Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nikunja Rahasya Stava (Part II)


stavakita-maṇi-dāmnā preyasā gumphitātyad-
bhuta-sulalita-veṇī-preyasī-kpta-cūḍau |
mitha udayad-akhaṇḍa-prema-rajjū-vibaddhau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||14||

Flower-clusters dangle from both sides of Sri Yugala Kishor’s jewel-ornamented hair, but still Keli Chand Krishna wants to decorate Rai’s wonderful veni, and she begins to arrange his chura! With every second they are becoming more and more bound within the limitless ropes of prema! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!

jaghana-lulita-veṇī-visphurad-barha-cūḍau
kanaka-rucira-cūḍā-kaṅkaṇa-dvandva-pāṇī |
vilasad-aruṇa-rociḥ-pīta-kauṣeya-vāsau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||15||

When Rai Kishori’s veni is braided, it dangles over her buttocks; Krishna’s peacock-feathered crown is captivating. The Divine Couple both wear bangles and bracelets on their wrists. Radha’s silken undergarment is red and Krishna wears his pitambara. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


kanaka-jalada-gātrau nīla-śoṇābja-netrau
mṛgamada-rasa-bhālau mālatī-kunda-mālau |
tarala-taruṇa-veśau nīla-pītāmbareśau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||16||

Radha’s body is yellow, like gold, and Krishna’s body is blue, like a cloud. Their eyes are like blue and red lotuses, black irises with the tint of rose around the edges. Tilak designs of deer musk adorn their foreheads, and they’re garlanded by malati and kunda malas. Their deep blue and pitambara outfits match their new youth. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


lalita-nava-kiśorau navya-lāvaṇya-puñjau
sakala-rasika-cūḍālaṅkṛtī mugdha-veśau |
madhura-madhura-mūrtī vidyud-ambhoda-kāntī
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||17||

The delightful young lovers personify ever-fresh loveliness; they are the worshipable crown-jewels of all rasikas, and sweeter than the sweetest! Their dress is attractive—colored like a flash of lightning within a raincloud! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!!


kim api parama-śobhā-mādhurī-rūpa-ceṣṭā-
hasita-lalita-dṛṣṭyātyadbhutotkarṣa-kāṣṭhām |
parama-rasa-rahasyāveśataḥ sandadhānau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||18||

Deeply absorbed within the most intimate rasa, they’re indescribably sweet as they exchange madhura smiles and glances, and converse back and forth in a wonderfully intriguing fashion! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!!


nikhila-nigama-gūḍhau nityam anyonya-gāḍha-
praṇaya-bhara-vivṛdhau tuṅgitānaṅga-ceṣṭau |
surata-rasa-madāndhau nyasta-jīvau mithoṅge
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||19||

Hidden from the teachings found in all the Shrutis, this Couple nourishes each other’s intense prema, but now their ananga keli reaches an extreme pitch! Aho! They’ve become blinded with surata intoxication as they fully surrender their lives to each other's bodies! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!!


ramaṇa-vadana-candre datta-tāmbūla-vīṭī
nija-rasa-nidhi-vaktre datta-tac-carvya-bhāgau |
mitha uru-rasadāṅga-sparśa-lolubhyamānau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||20||

Rai holds a tambul vitika (pan) up to her Priya Ramana’s moon-like face, and after chewing it, Krishna offers it back to rasa nidhi Rai’s mouth with a nectar-filled kiss. In this way, they increase each other's maddening desire to touch each other again and again! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!!


atirasa-mada-vegān nistrapā-dhairya-dṛṣṭī
krama-samudita-tat-tat-sauratāścarya-nītī |
bahir atirasa-līlānuvratā-kṣāma-varṇau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||21||

Due to the overpowering force of the extreme intoxication from their excessive delight, their eyes shamelessly regard each other without any restraint. Progressively their amazing lovemaking skills are called into play. Hence, the sakhis and manjaris who eagerly watch outside the keli bhavana ecstatically chatter about this overwhelmingly relishable lila. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!!


rajata-bhavana-randhrāyāta-san-manda-śītā-
nīla-vidalita-tuṅgānaṅga-saṅgrāma-khedau |
kṣaṇa-sahacara-ramyārabdha-bhūyo-vihārau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||22||

Aho! A breeze gently blows through the silver cottage's windows to cool them as they become fatigued from the feverish ecstasy of their erotic tussle. And in just a moment of refreshment brought by this friendly breeze, they start up their delightful lovemaking again. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!!


tad-atilalita-līlā-lola-lolāṅga-lakṣyau
sulalita-lalitāder nirṇimeṣākṣi-randhraiḥ |
hṛdayam upanayantau pūrṇa-saukhyāmbu-rāśau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||23||

The Divine Couple's restless bodies display the bruises and love-bites they have accumulated in their delightful lilas. Thus the lovely Lalita and other sakhis peek through the kunja windows with unblinking eyes and embrace the madhura darshan of this overflowing ocean of joy to their hearts! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


praṇayamaya-vayasyāḥ kuñja-randhrārpitākṣīḥ
kṣiti-talam anu labdhvānanda-mūrcchāṁ patantīḥ |
prati rati-vidadhānau ceṣṭitaiś citra-citraiḥ
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||24||

Radha’s loving sakhis can’t hold on a moment more—while peeking from the windows they fall unconscious from the excruciating impact of prema’s darshan ananda! In this way, through their ever-diverse, amazing activities, the Divine Couple bestows their love on them. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!!


bahu-vidha-parimṛṣṭānyonya-gātrāv ajasraṁ
bahu-vidha-paripṛcchā-kāritānyonya-vācau |
animiṣa-nayanāli-svāditānyonya-vaktrau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||25||

As their hands continuously fondle each other’s bodies, they talk to each other, asking each other questions and exchanging rasa katha. And all the while, the bees of their unblinking eyes constantly drink in the honey of each other’s lotus faces. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


manasija-rasa-sindhor adbhutāvarta-vega-
śramita-tanu-manaskau kelli-vismāpitālī |
bahu-vidha-rasa-gātra-sparśa-jalpa-prahāsau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||26||

Their minds and bodies unceasingly spin within the whirlpools of Kandarpa’s amazing ocean of delight, gradually becoming fatigued and causing the sakhis and manjaris to be spellbound! They caress each other's bodies, laughing and speaking all sorts of meaningless words of love! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


bahula-surata-khelāyāsa-saṅkhinna-gātrau
dayita-nija-sakhībhir bījyamānau paṭāntaiḥ |
sarasa-bhujaga-vallī-pallavāsvādi-vaktrau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||27||

In the fatigue of their all-consuming love play, the Divine Couple's bodies become slack, and so their beloved sakhis fan them with their own garments and put tasty tambul vitikas into their mouths, turning their leaf-like lips red and enhancing the beauty of their faces. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


mitha-uru-pulaka-śrī-dor-latā-baddha-kaṇṭhau
vyatimilita-mukhendū kiṅkiṇī-lālitāṅghrī |
nava-rati-rasa-khelā-śrānti-tandrālu-netrau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||28||

While wrapping their shivering, love-excited arms around each other's necks, they stay there, resting cheek against each other's cheek, their waistbells undone and dangling over their feet. Yet in the jostling of ever-fresh rati rasa keli their lotus eyes slightly close and they doze off! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


surata-rasa-samudre pādam ācūḍa-magnau
truṭi-lavam iva yātāṁ manyamānau tri-yāmām |
pratinimiṣam asīmojjṛmbhitānaṅga-tṛṣṇau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||29||

From head to toe, their bodies are submerged in the ocean of surata rasa! The three praharas of the night seem to them to have elapsed as if they were just a fleeting second! And yet, their thirst to taste each other's love increases limitlessly at every moment! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


tad-atimadhura-dhāmni nāmni vātsalya-mātrāt
katham api kalanīyau kasyacid bhāgya-sīmnaḥ |
śruti-tatibhir agamyau sat-sabhājasra-saṅgau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||30||

Radha and Krishna are only visible to those who are blessed with the greatest good fortune and who have a feeling of great love and affection for their names, which are a great abode of sweetness. They are unknowable by the Vedas, but appear always and fully within the assembly of the saintly. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!


parama-rasa-rahasyānanda-niḥsyandi-vṛndā-
vana-vipina-nikuñje divya-divyair vilāsaiḥ |
niravadhi rasamānau rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau
bhaja sakalam upekṣya tāvakāḥ śāstra-yuktīḥ ||31||

Radha Keli Chand’s most secret and divine Vrindavan nikunja keli oozes an ocean of delight. Hey bhaktas! You who relish the divine moods and flavors! Just discard other thoughts, family attachment and the Vedic strictures to perform exclusive bhajan of the Divine Couple as they relish these lovemaking pastimes!


stavam imam atiramyaṁ rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candra-
pramada-bhara-vilāsair adbhutaṁ bhāva-yuktaḥ |
paṭhati ya iha rātrau nityam avyagra-cittau
vimala-matiṣu rādhālīṣu sakhyaṁ labheta ||32||

This most delightful stava is so amazing and wonderful due to being filled with Radhika and Krishna Chandra’s intoxicating prema. Whoever recites it at night , with deep feeling and undisturbed heart, will attain friendship of Srimati Radharani in the association of her pure-hearted sakhis!


|| iti śrī-nikuñja-rahasya-stavaḥ sampūrṇaḥ ||
--o)O(o--

There are manuscripts of this text under the name Nikunja-vilasa-stava in the Radha-vallabha sampradaya attributed to Prabodhananda. There are many phrases that remind us of his other works, including both Chaitanya-chandramrita and Radha-rasa-sudha-nidhi. Like verse 31, for instance. That is pure Prabodhananda.

Radha and Krishna--diving and bobbing up out of the ocean of surata rasa. And the sakhis, watching and coming out of their stupor to fan when the Divine Couple floats for a moment on the surface, effulgent in the afterglow of their lila. Just remember the one line--smara nibhrita-nikunje radhika-krishna-chandrau.

The sakhi bhava, to answer a recent question, is the archetype of the non-satori satori, the oneness of total absorption, with just enough separation to serve and relish. Rasa means relish. It is the consequence of personhood, possession of an individual mind, even in transcendence.

Go to Part I

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pravartaka, sadhaka, siddha

This article was written in answer to some questions from a Swami Prema Ananda. I revised it subsequently to make it less like a letter, but it still tends to feel like one.



The tripartite system of sādhakas has been frequently referred to on these pages. I recently made a decision that I will no longer use the term kaniṣṭha, as this is generally considered by orthodox Vaishnavas to be somewhat insulting, and is frequently used to condemn someone as not being very advanced. Someone recently told me a nice story about Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj, though, which should put that into perspective.

It seems that Sridhar Maharaj was talking about different levels of adhikar (or qualification for spiritual life) and, following the Bhagavata’s description of the kaniṣṭha being primarily interested in the worship of God in the temple, cited Puri Maharaj as an example. Some of Puri Maharaj’s followers were there, and eager to find insult in Sridhar Maharaj’s words, went and told Puri. But instead of being insulted, Puri Maharaj said, “Ah, Sridhar Maharaj has said that I have some qualification for spiritual life. How he has honored me.”

So, indeed, I also wish to say that the kaniṣṭha stage is a necessary part of the process and it is unlikely that one who has skipped the disciplines of that stage will have the foundation that makes later stages possible. The failed kaniṣṭha may make a show of liberal or universalist views, but will in fact be missing the essential element needed for prema, which is bhakti. So, with this in mind, I will henceforth try to use the term pravartaka.

I have discussed the three stages and how they compare to the orthodox view of three stages to some extent in the series Ahangrahopasana and Aropa, especially Part IV. I realize that is a bit of a difficult set of articles for most people, even though it is essential for an understanding of how Sahaja sādhanā works. Eventually, the articles that came near the beginning of this blog, including that series, will one day hopefully form the basis for a book.

Some ask about the relationship of Sahaja Vaishnavism with the Kashmiri Shaivism system, I really don’t know enough about it to say much at this time. Threefold divisions are common in Indian sādhanā pranalis, and it would not be surprising to find parallels, though I would expect differences as well. I have been analyzing the similarities and differences between orthodox and sahajiya systems, which is really within a single system, so subtle and not-so-subtle differences are to be expected.

The pravartaka stage is about cultivating devotion to the specific deity, i.e., Radha and Krishna, in a way that one becomes immersed in the symbolic language of the process. It includes both the vaidhī and rāgānugā bhakti, so the idea of visualization of līlā, etc., also belongs to this stage.

The sādhaka stage is about cultivating bhava or feelings. Bhakti is essential a culture of emotions in relation to the Divine Person. This is really where the orthodoxy and the sahajiya systems differ. The Sahajiya sādhanā includes the culture of love with a specific sādhanā partner. In union or separation, these partners proceed by a sophisticated process of analogy, recognizing that their love itself is a manifestation of Radha and Krishna’s presence, visualizing them in their own being, and serving them through service to their own love.

For the orthodox, the stage of bhāva is the attainment of spiritual self-identity, i.e., an awareness of their sthāyi-bhāva or fixed relationship with Krishna. So, for them, bhāva is the primary sādhya. I would say that the two kinds of bhāva are related but not exactly the same. The Sahajiya idea is that the sādhaka is engaged in bhāva-sādhanā, while the Orthodox Vaishnava holds that bhava is one of the attainments of practice. Therefore, the distance between bhāva and prema is not so great. For the Sahajiya, I would say that the distance is greater, because the distinction between the personal love and the Divine Love represents a formidable challenge. So to put it another way, the bhāva-sādhanā of the sādhaka stage ENDS with the bhāva understanding of the Orthodox.

As to the third stage, prema, it is more or less the same in both the Sahajiya and Orthodox systems. At least, I should say, in the Sahajiya system that I am following, and according to my understanding. There are many little confusions here, though, and so I will not go into too much detail, except to say that I see the attainment of prema to have a kind of fourth step involved here, which requires a synthesis of the universal with the particular, i.e., with the particular form of the Divinity (which for us is Radha Krishna). So once again, there is a kind of beginning and end division for the siddha stage of the Sahajiya practice. There is a culture of prema and rasa, but since these have to be cultivated from the abheda position. The following table shows it somewhat, if you look at the division I have made in the uttama stage:



By "unified orientation", I mean a synthesis of all three previous stages. So the dualistic orientation of the kaniṣṭha or pravartaka is synthesized with the non-dual orientation of the sāttvika uttama (1) to attain the stage of fully transcendent (śuddha-sattva) uttama, or premika bhakta, where a full realization of Bhagavan as non-dual is attained.

Gaudiya Vaishnavas are acintya-bhedābheda-vadis, which means that we hold equally that God is non-dual and yet filled with variegatedness. We add the word acintya (inconceivable) to this in order to stress that all things, whether in the material or spiritual world, are contained within God, or within the mind of God. The realization of oneness with God is attained through love, which is the most intense “stuff” of the spiritual energy.

I am just reading a book by the famous Gopinath Kaviraj which I came across in a Rishikesh bookstore, quite by surprise. It is called Sri Krishna Prasanga. Gopinath Kaviraj is very well known for his work on Tantra, but this book is not only about Krishna, it is written, as the author himself states, from the standpoint of faith.

It is actually a translation from the original Bengali into Hindi, so it is a little slow going, but I found the introductory pages rather interesting, especially since the subjects I am presently reading in the Bhagavat-sandarbha are also related to this territory of Krishna’s shaktis.

At any rate, Kaviraj states, without any shastric quotes, that the internal potency is the basis of all other potencies, which is exactly what Jiva is saying in Bhagavat-sandarbha. The way he expresses it, though, is quite nice. He says that God’s energies are spread out everywhere; all three--sat, cit and ānanda -are fully manifest in Him, but the closer they are to His personal center, the more deep and intense they are; the further out you go, the more diffuse. So in the deepest center of the Lord’s being, ānanda is found in full, but as one expands outward, ānanda becomes increasingly diffuse. Then as one enters the tatastha region (of the jiva), the chit shakti is present, but ānanda decreasingly so. Finally one comes to the outer circle of inert matter in which there is existence, but no consciousness or joy, except inasmuch as God’s own presence is there. This image confirms the image of the fire given in the Vishnu Purana.

एकदेशस्थितस्याग्नेर्ज्योत्स्ना विस्तारिणी यथा।
परस्य ब्रह्मणः शक्तिस्तथेदमखिलं जगत् ।।



Kaviraj also confirms what I have been saying for some time, that the three aspects are directly related to Bhagavan (in the center), Paramatma (chit) and Brahman (sat only), respectively. It also nicely clarifies the meaning of the following Gita verse--

मया ततमिदं सर्वं जगदव्यक्तमूर्तिना।
मत्स्थानि सर्वभूतानि न चाहं तेष्ववस्थितः॥

I pervade this entire creation in my unmanifest form. All created beings are situated in me, but I am not situated in them. (Gita 9.4)

To the extent that we tiny sparks of consciousness experience love, relationship and the consequential growth towards God, or the experience of becoming something more than what we just are, that is how much we progress towards ānanda  In the material world, however, that happiness is limited, and so we talk about tamas, rajas and sattva as being somewhat parallel to these three aspects of God's being.


Therefore Be a Yogi, Arjuna

One of the many projects that I have on my desk right now is a translation of a French book on Krishna's teachings in the Bhagavad-gita by a longtime and very worthy Prabhupada disciple named Vishnurata Das. Practically speaking, it is a simplification of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, seen through the eyes of the author.

I recently went through his sixth chapter, which as you know is the one on raja-yoga. According to Madhusudana and Vishwanath, this is the last verse of the first set of six, which presumably deal with karma-yoga.

In Vishnurata's version, the instructions on mind control, etc., have been reduced to practically nothing more than the merest skeleton, and the bulk of the chapter is focused on the impracticability of the practices described in the age of Kali. This is coupled with frequent references to the superiority of bhakti-yoga.

Yoga is seen as an exercise in mind and sense-control, but since there is no practical engagement of the mind and senses in the meditational school, only disengagement, it seems most unlikely that any success can be achieved. Indeed, Arjuna protests near the end of the chapter that controlling the mind is more difficult than capturing the raging wind. Nevertheless, Krishna assures him that with practice and detachment, it is possible. These words, abhyasa and vairagya, are echoed near the beginning of the Yoga Sutra (1.12) and indicate a certain universality of application that is relevant for the practice of all yoga systems.

This is certainly the philosophy that I have adopted in coming here. I know it sounds a bit arrogant to talk about kanisthas and madhyamas, etc., for which I beg forgiveness, but I cannot help but see that this approach is something that urgently needs to be added to the bhakti culture that is current in the West. By this I especially mean japa meditation.

The techniques of raja yoga should be applied to chanting Harinam on beads, as well as to the sadly neglected sadhanas related to the diksha mantras. All of these things really form a part of the sadhana stage of sahaja-bhakti-yoga, in which the yogic aspect of sense and mind control come to the fore. Despite the use of the word sahaja, there is no reason to think that the sadhana stage does not require mental and sensory discipline. It simply confirms that the best of yogis is the bhakta; rather, the yogi who is most yukta, or connected to God, is the one who has faith and worships Krishna with the inner being has been entirely consecrated to Him (mad-gatenāntarātmanā ):

tapasvino'dhiko yogī jñānibhyo'pi mato'dhikaḥ
karmibhyaś cādhiko yogī tasmād yogī bhavārjuna
yoginām api sarveṣāṁ mad-gatenāntarātmanā
śraddhāvān bhajate yo mām sa me yuktatamo mataḥ

Swami Veda is leaving for his annual world tour and will be visiting North America and Europe (Partial itinerary. Before leaving, he gave a couple of classes, of which the first was a lecture. He gave three new instructions to his gurukula students, one of which caught me a bit by surprise. This was a protracted manasa-puja meditation to a Jyotir Linga in the cave of the heart.

Of course, we have been promoting the use of yogic visualization techniques already, and I am now getting regular newsletters from Tungavidya Devi who is also developing this technique in yoga classes in America. However, I was a little surprised to hear such a nice meditation in the present context. Indeed, the next evening, in the question and answer session in Swamiji's quarters, one sannyasi asked, "What does this have to do with yoga?" Swamiji laughed and answered, "What does your finger have to do with Tattvananda Swami?"

I also asked a question about the relationship of mantra-japa to the manasi puja and the answer was interesting. Swamiji gave the analogy of medieval fortress defenses, when the besieged army with an inferior force would make a pretense of having many more defenders than thought by moving the bowmen from one arrow loop to another very rapidly. So too the mind is capable of many actions at once. It is processing the activities of all the senses as well as internal organs, pleasures, pains and memories, as well as subconscious impressions all at once. It is not really that these are going on simultaneously, but rather that the mind is so quick that it seems like simultaneity. Furthermore, he said, the visualization exercise he had given was simple and not overburdened with detail, so there is no reason why the mantra japa could not go on simultaneously.

Another thing that he said in the other day's lecture cum dhyana exercise was that everyone should practice 1:2 breathing, i.e., exhale for double the length of the inhalation. This is common enough yogic practice, and a count of 1:4:2 is the customary formula for anuloma-pratiloma pranayama. Here in the Himalayan tradition, kumbhaka (holding the breath) is not practiced. But Swamiji said, "The secret of meditation is that the concentration increases on the exhalation. This is why the 1:2 ratio should be cultivated."

I spent the next day attempting this. I had previously been practicing chanting the two mantras, which are of almost equal length, on the inhalation and exhalation (See Meditation Discovery). Chanting longer mantras to a single breath is generally discouraged for beginners, but though it was somewhat difficult for me at first, I had more or less arrived at the ability to do it naturally for a sustained period of time. I decided to try doing it to a 1:2 ratio and found it challenging. Nevertheless, I intend to continue with it.

There seemed to be a slight contradiction between this particular practice and the manasa puja, as well as the instruction Swami Veda gave his disciples to chant five rounds a day of Gayatri mantra along with whatever other practices he had given. Five rounds, he figured, would be the average amount one person could do in one hour. In the course of the ensuing discussion, however, he talked about the progression of mantra meditation. There are different approaches to mantra meditation and breathing, especially where lengthier mantras like the gayatris are involved, including the personal one that I was describing above. On the other hand, he said, when counting mantras other disciplines are involved. For instance, one brahmachari asked about what should one do if one becomes so absorbed in meditation that one forgets to move the hand on the beads, or the beads drop from his hand. Swamiji answered that normally this is good and desirable, but when doing a purascharan type of practice, one should avoid it.

Swamiji said the difficulty came when one was chanting the mantra mentally as though it were being done with the tongue. He said that when one reaches a certain level of internalization of the mantra, it ceases to be internalized physical sounds and becomes rather more akin to an electric wave (vaidyutik tarang -- I really enjoy his parallel Hindi-English talks) that pervates the mind and body. He demonstrated that he could do a round of gayatris in one or two minutes by this method, though he did not recommend it to beginners.

All this reminded me of Lalita Prasad Thakur, who claimed to chant 8 or 9 lakhs of Harinam a day, to the arrogant disbelief of some mocking Iskcon sannyasis, who saw him slide his hand along the tiny, shiny tulasi mala as though he were stroking a kitten. But even when we asked him about it, he said much the same thing that Swamiji said. Indeed, unless one comes to this kind of assimilated Harinam practice, there is really no possibility of lila smaran, which is conducted on the waves of the internalized Name.

A big realization that came to me through Sridhar Maharaj was his interpretation of the Chaitanya Charitamrita verse (see Mantra and the Holy Name:

kṛṣṇa-mantra hoite hoy saṁsāra-mocana
kṛṣṇa nāma hoite pāi kṛṣṇa-pade prema-dhana
From the Krishna mantra, one is liberated from samsar. From Krishna's name, one attains prema for his lotus feet.
Sridhar Maharaj (in Guru and His Grace) develops Sri Jiva Prabhu's point about the necessity for initiation in the Bhakti-sandarbha, which also brings up the important point about the intersection of the Bhagavata and Pancharatra paths. The Holy Name here represents the Bhagavata path, which is really the main theme of CC Adi 7 (making the Sridhar interpretation debatable--Is this really what Kaviraj Goswami meant by "Krishna mantra"? But anyway...)--

evaṁ-vrataḥ sva-priya-nāma-kīrtyā
jātānurāgo druta-citta uccaiḥ
hasaty atho roditi rauti gāyaty
unmādavan nṛtyati loka-bāhyaḥ
Taking up this vow, when one's love for Krishna awakens through glorifying his dearmost names, the mind melts and one loudly laughs, cries, shouts, sings and dances like a madman with no concern for what anyone thinks.
This is the stage at the end of the bhakti practice, when the Name can finally act on the purified heart and mind. In the beginning, the Name penetrates the cloudy consciousness of the pravartaka and drags him or her kicking and screaming onto the spiritual path. But for the person who is on the path, the real question is what happens in the middle, sadhana stage, when the struggle is to purify the heart and make it a worthy asan for the Divine Couple to sit on.

This is the concern of all yoga practices, and therefore we must seek whatever techniques are helpful to bring the Divine into contact with the mental instruments that are the crossroad to the soul. We must not lose sight of the goal of prema: love for the personal God in possession of his full potencies, effulgent in full contact with his hladini potency, the very central manifestation of his most intimate being. We must not let the practice take primacy over the goal of the practice, but nevertheless, we must not neglect the means by which we attain that goal. That is called yoga, with all its subdivisions ultimately not in mutual opposition, but in mutual harmony. Therefore, O Arjuna, become a yogi.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Nikunja-rahasya-stava (Part I)

This prayer is sometimes attributed to Rupa Goswami, but I am almost completely convinced that it is by Prabodhananda Saraswati, whose mood seems to pervade it. This 32-verse rasika poem was introduced to me by my Godbrother Sashanka Shekhar Balniyogi, Doctor Babu as we called him. He published a Bengali translation by Dina Sharan Das Babaji on a flimsy sheet of paper, which I carried around with me for a long time.

The rasika mood is very intense, and I believe that Doctor Babu himself was a closet Sahajiya who meditated on this poem at the appropriate moment. nivṛttānupayogitvāt. May I suggest the same to my friends. Just repeat the refrain: smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau! "Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!" May their lilas bless you all.

This is a revised version of GP's translation. I will try to add a verse or day until it is complete. When it is complete, this note will disappear.

--o)0(o--

Nikunja-rahasya-stava

nava-lalita-vayaskau nūtna-lāvaṇya-puñjau
nava-rasa-cala-cittau nūtana-prema-vṛttau |
nava-nidhuvana-līlā-kautukenātilolau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||1||

Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas. See them in the freshness of youth, the fullness of sparkling loveliness personified, their minds flickering with the desire to taste the fresh delights of Eros, every one of their acts ordained by the blossoming of their new love. They tremble with eagerness to engage in unsullied lovemaking pastimes.
druta-kanaka-sugaura-snigdha-meghaugha-nīla-
cchavibhir akhila-vṛndāraṇyam udbhāsayantau |
mṛdula-nava-dukūle nīla-pīte dadhānau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||2||
Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas! Radha’s bodily hue is like that of molten gold, and Krishna’s resembles a soft, deep-blue raincloud. Dressed in soft fresh garments of bright yellow and deep blue, Their combined effulgence illumines the entire Vrindavan forest.
prathama-milana-bhītodbhāsitāśvāsa-vācau
priyatama-bhuja-rodha-vyagra-hastau ratotkau |
alam alam iti līlā-gadgadokty-unmadāndhau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||3||

Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas! Radharani is full of fear due to this being her first tryst with Krishna, so he tries to calm her with various entreaties. Although Radha nervously obstructs her beloved’s roaming hands, both thirst equally for rati! Radha says, “Enough, enough!” in a faltering voice, but that simply increases the intoxicated blindness of Krishna’s love.
priya-rati-samanujñā-mārgaṇā-namra-vaktro-
nnamita-cibuka-dṛṣṭyā smera-kāntānanābjau |
kim iha kuruṣa ity āsvādya-vāk-kiñcanoktī
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||4||
Krishna raises Radha’s lowered chin as he seeks approval for the love delights he desires, and as their eyes meet and they gaze upon each other’s beloved lotus faces, they break into a smile.“What are you trying to do?” Radhika murmurs to Krishna Chandra’s delight. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!
pratipada-pratikūlānugraha-vyagra-mūrtī
bahu-viracita-nānā-cāṭu-kāra-prakārau |
nava-surata-vilāsautsukya-gūḍha-prakāśau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||5||
Radha’s goes on playfully resisting at every turn, so Krishna tries harder to get her to give him her mercy. Both employ their wits in flattering each other, revealing their deeply hidden zeal for the novelty of enjoying surata vilasa. Oh mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!
surata-kalaha-saukhyaiḥ kākuvāda-praṇāmā-
vadhika-viracita-mānyau durgama-prema-bhaṅgau |
smita-madhura-mṛdūpālambha-hṛn-nīta-kāntau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||6||
In their ecstatic quarrelling, one pleads, the other bows and apologizes. With this they show excessive respect for each other, unfathomable in their loving dance. Radha teases Krishna with her enticing smile—and Krishna daringly places his hand upon her breast! Oh mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!
nava-kiśalaya-talpe kalpayantau vicitrāṁ
surata-samara-līlām unmadānaṅga-raṅgau |
lalita-valaya-kāñcī-nūpura-dhvāna-ramyau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||7||
Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas! The bed is prepared with soft forest leaves, the ideal setting for Kandarpa’s battle. Ananga's intoxicated play begins and the Divine Couple's ornaments, bangles and nupuras start to chime and tinkle sweetly.
priya-kara-parimardojjṛmbhamānoru-vakṣo-
ruha-manasija-kaṇḍū-daṇḍa-kandarpa-lolau |
namita-dayita-pāṇi-spṛṣṭa-nīvī-nibandhau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||8||
Oh mind! Just meditate on Radha Krishna within the hidden nikunjas! As Kandarpa’s robust lila begins, Priya Keshava’s hand sensuously fondles Radha’s expansive thighs and breasts! Then he lowers his hand and touches the cord that binds her petticoat!
priyatama-kṛta-gāḍhāśleṣa-kharvāyitoru-
stana-mukula-manojñau vallabhaikātmatecchū |
kim api racita-śuṣka-kranditodāra-hāsau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||9||
Krishna firmly embraces his Kishori-vallabha, crushing her breasts, and each is filled with the desire to become one with their beloved. Radha lets out a dry sob, while Krishna smiles broadly! Oh mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!
satata-surata-tṛṣṇā-vyākulāv unmadiṣṇū
vipula-pulaka-rājad-gaura-nīlojjvalāṅgau |
mitha uru-parirambhād eka-dehāyamānau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||10||
Always anxious from the thirst for surata keli, this surata lila now intoxicates them. Their bright black and gold bodies swell with horripilation. From the crushing embrace in which they hold each other, it seems that they are becoming one body. Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!
satatam aparimāṇojjṛmbhamānānurāgau
mada-rasa-bhara-sindhū lola-dolāyitāṅgau |
dalita-sakala-setū dhanya-gopy-eka-ramyau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||11||
Though their exhilarating anuraga is immeasurable, it continues to swell with every passing moment. They are like oceans filled with some intoxicating liquid, in which their intertwined bodies heave and pitch. All the frontiers of modesty and shame have been broken. This sight is to be relished only by the most fortunate sakhis and manjaris. Oh mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!
vilulita-vara-veṇī-hāra-mālāvataṁsau
mṛdula-madhura-hāsollāsi-vaktrendu-bimbau |
atirasa-mada-lolau citra-kandarpa-kelī
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||12||
Radha’s braid and the necklaces, garlands and earrings of both partners toss; their moonlike faces are excited with sweet and gentle smiles, their intoxication reaches new heights! How filled with variety is the play of Cupid! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!
surata-rasa-madābdhau santataṁ santarantau
truṭita-valaya-kāñcī-dāma-hārāvalīkau |
maṇi-kanaka-vibhūṣotsāra-bhāsvat-parāṅgau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||13||
While Sri Yugala Kishor frantically swims within the rasa samudra of surata intoxication, their bracelets, necklaces, waistbells and anklebells break and fall aside, along with their gold and jeweled ornaments! Aha! Their unadorned anga madhuri shines like never before! Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas!

Go to Part II

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gora by Rabindranath Tagore

Somehow or another I found myself reading Gora, which I found in the Gurukula library. Written in 1910, this novel is sometimes said to be Rabindranath's masterpiece. I started reading it 20 years ago in Bengali but never finished it. translation, done in 1924 by W.W.Pearson, is in the literary English of the period and keeps the spirit of the original quite well. The overall flavor seems to have been touched by the feminine social and romantic mood of Jane Austen or the Brontes, or even Louisa May Alcott. Perhaps more Dickensian social overtones would have been welcome, and where Rabindranath uses irony, it seems insufficient. Indeed there is enough earnestness in this work to make me wonder if it was not written by a much younger man than the 50-year-old Tagore was in 1910.

It is also quite clear from the historical references that the events described are taking place in a Bengal of a few decades earlier, when the Brahmo Samaj was a greater force in Bengali society than it was by the turn of the 20th century. Since the name of Keshab Babu (Keshab Chandra Sen) is mentioned, it would appear that it is set in the time before that movement split in the 1860's.

Rabindranath's account seems to reflect the tensions present in the Brahmo Samaj during that time. On the one hand he describes genuine wisdom in the group--the individual (Paresh Babu, পরেশ বাবু) who is accepted as the "guru" in the end is a longtime Brahmo Samaji liberal--its decadence is represented by the same man's wife, Boroda (বরদা) and of theis more or less blacklisted by the more dominant conservative factions represented by one of the book's less pleasant characters (Haran, হরণ), a militant preacher of the organization.

Paresh and Boroda have two daughters and a son, as well as two adopted children. His own daughter Lolita (ললিতা) and the adopted daughter Sucharita (সুচরিতা) are the young girls whose romantic sentiments are at the center of Rabindranath's concerns about women's issues. The two girls, though not as young as typical Hindu girls of the period would have been when marriageable, are nevertheless in their early to mid-teens, i.e., past 14 but not much past. As such, Rabindra seems to make them, their thoughts and sentiments rather more mature than we could reasonably hope girls of that age to be. But he is clearly speaking approvingly of the Brahmo Samaj opposition to many of the social restrictions placed upon women--including widow remarriage, suttee, increasing the legal age for marriage, and so on. The Brahmo Samaj also approved of women's education, and clearly these young girls are educated far beyond what Hindu society would have permitted. This is important in the story, because our male heroes, who are vigorous and committed to the nationalist movement of the time, will be attracted to these women, not only for their physical attributes, but because they are worthy intellectually and are themselves able to engage with their ideas.

The two heroes are the eponymous Gora (গোরা) and his friend Binoy (বিনয়). Though Gora is named after our Gaurachandra, Rabindranath makes no allusions to that antecendent anywhere. Indeed, there is some question about whether Rabindranath was very familiar at all with Mahaprabhu. We know that he was inspired in his early life to write poetry after reading the Mahajan padavali, but as far as I know, he wrote little or nothing indicating a familiarity with Chaitanya Charitamrita, etc. In this book, for what it is worth, Vaishnavas seem to be almost completely assimilated into the orthodoxy, and Rabindra makes no practical distinction between them. If Vaishnavas had any heterodox elements, like Sahajiyaism or Bauls, there is no indication of any such thing in this volume. Indeed, Bengali society has been reduced to two monoliths, Hindu orthodoxy and Brahmoism. Whether this is a simplification for the sake of narrative or whether it is a true representation of the state of affairs, at least in Calcutta in 1880.
The only Vaishnava character, a widow who took up the religion on being cheated of her position in her in-laws' family home after the death of her husband, shows a certain kindness and humility (or obsequiousness) as long as her social status is precarious, but as soon as money and a restoration of her family position are held up as possibilities, she becomes increasingly hypocritical and scheming.

To return to Gora, though. (TO BE CONTINUED)

The two main themes of the book are Hindu nationalism and the condition of women.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My stay at Gadadhar Pran's

I spent the last few weeks travelling and on my return to Rishikesh became involved with other preoccupations, so I have neglected this blog. It is hard to gauge changing times, but certainly Madhavananda's departure from our little virtual world of scattered devotees, some barely "limping along," as Advaita Dasji put it, makes me think that perhaps there is some significant tectonic shift taking place.

I had accumulated things to say, but most of them have withered into silence, where in all likelihood they belonged. Wheat and chaff are separated by the steady sighs of time.

I spent a little more than two weeks at Gadadhar Pran's. On the whole it was a good stay, but the encroaching Ganga has Gadadhar feeling as though he is under siege. Nothing new there: if you are a raganuga bhakta in the domain of Iskcon and the Gaudiya Math, their animosity is like a steady tide that wears at the banks of your self-assurance anyway. But it is a cruel blow to have Nature attack on the West when the silent opposition of one's neighbors has been gnawing away steadily from the East. And so Gadadhar said to me many times, "I have no friends. My only friend is my sadhana."

It is true that without Ma Ganga's special mercy, Gadai Gauranga Kunj may not be spared. The flow of the current is taking direct aim at the attractive new guest house that was only built two years ago. So if there are any rich benefactors out there who would like to contribute to the propping up of the banks with pilons and sandbags, this is an invitation to do so. The time may already be gone as the lowest level of the river may have passed.

At any rate, Gadadhar's phone number is +91-933-266-0732. I leave you to talk to him, but I honestly hope that some people will come forward and assist in preserving this oasis of originality in the midst of a desert of Vaishnava conformity.

***

In the time I was there, I completed the editing of the two Why Did Chaitanya Come and What Did He Come to Give books, and on my way back, dropped them off along with the Govinda Lilamrita at Ras Bihari Lal's. These are now thankfully out of my hands. The GL was left at the "whatever state it is in, it is finished" stage. Frankly, I did not have the time to give it my full attention and I was under the distinct impression that my ingerence into the peculiarities of Gadadhar's language were not fully appreciated. So it will come to the world in a rather uneven state. Perhaps it is for the best: some parts of it will sound jarringly like the rasanabhijna kramelaka Jagat, but aho! most will resonate the authentic voice of rasika-shiromani Gadadhar Pran Dasji.

***

I will not report on everything that transpired at Gadai Gauranga Kunj. There were many memorable positive moments and only a few that, almost inevitably, were not. I had the pleasure of meeting Anadi Krishna Dasji from Romania/Germany, who stayed with Gadadhar for a month, hearing and discussing about Vishnupriya's Gaura-bhakti and other elements of Gaura-nagara-vada.

I would like, however, to record briefly some elements of a conversation that Gadadhar and I had about Sahajiyaism. This conversation was staggered over the time spent there, and I have embellished my responses to make myself sound a little more agile of wit.

Gadadhar: Why did you use the term Sahajiyaism? It is so loaded and attracts so much negativity. You could have used another word, rather than inviting condemnation for using that term.

Jagat: The term is already being used to designate us. You are called a Sahajiya by everyone in the Gaudiya Math and Iskcon. No amount of pure behavior on your part will change that. But I am prepared to call a spade a spade. I accept that the physical and emotional relationship between devotee couples is an essential part of prema sadhana. It is my intention to articulate an intelligent and coherent vision of that philosophy, to present it in a way that makes the IGM caricatures of Sahajiyaism apparent for what they are: straw man arguments that are not worth the straw they are made of. Indeed, I wish to show that for all the service they have done and continue to do for Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's mission, it is they who are misunderstanding and misrepresenting the essence of prema dharma.

Gadadhar: Why not just go on having sex or practice tantric sex or whatever on the quiet, privately? Why do you have to advertise publicly that you are a Sahajiya?

Jagat: Well, I happen to believe in it. You are asking me to be a hypocrite. The thing is that like many others, you misunderstand completely what this is about. You think it is about sex, whereas it is really about bhava and prema. You preach Nagara bhava even though you are condemned for it. You even aggressively state your beliefs to people you know oppose them. I don't even do that. I simply present them in a way that those who come looking may find them if Krishna gives them that grace.

Gadadhar: That argument is invalid. Nagara bhava is a genuine tradition that was followed by many of Mahaprabhu's associates, chiefly Narahari Sorkar. But show me any evidence that anyone of authority in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya has promoted or even condoned Sahajiyaism.

Jagat: That is true. I cannot find any overt evidence that makes that connection. Prabodhananda uses the words kapata-sannyasi to describe Mahaprabhu in Chaitanya-chandramrita, which is often taken as evidence that he was a closet Nagara. It most likely shows only that he recognized the existence of this stream of devotion. I say, however, that Mahaprabhu took this path of Mayavada sannyasa to ultimately subvert it, because madhura rasa bhakti is subversive to the path of celibacy, in the same way that personalism is to Mayavada.

Once you start looking at texts like Ujjvala-nilamani from the optic of Sahajiyaism, it becomes impossible to see them in any other way. It seems clear and obvious that the intention is to make love in this world the doorway to consciousness of Radha and Krishna, as well as making consciousness of Radha and Krishna the doorway to finding love in this world. The two vantage points dance hand in hand, leading one to the bhuma sukham that is the ultimate goal of the Upanishads. Vaishnavism is not about a tireless struggle against the onslaught of sex desire. It is about harnessing and channeling that power for the attainment of love, the most powerful energy of the Lord, the stuff from which the spiritual world is made.

That means that it is not about simply disposing of one's sexual urges and then using one's freed energies for bhajan. Swami Veda, in whose ashram I am staying, likes to say, "Speak only when in silence. Eat only when fasting." To this I add, "Make love only when celibate." This is the purport of the first part of the Gopala Uttara Tapani. The making of love is the essence of the bhajan itself. So how can I, who believes this, ever not state it?

Gadadhar: But you are always making the wrong choices in women. You had that affair with the horrendous X back in 1985, and now you seem to be making a similar disastrous relationship with a Western woman. Stay here and I will help you find a Bengali Vaishnava girl who will be a real bhajan partner.

Jagat: Yes, sannyasis often tend to make bad choices when they fall down, I will admit it. But I am afraid you do not understand the difference between svakiya and parakiya love. The svakiya mentality means one thinks he can control love through reason. He writes an advertisement to put in the newspaper: "American Vaishnava looking for like-minded bhajan partner." Then he sifts through the responses and hopes for the best, ticking off all the points that he figures are necessary in a "bhajan partner." The word samanjasa indicates a kind of calculating mentality.

Parakiya love is about fortuitous discovery, about the invasion of self by the presence of another. It is about kripa. In someone who is purely sexual in his mentality, such choices be vitiated by rajas and tamo-gunas. That is called sadharani rati. In someone who truly understands the meaning of bhajan, who is patient and who believes in the mercy of the Lord, the communion will be one of souls and not just of bodies. And it will not be vitiated by formality.

The mail-order bride system may work in some cases to attain a degree of svakiya love, a comfortable state no doubt. And I suppose it is not impossible for it to lead to parakiya state, in fortunate cases. But unless one is prepared to see the sadhana partner as a guru, at least in some areas, that will not happen. When you try to control the agenda, then it is inevitably svakiya, and I think that you will pay the price in the long run.

Gadadhar: I think you are making too much of sex.

Jagat: You are one to talk, with all your descriptions of Gauranga Nagara love! You don’t see how that looks to the uninitiated eye? Besides, I have come to believe that the love/sex dynamic is at the basis of spirituality itself. So meditating on sambhoga with Krishna or Gauranga in the mind cannot be seen as essentially different from any other kind of sex. And you cannot really resolve this problem by pretending that Manjari bhava is some kind of superior state of renunciation.

Gadadhar: That is preposterous! I don’t want to hear anything about it. This is obviously going to divide us, Jagat. Couldn't you just share a rewarding love life with your partner and stick with the Goswami teachings? If you preach Sahajiyaism, however, I fear that you will only end up isolating yourself from our Gaudiya Vaishnava world.

Jagat: It may be too late for that! Anyway, Gadadharji, I pray that Mahaprabhu and our guru varga give us their unreserved blessings. Our paths have evolved differently, but let us keep following the Truth as It reveals Itself to us.

***

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More ruminations on friendship and loss

I realized that Madhavananda is still with me, despite my having spoken of him twice in the past several days. There is a deep vexation in my mind, of which I need to speak. This feeling has several parts and is in some need of analysis.

***


At the root of it is a deep sadness that he did not love Radha and Krishna like I do. That he did not love the devotees, even the most kanishtha among them, that he did not love Vrindavan, Govardhan and Radha Kund, despite the thick overlay of rajas and tamo-gunas that are such an obstacle to that love. That he did not love us enough to recognize that we loved him.

Yes, it is all very well and good to talk siddhanta, but the real problem was, as he himself seems to have recognized, in the area of emotional fitness. But even there, I am still saddened by the fact that there was not enough love to keep him around.

Ah well, enough said. Madhava is Radharani’s own dasi, and if he wants to avoid that truth for another lifetime or two, let him. Let him experience the so-called pleasures of nirvana, as if that were any substitute for prema. It isn’t, Madhava. There is no substitute.

यस्य स्फूर्तिलवाङ्कुरेण लघुनाप्यन्तर्मुनीनां मनः
स्पृष्टं मोक्षसुखाद्विरज्यति झटित्यास्वाद्यमानादपि
प्रेम्णस्तस्य मुकुन्द साहसितया शक्नोतु कः प्रार्थने
भूयाज् जन्मनि जन्मनि प्रचयिनी किन्तु स्पृहाप्यत्र मे

O Mukunda, giver of liberation!
Who in the world is there with the courage
to pray for the gift of sacred love,
of which the slightest manifestation,
when brushing against the minds of the great sages,
makes them forget the happiness of liberation?

My prayer therefore to you is this:
that I should simply desire for such prema,
and that this desire should increase forever,
in this world, birth after birth.
(Rupa Goswami, Ashtadasa-cchanda, Vastra-harana, 2)

“Even those self-satisfied sages who directly experience the happiness of liberation immediately become indifferent to that pleasure simply on coming into contact with the fractionally germinated seed of prema; what person in this world is so bold that he would pray for such wealth? I, therefore, always pray only that, wherever I should take birth, I may constantly develop the thirst and enthusiasm for attaining that great prize—that I should remain forgetful of all else and thirst for it in the way that a fish taken from its pond craves for a return to water, as a chataka bird thirsts for the appearance of a cloud, or as the fabled chakora seeks the rays of the moon.” (Kunja Bihari Dasji, Manjari-svarupa-nirupana)

***


I have stated before and I will not swerve from my belief that there is a profound meaning in the spiritual path to which one makes a commitment. To say that one did not make that commitment in full knowledge is foolishness, because one does not have full knowledge of one’s unconscious at any time, and the forms in which God chooses to reveal Himself are not under our control, but are purely His will and divine mercy.

When we apply our reason, it is often as much to avoid the immensity of His revelation as to dive deeper into it. The same can be said of ritual, even though the application of reason and the practice of ritual are both unavoidable in the religious life.

If we can honestly say, as Madhava did, that Krishna bhakti is merely one of the many ways to the Divine, it still needs be answered why that way has to be abandoned if it is the way that the Divine has made Himself known to you? Not only is it the way God made Himself known, but it is the way to which you committed yourself, not once, not twice but three times, each time with an increasing degree of intensity. And now you cavalierly toss that out without any respect for the depth of the realizations of the masters who preceded you and whom you called guru. Are you so sure of your own wisdom and of that of those whose arguments have been put to rest by Vaishnava acharyas so many times through history?

***


One of the things that has vexed me in all this, of course, is the parallel between our histories. No doubt, Madhava and I have shared some part of our ways, as it was the two of us who piloted Gaudiya Discussions and the Gaudiya Grantha Mandir project. Although Madhava’s contributions were far greater than mine, my announcement that I was a Sahajiya seems to have been the straw that broke the back of Gaudiya Discussions.

At that time, Madhava was attempting to widen the management of GD to include a group of young people who had been sufficiently impressed by Madhava’s commitment to Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj that they had also decided to take initiation from him. All of them to some extent or another believed in my orthodoxy and no doubt it was a great shock to them when I stated that I had beliefs that went against their preconceived idea of true Gaudiya Vaishnavism. They felt that they were naive boys who had been used by me. Where once they had thought I was learned and wise, they suddenly felt that I was a danger to their spiritual advancement.

Before my announcement, there appeared to be some kind of new day dawning and many people were beginning to feel that the Radha Kund mood exemplified by Ananta Dasji was a source of new hope for Gaudiya Vaishnavism. However, beginning with that event, almost everything went downhill quickly. There was friction between these members of the Gaudiya Kutir and most of the projects that they had started were left entirely in Madhava’s hands. Little financial help came to Madhava, even while he was putting himself into sufficient debt that he is now a cause of some concern to several devotee friends who had enough confidence in him to help him get settled in Radha Kund.

***


Those in the Gaudiya Math are probably laughing that the final outcome of Gaudiya Discussions was that Jagat became a Sahajiya and Madhava a Buddhist. In fact, however, it should be clear by now, when even Advaita can come on this blog and graciously put me in the same box as himself when he says that “we are both limping along” in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, that I am still, even in his eyes, committed to the truth of Radha and Krishna and Gauranga Mahaprabhu, however we may differ in our visions.

In fact, I don’t think Advaita really believes he is only “limping along.” Neither do I, to be absolutely honest. I feel as though there is a power in what I have come to understand about the Gaudiya Vaishnava religion. Gaudiya Vaishnavism itself is limping along. It has been flying on one wing long enough and it is time for the left wing to start flapping with a strength that will invigorate even the right.

***

Friday, April 04, 2008

More thoughts on Madhavananda Dasji

On reflection I thought I should be a little more sympathetic to Madhavananda’s case in view of my own experience. From 1985, the time I left any external manifestation of Krishna consciousness, right up until I came onto the internet and started interacting again with devotees, in other words for at least seven or eight years, I went through a period that could be called a crisis of faith.

During that entire time I was engaged in various kinds of intellectual processes, as well as a kind of unconscious processing, in which I underwent a reevaluation of my previous experiences and so on.

Of course I never subscribed to another religion. Even so, when my son was born, I made the rather fateful decision to have him brought up Catholic. Looking back on it now, whatever reasons I gave for that decision at the time, it would seem that subconsciously it was a prediction that I would not stay with my family. That is rather a harsh conclusion to come to, but it is the only one that makes sense. Externally, I did not have the faith or knowledge of how to manage my family’s religious life, which is truly sad. The fact is that despite a certain nostalgia for certain aspects of my devotional career, I could not organize a structure for raising a child that would have nurtured his faith. And so, like so many people in our alienated age, I abdicated responsibility and let school and church handle it. As it is, my son has had a little more structure in that respect than most people in today’s agnostic society. Heaven forbid that he becomes a priest!

In the previous post I wrote that Madhavananda followed the trajectory that goes from Iskcon to Gaudiya Math to the Babajis. The problem is that there is no framework now, nor was there any in 1985, for finding a sangha that provides a non-kanishtha view of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. So the only option for people like me was to go look for answers in the world of academic research. My friend Madhusudan, who preceded me to Lalita Prasad Thakur, also had the same kind of quick intelligence that Madhava has, and he burned through all these groups until he thought he had found their historical, psychological and metaphysical core, and found it empty. He also is now living, I believe, the life of an academic.

I went to university and started studying comparative religion, trying to see where they were at, trying to understand what was universal and what was essential about Krishna consciousness. Ever since I came back and started communicating with devotees this has been my main point: we have to find out what is universal and what is essential about Krishna consciousness in order for it to be considered a mature religion.

Most religions with long histories split into liberal and conservative factions. The conservative factions hold onto outdated visions, the liberals often compromise excessively with the forces of mundane progress. Far from being a sign of conflict, such debates are a sign of good religious health (as long as there is civility, of course). Such a dynamic needs to be developed in Krishna consciousness. As it is, the conservatives have the upper hand everywhere, even in Iskcon (which was supposed to be a medium for presenting KC to the Western world), and there is no scope for an exegesis of Gaudiya Vaishnava goals and practices that is truly coherent in the modern context.

This problem is not a new one. In Bengal, from the time of the Renaissance, the greatest and most admired thinkers and reformers like Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath, and Vivekananda, etc., looked at Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with admiration, but they had none for Vaishnavas. If you read Ramakrishna Kathamrita, for instance, you see that the one Vaishnava character is constantly arguing with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa from a very superficial, sectarian point of view. Each of these persons thought, in their own way, that they had discovered the essence of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s dharma but that they had no need for the tradition itself, its worship or its ishta.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur was exceptional in that he had a vision of Gaudiya Vaishnavism that seemed to go beyond these kinds of strictly sectarian perspectives and sought to explain Gaudiya Vaishnava theology in broader terms. But he only began the work, which has unfortunately been left to stagnate somewhat by adherents and practitioners. Let us say the world has moved on in the nearly 100 years since the Thakur left us and there is a lot of catching up to do.

The question now is what can we do now? Where do we find a mature vision of Krishna consciousness: one that goes beyond mere dogmatism, literalism, sectarianism and fundamentalism, all the things that are characteristic of kanishtha adhikari religion?

Leaving the kanishtha stage is symptomized by a period of intense doubt. The kanishtha vision holds that all doubt is wrong; worse, it is a symptom of aparadha. One who has doubts is suspected of being an offender, for he has stopped believing. "He never really had a taste," etc. But in actual fact, what doubt does is it leads us away from a superficial faith based on literal, dogmatic, fundamentalist and sectarian belief.

Doubt can be a symptom of transition from a superficial kind of kanishtha adhikari faith to a higher level of understanding, a faith that can truly be called nishtha. Thus anartha nivritti does not simply mean getting rid of bad physical habits, but also a purification of the understanding. As long as people are thinking of Krishna as something finite, their understanding will not be adequate.

All devotees are personalists, but kanishthas resist the universalist or essentialist approach to understanding Krishna. They say, “That is precisely the point isn’t it, that Krishna reduces himself to a personal deity for us and that this unique relationship with Krishna is all we need. If you have devotion for Krishna the cowherd boy, or Radha and Krishna, then what is the need of a universal concept? This is mere jnana and corrupts and dilutes devotion.”

That is precisely what I think is wrong. That is why I am talking a lot these days about kanishtha, madhyama and uttama. The uttama stage of universal understanding has to precede the true personal concept. If the understanding of God’s personality is on the kanishtha level, then it is not at all the same thing as when one has the universal understanding of Radha Krishna as the all-pervading divine. Furthermore, this experience must be had through the world in which we are living.

If you are closing your eyes to the world and only seeing Radha and Krishna within and not seeing them without, you will always be closing your eyes, doing nirjana bhajan. In this matter, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was ultimately right.

This does not mean that I am accepting Bhaktisiddhanta’s criticism whole hog, nor am I condemning the kanishtha understanding as entirely flawed. It is a necessary step on the spiritual path, but it is only the first one. It is never abandoned, but assimilated into a higher synthesis. That is why I am trying to promote the description of the kanishtha devotee as a “pravartaka.”

Reshaping the conscious and subconscious minds (one's samskaras) through worship, ritual, mythologies, etc., is what one does on the pravartaka stage. The madhyama or genuine sadhaka stage comes when you encounter the divine in other people, when you recognize that the Divine, Radha and Krishna, are the universal principle of Love and you cultivate that.

In other words, in the madhyama position you take a somewhat opposite position from that found in the kanishtha stage. It is the antithesis to the kanishtha thesis. The thesis is that Radha and Krishna are the personal God, they are out there and we are trying to get to them. “I will do sadhana and bhajan and they will reveal themselves to me, or they will send a flower airplane and transport me to Goloka Vrindavan.” In this vision Radha Krishna are seen as the original and everything here as the perverted reflection. The antithesis is that Radha and Krishna are symbols of the idealized manifestations of love in this world. When one synthesizes both these points of view in achintya-bhedabheda, then knowing Radha Krishna in truth becomes a possibility.

This is not just an intellectual process, but a change in sadhana orientation.

Though the essence of the kanishtha position, the thesis, is true, without the antithesis you will never come to a synthesis. If you just go with the thesis and don’t try to face the inherent contradictions and purify them, your Radha and Krishna will just be a kind of idol worship.

I am thinking of that nervous, frantic and panicky way of reading Radha Krishna lila that is the norm in much of the Iskcon and Gaudiya Math “gopi-bhava clubs.” Ramakanta Chakravarty, the author of a very valuable book on Bengali Vaishnavism, basically dismissed lila kirtan and Bhagavata katha as nothing more than nice stories for entertainment and amusement, just stories reflecting on marital relations or loving affairs in this world.

We resist this interpretation, but when it comes to this area of the lila, we don’t know how to read it otherwise. Even if we say this is God and this is his lila, we have no understanding, we do not know what to do with it. Krishna hides in a box or dresses as a woman and sneaks into Radharani’s house and makes love to her. People are kind of snickering and yes it is a funny story, but what is it supposed to convey in terms of spiritual meaning? And how long can I meditate on such things in svarasiki bhajan before it becomes tired and empty?

Now the antithesis is as old as time. The Buddhists, Mayavadis and all the scientists, philosophers and psychologists are basically saying the same thing: gods are projections of the human mind. But even though these intelligent people are addressing a real problem, their fundamentally negative approach leads us all to an impasse. Their limited solutions don’t touch the fundamental problem of human life, which is discovering our eternal relationship with the personal God.

The kanishthas recognize this limitation, but their response is merely to blame such people for raising their questions. Even one of the most learned devotee scholars I know answered my question on the point of projection by saying that God and his eternal lila most perfectly correspond to the historical moment in India when Krishna appeared.

That unfortunately is not an adequate way of looking at it, as far as I can see. A less absolutist understanding is necessary. If we happen to envision that particular lila as being the one that we want to participate in, as the one in which we find the personal God, then it is as much a product of our own mental processes as it is of God’s own realm of infinite possibility.

To go through this dialectical process of synthesis, we have to understand Radha and Krishna in symbolic terms first. This means translating the symbols, the lilas or myths, etc., into universal principles of meaning, and then how they are to be experienced in this world through love, friendships and service.

What ultimately brought me back to Krishna consciousness was the deep samskara that I had received in my kanishtha adhikari career. That is why I am saying about Madhavananda that he will always be a Vaishnava in Buddhist clothing, no matter how he tries to deny it. Let’s face it, he has been doing this for so many years, since he was twelve or thirteen years old, and he took it to the very deepest levels that were available to him in the world as we know it, and he did so with complete faith and with total abandon, so he has a very deep samskara. You cannot just do that and then suddenly change religions in a huff. I am sorry, but his is all posturing.

I keep coming back to and saying to people, the very fact that the first time you chanted Hare Krishna you had a perception that there was something there, you had a taste of prema, a vision, your eyes opened. It wasn’t something easily definable, but you believed that it was significant and worthy of pursuit. It was not the fifth canto of the Bhagavatam, the cosmology or bhugola-tattva, that convinced you to become a devotee. No one became a devotee because they were convinced by the third canto’s science and its descriptions of time and creation. And indeed we can bracket all this science no matter how much we want or claim to believe the Bhagavatam as literal truth.

What convinced us was the prema that we felt in the Holy Name. That is what kept us going even in the moments of doubt on the kanishtha adhikari level. That helped us overlook all the faults we perceived in the philosophy, the sangha, the Ishta himself. We had something solid at the heart of our experience that was keeping our faith alive, namely the chanting, the sangha, the aesthetics, etc. In moments of doubt, during crises of faith, people talk about a lack of reciprocation, a lack of results (aha, modern pragmatism rears its persistent head!), but the reciprocation was there, and it is precisely because of this reciprocation that we have a deep samskara, a very deep samskara that ultimately exerts its force, sooner or later, in this lifetime or the next.

Knowing this, one should not neglect or disrespect one’s own samskara. Self-knowledge means knowing where one comes from and both the conscious and subconscious elements that have brought one to where one is.

If you are intelligent, mull it over and try to come to a mature understanding of what is there and respond to the questions that are hurled at you from every side, from within and without. We know what those questions are but we tend to resist facing them head on when on the kanishtha level. But more than that, we need an alternative approach to Krishna consciousness that can provide shelter to those who have exhausted the existing possibilities and found them wanting.

In my earlier post, I said that we have a duty when we reach this point of exhaustion to serve the essence. Love is the goal, but love grows out of love. The love that we felt in the first moments, the love for the ideal that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu somehow instilled in us—even if it is absent in the world around us—should be served out of love for him, for it. It is a debt. At some point we need to stop being children and start being adults. At some point we need to stop depending on the perfect guru without and start listening to the personal guru within and become leaders, not followers. Like Bhaktivinoda Thakur says, it is foolish to abandon the past, even where that past is one’s own, instead of building on it.

But of course, that is impossible if you don't have the answers.