it does not have direct, i.e., an immediate and exclusive, connection to Krishna as in Jiva's definition of svarūpa-siddhā devotion. In other words, sex does not of itself have an unmistakable connection to Krishna. For most orthodox devotees, sexual activity itself is a type of vikarma. There is so much condemnation of sexuality as the essence of material consciousness, the essence of the "enjoying" consciousness. As one devotee put it, "it goes against the very principle of service."

If the jiva's relation of love is meant to be exclusively given to Krishna to the exception of all other persons, then how can absorption in both the physical and emotional aspects of a relation with someone of the opposite sex be anything but a very dangerous distraction? Thus any effort to "dovetail" this activity through āropa or saṅga would fall into the kaitava, or self-deceiving, category of devotional activity.

For them, sex might at best be considered āropa-siddhā or saṅga siddha. The kind of Iskcon variety garbhādhāna-saṁskāra is designed in the consciousness that sexual activity has only one purpose—procreation—and that it is so dangerous spiritually that one has to more or less counteract the negative potential by inundating the mind with so many rounds of japa that one’s senses will be numbed and entirely impervious to the sensual experience! This would be somewhat akin to Gaur Kishor Das Babaji’s famously offering a raw eggplant and eating it as prasad—highly admirable, perhaps, but certainly a great distance from what most people understand about the taking of prasad as a devotional activity.

Though I have already discussed these matters to some extent in an earlier posting, I would like to briefly restate my response to the above. I would hold that the kind of love-making I am talking about has characteristics of all three kinds of devotion.

First of all, I want to make it clear that the precondition to all this is that the devotees are akaitava, i.e., their goal is to enter the inner world of Radha and Krishna's pastimes in the companionship of another devotee. In other words, the intention here is not to provide tricks for people looking to spice up their erotic lives with a bit of "tantric sex." On the other hand, this can be seen as the fulfillment of the sexual instinct in this body.

This means, furthermore, that such sexuality must be conducted in the mode of goodness. Sexual activity conducted in the modes of passion and ignorance, i.e., by people in the modes of passion and ignorance, may through āropa or saṅga, have its negative effects mitigated, but they will not be highly beneficial sādhanā, in the way that I conceive it.

In sāttvika consciousness, lovemaking becomes āropa-siddhā bhakti much in the way that ordinary eating becomes a devotional activity through ritual offering to the Deity. There are specific rituals, including bodily purification, bhūta-śuddhi, saṅkalpa-mantras, pūjā, etc., that are meant to direct the consciousness toward seeing the Divine Couple present in the act of lovemaking.

Moreover, through use of the Kāma-bija and Kāma-gāyatrī mantras, the devotee couple cultivates a consciousness of oneness in the Divine Realm. The intense power shared by two consciousnesses united physically in the aura of the Holy Name and the Mantra, can be qualified as saṅga-siddha at a very minimum, though in fact it goes well beyond that.

In one respect, I hold that devotional lovemaking is svarūpa-siddha: I thought of this verse, which is indeed central to the entire concept:

akṣṇoḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-darśanaṁ hi
tvacaḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-gātra-saṅgaḥ
jihvā-phalaṁ tvādṛśa-kīrtanaṁ hi
sudurlabhā bhāgavatā hi loke
The goal of the eyes is to see someone like you; the goal of the skin is to embrace the body of one such as you. The goal of the tongue is to sing the glories of one such as you, for great devotees of the Lord are rare in this world. (Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 13.2, quoted in Madhya-līlā, 21)
A devotee in love with another devotee, both of whom are in love with Radha and Krishna, is not the same as the sexual union of two persons whose intent is purely sense gratificatory in nature. This is, I repeat over and over again, a form of devotional association that is highly privileged and sacred.

But it is my conviction that at a certain level of bhakti consciousness, in other words, the madhyama stage, when one does indeed recognize that Krishna is indeed Kāma. When this particular level of realization is reached, then devotional lovemaking becomes participation in the Divine Realm and not separate from it.

In this connection, I would like to introduce Mircea Eliade, one of the most significant thinkers on religion in the 20th century, and the way he conceived of the concepts of the “sacred” and the “profane” into the discussion by quoting a summary of his idea from the writing of another scholar (My bold):
According to Eliade, man becomes religious to the extent that he seeks reunification with those transmundane elements of his experience that are perceived to break through the profane dimensions of his existence and to confront him with a sense of “otherness” over which he has absolutely no control. Yet since virtually any object of existence both can and does serve to mediate this otherness to man, the words sacred and profane apply not to different kinds of objects which confront us in experience, but rather to different ways of perceiving and then relating ourselves to them. The clue to the distinction between these two differently perceived objects, then, derives from the power we impute to them and the point of origin we imagine for them. Even though sacred objects are accessible to us only within the world of profane existence, their liminal character and potency of expression make them appear to originate from beyond it.

Man responds religiously to such objects, Eliade contends, only when he seeks through myth and ritual to repeat those acts in illo tempore by which their sacred character was first made manifest.

Joseph Bettis has further illumined this distinction nicely when he writes that “if man’s purpose in relation to things perceived as profane is to shape them according to his needs, man’s purpose in relation to things perceived as sacred is to bring himself into conformity with them.” This is chiefly effected through what Eliade and others call the mode of repetition, that religious strategy whereby man, in imitation of the divine acts of creation through which the sacred discloses itself, attempts to conform himself to and remain within the sacred sphere, that realm which for him now constitutes the domain of the Really Real, and to extend its dominion over the ephemeral world of the profane. (Giles B. Gunn. “American Literature and the Imagination of Otherness.” In Religion as Story, 73)

So in connection with our discussion here, the following points can be made: Though virtually anything in this world can mediate “otherness” to man, there is nothing quite so circumscribed and filled with numinous power as sexuality. Its very danger and liminality make it the subject of many taboos and regulations. But it is the very power of sexuality and its potential to connect with the Other in the profound love, relation and union that makes it necessary to assimilate it to the sacred and not relegate it to the realm of the profane.

Eliade has correctly assessed the strategies that are used in any sacramental act and those apply here also. One has to approach the act with the correct mentality by applying the proper ritual. The idea of “bringing oneself into conformity” with the sacred is effectuated in this particular case by a reenactment of Radha and Krishna’s archetypal love in full consciousness of them, a participation mystique that is identical with the service mood and can only be experience in that mood.

Gaudiya Vaishnavas and Muslim Invaders (From RISA)

Joshua Greene (Hofstra University)
There is a theory that the Gaudiyas "went underground" in the post-Caitanya period, to avoid persecution by Muslim invaders. This idea would explain the reclusive nature of the community in the 16th and 17th centuries. I believe both David Haberman and Alan Entwistle have posited this idea. Does anyone have access to their writings on the subject.

John Stratton Hawley (Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, Barnard College, Columbia University)

I'd be very grateful to you for tracing out this "theory"--who says this? The very most important Gaudiya texts were produced in this period of time, evidently very publicly, and some of the most influential among them were produced by gentlemen who were apparently recruited by Chaitanya because of the expertise they brought to their tasks in part from having served in "Muslim" courts--Rupa and Sanatana. Furthermore, Akbar's patronage (with more than a little assistance from Mansingh--and plenty of intermarriage) was evidently responsible for the flourishing of Gaudiya Vaishnava institutions in Vrindaban beginning in the 16th century. All very much out there in public.

"Invaders?" From where? If that would be the Mughals, they were in fact the imperial sponsors of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas.

So who is propounding this myth, please? I don't believe it's David Haberman or Alan Entwistle. I'd be very grateful for further information: what should I be reading to tune in on this interpretation of history? I don't mean to whitewash--deities were certainly buried and removed from Braj in response to perceived threats in the 17th century--but that was quite a time after Chaitanya and only part of a much more complex picture.

Steve Rosen (Journal of Vaishnava Studies)
I believe Joshua is referring to the theory that raganuga sadhana, or the inner practice of lila-smaranam, seemed to come to the fore when Vaishnavas deemed it necessary to practice somewhat covertly. External circumstances may have contributed to the more subdued practice of that era, or so the theory goes. As opposed to the demonstrative practice of Hari-nama sankirtana, manjari sadhana does make its appearance in the period that Joshua writes about in his initial posting. It is quite possible that this is what he is referring to by Vaishnavas going "underground." Yes?

Jack Hawley

Norvin Hein proposed something like this some time ago, but I wonder what the historical evidence would actually be. Certainly lila-smarana was a major feature of Rupa's system, and that was written while he basked in the support of the Mughal state. How would the transformations in the doctrine of manjari-sadhana that one can see reflected in the works of Jiva--with Krisna and Radha as its dual object, and sometimes even with preference for a gaze directed toward Radha--reflect any sort of interiorization that could be tied to Muslims? Jiva died in 1618, and the great temple of Govindadeva was inaugurated two decades earlier, in 1590. In 1568 Akbar issued a firman in favor of Jiva, specifically recognizing him as the person in charge of the temple of Govindadeva. In 1598 that patronage of the temple of Govindadeva (now evidently a second temple, newly completed in 1590) was allowed to stand independent of any specific human beneficiary; it became, thus, in principle, perpetual. I sure don't sense any hint of secrecy here--or any need for it.

The late seventeenth century may have been a different thing. The building of a third temple of Govindadeva after the Jat rebellion against Aurangzeb in 1669 and desecrations in Vrindaban, (re)located Govindadev in Radhakund, where Radha-sadhana must have been strong all along. Thus, until further instructed, I'd certainly resist a narrative that pictures interiorized Gauriya Vaishnava sadhana as a response to anything Muslim. Wouldn't you agree?

Steve Rosen

Greetings, Jack -- I don't know if we are getting at Joshua's initial question, but here goes . . .

Yes, I see your point -- and I certainly agree with it -- but I would hasten to add that while manjari-sadhana and its concomitant lila-smarana are clearly there in the works of Rupa and the other Goswamins, these ideas had to wait for precisely the 17th century and the works of Narottama Dasa, for example (see David Haberman's "Shrines of the Mind"), to become a more common practice among Gaudiyas in general. Thus, your "late seventeenth century may have been a different thing" comes into play.

Along these lines, Joshua might want to look at Kaviraja Goswamin's Govinda-lilamrta, or, later, Visvanatha Cakravartin's Sri-krsna-bhavanamrtam or his Raga-vartma-candrika, or Dhyanacandra's padhati, or Manjari-svarupa-nirupana -- these are all works from the period Joshua seems to have in mind, and they might point to evidence for his theory.

Jack Hawley

But if I'm not mistaken Narottamadasa's dates can't carry him beyond the middle of the 17th century at the very latest; Prabhudayal Mital apparently thinks he died in 1611. So he seems to have worked and thought in a time when the Gaudiyas enjoyed extensive patronage from the Mughal throne and from the rajas with whom they were closely connected. I can't see how any overall frame of Muslim invasion / Hindu interior retreat can fit.

Shandip Saha, Research Associate, Dept. Classics and Religious Studies, University of Ottawa.

Hein brought this up I think in his contribution to the Divine Consort volume that Jack and Donna Wulff co-edited. Jack can corroborate that since I don't have easy access to my book collection at the moment. David did mention a smiliar theory briefly in his book, Acting as a Way of Salvation. Neither, however, are advocating the Muslim invader theory.

A similar theory is posed in general when dealing religious/cultural life in general during the reign of Aurangzeb. Given his conservative religious leanings, it has been suggested that he was actively enforcing a policy to stamp out public disiplay of arts and all things non-Islamic in his eyes.

Thus, for example, in the Punjab, the enforcement of this alleged cultural policy nearly killed the cultural life of the Punjab until Varis Shah is said to have rejuvenated it with his retelling of the Hir-Ranjha story popularly known today as 'Hir' (or Heer as it is popularly transliterated).

The 'underground/retreat theory' has been also put forth by members (at least those who I have talked to)of the Vallabha Sampradaya who claim that their practice of devotional music was also driven underground during Aurangzeb's reign and afterwards flourished and developed privately away from the public eye.

The theory you are investigating is founded the assumption that Hindus were oppressed by Muslim invaders during the medieval period, but there is evidence from the Sultanate period onwards to indicate quite to the contrary.

Hindus were an integral part of the administrative structure of these regimes and religious communities and Islamic and non-Islamic groups could enjoy Mughal patronage if they could meet the requirements set down by the government to be designated as a tax-exempt charitible institution (read Ain-i-Akbari).

Mughals would target a religious community if it was considered a political threat. Jahangir spoke quite warmly and fondly in his memoirs (Tuzurk-i-Jahangiri) about his close association with the Vaishnavite Tantrik, Jadurup, and also briefly records his visit to Govindadeva. He then later calls Guru Arjan the 'devil of Goindval' because of the popular support Arjan was enjoying in the Punjab countryside.

Shaykh Ahmed Sirhindi, meanwhile, was jailed for a year by Jahangir on the grounds that he was mentally instable because Sirhindi was aggressively promoting a program of Islamic imperialism in the subcontinent.

One could say the same for the Sikhs and Marathas during Aurangzeb's reign. The religious views of these groups were irrelevant. What mattered was that they were chipping away at his power base and systematically draining his financial resouces with expensive battle campaigns that Aurangzeb sought to finance through his reintroduction of the Jiyza (a good twenty into his reign).

Jack is right in concluding that the historical evidence about the Gaudiya Sampradaya doesn't support the theory very well. Communities like the Gaudiya Sampradya and the Vallabha Sampradaya both benefitted enormously from Mughal patronage and its hard to see someone like Jiva Goswami as going underground when we do have some surviving land grants where he describes himself as a humble, lowly brahmin who is petitioning the Emperor for ownership to a tract of land.

In the case of the VS, the need to retreat from Muslim invaders seems quite at odd with the fact that rival religious heads within the community were suing each other in Mughal civil court over custody of images and jewelry in the 17th century.

Religious communities were extremely good at networking in the Mughal period to sustain thsemselves either by attaching themselves to the court in Delhi or ny developing alternative patronage networks (baniyas for the Vallabha Sampradaya or building grassroots rural support in the case of the Sikhs). This points to their dependence on patronage for their survival and how the fates of Hindu and non-Hindu religious communities were intimately tied to the changing socio-political and economic circumstances in which they lived.

Communities like the GS and VS may have 'retreated' in the 17th century, but it was not because they were persecuted reilgious minorities. It was because political and economic instability made it difficult for them to live peacefully to do so.

I would love to hear more about what you can find on this topic. It's an important one that deserves lots of thorough consideration.

Joshua Greene

Thank you for taking the time to provide detailed replies to both my original inquiry and also to Steve's addenda.

I've been looking for references to a theory that until now are only rumored to exist. It's too early to draw conclusions, although my thesis has a direction, namely to examine the implications of "seeing Krsna everywhere" for Vaishnavas today. What may have been adequate at a time when the Gaudiyas were just getting started is not, from this perspective, necessarily what the tradition is supposed to accomplish now.

O'Connell wrote an interesting article in JVS (5.1) titled "Does the Chaitanya Vaishnava Movement Reinforce or Resist Hindu Communal Politics?" but it is based primarily on discussions with practitioners about current events and concludes with recommendations for future research rather than a position on what the tradition says regarding devotion through social engagement.

Steve Rosen

I think I found something in Haberman's Acting as a Way of Salvation that hits the nail on the head:

"Hindu scripture makes it clear that there are problems for any Hindu living in a social system that fails to reflect Hindu dharma. Yet that is exactly what many Hindus at the beginning of the sixteenth century were forced to do. . . . O'Connell convincingly argues that an impasse in medieval Bengal between the Muslims and Hindus was solved by a devaluation of the sociopolitical world by the Hindus. . . . Soon after meeting Caitanya, Rupa was sent by him to Vrindavana to devise and establish a means, a sadhana, that would lead those interested away from an increasingly meaningless sociopolitical world and closer to the ideal mythological world expressed in the Puranas -- a world which transcended that controlled by the Muslims. In effect, a process of "resocialization" was required by the early Gaudiya Vaisnavas. . . . Thus, a method was needed to open a way into the transcendent world. The Raganuga Bhakti Sadhana, first systematically presented by Rupa Gosvamin, was the answer." (pp. 44-45)

I think this is the sort of thing that Joshua was initially alluding to. I have seen this same point, slightly restated by numerous scholars, over the years -- does anyone know other sources that sing along these lines?

Jack Hawley

I don't want to repeat; I'll try to be brief. If Haberman's is the correct picture, the "world which transcended that controlled by the Muslims" was (before long, at least) explicitly blessed and supported by "the Muslims"--or more correctly, by the Mughal throne and the Hindu Rajputs who worked at and in relation to that court. I can't see that the new arrangement envisioned between the centers of temporal power and the new center of religious authority being constructed in Braj was very different from the duniya/vilayat model that customarily designated the distance from court to khanqah in contemporary Islamic discourse. In saying so, I don't mean to minimize the effect of major political struggles in the first half of the sixteenth century. But by the time of Jiva's generation, certainly, imperial Mughal patronage for Braj Vaishnavism was secure.

I've copied this to David Haberman, in hopes he will weigh in from the Mysterious East. On the pages you quote, Steve, he concedes that the historical status of many of the sources he quotes to depict the moment of Rupa and Sanatan's departure form the court of Hussain Shah is doubtful. As we know, remembered history does not always tally with events "as they occurred."

Tim Cahill, Loyola University

> The theory you are investigating is founded the assumption that Hindus were oppressed by Muslim invaders during the medieval period, but there is evidence from the Sultanate period onwards to indicate quite to the contrary.

Two contributors to the scholarship in this vein are Tarapada Mukerjee and Irfan Habib. Their joint article on this topic might help those who'd like to document the point Hawley and Saha have separately made:

"The Mughal Administration and the Temples of Vrindavan During the Reigns of Jahangir and Shahjahan" in Proceedings - Indian History Congress (1989), pp. 287-300.

They also collaborated on a paper treating Akbar's patronage of temples in the Mathura region. Habib's book *Agrarian System of Mughal India* (1963) contains some useful data on this topic as well.

I think Jack and Shandip make a good case that the evidence doesn't support an interpretation that Islam *drove* Vaishnava religiosity underground. However, a case could be made that Rupa and others chose to develop a theological basis for an interiorized sadhana during this period for other reasons. Shandip's remark, “Communities like the GS and VS may have 'retreated' in the 17th century, but it was not because they were persecuted religious minorities. It was because political and economic instability made it difficult for them to live peacefully ...” offers another interpretation, although this isn't quite in line with the tenor of his earlier remarks. (I'd be more inclined to assume that Mughal patronage of various sorts contributed to the *stability* of these institutions.) Whatever theological interpretation accounts for the new sadhana, events on the ground are pretty well documented, as Jack points out.

Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part II

In literature, it is in the nature of the text itself to control the emotional responses. (Under this rubric or the word "literature," I include plays, movies, musical works, novels, poems, etc.; in short, anything where the kinds of dynamics under discussion are operative.) And here we must draw a distinction between

Rupa's divine aesthetic and that of other, "mundane" literature. In the latter, most audiences tend to seek entertainment that confirms their ("bodily") identities, and therefore young men like action flicks with themes that allow them to experience vicarious heroism and a macho kind of love. For them, identification with the young girl mentioned previously will be difficult and somewhat forced. In such a case, a certain amount of acculturation or education is required, principally in the acquisition of a predisposition or capacity to bring one's attention to bear on the text material (sattva-guna). A little bit of work is required, which in the Sanskrit is refered to as samskara, or the attainment of sahridayata, or becoming a sat-samajika.

In the text of the Ramayana, Ramachandra is a dhirodatta nayaka and a dharma-vira, like Yudhisthira. He is, in other words, an exemplary or ideal human being, a model men of this world are expected to admire and emulate; in other words, to identify with. You can see here how bhakti takes on a certain quality when one stands in relation to a person of this type: it can be a servitor's rasa like that of Hanuman or of Lakshman. Even Sita is in a relationship dominated by service attitude rather than erotic love.

In such a case, emulating Rama is not problematic for a man, nor is it incompatible with bhakti, for one can be devoted to someone one admires and wishes to emulate, like a guru. Nor does it present a problem from the point of view of archetypal psychology. The Jungians hold that the "God-figure" is a symbol of the idealized self, and therefore by definition the repository of all ideals and values. Though such a statement might seem anathema to the true believers, it is embedded in the Upanishads and Gita, where the word for self is applied both to the individual and the Supreme Self. All Indian philosophy is a debate on the meaning of this word, atma.

A Ravana figure, on the other hand, representing the "Shadow" in Jung's archetypal pantheon, is a more complex complex, and it is worth recognizing the sophistication that it brings to the idea of evil, which has already been touched upon somewhat above. Epic myths generally take the form of a "destruction of the dragon" or the conquering of an "empire of evil," to use that recent manifestation of Manichaean dualism that has so influenced current history. But it must be remembered that a myth lives on even after the telling, and the archetypes live on with it even if they have been destroyed in the myth itself. Ravana is thus a permanent part of the self, much as we would like to be rid of him forever.

In a "better" story, the Devil is humanized to some extent: the possibility of anyone's becoming a Ravana has to be made real in order for the story to be persuasive. Even so, it is in the nature of the story form itself to demand that the reality of his evil, his having gone over "to the Dark Side," be shown, for only in this way will the archetypal vira rasa be activated. The difference between the mythical and the modern sensibility lies in the latter's allowance that evil does not only exist objectively, but that it exists within oneself, and that humanity goes on existing despite the presence of evil.

What is thus interesting about Jung's approach, then, is that archetypal or mythical struggles are seen as intrapersonal rather than as historical, i.e., as descriptions of an objective reality. In fact, this is not as new as it may seem, for all religions and especially Hindusim, have been essentially idealistic: God's real locus is inside--to find him we must look within, become antarmukha. Being bahirmukha means you are looking in the wrong place, i.e., "outside" the self.

The modern vantage point, the critique that undermined this position was empiricism, which placed value on sense perception, i.e. on our ability to know the world. Though in our persistent idealism we Vaishnavas have undermined any sources of knowledge other than Shabda, the fact is that we have all been "contaminated" to a great extent by our presence in this world of today. We must not see it as a disadvantage, but in fact as giving us tools to understand the meaning of Radha and Krishna. In fact, Krishna exists not only within, but without also. "Verily, in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect."

We are discussing the process of identification and how Rupa is telling us that when listening to Krishna lila, we should identify with the devotees, i.e., the gopis, and not with Krishna. In this, the situation is markedly different from that of Rama, whom we also accept as a manifestation of the same Supreme Person, but with whom identification is permitted. In the case of Krishna, however, this seems to go against the natural process of identification, at least where men are concerned.

The Krishna of many lovers, we are being warned, is not like the well-blinged gangsta of the rap video who is surrounded by a large number of fawning "ho"s in sundry poses of seductive sultriness. Like the gangsta, Krishna clearly has the potential to awaken feelings of envy and ambition--but seen in this way, there is definitely a danger to the very essence of dharma, which is the striving for ethical perfection as a human being. Indeed, if God is, as stated above, the symbol of the idealized self, Krishna here presents problems that have been recognized in the Bhagavatam at the end of the Rasa Lila section in Parikshit's questions.

So let us return to the Ujjvala-nilamani, where Srila Rupapada chooses two verses from the answers given by Shukadeva to those questions, i.e., BhP 10.33.31 and 37, which are no doubt well-known to all, to elucidate his meaning:


naitat samācarej jātu manasāpi hy anīśvaraḥ
vinaśyaty ācaran mauḍhyād yathārudro’bdhi-jaṁ viṣam
anugrahāya bhaktānāṁ mānuṣaṁ deham āśritaḥ
bhajate tādṛśīḥ krīḍā yāḥ śrutvā tat-paro bhavet
One should not engage in these actions if one is not the Lord, nay, not even in the mind. Should one do so out of foolishness, then he will be destroyed, just as someone without Lord Shiva's powers would be destroyed on drinking the poison that arose from the ocean being churned by the gods and demons...
The Lord took shelter of a human body and engaged in pastimes like the rasa-lila in order to show compassion on his devotees. Anyone who hears them becomes totally fixed on him.
The juxtaposition of these two verses is interesting: the purpose of the rasa lila, in distinction with other pastimes where other rasas are prevalent, is not meant to incite competitiveness. Vishwanath writes of the second verse that Shukadeva is here answering the Parikshit's second question, "Why did he do it?" The answer is that he did it so that everyone would become a devotee (tat-paraH = tad-eka-niSThaH) through hearing about his sweetness, because these pastimes have an inherent power, like that of certain precious stones, magic spells or potions (mani-mantra-mahausadhivat), to produce that result. Many of the commentators refer to the last verse of the Rasa lila--bhaktim param pratilabhya, etc. Jiva says, "This is the result to be expected, and not a sense of complete identity."
Full absorption, full commitment to Krishna through hearing of his sweetness, beauty and love. Hearing of it creates a desire to experience it directly.


At the university

I talked about bloguilt, now I will talk about backblog. No I won't. This is just to say that I am in the sanctuary of McGill this morning. Last week was reading week, so I was hoping to use Tuesday to get caught up, but I ended up spending most of the day in bed, digesting.

I left home earlier than I usually do on Tuesdays. It is a bit milder than it has been--we've been having a fairly protracted cold spell since the middle of January--and I stopped in a coffeeshop to read before coming to my office at McGill.

I have been reading an article by James Hillman on the fiction of the case history. I don't read as quickly as I used to; somehow, everything I read has some significance, some value that is worthy of reflection. I no longer think that I need to swallow the whole universe, there seems to be plenty of nourishment to be had in smaller doses. That is, of course, if the doses come from the right source. "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Which nicely brings me to the passage from Hillman that gave me good cheer this morning. Without going into the context too extensively, for it is a complex article, Hillman says that he is speaking of "history... as an equivalent for soul-making, as a digestive operation." In this context he writes:

All haste comes from the devil, as an old saying goes, which psychologically means that one's devil is to be found in one's indigestion, in having more events than are experienced. What we do experience by putting through an imaginative process such as history (in the soul sense) is taken off the streets of time and out of the ignorant sea of my mental turbulence. We beat the devil by simply standing still.

For this reason, I worship psychologically especially at the altar of the God of historical time and slowness, Saturn, the archetypal swallower, who teaches us the art of internal digestion through the syndrome of his magistral depressions.


A wonderful writer, no doubt. I immediately put on my japa beads and began to digest with the help of those Harinam enzymes.

What I am trying to do, standing still as I am in this limbo of a life, is change paradigms; change stories as you will have it. This is what Hillman means by digestion. Accounting for the naked facts of Divine Mercy. This is difficult when so much of what has gone before is centered around the acceptance or rejection of a single monolithic story--the one that starts: "brahmande bhramite kono bhagyavan jiva, guru-krishna-prasade pay bhakti-lata bija."

Of course, I do not reject this story; it has simply taken me down roads that I did not expect, roads that require new explanations, new narratives to account for them. The Brahmanda Bhramite story I call "the Sharadiya Rasa." The new story is inside that one, and I call it "the Vasanta Rasa."

End of interlude.



Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, Part I




In answers to questions from Anuradha, Advaitaji makes the comment about Sahajiyaism:

What is it? It is an identification with Radha-Krishna by sādhakas who express it in tantrik sexual practise... It is dangerous because one identifies oneself with the divine lover and beloved. This is condemned by Rupa Gosvami as ahaṁgrahopāsanā. It is diametrically opposed to a service attitude. It can be quite subtle, that is why I presumed that my Guru and three other mahātmās urged me not to practise gopī-bhāva in a state of great sexual agitation or engagement - obviously one will then identify oneself with Radha Krishna more or less. [My bold]

I thank Advaita for making this clear statement of his position on the question, which I am sure reflects that of orthodox Vaishnavas everywhere. In my opinion, Advaita is confusing ahaṁgrahopāsanā with āropa; I personally do not recommend identifying with the Divine Lover and Beloved in the sense that Advaita means it, nor with compromising the service attitude. There are no doubt some amongst the Sahajiyas who do indeed think in this way, but I would like to describe the way that I view this matter as I think it is crucial to my vision of what Vaishnavism means.

In the sampradāya, i.e., in the tradition, ahaṁgrahopāsanā is clearly not recommended. It is defined in the commentaries to Bhagavad-gita 9.15, which states:

jñāna-yajñena cāpy anye yajanto mām upāsate
ekatvena pṛthaktvena bahudhā viśvato-mukham
Others [i.e., not those mahatmas engaged in svarūpa-siddha devotional activities as described in the preceding two verses] worship me by sacrificing with the sacrifice of knowledge. This sacrifice of knowledge is various, either in [knowledge of] oneness, difference, or universality.
This verse is interpreted in several different ways by different acharyas. Vishwanath follows Madhusudan Saraswati quite closely here, but no one from our sampradāya seems to take note of Ramanuja's interpretation, which is quite different. We are probably most familiar with the description Bhaktivedanta Swami gives:
...there are others who are still lower, and these are divided into three: (1) he who worships himself as one with the Supreme Lord, (2) he who concocts some form of the Supreme Lord and worships that, and (3) he who accepts the universal form, the viśva-rūpa of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and worships that. Out of the above three, the lowest, those who worship themselves as the Supreme Lord, thinking themselves to be monists, are most predominant. Such people think themselves to be the Supreme Lord, and in this mentality they worship themselves. This is also a type of God worship, for they can understand that they are not the material body but are actually spiritual soul; at least, such a sense is prominent. Generally the impersonalists worship the Supreme Lord in this way.

Vishwanath writes:
sarve’pi svānurūpyeṇa mām upāsata ity āha—jñāna-yajñeneti. anye pūrvokta-sādhanānuṣṭhānāsamarthā jñāna-yajñena, “tvaṁ vā aham asmi bhagavo devate, ahaṁ vai tvam asi” (Jābāla-śruti) ity-ādi-śruty-uktam ahaṅgrahopāsanaṁ jñānaṁ, sa eva parameśvara-yajana-rūpatvād yajñaḥ, tena.
But everyone worships me in their own way, which is stated in this verse. Others, who are unable to perform the practices outlined in verses 13 and 14 worship me by the sacrifice of knowledge. Knowledge means ahaṁgrahopāsanā, as shown in the Jābāla Upanishad: "I am you, O Lord my Deity, and you are I." Since this is a way of sacrificing to the Supreme Lord, it is called a sacrifice or yajña. So, they worship me with this sacrifice of knowledge.

It certainly is a curious passage, especially since it is not making explicit reference to the word ekatvena ("in oneness"), which appears later on in the verse (and which Bhaktivedanta Swami seems to be interpreting as ahaṁgrahopāsanā). This (ekatvena) and the three other words that follow it are usually taken to be modifiers in apposition to jñāna-yajña, but since they are all nouns in their own right, they need not be taken that way. In that case, either all these nouns are separate ways of worshiping Krishna, different from jñāna-yajña, or they are all different expressions of the jñāna-yajña, which can be either of three kinds or of one kind (as Ramanuja takes the three words to create a single, harmonious meaning).

Anyway, despite this, ahaṁgrahopāsanā is sometimes found to play a part in standard pūjā-paddhatis and the phrase gopālo'ham in the Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad (2.38ff) has left Vaishnavas scratching their heads and searching for reasonable explanations. Sri Jiva says that it means one should think that one is qualitatively the same as the Lord, but of course, distinct as servant to served.
sūrya-sattayā raśmi-sattāvat tat-sattayaiva mat-sattā iti niścitya gopālo’ham iti bhāvayet. mūla-tṛptyaiva hi pallava-tṛptir bhavatīti yat kiñcit svasmin kartavyaṁ, tat tasminn eva kuryād ity arthaḥ. jagad-vyāpāra-varjam [Vs. 4.4.17] iti nyāyenātyanta-sāmyasyābhāvāt.

Just as the only possibility of the sunrays's existence is due to the existence of the sun, so my existence is only possible through his existence. In this knowledge, one should think "I am Gopala." This means that just as by bringing nourishment to the root of a tree, its twigs are nourished, and therefore whatever one must do for oneself one should do for him. On the other hand, the Vedānta-sūtra says, "With the exception of universal creation," indicating that complete identity with Gopala is an impossibility.

Bhagiratha Jha similarly writes: "I, like all souls, am one with him (tad-ātmaka), I am never outside of him (na tato vyatiriktaḥ), since I cannot have any existence without him (tad-apṛthak-siddhatvāt), nor have any independent being (svatantra-sattva-śūnyatvāt), and because I am his portion (aṁśatvāc ca).

Mahaprabhu also had the problem of interpreting his sannyāsa mahā-vākya until he was advised that he should think that he was not "Krishna," but "Krishna's." So here we have several instances of statements that appear favorable to ahaṁgrahopāsanā, or identifying completely with the object of worship, but which have been interpreted by devotees in ways favorable to devotion.

The principle underlying idea here is that "one must become a deity to worship the Deity." Vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti. If we think ourselves to be separate from Krishna, then we cannot serve him. But it may be easier to understand this here if we think of Krishna not as the individual person Krishna, but as him and his entire world of Goloka, along with his associates, his cows, cowherds and cowherd girls. And this is as it should be, for a devotee does not take God without his energies. To claim exclusive possession of God is almost as bad as ahaṁgrahopāsanā itself. Krishna leaves the rāsa dance when people start thinking like that.

The following passage from the Krama-sandarbha to 3.5.23 confirms the above:
vaikuṇṭhādi-bahu-vaibhave’pi sati katham eka evāsīt ? tatrāha—vaikuṇṭhādi nānā-matyāpi sa evaika upalakṣita iti senā-sametatve’pi rājāsau prayātītivat.

Narayan exists eternally in Vaikuntha surrounded by great opulences, so how can it be said that he was alone? Indeed, whenever speaking of Narayan, it should be understood that all these things are being included, much in the way that when the king's cavalcade passes, we say that it is the king who is passing.

In view of this, Ramanuja's interpretation of the verse makes a great deal of sense. The jñāna-yajña spoken of here is not out of context with the previous verses (mahātmānas tu, etc.), but means that those very same devotees worship in the consciousness of God as one and different, omnipresent in a multiplicity of forms.

Elsewhere the word ahaṁgrahopāsanā appears in the commentaries to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.294) where Vishwanath advises that it not be engaged in by a rāgānuga-bhakta, even in cases where the scriptures may give such instructions. Again, Vishwanath uses the term in BRS 1.2.306 to warn against thinking of oneself as a nitya-pārṣada like Nanda Maharaj. But this is something that we will discuss later. The idea of "identification with" (sādhāraṇīkaraṇa) is one that is used in the context of rasa, so we must understand the fine distinction between this necessary kind of identification and the sense in which Vishwanath is using it here.

Another verse that has relevance here is found in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:

vartitavyaṁ śam icchadbhir bhaktavan na tu kṛṣṇavat
ity evaṁ bhakti-śāstrāṇāṁ tātparyasya vinirṇayaḥ
rāmādivad vartitavyaṁ na kvacid rāvaṇādivat
ity eṣa mukti-dharmādi-parāṇāṁ naya īryate
Those who wish for true joy (śam) should identify as devotees and not as Krishna. This is the conclusion of the devotional scriptures. "One should identify with Rama and not with Ravana, this is the method followed by those who are devoted to deliverance and justice." (UN 3.24-25)
The second of these verses is probably a quote (or at least a partial quote) as roughly the same words are found both in the Kāvya-prakāśa (2) and the Sāhitya-darpaṇa (1.2). From the devotional point of view and in terms of this discussion, it may be asked how one can be asked in one verse not to identify with Krishna, while in the latter one is advised to identify with Rama, the hero of the Rāmāyaṇa, and not with his enemy, the demon Ravana.

To begin with, the idea here is that for the audience of a well-done piece of theatre or writing, identification is a natural and spontaneous process, and generally speaking manipulated by the author. Gender does not necessarily play an immediate role: one identifies with the ashraya of the particular emotion. So you may be an old man and yet still identify with a young girl whose is the central figure of a tale, undergoing trials, overcoming odds, falling in love, receiving love, achieving goals, etc.

Similarly, a clever author with a more modern sensibility may make it possible to identify with a demon like Ravana, as a human being with failings, etc. A number of recent films and books, including a recent publication by Norman Mailer, have dealt with the early life of Hitler, but they have all confronted the same ethical dilemma: does humanizing the demon, i.e., making him a sympathetic character, not do an injustice to the countless victims he created?

But the point here is that the modern literary sensibility rejects the naked archetypes of mythology. Humanism as opposed to a purely religious approach to life understands that humans are essentially flawed and that no individual can be a perfect simulacre of whichever archetype that exists. Nevertheless, to some degree or another, archetypal themes continue to underly all works of literature. The conflict in the two mentalities can be seen particularly in hagiography; devotees hope to see the archetypal saint manifest with only slight variations in every human being who has been so designated.

When you read Indian hagiographies, you tend to find similar anecdotes being recounted about saints who lived in different times and places. Indeed, the same phenomenon can be seen in the lives of Christian saints, whose lives are sometimes lifted wholesale from other traditions (e.g. the story of the Buddha, which becomes that of the Christian St. Josaphat). The conflict between conservative and more liberal religious attitudes often rests on this archaic/modern dichotomy. Just look at Rochana Das's crusade on the Sampradaya Sun against Satsvarupa's life of Prabhupada: to present Abhaya Charan De as a human being engaged in a struggle to attain liberation and perfection, etc., does not fit the strictly hagiographical model of the archetypal saint.

As I said, however, in a good story, i.e., in a story that produces rasa in the audience, the archetypal elements shine through: it is precisely the interplay of specific human elements being contrasted with the ideal that make the story rasa-worthy. Christ himself asks God why he has forsaken him when supposedly engaged in his great act of perfect sacrifice. In the Krishna cycle of myth, we sometimes get elements of doubt, but these have been glossed over as "lila", that mysterious hermeneutical device that tends to obscure as much as it reveals. Rama's humanity is revealed in his doubts of Sita's chastity, while Krishna's humanity is nowhere more evident than in his subjection to Radha's love.

mo-viṣaye gopī-gaṇera upapati-bhāve
yoga-māyā karibeka āpana-prabhāve
āmiha nā jāni tāhā, nā jāne gopī-gaṇa
duṅhāra rūpa-guṇe duṅhāra nitya hare mana
dharma chāḍi' rāge duṅhe karaye milana
kabhu mile, kabhu nā mile, daivera ghaṭana
The influence of Yogamaya will inspire the gopis with the sentiment that I am their paramour. Neither the gopis nor I shall notice that Yogamaya is in fact governing our pastimes, for our minds will be completely entranced by one another's beauty and qualities. Our passionate desire will unite us even at the expense of moral and religious duties. Sometimes Destiny will bring us together and sometimes will keep us apart. (CC 1.4.29-31)
The subjection of Krishna to Yogamaya or to Daiva is the sign of his humanity. Though we may resist this movement toward humanism, historically it is a most significant development and is in fact the essence of the symbol system. Once again, it is the contrast between the ideal and the human that makes rasa truly possible. Aiśvarya or mādhurya alone are insufficient: it is when mādhurya is experienced against the backdrop of aiśvarya that we experience bhakti-rasa.

The modern sensibility finds naked archetypes singularly shallow and uninteresting, even though there continues to be a certain appetite for such things in popular entertainment. Those who are culturally educated, however, tend to find two-dimensional or false characterization of heroes, no matter how heroic, to be boring and entirely inadequate in producing the elements of aesthetic enjoyment that we call rasa. The most archetypal of erotic entertainment, the porno film, may produce a physical response, or the saccharine romance of the chick flick or Harlequin novel may similarly produce a sentimental reaction, precisely because the notes that are being played are so fundamental, but once again, intellectually tiresome and vapid to the educated sāmājika.

This is why I would challenge Western devotees who have read books like the Govinda-līlāmṛta and other līlā-granthas to admit that there is a limit to the degree that it produces the desired reaction. Once the intellectual thrall in dealing with the novelty loses its luster, one is faced with a problem that we generally attribute to "lack of attraction" due to "lack of faith" or even "offenses," or to insufficient adhikāra or whatever. For Westernized critics, the problem seems self-evident.

So'ham

So'ham, I breathe you in,
I breathe you out, so'ham.

I suck you in, thirsty and dry,
from farthest edge, the endless rim,
come in, come in, I pull you in.
I wash you in over my lungs,
these sterile, callous, leaden lungs;
I wash you in over my heart,
this burdened, empty, heavy heart.

I draw you in, I spout you out,
I wash you in, I spill you out,
I breathe you in, I breathe you out.

Avagraha, the serpent squiggle
that separates the so from ham,
the this from that, the yin from yang,
the me from you...
this stupid hiss of a squiggle
this stupid hiss of a distance
this Ourobouros separation...
that wraps and circles round and round,
that sucks its tail and swallows down,
that swallows up both black and white
and drowns.

I breathe you in without my eyes,
before, behind, beneath the cries;
in gardens and the palace, too,
glued to this parched skin that dries
for want of your moist'ning sighs.
So! so! so! so! Please don't call this bliss!
What frightful non-duality is this?

I breathe you in, my self goes out
I sing you in, hum my self out.
The feeble light in my inner room
coughs in the breeze and flickers out.



Shankara (India, 7th century CE) speaks of Pranayama thus: "Emptying the mind of the whole of its illusion is the true rechaka (exhalation). The realization that "I am Atman" (the infinite spirit) is the true puraka (inhalation). Finally, the steady sustenance of the mind on this conviction is the true kumbhaka (retention). This is the true Pranayama."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Literal belief and me

I have been listening to the various Iskcon internet radio stations of late. Yesterday I had Jayapataka Maharaj's lectures playing most of the day while I worked. Most of it was poorly recorded so they made background sound and I did not pay much attention, but others were much clearer and I listened a little more carefully. Some of the talks were 20 years old, and his voice sounds like that of a young man, but he does some of that trademark yelling, working the crowd, making them chant Hare Krishna or respond to questions.

Every one of his lectures consists almost entirely of stories and anecdotes. These are either scripturally or real-life based. Nearly all are somehow related to the miraculous nature of the various lilas, or to "miraculous" events related to devotees' experiences in real life.

I felt a feeling of kinship towards him. I know, I know, I have heard all the negative stuff, and there is plenty of it. But there is something in me that responds whenever I come into contact with any Krishna conscious products that makes me nearly always feel this sense of belonging to this movement. No matter how superficial, formulaic, downright wrong-headed the things that I hear, I know that this is something that I am a part of. I rarely feel as though what I am hearing is something foreign to me, even when I am in full consciousness that my point of view is probably quite foreign to most devotees, as was proved during my stay at the Iskcon temple last year. Even when I disagree, I rather appreciate the direct relationship between what I am hearing and the way that I have come to see or interpret the very same material.

My major criticism is with the stridency, the "defeating of impersonalism" and so many other of the subjects I hear being discussed by Iskcon gurus, which seem to nearly always contain an element of rote. What I mean is that Srila Prabhupada set the discourse and though the penetration into the mysteries of what impersonalism is often seems extremely shallow, the rhetoric is bombastic. It all comes down to the creation of a common enemy as a way of psychological manipulation. These are very naughty games to play. Once again, I hate to throw around the "kanistha adhikari" accusation, but that is what it is. When the leaders resort to these kinds of ploys, they may gather followers, but they limit the development of their own followers by entrapping them in this spiritual bottleneck.

On the other hand, I will admit to feeling a twinge of envy. By striking out on my own, I have been exiled from the community of devotees. The only solution is to create a community, and I have not been able to muster the force to do that. To create a faith community, you need to have a central basis, a common purpose. Intellectuals usually make poor leaders because they are too absorbed in the pleasures of search and discovery; they are not simple enough for the masses who prefer the stories to the explanations of the stories.... Not that there's anything wrong with that...


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Radha: Love as a Value in itself

The subject of week 6 was Radha. I used a number of articles from JVS, including a couple by Graham Schweig describing the Rasa-lila. The bibliography is included at the end of the blog. Schweig's first article is a part of his book on the Rasa-lila and, I assume, his thesis. It is a very thorough structural analysis.

Since I am writing this a long time after the class, I just wanted to stress the one realization that I had in discussing the famous 10.32.22 verse, na paraye'ham. The point that Krishna is making here is that the gopis, and everyone else, must realize that the reward for devotion or love, is love itself and nothing else.

That sounds vaguely trivial, but yes, that is what it is.

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

Week 6 Readings.

23. Schweig, Graham M. “Rasa-lila Pancadhyaya: The Bhagavata’s Ultimate Vision of the Gopis.” JVS 5.4 Fall 1997. 1-47.

24. Schweig, Graham M. “Radha and the Rasa-lila : The Esoteric Vision of Caitanyaite Vaishnavism. JVS 8.2, Spring 2000, 43-71.

25. Wulff, Donna M. “Rupa’s Radha : Passionate, Worshipful, Strong-Willed, Divine.” JVS 8.2, Spring 2000. 73-94.

26. Goswami, Shrivatsa. “Radha: The Play and Perfection of Rasa.” JVS 4.1, Winter 1995. 3-20.

27. McDaniel, June. "The Tantric Radha: Some Controversies about the Nature of Radha in Bengali Vaishnavism and the Radha Tantra." JVS 8.2. Spring 2000. 131-146.

Is Religion an Unavoidable Human Necessity?

I have fallen behind in my attempt to write something about each course as it is given, or at least before the next one. Naturally, being who and what I am, I am easily distracted. In particular, I have been thinking about religion and narrative in general. This is, as I have been feeling, is intimately connected to the idea of rasa, and I have been finding the insights in Religion as Story (J.B. Wiggins (ed), New York: Harper and Row. 1975) particularly fascinating.

Last week's course was about some basic theology, mostly about the concept of God. I have already mentioned Neal Delmonico's article. I also had the students read Hridayananda's article about Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. I also gave a chapter from Sanatana-siksha, the one that includes sarvottama nara-lila. On the whole, though, I would have really liked to cover more of the theological material, but I would have had to go over the readings limit. This week was about Radha, and next class falls within the reading week, so I will hopefully be able to catch up.

I also read an excellent article in this month's Le monde diplomatique by the French philosopher Jacques Bouveresse. He asks whether religion is a unavoidable human necessity. Certainly Europe differs markedly from America in its thoroughgoing secularism. Nevertheless, the resilience of religion and its refusal to disappear as so many in the 19th century predicted would happen (as a result of "progress"), never ceases to cause their heirs to scratch their heads.

The article is primarily a discussion of Régis Dubray, who has just published a book on the subject. Dubray quotes Jacques Ellul who states unequivocally that every movement that seeks to supplant religion immediately becomes a religion itself, with its own symbols, rites and orthodoxies. This was recognized even earlier by people like Auguste Comte, whose famous failure, the "Religion of Reason," was an artificial attempt to supplant the illusions of Christianity with something more appropriate for evolved or evolving mankind.

Emil Durkheim developed Comte's ideas in this regard in his work, The Elementary Forms of Religion. Bertrand Russell, however, felt that humanity would only make progress if it could overcome the tendency to think religiously at all.

Bouveresse appears to favor Durkheim’s assertion that the conscious and deliberate creation of rational symbols that reflect evolution in human consciousness is possible, but expresses some consternation that Dubray could find anything positive to say about the role religion plays in America today.

Dubray seems to think that America’s religiosity gives it a moral force that is absent in more secularized Europe, about which he says that it has taken "a holiday from history," implying that religious belief, of whatever kind, is somehow the motor of historical change. Bouveresse, however, finds this argument shocking. For him, modern fundamentalism, indeed all refuge in ancient symbols, is regressive and the result of the temporary failure of putative rational replacements. Such religion is purely political, in his opinion, and has nothing to do with real religion.

I guess a little more definition about what Bouveresse means by religion is in order. There may be such a thing as good or bad, rational or irrational religion, but it remains unclear exactly what definition of religion is being accepted here. Durkheim’s purely social view is inadequate.

I will have to elaborate on this in the future. I will try to come back to this, either here or in a future article.

Friday, February 09, 2007

They call that Krishna

They call that Krishna Kamadev
because he makes you crave, he makes you crave.

They call that Krishna Navina Madan:
he drives you mad and then he’s gone.


They call him Manasija, "in the mind born,"
He's all in the mind, but the senses are torn.

They call him Atanu, a real “no body.”
You don’t see him hit, but he leaves you all bloody.

They call him Govind, the cowherd king :
He finds the cows and herds them in.
He found my senses and then went in.
I’d drive him out, but where would I begin?



Without Govind, my world would all be void,
heart devastated, life and hope destroyed.

They also call Sri Krishna "Klim,"
to this my guru-given spell I cling.
I'm drowning, Lord, I don't know how to swim--
so to this mystic, magic spell I cling.



More on the Gita/Varna questions

Dr. Jeffery D. Long (Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Elizabethtown College):

I tend to agree with the general sense of the responses you have gotten from folks here on the RISA list, in terms of the historical interpretation of these texts. Affirmations of individual quality over birth, while present, seem to nonetheless occur in a larger context that takes birth for granted as a necessary prerequisite for brahmin status.

My own interest is more in how these texts are and could yet be interpreted by contemporary Hindu progressives seeking an authoritative textual basis for challenging (and even rejecting) the notion of birth-caste in favor of an interpretation of terms like “brahmin” as referring more universally to anyone who meets certain prerequisites of character: to put it in more traditional terminology, of guna vs. jati. Anthropological observations, such as those made by Charles R. Brooks in ‘The Hare Krishnas in India,’ and my own observations both in India and in the US, suggest that, regardless of whether one regards such an interpretation of these texts as historically valuable or valid, such an interpretation is operative in the community in the acceptance of people such as American and European Krishna devotees as proper brahmins in certain ritual contexts. One could argue that such an understanding is idiosyncratic. But it is nonetheless a real phenomenon. (I’ve myself experienced it firsthand.)

Arti Dhand (Department and Centre for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto):

Like the others, I also want to caution against reading too much into isolated narratives that question the salience of birth as the primary criterion for caste. It's pretty clear in the epics at least that we have a hierarchical structure that takes it for granted that class status is assumed at birth. While that norm is occasionally questioned, it's not exactly rigorously challenged or even seriously debated.

Having said that, if the material interests you, there are other places you might look more fruitfully for such cogitations. For example, I like the Snake episode in the Aranyakaparva (III.175-178) where the question is raised directly. You know the story:

Bhima is inexplicably trapped in the coils of a boa constrictor, but the snake is no ordinary one, being of an unusually contemplative bent. He agrees to release Bhima if Bhima can satisfy his curiosity about some dharmic questions, but of course this task is too much for Bhima's talents. So when Yudhisthira appears and appeals to the snake, the snake addresses his questions to the Dharmaraja. The very first question the snake asks is "Who is a brahmin and how might we know him?"

Yudhisthira responds describing certain ethical qualities, to which the snake argues: "Authority, truth, and the Brahman extend to all four classes: even sudras may be truthful, liberal, tolerant, mild, nonviolent and compassionate."

When Yudhisthira concurs, the snake objects that: "If you judge a brahmin by his conduct, then birth has no meaning..."

Yudhisthira argues that birth is difficult to ascertain with certainty, and therefore the ethical qualities are more important.

The snake is satisfied by this answer, and concludes: “Truthfulness, self-control, austerity, discipline, noninjuriousness and charity are people’s means to greatness, and not birth or family."

He releases Bhima and it then emerges that this is one of the several tests to which Yudhisthira is subjected--to test his dharmic mettle, so to speak.

It's an interesting passage that suggests that there was at least some reflection on these questions, even if the overwhelming weight of the epic is on the side of orthodoxy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chaitanya and Androgyny, Part II


A lot has been written about androgyny from a variety of perspectives in recent years, mostly by Jungians and those various religious tendencies that find Jung's ideas useful. These persons tend toward New Age type philosophies, or what Huxley called "the perennial philosophy," doctrines that generally make us in the Vaishnava tradition recoil because of their great fluidity and ultimate indifference to the principle of bhakti. In fact, they look a lot like the Hinduism that Gaudiya Vaishnavas feel uncomfortable with and reject as impersonalism.

At the very least, if the Jungian goal of psychological individuation, which is characterized as a coincidentia oppositorum, is the ultimate object of the spiritual quest, then it seems to us not to really be "the best story," but only a part of it, as much as liberation is only valued when seen in the context of prema bhakti.

In order to follow up on this subject, I have been reading a number of works on the subject of late, but I find them to be written from an encyclopedic perspective that attempts to catalogue every incidence of gender fluidity that can be traced throughout all time and place. The effort of the archetypal psychologists is evidently to prove that the androgyne is a universally meaningful archetype, which stands in opposition and is subversive to the patriarchal (read monotheistic) model of religious understanding, and that it represents something truer to organic human development.

Those of us who have been initiated into spiritual life through Iskcon--especially with a previous samskara in Christianity--have patriarchal attitudes deeply bred in the bone. Even when it is possible to state that the Deity is "androgynous" as Neal did in the article quoted earlier, no ulterior messages are drawn from the fact, for it is easier to see that God's beginnings are as the "purusham," or "adi-purusha." In this optic, the feminine is always secondary, as is Eve drawn from Adam's rib.

I have been vocally expressing my sympathies for various aspects of Jungian thinking, and by repeatedly citing the Brhad-aranyaka passage which visualizes the Divine Being as "a man and woman locked in embrace," I have shown a seeming preference for this psychologism, a kind of reductionism which envisages psychological health, or psychic balance, to be simultaneously the goal of religion and psychology to be best symbolized either by the Divine Couple, or Syzygy in Jung's vocabulary, or the Androgyne. I find it not coincidental at all that these two archetypes are seen in Chaitanyaite theology as one and the same, or two manifestations of the one same thing.

But I realize that there is a serious conflict of opinion in the theological analysis of these symbols. Let us look at the stories that are involved. The meta-story of all Hinduism is that we are all eternal spiritual beings who are attempting to find our pristine divine nature, which when we do will bring us infinite beatitude.

This story is basically the same for Mayavadis as it is for most Vaishnavas, with the difference that for the latter, the goal is one of a personal relationship with Krishna, while for the others it is the realization of one's identity with Brahman. It is not altogether surprising, since both doctrines draw on the same sources; thus, the prince who has forgotten his identity, or the man who has lost his treasure, are concepts that fit well with both belief systems.

These doctrines, however, seemingly have no place for evolution. Though the Upanishads state that God alone, i.e., without his creation, is somehow incomplete, that he needs to be many (bahu syam), or at least Two (sa dvitiyam aicchat), and that his "Self" satisfaction comes from the fact that there is no real difference between Him and His creatures and that altogether they form a single Whole. We could say that this multiplicity is God's need for an infinity of stories. And the best stories are about heroism, not fortune, or at least not fortune without heroism.

When I started this blog, it was to respond to the questioning of a single insight, namely the idea that there are two wings to the Chaitanya Vaishnava swan. I called one Orthodoxy and the other Sahajiyaism. I see the two positions as having a fundamental symbiosis, as male to female. As I stated recently, the Original Person and his lilas and their reflections in the stories of the infinite jivas are linked as bimba and pratibimba. The infinite and perfect nature of God only becomes meaningful to us through our yearning for the perfection that is imperfectly manifest in our experience.

But of course, this desire for perfection is the fundamental cry of the soul. It is instinctive, and the fundamental reality of this desire, i.e., its attainability, is confirmed in the flashes of eternity, consciousness and bliss that we experience. So in this tale there are two stories: One is the desire to return to Krishna, to be absorbed in His eternal perfection. The other is the encounter with God as the Other in this world. The two seem to be exclusive as monotheism to pantheism, but it is my conviction that not only are they not exclusive, but are complementary on the deepest level of spirituality.

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

It took a while before posting this article, and I still feel a certain dissatisfaction with the results. But there you go. I decided to put it up anyway, as another opus waiting for Time to fill it out.

Go to Part I

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

June Singer, Androgyny: Toward a New Theory of Sexuality. Anchor Press Doubleday, 1976.

Mircea Eliade. The Two and the One, trans. J.M. Cohen, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 1965.

Elémire Zolla. The Androgyne: Fusion of the Sexes. London: Thames and Hudson, 1981.

Lanier Graham. Duchamp & Androgyny: The Concept and its Context

Maureen B. Roberts. The Road Less Travelled: Shamanic Consciousness & the Evolving God-Image

The Gita and Varna-sankara (From RISA)

Steve Rosen asked the following question on the RISA (Religions in South Asia, part of AAR) discussion group:

It is clear from the Bhagavad-gita (4.13) and from Hindu texts more generally that, in the varnasrama system, "quality and work" are given pride of place above birth status. However, this is not always the case, and in Hindu society today we see that the family into which one is born plays a crucial role in terms of caste (jati). I am particularly interested in how this plays out in sruti and smrti texts.

To begin with a famous Mahabharata story: the young warrior Ekalavya is a sudra, and yet he wants to train as a ksatriya under Drona. Though the young warrior is clearly qualified, Drona rejects him because of his birth status and, more, cuts off his thumb so that he cannot pursue his dream. Here we have an emphasis on birth in relation to varnasrama.

This is contrasted in the Chandogya Upanisad (and elsewhere as well) with the story of Satyakama Jabala, where, to make a long story short, Satyakama learns from his guru, Haridrumata Gautama, that he is in fact a Brahmin, even though he was born to a low-caste mother -- this because of his truthfulness and his brahminical qualification. How is one to reconcile these two stories, if, indeed, they are at all reconcilable?

2. My other question concern grandsire Bhisma and his death scene as depicted in both the Bhagavata Purana and the Mahabharata: As he lay dying for 58 days he waxes philosophical for the duration of his life. And yet the war lasts only 18 days. My question is this: Who is listening to his talk after the battle is over? Did he speak only for the first few days or, as the texts seem to indicate, for the entire remaining period?

Any help with these two questions would be most appreciated. All the best. --Steve

Three people responded: (1) Konrad Elst wrote :

It is clear from the Bhagavad-gita (4.13) and from Hindu texts more generally that, in the varnasrama system, "quality and work" are given pride of place above birth status.

That's what most Hindu reformists say. While in sympathy with the reformist agenda, I am skeptical here for its sounds like a typical exercise in contrived exegesis in the service of an (admittedly laudable) agenda. The Gita does not say: "not birth but work/karma and quality/guna", because one's work and quality could in their turn be determined by birth. Indeed, they are: qualities are to some statistically noticeable extent inborn, and a profession was traditionally taught in the home setting from father to son. So, nature and nurture conspired to make a succession from father to son in your work/karma the general rule, hence profession determined "by birth", i.e. by the family that both generates and raises you.


While this quote fails to disprove that caste by birth was the norm, other lines in the Gita positively confirm it. When Arjuna and Krishna argue opposite viewpoints, viz. against and for the start of a fratricidal war, *both* conclude their argumentation with the warning that the opposite view will result in "varna-sankara", "mixing of castes". If opposing viewpoints are justified with reference to the same value, viz. non-mixing of castes, this value must be a cornerstone of that society.

Again, apologists will explain this away by saying that varna-sankara could also mean "mixing of functions", e.g. a politician who ventures into religion or vice-versa would be a case of Brahman-Kshatriya-sankara. But that is too contrived and is refuted by the text's linking varna-sankara to "immorality of women", i.e. a sexual mixing of castes.

It is possible that in the earlier Vedic age, caste was a more relaxed affair, like the West's class society, not equal but not boxed up in strictly separate castes either. The much-quoted Purusha-Sukta only says that the four functions spring from the different parts of the Cosmic Man, and says nothing about how their personnel is recruited. Be that as it may, by the time of the editing of the Gita, strict caste separatism was rock-solid. In fact, the Gita is stricter on this than the much-maligned Manu-Smrti, which does acknowledge, though without enthusiasm, the option of intermarriages within decent Arya society.

To begin with a famous Mahabharata story: the young warrior Ekalavya is a sudra, and yet he wants to train as a ksatriya under Drona. Though the young warrior is clearly qualified, Drona rejects him because of his birth status and, more, cuts off his thumb so that he cannot pursue his dream.

I doubt this all-too-common rendering of the Ekalavya episode. Though very handy for modern political use, it is just not in tune with the logic of the story. Drona's task is to make the Bharata princes invincible, and this implies withholding his teachings from all other candidates, non-Bharata Kshatriyas included. Ekalavya was not kept out because of his caste but because he was not of the family that Drona was paid to train. To be sure, the Mahabharata was edited over a long period, and may have been twisted in the final round to suit the emerging casteist ideology which finds full expression in one of the younger parts, the Gita.

Here we have an emphasis on birth in relation to varnasrama. This is contrasted in the Chandogya Upanisad (and elsewhere as well) with the story of Satyakama Jabala, where, to make a long story short, Satyakama learns from his guru, Haridrumata Gautama, that he is in fact a Brahmin, even though he was born to a low-caste mother -- this because of his truthfulness and his brahminical qualification.

This is a story from the Vedic age, when varnas were defined only patrilineally. Of course a proud king was not stopped by some scriptural rule against inter-caste marriage if he fancied a particular non-Kshatriya woman. Instead he would take her into his harem and their children would be princes, Kshatriyas, as much as those born from Kshatriya women. And he himself was not going to lose his caste for this inter-caste dallying. Likewise, the son of a Brahmin would be a Brahmin, regardless of the mother's caste. In a primitive understanding of genetics, qualities were apparently deemed to be imparted more by the father than by the mother (just as the progeny of a horse stallion and a donkey mare whinnies, horse-like, while that of a horse mare and a donkey stallion brays, donkey-like), so if Jabala the prostitute's son showed the qualities of a Brahmin, he was taken to be the son of a Brahmin father. This example proves that quality/guna was deemed to be hereditary, and therefore, the Gita's basing caste on guna/quality is not in conflict with caste being hereditary. Pace the reformists, the Gita is very much the cornerstone of the Hindu religion and social order of the last two millennia, caste separateness included.

It may be tempting for moderns to interpret its central notion of Swadharma, "one's very own duty", in an individualistic sense à la Nietzsche's dictum: "There is only one way in the world that no one can go except you. Don't ask where it leads, walk it!" This could make sense in a reincarnationist karma doctrine, where brothers belonging to the same caste and family nonetheless each bring from their unique reincarnation itineraries a different karmic load to enjoy or pay off, hence a unique fated path in this life. However, the Gita context shows that Arjuna's swadharma is not an individualistic affair, but merely his Kshatriya dharma, i.c. to participate in the battle. Krishna even drives the point home to the (for us) absurd length of affirming that it is better to do your own duty poorly than another's well. Which implies that a warrior's son with a gift for the arts should nonetheless stay in the warrior's profession and leave the arts to artists' sons. There may well be non-casteist books in the Hindu canon, but the Gita is not one of them. Dr. Koenraad Elst, non-affiliated scholar.


(2) Edwin Bryant wrote:

1. "It is clear from the Bhagavad-gita (4.13) and from Hindu texts more generally that, in the varnasrama system, "quality and work" are given pride of place above birth status."

Perhaps, but not necessarily. After all, this is an ex silentio argument. Granted Krishna does not say guna karma *janma* vibhagasah, but, rightly or wrongly, it is an inference to assume that his only mentioning guna and karma means he rejects janma as irrelevant. This is not explicit. And BG I.40-44 seems to suggest caste by birth status was the norm for a peaceful society in Arjuna's mind (although this reading is also implied).

Again, [the story of Satyakama] can be read in two ways: either that brahmanism is by birthright, and, since Satyakama was honest, his father *must have been* a brahmana, or, that it didn't matter what his father was in Haridrumata's mind, since Satyakama himself had the gunas of a brahmana. However, since Haridrumata asked him his gotra (and Satyakama knew he would, hence he approached his mother about it in the first place), the expectation is that the teachings were to be imparted to a birth brahmana. Whether Haridrumata was prepared to make an exception based on Satyakama's evident gunas, or whether he made an inference about Satyakama's father, depends on your reading.

In any event, in answer to your question, I remember reading in the writings of one of the nationalist figures a compilation of quotes from sruti and smriti supporting the view that varna was not determined by janma in the early period. But I forget who it was and mention this in case someone else on the list is aware of who it was (Ambedkar?). If someone on RISA can point you to that, you will have all or a number of the relevant quotes at your finger tips. You know, I would think, of the *explicit* ref in the Bhagavata that caste is not determined by birth, but by guna karma -- VII.2.31 & 35.


(3) Finally, Arvind Sharma:

Steve, please forgive the immodesty involved, but the discussion of this issue in my Classical Hindu Thought (OUP, 2000) on pp.161-169 might be relevant. One issue is also covered in the MLBD Newsletter, April 2002, p.9: "The Story of Ekalavya."

Two points are also worth noting on their own:

(1) Although Arjuna takes Varna-sankara in the sense of miscegenation (1.40-42), Krishna seems to take it only in the sense of abandonment of duty (3.24): why? (For its three possible meanings see Manu 10.24);

(2) Ekalavya’a case, as already suggested, may have more to do with family politics than caste politics.