Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Letter to Vamsidas Babaji at Dvadash Mandir



শ্রীশ্রীগৌরগদাধরাভ্যাং নমঃ

পরম শ্রদ্ধেয় বংশীদাস বাবাজী মহারাজ,

আপনার চরণে আমার কোটি দণ্ডবন্নতি গ্রহণ করিবেন। অনেক দিন পরে পত্রযোগ করিতেছি। শ্রীশচীনন্দন দাদা আর ভক্তমাএর অপ্রকটের কথা শুনিয়া খুব শোকান্বিত হইলাম। একটা চিঠিও দিয়াছিলাম। কোনও উত্তর না পাওয়ায় আমি বলিতে পারি না আপনারা পাইয়াছেন কি না। যাহাই হউক, আশা করি যে তাঁহাদের অনুপস্থিতিতেও আপনারা সবাই প্রভুর সেবায় ভালই আছেন।

গত বার যখন আমি আর গদাধরপ্রাণজী প্রভুপাদের দর্শন করিতে মন্দিরে আসিয়াছিলাম, তখন আমরা নিশ্চয় অপরাধ করিয়া ফিরিয়াছিলাম। সময়ের অভাবে আমরা মন্দিরবাসীদের ঠিক ঠিক মর্য্যাদা করি নাই, যাহার জন্য আমি আপনার আর অন্য ভক্তদের সমক্ষে ক্ষমা প্রার্থনা করি। তাহা হইলেও, সে দিন আমরা যে কার্য্যর গুরুত্ব ভীষণভাবে অনুভব করিতেছিলাম, তাহা দিনে দিনে কেবল বাড়িতেছে। ইহা বড় দুঃখের বিষয় যে অদ্যাপিও আমাদের শ্রীগুরুদেবের বিস্তৃত কোনো জীবনী প্রকাশিত হয় নাই। নিশ্চয় আমরাই দোষী, কারণ সেদিন আমরা রাজসিক ভাব নিয়া আসিয়াছিলাম, যেন আমরা মনে করিতেছিলাম যে এত বড় একটা কার্য্য সঙ্গে সঙ্গে করা যাইতে পারে, ফলতঃ আমাদিগকে রিক্তহস্তে বিদায় দিয়া হতাশ হইয়া ঘরে ফিরিতে হইয়াছিল।

যাহাই হউক, আমি সে একই কথা বলিতে আবার লিখিতেছি। ইদানীং ইস্কনের একজন অজ্ঞ ভক্ত আবার সে পুরাণো নিন্দাবাদগুলি প্রকাশ করিতেছেন। আমি এখন পাশ্চাত্য দেশে প্রভুর একমাত্র শিষ্য রহিয়াছি, আমি ছাড়া কে প্রতিবাদ করিতে পারিবে বলুন ? কিন্তু সে কথার বিস্তৃত প্রতিবাদ করিবার ক্ষমতা আমার নাই, যেহেতু প্রভুর জীবনীর সম্বন্ধে যথেষ্ট নির্ভরযোগ্য তথ্য আমার গোচর নেই। এখন রোচন নামক ভক্ত লিখিতেছেন যে “ইতিহাসের রায় হইয়াছে, ললিতাপ্রসাদ অসার, তাঁহার কোনো মূল্য নাই, তাঁহার অবদান কিছু নাই।” আমার ভয় আছে যে যিনি শ্রীল ভক্তিবিনোদ ঠাকুরের অভীষ্ট গুরু প্রণালী, রাগানুগা মার্গ শিক্ষা ইত্যাদি রক্ষা করিতে সারা জীবন উৎসর্গ করিয়াছিলেন, তাঁহার সব প্রচেষ্টা ব্যর্থ হইয়া যাইবে।

অনেকেই প্রভুর কথা জানিতে চায়, কিন্তু আমি ছাড়া আর কেউ সম্বন্ধ রাখে নাই। তথাপি আমিও তাঁর বিষয়ে বেশি কিছু বলিতে পারি না। আজ পর্য্যন্ত যাহা করিতে পারিয়াছি, তাহা করিয়া আসিতেছি। কিন্তু যাহাতে ভক্তিবিনোদ ঠাকুরের অবদান আর গৌড়ীয় মঠের বাস্তবিক ইতিহাস জগতে জানানো হয়, প্রভুর নিজ লিখিত কথার উপর নির্ভর করিয়া একটা তথ্যপূর্ণ, অখণ্ড, প্রমাণিক জীবনী প্রকাশ করিবার আত্যন্তিক প্রয়োজন আছে।

এজন্য আপনাকে বারবার প্রার্থনা করিতেছি, যেন আপনি এই কার্য্যের ভার গ্রহণ করেন। আমার মনে হয় যে একজন অভিজ্ঞ গবেষক বা লেখকের হস্তে এ কার্য্য সমর্পণ করিতে পারিলে আরও ভালো হইত, কিন্তু আপনি যাহাই করিবেন না কেন, আমি পরে ইংরেজি অনুবাদ করিব এবং প্রকাশ করিবার দায়িত্ব নিব প্রতিজ্ঞা করিলাম।

আমি আবার আপনাকে অনুরোধ করি যেন আপনি এ কার্য্যের গুরুত্ব অনুভব করেন। অন্ততঃ পক্ষে, যাহাতে যদি কেউ আমাদের প্রভুর নিন্দা করে, সত্যানুসন্ধিৎসু লোক তাঁহার বাস্তব তত্ত্ব জানিতে পারিবেন।

কৃপা করিয়া আমার এ চিঠির উত্তর দেবেন। দুঃখের কথা এ যে আমি পূর্ববাংলায় আসিতে পারি না, কেন না আমার বড় ইচ্ছা ছিল নিজেই এ কার্য্য করিতে, কিন্তু প্রভুপাদের পুঁথি দেখিতে না পারিলে তাহা করিব কি করিয়া ? যাহাই হউক, আমি প্রভুর ইচ্ছায় শীঘ্রই দ্বাদশ মন্দিরে আসিয়া আপনার সাক্ষাৎ করিয়া এবিষয়ে অধিক আলোচনা করিব।

আপনার চরণে আবার আমার হার্দিক, ভক্তিপূর্ণ প্রণাম জানাই,

দীন গুরুসেবক, জগদানন্দদাস

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Distaste for Political Religion

I try to keep away from politics on this blog, but I came across this video by Max Blumenthal, Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour, on Huffington Post. I find the world one gets a glimpse of here to be pretty troubling.

I believe in the power of myth, but I find it needs to be carefully vetted by the use of reason. I can't help but feel disgust at this smorgasborg of true belief, self-righteousness and sheer hypocrisy.

If I had to be a Christian, I would still try to keep myself as far as possible from these deluded and dangerous people. Quakers, Catholics, liberal Protestants, Unitarians... anyone but these guys! And yet, unfortunately, they rule the roost in the good old U.S.A. Is there a better reason to fear the crumbling of the empire?

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Actually, thinking about it a little later, I came back to a certain recollection of how I got here in the first place. These pink and bloated millionaire preachers are the perfect representation of the America I found revolting as a teenager and still feel deeply alienated from. This is what I was turning on, tuning in and dropping out from.

When I and so many others came to Krishna consciousness, it was partly because we recognized the limits of the hippie lifestyle. But it was also in part because we saw it as a continuation of our "make love not war" hippie philosophy. We had no intention of becoming the very thing we despised. I think that our original instinct was right, but somehow we went off track and lost the idea that prema is the prayojan.

It's good to be reminded of these things from time to time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Radha in the Gita?

From a discussion on the Religion in South India list of the AAR:

Steve Rosen:

Perusing Graham Schweig's new Gita translation (Harper San Francisco, 2007), I noticed a reading of 2.72 that is quite unique, one that should give those with a Vaisnava leaning -- and particularly a Gaudiya Vaisnava leaning --reason to rejoice.
The verse is familiar. It begins esa brahmi sthitih partha . . . Most people translate the first portion as meaning "this fixed state of Brahman," as Zaehner would have it, or some, perhaps, leave it untranslated, saying it refers to a cryptic state known as Brahmi-sthitih, which, of course, doesn't tell us much.
Graham, however, notes the powerfully feminine presence in the verse, so much so that he translates this section as saying, "this state of the feminine energy of Brahman." It is a powerful reading, one that acknowledges the "Feminine Brahman" emerging in this verse. Gaudiya Vaisnavas will see a suggestion of Radha here, or, at least, Krsna's feminine power, perhaps a form of yogamaya. That being said, not ONE of the traditional Gaudiya commentators bring out this almost inescapable understanding of the Sanskrit. Yet brahmi, as cited here, indeed carries this feminine sense, particularly as the word is juxtaposed with the other feminine gendered words of this sloka. I wonder -- What do our RISA comrades think about this, and is Graham going too far in his translation?

As you can imagine, the idea did not meet with much approval. Martin Gansten of Lund University responded:

That being said, not ONE of the traditional Gaudiya commentators bring out this almost inescapable understanding of the Sanskrit.

Hardly surprising, as a real understanding of the Sanskrit precludes any such interpretation ('the feminine energy of brahman'). It is not so much inescapable as indefensible. There is no such concept as the 'energy of brahman' anywhere in the Bhagavadgita.

Yet brahmi, as cited here, indeed carries this feminine sense, particularly as the word is juxtaposed with the other feminine gendered words of this sloka.

Brahmi is in the feminine *because* it is an adjective defining the noun sthiti 'state', which (like all action nouns/abstract nouns in -ti) is grammatically feminine. Adjectives always conform to nouns. There seems to be no reason to suppose that this 'brahmic state' (brahmi sthitih) achieved by desirelessness and characterized by peace means anything different from the 'nirvana of brahman' (brahma-nirvana) or the 'becoming brahman' (brahma-bhuya) described elsewhere in the text in much the same terms.

Graham responds,

Without going into any lengthy discussion here, the feminine dimensions of the Bhagavad Gita's teachings, I believe, have been unappreciated. It is obvious how the Sanskrit is normally taken here: eSA brAhmI sthiti, as you've stated. Indeed, there is nothing new in this. Not only is my translation not corroborated by any other passage directly in the BG, as you have stated, but then there is no phrase like this to be found in any other verse in the BG. In fact, Krishna could have spoken this phrase with the same words but in the neuter gender, and not the feminine. Why? This unique phrase of the BG deserved an unique treatment, and thus my translation.

Martin Gansten:

Perhaps it is the (near-)lack of grammatical gender in English which leads you to over-interpret this phrase. If a Sanskrit author speaks of his wife as dâra (masculine) or kalatra (neuter), there is no reason to suppose that he considers her mannish or sexless. It is far more likely that the word simply fits the metrical requirements and/or is stylistically appealing for some reason, such as avoiding repetition. Grammatical gender is normally quite beside the point.

Furthermore, if we examine the contents rather than the grammatical form of the verse, we find nothing to justify the contention that it is unique. Its message is repeated over and over again in the Gita, with a certain pleasing variation of expression.

If the feminine word sthiti is to be subjected to this 'monstrous exegesis' (to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis), then I suppose you will do the same when it appears in 6.33 ('This yoga ... I do not see how it could be maintained by steadfast feminine energy') or 17.27 ('Feminine energy in sacrifice, penance and charity is called sat')?

But on a more serious note, it is not just the over-interpretation of grammatical gender that I find objectionable, but even more so the gratuitous introduction of the word 'energy', which will lead readers' minds to the Tantric concept of shakti and which is alien to the Gita. It would be highly questionable as an attempt at interpretation; as a translation, it is simply wrong.

Dayananda Prabhu offers the following analysis and devotional interpretation:

In the latter half of the second chapter, Krishna refers extensively to prajna and buddhi, both of which are feminine. In fact, one can argue that his references to prajna are responses to the prajna or paramita prajna (transcendental wisdom) of the vaibhasikas, later the Buddhists. His esa brahmi-sthitih verse concludes his refutation of vaibhasika prajna, finalizes his presentation of buddhi-yoga as pragmatic prajna, and deftly establishes prajna or buddhi to be associated with brahman, which is, of course, the Upanisadic or Vedantic perspective. 

Nevertheless, as devotees of Radha, you and Graham are inclined to view esa brahmi-sthitih as the feminine energy of the Lord, and that may indeed be an internal reading, much like Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s reading of Mahaprabhu’s reasons to appear in the world. One internal reason was His prema-lobha (intense desire for love), and His external reason was to inaugurate yuga-dharma, sankirtana. Thus, moving ahead quickly, Krishna or Mahaprabhu’s devotee can obtain vijnana (internal realization) of this feminine aspect via the external performance of sankirtana. In other words, Krishna indicates that the processes of sankhya and paramita prajna are impractical, and one can achieve their advertised results via buddhi-yoga which is expressed through karma-yoga and which is practiced in this age by performing the yajna of sankirtana.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Disappearance of Hridayananda Das Babaji Maharaj


I just learned of this from Subrata's Nitai Gaura Radhe Shyam webiste. He has written a nice article about Hridayananda Dasji, to whom he was quite close. He also has a couple of nice pictures. I have added a couple of my own memories of Baba.

Disappearance of Hridayananda Das Babaji Maharaj

Since for whatever reason my comment never made it on to that page, I will try to reproduce my thoughts here.

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In 2005, by the kindness of several devotees, I was able to return to Nabadwip after more than 20 years of absence. One evening I went into town and was making the tour of the various temples when I came to the Samaj Bari. Samaj Bari celebrates its annual festival in honour of Radha Raman Charan Das Babaji Maharaj a few weeks before Gaur Purnima. I had come specifically because I had been told that Hridayananda Dasji was there and I wanted to talk to him. That night, however, the suchak kirtan was being sung and Maharaj was in the group of singers. He wasn't leading, but sitting behind the main singer and instructing him. As usual, he was sitting up very straight and was extremely serious and concentrated. Knowing I would not get a chance to see him and I had to get back to Gadadhar's that night, I left.

The next evening I returned with Gadadhar and we both went and met with Hridayanandaji in his room where we spent about an hour in his association. He told us that he had recently undergone surgery and that made it impossible for him to lead the kirtan, but he was still there to teach and guide those who would be playing this important role in the Nitai Gaura Radhe Shyam sect. He had, as usual, a supply of short books and pamphlets that he had written, sharing his unique insights into Gaura and Nitai tattvas. Gadadhar Pran especially loved Hridayanandaji because of one book he had written about Gadadhar Prabhu. Gadadhar Pran ended up keeping all the books, so I don't have one to look at now to share with you the kind of things he used to write.

The followers of Ramdas Babaji and Radharaman Charandas play an extremely important role in the landscape of modern Gaudiya Vaishnavism, and it is primarily through their kirtan that they do so. Their presence is demanded at every major mahotsava commemorating events in the life of Mahaprabhu and his parshads. Ramdas Babaji established a kind of annual calendar of major kirtans following Mahaprabhu lila, including the Rathayatra kirtan cycle, Jhulan in Vrindavan, which follows Mahaprabhu's pilgrimage there, Panihati Danda Mahotsava, and so on. The role of principal kirtaniya is thus the most coveted and most respected role anyone in the line of Ramdas Babaji can have. Hridayanandaji spent his entire life training for this role and indeed he was born to it.

I met Hridayananda Dasji for the first time in 1985 at Mahesh Pandit's Sripat in Chakdaha. Mahesh Pandit was a parshad of Nityananda Prabhu and one of the 12 Gopals. Keshava Priya Dasji, the Mahanta, was one of our favorite Vaishnavas due to his connection to Krishna Prema, the British devotee who had taken initiation in the Gopala Bhatta Goswami line. I was there for the annual festival, and Hridayananda was there to sing the suchak, etc. He was living somewhere in Howrah district as he had left the Path Bari for a time. I can't remember all the details, but certainly part of it was that he had been passed over as principal kirtaniya after the departure of the previous Mahanta. So he was travelling around Bengal, doing minor utsavas like this one, accompanied by his young disciple and mridanga player, Birbhadra Dasji, nicknamed Bablu.

Hridayananda Dasji and I hit it off right away. He had a contagious enthusiasm for Gaura Katha and it seemed that he was always producing a small pamphlet whenever he had one of his extraordinary insights. I remember enjoying one in which he related the ecstatic manifestation of Lord Jagannath and its esoteric relationship to Mahaprabhu lila. We had a long discussion about the relation of Nityananda Prabhu to Radharani and madhura rasa. He had a very original way of thinking analogically, and was always making parallels between the tattvas and lilas of different deities, sometimes coming up with rather controversial connections.

What I liked about Hridayananda was that he was not afraid to look you right in the eye (and he had marvellous watery eyes) and sing a bhajan to make a point. His conversation would often be as much sung as spoken. His culture was all kirtan, but that is what Mahaprabhu and Ramdas Babaji were all about. In kirtan, Maharaj was, like Subrata describes, in the mood of Ramdas Babaji--his absorption was complete, tears came to him easily as he sang Ramdas's and his own akhars, plunging into the honored, traditional bhavas.

Maharaj invited me to go with him on a tour of Orissa that year. He had a number of disciples in the area, some of them very respectable individuals, as well as other "allies," where he would annually go and put on programs prior to going to Puri for the Rathayatra. He wanted me to give Bhagavata and Chaitanya Charitamrita lectures at all these places--Bhubaneswar, Jagdishpur, Katak, etc. Though we passed through all these places in a whirl--I was myself already in the endgame of my stay in India and not altogether in the right spirit--it was one of my most memorable experiences in the eleven years I was there. I still have very vivid pictures in my mind of the villages and towns we saw, even though the names and the people have faded.

One stop I remember most vividly was at the home of a disciple of Ramdas Babaji's who had become very rich by providing labor for building a railroad through that part of Orissa. He lived in a large house in a rather dry and desolate section of the state, with a Nat Mandir and temple surrounded by rooms for visiting Vaishnavas. I remember being quite struck by the poverty of the villagers who lived right next to him in windowless houses made of the porous red stone that is ubiquitous in the region. The contrast was quite medieval and discomfiting. Another disciple was an engineer at an electric plant, another a bureaucrat in the capital Bhubaneswar. The town of Jagdishpur was typical of coastal Orissa, with its lush vegetation and countless palm trees. In each of these places, we rigorously followed the morning program of mangal arati, midday bhoga arati, as well as an evening program.

When we got to Puri, Hridayanandaji put aside any politics to stay with his spiritual family at the Jhanj Pitha Math. Staying in the midst of the NGRS devotees, participating with them at the Radha Kanta Math kirtans and feasts and all the rest of the Rathayatra festival, has to be one of the highlights of my spiritual life, worth a Raghavera jholi worth of insights and ecstasies. (I have written on the Prema Prayojan site about the NGRS version of the Rathayatra festival, but it is currently down. I will post the link when it comes back on line). Just watching the tilak ritual the NGRS bhaktas have is a trip in itself. They all carry a bag filled with bottles of sand and water from all the different tirthas--some are obligatory, like the sand from Ishwar Puri's Sripat. The black mark they put in the middle of their tilak is the oil and soot from the lamps that burn during Nam Yajnas. The mood was so different from the Gaudiya Math, a different world!

From Hridayanandaji I learned an awful lot about his tradition, about stalwart commmitment to a path, about kirtan (I wish I had learned more), about bhava and the cultivation of bhava through kirtan. It is really too bad that it was interrupted and I had to leave so soon after being blessed by his association. I feel most fortunate that on my trip back a couple of years ago, by the blessings of so many devotees, I was able to get his darshan and the dust of his feet for a last time before he entered the Nitya Dham. May he continue to shower his blessings on us all.

Karnamrita


Dear Uttama,

Radhe! Radhe! I mentioned in my last email how much I was appreciating Karnamrita's CD, but I don't think I was sufficiently effusive in my praise. Please allow me to be so now.

I have been listening to Dasi in the car for a couple of hours every morning without any desire to listen to anything else. You have to understand that I not easy to please: they have a reserved vyasasan for me down at Faultfinders Anonymous. I can barely listen to any kirtan produced by Iskcon except for perhaps Vaiyasaki. Most modern Hindustani or Bengali kirtan is syrupy and commercial. I like some classical Hindi singers like Bhimsen Joshi, but even there, as with opera singers, I find that technique has often triumphed over content and something important been lost.

Perhaps the clue is that Karnamrita has had enough training in Indian classical music and bhajan to be able to enter into the spirit of the music without losing her way. Your arrangements and production skills have only added to that. There is a Western popular music sensibility to the entire record that serves to highlight the mood of the original texts. In this, Karnamrita has been more successful than any Western devotee I have yet heard.

Perhaps it is the words. Of course, I am absolutely delighted with Karnamrita that she has made the somewhat daring choice of singing mostly Sanskrit texts from the Bhagavatam. But even more that she seems to have engaged with the words themselves. Though here and there, there are mispronunciations, the meaning always shines through. The musical ornaments invariably serve to bring out the rasa in the words. I am thinking in particular of the repetitions of Giridhari in the Meera Bai song, or that lovely riff in the Gopi Gita just before kitava yoshitam.

First of all, the selection of material was delightful in itself. I have already mentioned that the selection of Sanskrit was a bold and daring move. But the particular sections chosen were also original. After hearing the Gurvashtakam sung in 100 different ways, from jazz to new age, it is such a delight to hear someone who is actually engaged with the culture and language. This is bhakti. I suppose I may be biased, as I am likely only one of a handful of people who can hear the accent given to a particular word and feel its weight in the context of a verse or entire song, and obviously her charm and talent touch a far wider audience than tired old Sanskrit professors, but hearing her has given me hope in the future of Krishna consciousness and has revived my feeling for the power of kirtan.

The first song was a great surprise--it shows great imagination of choice, in my opinion. But it also a poster child for the Sanskrit language itself. The sweetness of the alliteration in mumucur munayo devA sumanAMsi mudAnvitAH is sheer joy. The production qualities are excellent, from the male voice accompaniment to the multiple tracking of Karnamrita's own voice harmonizing.

The next number, the Meera Bai song, is without doubt my favorite on the album. The picture it creates in my mind of Krishna walking through the dusty cowherd village alleyway is heart-stopping. I am already having trouble with seeing flashes of Vrindavan in my daily life; this song increases this delectable problem. The shy girl hiding from his sight and filling her eyes with his darshan is a brilliant line. Joyful and yet nostalgic of a lost opportunity. From there, through to meera dasi darashan pyasi, carana kamala bolihari, it is all extremely evocative.

The Yamunashtakam took a little longer to appreciate. I think I have a little prejudice against Hit Harivams. After all, we Gaudiyas have plenty of Yamunashtakas of our own, I thought. But it has grown on me. First of all, I like the choice of piano and cello accompaniment. It is too bad, by the way, that you couldn't afford a full string section, the electronic strings are a little tinny, but that is barely noticeable. About the song itself, Karnamrita handles the totaka meter with great aplomb. It is easy to fall into the trap of making totaka sound like doggerel, duh-da, duh-da, duh-da, duh-da, but Karnamrita has brought great feeling into what is a pretty standard ashtaka. Of course, I say "standard" because there is always repetition in these things, but taken on its own, it has a sweet and powerful devotional message.

The next song, Jai Radhe Jai Krishna Jai Vrindavan is pure rapture. This is the most joyful song on the album and you get that from the chorus as well. I think I heard your voice shouting a Haribol in the background as well. There are very few recorded kirtans that I have heard that communicate such a sense of joy. I want to get up and dance, and I often do.

The Sri Krishna Govinda Hare Murare kirtan is nicely done. To be honest, it has never been a big favorite with me because I don't like mixing up Narayan and Vasudeva with Krishna and Govinda, And Lakshmi's name just breaks my mood. But I loved the liner notes for this song. It was touching for me to hear that story of Karnamrita singing with some women in the train across North India. It is precisely this kind of experience that adds depth to the entire album. It is not just going to a teacher and learning some songs and techniques. It is engaging with the people and the spirit of the land and culture. And not just the "higher culture" but that of the people you meet on the train and in the markets and villages. In that sense, this song fits the theme of the album more than almost any other, because it carries within it the age-old mood experienced by Indian women identifying with Draupadi's helplessness and recourse to full surrender.

The prayers of Kunti Devi were a nice surprise. These verses have a special meaning to me as they are the first Bhagavata verses that I ever learned by heart. We had moved into the Gerard Street temple, I think, and Prabhupada had just instituted the system of repeating the Sanskrit verses before Bhagavata class. I had decided that I would learn each day's verse by heart. We happened to be doing Kunti's prayers at the time. I think the first one was vipadaH santu tAH. I have to thank Karnamrita's teacher Kutila for making her learn these verses as well. They go well with Draupadi's prayer.

Next is the Gopi Gita. This is a wonderful, wonderful addition to the album. Like the Yamunashtakam, it would have been easy to butcher these verses by taking a too straightforward reading of the meter or singing it too fast. The choice of eight verses out of the nineteen may or may not have been difficult. You did right to choose the first two and the last one. But there are two highlights of the song for me--one is when Karnamrita sings the tava kathamritam verse. There is just the right change in timbre and intensity. It tugs on my heart and I can just see King Prataparudra massaging Mahaprabhu's feet and singing, Mahaprabhu jumping up and embracing him and repeating bhurida bhurida over and over. How magnanimous! how magnanimous! The other I already mentioned, the ohey before kitava yoshitam, which is just enough to highlight the rest of the verse: "You cheat! How can you leave us here alone in the middle of the night?"

The last song, Pingala, was a bit of a surprise and the style is quite different. I particularly like the adept way in which she handles the verse used as a refrain. Again, this is a choice that shows boldness and originality.

So, I want to repeat that I am tremendously encouraged by this effort. I am looking forward eagerly to her next recording. One last thing, my heart was warmed by the liner notes refering to her stay at your household and the loving atmosphere she experienced there. Bolihari jai. Radhe Radhe!!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tell me the truth, O Vaishnava poet! Where did you get this picture of prema?

I am just reading a book by a Bhakti Vilas Tirtha Maharaj disciple I had heard of, but did not know very well. His name is Janardan Chakravarti and he is (or was) a professor in Bengali literature at the University of Calcutta (Jadavpur?). He wrote a book in English called Bengal Vaisnavism and Sri Chaitanya (1975)* (See below for details).

Chakravarti shows signs of that Bengali syncretism that most of us Western Vaishnavas are so suspicious of: he speaks of Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Aurobindo, Rabindranath and all the other Bengali cultural heroes in a favorable way. This kind of Bengali nationalism is something that we feel averse to, although I recently wrote on my blog that, as a consequence, we (I mean Western KC in general) have lost contact with Bengali culture per se and are participating in the creation of a neo-pan-Indian culture that mirrors the diminishing influence of Bengal in that world, but which ignores the fact that Bengali culture has been interacting with and interpreting Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Radha-Krishna devotion for longer than anyone.

Though I picked up this book at the University of Calcutta when I was in India a couple of years ago, beginning to read it so soon after thinking those thoughts made his comments much more interesting to me. He also mentions Pran Kishor Goswami (MA), Dr. Mahanambrata Brahmachari, and Ramdas Babaji of Nitai Gaur Radhe Shyam fame among his influences.

In this book* (Sri Radha tattva o Sri Chaitanya Samskriti = "Radha tattva and Chaitanya culture"), he rather undisguisedly gives the account of a Vaishnava believer, albeit with this somewhat patriotic flavor, perhaps as a way of appealing to his countrymen by turning Chaitanya into a national cultural hero. This is somewhat refreshing, as the syncretist tendency in Bengal does tend to be reductionist where bhakti is concerned.

What interests me here is Chakravarti's discussion of Bengali writers' and poets' response to Radha and Krishna in the modern period. He finds useful things they have said and enters into debate with those that are questionable. For instance, he rejects the kind of metaphorical interpretation that some scholars in the early 20th century tossed about, namely that Radha-Krishna lila had its origins in some kind of solar myth. On the other hand, he notes with appreciation that Vivekananda rejected Bankim Chandra's Sri Krishna Charita because "he did not accept the concept of lila as real." (page 46, no reference given).

Of greater interest to the general themes treated in this blog is Chakravarti's discussion of the relationship of the primacy of the human in relation to the lila. He quotes Ananda Coomaraswami, "Krishna lila is not a history, but a process ever unfolded in the heart of man," which reminds me of that definition of myth as a true story that never happened:
Myths are things that never happened but always are. Salustius [84-34 BCE]
I am perhaps jumping into this discussion before fully understanding his argument, but some ideas can be taken from the following. He cites the following lovely poem by Rabindranath (page 30):

satya kare kaha more, he baiṣṇaba kabi,
kothā tumi peẏechile ei prema-chabi ?
kothā tumi śikhechile ei prema-gāna
viraha-tāpita ? heri kāhāra naẏāna
rādhikāra aśru āɱkhi parechilo mane ?
bijana basanta rāte milana-śaẏane
ke tomāre beɱdhechilo duṭi bāhu-ḍore,
āpanāra hṛdaẏera agādha sāgare
rekhechilo magna kari ? eto prema-kathā
rādhikāra citta-dīrna tīvra byakulatā
curi kari laiẏācho, kāra mukha, kāra
āɱkhi hate ? āja tāra nāhi adhikāra
se saṅgīte ! tāri nārī-hṛdaẏa-sañcita
tāra bhāṣā hate tāre karibe bañcita
cira-dina ! 
 
Tell me the truth, O Vaishnava poet!
Where did you get this picture of prema?
Where did you learn this love song
of pain in separation? Gazing into whose orbs
made you think of Radha's tear-filled eyes?
In what lonely springtime night, on what trysting bed,
who bound you in her arms and immersed you
in the bottomless depths of your ocean-like heart?
From whose face, whose eyes, did you steal
all these love stories, this tale
of Radhika's powerful, heart-tearing ardor?
And now, today, she no longer has any claim
over this song! You have cheated her of the very words
you collected from her womanly heart."
I find this poem very powerful. It intimates that the stories of Radha and Krishna's love have been collected from human experience and then, once given divine status, separated from human experience. The woman is cheated by the man who sees in her love a reflection of something divine and then, in his transcendent mythopoeic dance, refuses to acknowledge where he found it. Thus the theologians say that love is of that world and it is just a mistake to think that it can be found in this one.

Chakravarti objects to the Rabindranath's idea that anyone is cheated (bañcita) of Radha-Krishna katha, everyone has the same rights, he says. But I think he misses the point. If we do not acknowledge the relationship between the rūpa and the svarūpa then we are indeed cheating people. We are saying that human love is non-existent and that only love of God has any reality. This is a recipe for disaster. It results in false human relationships and a false relationship with God.

Chakravarti then goes on to argue that it is not possible to argue that the picture of Radha's love has been picked out of human experience. He asks, "Is there any picture that is comparable in world literature?" He seems to ask it rhetorically, but it is worth asking.

Certainly, for us who have been moved by Radharani's image, who have fallen in love with her love for Krishna, like Mahaprabhu, who seek to melt into her existence, to love her and to feel her love for her Beloved, who feel her presence in all things, her reflection everywhere, who feel overpowered by her to the point of forgetting even that Krishna has any importance at all, it seems like a ludicrous question. The divine precedes the mundane. That is the only possible position to take.

The fact that we see the divine reflection in the world does not mean that the divine is an illusion produced by feverish minds dissatisfied with the limitations of the mundane. Does this mean that, as Rabindranath has it, the Vaishnava poet did not see Radharani's existence flashing behind the eyes of his beloved? Did he not extrapolate from the limited beauties of this existence to enter into the unlimited beauties of Goloka? Is this not what the theological exercise is all about anyway?

lokātītam ajāṇḍa-koṭigam api traikālikaṁ yat sukhaṁ
duḥkhaṁ ceti pṛthag yadi sphuṭam ubhe te gacchataḥ kūṭatām
naivābhāsa-tulāṁ śive tad api tat kūṭa-dvayaṁ rādhikā-
premodyat-sukha-duḥkha-sindhu-bhavayor vindeta bindvor api
Shiva said to Parvati, "Should we take all the most extraordinary experience of happiness found in the unlimited universes, through past present and future, and gather it together to make a huge mountain of happiness, and if we were to equally take all the misery and do the same, it would still not attain even the likeness of a shadow in comparison to the ocean of joy and suffering experienced by Radha in her love for Krishna; those two great mountains would sink into it like mere pebbles into the sea." (UN 14.171)
Indeed, I think this is Chakravarti's point. There is materialistic humanism and there is theistic humanism. Not unexpectedly, he quotes Chandidas's words, sarvopari manushya sattva, tar upari nai, seen so often in Bengali writings on Vaishnavism, which emphasize the humanistic basis of bhakti. There is no point in saying that Radha's love is in a different category from the loves of this world. We can make distinctions on the basis of quality and of quantity, but the fact is that we are talking about the same thing. And unless we accept the possibility of love in this world, we are writing off human existence and all hope of human evolution.

Nor is there any in writing it off as nothing more than a tool for "evolution" (that great God substitute) to engage in species propagation. But that is another matter...

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

*Bengal Vaisnavism and Sri Chaitanya (1975). Reprinted by The Asiatic Society, 2000, xvi, 96 p., $11 (pbk). ISBN 81-7236-097-5). See Vedams website.

*Sri Radha tattva o Sri Chaitanya Samskriti = "Radha tattva and Chaitanya culture", Calcutta University, 1997.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The New Paradigm

More material from Australian Radio. I keep discovering stuff there. I will just make a short comment here: New Dimensions : Spiritual Teachers, from disillusionment to enlightenment.

O ye who are confused about Guru Tattva, come and hear about the "new paradigm" and apply it to the Krishna consciousness movement!! Every word is enlightening. Why is there so much wisdom outside of KC?

... No really, I mean it. Listen to this program.

... Yes, I mean you.

Rasa-pushtim


vibhur api sukha-rūpaḥ sva-prakāśo'pi bhāvaḥ
kṣaṇam api rādhā-kṛṣṇayor yā ṛte svāḥ
pravahati rasa-puṣṭiṁ cid-vibhūtīr iveśaḥ
śrayati na padam āsāṁ kaḥ sakhīnāṁ rasajñaḥ

This verse has been of interest to me for some time. It is quoted in the Ramananda-samvada as a glorification of the necessity of taking shelter of the sakhis. Generally, the GLA does not make philosophical or theological statements, as it is a lila grantha. Here, however is a statement about rasa-tattva and lila-tattva that is quite unique.

Without the sakhis, Radha and Krishna's bhava, even though it is all-pervading, full of joy and self-luminous (sat, ananda, cit), does not fulfill its potential as rasa without them. And, as an example, Krishnadas says that similarly the Supreme Lord (Narayan) does not attain rasa-puṣṭi without his cid-vibhuti, or spiritual opulences.

If we follow strictly the metaphorical structure of the verse, Radha and Krishna's bhava is being compared to God, the sakhis to His spiritual energies. What is missing in the equation is what is God developing into.

Thus:
rādhā-kṛṣṇayor bhāvaḥ
īśaḥ
yāḥ (sakhīḥ) vinā
cid-vibhūtīḥ (vinā)
rasa-puṣṭiṁ nahi pravahati
?

The commentary puts pravahati rasa-pushtim in the corresponding spot, and indeed we really have no choice. [Even though Saraswati Thakur glosses nitya-nija-cid-aiśvaryādikam.] So Narayan does not achieve "rasa-pushti" without the development of his spiritual energies, in spite of being vibhu (all-pervading), sva-prakāśa (self-luminous) and sukha-rūpa (full of joy). This is evidently a familiar concept in our theology. It is, in fact, a distinct feature of Hindu theology in general and that of the Gaudiyas in particular. God does not exist alone, but with his energies, just like the Sun is incomprehensible, non-existent, without heat and light.

The interesting feature is the use of the rasa-śāstra term, rasa-puṣṭi. Janardan Chakravarti talks about the rasa-śāstra as being a fourth prasthāna, along with śruti, smriti and nyāya. He also talks about upamāna, or analogy, as the fourth pramāna, along with pratyaksa, anumāna and śabda. Despite the limitations of metaphor, analogical thinking certainly helps us to understand; indeed, even with their limitations, metaphor, analogy, allegory, or myth help us to understand the nature of the Divine.

Raso vai sah. The Supreme Lord is rasa, and the individual soul becomes joyful on tasting that rasa, on immersing herself in that ocean. This verse implies that in order for God Himself to realize Himself, there must be someone to appreciate Him, someone to taste the rasa. This is of course incomprehensible to those who make a great deal out of terms like ātmārāma and āptakāma. It is only comprehensible if we accept that God's energies are not separate from his very being.

However, Krishnadas here takes it further. He uses this as an example, whereas we are usually accustomed to hearing analogies made for the second half of the equation (cid-vibhūtīr iveśaḥ). But here, the sakhis are compared to the energies that are needed to complete the bhāva, to bring it to fruition (rasa-pushti). They are thus understood to be part and parcel of the bhāva, not different from it. This is interesting from several points of view.

First of all, the sthāyi-bhāva is usually considered the principal ingredient that is transformed into rasa by the addition of the other ingredients. But the implication of this verse is that there has to be someone to experience it in order for it to be turned into rasa. Indeed, the entire concept of rasa is only fully comprehensible through the idea of audience.

Krishnadas's own translation in the CC confirms this, at least in part:

sakhī vinā ei līlāra puṣṭi nāhi hoy
sakhī līlā vistāriyā sakhī āsvādaya
sakhī vinu ei līlāra nāhi anyera gati
sakhī bhāve tānre jei kare anugati
rādhā kṛṣṇa kuñja sevā sādhya sei pāy
sei sādhya pāite āre nāhiko upāya

Without the sakhis, this lila cannot find nourishment. The sakhis expand these pastimes and then relish them. No one but the sakhis can enter this lila. Anyone who follows them by accepting their mood will attain service to Radha and Krishna in the intimacy of the kunja, which is the ultimate goal of devotional practice. There is no other way to obtain this end result. (CC 2.8.203-205)

The verse that follows in the Govinda-lilamrita also sheds a little light on Kaviraj Goswami's intentions:

rādhā kāñcana-vallī
phullā kṛṣṇas tu phulla-tāpiñchaḥ
anayoḥ saṅgama-lakṣmīḥ
sukhayati nahi kaṁ sa-cetanaṁ lokam
Radha is a flowering golden creeper; Krishna is a blossoming tamal tree. To what conscious entity in this world would the beautiful union of these two not bring joy? (11.18)
So whether you prefer Vrishabhanu-nandini (rādhā-snehādhikā) or Nanda-nandana (kṛṣṇa-snehādhikā), the object of love for devotees is Radha and Krishna, by which we mean their bhava, or love. And even though this love is full in the divine attributes of existence, consciousness and bliss, it needs the presence of an audience, the sakhis, participant observers--you--in order to expand.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Waves of Devotion by Dhanurdhara Swami

This is an old article from Gaudiya Discussions. The original date of writing appears to be somewhere around 2004. I posted it here in 2015, but am backdating it to an earlier time.

 
Waves of Devotion by Dhanurdhara Swami (Bhagavat Books, 2000)

About a year or so ago, I was sent a copy of Dhanurdhara Swami’s book Waves of Devotion and asked to review it. I held back for reasons that will be clear, but I think it is time for me to say what I think.

The first impression is good. The book has a nice cover with a picture of Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis on it, is printed on good quality paper and the text is nicely laid out.


Waves of Devotion is meant to be a companion volume to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s Nectar of Devotion, which most devotees know is his translation of Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. Dhanurdhara Maharaj takes pains in his introduction to defend himself against any possibility of criticism that he has tried to supersede the acharya: “Everything is in Prabhupada’s books, which are complete in and of themselves... However due to our own deficiencies in devotion and scholarship, we sometimes have difficulty understanding them deeply.” He thus defines his own attempt as simply trying to understand his spiritual master’s work more deeply by setting it in the context of a more profound understanding of Vaishnava philosophy.

Dhanurdhara Maharaja recognizes that there may be mistakes in the NOD, but stresses that these were the result of the early editors’ misunderstandings. He compares the situation to that of the Bhagavad Gita, which as we know has undergone many controversial changes as a result of an examination of the original tapes and transcripts, which were found to differ considerable in both language and spirit from the published edition, sometimes with not inconsiderable philosophical consequences. Maharaja laments that the original tapes and transcripts of the Nectar of Devotion made by Srila Prabhupada were never found, but that he did use the original Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and its commentaries to augment his interpretation and understanding of NOD, and that this book is the fruit of his efforts. By making such comparisons, he was able to discover many clear mistakes, often resulting from transcriptional errors.

This effort to more deeply understand the Gaudiya Vaishnava legacy Srila Prabhupada was attempting to represent is laudable. It forms what might be considered only the beginning of a great project of critically examining Srila Prabhupada's corpus of writings.

Satyaraj Dasji gives an example in his foreword of one error the Maharaja has taken pains to point out. It is the confusion surrounding the terms rāgānugā and rāgātmikā, which has caused those of us in the rāgānugā line no end of hair-tearing frustration in discussions with devoted Iskconites. Satyaraja writes:
Among the most serious of these faux pas involves the words rāgānugā and rāgātmikā, which the Swami discusses in Chapter Fifteen of this book. Reading The Nectar of Devotion, one might conclude that rāgānugā is a state of perfection wherein one is spontaneously absorbed in love of God. However, Dhanurdhara Swami points out that this definition is more appropriately applied to rāgātmikā -- a term that is reserved for the eternally free associates of Krishna in the spiritually world. rāgānugā, on the other hand, is a form of devotional practice (sadhana) and is not a state of perfection. True, one practicing rāgānugā “follows in the wake” of the rāgātmikā devotees of the celestial kingdom, but they are practitioners, not perfected beings. It is also true that to follow such rāgātmikā devotees, one has to be extremely advanced.

This confusion in terminology had consequences in the community of Vaishnavas. Sincere devotees interested in rāgānugā bhakti (though not practicing it) were often branded Sahajiyas (imitationists) because it was thought that they were identifying themselves with liberated beings. (page iv)
Other positive features of Waves of Devotion are the concordance the author gives to the original Sanskrit text (which could nevertheless have been done in even greater detail), and the specifying of Sanskrit terms where none have been given in NOD. All this makes it easier to find what in NOD is supposed to be a translation of what in BRS.

Perhaps Dhanurdhar Swami's most valuable contribution is in the numerous charts that pictorially represent the various categories under discussion, along with their divisions and subdivisions, thus making it easier to quickly grasp the structure of the composition.

Nevertheless, I believe that Dhanurdhara’s work is nothing more than a very ginger step at both rectifying the mistakes found in the NOD and in reaching a deeper understanding of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. Even though we acknowledge that the editorial problems outlined by Dhanurdhara Swami are doubtless one of the causes of erroneous understanding entering NOD, a closer examination of the book and comparisons to the original BRS quickly reveal that the problems with this work are much more extensive.

It is my belief that Srila Prabhupada undertook the work of present the Nectar of Devotion primarily out of an interest in the first section, which outlines the principles of sādhanā-bhakti. At the same time, he wanted to give his disciples some glimpses of the rasas of pure devotional life, as he had also done in The Krishna Book. But it is clear that these later portions of the Nectar of Devotion are seriously deficient, and appear to have been done hurriedly without a great deal of reflection or scholarship. The reader is left at best with a number of vignettes of Krishna’s pastimes, but only a partial insight into Rupa Goswami's seminal contribution to Gaudiya Vaishnava understanding of the Divine.

Dhanurdhara Maharaja, with only a superficial knowledge of Sanskrit and Bengali, seems to have been entirely unequipped to discover these errors or to rectify them. Indeed, it seems that the Swami has not really approached the NOD critically at all.

There are principally three kinds of errors in the Nectar of Devotion:
  1. Omissions. Srila Prabhupada does not always translate the kārikās (the verses that define terms or make specific philosophical points), and even when he does, often does not seem to make any attempt to understand the substantial points that are being made therein. He has also omitted many of the examples.
  2. Incorrect translations of both kārikās and example verses.
  3. Incorrect explanations of examples.
I could present many samples of these. One taken more or less at random is the following (2.4.155-156) describing the twenty-seventh vyabhicāri-bhāva, augryam, which Prabhupada translates as “violence” in Nectar of Devotion, chapter 30. First of all, the translation “violence” itself does violence to the meaning. Violence is not an emotion or an attitude, and augryam is better translated as “fierceness, ferociousness.”

(1) Omission. Non-translation of a kārikā:

aparādha-durukty-ādi- jātaṁ caṇḍatvam ugratā |
vadha-bandha-śiraḥ-kampa-bhartsanottāḍanādi-kṛt ||

The kārikā has not been translated at all, despite not being a particularly difficult challenge. Its absence is damaging because it serves an important purpose in preserving the work’s overall structure for the reader, keeping him or her oriented. The kārikā here, as with all the other ones describing the vyabhicāris includes (1) the causes or particular situations that give rise to this emotional response; (2) a definition or synonym, in this case caNDatvam, and (3) associated moods and activities (anubhāvas). The examples that follow will be based on the causes of the particular vyabhicāri and the commentaries will usually point out the anubhāva.

In this particular case Dhanurdhara has helped only by offering “ferocity” as a supplementary definition for augryam, but without critically commenting on "violence" (p.209).

(2) Incorrect translation:

sphurati mayi bhujaṅgī-garbha-viśraṁsi-kīrtau
viracayati mad-īśe kilbiṣaṁ kāliyo'pi |
huta-bhuji bata kuryāṁ jāṭhare vauṣaḍ enaṁ
sapadi danuja-hantuḥ kintu roṣād bibhemi ||

Prabhupada’s translation:
“When Krishna was fighting with the Kaliya snake by dancing on his heads, Kaliya bit Krishna on the leg. At that time Garuda became infuriated and began to murmur, “(i) Krishna is so powerful that simply by His thundering voice (ii) the wives of Kaliya have had miscarriages. (iii) Because my Lord has been insulted by this snake, (iv) I wish to devour him immediately, but I cannot do so in the presence of my Lord, because He may become angry with me.”
This is not, in fact, a translation at all, but a kind of general summary, that not only contains errors, but glosses over certain particularities of the verse, particularly in the third line (iv).
Garuda says: "(i) My reputation is such that simply hearing of me causes (ii) female snakes to miscarry, (iii) yet here in my presence this Kaliya does violence to my Lord. (iv) I would offer this serpent to the sacrificial fire of my belly, but I fear Krishna's anger, for he is the killer of demons."
A comparison of these two translations will quickly show that the first one is misleading in places. One may think it is not particularly important, but as a scholar of Sanskrit, I personally find it quite disturbing--a translation is supposed to faithfully represent the original.

Nevertheless, had this been the only such example, it would perhaps be forgivable, but such instances are repeated over and over again. The cumulative affect of such errors vitiates the overall value of the document.

(3) Incorrect explanations.

Prabhupada explains the above verse as being “an instance of eagerness to act in ecstatic love as a result of dishonor to Krishna,” though this is clearly an example of augryam. There is no mention of “violence” here, nor has Dhanurdhara deemed it necessary to rectify this rather obvious error. We are left with an almost total incomprehension of what Rupa Goswami intended.

In fact Dhanurdhara confines his comments on NOD chapters 29-31, which covers BRS 2.4 on vyabhicāri-bhāvas to a few short pages.

Another random search shows that verse 2.4.97 has been given in NOD as an example of moha rather than mriti; verses 2.4.101-104 seem to have been dropped entirely; 2.4.105 is hopelessly disconnected from the meaning of the original; and in 2.4.106 śrama is defined as “a dislike of excessive labor”!

One may rightly conclude that if these relatively simple matters are rife with error, then what of the more serious philosophical issues, the building blocks of Rupa’s rasa theory, for instance? Let us take a look at the concluding verses of the southern wave of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu

vyatītya bhāvanā-vartma
yaś camatkāra-bhāra-bhūḥ |
hṛdi sattvojjvale bāḍhaṁ
svadate sa raso mataḥ ||
Rasa is the taste, filled with a weighty sense of wonderment, that is relished in the heart effulgent with pure being (sattva), by one who has transcended the path of thought. (BRS 2.5.132)
This verse cannot really be separated from the one that follows it, as Jiva and the other commentators specify that the two verses are meant to clarify the distinction between bhāva (or rati) and rasa, the relationship between which is essential to the understanding of either one.

bhāvanāyāḥ pade yas tu
budhenānanya-buddhinā
bhāvyate gāḍha-saṁskāraiś
citte bhāvaḥ sa kathyate
Bhāva is that which exists in the realm of thought ( bhāvanāyāḥ pade) and is dwelt upon in the mind of the intelligent person, whose intelligence is exclusively fixed [on this goal], and [is made possible] through a set of deep conditionings.(BRS 2.5.133)
Jiva Goswami clarifies this distinction by comparing it to that of dhyāna (bhāva) and samādhi (rasa). Jiva specifies here that sattva in the first verse is the cause of bhāva, refering to BRS 1.3.1 ( śuddha-sattva-viśeṣātmā ). According to Mukunda, bhāva is the main cause of rasa, and deep conditioning ( gāḍha-saṁskāra ) is the cause of bhāva.

Vishwanath says: “Through the combination of the various ingredients, one first encounters bhäva (bhāva-sākṣātkāra), this develops into the actual appropriation of the bhāva (bhāva-svarUpa). This in turn, with the conjunction of the various ingredients, results in the encounter with rasa (rasa-sākṣātkāra). These two verses clarify the distinction between rati and rasa. When one goes beyond reflecting on the various ingredients of rasa, the vibhāvas, etc., and simply relishes them, that is called rasa. Such rasa is described as camatkāra-bhāra-bhūḥ , meaning that it produces a type of wondrousness that is not found in mere reflection. So bhāva is experienced on the mental platform, when one reflects on the various ingredients. On the level of the encounter with rasa (rasa-sākṣātkāra), one does not experience the various ingredients independently of one another. This means that the encounter with bhāva (bhāva-sākṣātkāra) is less profound than that with rasa (rasa-sākṣātkāra)."

Though these commentaries show that there is clearly a great deal to digest here, Srila Prabhupada has summarized these verses with the following brief words: “When one transcends the status of ecstatic love and becomes situated on the platform of pure goodness, one is understood to have cleansed the heart of all material contamination. In that pure stage of life, one can taste this nectar, and this tasting capacity is technically called rasa, or transcendental mood.” (NOD, p. 281).

“Transcends the status of ecstatic love” is frankly a disastrous mistranslation of vyatītya bhāvanā-vartma. Dhanurdhara has unfortunately not been able to shine any light on this, merely prefacing Prabhupada’s translation with the anodyne comment: “Only in bhāva-bhakti can one actually relish rasa.”

I am sure that Waves of Devotion will be of help to the ordinary Iskcon devotee. Dhanurdhara Swami has tried to do something about some of the problems encountered in reading NOD, but has not, in my opinion, gone nearly far enough. He has certainly ameliorated the situation in some respects, but is handicapped by two distinct disadvantages: a lack of knowledge of Sanskrit and the rasa-shastra tradition in which Rupa Goswami is coming, and by an unwillingness to challenge Srila Prabhupada's treatment of Rupa's text.

In the first of these, he is not alone, as it seems that despite rasa being the cornerstone of Rupa Goswami’s understanding of the Vaishnava experience, not many in the Gaudiya Math tradition have made a serious attempt to understand what it means or how it works. In the latter, he reveals one of Iskcon's principal weaknesses. Idolatry of the guru leads to intellectual ossification. If the guru has opened the door to Rupa Goswami, will he then stand in the doorway and prevent you from going through? Let us not be afraid of exploring Rupa Goswami in depth, without being prevented by a fear of contradicting Srila Prabhupada's interpretation, or by the obligation to accept even his mistaken translations or understandings as divine inspiration.


Dhanurdhara Maharaj's response to my review:


Thank you for sending me Jagadananda's book review of Waves of Devotion. Yes, I am not a scholar and any attempt I make in that field will be rife with deficiencies. I'm satisfied, however, that I made The NOD and BRS much more accessible and that it serves the spirit of Srila Rupa Goswami's mission. In the introduction I call for a scholarly word-for-word translation, acknowledge that Srila Prabhupada's objectives for NOD were in a sense minimal, and offer Waves as a humble attempt to broaden devotees understanding of the subject. I admit Srila Prabhupada deliberately omitted tens of verse. I wonder if Jagadananda actually read my book. That he couldn't appreciate it for what it admittedly was and perhaps even acknowledge its clarity of presentation on the basic tenets of the subject just gives the impression that he was looking for an excuse to express a pet peeve, perhaps Srila Prabhupada's and ISKCON's apparent lack of scholarship.

Frankly I'm surprised as a scholar that he missed the difficulty of my task, to augment one of Srila Prabhupada's main texts for the ISKCON audience, which includes a substantial right-wing.

I'm also surprised that he missed in the intro my explanation of Srila Prabhupada's objective in writing NOD which makes it quite unfair to nit-pick his scholarship: "The Nectar of Devotion is specifically presented for persons who are now engaged in the Krishna conscious movement."

Yes, I hestitate to lambaste Srila Prabhupada's work. It's not that I am just his disciple, but I am a Vaishnava who feels forced to acknowledge Srila Prabhupada's empowerment by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I thus deal with him carefully. Who am I? Is that "intellectual ossification" or the spirit of our guru varg?

Let's see what Sri Narada says:

"On the other hand, that literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world's misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest."
I suggest that instead of his narrow academic approach that lacks reasonable generosity Jagadananda take note of Srila Prabhupada's spirit as cited in the purport to this text:
"Our presenting this matter in adequate language, especially a foreign language, will certainly fail, and there will be so many literary discrepancies despite our honest attempt to present it in the proper way. But we are sure that with all our faults in this connection the seriousness of the subject matter will be taken into consideration, and the leaders of society will still accept this due to its being an honest attempt to glorify the Almighty God."
It’s ironic. I oppose anti-intellectualism in ISKCON. But which is worse, that or dry scholarship with an agenda?

Dhanurdhara Swami

Musings on Truth and Love

The other day I heard Andrew Keen talking about his book The Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is killing our culture. His idea is that by democratizing the internet, the distinction between uninformed voices, or amateurs, and experts, or professionals, is blurred. With the ascendancy of "free" information on the Internet, true professionals are gradually being marginalized and unable to make a living at providing expert knowledge or authoritative interpretations of the world around us. According to Keen, this is a loss for everyone who seeks to make an informed decision about anything, from politics to religion.

His definition of "amateur" was rather wide: It means anyone who cannot make a living through his area of expertise. As such, I qualify, to my shame. I pontificate here on the internet, and yet I am unable to establish myself as a genuine authority in devotional service, as a "religious professional" as I like to put it. I may be a particularly learned amateur, but an amateur nevertheless.

I am not going to argue the definition, despite the distaste I have for this way our capitalistic world has of attributing value or worth; it is something we are forced to accept as a reality. Nevertheless, it may be said, at least where knowledge is concerned, that a commitment to truth combined with indifference to worldly success or failure are the true signs of the professional.

Prabhupada often criticized the Vedanta Societies founded by Vivekananda for being little more than a talking shop, a place for "armchair" philosophers. This is a disease that infects everyone, but most of all intellectuals--namely to see ideas as something that exist on their own without implications for moral action. In fact, every idea carries within it an imperative to act in a certain way. If one acts counter to the imperatives that one espouses, then one is called a hypocrite.

There are two ways that can happen: One is that one intellectually arrives at a conclusion and does not act upon it. The other is that, for whatever reason, one espouses a conclusion that one does not believe in. A rational person will perhaps recognize that something is true, but due to moral weakness is incapable of following through. This may lead to losing faith in reason itself and then turn into the moral cynicism of the latter type of hypocrisy.

In fact, the entire spiritual endeavor can be seen as an exercise in truth. This is nicely expressed in the following verse from the Bhagavatam, from the prayers of the gods to Krishna while he is in Devaki's womb. Because this verse is free of any direct sectarian language, it has a popularity in Hinduism that goes well beyond Vaishnavism.

satya-vrataṁ satya-paraṁ tri-satyaṁ
satyasya yoniṁ nihitaṁ ca satye
satyasya satyaṁ ṛta-satya-netraṁ
satyātmakaṁ tvāṁ śaraṇaṁ prapannāḥ
We take shelter of you,
whose essence is truth:
You, who are true to your vow,
who value the truth above all,
who are truth in past, present and future;
You who are the womb of truth,
who are hidden in all truth,
who are the truth of truth;
You who are the eye of the truth
of the cosmic law. (10.2.26)
Satya-vrata –Krishna is one who keeps his promises. The devatas are saying this because they recognize that Krishna is keeping his promise to Brahma and Bhumi in coming to save the world from the wicked and to reestablish dharma. But it also shows how keeping promises is an important value.

Therefore, the ancients told us that truth has a power. etena saccena suvatthi hotu “By this truth, may there be happiness! By this truth, may there be peace! By this truth, may there be well-being.” (Ratana-sutta 2.1) Or this verse from the Devahuti-stava in Padma Purana, quoted in HBV 4.358:

bhaktir yathā harau me’sti
tadvan niṣṭhā gurau yadi
mamāsti tena satyena
svaṁ darśayatu me hariḥ
If my commitment to my guru is as strong as my devotion for Lord Hari, then may this truth cause Lord Hari to reveal himself to me.
What I like about this verse is the belief in the power of truth on the one hand, and the conviction that the statement is true on the other. What I liked about it also was that it is Devahuti, a woman, who says this. This is, according to the Puranas, a particularly female power. It is the power of the weak. It's the kind of power that the pativratā-śiromaṇi has:
The wife of a Brahmin suffering from leprosy proved to be the most chaste of all women by serving a prostitute in order to please her husband. She thus stopped the movement of the sun, brought her dead husband back to life and satisfied the three principal gods--Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. (CC 3.20)
A belief in the power of truth is what was behind Gandhi's satyāgraha ("holding fast to the truth"). His approach to non-violent action was also often said to be particularly feminine in nature. The Gandhian idea, sometimes expressed in the West by the phrase "speaking truth to power," played a significant role in the protests against segregation, the Vietnam war and is now making something of a comeback with this horrendous mess in Iraq. Satyam eva jayate: Only truth will be victorious. Iraq is a case of liars leading the liars into the ditch.

Satya-param. Krishna is “devoted to the truth,” one who values the truth above everything. Generally speaking, in life we are engaged in a long compromise with the truth. Indeed, not to do so is a rare thing.

I am reminded of this in relation to a comment recently made by Tripurari Maharaj and posted on the Sampradaya Sun. He is no doubt stating the obvious when he says "Krishna consciousness is bigger than Iskcon." One could be a lot blunter than that: The same dynamic of protecting child abusers, not following supposed standards, etc., go to show that the institutional dynamic Saraswati Thakur warned against is alive and well. Loyalty to an organization, a group that represents extended ego identification, can trump truth, ethics, morality and just about anything else.

Nothing is more compromising of truth than sexuality. This is why, in the Bhagavata, Kapila tells Devahuti that satyam is the first quality to go when one is unchaste, purity being the second. The two are no doubt related. I wrote to someone recently:
It would have been better to express my appreciation for your level-headed attitude to social circumstances in the West and the need for Gaudiya Vaishnavism to rationalize its way of dealing with these matters, even if the sannyasa-hierarchical model is kept in place. X in theory accepts this model and preaches it, but in practice abuses it. I am against the hypocrisy involved, just as I am against the hypocrisy of rehabilitating Y because he was "so dear to Prabhupada." In either case, I am not in principle opposed so much to the behavior involved as to the "don't ask, don"t tell" policy that puts the public teaching and private practice at odds. What makes it worse is that the hypocrisy ultimately undermines the teaching itself--it makes one return to fundamental questions about not just sādhana, but about the sādhya, and the relationship between the two.
Kant said, "By a lie a person throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a person." And if one is not true to oneself, how can he possibly be true to anyone else, no matter how fancy his philosophy?

Tri-satyam. Commentators explain the "three" here in different ways. In our tradition, it usually interpreted as “before, during and after creation.” “He who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.” This is the idea of truth as something immutable. It is the Vedantic tradition of identifying truth with being itself. Untruth is somehow a violation of being. Sad eva saumya idam agra āsīt: "Verily, Saumya, there was being even before all this creation came into being." nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ: "There is no becoming without being, and no being without becoming."

There is an interesting lecture available on-line by Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, on The Crisis of Truth Telling in Our Society. His main point can be summarized in the Thomian idea that the world is fundamentally true. He states this as follows:
Let us begin at the beginning, creation. For St Thomas Aquinas, the doctrine of creation does not tell us about what happened long ago, before the Big Bang. It is our belief that everything now receives its existence from God and this is why we can understand it. It is God's world and we are at home in it as God's creatures. It is not an alien and incomprehensible place. The central intuition of Aquinas was that, in the words of Cornelius Ernst, the world "effortlessly shows itself for what it is, flowers into the light." [8] Of course sometimes we make mistakes and misunderstand. We may tell lies and wear masks. But the truth is prior to error and deceit. As fish were made to swim in water, human beings were made to thrive in the truth.

It would be easy to dismiss Thomas as just naïve. He never looked down a microscope and was astonished at what he saw. But that would not be fair. He spent his life arguing with people who believed that the world was not as it seemed. The Dominican Order was born in the clash between Christianity and the Cathars who thought that the material world was created by an evil principle. But for Thomas our openness to truth is grounded in faith. Everything is the fruit of God's word, and so is ultimately intelligible. We are attuned to the world, because the one who made the world made us and made us so that we might understand.

This is utterly different from the vision of Descartes, where the mind is 'the ghost in the machine', struggling to get in contact with reality. For the Enlightenment the big challenge was how we can be sure of anything. How can we get from our minds to the world? How can we know that reality is not entirely different from what we think we see? Can we even be sure that it really exists? So we start with doubt and mistrust.
Who, on reading this passage, would not be reminded of the eternal debate between the Vaishnava and Shankaraite schools?

So from Truth we have our existence, in Truth we subsist, and in the end, we shall be absorbed in Truth. So why take shelter in falsehood rather than truth?

Satyasya yonim. Krishna is the "womb of truth." The point here is that there are other things that are true. Those who say the world is false are usually talking about a perspective that is false. But I want to take it one step further.

The other day someone was saying that all love but love of God is false. The entire purpose of this essay is, despite its meandering character, to equate truth and love. God is not just being, but being, consciousness and love. Without love there is no joy; to love God is to be joyful. Even loving God in separation is joyful.

Nihitaṁ ca satye. Krishna is hidden inside the truth. The word nihitam is found in the famous verse:

tarko'pratiṣṭhaḥ śrutayo vibhinnā
nāsau munir yasya matir na bhinnā
dharmasya tattvam nihitaṁ guhāyām
mahajano yena gataḥ sa panthaḥ.

This is found in the Upanishads as well: ātmāsya jantor nihito guhāyām, etc. The implication is not that the truth is hidden, but that we should look in the direction of truth to find God. As Fr. Radcliffe stated above, the empirical search for truth, which starts with doubt and never really believes we can pass beyond doubt, might lead us to accept trivialities as a substitute for the real truth of being, of living, and thus deny us what is really true.

But the truths of meaning, the truths of intuition, the truths of love, the truths that we encounter in the midst of this Maya, these truths that we know are a shadow of the greater truth that is God, are signposts that lead us to Him. That is to say, since Krishna is the womb of truth, we can understand that he is hidden wherever truth can be found, and to some extent is revealed to us in all these partial truths.

What the revelation of God's form as Radha and Krishna tells us, over and over again, is that Krishna is found in love. Not just the platonic love that seems so sattvic and peaceful, but in erotic love as well. The objections are thick and plentiful, but this is how I interpret the words kāmo'smi bharatarṣabha. We deny the overpowering effects of love as the work of Maya, when Krishna says he is Kama and in that form is overwhelming the three worlds, līlāyitena bhuvanāni jayaty ajasram. The trouble is, we don't look for Him hidden in this truth, and so we are blinded and misled. We disrespect this power and are swamped by it. The truth is sacred and must be treated as such.

Satyasya satyaṁ. Krishna is the truth of truth. This is related to Krishna's being the womb of truth, in the sense that what is true in truth comes from Him.

As Gandhi said, life a series of experiments with truth. Sometimes we think that we are doing the experimenting when it is we who are being experimented with. I once said that I was conducting an experiment with love and I was told that I was wrong, Love was experimenting with me. That means: Love tests us, just as Truth tests us. The path of Truth has to be the path of Love. What is humanity without love? And like truth, love insists on action. We may resist, but like Truth, Love is a persistent caller.

We generally speak of faith in relation to Truth, but how much more necessary is faith in relation to love! Christ said, "If you cannot love your neighbor whom you can see, how will you love God whom you cannot see?" The point is that God comes to us as Truth, Insight and Love, and challenges us to respond. He says, "This is the way."

ṛta-satya-netraṁ: This last characteristic (satyātmakam is the generic predicate that encompasses all the others) is sometimes cut in two. Rta is treated as a vocative, "O Truth! You are the eye (netram) of truth." The word netra is treated in its etymological root (from ) sense as "leader", i.e., "You lead us to truth." This is nice in a prayer. It could similarly mean, "You are our eyes to see truth." The word ṛta, which is also a word for truth, has a Vedic meaning that is less often used in the Puranas, which is "the cosmic law." In a way, ṛta becomes dharma as in the Dharma-kaya of the Buddha. As such, the compound word could be interpreted as "the eye by which we see the truth of the cosmic law." This is recognizably the meaning of the Gayatri Mantra.

Certain aspects of the cosmic law are, of course, inevitable and obvious. The passage of time and death being the clearest example. But in some ways, the cosmic law is a layered onion whereby the relative truths must be folded away in order to find the pure sac-cid-ānanda that lies at its core. All Gāyatri mantras say "Illuminate my intelligence so that I can recognize the truth." asato mā sad gamaya: "Lead me not into darkness, but into light." And following up takes strength: nāyam ātmā bala-hīnena labhyaḥ.

From the beginning of this blog I have admitted that I am saying one thing and not following it completely. In fact I am torn between a world of convention and a world of complete dedication to Radha and Krishna's lotus feet. I feel something like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who was caught chanting “gopi gopi” by his students and insulted by them. Sannyāsa was the leap of faith that would make him recognizable as a religious professional and legitimized his authority.

Acts of spontaneous kindness

I often wonder why I am here. In this place of work, I mean. After all, I reason, I am still here, and it is surely not the money! Well, OK, you have to live, but this was never a planned stop on the railway of my life.

I haven't found any grand, cosmic answers to my question, but there are a couple of small things going on. One of the sales representatives here has the romantic name of Bruno Santaguida, the "holy guide." A great name for a guru, I would think. What's in a name, you might ask. In Bruno's case, there definitely seems to be a meaningful connection.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Comedy and Tragedy

As usual, these days, I memorize and meditate on verses by the acharyas as I bicycle into work or engage in other tasks that require only a minimal supply of mental energy.

One verse today was the following from Padyavali (205), which is also quoted in Ujjvala-nilamani (1.18).

sanketi-krita-kokilädi-ninadam kamsa-dvishah kurvato
dväronmocana-lola-shankha-valaya-kvänam muhuh shrinvatah
keyam keyam iti pragalbha-jarati-väkyena dünätmano
rädhä-prängana-kona-koli-vitapi-krode gatä sharvari

In three steps, we get a progressive picture of Krishna: He is imitating cuckoo sounds to signal his presence. To whom? To Radha, who gets out of bed and tiptoes to the door, but as soon as she starts to unlatch the bolt, her conch-ivory bracelets tinkle. Krishna hears this sound in great expectation, but then he hears another: Jatila, Radha's wizened mother-in-law, guarding the chastity of her bouma, wakes up and calls out, "Who's there? Who's there?" And Krishna's heart immediately sinks. We are led to believe that this happens more than once, for Krishna passes the night there in Radha's back yard, hiding in the hollow of a large tree that stands in one of its corners.

There are not a great many extant verses attributed to Umapati Dhar, who is mentioned by Jayadeva in somewhat derogatory terms. However, it seems to me that Umapati has been more radical than even Jayadeva in his humanizing of the Deity, especially in this concept of the upapati, or paramour. In another verse, he writes about Krishna in Dvaraka, making love to Rukmini when he is suddenly overpowered by the thought of Srimati Radharani (Padyavali 371, UN 14.184). It is as though her love is coming and smacking him in the head while he goes on with whatever that Dvaraka business is all about. "Make your mind and Vrindavan one," says Radha's love! (mane vane eka kari mano)

I have written before about the implications of such a concept of God, but it's an important enough theme to return to repeatedly, as everything kind of hinges on it. The Christians humanized their God by making him susceptible to suffering and death, which contradiction or mystery is the very mystical center of their faith. The Krishna conception sees God's humanity in his willing susceptibility to desire. God, as Jesus, accepts a human body and is subject to temptation and death, according to the Christian trinitarian theology. Krishna also "accepts" a human body (mAnuSIm tanum Azritya) and engages in such lilas that will cause our minds to become fixed on him (bhajate tAdRzIH krIDAH yAH zrutvA tat-paro bhavet).

What is that lila? It is one in which the famous body/soul distinction is made. Though Krishna is repeatedly said to not be subject to such distinctions in the way that ordinary living beings are, in fact, he subjects himself to the experience of this duality, for he wants something that he cannot get. The "omnipotence of mind" means that one never feels separate or distinct from his limitless imagination; realization of the wish is instantaneous, instant gratification of desire. There is no intermediate step of finding the sense object, acquiring it, then effectively bringing it into contact with the senses, and then dealing with the consequences of the action (indigestion, venereal disease, unwanted children, troublesome psychological profiles, vengeful partners, etc., etc.).

But Krishna accepts the separation between desire and object. Some people say that the words tat-paro bhavet in the Bhagavatam mean that he just simulates the human situation in order to attract our minds to a higher truth, but how can that be? We are told that there is no higher truth than Krishna. We can either accept that or reject it, but if we accept it, then we must also accept that the lila is supremely meaningful in this very element.

This humanizing of God is a signpost to an extremely profound and complex phenomenon, which might be called the beginning of modernity or of humanism (sarvopari manushya sattva, tar upari nai). There is, of course, a "God's eye view" of Krishna's pastimes, which he himself explains in his teachings to the gopis, on several occasions (purve uddhaver dvare, ebe sakshat amare, jnana yoga korile upadesh): from that point of view, there is no separation of Krishna from the gopis. There is a dimension in which no one is ever apart, any more than the jiva is ever apart from God. There is no death, there is no fear (bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatah syat). But if that is all there is, there is no rasa, either.

I just heard a Scottish writer, Andrew O'Hagan, quote Samuel Johnson, "No thing is too small for such a small thing as man." His point was that all good writing is in fact an apology for human frailty. He means modern writing, where the fact that "all have fallen short of the glory of God" is understood to be the root of rasa. For there can be no rasa without identification, and there can be no identification if the hero or heroine lack full human dimension. [However, the vision of transcendence beyond the human frailty is what distinguishes rasa from rasabhasa.] The purely black and white view of the world, which is often associated with the religious outlook, is actually the enemy of rasa. It might be the friend of ideology or the friend of zealotry, but it is not the friend of love.

O'Hagan was appearing on an Australian Broadcasting program, "The Spirit of Things," Faith, Love and Sex, which started with the hostess saying saying "Sex and religion have been irresistible enemies since time immemorial." The two guests on the program have recently written novels that deal with issues of religion and sexuality in different ways. I particularly found some of O'Hagan's comments to be powerful.

O'Hagan's novel is about a homosexual priest who crosses the line into pedophilia. His purpose is to look at this man as a real human being and not as a lightning rod for whipping up emotional frenzy. One of the things that he wants to show is that there is a deep, perhaps indivisible connection between spirituality and sensuality, faith and strong feeling, of devotion and intimacy. However, the Church itself consistently denies this connection between devotion and sexual intimacy and can thus never look at it head on, in an intelligent or dispassionate way. And, of course, as I have been saying repeatedly, this goes in spades for Krishna bhakti.

What is clear, however, is that just as religion has declared, on many occasions throughout history, that sex is the enemy, it has also been used to create divisions, to create enmity and hate, far more often than love. It is when we divorce the concept of love from the concreteness of human relations and fix ourselves exclusively on this ethereal, disembodied kind of love for the God we can't see, that we lose the sense of deep human intimacy and then, by some default mechanism, are channeled into hate, which disguises itself as an arrogant and aggressive form of "love" in order to justify itself.

Let us be clear about the goal of religion and spirituality: It is prema and nothing else. Love for Krishna comes through hearing and chanting, but ultimately it is not through Nrisingha-lila or other stories of omnipotence, but through the stories of human vulnerability and love.

This is not an apologia for unlimited or uncontrolled sexuality: that does not solve the problem of intimacy or love, in fact it clearly makes it worse. Religion would never successfully sell its goods if there was no dissatisfaction with untrammeled sensuality. The point is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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The title of O'Hagan's book is taken from a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called Be near me. He read this poem with great feeling, and so I thought I would just copy and paste it here. But if you click on the above link, you will find his moving recital of it in there somewhere.

Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.

By the way, these links to ABC will unfortunately break in a month's time.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Montreal Rathayatra

I just went for a couple of hours to the Montreal Rathayatra "Festival of India" fair. Just thought I'd note a little irony that became clear to me today, after watching the program put on by the Gurukula Youth traveling road show. I was very impressed by the quality of the performance, in particular by the young woman who seemed to lead things. The style of dance and music is Carnatic.

I bought a couple of CDs and could not fail to notice that Nitai Das sings in the Anupa Jalota style, like Haridas and a number of other Iskcon bhajan singers. Haridas even sings Hindi translations of Bhaktivinoda songs ! I also picked up another CD by Karnamrita, Dasi, which I like best of the three. But here too, I noticed that there is little that shows a direct Gaudiya influence (songs by Meera, Harivams, Bhagavata verses, etc.)

Another thing I was doing was trying to give a way a bunch of Bengali books to the Bengali speakers here, without much success. Finally one devotee kind of reluctantly took them, asking whether they were "in the right line"!!

Now does no one get the irony? Everyone will take bhakti from Anupa Jalota, from their Benares or Carnatic music and dance teachers, but when it comes to Vaishnavas in the Chaitanya tradition it is all suspicion and rejection. The result is that Iskcon culture is turning into this kind of modern generic Indian culture, with a great dollop of Western influence, all more or less without any defense mechanism questioning purity or genuineness, etc. The only thing that must be avoided at all costs is the Gaudiya tradition. Triple exclamation mark! Quadruple!!

I am all for innovation, and I really like Krishna in all forms. But...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Gaura Hari

prema-ccheda-rujo 'vagacchati harir nāyam na ca prema vā
sthānāsthānam avaiti nāpi madano jānāti no durbalāh
anyo veda na cānya-duhkham akhilam no jīvanam vāśravam
dvi-trāny eva dināni yauvanam idam hā-hā vidhe kā gatih


[Srimati Radharani says in Jaganatha-vallabha Nataka:] "'Our Krishna does not realize the pain that comes of loving separation. Love too knows not where to strike and where not to strike. Cupid knows that we are weak women and harries us. No one understands another's suffering, no matter how great. Our lives are uncertain and, moreover, our youth will only remain for a few short days before being extinguished. So in view of this, O Lord, what will be our fate?'"


upajila premānkura, bhāngila ye duhkha-pūra,
krishna tāhā nāhi kare pāna
bāhire nāgara-rāja, bhitare śathera kāja,
para-nārī vadhe sāvadhāna


[Krishnadas translates Ramananda Ray’s verse] First grew the sprout of love, but then it broke and left me in the depths of misery. Krishna does not himself experience this suffering. Outwardly, he is a very attractive young lover, but at heart he acts like a rascal, giving his attention to killing others' wives.

sakhi he, nā bujhiye vidhira vidhāna
sukha lāgi' kailum prīta, haila duhkha viparīta,
ebe jāya, nā rahe parāna

My dear sakhi, I do not understand Fate’s workings. I loved Krishna in the hope of finding happiness, but got just the opposite, suffering. Now I can bear it no longer; my life cannot go on.

kutila premā ageyāna, nāhi jāne sthānāsthāna,
bhāla-manda nāre vicārite
krūra śathera guna-dore, hāte-gale bāndhi' more,
rākhiyāche, nāri' ukāśite

Love is a cheater, and ignorant to boot. He has no idea of who is a worthy object or not. He has no capacity to distinguish good from bad. He bound me hand and foot with the ropes of that scoundrel Krishna’s qualities. He has imprisoned me and I cannot escape.

je madana tanu-hīna, para-drohe paravīna,
pānca bāna sandhe anukshana
abalāra śarīre, vindhi' kaila jarajare,
duhkha deya, nā laya jīvana


Cupid has no body, but he is very expert in giving pain to others. He has five arrows, and fixing them on his bow, he shoots them into the bodies of innocent women, racking them with pain. He gives me pain, but will not take my life.

anyera ye duhkha mane, anye tāhā nāhi jāne,
satya ei śāstrera vicāre
anya jana kāhān likhi, nā jānaye prāna-sakhī,
jāte kahe dhairya dharibāre

It is true what is said in the scriptures, that one person can never know the unhappiness in the mind of another. This is evidently true of ordinary folk, but even Lalitā and my other sakhis do not understand, for they try to console me by telling me to just hold on.

krishna kripā-pārāvāra, kabhu karibena angīkāra'
sakhi, tora e vyartha vacana
jīvera jīvana cañcala, yena padma-patrera jala,
tata dina jīve kon jana


O sakhi, you say that Krishna is an ocean of mercy and that at some time he is sure to come, but these are meaningless words. Our lives are unsteady, like the water on a lotus leaf. Who can live long enough to see Krishna give his mercy?

śata vatsara paryanta, jīvera jīvana anta,
ei vākya kaha nā vicāri'
nārīra yauvana-dhana, yāre krishna kare mana,
se yauvana-dina dui-cāri

Think about it: No one lives more than a hundred years. What is more, a woman’s youthful beauty, which is the treasure that attracts Krishna's mind, does not last but a few days.

agni yaiche nija-dhāma, dekhāiyā abhirāma,
patangīre ākarshiyā māre
krishna aiche nija-guna, dekhāiyā hare mana,
pāche duhkha-samudrete dāre

Just as fire attracts a moth by showing its warm glowing light and then kills it, so too did Krishna attract our minds with his qualities, only to fling us into the ocean of misery.

Exercise : So’ham.

Prerequisites: The ability to sit for one hour with the back straight and without moving or agitation. Control of breath.

There is to be no physical touching in this exercise.

The couple sits facing each other with a few centimetres of space separating them.

The mantra is so’ham, or other mantras done in so'ham consciousness, e.g., the 18-syllable Gopala Mantra on the inward breath, the Kama Gayatri on the outward; done at a count of 1:2, or at a natural rhythm.

With the inward breath, the meditation is as follows: “The Supreme Person has come in the form of my beloved to give me His/Her love. I breathe in that love.”

With the outward breath, one meditates: “With my outward breath, I return that love. I serve that love, I serve that Person.”

The focus is the heart center, the anahata chakra. Let the heart fill with the divine shakti. Please note that the three lower chakras are all primarily concerned with the most external layers of consciousness. This chakra is the first that really fills the body with a higher state. Therefore it is said that this is the first chakra where the Kundalini appears as a beautiful goddess.

The natural tendency is for the mind to awaken the kundalini in the other person. The mind naturally tends to seek out the chakra spots in the other, starting from muladhara and so on. On a lower level this is just the imagination of touching the genitals, etc., of the other party. This tendency should be controlled and one should picture the spinal column of the other person in the same way that one imagines the kundalini internally within oneself. The most natural images are blue fire and light welling up from the base chakra and up the spine until it becomes something of a Roman candle in the 1000-petaled lotus.

Since this is an exercise centering on the anahata chakra, you should breathe deeply, diaphragmatically, but taking care to expand the rib cage and fill the chest with air and prana.

As the couple mutually engages in this exercise, it becomes necessary to exercise some caution to keep the energies focused and traveling along the right channels. Various things can obstruct the channels--incorrect posture is probably the major physical one, the desire to consummate the sexual act being the principal mental distraction. Orgasm would here constitute an explosion, but in the wrong place.

You block certain channels, what most people feel is the natural channel outward, so that energies will flow in a different direction. The mistaken idea is that semen or other sexual fluids are waste products like stool or urine. They are obviously not, as they are meant to produce or facilitate the reproduction of life. Therefore the instinctual understanding of the yogis and ayurvedic physicians, that semen is the charama dhatu or ultimate and most precious ingredient in the body, seems reasonable.

Although the first tendency is to be overwhelmed by the powerful energies that are being released, one should use one's training in mantra meditation and breathing to help create a focus on lila smarana. This is especially true for more experience couples. For them, this exercise will serve both as a way of enhancing the appetite for oneness as well as an opportunity to use the generation of kundalini energy as a way of entering the lila smarana. Less experienced couples will have more of a tendency to be absorbed in the fireworks on the subtle body platform.

Nevertheless, as one practices this particular exercise, verses from Lila texts like Gita Govinda or Govinda Lilamrita can be used to help focus on specific lila scenes. But Lila-smarana of specific Radha Krishna activities should not be done artificially out of fear that somehow the consciousness of the sadhaka couple is somehow separate from Radha and Krishna. As one experiences the power of this meditational practice, one will naturally feel a sense of oneness with the Divine Couple and a feeling of mystic participation in their lila. Even in that stage, keep the spirit of service to the mood foremost, rather than trying to appropriate the feeling as one's own.

Since there is no touching here, and the heart chakra is the predominant consciousness center, the main emphasis is on the feeling. One should be conscious that the feeling itself is the Divine Couple. Therefore this is part of the culture of bhava sadhana. Continue for one hour.

Backdated from 2008.