Monday, December 31, 2007

Swami Veda Lectures

For the first time since I have been here, Swami Veda gave a public lecture in both English and Hindi. I had heard him speak before on Christmas, when he wrote a poem he had written and said a few words of introduction to the program. However, today after meditation, he invited everyone to stay and spoke on the subject of atmavabodha.

Swamiji has an interesting style. He speaks slowly and deliberately, almost hypnotically, and repeats his speech almost word for word in Hindi afterwards. He has clearly prepared his thoughts in advance and rarely has to correct or add anything further in either English or Hindi. He also includes a guided meditation in the course of speaking. I noticed from his book, The Philosophy of Hatha Yoga, which seems to be based on a series of public lectures, that he did the same there. The overall effect is very powerful in a group of committed disciples--everyone is very attentive and goes deep into meditation when given the appropriate suggestions.

In fact, Swami Veda's entire system of Hatha Yoga, which is based on the teachings of Swami Rama, puts a great deal of emphasis on attentiveness to the body's responses to each movement. The idea is to create full awareness of the body's subtlest reactions, with the goal of making it suitable for the meditation of Raja Yoga.

Today, his subject of atmavabodha was about the relationship of words to meaning and of sleep to atmanubhuti. Perhaps because he recently gave two sannyasa initiations, he started by saying that upon receiving initiation mantras or the sannyas mahavakyas (tat tvam asi, aham brahmasmi, ayam atma brahma, prajnanandam brahma), it is common for someone to ask their meaning. He pointed out that all words point to some experience. The word cow is meaningful because we have the experience of a cow, or the experience of a cow is possible. Therefore, the Sanskrit word for "thing" is padartha, or "the meaning of the word." In the case of the mantras or mahavakyas, however, one has to look for direct experience rather than an explanation, because the words point to an experience that is without any object, i.e., consciousness without any object.

He went on to explain that every creature before going to sleep undergoes a process of atmavabodha, by retracting the consciousness from the sense objects. Falling asleep means consciousness with no object, no padartha. This is, of course, only analogous to the experience that one should seek in meditation, but the principle of consciousness without an object is the same. He thus counselled that when going to sleep, one should observe the process of separation of consciousness from the objects of the mind and senses and emulate this process while engaged in meditation.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A History of Celibacy (II)

All in all, on reading this book I expected to come to some more earth-shattering conclusions about celibacy or discover some new facts that might make me adjust my opinions. Rather to my surprise, after reading through more than 400 pages of historical information, I felt rather less enlightened than more. Nevertheless, Abbott's summary of modern developments, celibate movements in the current situation, did resonate with me.

She describes, as I occasionally have also on these pages, the malaise in today's society that has grown out of the commodification of sexuality and its use as a tool for commercialization. (Indeed, the growth of sexual liberty seems to be an integral part of the consumer culture.) I also described in an earlier post my horror at the kind of sexual escalation that has developed in youth culture, to a great extent the result of easy accessibility of pornography.

Obsessions with the body, bodily appearance, the idealization of sexuality itself rather than love or human relations, all are results of the sexual revolution gone wrong. Little wonder that there are some clearthinking individuals out there who are looking for some kind of alternative. Many of them look to short or long term celibacy.

One such group is a Christian movement called True Love Waits. Abbott calls them "romantic" in the sense that they believe that each person has a life partner destined for them and that they should "save" themselves for that person. Though I have heard that statistically these young people do not fare all that much better than other, less religious teens when it comes to pregnancy and so on (though I may be wrong), it does seem like a move in the right direction. In the conference on the hypersexualization of teens I saw in Montreal before leaving, one speaker quoted a French philosopher, whose name I cannot remember, who said way back in the 1970's that it was time for the pendulum to swing back to a new romanticism. She commented, sardonically, that we are still waiting.

Another inspirational example coming from the "new celibacy" was in the resurgence of platonic or asexual love between people who inspire and support one another selflessly. Indeed, the examples Abbott gives are of people who are fully conscious that sexualizing a relationship may disrupt the most cherished aspect of love. But it is really the diseased sexual mentality, whether in celibacy or in sexuality, that is the enemy.

Celibacy can be in the three modes just as easily as sexuality can. A celibate whose renunciation is dependent on or indistinguishable from fear and hatred of women is in the mode of ignorance and is only a partial beneficiary of his renunciation, as the Gita says in the 17th chapter.

I have come to the conclusion that what I am really presenting as an idea is not different from celibacy. The romantic concept of love is based on principles that are related to chastity. The concept of not spilling semen is thus integral to the entire process. But I want it to be clear that this is not just about sex, with or without semen spilling, which is what people seem to think. Rather, it is about optimizing committed male-female relations so that they can become fulfilled in all aspects of their lives.

Obviously this takes certain kinds of maturity, and we have to be aware of the advantages that celibacy (in the sense of single life) confers and makes it an attractive option for many people. Like one nun said, (quoted in Abbott's book) "Celibacy is about the freedom to love many people without being unfaithful to any of them." It gives "an undivided heart." Swami Veda's statement about chastity in The Philosophy of Hatha Yoga seems to support this idea:

There are people who claim to be followers of kundalini yoga and say "Love everyone" and "Have sex with everybody." The two statements are contradictory. To love everyone means opening of the heart center--an upward inward flow. Having sex with everybody is blocking the lower center, the sexual center of consciousness, so that the kundalini energy flows downward and outward and is dissipated. When it flows inward and upward, the heart center receives that energy and opens up its love to everyone. (page 81)

I am in favor of devotional sexual relations within the context of a committed loving relationship between two devotees and sadhakas. This is about bhava-sadhana, the cultivation of loving feeling, which can be enhanced through physical intimacy. This loving feeling is recognized as coming from the Divine Couple and is then channeled back toward the Divine Couple. This practice requires a certain physical culture (deha-sadhana). Yogic practice is ultimately meant to enhance mental concentration on the ishta-devata and to purify the body to make it a suitable temple for the Lord's service. Misunderstood, it can lead to abuses or to useless distractions. Properly used, it can enhance all aspects of devotional life, including the application that I am suggesting.

I see the purely yogic practice as being enhanced by loving partners, who share both the yogic discipline and the symbolic devotional universe of the Nitya Vihara and Radha-Krishna's primal and universal love. Bhava and prema are the essence of Radha and Krishna's world. We actually enter that world through bhava and prema, not through vidhi. Most people cultivate vidhi bhakti, even when they think themselves to be raganuga bhaktas.

The forced adoption of a nitya-siddha identity is not, on its own, a sign of raganuga bhakti. In fact, since it is so often an artificial imposition on the consciousness, it is usually a struggle and turns into a kind of vidhi practice. What I am talking about is approaching raganuga sadhana through the bhava, i.e., through identifying the infinitesimal bhava with the transcendental bhava (not the infinitesimal jiva with the transcendental Divine Couple or one or the other part of that Couple) and basking in that bhava in the way that the sakhis and manjaris bask in the reflection of Radha and Krishna's love while serving it, is the essence of the natural (sahaja) raganuga sadhana.

This is what I mean when I talk about this practice as being, along with sankirtan, a generator of love.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

More adventures in the land of Mayavada

The first day I listened to one of the speakers, I held my peace, but wanted to say something. Finally I contented myself by giving one of my verse cards to a student here who is an ex-Iskcon devotee from Bombay. As a matter of fact, there are several members of this ashram who have a devotional background, especially a number of Oriya bhaktas who told me they had spent years in Vrindavan studying the Bhagavata. I find it hard to believe that their samskara will be so shallow as to be inaccessible. For the most part, I enthusiastically greet everyone with the words "Radhe Shyam," without for all that being obnoxious about it.

The verse I offered was the one that rang through my brain while listening to these talks,

bhava-bandha-cchide tasyai spṛhayāmi na muktaye
bhavān prabhur ahaṁ dāso jñānam yatra vilupyate
I do not aspire for the liberation that frees us from bondage to this world, if therein the awareness that you are my master and I your servant is lost.
On the last day Sanjay spoke, however, I could not resist asking the question, "If the jiva is Brahman (jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ) and if the purpose of the world is līlā-kaivalyam, then what is the point of liberation? If Maya is eternal, and illusion is a way for Brahma to play, meaningless like a child, why not just remain conditioned?"

I won't say he had no answer. I will say, he lost me with a series of convoluted examples.

The verses I shared with the Gurukula students were by Prabodhananda Saraswati. Since the verses are just so nice, they appreciated them, even if they did not comment on the content:

kaivalyaṁ narakāyate tridaśa-pūr ākāśa-puṣpāyate
durdāntendriya-kāla-sarpa-paṭalīṁ protkhāṭa-daṁṣṭrāyate
viśvam pūrṇa-sukhāyate vidhi-mahendrādiś ca kīṭāyate
yat-kāruṇya-kaṭākṣa-vaibhavavatāṁ taṁ gauram eva stumaḥ
To one who has received the power of Gaura's merciful glance, liberation appears like hell, the heavenly worlds like so many pies in the sky; the unconquerable senses become like snakes with the fangs removed, the universe is filled with joy everywhere, while gods like Vidhi and Mahendra are seen as of no more significance than insects. I praise that Gauranga Mahaprabhu. (Chaitanya Chandramrita)
alam viṣaya-vārtayā naraka-koṭi-bībhatsayā
vṛthā-śruti-kathā-śrama bata bibhemi kaivalyataḥ
pareśa-bhajanonmadāḥ santi śukādayaḥ kiṁ tataḥ
paraṁ tu rādhikā-pada-rase mano majjatu 
I have heard enough talk of sense gratification, for me it is full of the horrors of a million hells. The hard work of studying the shrutis seems to me a waste of time, for I fear the liberation of union with Brahman. If Shukadeva and other great sages are crazy about worshiping the Supreme God, what is that to me? I only pray that my mind should be absorbed in the nectar of Radhika's lotus feet.(Sudhanidhi)


I wrote to Gopinathji recently--

Things are going very well right now, thank you, except for my difficulties with the computer. They have given me a nice office, the manuscript room, to work in. My teaching responsibilities are for the moment only a beginners class in Sanskrit. I am being well taken care of and the atmosphere and grounds are quite decent. I was a bit under the weather with a cold for a few days, nothing serious. Today I feel in fine figure, two hours of meditation and yoga exercises, regular sattvika meals. I am made for ashram life.

I should be able to throw myself into the Bhagavat-sandarbha in a day or two with the utsahamayi spirit. I think Mais the Bhagavat-sandarbha (and Paramatma-sandarbha) will be the perfect recipe to follow in a place surrounded by "Mayavadis." I am showing a bit of good-natured resistance, and all I can say is that everyone is very pleasant.

Gopinath answered,
Sure, you are made for ashram life, but good luck with the mayavadis. They are very pleasant as long as they think they are superior to you and that the sectarian Vaishnavas are limited.

But Swami Veda is well aware of my orientation and in all our meetings he has been a perfect gentleman. There is a certain generosity of spirit where differences of belief are concerned that accompanies Mayavada. There is no reason that Vaishnavas cannot adopt this attitude. Even if we accept the supremacy of one particular form of God, which we call svayam bhagavan, this is our ishta. Everyone should think that their own ishta and their own path is superior; but it is really superior in the sense of being suitable to the person to recognizes it as such.

A Meditation Discovery

Today I hit on a meditation that was very powerful and looks very promising. The way they do meditation here is to sit with proper back support (these are really the first people I hae seen who make a big deal out of it, finally!) have simple abdominal breathing in and out in an even rhythm and one is advised to chant the mantras as one can.

At first I was chanting Harinam on my beads, but I found that I was not getting the full benefit of the breathing. Then I switched to the Gopāla Mantra, and that was better. Today, I switched to Gopāla Mantra on the inward breath and Kāma Gāyatrī on the outward breath and found that it was full of possibilities and very powerful.

You breathe in with a small Mūla-bandha (contracting the sphincter and muscles and the base of the genitals), then visualize the mantra climbing up the spine with the inward breath.

oṁ śrīṁ klīṁ at the first chakra,

kṛṣṇāyaat the second,

govindāya at the third (navel),

gopī at the heart (appropriately),

jana at the throat,

vallabhāya between the eyes,

and svāhā in the thousand-petalled lotus.

Then start the outward breath extending outward but remaining in the cranium. When the breath is exhausted, one starts again with the same cycle. Since so'ham is the fundamental mantra of the inner and outer breath, saḥ = the Gopāla Mantra, and aham = Kāma Gāyatrī.

Although a relation between the Object (saḥ) and ourselves (aham) is present in both mantras, saḥ predominates in the first, and the verbs vidmahe, dhīmahi and pracodayāt all indicate types of relations between the sadhaka and the Supreme.

The parallels are:

oṁ śrīṁ klīṁ = oṁ śrīṁ klīṁ

kṛṣṇāya = kāmadevāya (vidmahe)

govindāya = puṣpa-bāṇāya (dhīmahi)

gopī-jana-vallabhāya = tan no'naṅgaḥ pracodayāt.

svāhā = (vidmahe, dhīmahi, pracodayāt)

Krishna is Kamadeva. This is the kaniṣṭha (pravarta) level of preliminary attraction. Krishna is the attractive force everywhere. He is the transcendental Cupid, behind the force of attraction in all things. Radha is the attracted. She is our Swamini and we are all part of her, as we are minor aspects of her energy. This we know (vidmahe), i.e., this is the essence of all sambandha-jñāna.

Govinda is Puṣpa-bāṇa. This is the madhyama stage, i.e., the sādhaka stage. Here the effects of Krishna's attraction are progressively felt in the five arrows of love. This we meditate on (dhīmahi), which is an appropriate indication of the abhidheya tattva.

Finally, Gopījanavallabha is anaṅga. This is the uttama stage. Here Krishna is manifest in the full līlā of the nitya-vihāra. Ananga also indicates the level of realization of Krishna's omnipresence, as described in the 11th canto of the Bhagavatam. Pracodayāt is, of course a prayer, that Ananga-deva inspire us to actually transcend physical desire and to enter the lila fully.


Friday, December 28, 2007

A History of Celibacy (I)

I have been promising for some time a review of A History of Celibacy by Elizabeth Abbott. I did not do so primarily because I had not finished it and the book is fairly complex in the varieties of celibacy, so I have been trying to come to some conclusion about what to make of it. Indeed, I think she may even have played with the title, The Varieties of Celibate Experience before settling on A History of Celibacy.

Part of the hook used to publicize this book was the infobyte that Abbott had herself become celibate in the course of researching and writing it. This made her something of an oddity and short-lived media darling. She admits that she started the work with the idea that celibacy was aberrant or unnatural and finished with the conclusion that it is a genuine, normal human phenomenon that deserves attention on its own merits.

Her general thesis, to which she returns again and again through all the complexities of rationales and motivations given for renouncing sexual relations, is that its practice is easier and has historically been more beneficial from women than to men. Whereas women through the ages found relief from the pangs of repeated childbirth, the drudgery of raising the children and maintaining the household, the lack of freedom to travel or find intellectual stimulation through study, and the indignity of constantly being subservient to the desires of husbands who were often insensitive, inconsiderate and supercilious, men tended to be locked in a dramatic battle with the senses that demanded a herculean effort and led almost inevitably to a fear and hatred of women.

The understanding that women are many times more lusty than men can be seen as a projection of the man who cannot account or take responsibility for his own desire.

The Christian obsession with celibacy starts with the Garden of Eden. The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is seen as being representative of sex. Carnal knowledge is the forbidden fruit, and since all humans are born of sexual congress, they are contaminated by the original sin of the original sinning couple. Christ was born of a virgin and this was one of the conditions that made it possible for humans to find again the pristine purity that preceded the fall. But this purity depended on attaining virginity. After all, did Christ not suggest to his disciples that they become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God?

Early Christianity was apocalyptic, expecting that the end of the world was nigh. In order to prepare for this second coming of Christ, the best preparation was self purification, and the essence of self-purification was chastity. Married men and women took such vows—reproduction was not an issue—but the stars of the show were the desert fathers in Egypt, some of whose accounts of terrible ordeals in conquering sex desire survive to this day.

Gradually, celibacy was institutionalized in the Church and became its standard. Despite the inherent difficulties in maintaining such a standard, the Catholic hierarchy has not swerved from its position. They say that Christ himself was celibate, that he asked it of his followers, so priests who incarnate Christ’s spirit and who obey his commandments, have really no choice but to accept. The consequences are rather well known, though statistics bearing on the extent of adherence or non-adherence show wide variance.

In the Reformation, Luther and others criticized Church institutions, especially enforced celibacy for priests. In Abbott’s description, nuns were often compelled into the cloister for various unholy reasons, most frequently as a way of disposing of competing demands for inheritance, avoiding higher dowry payments (dowries were paid to the convent, but these were much less than required by a human husband) and other such reasons. The result was that many nuns resented their situation and found it undesirable to follow the vows of celibacy that had been forced on them.

The basis of Christian celibacy, like that of Hinduism, is soul-body dualism, which holds that the “flesh” holds us back from experiencing the presence of God. I won’t go too far into the theology here, as I do not know the Christian position well enough—certainly this dualism has been called into question latterly and a more Judaic vision of the human as both body and soul is popular these days. Judaism, by the way, has had little or no institutional celibacy throughout its long history.

Nevertheless, whether it was simply Abbott’s manner of describing it, or whether it was indeed the fact, one gets the impression that celibacy quickly became an end in itself. The torments of the desert fathers and their powerful temptations seem to show little relief in transcendent joy or even a spirit of devotion to Christ. They smack more of the excesses that the Buddha warned against after finding for his middle way.

Certainly it is an essential doctrine of the Vaishnava path that kricchra tapasya is not an essential part of the practice. Even the Gita speaks against it. If sexual renunciation is indeed as difficult as all that, it should be counted among the kricchra tapasyas. Tapas, in the sense of "exertion of the total personality, intense concentration with a specific goal," is of course necessary as a part of any discipline, including bhakti. But here we seem to have a case where the discipline takes primacy over and above the goal itself. And if there is anything to be gained from such rigid discipline, Krishna says that it will come from the bhakti, not from the tapasya per se.

Swami Veda Bharati writes (Philosophy of Hatha Yoga, p.24) that prior to the 19th century, extreme asceticism was the method of self-purification. Over the last two centuries, however, "extreme comfort" has become the "way" of choice. He calls hatha yoga "comfortable asceticism." How much more that could be said of bhakti-yoga!

yat karmabhir yat tapasā jñāna-vairāgyataś ca yat
yogena dāna-dharmeṇa śreyobhir itarair api
sarvaṁ mad-bhakti-yogena mad-bhakto labhate'ñjasā
svargāpavargaṁ mad-dhāma kathañcid yadi vāñchati
tasmān mad-bhakti-yuktasya yogino vai mad-ātmanaḥ
na jñānam na ca vairāgyaṁ prāyaḥ śreyo bhaved iha

Whatever can be obtained by works, by asceticism, through knowledge or renunciation, through yoga or charity or by other beneficial practices, can all be attained easily by my devotee through bhakti yoga. This includes heaven, liberation or whatever else he may happen to desire. Therefore, for the yogi who takes up my devotion, who is my very soul, neither knowledge nor renunciation are considered ultimately beneficial. (11.20.31-33)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Preaching Illicit Sex, 24/7"

I feel somewhat guilty that I did not mention my pleasant visit to Advaitaji in Radha Kund while he has spoken rather kindly of me over on Madan Gopal. Since there seems to be a kind of link between the two blogs, I really should have shared my perception of that meeting.

The only disagreement he mentioned was related to the subject of projecting sexual desires on the lila. This was in fact a response to his misunderstanding that people like myself are projecting our own sexual desires on the lila; I was saying that Western psychology would argue that the lila is seen as the projection of repressed or unfulfilled (or unfulfillable) sexual desires. Which, if true, would mean that saying it is not is nothing more than denial, a refusal to accept the obvious.

But of course, the relationship between material sexual desire and the lila of Radha and Krishna is more complex and sophisticated than projected repressed desires, and certainly seeing it as nothing more than titillation is equally wrong. But I will leave that for another time.

I also remember saying in my meeting with Advaita that we must have another alternative to the two poles of "recreational" and "procreational" sex, as he puts it. Since not even Advaita seems able to do entirely without it, in my opinion, sex must potentially have a spiritual function.

Not so long ago I admonished Gaurasundar for suggesting that I was only talking of sex, but now Advaita himself has gone back to saying that I am "preaching illicit sex 24/7" and promoting "debauch theories." Now, I have looked again at my blog and see that even after mentioning Gaurasundar’s name, I have pretty much not touched the subject of sex for over a month, what to speak of promoting illicit sex or debauchery.

Gaurasundar himself helps shed light on the psychology here when he writes:
If there is a concern that reading Jagat's "sahajiya" works may instantly or cumulatively lay us open to sahajiya influences, I would say that merely a consciousness of Jagat as a sahajiya can significantly affect one's own perception of the work, whether or not there is any sahajiyaism in Jagat's work. In effect, one is "sahajiyaising" oneself.

This is indeed astute, and reminds me of a rather well known parable:
One day, two sannyasis were on their way down the mountain to beg for alms in the market when they came to a wooden bridge they had to traverse. In front of the bridge was a beautiful young lady trying to cross. Crossing that unstable bridge was easy for the two monks, but for the lady was an almost impossible task. Seeing that the sky was turning dark and that it was very dangerous for the lady to be left alone in the wilds, the older monk went forward to the lady and said: "Let me carry you across." The lady smiled and nodded her head.

The old monk thus piggy-backed the lady across the wobbly bridge. The young monk took what he just saw to heart but kept quiet and followed behind.

After crossing the bridge, the old monk put the lady down and without even turning behind, carried on his journey. The young monk took another glance at the lady and followed close behind the old monk. For the rest of the journey, both monks remained silent. When they reached the town, the young monk finally could not stand it anymore and questioned the old monk: "How could you carry the lady on your back? We as monks are supposed to keep away from women!"

The old monk did not bother to explain much. Instead, he asked the young monk one question: "I've put the lady down the moment I crossed the bridge, why is it that you are still carrying her, even now?" The young monk immediately understood the old monk's words and was ashamed of himself. (Copied from this blog, though obviously it is an old and popular parable and any number of retellings can be found on the internet.)

So I reiterate: nothing is further from my mind than preaching debauchery. Indeed, I believe I am offering a solution to a conundrum that affects many devotees. So when Malati says that I “enjoin [people] to bonk each other to get a glimpse of the divine,” this is a kind of rhetorical perversion of what I am really saying. Indeed, her language reveals rather more about her than genuinely reflecting what I am talking about.

Sexuality plays an important part in human personality, but there is a distinction, subtle but most important, between lust and love. This is why, pace Gaurasundar, I place such emphasis on distinguishing between tamasic, rajasic and sattvika sexuality. Tamasic sexuality is about hatred, power and domination and has little if anything to do with love. If you cannot see the difference then you are purposely blind. It is love between devotees that is at the center of this sadhana.

The point about Manjari seva is a little more complex, but nevertheless it is at the core of what I am preaching. I do not say to identify with the Divine Couple in the sense of ahangrahopasana, but to identify in the very way that is meant by the ideas presented in Rupa Goswami’s rasa-siddhanta and in the concept of advaya-jnana, as stated in Bhagavatam 1.2.11. I will not go into further detail here (I have in the past and obviously will have to return to these issues again, as nobody seems to understand them, meaning that I have not explained well and clearly), but the essence is that no one can serve without identifying with the object of service. How can I serve you if I do not know your mind? How can I even talk to you if I don’t make an effort to understand your mind? So where is the question of love?

I realize that for many devotees, it is difficult to understand how advaya-jnana applies to bhakti, since clearly there is a duality of server and served, but there is a unity of server and served also. Anyway, that is where I am going to leave this for today. I have a ton of unfinished blogs that I am trying to post and I would rather not get distracted for the moment, important as this issue is.

Alam ativistarena.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Adventures in the land of the Mayavadis

Due to the difficulties of getting online, I have fallen far behind in posting on this blog। In particular I wanted to give my impressions of Rishikesh and the ashram where I am staying. Getting settled in has been difficult, as I had a cold that left me fairly exhausted, my computer cable adaptor went completely dead, and I hadn't started teaching Sanskrit yet. I have been teaching for two days now and my cold is a bit better. The computer problem still has not been overcome, but hopefully tomorrow we shall overcome.

These are going to be briefs. Sorry.


As I was blogging at 3.30 on Christmas day, Tim, a yoga teacher from Calgary came up to me and said that as part of the Christmas celebrations he thought it would be nice to recite the Hail Mary in Sanskrit in front of the statue of Madonna and Child that is near the meditation hall. I had approximately half an hour to do it. I obliged with the following, which has now been somewhat corrected and revised.

hā mārīye kṛpa-pūrṇe īśo'sti tava sannidhe
dhanyāsi viśva-nārīṣu dhanyas te garbhaja isuḥ
namo pavitre mārīye īśvara-janani namaḥ
asmākaṁ pāpinām arthe prārthayasvesu-sannidhe
idānīm apy anta-kāle ca prārthanāṁ kṛpayā kuru

The program that followed was interesting. There is a woman sannyasi disciple of Swami Rama who has her own ashram down the street. Her name is Ma Chaitanya Jyoti. There is a music school on the grounds, which is open to talented children for free. A group of these children played together in a nice band with sitars, violins and other Indian instruments. Then she followed that up with a series of Krishna bhajans of her own, including Jai Radhe Jai Sri Radhe. Rather pleasant, after so many days without kirtan or hearing Radha Krishna's name.

One person I met at the program was Ma Seva Bharati, who recognized my spiritual predilections by my tilak and beadbag and asked if I was from Iskcon. I said that I was persona non grata in Iskcon and that some people felt this was a good thing. She responded by saying that her cousin is Dhanurdhar Maharaj and he is also a persona non grata in Iskcon! We had a short but interesting talk. She asked me how I felt in an impersonalist environment. She said that when she sees Dhanurdhar, which apparently she does not infrequently, she often jokes by calling herself an impersonalist scoundrel.


When leaving the Ganges ghat in town, I saw a procession of sadhus walking toward the river to celebrate the appearance day of Dhanvantari. The guru of the group was wearing nothing but a kaupin with the added decoration of a silver Shesh Nag that hovered over his linga. The following day, when walking in another part of town, I walked into a Bengali Shiva temple and asked the resident sadhu what it meant. He could not say. To me, it kind of made the symbolism of the linga clear, no matter what anyone (including my Bengali sadhu say).

Next door to the above-mentioned Shiva temple is Neem Karoli Baba's temple with a giant Hanuman murti outside. It is about 8 meters high. There was kirtan going on inside the temple, also dedicated to Hanuman. Most of the people participating in chanting Jai Ram Sri Ram Jai Jai Ram were Westerners. When I talked to the sevait distributing chick pea prasad outside, I found out that it was the famous American kirtanwalla Krishna Das who was leading. Here at the Swami Ram Sadhak Gram, many residents made the trip over there over the next few days to listen to him. To my mind he was pretty mamuli.


I have walked into the town three times now, despite my weakened state. I keep thinking I am close enough to normal to act it, and I end up exhausted. Anyway, not too far from this ashram, I walked past a Radha-vallabhi ashram. Since my eyes have been open for any sign of my Yugal Sorkar, I read the information etched into the arch over the entrance and was a bit amazed to see that it had been founded by Kishori Sharan "Sur Das." Now as an aside, I should mention that when we were on our way from Vrindavan to Faridabad, I showed Satya Narayanji the Radha Rasa Sudha Nidhi I had purchased in Athkhamb. He recognized it and said he had both volumes in his library and added that it had been publised by Kishori Sharan "Sur Das." Interestingly, he told a little about his childhood. Apparently Kishori Sharan came from the same village as SN and his family had donated land and money for him to build an ashram there before he went on to greater fame. According to SN, he was one of the leading Radha Vallabhi sadhus of his generation. He was, as his name indicates, blind. I have not checked OBL Kapoor's book to see if he is mentioned in there. It would be worth checking.

At any rate, I went in and have to admit I was a little disappointed that they have no deity of Radha and Krishna. I talked to the Mahanta and said, "Baba, Rishikesh is a holy place for everyone, including the Vaishnavas. But when the Vaishnavas come here, they feel as though they have come to a desert, and empty place, because there is no trace of their ishta devata anywhere. You need to install deities of Radha and Radha Vallabha as soon as possible!" He actually agreed with me.

The first verse of RRSN seems suddenly very appropriate--

yasyā kadācid vasanāñcalottha-
dhanyātidhanya-pavanena kṛtārtha-mānī
yogīndra-durgama-gatir madhusūdano'pi
tasyā namo vṛṣabhānu-bhuvo diśe'pi

I bow down to the very direction where stands the daughter of Vrishabhanu, for when Madhusudan, the goal unattainable by the greatest of yogis, is occasionally touched by the most fortunate breeze that arises from a slight movement of her veil, he considers himself to be completely fulfilled.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Update from Rishikesh

I am writing quickly just in case there is another power failure, which interrupted my last attempt to blog.

Unfortunately, I seem to have come down with a bad cold. I got up at 2.00 a.m. and could not go back to sleep my nose was running so much. I followed the meditation program, but did not do any yoga. I took some ayurvedic medicine a few minutes ago and I already feel a bit better. Could it really be that effective?

Sanjay (the person who got me this gig) is here and I attended both his English and Hindi classes. Nearly all the ashram people come to listen to him speak on philosophy in Engish. He introduced me with great praise. He reminds me a bit of SN, but he is younger and better looking (maybe I should not say that publicly! Well Sanjay is a householder and SN a bearded renunciate). I think he also is a little more skeptical. Afterwards he told me that he thought he had benefited greatly from being in the west, which makes him a lot less blind in his faith. His philosophy is pretty straight Mayavada though. Perhaps for my benefit he cited Ramakrishna who said it is better to taste sugar than be sugar.

I met Swami Veda also, who is a very nice gentleman. It doesn't sound like they are going to be too demanding, only having me teach Sanskrit to beginners. I am sure there will be more than that. My Hindi is already improving a lot, but I still have a way to go before I can match the fluency of Satya Narayan or Sanjay.
I also got my suitcase from the airline today.

I wanted to go and visit Rishikesh village, but I ended up sleeping most of the afternoon.

I wanted to get some comments on the History of Celibacy book on line. I also wanted to give a little mention of all the nice people I met in Vrindavan at the Jiva Institute and my little excursion to Radha Kund, but has been a bit tough, with all the other activities going on and the basic difficulties in getting online. Also getting a bit distracted in the little time I have had doing the Radha Rasa Sudha Nidhi and Gopala Tapani.

The RRSN commentary is really quite good and rasika. I would like to compare it with the Ananta Das commentary to see if he used it at all. That would be a bit of a joke. The Harivamsis take it as an article of faith that HV wrote it when he was only 5 years old (!). If that is not a dead giveaway that he DID NOT write it, I don't know what is. But that is not the point, they have made it their own and their entire religious system is based on RRSN. It is their Bhagavad-Gita. And, in a way, that makes it better than the other sampradayas because it makes them more exclusively Radha bhaktas. Still, it is kind of neat, that on the one hand they repudiate the Gaudiya connection, and on the other they need the Goswamis to establish the philosophical basis of their doctrine (when it comes to madhura rasa), just like nearly all the other Braj sampradayas, even the Vallabhis.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Jiva Institute in Faridabad

I am writing from the Jiva Institute in Faridabad, where Satya Narayan and his brothers have their main center of activities. There are three of them involved in the Institute, one is an Ayurvedic doctor (Dr. Pratap Chauhan) who has now become something of a celebrity. He appears on television giving advice on health and people can then call in to ask questions about their personal health problems. Next door there is a very nice, modern, private clinic where people can get the Pancha Karma treatment.

The main buildings also house a private school which one brother's wife runs as the principal. Two of Satya Narayan's nieces also work in the business, in sales and publicity, i.e. sending out Ayurvedic medicine, etc. There is also an American man named Steve Rudolph who has an MA in education who plans the curriculum and also helps with the marketing side of things. I think that he has had a lot to do with the very slick packaging, etc., that has no doubt helped this organization grow so rapidly.

The story that Pratap told me is that the brothers here were all inspired by SN when he came back from America an Iskcon devotee. He was a graduate of IIT, an engineer working in the States, and everyone fully expected him to be the main provider for the family of five brothers. Instead he had become a vairagi. But all the members of the family ended up following him to Haridas Shastri and taking initiation and they developed this idea of Ayurveda, spirituality and education.

So I will spend the night here. SN is going to speak at a program in Delhi and I will accompany him. Tomorrow they are sending a car from Rishikesh. It is a five to seven hour ride. So I should be exhausted by the end of it.


Added afterwards.

I went with SN to his engagement. He spoke to a weekly satsanga at the IFFCO building in Saket. IFFCO is a big fertilizer company and their headquarters is about as nice and modern a building as you will find anywhere in India. Not a trace of inattention to detail anywhere. The lecture took place in a board room with the long table and swivel chairs for everyone. About twenty people attended.

They chose the subject, which was "The virtues as described in Bhagavad Gita." SN spoke on chapter 16.1-3, the daivi sampad. He focused a lot on sattva-suddhi, the second in the Gita list, and not much on the others.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Letting Serendipity do the Walking

Well I am having a grand old time in Vrindavan. I really should have someone to take care of me, because I just slip into avadhuta mode so easily. Yesterday I decided to walk to Athkhamba and check out the bookstores and dropped into the Radha Vallabha temple on the way. I have some feeling of affinity with Radha Vallabhis for some reason, don’t ask me to explain. Their cheerful jai radha-vallabha hita-hari-vamsa kirtan rattles around in my brain. So Harivams ate pan on ekadashi... and if Radha gave it him the pan, well who could object? Gopal Bhatta, I guess.

Anyway, they were having kirtan of Chaurasi Pada and I joined in. After it was over, the lead singer took me to his room and gave me a box of prasad and we talked for a while. He (and others there) kept asking me if I was Mr. Rupert, meaning Rupert Snell, who wrote his doctorate on the Chaurasi Pada and, as it happens, is the source of most of what I know about it. He is now, if I am correct, head of Indology at SOAS. So that was the kind of unexpected detour that often happens to me in Vrindavan.

And to add to that, I went on the Athkhamba and picked up a rare Gopala-tapini with commentary by Ranchor Sharan, a Nimbarki contemporary of Baladeva Vidyabhushan’s, and a Radha-rasa-sudha-nidhi with a very elaborate Sanskrit commentary by Harilal Vyasa, which was completed in 1781. This morning I naturally spent some time typing out a sample commentary to verse 102, and found it quite agreeable. There are quotes from Ujjvala-nilamani and Vidagdha-madhava. He also quotes frequently from Brajabhasha songs of Surdas and of course Harivams. The primary source he refers to is Vrindavana-mahimamrta, which seems natural enough.

This morning was perfect. I finally seem to be adjusted timewise. It was cool, but not cold, even though everyone seems to be complaining that it is. I did yoga, pranayam, japa, had a nice European style breakfast and I feel fine.

I was going to do something else today, but since I got distracted, I will humbly offer you a verse from the RRSN and the verse from Vidagdha-madhava that was quoted—

sā lāvaṇya-camatkṛtir nava-vayo-rūpaṁ ca tan-mohanaṁ
tat-tat-keli-kalā-vilāsa-laharī-cāturyam āścarya-bhūḥ
no kiñcit kṛtam eva yatra na nutir nāgo na vā sambhramo
rādhā-mādhavayoḥ sa ko’pi sahajaḥ premotsavaḥ pātu vaḥ

May Radha and Madhava’s spontaneous, natural festival of love deliver you:
that loving festival, which is full of loveliness that ever surprises,
full of forms that are ever fresh with youth and enchantment,
full of displays of waves of talent in the arts of loving playfulness,
and where there are never obeisances, offences, or fear. (RRSN 103)

stotraṁ yatra taṭasthatāṁ prakaṭayac cittasya dhatte vyathāṁ
nindāpi pramadaṁ prayacchati parīhāsa-śriyaṁ bibhratī
doṣeṇa kṣayitāṁ guṇena gurutāṁ kenāpy anātanvatī
premṇaḥ svārasikasya kasyacid iyaṁ vikrīḍati prakriyā

(Paurnamasi to Madhumangala) What you are seeing is the workings of some spontaneous kind of love, where praise is seen as a sign of indifference and causes pain to the loved one, where insults only make the beloved laugh, and causes hilarity. In this love, no fault causes it to be diminished, and no quality causes it to increase. (VM 5.4)

Satya Narayanji has been using many examples of love in the last couple of days. He was talking about the nature of advaya in the Vaishnava context. Among the things that I retained was that bhakti is said to be easy, and indeed in terms of physical actions on the basic level, it is. But it becomes hard precisely in the learning of what is in the mind of the beloved object. The oneness of spirit being the essence of love. He also said that advaya means that there is a oneness of consciousness even in the variegatedness of the spiritual world. He gave the example of a lamps that are all connected to one switch and all go on at the same time.

This seems rather the same as some of the things referred to yesterday in the discussion of sakhi bhava. I will try to get back on program tomorrow with a resume of what I have been reading in A History of Celibacy by Elizabeth Abbott, an important overview of celibate practices and problems over the centuries.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sakhī-bhāva vs. Gopī-bhāva

I am writing on my computer for the first time since arriving in India, which is now three days already. And with the long trip getting here, fraught with one misadventure, namely missing the connecting flight from Paris, was that makes six days since I have even thought of blogging. I got to do a lot of reading on the plane and in the waiting rooms—when I wasn’t traipsing up and down the interminable terminals at Charles-de-Gaulle, trying to negotiate Air France and Air Canada for the next step of my changing itinerary. There is a lot to say--six days of accumulated experiences and reading, but for now I will just copy what I wrote on my home computer, copying and pasting onto the blog. Hopefully better connections will be available in Rishikesh and the human-internet interface will be smoother.


What follows here is a summary of Sharan Behari Goswami’s six points of difference between sakhī-bhāva and gopī-bhāva (pages 188-193 of the work already mentioned). I talked to a Haridasi sadhu briefly on the street yesterday. (He was standing in front of his ashram taking in a little bit of day’s end sunlight; I was attracted by the verses painted on the wall and had a question about the meaning of one of them.) He knew of this book and was quite appreciative of it, as might well be expected. However, I asked him how he viewed the Gaudiya Vaishnavas and mañjarī-bhāva and he clearly accepted the idea, though he mention the pārakīyā-svakīyā question as a point of contention. Something else too, but it slips my mind.

I am going to give the summary without comment, though I may add a word or two at the end.


(1) Basic sources for the worship

Gopī-tattva is adequately explained in the Puranas. Indeed, that is the fundamental source of the concept. However, even for gopī-bhāva, most of the details, like names, places, etc., dealing with gopī-bhāva are not found, what to speak of sakhī-bhāva and tattva. Indeed, even most of the tattva itself cannot be directly intuited from the Puranic descriptions of Radha Krishna līlā. It requires deliberate or convoluted explanations. Therefore sakhī-bhāva lies beyond the Puranas.

From the point of view of the philosophical discourses of the Vaishnava acharyas (pre-16th century) also, there Krishna is established as the Param Brahma and Radha and the gopis are identified as his prakritis. In the explanations of some acharyas, the gopis are considered to be symbolic representations of the jiva. SBG says that these symbolic interpretations are either incompatible with the emotional realms of the līlā, or completely opposed to them. The followers of sakhī-bhāva make no such symbolic interpretations of the līlā.

Finally, sakhī-bhāva upāsanā is primarily based on bhāva, or emotions. the Pancharatrik or Tantrik streams of worship, using mantras, yantras, etc., are not followed by the Sakhī-sampradāya. Nor do they accept the ascetic and austere methods of worship associated with yoga, etc. Although some aspects of what can be called tantrik sadhana have been maintained—meditation, mantra-japa, etc.—in other respects they have been abandoned. Even the complex yoga-pīṭha dhyānas with lotuses, petals, the extensive yūthas, etc., such as found in the Nimbarka and Gaudiya traditions, are rejected.


(2) Different spiritual abodes

Here, although SBG does not use the distinction of Vrindavan, Vraja and Kunja, it is clearly what he means. He says that in the worldly Vraja of Krishna’s pastimes, and in the transcendental Goloka, Krishna’s parents, the other cowherds, the cows and all the related pastimes take place. Where those pastimes are present, Radha and Krishna’s most intimate līlās cannot take place. Therefore those following the sakhī-bhāva have conceived of an abode of the Lord that is exclusively dedicated to the madhura-līlā.


(3) Different worshipful objects

Those worshiping in gopī-bhāva are basically worshiping the avatar Krishna as God. And though many acharyas have rejected the aiśvarya aspects of the Dvaraka and Mathura līlās as incompatible with the mood of madhura-rasa, there are nevertheless many elements in the Vraja līlā that are also imbued with comparable aiśvarya.

In sakhī-bhāva upāsanā, the object of worship is the Yugala, and there too Radha is dominant. It rejects any characterisation of Radha and the sakhis as bhaktas. In all these sampradayas, not only is Radha accepted as identical with Krishna (kṛṣṇa-svarūpa), but so too are the sakhis. The result of this distinction is that the gopis enjoy sambhoga-līlā with Krishna, whereas since the sakhis worship the Yugala, that is impossible.

Furthermore, the kinds of divisions and subdivisions that have been made of the gopis and yūtheśvarīs is not possible where the sakhis are concerned. They are nitya-sakhīs and have not come to their position through various means and formed yūthas, etc. They have no mothers or fathers, no friends or buddies, nor husbands, nor children. They are beyond time and space and are technically parts and parcels of the Supreme Truth.


(4) Different līlās

Since the gopī-tattva is a part of Krishna’s avatar līlā, which incorporates so many activities not related to madhura-rasa. These other līlās often conflict with the appreciation of madhura-rasa (rasa-virodha). Indeed, to some extent or another, all the līlās, including herding the cows, relating to his parents, playing with his friends, etc., in one way or another distract from the principal activity of enjoying with Radha. Furthermore, Krishna leaves all of the Vrajavasis to go to Mathura, and the distinctions of separation and union are a constant feature of gopī-bhāva.

Sakhī-bhāva upāsanā exists only in the context of saṁyoga, eternal sambhoga. Not even a moment of separation is possible. Krishna, the nitya-vihārī, has no need of killing demons, nor any other duty that might take him away from Radha. Although physical separation is impossible, there may be the occasional manifestation of māna, but even there, such māna is lost in a look. The līlā here can be seen as the expansion of the deep loving embrace of the Divine Couple. None of the gross pastimes (sthūla-līlā) have the occasion to manifest. So the varieties of activity that go on within these limits is the līlā that is worshiped in sakhī-bhāva upāsanā, and this too is the special feature of the literature of these sampradayas.


(5) The idea of sva-sukha, tat-sukha

The gopis’ prema is generally held up as the standard for pure love, but even there, on occasion there are elements of personal desire. Or at least that is the way the Bhagavata presents some elements of extraneous elements at the end of chapter 29 (verses 47 and 49) of the Rasa līlā. In the Vallabha sampradaya, Chandravali is said to have elements of personal desire in her love, and so she is considered to be inferior to Radha. In general, though, where there is kanta-bhava, there is less likelihood of pure tat-sukha-bhava.

The most fundamental difference between sakhī-bhāva and gopī-bhāva lies here. But it is not just a question of sva-sukha and tat-sukha. Indeed it goes beyond any such duality. Whatever they feel or experience that is pleasing to their worshipable Divine Couple; and whatever the Divine Couple desires is pleasing to the sakhis. In such a condition, desire no longer can be called desire, but rather should be called a proclivity for the delectable pastimes (rasa-līlā-pravṛtti). In this mood, every moment appears new and fresh in the heart of the devotee.


(6) Pārakīyā-svakīyā idea.

As the above indicates, the concept of a unitary divine world with no distinctions between the sakhis and the Divine Couple means that the whole question of sva- or para-, being Krishna’s or not-Krishna’s does not enter into the realm of possibility. Since the sakhis all are intimately part of this līlā, both from the point of view of līlā as well as siddhānta, they are svakīyā. There is no one in the world that could separate them for even a moment.

But SBG goes on to say that there is not really any svakīyā, either, in the true sense of the word as a married state. Since Radha is no one’s daughter, has no birth or death, knows neither time, nor karma, material nature or its qualities, is beyond the eternal cycle of creation and destruction, the entire idea of being a wife to Krishna has no meaning. As a result, in the pure concept of sakhī-bhāva, neither svakīyā nor pārakīyā have any place. Sakhī-bhāva is completely transcendental.

Even though the sakhis do not think of Krishna as their lover, the question of their being svakīyā or pārakīyā does not arise. Their “husband” (svāmī) is the Yugala Dampati. The relationship is unique as it neither gives scope to desire (sakāmatā), nor to the idea of svakīyā and pārakīyā.

So in all the above categories, sakhī-bhāva transcends the usual categories in which gopi-bhava is understood or described. In all areas, the sakhis are integral to the pastimes of Priya-Pritam: they are participants in the līlā, they expand the līlā, they relish the līlā. Indeed, they are personifications of the līlā (līlā-svarūpā). They have no other functional identity. As a result, the concept of the sakhi can only be explained as an aspect of the nitya-vihāra.

The next few pages gives citations from various works to support the above. I may come back and add to it if I find information that seems pertinent or very useful.


I would say that with perhaps one exception or two, the entire scheme above is compatible with the Gaudiya siddhanta. And, even within Gaudiya siddhanta, Jiva Goswami accepts the idea of a dimension where the nitya vihara is indeed going on. Jiva talks about this in the context of separation, where the gopis are told by Krishna that he never leaves them, even though they are suffering from his separation in the context of the līlā.

The Gaudiya Math places a great deal of emphasis on the mood of separation, but the entire mood of separation does ultimately depend on the fact of eternal union. In other words, while separated, the lovers meditate intensely on the union they have experienced and desire to recreate. Psychologically, this is a kind of other-dimensional union that is considered metaphysically real. This is the meaning behind the famous verse:

संगम-विरह-विकल्पे, वरमिह विरहो न तु संगमस्तस्य ।
एकः स एव संगे, त्रिभुवनमपि तन्मयं विरहे ॥

Were I made to choose between union and separation
I would verily take separation and not union with him.
For, when united in his company, he is but one man,
whereas when separated, the entire universe becomes he.

So the concept of nitya-vihāra lies behind the very fabric of the nitya-līlā, even if we accept the various comings and goings created by Yogamaya to stir the līlā rasa.

Devotees in sakhī mañjarī bhāva have their eyes focused on the nitya-vihāra. It cannot be seen any differently from the impulse of lovers to be united. When that impulse possesses them, they are fixed on the goal and that goal pervades their senses and sensibility. That is the desired result, and the obstacles created by Maya (whether Yogamaya or Mahamaya here is irrelevant) simply make the desire more acute; they challenge the existence of that desire and make the entire being of the aspirant more deeply involved in the challenge of attaining it. For the Gaudiyas, this is why the pārakīyā-svakīyā question, or that of separation, are acknowledged as substantial, since they represent a sophistication of the līlā.

Clearly, I may add, that this concentration of the līlā, this successive exclusionary process, is something that the Gaudiyas were engaged in. However, it only LOOKS as if they were acknowledging the value in every other aspect of Vishnu līlā, from Vaikuntha, to the Purushavatars, to Dvaraka, Mathura and other rasas in Braj. THey were also narrowly focused in the end. Swami Haridas and the rest of the Rasika Sampradayas all accepted the conclusion and said, we don't need all the rest of this, we will just take the jewel in the lotus. There is clearly nothing wrong if Gaudiyas do the same thing.

One last comment, of course, is that yugala-sādhana makes more sense if we accept the nitya-vihāra context.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Leaving for India Today

So the day has been getting imperceptibly closer and is finally here. My flight is this evening and I have a lot of last minute preparations still to do. My books are still filling their shelves, their future uncertain. Countless photocopied pages lie piled up in boxes, some dating back to undergraduate days, waiting in futility for one kernel of wisdom to be picked up, one significant quote to be cited in a magnum opus, and which now will most likely be forever overlooked.

I spent much of the last two days scanning books and articles into PDF format. I wish that I had done much more, but now that will have to wait. At least much of what I will need to consult for the work I know I will have to do in the next few months is available to me for consultation.

The following verse comes to mind--

pustaka-sthā tu yā vidyā para-hasta-gataṁ dhanam
kārya-kāle samutpanne na sā vidyā na tad dhanam
Knowledge that is in books is like money in another's hand. When the time to use it comes, neither the knowledge nor the money serve their purpose.
I had to hassle with my bank to get them to give me the money due on a check that has been waiting for three weeks to clear. Finally, the manager acquiesced and so I will have some cash for my trip. And now I am looking at all these books, all this knowledge, that is as ephemeral as money. And at the time of death, it is not even knowledge that will be of any great help, it is only the bhakti, the prema that will see us through, that will make us worthy.

So here I go. Prema prayojan. I will post again as soon as I can.


Someone pointed out to me Gaurasundar's comment over on Advaita's blog: "Lately all he ever seems to talk about is sex." Hmm. Checked over the posts dating back quite a way, and other than this throwaway gift from the HBV to Advaita Dasji, I don't find anything about sex since Nov. 14.

Of course, I don't mind the accusation, because I do believe that Radha and Krishna do have something to do with sex. Not only that, but I think that NOT recognizing that is a problem.


Kind of interesting reading Shashibhushan Dasgupta's Rādhā Krama Vikāśa. (It is so entertaining to read this book by a genuine scholar, which nevertheless cannot help but be imbued with bhakti, just because it is written in Bengali! The language itself resonates with devotion, especially when he draws the parallels between Chaitanya and Radha, how Chaitanya's bhavas made Radharani a reality... but more about that another time.)

Dasgupta says, with a great deal of bonhomie, that basically, śakti-vāda is as old as India, even older than the Vedas. It has a prominence in India that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. After pointing out how all gods in the Indian pantheon have their śakti counterparts, śakti-śaktimān, prakṛti-puruṣa, etc, he concludes that no one in India would ever fail to draw the conclusion that Radha and Krishna represent another chapter in this story.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Nimbarka sampradaya notes

These notes are just for future reference and are a bit sloppy.

Sharan Behari Goswami is very critical of the dating of the Nimbarka sampradaya as given by the tradition itself. I personally have never been able to find any clear or decisive information about that sect, and a wide variety of authors gives a rather wide variety of dates for Nimbarka and his principal followers. The tradition itself says that he appeared at the end of the Dvapara yuga, which we can discount. Scholars give a variety of speculations, which need to be examined. Bhandarkar gives his birth as 1162 CE, and others like Baladeva Upadhyay say he is the “oldest among the Vaishnava acharyas” (vaiṣṇava ācāryoṁ meṁ pracīnatama), but the speculations run from 531 CE (Virajakant Ghosh) to post Vallabhacharya (R.L. Mitra)

The most credible scholars say that he comes after Ramanuja, since certain texts in his Vedanta commentary appear to be based on the Sri Bhashya. If this is the only evidence, it is not particularly strong, as such things can point both ways. Vrajavallabha Sharana Vedantacharya (Sri Nimbarkacharya, Sudarshan Patrika, Visesanka 1972, 66-79) finds evidence to show that Shankar debated his ideas, thus placing him before Shankara, i.e., in the 7th century, or even earlier. Sundarananda Vidyavinoda places Nimbarka later than Ramanuja, on the basis of original research. Sashibhushan Dasgupta শ্রীরাধার ক্রম বিকাশ, 195), also points to Nimbarka’s shakti doctrine as following Ramanuja. I would have to go with this consensus and place Nimbarka after the 12th century.

Saranabehari (SBG) was the first person I have read who did not accept anything except for the Vedānta-parijāta-saurabha as a genuine work of Nimbarka, rejecting Mantra-rahasya-ṣoḍaśi, Vedānta-kāma-dhenu (Daśaślokī), Prabhāta-stotra and Rādhāṣṭakam, the well-known works that are usually considered proofs that Nimbarka was the first to worship Radha and Krishna in sakhī-bhāva.

I don’t find his arguments very strong, mainly because he does not present his proofs in any detail. Like many Indian scholars, he lists the dates postulated by previous writers without examining or judging their proofs, so it is hard to find the kernel of verity. My tendency is to be wary of his argument, since he seems predisposed to making every development in the sakhī-bhāva dependent on Haridas Swami, and therefore it is necessary to dispose of Nimbarki claims to be originators of the mood.

Vedānta-parijāta-saurabha is a short philosophical work and has no mention of Radha or even a whiff of yugala-upāsanā. Whether this in itself can be proof of anything is hard to say. Could we deduce sakhī- or mañjarī-bhāva from the writings of Sanatan Goswami? Or Baladeva Vidyabhushan? Could we discard Mādhava-mahotsava because there is nothing of its flavor in Tattva-sandarbha?

SBG states that Srinivas, Nimbarka’s disciple, who wrote a commentary on VPS named Vedānta-kaustubha, does not mention Radha either. Other, pre-16th century attributed works of the line are disposed of, some for very good reasons. But I find it very hard to accept that Daśaślokī was written in the 19th century, as stated by Hazari Prasad Dvivedi (Hindi Sahitya, 1952, p.198-199), a very influential and credible historian of Hindi literature. Whatever the actual date of writing, the verse that everyone points to in the Daśaślokī, which mentions Radha and the sakhis, is this one:

aṅge tu vāme vṛṣabhānujāṁ mudā
virājamānām anurūpa-saubhagām |
sakhī-sahasraiḥ parisevitāṁ sadā
smarema devīṁ sakaleṣṭa-kāma-dām ||5||

We should remember the Goddess, daughter of Vrishabhanu, who joyfully sits to Krishna’s left, and whose beauty and blessedness match his, and who is constantly served by thousands of sakhis, and who awards all desires.
SBG (page 61) quotes one Sudarshan Singh, who denies that this is truly a basis for sakhi-bhava worship. (avaśya hī daśaślokī meṁ śrīrādhākṛṣṇakī vandanā hai, para usase madhura bhāva yā sakhī bhāva saṁpradāya ko poṣaṇa mile, aisā koī bīja nahīṁ hai | uṣā māsika, akṭūbara 1952). I don’t see the validity of this statement.

There are two commentaries on the Daśaślokī, one by Purushottam Acharya (usually number 7 on the parampara lists), Vedānta-ratna-mañjuṣa, the other by Harivyasa Devacharya (no. 35 and definitely dated as a junior contemporary of Sri Rupa), Siddhānta-ratnāñjali. SBG discredits both of these works as predating developments in the sakhi mood, i.e., the early to mid-16th century. Though these are predominantly concerned with siddhanta, Purushottam, who follows Sri Sampradaya arguments about Lakshmi, concludes that Radha and the Vraja-vadhus are premādhiṣṭhātrī devīs, while Lakshmi is aiśvaryādhiṣṭhātrī devī, which is definitely an evolution of Shakti-tattva. Some of the texts he quotes (rādhayā mādhavo devo, etc.) are among those interpolated texts that are quite late. It would be hard to place this commentary too far ahead of our watershed moment, but even if it were only a day, it would still show Nimbarka sampradaya primacy.

Another work is credited to Nimbarka, Mantra-rahasya-shodasi, which we have published on GGM with a commentary by Sundara Bhatta. Generally, even if we compress the 30-odd names that the Nimbarki tradition gives separating Nimbarka from Harivyasa (most acharya lists need to be taken with a grain of salt, as they can be easily falsified for propaganda purposes), we still have to accept that Sundara Bhatta, Keshava Kashmiri, and Sri Bhatta (his guru) all preceded Harivyas. Nevertheless, neither the original MRS nor the commentary show any signs of sakhī-bhāva. They clearly belong to the pāñcarātrika vaidhī ethos that SBG (and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati) says characterizes most of the Vaishnava sampradayas prior to the pre-16th century.

Later in his book (pages xx), SBG quotes from a work called Sudharmādhva-bodha, apparently only available in manuscript form and with the author's name cut off. I was able to find no further information from the VRI catalogues or elsewhere. SBG says it is important for understanding Nimbarki siddhanta and sadhana, but unfortunately, as is so often the case in Indian scholarship, such trivial information as the date of a work is neglected. (As usual, earlier and later works are jumbled together without any thought of historical relations.) The Sudharmādhva-bodha appears to be a work similar to the Sādhanāmṛta-candrikā, a combination pūjā and smaraṇa paddhati, and probably dates from around the same period (i.e. end 18th).

Anyway, what held my attention here was a series of meditations on the aṣṭa-sakhīs which match Rādhā-kṛṣṇa-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā in many details. I knew that most of the rasika sampradayas in Vrindavan accepted the same set of eight sakhi names, but the order of the eight names and other details , i.e., parents' names, color of cloth and bodily hue, seva, etc., match with a great deal of consistency. Even the eight subordinate friends, e.g., Ratnaprabha, etc., for Lalita, are named with fair consistency, and some variants could be attributed to misreadings (e.g. Shubhatha for Subhadra). Since I imagine that Sudharmādhva-bodha is probably not going to be easy to find, I will add these verses as footnotes to RKGGD on Grantha Mandir. The Nimbarka version does not include the names of the husbands of the gopis, as might well be expected.

Since these details have no, as far as I know, Puranic or Pancharatrik antecedents, it shows once again the close interactions that existed between Gaudiyas and other sampradayas of the period and is probably worth following up on. But if I had to guess, I would say that the direction of influence goes from Gaudiya to Nimbarki, primarily because of the use of terms like vāmā-prakharā (cf., Indulekha) to describe the personalities of these sakhis, which looks like Rupa Goswami’s handiwork. Finally, some of the repetition is word for word (kaniṣṭhā saptabhir dinaiḥ), which again indicates direct lines of influence. It would be interesting to see the extent of use of this text in the Nimbarka sampradaya. SBG says it is important, but there does not seem to be much evidence of existing MS or publication.

On the other hand, SBG gives an analysis of the gopis from Harivyasji's Siddhānta-ratnāñjalī, which is a commentary on the Vedānta-kāma-dhenu mentioned above (showing that at least by the mid-16th century, it was accepted as Nimbarka's work.) SBG says this analysis is not as "scientific" as Rupa Goswami's. On the other hand, he also mentions that it shows the direct influence of BRS and UN (page xx).

Harivyasa says that Nimbarka was an incarnation of Rangadevi. His disciples Srinivas and Audumbara were Sudevi and Chitra respectively. Krishna has two kinds of preyasī--independent (svatantra) and dependent (paratantra). The distinction is that the former attain Krishna by their own efforts (nija-ceṣṭita-labdhāśā) and have no consideration for convention (tyakta-laukikā), the latter are dependent on Krishna (mukundehita-labdhāśā) and subservient to others (parāśritā).

The svatantra-preyasīs are divided into three categories: didṛkṣu (wanting just to see Krishna), rirāṁsu (wanting to enjoy with Krishna), and vivarayiṣu (wanting to marry Krishna). These are exemplified by the yajñapatnīs, the rāsalīlā gopis and the Katyayani pūjā gopis respectively. Radha is the best of the svatantra-preyasīs.

Paratantra-preyasīs are of two kinds, nitya-dṛk and didṛkṣu. The first category counts the queens of Dvaraka, the latter the women of Mathura who watched Krishna enter the town.

I note with interest SBG’s references to Bhagiratha Jha (“a scholar of the Nimbarka tradition”), whom I discovered last time I went to Vrindavan, and whose commentary to Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad I have posted on GGM. The book SBG refers to is Yugala-tattva-samīkṣā, portions of which have also been posted on GGM under the title Vṛndāvana-rasa-tattva-samīkṣā. Anyway, SBG draws on Jha to show that in the Nimbarka sampradaya, the eight principal sakhis enjoy sambhoga with Krishna. I think that if he had talked to more people from that sampradaya, however, he would have realized that this does not necessarily mean sambhoga relationship.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Atheist and religious fundamentalisms

I am going through a period of intellectual dullness. It has much to do with the move, which is very final. I am not using this blog as a confessional of late, though the temptation to do so is great. Kutichak recently compared me to a flame covered by a basket, refering to the description of Devaki's pregnancy. Clearly, the changes that I am going through are meant to bring that flame out into the open, but a flame in the open can easily be blown out. Who knows the future? Sometimes we just have to make a move. Like the Bhagavatam says--even if you run with your eyes closed, you won't trip, you won't fall. That is the essence of faith, the leap.

Reading Christopher Hitchens' sharp comments on today's Slate makes me realize just how much work there is to be done. Hitchens is a veritable cutting machine in his analysis of American obsession with faith and belief against the background of the American founding fathers' secularism.

Recently someone on the Guardian Comment is Free page took Christopher Hitchens to task for being a "fundamentalist" in the sense that his arguments are all against fundamentalist versions of these various religions. But in today's article, he really is simply asking for straight answers about where someone like Romney, a Mormon, stands in relation to a set of beliefs, history and traditions that in many cases not only stand in complete contrast to the cherished ideas of rationalism and secular democracy, but are downright nonsense in the eyes of most people, religious or not. In one nice turn of phrase, Hitchens talks about knowing the difference between being "born again and being born yesterday," or knowing the difference between "Deism and Theism."

I have always considered the entire Mormon belief system to be entirely unconvincing and without any attraction whatsoever. Despite that, I have prayed with young Mormon preachers who came to my door, with no feeling of alienation or distance. Nevertheless, I find it rather interesting to think where we Krishna bhaktas stand in relation to these other religious faiths. How would a Hare Krishna politician fare in a country where a Hindu priest saying a prayer in the Congress can stir up such heated passions? Certainly a devotee politician would receive an even more fatally mocking condemnation from the Hitchens of this world than Mitt Romney, what to speak of the opprobrium of the famous religious right.

Currently, the Krishna movement is downplaying politics. Prabhupada was something of a libertarian. And many of the most vocal intellectual threads in the Krishna consciousness movement seem to take very conservative positions, even aligning with the Christian right on many social issues, as well as evolution, etc. In fact, we see that there is a certain religious conservatism--whether Baptist, Mormon, Muslim or Hindu--that could form a broad coalition on these issues, even though each of these groups is deeply suspicious of the others.

Despite this, it is my feeling that most devotees in the West are basically liberal in their attitudes and deeply uncomfortable with much of the conservative rhetoric; and even if they are not always vocal, viscerally opposed to most of it when it manifests. It is one of the reasons that this movement is so lacking a tight center. It is in some ways comparable (on a much smaller scale) to the Catholic Church, where stated conservative orthodoxy and general public attitudes are at complete odds. The people seem to be pushing ahead of their leaders; they take something selectively from the tradition--some symbols, some rituals, some teachings--and disregard the political implications of the magisterium's social teachings or irrelevant dictates on scientific theory.

The reason for this latent or underlying liberalism amongst devotees, despite the deeply conservative social character of the tradition, is quite simply its rootedness in the "counterculture" and its offshoots, which rejected most established Western religion on every level--intellectual, cultural, and social. This rejection came as a result of a sustained critique of the Western establishment conservatism, which included the Catholic-Protestant-Jew consensus that had evolved by the 60's in the great melting pot.

The fact is that in religion, as with many other social phenomena, the conservative core will always have a certain residual power that comes from adherence to the familiar. Religion itself is an oasis from the confusion and challenge of constant change and aggressive novelty. [This is another area where sex and religion run on parallel tracks, for sex is another great sanctuary for the confused. And its appeal is more visceral, immediate and more easily intellectually defensible (as well as more debasing) than religion, especially where religion takes so many forms, each seeming to require the suspension of cherished disbelief.]

The relationship between the enlightenment consensus, or secularism, and liberal religiosity is a complex one. This is what Christopher Hitchens' critics are complaining about. I certainly can read Hitchens and agree with most of what he says, while still feeling that he does not get it. But then, most fundamentalists don't get it either. Literal belief in things that people believed literally even a century or two ago is not the solution to the materialism or the vapidity and frantic consumerism of modern culture. We have to accept the modernist critiques of rationalists like Hitchens or Dawkins, even if we feel they have missed the point.

The challenge for us is to show how a tradition can evolve by admitting the validity of much rational criticism and still not only preserve the core spirituality that provides the connecting thread for its history, but indeed to find new and inspiring meanings in the symbols and ideas that form that thread. Of course, this means alienating the conservatives because it requires reinterpretations that will draw on intellectual traditions outside our own, but that is the price to pay when we insist on excavating deeper universal truths in our tradition rather than hiding in hobbyism or fundamentalism.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Some remarks on Hari-bhakti-vilasa and commentary

Most of the eleventh chapter (vilāsa) of HBV is about the Holy Name. More than the Vedas, more than any tirtha--nothing compares to the glories of the Name.

kiṁ tāta vedāgama-śāstra-vistarais
tīrthair anekair api kiṁ prayojanam |
yady ātmano vāṣchasi mukti-kāraṇaṁ
govinda govinda iti sphutaṁ raṭa ||

My dear boy, what need is there of all the vast body of Vedic and Tantric scripture? And what need have we of visiting all the holy places? If you truly want the liberation of your soul, then loudly repeat the names Govinda Govinda! (11.384)
I just noticed in the commentary to 11.631, Sanatan refers to Rupa Goswami as śrīman-mahānubhāva, saying, "As (Sri Rupa) has discussed these matters in detail in Bhakti-rasārṇava (i.e. Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu), I have not gone into it any further here." This would indicate that BRS (which mentions HBV) was written before the commentary to HBV. However, Sanatan mentions Bṛhad (Laghu?) Bhāgavatāmṛta several times also.

In the commentary to 11.632, he again mentions Bhakti-rasārṇava along with Vopadeva's Muktāphala, and a book that I don't recognize called Viṣṇu-bhakti-candrodaya.

Also, it should be noted that in the commentary to 11.627-629 (for those looking for ammunition to use against me), Sanatan says clearly--"Since the anus and genitals are not appropriate for direct use in devotional service, devotional service characterized by their functions has not been written about here." (pāyūpasthayoś ca tatra sākṣād-ayogyatvāt tad-vṛtti-rūpa-lakṣaṇaṁ na likhitam).

Quoted from the Skanda Purana, in the section about śaraṇāgati--

govindaṁ paramānandaṁ mukundaṁ madhusūdanam |
tyaktvānyaṁ vai na jānāmi na bhajāmi smarāmi na ||
na namāmi na ca staumi na paśyāmi sva-cakṣuṣā |
na spṛhāmi na gāyāmi na vā yāmi hariṁ vinā ||

I know nothing other than Govinda, the Supreme Joy, Mukunda, Madhusudhan. Other than Him, I worship no one, I think of no one. I bow to no one, I praise no one, I look on none with mine own eye. I hope for no one, sing of no one, I take shelter of none but Hari. (11.673-674)
Reading Sanatan's comments to 11.676-677, he talks a lot about sakhya. I wonder whether that was his rasa. If you think of Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, with Gopa Kumar and all being his alter ego, I would tend to assume as much.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hindola Lila

One week to go before I leave. It is a nice day, one of those bright, blinding white, after snowfall days. Did some more shoveling out back; been shoveling for three days.

I chanted the gopī-gīta and went for a walk, then I read about 30 pages of my sakhī-bhāva book.

On page 155, Sharan Bihari Goswami, whose stated thesis is that Haridas Swami is the originator and main man in advancing the cause of sakhi-bhāva, finally admits that there is no equal to the Gaudiya Sampradaya for an analysis of gopi-bhāva, sakhi-bhāva and madhura-rasa. It had been a bit startling to see him restate his principal idea on page 137, after having quoted two pages earlier Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu about the sambhogecchāmayī and tad-bhāvecchā-mayī moods. If any concept makes a clear and official distinction between nāyikā and sakhī-bhāva, it is there.

I found the following verses, which seem worthy of reflection, taken from the Skanda Purana--

līlaiva dvividhā tasya vāstavī vyāvahārikī
vāstavī tat-svayaṁ-vedyā jīvānāṁ vyāvahārikī
ādyā vinā dvitīyā na dvitīyā nādyagā kvacit
āvayor gocareyaṁ tu tal-līlā vyāvahārikī
yatra bhūr-ādayo lokā bhuvi māthura-maṇḍalau

The lila is of two kinds: vāstavī (fundamental, real) and vyāvahārikī (functional, temporary). The fundamental is that experienced by Krishna alone; that experienced by the jivas is functional. The second cannot exist without the first, nor the first without the second. So what we experience of his līlā is the vyāvahārikī, which manifests where exist this earthly plane, and on this earth, the district of Mathura. (Skanda Purana, Vaishnava Khanda, Marga-sirsha, 1.25-27)
And, so that Shiva can pack his arsenal of quotes further, if he does not have these already:

yaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ sāpi rādhā yā rādhā kṛṣṇa eva saḥ
ātmārāmasya kṛṣṇasya dhruvam ātmāsti rādhikā
tasyā evāṁśa-vistārāḥ sarvāḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāyikāḥ

He who is Krishna is also Radha. She who is Radha is verily Krishna. Krisha is known as Atmaram, one who takes pleasure in the Self. But his Self is verily Radha. All of Krishna's nayikas are the expansions of her parts. (Brahmanda Purana, Radha-stava)
These verses are also quoted in Hanuman Prasad Poddar's Rādhā-Mādhava Cintan, which is a real classic. Interestingly, as I was verifying this (he credits Skanda Purana), I found a couple of verses from the hindola lila in Govinda-līlāmṛta (14.65-66, 68-70), which he did not identify but which I recognized, as I just finished chapter 14 of GL for the Grantha Mandir.

rādhā-dṛg-iṅgita-nayāl lalitām aghārir
ākṛṣya dakṣiṇa-bhujaṁ vinidhāya tasyāḥ |
kaṇṭhe paraṁ bhujam asau dayitāṁsa-deśe
madhye tayoḥ sa vibabhau taḍitor ivābdaḥ ||65||

kaundy abravīt paśyatālyo jyotiś-cakre cale puraḥ |
rādhānurādhayor madhye pūrṇo’yam udito vidhuḥ ||66||
Honoring Radha’s hint, Krishna seats Lalita on his right and rests his arm on her shoulder. Then he embraces Radha on his left. Aho! Is a dark cloud now illumined by two streaks of lightning? Kundalata addresses everyone: “O sakhis! Just see! The full moon has rised in between the two shining stars, Radha and Anuradha!”
athāvaruhya hindolād dvābhyāṁ dvābhyāṁ virājatam |
viśākhā-lalitādibhyāṁ śrī-rādhāndolayat priyam ||68||

tato’varūḍhā lalitādayas tadā
rādheṅgitaiḥ kāñcanavallikādikāḥ |
ārohayāmāsur adhaḥ sthitāḥ sakhīr
hindolikāṁ tāṁ kramaśo balāc chalaiḥ ||69||

tāsāṁ dvayī-dvayī-pūrṇa-pārśvaṁ taṁ kramaśo mudā |
govindaṁ dolayāmāsur gāyantyas tāḥ sa-rādhikāḥ ||70||
Next, Radha gets down to enjoy swinging the hindola as Lalita and Vishakha, and then other pairs of sakhis sit next to Krishna. When these sakhis have finished and get down, Radha hints that they should let Kanchanalata and others have a turn. The sakhis push them on the swing, as one pair after another sits on either side of Krishna. Radha joins Lalita and the remaining sakhis who push the hindola and sing. (Gadadhar Pran's translations.)
The context is Radha's unselfish generosity to her sakhis, and it was rather interesting to see that Gadadhar Pran and Hanuman Prasad Poddar both refer to the idea of Krishna being the prema-kalpa-latā and the sakhis being her leaves, flowers and fruits.
Rasa-taraṅgiṇī-ṭīkā (Gadadhar Pran): Radhika is the prema-kalpa-latā, and the sakhis are this golden lata’s leaves and flowers. Therefore, just as they satisfy Radha Thakurani, she strives to satisfy them; this is her nitya-vrata (eternal vow). So, Radha nudges Rasikendra to let her sakhis sit beside him, and he agrees by first seating Lalita.

Without satisfying her sakhis, Jagadanandini Rai’s own desires remain unfulfilled. Thus when Krishna kisses, hugs and enjoys her sakhis, enjoying prema keli with them, Radha plunges into an ānanda-sindhu. Rasika bhaktas may note that this is called eka-prāṇatā ("oneness in spirit"). Radha and her sakhis are one life in many forms. Although Lalita, Vishakha and the other leading sakhis are qualified to be Yutheshvaris themselves, they consider such a position insignificant in comparison to their intimate friendship with Radha.
Actually, it is not so amazing, as Poddar and Gadadhar are both following a common source, which becomes clear from the rest of Poddar's description.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


naivākṣi-lagnaṁ dayitaṁ vilokase
chāyāṁ nijāmanya-janīṁ ca manyase |
sarvatra candrāvalikāṁ viśaṅkase
citraṁ tavedaṁ praṇayākhya-nartanam ||
Kundalata says, “Sakhi Radhe! You cannot recognize your prāna-priyatama even when he is right before your eyes, and you mistake your own shadow for someone else! You suspect Chandravali's presence everywhere. This dance of yours known as praṇaya is truly amazing! (GLA 14.26)
Even though the word praṇaya seems to be being used as a technical term, the prema-vaicittya circumstances do not fit the definition as given in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, which surprises me a little, as Krishnadas was thoroughly familiar with UN. Praṇaya is, as noted in a recent post, the state of love imbued with trust or viśrambha. Viśrambha is defined by Jiva as "a sense of oneness with the beloved" (abheda-mananam), while Vishwanath defines it as belief (viśvasa) without fear (sambhrama).