Sunday, April 29, 2007

Your Promises are Your Dharma

It's funny how sometimes one makes a search for one thing and finds another... it's called serendipity, I believe, amazingly named after some dvipa (island), Srilanka, I think. A search for the Sarva-samvadini turned up an old thread on Gaudiya Repercussions where I was lambasted as follows:

The personal attacks are meant to show that particularly Jagat, who swapped two sannyasa vows for a PhD, a non-devotee wife, and cannot even name his child after Krishna (even Ajamila managed that!), really is the last one to establish a new sampradaya, as he calls the foundational acharyas 'backwards.' It's not personal. I have known Jagat for 23 years, and apart from his intellectual arrogance, his ambitions to be a Jagad-guru and his diplomacy, he's a groovy guy. Hate the apostasy, not the apostate.

It seems odd, after all this time and struggle, that I am still stuck in a time warp and have not really been able to move on from this spiritual zone of paralysis. As I wrote in my poem, I am weary of the debate.

One cannot go back and change all the broken promises that litter one's meandering way to the present, but one must ask which promises are functionally operative in the present. One's dharma is one's promises, and one can only break so many before imploding and collapsing into ruin.

It may be that the promises I am breaking now will prove to be the most ruinous of all, because they are a betrayal of what is closest to my innermost being. And yet, try as I might to break away from one word that I have given and exchange it for another, I cannot. I am held firmly in the grip of dharma, and I will only be able to exchange this one for another when the Master of this World decides to loosen his grip on me.

In the optic of prema prayojana, I have to conclude that in some cases, the less pleasing act may indeed be the necessary prerequisite to the rewards of experience. The regret is that these rewards may have to come in another lifetime.

In the meantime, I will try to acquit myself of my pile of debts and duties, recognizing that my situation is of my own making, not of God's or anyone else's.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Sanskrit Conference

I spent all day at the university for the Sanskrit conference. Third annual. Sanjaya put me as the first speaker. तिक्तेन समारभ्यताम् ! In fact, I was very tired and my talk was not very well prepared. So I just talked off the cuff.

Sanjay followed; he was well-prepared with a Power Point presentation about Bhishma's आश्रमधर्म. He is very eloquent and droll.

Next speaker was Giribharatan, the Sanskrit Bharati missionary. Sanskrit Bharati has come out with a very nice book on scientific advances and found in the Sanskrit literature, which was the basis of his talk.

Ajaya Rao, a young professor at the University of Toronto, spoke about making Sanskrit a living language. All of these speakers were followed by lively question periods and discussions, which was perhaps the best feature of this year's conference. Arvind Sharma said to me that it seems everyone is losing their inhibitions.

An elderly engineering professor from India named Brij Kashyap read some Sanskrit poems he had written. Then Saraswati Sainath, who was the MC for the entire day, gave an enlivening talk on Madhusudan Saraswati, particularly about his discussion of ahimsa. She nicely recited Madhusudan's Krishna-bhakti oriented verses from the Gita-bhashya. I expressed appreciation with a sadhuvada and she laughed and said, "I thought you would enjoy that."

The morning session was completed by a first-year Sanskrit student reciting some verses from Kumara-sambhava. Another student read a rather lengthy life of Vasubandhu he had himself written. His accent was difficult to follow, but I was impressed that these two students had the nerve to participate in this way.

Hema Murty was the first speaker in the afternoon, on the evolution of yoga teaching in the West (she is herself a part time yoga teacher in Ottawa).

Arvind Sharma spoke without notes in his usual concise manner, drawing an analogy between the four kinds of dvandva-samasa and four different kinds of attitudes to the relations between religions.

Sharada Varadarajan, an elderly woman from Bangalore, who has been teaching Sanskrit all her life. She gave a very clear and entertaining talk on the Valmiki Ramayana. Again, this was the source of a lengthy discussion, as Ajaya Rao's doctoral research is based on the Sri Vaishnava commentary traditions around the Ramayan.

Ratnakar Narale, who came last year also, gave a brief talk, handing out a printout of a Sanskrit poem he had written on the Satya Narayana Katha.

The conference ended with Rishiram Sharma, who is the pandit at the biggest Hindu temple in Montreal. He made a very dignified presence, being the most formally dressed (amongst the men, anyway). He gave a very learned presentation on dharma, peppered with quotations from the Upanishads and Mahabharata. मधुरेण समापयेत् ।

I was pretty tired by the end of the day and hightailed it home and went straight to bed. I took a two hour nap and now I am writing this. The next order of business would be to produce some kind of document with the contents of the various speakers' talks. The state of my own paper is a total mess, but I think I could get it together... But then, do I have anything else on my plate?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bhaktivedanta Sadhu Maharaj Visits


Kutichak Prabhu invited my wife and me to come to Ste-Agathe for a program with Bhaktivedanta Sadhu Maharaj. Kutichak kept repeating that Paramadvaiti Maharaj, Sadhu Maharaj's sannyasa guru, insisted that we meet. To tell you the truth, decent sadhu sanga is hard to come by in this part of the world, and I have long wanted to meet this Brajavasi of noble origins and get to know him better. There is an article about him on the old VNN site. (www.vnn.org/world/WD0304/WD10-7978.html)

On arrival, I gave Maharaj my last copy of Madhurya Kadambini, which was left over after my course. I had never met Maharaj before, but after talking with him a little, I found out that he was never forced to give up his initiation in the Nityananda parivar. Radha Govinda Das Babaji was the first preacher of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the Munger region, probably in the late 19th century. If I am not mistaken, this Baba is mentioned in Vrajake Bhakta by O.B.L. Kapoor, which will need to go back and check out. As far as I can remember, he converted the then king of Munger, which was a fairly large sized principality under the Raj, and ever since then, the royal family's kula gurus have been Nityananda-vamsis. The Munger royal family has its temple on the Mathura Road near the crossing of the Parikrama Path in Vrindavan.

Anyway (all this conversation was going on in Hindi) Maharaj surprised me by showing a very warm and favorable attitude to Ananta Das Babaji and other representatives of the bhajananandi community, including my own Gurudeva. He did not seem to completely understand all the issues involved, at least he asked questions about the sources of quarrel between Lalita Prasad Thakur and Siddhanta Saraswati, but he clearly showed admiration for my Prabhu, and even at one point said to one of the other devotees there, that manjari-bhava was an absolute necessity for bhajan in our sampradaya. He is a Brajavasi and Radhaikanta-prana.

After Maharaj led the Jaya Radha Madhava kirtan, everyone was sitting around waiting for him to speak. Instead he asked me to sing Bhaktivinoda Thakur's Radha bhajane jadi mati nahi bhela kirtan. People had a little trouble following, so after a couple of verses, Maharaj just asked me to start explaining it. Talk about "give a dog a bone"--I was off to the races. If you have been reading the contents of the past few weeks on this site, you will have a general idea of the kinds of things that were discussed--a fair amount of Prema-vilasa, etc. I steered clear of some of my more controversial issues, as it was a mostly mixed audience of Iskcon and various Gaudiya Math disciples. But, on the whole, I feel that it was well received. Most of all by Sadhu Maharaj, who sat there with his eyes closed and a smile on his face most of the time. So I had a good time, and I hope everyone else did, too. I thanked Maharaj and everyone else for allowing me to speak, especially on such a sweet subject.

Maharaj will be at Prahlad's place in the Ottawa valley tonight and then heading back to New Hampshire tomorrow.

Added later: A picture with Paramadvaiti Maharaj from last year.

Monday, April 16, 2007

On Faith (Link)

A potentially useful article here from the Washington Post, On Faith. Various leaders from different religious groups, including Bishop Desmond Tutu, answer the following question:

Can a Christian, Muslim or Jew embrace eastern spiritual practices -- yoga or Buddhist meditation, for example -- and remain true to the laws of the God of Abraham?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Omega Five

Oh mega ! Omega ! Oh Ma go !
Oh my! Mega was my ego.

These days, I take the bus down Sauvé every day.
Sauvé, how ironic in a synchronistic way--
What Frenchman was saved, from what and when?
From death? From damnation? Now some latter next of kin
has bequeathed his name... redeemed are those who walk this street!

Today I walk; it’s sunny and spring, I feel brash;
I bounce my mala before me like a proud panache--
my banner, my identity, my mark of salvation, my dance
on this road of tenements housing Arab immigrants.
Between two cages, work and home, the japa walk is sweet.

Sauvé becomes Côte Vertu as it starts heading west;
The names waken whimsy that appears like a guest--
Does scaling the hill of virtue lead to salvation,
or does one climb that slippery slope after liberation?
Am I headed in the right direction? Need I retreat?

More ironies… just a hop across these cinder blocks
lies another immigrant generation's white duplex.
I often think of you, as I pass, you of the last Greek sign,
for that is where you sat, in your basement, as I in mine,
just meeting incognito in the world of cyber space.

There was a blessed feeling to those days, a glow
that filled my soul, a luminous sense of "yes, I know";
it made me offer myself to you, in all innocence,
as a bridge to my source (not as a fount of omniscience!).
Oh the hubris! You played Nemesis! End result: disgrace.

Fitting indeed is your name, Omega: That was the End.
I did not break, but even then, my dear, we all must bend.
Every Omega is an Alpha, you in more ways than one.
In my present Purgatory, something new has begun;
in this incredible lightness of being, there's a trace

of visions coming true, of realized insight's weight,
of hope that between Scylla and Charybdis lies an open gate.
So more than anything, this is an apology. You were correct:
I was not "wysiwyg"; there was, still is, a disconnect.
You can speak truth, but without being truth, you're just a cheat.

It has been a wearisome week since these poor lines began;
Thoughts and words haven't flowed as they sometimes can.
The days of rain, snow, wind and sleet told me it's not over:
pain, confusion still run deep. Guru is a kind of lover,
but for all his airs and auras, just a man. It is grace

that you found me wanting. The gods are meant to bring us down
from our flimflam, falseness, fourberie, fraud. And when they frown,
it's nothing but their mercy... Is knowing that salvation?
Is not the discipline of yoga self-satisfaction?
But santosh without sadhu sanga is a complete waste!

What's more: santosh without atma pratishtha's even worse,
And santosh without prema bhakti, the ultimate curse!
In the struggle of the selves, the innermost self must win.
Sri Guru is the guide. The rest is vanity and sin.

--o)0(o--
tat te'nukampAM susamIkSamANo
bhuJjAna evAtma-kRtaM vipAkam
hRd-vAg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jIveta yo mukti-pade sa dAya-bhAk
--o)0(o--

Bus stuck in snow on Côte-Vertu.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

H. H. Risley's "Tribes and Castes of Bengal" (1891-92)

Risley's book on Bengali tribes and castes would have been required reading for anyone entering the British civil service, probably right to the end of the Raj. Unfortunately, the descriptions are sketchy and reflect strong biases of the missionaries and the civil servant sycophants. Here are a couple of quotes from that book, under the rubric "Boishtom." [This was a reading from the last section of my course.]

Two endogamous classes are recognized--(1) Jati Baishnab, consisting of those whose conversion to Vaishnavism dates back beyond living memory, and (2) ordinary Baishnabs, called also Bhekdhari or "wearers of the garb", who are supposed to have adopted Vaishnavism at a recent date. The former are men of substance, who have conformed to ordinary Hinduism to such an extent that they are now Baishnabs in little more than name. In the matter of marriage they follow the usages of the Nabasakha; they burn their dead; mourn for thirty days; celebrate sraddh, and employ high caste Brahmans to officiate for them for religious and ceremonial purposes. They do not intermarry or eat with the Baishnavs who have been recently converted. The latter are described by a correspondent as "the scum of the population. Those who are guilty of adultery or incest, and in consequence of which find it inconvenient to live as members of the castes to which they belong, embrace Vaishnavism, first because they can by so doing place themselves beyond the pale of the influence of the headmen of their castes, and secondly, because their conversion removes all obstacle to the continuance of the illicit or incestuous connexions which they have formed." (342-343)
The mendicant members of the Vaishnava community, as distinguished from the Jat Baishnavs or Grihi Baishnabs on the one hand and the governing body of Gosains on the other, are, says Dr. Wise, "of evil repute, their ranks being recruited by those who have no relatives, by widows, by individuals to idle or depraved to lead a steady working life, and by prostitutes. Vaishnavi, or Baishtabi according to the vulgar pronunciation, has come to mean courtesan. A few undoubtedly join from sincere and worthy motives, but their numbers are too small to produce any appreciable effect on the behaviour of their comrades. The habits of these beggars are very unsettled. They wander from village to village, and from one akhra to another, fleecing the frugal and industrious peasantry on the plea of religion, and singing songs in praise of Hari beneath the village tree, or shrine. Mendicants of both sexes smoke Indian hemp (ganja) and although living as brothers and sisters are notorious for licentiousness. There is every reason for suspecting that infanticide is common, as children are never seen. In the course of their wanderings they entice away unmarried girls, widows, and even married women, on the pretext of visiting Sri Kshetra (Jagannath), Brindaban, or Benares, for which reason they are shunned by all respectable natives, who gladly give charity to be rid of them." (p.344)

What a tremendous passage! Infanticide, even ! Though the phrase "singing songs in praise of Hari beneath the village tree, or shrine" is nicely evocative.

Interesting in the above quotes is the process of Sanskritization described for the Jati Boishnabs who were practically "indistinguishable" from the larger Hindu community.

One of the fascinating sections of Prema-vilasa is in the 24th chapter where Nityananda Das goes on at great length about the Kulina brahmin system in Bengal. It is amazing that he, a non-brahmin, would have had such encycopedic knowledge of the history of these customs, from the time of Adishura (9th, 10th centuries?) and Ballal Sen (11th century), to the way they developed and were reformed by a certain Devivara. I learned a lot, and there was a lot that I did not want to be bothered with, including the family trees of many of the brahmin families in Bengal.

The primary question is: Why did Nityananda Das, himself an "ambastha" (as he tells us on several occasions) (One section of the ambasthas are vaidyas) take an interest in this matter? And why, as a Vaishnava, who goes into great detail explaining how Shyamananda and Narottam were authorized by their individual saintliness and personal qualification, to take brahmins form the highest sections of the society (kulina and suddha-srotriya) and make them his disciples, express an interest in these Gothic intricacies?

The answer, according to Nityananda Das himself, is that Jahnava Ishwari told him to do it. But the context comes in relation to Birbhadra Goswami. Nityananda begins the discussion by saying that Birbhadra became the source of a new term in the world of caste politics, the "birbhadri", which would mean someone who retains brahmin status despite being the offspring of a brahmin who left his sannyas vows. The most familiar term to us is "vantashi" (one who eats his own vomit), but there are other terms for such a person and his descendants. The concern here seems to be the rehabilitation of the Nityananda family as caste brahmins in the hierarchy. This must have been achieved with some success, as Risley says,

The Gosains or "Gentoo bishops" as they were called by Mr. Holwell, have now become the hereditary leaders of the sect. Most of them are prosperous traders and money-lenders, enriched by the gifts of the laity and by the inheritance of all property left by Bairagis. They marry the daughters of Srotriya and Bansaja Brahmins, and give their daughters to Kulins, who, however, deem it a dishonour to marry one of their girls to a Gosain. As a rule, they are tall and well-made men, of light complexion, fair specimens of the Aryan type as found in Bengal. The Advaitananda Gosains admit to the Vaishnava community only brahmins, baidyas and members of those castes from whose hands a brahmin may take water. The Nityananda on the other hand, maintain that any such limitation is opposed to the teaching of Chaitanya, and open the door of fellowship to all sorts and conditions of men, be they Brahmans or Chandals, high caste widows of common prostitutes... The Advaitananda Gosains are highly esteemed by the upper classes of Bengal, and it is very unusual for a Brahman or Baidya to enrol himself in the ranks of the other branch. They are said to be more sincere and open to religious motives than the Nityananda, and they avoid much scandal by refusing to initiate women.

One of the curious things that struck me when I read Ramakanta Chakravarty's book on Bengali Vaishnavism was his statement that the Goswami families lost much of their influence by refusing to initiate broadly, supposedly because the Bhagavata says not to take many disciples. Their motivation was no doubt in part an effort to maintain their position in the caste hierarchy of Bengal.


Religious studies 546

I have been a bit negligent in resuming the results of my teaching experience. I was rather hoping to start developing a text book that could be used in teaching such a course, using my interaction with the students as a source of inspiration. But I am a free molecule, being batted around in the atmosphere, and it seems that no one's will power is more at the mercy of events than mine. So Jiva Goswami and the Prema Vilasa bounced all these good intentions onto the back burner. A back burner that is so full of worthwhile endeavors that it seems the world will starve without them... At least Krishna on the altar will starve for lack of finished offerings.

Today is the last course. My students will be taking a short vocabulary quiz. Then we will have to go over the post 16th century material in half the normal course time. Totally impossible. I will try to post the readings for the last three courses on line in a couple of days and add a few comments to illustrate the directions the discussions took.

But the principal directions I will be taking in the next few weeks are completing work on Gadadhar Pran's Govinda-lilamrita, which I have had in my possession for almost two years now, and his "What Did Mahaprabhu Come to Give" article. So look here for excerpts from those two texts over the next little while.

Jai Radhe!

Prema-vilasa Observations IV

Here are a few more notes on Prema-vilāsa. I was hoping to finish reading the book, but there certainly is a lot to tell. As I keep saying, the book is more interesting than I was given reason to believe.

In the last four chapters – more appendices to Caitanya-bhāgavata and Caitanya-caritāmṛta, both of which are mentioned by name. One of the main purposes seems to be to establish the Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā identities, even though he does not mention this book by name. This seems to be one of the features of the Prema-vilāsa in general, as well as filling out some details about a lot of the individuals who played a role in Chaitanya lila, as already has been shown in the previous offerings on this blog. He often mentions the siddha name of a disciple, or the act of asking for or receiving the siddha name. I would say that this general mood is a confirmation of what I have written in my article about Khetari.

Nityananda Das describes more than one Khetari festival. I jumped the gun in a previous post when I said that his description of what would have been the first Khetari festival fell far short of the way we generally think of this festival as a major event. Before describing the second festival, he mentions a Katwa-Khanda festival after the disappearances of Vishnupriya, Gadadhar Das and Narahari Das. A page-long list is given of participants there. (p. 178)

After Jahnava returns from her second trip to Vrindavan. (As we recall, she left on this trip the previous Khetari festival, so she seems to have been gone for a year. ND says he was with her on this voyage, bottom page 179.).

The principal event was the installation of six deities. Somehow or other, the first Gauranga disappeared and the Krishna deity had no Radha. So Narottam wanted to replace the Gauranga and then add yugala Radha-Krishna deities as well. There is a story of how he tried several times to have a Gaura deity carved, they were never to his liking. Finally Mahaprabhu appeared to him in a dream and told him that he should find a deity that was already carved and then told him where to look for one. Narottam then went to a rich man's granary, though warned that snakes made their home there, and found the Gauranga deity in the rice.

Though the question of Pancha Tattva identities does not come out so clearly in this description of Khetari, it would seem reasonable to assume that the worship of Gaura with Radha-Krishna yugala mantra, the practice of the Gaura Chandrika, etc., were important aspects of innovation or confirmation at Khetari. Nityananda Das says that readings of Chaitanya Mangal by Lochan Das, Chaitanya Bhagavata and Chaitanya Charitamrita formed a part of the daily ritual in Narottam's temple.

Nityananda Das admits in several places, and asks forgiveness, for repeating himself, or for mixing up the sequences of events. This is especially true in the last four chapters. He says, “I am just writing things down as they come to mind.” As I have already mentioned, he seems to have been a direct participant in many of the activities. He tells a little about himself at the end of chapter 20. He was an only child who was orphaned young. He had a dream in which Jahnava told him to come to Khardaha and take initiation from her. She changed his name from Balaram Das to Nityananda Das. Because of general confusion about the chronology of events, it is hard to say how many times Nityananda Das went to Vrindavan. He is rather sparse in details of these trips, except for saying that he asked a number of questions of Raghunath Das on one trip when he went with Jahnava. A rereading of the book will be necessary to disentangle all the info. He says that he went one time with Birbhadra Goswami, and also that he wrote a book called Virabhadra-carita in which that trip is described in greater detail (mentioned several times around page 202-204, end of chapter 19).

At the end of chapter 24 he repeats that he is old and just writes things as they come to mind and that this explains the confusion about detail, the mixed chronology, etc.

In chapter 20, Nityananda Das recounts mostly Narottam Das connected stories, mostly about conversions and initiations, especially of miscreant brahmins. A lot of these seem to have involved Durga or Kali appearing in dreams and telling their devotees to get smart. One that I like was the story of Rupa Chand, who was a no good son of a rich landowner who converted and took initiation from Narottam. Then he was imprisoned by the Nawab (the ruler of Bengal) for failure to pay taxes etc. His father sends a siddha tantrik to free him. First of all, this Tantrik somehow uses his mantras to tunnel into the cell where Rupa Chand is being kept. But then he tells him, “You have to hear this 2 ½ syllable Kali mantra and chant it. Then follow me and we’ll get out of here.” Rupa Chand refuses to do so, as he has already received a Radha-Krishna mantra from Narottama and needs no other, what to speak of a Kali-mantra. Tell my father not to worry.

The Nawab then decides to do away with Rupa Chand and brings him into a public space where he is to be crushed by an intoxicated elephant. This seems to have been a favored method of execution in those days. (I seem to recall reading a story about a Portuguese priest in around the same time undergoing a similar trial.) I particularly liked the line, basilA aneka loka mAraNa dekhite (“Lots of people had gathered to watch the execution.”) Anyway, Rupa Chand remembers Narottam Das as he is being tossed about by the elephant, with the result that he is possessed of great strength. He pulls on the elephant’s trunk and throws it over, killing it to the great astonishment of everyone. The Nawab releases him after hearing his story, and Rupa Chand gets to repeat it in detail to his father, showing that the moral here was his fidelity to the Radha-Krishna mantra. (Pages 170-173, chapter 18)

Recurring themes: the “internal poita” (poita = brahmin thread). Even to the point of saying that just as Hanuman once tore open his chest to show that Rama and Sita were present inside him, Narottam tore open his chest to show a brahmin thread. The only theological point that is argued out at length with slokas from the shastras is centred around this issue. The sampradāya-vihīnā ye verse is also quoted there, without the extensive listing of the paramparā. However, in the description of Nityananda’s travels (chapter 24, p. 239), it is said that he met Madhavendra Puri’s guru Lakshmipati in Benares. This is another one of those highly unlikely anecdotes with which the book is full. I’ll have to check BRK, but I am sure that he disagrees with this completely. (Anyway, Nityananda Das says that he was Ishwar Puri’s disciple, when nearly everyone else seems to think that he was Madhavendra’s disciple, including the Sanskrit parampara lists.)

The question of interpolation is a tough one. I find that the language is pretty consistent, although I think some of it warrants investigation. Like many other writers of the period, when talking about or quoting the speech of Muslims, the language is heavily Urduized, but there are also a certain number of Arabic and Persian words in the general text, as well as some others that seem to me like more modern deshi forms. This would need looking into by someone well-versed in the history of the Bengali language.

I found the account of Rupa Narayan interesting, again because there are historically unacceptable details. Born in Assam

There is a great deal of material in chapter 24 about Advaita Acharya, some of which harmonizes with the account found in Advaita-prakāśa. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of that book with which I could compare it. Definitely, though, there is some connection—either one borrowed from the other, or both drew from the same stock of legends. Anyway, the story of the trip to Vrindavan, the story of Madan Gopal and the Chaube, etc., is all there, as well as some other stuff I cannot remember having seen before. Then again, the Advaita-prakāśa is longer and there are things, such as the encounter with Vidyapati, which are not told here.

The story of Lokanath, which I believe is also in AP, is found here, but told differently, if I can remember properly. If Advaita still visits this fallen sādhakābhāsa’s blogsite, then perhaps he can shed some light on these questions.

The story of Lokanath is told as follows: “Vishwarupa, an incarnation of Baladeva, was then born. He was initiated by Ishwara Puri. His younger brother was Nimai Pandit, who later became known to the world as Sri Krishna Chaitanya.

The son of Ratnagarbha Acharya [Sachi Mata’s younger brother] was Lokanath. Vishwarupa wanted to take Lokanath as a companion [when he left home]. As soon as this thought entered his mind, Lokanath came and joined him. Vishwarupa took him along when he went to South India. When he took sannyasa and was renamed Shankararanya Puri, then he made Lokanath, his maternal cousin, his disciple. Lokanath served Vishwarupa. One day, Ishwara Puri suddenly appeared there. Vishwarupa offered him pranams and when he did so, he invested Ishwara Puri with godly effulgence (aiśa-tejaḥ). This is stated in the Caitanya-candrodaya-nāṭaka (1.30)—

asyāgrajas tv akṛta-dāra-parigrahaḥ san
saṅkarṣaṇaḥ sa bhagavān bhuvi viśvarūpaḥ |
svīyaṁ mahaḥ kila purīśvaram āpayitvā
pūrvaṁ parivrajita eva tirobabhūva ||

He then told Ishwara Puri to place this effulgent power in Nityananda Prabhu when he initiated him. With these words, Vishwarupa left the world. Ishwara Puri then continued on his travels and eventually came to Ekachakra in Rarhadesh.

[Here is given information about Nityananda Prabhu’s family tree. Nityananda was apparently also known as Chidananda. His six brothers all had ananda names—Krishnananda, Sarvananda, Brahmananda, Purnananda, Premananda and Vishuddhananda.]

Ishwara Puri had a dream and was told that Nityananda was an incarnation of Balaram and that he should take him with him and give him sannyasa. Which he did. And when he gave him initiation, Vishwarupa’s effulgence entered Nityananda.

The story of Jangali and Nandini is found in chapter 24.

Nityananda Das also retells the prostitute and Haridas story. One element he adds: mogala vamshiya beshya parama sundari, which is interesting because it shows that Muslim women were thought to be particularly beautiful, among other things. I believe the CC leads us to think that the girl is a Hindu.

Advaita’s marriage to Sri Devi and Sita Devi takes place in Phuliya, which I find interesting. A lot seems to have happened in Phuliya. When Boro Shyamadas (p. 233) approaches Advaita Prabhu, Advaita protests, buḍā moke ke dibe vivāha (“I am an old man, who will give their daughters to me in marriage?”)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Humor from the Religious Studies Department

Jesus said unto them, "Who do you say I am?"

They replied, "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the ontological foundation of the context of our very selfhood revealed."

And Jesus replied, "What?"

By curious coincidence...

I used those words in my previous post... "by curious coincidence." And as I rushed out of the office, I noticed on Deborah (professor of church history in Canada, with whom I share it)'s desk: There Are No Accidents, by Robert H. Hopcke. All about Jung's synchronicity theory.

The theory is simple. Our lives are a story. "Coincidences" are meaningful connections that move the story along. Who knows what triggers will move us out of our sloth and lethargy? The wife burning a husband's clothes so he can look at an insect bite... the coded letter of a brother... the words of an old woman? It is not so much the event as the surge into consciousness that it produces. The same coincidence for a rushed and harried businessman passes by unnoticed.

I pray for that trigger.

Here I am, laughing, thinking maybe this is it, maybe this is the trigger. This collection of small, vairagya-related coincidences.

Prema-vilasa Observations III

Those "suspicious chapters" are surprisingly full of new nectar. One reason may be that the last four chapters were not as frequently in circulation and the Bhakti-ratnākara, etc., became more popular. Whatever the reason, there is some historical information, some anecdotal nectar, which are completely new to me. I wish I had gone through it before. As I said already, I don't see why this work should be considered less authoritative than Bhakti-ratnākara, which was written a century later, when stories would have been even more embellished by time.

Here is an example. There is a famous story in the BRK (5.1627-1670) about Vallabha coming to Vrindavan and criticising a verse in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, namely the one that calls the desires for liberation and sense enjoyment "witches." Rupa defered to the senior acharya and agreed to excise the verse, or at least modify it. Jiva, who was newly arrived in Vraja, was irritated by Vallabha Bhatta’s criticism and defended his uncle’s honor with a gusto when Vallabha went to bathe in the Yamuna. On his return, Vallabha rescinded his request and asked Rupa who this intelligent young man was. Rupa told him, but later chastised his nephew, saying that such arrogance did not befit life in Braj, and banished him from his company.

Jiva went to reside at Nanda Ghat, drinking only milk and eating dust in penance until Sanatan came to intervene on his behalf to Rupa.

This story appears to be an embellishment of an anecdote found in Prema-vilāsa (vilāsa 23, p.223), where it is said that a dig-vijayi came to Vrindavan seeking admissions of defeat from the scholars and pandits of the area. Rupa and Sanatan, out of humility, agreed to sign such a jaya-patra, but Jiva was unable to tolerate the arrogance of the visiting scholar and defeated him soundly in a debate. When the scholar returned the slip of paper to Rupa, Rupa summoned Jiva and told him, “You have become angry and this is not befitting someone who is in the renounced order. You have foolishly become a renunciate too soon, so be out of my sight.”

Here Nityananda Das says that Jiva went into a quiet place and began writing Sarva-samvadini at this time. This explains why there is not mangalacharan to his gurus Rupa and Sanatan in this work. Anyway, from this point on, the common aetiology of the two legends comes together: Sanatan intervenes: "You accept that our dharma is to be merciful to the jivas and to have love for the Holy Name. So why are you not merciful to Jiva?" And so Rupa and Jiva are reconciled after Sanatan's intervention.

Now, although both versions have the structure of legend or myth, with the payoff on the wordplay around Jiva's name, the BRK shows certain embellishments that show it cannot be historically true. Namely, Vallabhacharya's name: Vallabha died in 1533 and Jiva would not have been in Vraja before 1541. The story, at least with him in the starring role, is not possible. I'd have to go back and look more closely at the language to see the extent to which Narahari borrowed from Nityananda Das, but it is certainly likely.


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There are numerous other stories that I find enjoyable and repeatable. One is that of Sanatan. I would like to look at this a little closer, too, to see to what extent Nityananda has borrowed from other sources. He mentions Vrindavan Das here, but not Krishnadas.

Anyway, the story is about Rupa and Sanatan returning to Ramakeli after meeting with Mahaprabhu. Neither of them has come to a commitment about leaving the lives they are leading. Rupa Goswami is sleeping with his wife when some kind of insect comes and bites him. He wakes up and, wanting to see the extent of the wound, immediately orders to his wife, "Light a lamp!" She does not find anything nearby and takes an expensive dhoti of his and sets it on fire! Rupa says, "Hey! That's an expensive piece of cloth!" She answers, "I did what I had to do. It is a woman's religious duty to serve her husband. Wealth, riches, jewels and ornaments are nothing." Rupa then said, "My dear woman, you have rightly done your duty. Why have I not been able to see mine?" And with that, he sent servants to get news of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's whereabouts.

Then he and Sanatan begin the famous purascharan that would give them the necessary divine intervention to free them of their attachments. When the purascharan was finished, Rupa immediately left home. But, Nityananda Das says, Sanatan still had gāḍha prīti viṣaye, "a strong attachment for sensual pleasures." Rupa Goswami writes the following letter in code: yarī raiā iraṁ naya, which is hajarabala, i.e., charivari, i.e., nonsense. But Sanatan, being a scholar recognized the reference to this verse, which I assume was well known:


yadupateḥ kva gatā mathurā purī
raghupateḥ kva gatottara-kośalā
iti vicintya kuruṣva manaḥ sthiraṁ
na sad idaṁ jagad ity avadhāraya

Where has the Mathura of the Lord of the Yadus gone? And where is the kingdom of Koshala of the Lord of the Raghus? Contemplate this and make your mind steady: beware, this world will not last forever.

This verse had such an effect on him that he immediately decided to leave the service of the king and began studying the Bhagavata with a group of pandits. And we know the rest from Chaitanya Charitāmṛta.

Interestingly, I was looking for the source of this verse on the Indology list in June 2000 (the email is still archived on line) without success. I was probably translating B.B. Tirtha's Parshads book at the time (http://bvml.org/SBBTM/p̮ssg.html). By curious coincidence, Rochana is currently serializing this book on his Sampradaya Sun website, no doubt oblivious to the fact that it was I who translated it. Anyway, that same verse is found in the Amṛta-pravāha-bhāṣya, 2.20.3, but there it is interpreted that Mahaprabhu had gone to Mathura, which certainly has no relation to the verse itself. The Prema-vilāsa interpretation, the original interpretation, does.

Another little story that is told therein fits nicely into the customary vairagi saint legends: While Sanatan was on his way to find Mahaprabhu, he lay down on the ground to sleep, but he built pillows out of sand to make himself more comfortable. An old woman saw him and said, "Just look at this rich fellow who has become a daravesh. He is sleeping on the ground but still shows his attachment to familiar habits by making pillows for himself!" Sanatan immediately got up and bowed down to the old woman and said, "You have instructed me like a guru." And from that moment, the very roots of his attachment to material life were cut away. (Vilāsa 23, 220-221)


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According to Prema-vilāsa, Nityananda left the world two years after Mahaprabhu, and Advaita Prabhu two years after that. Vrindavan Das went to live in Denur village after that. (p. 220)


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Nityananda Das talks about Gadadhar Pandit. I wrote an article about Gadadhar (Gadadhar Pandit :: Bhakti Shakti), but made no reference to the information found here. Most of it is written in accordance with the Chaitanya Bhagavata version. Nevertheless, he seems to be writing in response to the controversy about Gadadhar being Radha when Mahaprabhu is Radha and Krishna. I always wondered where the Gaudiya Math got its idea that the main Radha joined with Krishna, while Gadadhar was a  prakāśa, or something even lesser. These are all rather confused discussions without much value (om purnam adah purnam idam, etc.), at least wherever such hierarchies are brought into the picture.

The Prema-vilāsa verses, for your reference, are:

śrī-śādhā śrī-kṛṣṇe mili gaurāṅga īśvara
prakāśāntare rādhā hoilā gadādhara
gaurāṅgera paricaryā koribāra tare
janama labhilā gadādhara rūpa dhaire
Sri Radha joined with Krishna to become Lord Gauranga. In another manifestation, Radha became Gadadhar. In order to serve Gauranga, she took birth in the form of Gadadhar. (page 216)

I am going to have to add this material to my article, obviously.

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