Saturday, May 31, 2008

Satya Narayan Dasji



Satya Narayan Dasji left for Faridabad today and will leave for Europe tomorrow. Since being in Vrindavan I have not been at particulary high energy levels. It is quite a bit hotter here than in Rishikesh.

Still, I managed to go through the first 25 anucchedas of Bhagavat-sandarbha, so that completes the second reading. We will need to do one more when the book is finished. Still, there is a long way to go. SN assures me that the first few sections are the most difficult in terms of language, but at the same time warns me that the Paramatma-sandarbha keeps the same level of difficulty throughout. He says that is the most difficult of the six books.

Satya Narayan came to India and lived in Vrindavan Iskcon starting from 1986. He started studying Sanskrit right away from a pandit. After a little while he went to Haridas Shastri, who had already more or less stopped teaching, but managed to persuade him to teach him the Sandarbhas. SN left Iskcon in 1993 after the imbroglio about the leaves falling from the trees. He told me before that he felt the whole argument was embittered because other scholars in Iskcon felt him to be moving up too quickly.

But he has never stopped studying. I was surprised to see him going off for a class with his pandit, with whom he is going through the Yoga-sutras. This shows why he is such a learned person, much like his guru in fact. Very methodical and very determined. Unlike myself, unfortunately. Even this morning, before leaving, he went off on the back of a motorcycle to get one last class in.

SN is normally quite reserved in character and not one to waste words. Nevertheless, I found that this time he was quite warm towards me and it seems our relationship is slowly sweetening. At any rate, when it comes to the Sandarbhas, I am in the position of a student.

One funny note. Ras Bihari Lal has gotten hold of all of Kushakratha's translations and is publishing them in nicely done editions. While we were talking yesterday, SN told me that when someone gave him one of KK's translations of Bhagavat-sandarbha, he opened the book to a page where the concepts of direct, secondary and implied meanings were being discussed. The famous example given there is gaGgAyAM ghoSaH, which basically anyone who has been around Sanskrit philosophy for a while has heard of. The meaning is that when you say, "The cowherd village in the Ganges," it is easily understood that the intention is "The cowherd village on the banks of the Ganges." However, the word ghoSa has another meaning, "sound" or "announcement." KK had translated gaGgAyAM ghoSaH as "the sound in the Ganga"! He said, "Take this book away. I don't even want it to occupy any space on my bookshelf!"

So good luck to anyone who hopes to get anywhere with his translations of the Sandarbhas!

The first draft of Bhagavat-sandarbha was done when SN was still in Iskcon. One of the things we have been doing is replacing all the usages of Mayavadi, impersonalists, etc., with Advaita-vadin, followers of Shankara, monists, etc., and other less aggressive terminology.

So today is Ekadasi. Have a good one, friends. Radhe Radhe!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Right but repulsive

More discussion of Christopher Hitchens on Guardian.uk. Right but Repulsive. A lot of people seem to be undergoing the same kinds of inner conflict as expressed on this discussion forum. The atheists are very strong and mostly well-informed. They do, however, have a limited fund of vision. One person discusses the hope for a "spiritual atheism" which is what Buddhism and Mayavada are.

Sorry I don't have the time to comment. I am in Vrindavan, still recovering from my bus ride from Hardwar. And the internet is a lot less fun here than in my protected domain of Rishikesh.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

From a friend:
I am feeling a bit on the agnostic side these days. I love the idea of God and his grace and all that, but I feel as if, despite the lovely memories, the warm comfort of a life of faith, I must finally make it official that Santa Claus really does not exist. There is no harm in continuing celebrating Christmas, and even cheerfully hanging the stocking over the fireplace, but the truth is that I now know that the gift placed under my tree does not come from an immortal father ridding a sleigh in the sky. It comes from my wishing him to be. All that sense of self and confidence in my life has come from this sense of him being there at all times. But he isn't there without my hard work. And I am tired. I don't want to make up God, I want him to be. Why, for a change, can't I be surprised? Why must I work so hard, always, to come up with a mere match to my tired, narrow self needs?

I am really sorry that you are having these particular doubts. I will admit that it is a bit of a hiccup on the road to felicity. Personally, since I have been in India I have felt nothing but my faith increase. I think that whatever happens to me now I am prepared because I see everything in terms of God's will. And if I have to go back to Canada, or stay here, I can take it in my stride. I can live with anything that gets thrown at me, from destitution and infamy to wealth and fame.

Faith is not necessarily something that can be communicated by words, but this Santa Claus thing is just a total misunderstanding. It comes from that very kanishtha or even pre-kanishtha stage where you are stilling seeing God as a, well, Santa Claus. God really has nothing to do with that. It is not hoping for something and that God will fulfill it; it is seeing how God is the only explanation for what is, and how living in a way oriented to God is the only response to that understanding.

Recently, a letter from Einstein has been discovered in which he says that belief in God is childish. And, by crikey, belief in God has indeed shown itself to be childish over the centuries, I do admit it. But just as St. Paul says, in one of the most potent passages in the entire Bible, that when you cease being a child, you put away the things of a child, and that includes the faith of a child. So this means looking beyond the pie-in-the-sky fantasy world aspect of Krishna lila and start looking at it from a different perspective. St. Paul goes on to talk about faith, hope and charity, by which he means love. And he is certainly on the right track there.

As a matter of fact, faith, hope and charity might be seen as categories corresponding to sat, chit and ananda in the way that I have been explaining them. Faith means simply accepting the fact of existence. Existence itself is the minimum definition of God. Can you explain existence? Does the Big Bang theory help anyone understand how existence came to be? Of course, it just is. But that is the minimum definition of God. He just is. The people who say that God cannot exist because there is no proof are simply using a definition that is too narrow. Existence itself is God. Now what was your problem with faith? Let us proceed on from there.

From there you go to hope, the sign of consciousness. Hope is the result of awareness of relationship to the cosmos, your place in it and the signs that you, despite your apparent temporality, are eternal like it. The miraculous awareness of the miraculous fact of existence would not only enrich one’s faith, but one’s sense of hope, also, “that I am a child of eternity, I am meant for so much more than this.”

This is why I often talk about the symbolism of the Divine Couple and its relation to the love of this world. We know that the loves of this world are fleeting and temporary, however intense and tempestuous, overwhelming loving being in love. But then it is more than that. It is about entering His world and seeing everything in the light of that. That requires sadhana. You cannot do it without sadhana. And sadhana is a constant, relentless effort, success or failure. Because there is no greater commitment in life than that of understanding and loving God, in view of the fact that God is what encompasses everything. That is why you cannot say there is no God.

You may say that the Absolute Truth takes a different form from Krishna, but there is some underlying logic and purpose to the totality of things and our place within it. And that purpose is RELATIONAL; it is our relation to that underlying essence that animates us and everything else.

Radha and Krishna are a myth. OK. That does not mean anything. They are an expression of something universal. This is exactly what I was saying to someone the other day. Radha and Krishna are in every atom, and if you can't see them there, well too bad for you. You can not only see them, but you can feel them, and love them, and interact with them. It is not another physical universe where they exist, but in your own private universe.

You may try to populate your private universe by facsimiles of what exist around you--family, friends, service to the poor and oppressed, political action, there are endless possibilities, each with their own satisfactions. But what makes Radha and Krishna the Supreme Personality of Godhead is their fundamental, essential character. They personify the love that is what we are all seeking to receive and want to give. They take us out of our individual limitations, birth, old age, disease and death, and lift us to transcendence. They take us out of our mundane pettiness and take us into the realm of the numinous, the sacred.

This is where we really want to be. Everyone likes wonder, chamatkarita, rasa. We all like to be amazed by wonderful achievements of men and women. Here is the endless source of wonder, the fountainhead of love that is at the basis of all creation. From love it was produced, out of love it survives, and into love it will merge in the end. And if you are imbued with that love, through good fortune, you become an agent of this world's survival, in whatever your particular calling happens to be.

But the point in bhakti is that we are neither looking for sense gratification or liberation. We are looking for service, however Krishna may engage us. And sometimes that requires us taking the initiative and acting without waiting for drops of blood dripping from a statue of the Virgin Mary or some other sign. It means taking that famous leap of faith and acting because the fact of God's existence makes doing otherwise impossible. This is the difference between immature and mature religion. Don't worry about the hard work. In this endeavor, there is no loss or diminution.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sahaja sadhana in separation

One of the points that Siddhanta Saraswati liked to make in his critique of Sahajiyaism (in his generalized acceptation of the term) is that they affect union rather separation in their meditation. For Saraswati Thakur, viraha was the path to perfection shown by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and therefore the process that should be emulated.

I was not too long ago surprised to hear a Rabindra Swarup statement that manjari bhava sadhana was not integral to Gaudiya Vaishnavism, but came about as a later development as a result of association in Vrindavan with Nimbarkis and other sakhī-bhāva sampradāyas.

Since we are accustomed to hearing Gaudiya Vaishnava defenses of their originating worship in sakhi or manjari bhava, I found this a rather striking commentary. Of course, something in that spirit has been floating around in the Gaudiya Math for a long time, in which one sees the argument that siddha pranali, for instance, does not exist in the writings of Rupa or the other six Goswamis, not even in Krishnadas Kaviraj, so therefore it is not authentic. That they can make such a claim despite Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s authentication of Gopala Guru Goswami and Dhyanachandra’s paddhatis in Jaiva Dharma is beyond me, but it is an interesting kind of development in their war against Sahajiyaism.

The essence of līlā-smaraṇam is, of course, to remember the lila and to imagine oneself as a participant in it. This is not an easy thing to do for most sadhakas, any more than any other system of visualization, variations on which are present in all Tantrik paths as mānasa pūjā. This is why the babaji sadhakas put so much emphasis on the Yoga Pith smaran, because it is a better-constructed procedure of mental puja with a clear form, etc.

Anyone who has done archan or deity worship will find the process much easier than someone who has not. Mind control techniques that are based on customary sensory impressions, i.e., including physical movements, visual impressions, etc., are more effective that ones that are based entirely on one or the other sense activities alone. Therefore, though all sampradayas agree on the primacy of sound, they tend to add other activities to engage more sensual impressions to bear on the core goal of ekāgratā (single-pointedness).

Saraswati Thakur's rejection of Sahajiyaism is in part based on the idea that Mahaprabhu gave prominence to the "Bhagavata" way of worship (i.e., Harinam), but even so, he never wholly rejected the pancharatrik system. Quite the contrary, as the Gaudiya Math seal shows. Clearly any kind of correlation of Bhagavata to viraha and Pancharatra to sambhoga cannot be held to make complete logical sense. If separation were the only sadhana, then we would have to get rid of deity worship altogether, because deity worship itself assumes the presence of God in the deity form.

But it is true that in particular the Sakhi Sampradaya of Swami Haridas and most of the Nitya Viharis (including Jiva Goswami, we may say) believe in the preeminence of union. But at the same time, there is something disingenuous about the idea of nitya-vihara, in the sense that the separation of the One into Two for the sake of love implies that there has already been a separation of sorts in the very beginning. Separation, no matter how minimal, is necessary for rasa; it is what makes the union delectable, as the definition of separation provided by Rupa Goswami makes clear (na vinā vipralambhena sambhogaḥ puṣṭim aśnute). Indeed there is no other explanation for the existence of the material world than this.

The point is that the eternal union of Radha and Krishna exists in one dimension in the mind, and that is where the intensity grows, even or especially during separation. Even so, despite this dimension of eternal union, viraha happens anyway, by the power of Yogamaya, whether one is in the conditioned or the perfected state.

There are five kinds of separation, according to the Gaudiya and secular poeticians. There is a disagreement in the taxonomy, for the reason that the Gaudiyas do not accept karuṇa, or death as valid in Radha-Krishna lila. I won't go into an argument about that here, but obviously death has a role in at least the prakaṭa-līlā, so its role in the experience of rasa should not be discounted.

  • Separation in pūrva-rāga, before meeting.
  • Separation after an argument, māna.
  • Separation of short duration, in the regular course of events.
  • Separation of long duration.
  • Separation by death.

Even the nitya-vihārīs, while rejecting four of the five kinds of viraha, and reducing mana to praṇaya-māna (love sulks) and rejecting īrṣyā-māna (jealousy), still have a little space for separation, enough to create a bit of variety in the lila. So when Rupa Goswami calls them apūrva-rasikas for their sanitizing the lila to the point of rendering it lifeless, he has a bit of a point.

For the sadhaka, Sur Das nicely states:

ऊधो विरहौ प्रेमु करै
ज्यौ बिनु पुट पठ गहे न रंगहि, पुट गहे रसहि परै
जौ आवै घट दहन अनल तौ पुनि अमिय भरै
जौ धरि बीज देह अङ्कुर चिरि तौ सत फरनि फरै
जौ सर सहत सुभट संमुख रन तों रवि रथहि सरै

Those following the path of prema should not fear the pain of separation. They believe that the cloth of love, if it falls into the bowl of separation, becomes brighter in color. If the clay pot had not been baked in the heat of the fire, how would it be able to hold its fill of nectar? If the seed did not break through its casing, how would it flourish and give so many fruits and flowers? If the hero could not tolerate the arrows that pierce his body on the battlefield, how would he ever enter Suryaloka? In this way, the follower of the path of love should never fear pain.

I assume that Bhaktisiddhanta's criticism is based on the Sahajiya emphasis on sexual practices, or union. The Sahajiya is told to "take a Sadhika partner" because this requires sexual practices as a sadhana. Nevertheless, even there viraha "just happens." It is inevitable. Indeed Manmohan Basu, when listing the reasons for the superiority of a parakiya partner for sahaja sadhana makes this one of his points:

6. The chance of viraha or separation is usually not so great in the svakiya love as it is in the parakiya amours. As there is generally no uncertainty as to the ultimate union with the svakiya mate, the viraha is less keenly felt in the married love than in the parakiya, wherein one has to depend on chance only even for the secret meetings. This makes svakiya less interesting than parakiya. Now, viraha supplies the force that is necessary for the continuous flow of the current of love, and it is as useful in love affairs as the intermediate depression for the production of two consecutive upheavals of a wavy surface.

A sample meditation

The first point to make is that there are several preliminaries. I am not going to go into detail here even though I expect that many of the people reading this will not be familiar with them.

  • You really have to know how to sit straight in meditation with proper back support;
  • how to do abdominal breathing and be fairly strong in mantra meditation to begin with;
  • It might be a good idea to learn how to do neti and nadi shodhana, so that your nasal passages are clear and fairly well-balanced.
    Kapalabhati, headstands, shoulderstands and viparitakarini are all helpful in this regard. You cannot really do any kind of meditation properly if your nostrils are stuffed up.
  • It is a very good idea to do pratyahara by doing what is called dehAvalokana, i.e., withdrawing your consciousness from the external world by consciously travelling through the 61 points of the physical body, relaxing the muscles. Do this going in one direction and then in the reverse direction.
  • Once this is completed and the breath is smooth, regular, even, without jerks, one can coordinate mantra meditation with the breathing.
  • Another practice which all yogi adepts follow, and which is essential in this practice, is that of the bandhas, especially mula-bandha. I am going to leave that for the time being, but it is very important.

These are basics. To go on,
  • You have to be familiar with and have practiced shushumna breathing, which means to bring your awareness to the point of entry of the breath into the nose, i.e., the base of the nostrils, and follow the breath through the imaginary central passage along the nose and into the Ajna Chakra, between the eyebrows. So basically all your energy is concentrated on this part of your face.
  • Now turn your attention to your lips. Remember the touch of the beloved's lips on yours. Allow yourself to feel the effect of the touch of the beloved's lips and the reaction it has on your heart and your gut. Let this feeling, which is no doubt mixed with both pleasure and distress due to separation, pervade your body.
  • Bring your attention back to your lips and feel the presence of the beloved there. Now think, "This accumulated sensation is the direct manifestation of Radha and Krishna."
  • As you breathe in, mentally repeating the mantra, breathe Radha and Krishna in through your nose and into your ajna chakra, and from there, if it is possible, into the Sahasrara Chakra in the cranium.
  • Let the feeling that is in your gut and heart, which is pervading your body, follow the presence of the breath. This is eternity, knowledge and bliss. This is the Divine Couple, all-pervading and manifest inside you. Expertly ride the wave of the bhava like a surfer to the transcendental realm of eternity, knowledge and bliss.

Note that the work here is not being done purely in the mind, but is, as with all Sahajiya sadhana, as a culture of bhava. The manifestations of the form, guna and lila are all a product of the bhava, which is all those things in potentiality. The bija of the mantra has taken root and manifested as the bhava, and now this bhava will start to take shape in the form of Radha and Krishna's forms and pastimes.

One should avoid genital disturbance in this exercise, and indeed if one is somewhat trained up it should not be an issue, but if it should come (as is especially likely in the purva-raga stage), then use mula-bandha and bandha-traya, etc., to control it.

Comment

Anyway, as you can see from the end of the meditation is that there is an inevitable point that has to be recognized. And that is that the individual lovers are NOT the full story. This is the point of conflict between the mundane and the transcendental vision that is a recurring cause for concern. But the transcendental point of view is merciless: Birth, old age, disease and death are constants. The plaintive prayer of Radha in the Jagannatha-vallabha-nataka, so brilliantly elaborated by Krishnadas Kaviraj illustrates it so nicely.

juvatīr jauvana dhana jāte kṛṣṇa kore mon
e jauvana dina dui cāri

One of the points of consternation that is often expressed about the Sahajiya path is the fear that the Sahajiyas do not believe in monogamy, fidelity or exclusivity in loving relations. Or put another way, that they believe in the interchangeability of lovers, i.e., that the human individual involved is unimportant and the real concern is purely with the presence of a warm body for a practice that is purely physical or mechanical. This then leads to licentiousness, etc. Though there is some validity to this argument, there are some subtle points to make here and I ask a little indulgence to hear this through.

Well, the fact is that there is interchangeability. That is the human experience and becomes clear from an analysis of the Vedantic texts. There is no permanence in this world, the only permanence is in the experience of the underlying, transcendent reality.

The hard Vedic truth is that ultimate happiness comes from contact with the eternal, and not from the contact with specific individuals. The high level of importance given to individuals comes from the degree of helpfulness they have for bhajan. In other words, we put a lot of emphasis on sadhu-sanga or the Guru. Is the human guru a temporary or disposable manifestation? We would all revolt against that in theory, whatever we do in practice. And the fact is that multiple gurus are not only the common practice, but recognized in Tantra and the Bhagavata as a fact of spiritual progress.

So since the practice (many gurus) is different from the theory (absolute fidelity to one guru), we are forced to revise the theory. The revised theory is that Krishna is the One Guru, and that he manifests in different forms at different times in accordance with the changing needs of the disciple. More could be said here, but let us simply say that those who stick to "one guru" theories are often floating on the surface of Guru Tattva and missing the underlying presence of Guru. As such, they as often as not cease to have dynamic spiritual lives.

Now in practice, something similar happens in male-female relationships, despite our protestations about exclusivity. There simply is no permanence in the material world, and the desire to impose permanence on it is, in this aspect, a sign of the svakiya mood.

Now this does not mean that we jettison our commitments and associations willy-nilly. But it is a guide to priorities. A person who uses the above as an excuse to be a dilettante is not likely to make much real inner advancement, which is the true goal. Most people are concerned with externals, i.e., the external show of spiritual advancement more than the actual achievement of any spiritual advancement. Once they figure they have it (like this one guy with a blog in Uttara Anchal who says, “Having realized God in 1993, [I am] able to understand the hidden truths of all scriptures of all religions of the world.”), they go on the rampage and effectively stop any meaningful spiritual progress. Commitment to externals that cease to have a meaningful relationship to the true goal of life is an error.

On the other hand, the fact is that niṣṭhā hoile upajaya premera taraṅga, "The waves of prema arise from commitment [to one or the other bhajana angas]" (CC 2.22.129). There is a sort paradox here. On the one hand there is the deep awareness of the temporality and finitude of worldly relationships, and on the other is the need to experience the full depth and power of such relationships in order to enter into an understanding and experience of the divine rasa. This cannot be had by searching continuously and idealistically for some "big wave," crossing the globe from Big Sur to Zanzibar and then to Bondi. It comes from deepening the commitments and potentiality that are found in what has come by God's grace.

There are many fine lines here, and hard rules need to be treated with delicate suspicion. There are too many who use the Infinite Value as an excuse to exploit or denigrate the Finite, without recognizing on the one hand the fuzzy line that distinguishes the perception of Infinite Value from Ego and the infinite value of the individual soul on the other. In particular, the latter, which we can call the humanist trend in religion and values, is important in Vaishnavism, as is shown by the attribution of human characteristics to the Supreme.

Paradoxes are rife here, and the Sahaja sadhana is an attempt to negotiate these paradoxes. To both have the cake and eat it too, as it were. And, as God is, by definition, that being in whom all paradoxes are resolved, at least we can say we have come to the right place.

More Answers to Swami Prem Ananda

With regard to some of the questions raised by Swami Prem Ananda in his letter here.

“In trika-shaivism it is also said that Shiva is the Supreme Lord and the only Person in the whole of creation… Trika-shaivism answers that the veiling is happening because Shiva wants it to. Shiva enjoys this game of veiling and revealing himself. It is His Lila.”

I don’t think that there is a substantial difference between this and the Gaudiya viewpoint, except that we would say that the distinction between the jiva and the Lord is nevertheless real and therefore indicates an implicit, eternal relationship. Therefore we insist on this difference as well as the oneness and consider the status of jiva as real and eternal, existing both in the conditioned and the liberated state. Nevertheless, the only way to really conceive of this liberated state rationally is in the identity of oneness with God, a oneness that pervades our mutual participation in Absolute Being.

This helps to explain the problems that you have with the idea of “das or nath.” And here, I am afraid, I am forced to recognize the astuteness of the Gaudiya position. If Shiva is functioning in the role of living entities in order to enjoy the game or lila, then why has he made service the essence of the jiva’s existence? Is service then not pleasurable? Or if it is not, then why is the desire for mastery (ahankara and mamakara) seen as the very root of all problems in all Vedantic schools?

The fact is that service (or work) is the essence of life itself. I cannot exist as an embodied being without serving in some way. Even those creatures who exist in essential ahankara/mamakara mode still end up making the ultimate sacrifice to serve the continuation of life—giving their bodies as food or manure. But certainly, the human society, especially in its economic aspect, is based on the principle of exchange or barter, meaning you have to have something of value which you can barter in order to simply survive. If your karma is good you enjoy and if not you suffer the weight of serving.

But this distinction of suffering and enjoying is all Maya. The real secret lies in the act of service itself, which the Gita tells us over and over again is inextricably linked to life: “One cannot even maintain the body without work” (3.6). Perhaps even more apropos is the statement: “Yoga is the art of work” (2.50). Bhakti yogis recognize that of all the various attitudes towards work, the one that sees action as the essence of love is the best. Work performed grudgingly out of duty, work performed selflessly, stoically, etc., is all basically empty and misses the point. That point is illustrated perfectly by your philosophy, which acknowledges the oneness with God, but not the true difference.

It is not a question of God standing in highness and mightiness, like a dictator, and crushing the individual will of tiny jivas in order to extract from them their allegiance and worship in some horrendous spirit of coercion. How terribly distorted, and how precisely the kind of propaganda that one sees purveyed in the circles of non-belief! (A recent discussion on the Guardian CIF page (Good God?) on the question of theodicy illustrates many of these kinds of arguments.)

You rightly point out that Krishna’s relation to his devotees is of various kinds, but the essential characteristic in all these relationships is the service of the part to the whole. As the jiva becomes perfected in his understanding of what service means, God reciprocates accordingly. Because the truth of the matter is that it is also God’s nature to serve. As the jiva renounces more and more fully ahankara and mamakara, the more God renounces his divinity and comes closer to the jiva in intimacy, as an equal. This does not remove the idea of service, but only makes it purer, more sophisticated in its character, more complete in its giving.

A visceral aversion to the idea of our constitutional position of service to God is the true root of the material condition and suffering. It is the real reason that the devotees are neither attracted to the ideas of “Mayavada” nor able to bear the mind-bending efforts to avoid the essential truth of spiritual life: The constitutional position of the living being is to be a servant of God.” Everything else in Vaishnavism is a footnote to this truth. Prema is simply the outward manifestation of this truth, realized.

As to your questions about sex, Orthodox Vaishnavas are far from being the only spiritualists or transcendentalists who have ambivalent feelings about this issue. Please remember that liberal ideas on this subject are, for the most part, a very modern thing, and especially in the West. Even now, this is probably the area in which religion and secularism are in most conflict, with those trying to practice religion most often having difficulties with the question and materialists in great part rejecting religion on this very basis. Nothing has exacerbated this conflict more than the ability to point the finger at hypocritical renunciates. (See this article for a recent example.)

I doubt that your Shaiva traditions are any different. Indeed, my intuition is that in India, anyway, impersonalist philosophies (beginning with Buddhism) tend to be the most dogmatic on this question. If desire, tanha, is the root of suffering, dukkha, then the only approach in a pessimistic philosophy is to rout desire. Vaishnavism, to its credit, recognizes that desire is inherent in the jiva and prescribes the transformation and purification of desire, not its obliteration.

But I do not necessarily think that “the natural way” that you describe Osho upholding is the perfect answer, though I do agree with your presentation in many ways, as the last sentence of the previous paragraph implies. Nevertheless, the assumption that the elan vital if given free rein will necessarily be benign is not at all a given. Quite the contrary. This is why I make such an important distinction between sexuality in the modes of ignorance, passion and goodness, what to speak of using it as a means to transcendence. To think that sexuality in the mode of ignorance could in any way, shape or form lead to any kind of uplift is hopelessly misguided.

We need to admit that it is perhaps the recognition that sexuality is a powerful force that needs to be properly channeled that has led to its repression or at least its restriction in civilized societies. For a better understanding of this question, I think there is still no better book than Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents.

Indeed this brings us back to the question of service. In our modern Western world, we have made a few developments that result largely from the high degree of repression that is necessary to conduct the modern way of life. We are forced to live fairly intense lives of self-discipline if we want to achieve success, are constantly under social pressure to succeed, and the reward of sense gratification is what is held up as a reward. Nevertheless, the cycle of working like an ass to enjoy like a pig is not exactly what was really intended by traditional societies repressive attitudes. The subtler satisfactions of material fame, prestige, recognition are higher. The satisfaction of a job well done yet higher, and the knowledge that one is helping human society higher still. And alongside these traditional values, we still maintain a hierarchy of sexual attitudes, which though still in flux, value fidelity, true love, abhors bestiality and pedophilia, especially incestuous pedophilia, etc. So our liberal democracies basically recognize that these pressures on the side of pravritti (action) and nivritti (repression) lead to certain activities which though not altogether approved, must be freely permitted or at least not punished for the sake of release. Without the higher purification of spiritual realization, these things cannot and should not be controlled by society.

Nevertheless, I am in fundamental agreement with the traditional wariness about sexuality that pervades all religions and my proposition is this: We must restore, through ritual and myth, the sacred character of sexual love. Some people have difficulty with the mythical aspect of Radha and Krishna. Why, just yesterday, someone wrote to me comparing it all to Santa Claus. This again comes from a misunderstanding of how myth and ritual function. Certainly we cannot think of myth in the same innocent way that the primitive tribesman might have (I could even say, like an Iskcon brahmachari novice is expected to), but this does not mean for all that that the Divine cannot communicate His nature through myth, and not only that, but in order to make himself measurable for the sake of sharing his loving intimacy with his eternal parts and parcels, accept the conventions of that myth. This is what is generally refered to in Gaudiya Vaishnava circles as the principle of reciprocation. We usually refer to the following verses:

ye yathA mAM prapadyante
tAMs tathaiva bhajAmy aham

As all surrender unto me, I reward them accordingly. (Gita 4.11)
And,

yad-yad-dhiyo tvam urugAya vibhAvayanti
tat-tad-vapuH praNayase sad-anugrahAya

Out of kindness toward Your devotees, you take the very form that they meditate on, appearing to them in that form. (SB 3.9.11)
This Bhagavata verse also refers to the scriptural or traditional (parampara) content of such forms. I have mentioned this before somewhere I believe, probably in relation to the same quote: There is a value in accumulated human experience. The fact is that this particular vision of the Divine does not really exist as a religious tradition anywhere else. It is attractive, it has built up around itself a literature, musical forms, a set of competing theological outlooks that are engaged in an internal debate about the various interpretations of the symbols, etc., techniques and methodologies for realizing them, and so it provides a rich source of possibilities on the basis of which we can seek further insight into this process of understanding and loving God.

The point again I would like to emphasize here is that the primary goal is God-realization through bhakti. Nevertheless, divine truth must do its work in the world of humanity. Freud himself recognized the problem: repression is not a solution. If this is what is required of civilization (i.e., the realization of the highest human aspirations), then certainly one can expect discontent.

The orthodox tend to think that Radha and Krishna’s sexual passions are meant to offer a kind of reward for prolonged sexual sublimation. This is in my opinion entirely wrong and indeed falls exactly into the kind of unhealthy state that Freud was observing and critiquing. I agree with you here. Nevertheless, I differ from Osho in that I am a bhakta, and I see the act of making love with one’s beloved as an act of mystical participation through which one’s devotion to God as the Divine Couple is enhanced and deepened. Not only that, but I believe that it must be conducted under a certain amount of control, as an act of mindfulness, as a sadhana, and not in a kind of false freedom of dythirambic intoxication. This is the intent of the word “sacred.”

(Those religious festivals that allowed some kind of permissiveness during a period to give a break from normal repressiveness, like Holi in India or Mardi Gras in the Catholic world, or Saturnalia, etc., were not giving a sacred character to sexuality, but only recognizing that sometimes you have to release steam from the pressure cooker. Traditional religion only gives sacredness to the procreative aspects of sexuality, but that is another subject.)

When I wrote the articles on aropa, etc., I was dealing with the orthodox objection that sexual activity is incompatible with release from ahankara and mamakara and the principle of service to God. I will have to return to this question again in the future and refine my response, but I am certainly happy that you read it.

One last word on the analogy of your relationship with your daughter. This is not really applicable here, since your relationship with your daughter is not eternal, or at least not as father and daughter. That is a purely karmic accident. This again has a relationship to the sahaja sadhana, but I will deal with that in a coming blog.

Radhe Radhe.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Silence

Here they say silence
is the closest thing to God.

I heard this one yesterday:
"If Krishna is Brahma, then Radha is silence."
I thought about it a bit and decided
there is some logic to it.

But where you are concerned,
your silence means an absence, not a presence.

Only in that convoluted Buddhist way of thinking,
where the negative is a logical category
like mathematical zero,
and therefore has a sort of existence,
can it be thought of otherwise.

We have heard of Vaishnavas who,
in their obsession with separation,
and with presence in absence,
also think of it otherwise.

But this too is a flailing grasp
at mathematically proving something
for which faith and a sense of presence
have been lost.

Your absence is an absence,
no matter how mesmerizing the mirage.
Krishna's absence was an absence for the gopis,
and not a substitute for
being with him,
ever.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Gaudiya Grantha Mandir : Current State of Affairs

A couple of hopeful developments going down on the Gaudiya Grantha Mandir front. I am going to Vrindavan at the end of this month to discuss Bhagavat-sandarbha with Satya Narayan, but also to meet with him and Shrivatsa Goswami about whether there is any way that the GGM project can be pushed ahead. Both of them have recognized the importance of the project and expressed interest in doing something. Let us see whether a spirit of benevolence and cooperation can be established.

I have also been asked to speak about the GGM on a video conference that will be held at the Universidad de Antioquia in Bolivia. Of course, what I say there will be more about hope than realities, because the truth is that the current situation at GGM is pretty pathetic.

Madhavananda's abdication has left us with even less resources than before. From the time he went to Radha Kund he pretty much stopped keeping the site functioning. Actually, GGM was almost totally dependent on Madhava and his contribution was inestimable. It frankly would never have happened without him, and whatever he did he did with enthusiasm and good grace. I am, and indeed the entire Vaishnava world should be, forever indebted to him for the service he rendered to this project. We have, after all, had literally hundreds of thousands of downloads. More than 1200 people signed on as members. The unfortunate thing is that all this work is now going down the drain because without his programming abilities we cannot keep it up.

Here is the current status of the Grantha Mandir:


When I was last in Vrindavan, I heard that some people in Iskcon were planning to duplicate or do something comparable to the GGM and this leaves me frankly seething. Though I have tremendous respect for everything that Iskcon has done, to be honest, I do not trust them. They have shown in Mayapur and Vrindavan that they are not team players. In fact, they are bullies and will only play if they can keep the ball. Their arrogance is based on a sense of entitlement that is a result of their preaching successes and opulence. Srila Prabhupada once said of the Gaudiya Math that they would not even fart if they thought it would help their "competitor" (namely Iskcon), and now Iskcon has learned this same art of methane retention. This has been amply proved in Braj by the current status of Friends of Vrindavan. How much better it would have been if there could have been true cooperation and support! Another example is the World Vaishnava Association.

So I would not trust Iskcon to understand the concept of the Gaudiya Grantha Mandir. When I was in Mayapur, Gadadhar Pran talked about the Gaudiya Math edition of Chaitanya Mangala, which was published with a whole section missing, one that describes Vishnupriya and Mahaprabhu's lovemaking before he departed to take sannyas. This is the extent to which sectarianism goes to suppress truth.

But then, who has understood the concept of the GGM? What was the idea?

Create a scholars' open-source textual resource.

Sometimes people complain to me, there are so many mistakes in the texts on the GGM. I practically splutter in frustration! Satya Narayan was having someone else type the Sandarbhas in from beginning to end. That makes a lot of sense--duplicate the work! Dig the hole again, when all you have to do is edit the text.

But the point of GGM was: Make use of the texts, but show your gratitude by sending in your corrections. Do a little service to the rest of the world by making an improved text available. Use the "track changes" function on your MS-Word and we can see whether the changes are due to mistakes or alternative readings. Let us know what manuscript you used and we will update our entry, with a nice word of acknowledgement. Your name will be immortalized.

Of course, even this is too much for most people. I understand. You are busy translating a text or doing research on it; why take on extra chores? But even if you don't think ahead, if you just send in your finished version of the text, we can compare documents and come up with something.

Has anybody done that? Yes, a few mahatmas have. Mostly devotees, but a few scholars also have made contributions, including Andres Rodrigues of UPB. Not enough devotees are scholars; not enough scholars are willing to share in this way. Just recently I talked to someone who has translated Padyavali and he complained to me that the GGM version had too many mistakes. [He also thought I was a Mayavadi because I had posted something about Madhusudana Saraswati on this blog!] I explained to him what I just wrote above and he said, "Yes, I understand," and agreed to help, but I have heard nothing since. Of course, the current immobilism of the site does not make it easier. He may be trying and I would not even know.

One problem, for many Indian scholars, has been that we use transliterated text. Converting from transliterated text is not impossible, but too few people have the computer literacy to attempt such things. Omkarananda Ashram has created a ITRANS tool that converts very easily and quickly. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be able to go backwards. Anyway, no problem is insurmountable, if the will is there.

So the long and short is, the GGM has become a mostly one man show. I have not been enough of a go-getter to approach organizations, foundations or benefactors to get the kind of financial help that would make it work. Not being a card-carrying member of academia does not help.

Critical editions

Is it a value? Do we really need better critically edited versions of these texts? The Chaitanya Mangala example, given above, is a good one. What if people start saying that someone has interpolated this section about Gauranga's last night with Vishnupriya? If there is no reliable, unbiased source of texts, that is the kind of thing that could happen. This is a major case, but there could be many less severe examples of the same sort.


Below is an example of what a critical edition looks like in transliteration. The best or truest reading (i.e., that which is probably closest to what the original author wrote, as far as can be discerned through a critical assessment of the sources, etc.) is in bold. Footnotes show alternative readings from different printed or manuscript editions. This is Gopala Tapani Upanishad.


Printed editions have a big disadvantage in that they cannot be updated. Small corrections, for example, do not warrant costly reprints, especially in small runs as is usual in the case of Sanskrit or other texts of this sort. If I printed the GTU, I or somebody else would not be able to make any changes if an important new manuscript were discovered that altered the understanding of the original author's intent. With digital texts and an open source network, that should be possible. Through constantly improving and updating, one should be reasonably confident of always having the best resources to work with.

--o)0(o--

An electronic tool for scholars of Vaishnavism.

The Grantha Mandir is part of the fourth wave of evolution of literary media, from oral tradition, to writing, to printing, to digitization. Digitizing texts makes them available and easily accessible for all time.

Though work in the digitization of Sanskrit and other Indian languages languishes far behind what has been done for other classical and literary languages such as Latin and Greek, efforts in this direction are beginning to pick up considerably. Individual efforts by certain scholars, centralizing efforts such as the Gretil site in Tubingen, as well as certain sectarian organizations have begun digitalizing texts and compiling them. However, these projects are not coordinated and generally confined to the specific interests of individual researchers.

The Gaudiya Grantha Mandira specializes in digitizing texts that would be of specific interest to scholars of Vaishnavism, including both sectarian and non-sectarian works, most of which have been underrepresented in the digitalizing work that has been done so far.

The GGM is a Sanskrit text repository that currently has:

-- More than 600 text files.
• Mostly in Sanskrit, but also in Bengali, Brajabhasha, Orissan.
• Mostly related to Gaudiya Vaishnavism (charita, kavya, darshan, stotra), but also other Hindu traditions (e.g., yoga or Advaita-vedanta) or Sanskrit literature traditions (e.g., kavya, nataka, vyakarana, chandas, kama-shastra, subhashita).

-- nearly 1200 members from around the world.
• including academics
• and devotee scholars
• lovers of Sanskrit and Indian culture

-- More than 400,000 texts have so far been downloaded for free.

Digitized texts present the following advantages for scholars—
• Cross referencing
• Search function
• Database functions
• Facility for publication
A good example of this is in the current work I am doing on Bhagavat-sandarbha. Satya Narayan has agreed that since most readers of the translation are either incapable of following the Sanskrit or uninterested, it makes sense to refer those who do have an interest to the online text, which is being intensely edited as I go through the work. This will save on printing costs and at the same time make the text available for anyone who does want to publish it in either Devanagari, or some other script.

Texts in Roman transliteration
• The availability in transliterated forms facilitates learning and reading other languages, e.g. Orissan, that are cognate but whose script may be unknown.
• It make conversion to various other platforms easier.
• It also facilitates searches and other information technology tasks.

The opportunity provided by information technology to engage in research should not be underestimated for the study of the history and doctrines of any cultural phenomenon.

Projects that we look forward to completing—

• Current work includes commentaries on Krishna-bhavanamrita, Govinda-lilamrita, Radha-rasa-sudhanidhi, Yoga-sutra. Constant updating of already available texts, such as the Sandarbhas.
• Many more Gita commentaries.
• Bhagavata commentaries (10 from Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and many commentaries from other traditions.)
• Brihad-bhagavatamrita commentaries
• Vaishnava padavali
• Braj bhasha literature (Nimbarka, Haridasi, Radhavallabhi, Gaudiya)
• Vedanta-sutra bhashyas of different traditions (Govinda-bhashya, Nimbarka, Keshava Kashmiri, Vallabha)
• Orissan (Pancha-sakha, Chaitanyaite texts.)
• Assami texts. (Cross-pollination of traditions is something that can be learned through comparative studies.)
• Hundreds of other texts discovered in the last century, some published some not.
• Concordances and indexes

Funds are needed—

• To track down rare literature, manuscripts. Much is now available on microfiche, etc., and can be purchased. This will require travel to India and engaging people to do the work.
• Hire typists who have an elementary knowledge of Sanskrit—enough to be able to recognize sandhi, etc.
• Engage information technicians to do some of the programming work that will be need to upgrade the database technology, to insert links and cross-references, etc.
• Technicians, eventually, to make everything available on DVD.
• Hardware here and in India, as well as communications expenses (internet connections, software packages, etc.)
• Give some compensation to contributors, editors and webmasters for the thousands of hours they have devoted to this work and will do in the future. Nearly everything that has been posted so far is the work of three persons, though there have been significant contributions made by other individuals, which we have recognized on the site.

--o)0(o--

I mentioned to John Smith of Cambridge that I was "looking for a patron." He wrote back:

Good luck with the search for a patron; I hope you get a good one. You probably know Johnson's acid response to his soi-disant patron, Chesterfield: "Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the Public should consider me as owing that to a Patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself."

Certainly that is the way it is going! But I wrote back that it is not so much to enable me personally to do the work as to facilitate the accomplishment of the goals. I personally would simply go on doing what I am doing--typing, correcting, etc., texts.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Some pix of Gadadhar

Someone asked for pictures of Gadadhar Pran. These were taken by Anadi Krishna Das, who was there at the same time I was. He took many videos during the time there. I imagine he has posted some of them, only the most flattering ones I hope.





More meetings at the crossroads

Since I just wrote about how you meet interesting people... Just before leaving Montreal, I made contact with an old friend from my teenage years--the first one, in fact, since I returned to Canada in 1985. She wrote me a few days ago to tell me that a friend of hers from Montreal was coming to Rishikesh, and so we set up a meeting.

This woman, Maila Shanks, first came to India in 1996 and lived in Vrindavan for 7 or 8 years, staying at the Neem Karoli Baba ashram on the Parikrama Marg, not too far from Ananda Dham, where many Narayan Maharaj disciples stay. She learned Brijbhasha, mostly by ear, and did a lot of seva and things. Then a few years ago she got married to a Kashmiri who owns a hotel on the beach in Goa, Meems Arabian Sea. Their season in Goa has finished and they are in Rishikesh for a bit of a spiritual refresher before she goes to Canada for the first visit in a couple of years.

Maila (Neem Baba ki Maya) came by yesterday and we had an interesting talk about life in India and "dealing with the goondas," as she calls it. Try to get anything done in India, whether in Goa, Kashmir or Vrindavan, she said, and sooner or later you are going to have to deal with the "Tony Soprano types." She knows Michael Duffy who used to play an important role in "Friends of Vrindavan," but burned out and left some time back. "The trouble with cleaning up in India," she said, somewhat facetiously I hope, "is that people take garbage to be a sign of prosperity. The bigger the pile of plastic bags and bottles they can burn outside their house, the more they can claim that they are doing well. Look at me! I can afford to drink water out of plastic bottles!"

That's the second hotel owner from Goa that I have met in the past little while. Makes you wonder. Radhika Priya, who as you may gather from the previous post is always looking for opportunities to set up a program, and Maila were quite happy to make each other's acquaintance.

Radhe Radhe!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bhagavad-gita classes at Madhuban, Rishikesh

It has been hard to keep up on my correspondence. It seems that the busier I get, the more work I take on. This weekend, believe it or not, I gave Bhagavad-gita classes in Hindi on both Saturday and Sunday at the Madhuban temple in Muni-ki-reti, not far from Ram Jhula. I actually proposed myself earlier last week as I really felt the need to do some direct bhakti activity or bhakta sanga. When introducing myself, I did not hide anything about my checkered (in Iskcon terms) past.

When you see Madhuban, it makes you appreciate what Srila Prabhupada accomplished. Bhakti Yoga Swami has done an admirable job of building a striking temple with beautiful deities--Gaura Nitai, Radha Krishna and Jagannath-Baladeva-Subhadra. The guest house and restaurant are modeled on the Vrindavan concept and maintain the same if not a higher standard. One of the temple’s major annual events is the Rathayatra, which they conduct not only in Rishikesh, but in Dehradun, Hardwar and other towns in the region. They are perhaps not the only representatives of the bhakti tradition (there are several Radha Krishna temples in Rishikesh), but they are certainly one of the most visible and possibly the most vibrant.

Bhakti Yoga Swami himself attends the evening program, being present at both arati and the Gita class. I was late on Saturday--I did not realize what a nightmare it is crossing the bazaar area of Rishikesh on an evening in the hot season. I ended up walking most of the way so that when I arrived Swamiji was already sitting in the Vyasasana. Even so, he got up and asked me to take his place to speak to a group of perhaps ten ashram residents and 20 or so guests.

I guess I had a lot of pent up Crusader in me after spending all this time in the Hari-katha desert of a yoga ashram. Also working on the Bhagavat-sandarbha with Satya Narayan's commentary has gotten me sharpened up on a lot of the points of difference between Shankaraites and Vaishnavas. But definitely when one is a Vaishnava in Rishikesh, this kind of self-definition is something you need—at least if there is any truth to Svarupa Damodar’s warnings about the dangers of hearing Mayavada, even when one is a fixed up devotee. And what the heck, isn’t it worth hearing some alternative to the endless “silence” and shanti shanti shanti of the locals?

I talked about the meaning of sat chit and ananda and how ananda means prema, and how prema means awareness of God's personality. Without personhood, love has no meaning.

After the first night's class one gentleman came up to me and asked me to tell him what the essence of the Gita was. I immediately quoted and explained the Gita Chatuhshloki. That inspired me to change my approach a bit last night. Though I made no special preparation, my class was much more fluent and better organized. I came early enough for arati and sang Jaya Radha Madhava. I decided to dig into a general overview of the Gita and the Gita tradition. I started by analyzing Shankaracharya's historical contributions, traditions of Gita commentary in the various sampradayas, and so on. My goal is to show the common ground that all sampradayas have as well as the areas in which they differ, and how there is a constant attempt at synthesis (samanvaya) that must be respected.

The starting point was talking about the Gita’s three divisions, which as I mentioned earlier on this blog, is a direct borrowing of our acharyas (Vishwanath and Baladeva) from Madhusudana Saraswati, which shows exactly this kind of crossing over. (As does the very fact of Sridhar Swami being our go-to guy in Bhagavata tikas, by the way.) I gave myself enough material to go on for months I am sure, for there is a long way to go before I come back to my starting point!

Bhakti Yoga Swami was pretty pleased on the whole and said that Saturdays and Sundays are mine for as long as I want to come. So it is all very ironic that here I am the big Sahajiya and now I am regularly speaking in front of Srila Prabhupada's statue in a temple that is run by Kirtanananda Maharaj's disciple. But believe me, from my point of view, it is lovely to say "Jai Gaura Nitai!" and hear an echo.

Jai Sri Radhe Shyam!