Monday, March 30, 2009

The positive side of being here

There are actually a lot of positive things to say about this place and my experience here.

First of all, from the point of view of material comfort and facility, I am very well served.

The surroundings are frankly more pleasing than nearly anything in Vrindavan. The ashram itself is beautiful in terms of architecture and gardening. The Ganges in its clearest and purest state is nearby. The Rajaji Park is nearby and the view of the green hills across the Ganga is something that cannot be found in the plains.

The weather has been pretty ideal--neither as hot nor dry as Vrindavan, nor quite as humid as Bengal.

My workload is not great. I have two small classes of students and the weekly Gita class. My students like and respect me, and I actually enjoy teaching, for what it is worth.

I get a stipend which is generous for what is really a voluntary position, considering that food, board and facilities are provided. My rooms are clean, with a kitchenette and modern bathroom facilities.

In terms of bhajan, I have my private quarters where Giridhari patiently tolerates my presence, and the silent group meditations provide an atmosphere of intense concentration in which I can just as easily do manasa japa of my mantras.

My temperament is not terribly social, so that even the lack of devotee company is not especially troublesome to me. I get my association from books, and somewhat from the internet.

Swami Veda has made money available for me to purchase any book that I want for the library, so from that point of view, I have no complaints. I have practically speaking no obstacles to doing any scholarly work that I would want. Good office space, good internet connection.

The ashram residents may not be Vaishnava devotees, but on the whole they are sattvika and peaceful. This is nothing to be sneezed at, as there is very little disruption to the overall equilibrium of the atmosphere. And from what one sees and hears of devotees, this is not always the case with them.

Finally, Swami Veda Bharati is himself a remarkable gentleman with a warm heart and very broadminded attitude. Besides which, he is an estimable scholar of the Yoga tradition of the first rank and I have learned a great deal from him, not only in terms of knowledge and practice, but in terms of character.

True, it is not Vrindavan, but it is Rishikesh... and there are a few bhaktas... My daily RRSN readings down by the Ganga are attracting more people every day. I just got a call from Madhuvan asking me to resume my Gita classes there. And, who knows, maybe other opportunities are waiting here. My Hindi is gradually improving and I am becoming more and more capable of saying everything I want to say in a more fluid and pleasing way.

In practical terms, I would think that the opportunities staying here provide me should be fulfilled rather than me pushing things to achieve some rather unclear goals. I have so many unfinished projects, which even with the facilities I have, are still regrettably making little headway.

The only thing that would or really should move me from here is external pressure. If what I say or teach is of any interest to anyone and they think they have something to learn from me beyond what they can get by reading my blog, it remains to be seen. Like everyone, I like being appreciated, but I really have no ambitions for personal self-aggrandizement. I don't think these things are in my control, so I don't try to control them.

Clearly, however, I am being forced to go to the West, so we will see what comes of that. I like to talk about Radha and Krishna, but my doing that depends entirely on people wanting to hear from me. That has not been so evident as yet, so why force things?

Radhe Radhe!

Look what came in the mail

Unwell all day in body and mind,
licking my wounds by looking for rhymes.
The rain came down at quarter to four.

I did not realize until quite late that night,
the drumbeat of rain was really a code:
Devi had sent a messenger cloud.
Decrypted, her voice came through, clear and bold,
and this is what her letter told:

O Manjari! You're at least 12 by now.
You're old enough to know better.

It is strange you have to be told
that you and the sakhis, not I, hold
the lila in the palms of your hands.
Don't you know your role?

You're not there just to sweep the kunja,
or stop Krishna from coming in when Lalita scolds.
You're not there just to wait for nectar to fall.
Don't you know what seva and dasi mean?
Who's the servant and who's the Queen?

O Dasi!
Krishna was speaking to you that night
when he told Arjuna he had to fight!
You too have a field of work, so do;
Work your field of duty, kuru.

Do you think it was easy for Arjuna to fight?
But he was a warrior and that was his right;
while Radha's just a kula bala,
a woman with a thousand badha,
a family that holds her bound in knots,
they hold her tight behind four walls;
Jatila and Kutila and the family cows
keep her out of Krishna's sight.

Whatever the pravasa, far or near, long or short,
whatever the maan, with a cause or not,
It's up to you to find a way.
The Jugal milan is your task;
I don't know why you had to ask!

Find a way, it's up to you--
Hide Krishna in a box!
Get in the door, pick the locks!
Dress him up as a goddess or a girl,
Have him make a garden of pearls.
Be a duti, do your duty, find a way!
You're not the audience, you're in the play!

The doors to Vraja are open wide
and if you die trying, at least,
at least you can say you tried.

The fun is all in getting it done.
I, Yogamaya, am your servant, the Lila is yours;
Radha and Krishna meet at your command.
Find them in the woods where they hanker afar;
Take them by the hand and do abhisar.
I promise you'll see the Nitya Vihara.

You were probably surprised to hear from me.
My message is this: You are free! You are free!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana and the Bhāgavatam

Some observations: I remember the first time I read Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, I immediately sensed the discomfort that Gaudiya Vaishnavas post-Rupa Goswami would have felt with some aspects of the story. But I also recognized what they would have liked, and that is really what this whole reading of the book is about.

Here are some preliminary observations: First of all, Rupa Goswami states in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi that the pūrva-rāga of the nāyikā is usually described first. Here it is Krishna who is overcome with desire and Radha who resists. In Vidagdha-mādhava, for instance, it is Radha who is affected and she sends sakhīs to Krishna, who refuses her. This gives an opportunity to describe Radha's disillusionment and distress... the intensity of her love.

In the second chapter we will learn that Radha is only 11 years old. We don't know how old Krishna is, but he sounds like a real brat, with very little redeeming about his character. He is full of lust and when he gets turned down, he starts thinking up a plot to do what sounds pretty much like rape. Not only that, but Baḍāi is sounding pretty problematic ethically herself: she not only wants to induce her granddaughter into an immoral relationship, but is vengeful when Radha tells responds negatively.

Krishna may be God in Chandi Das's poem, but it does not look much more than a formality so far, a kind of pretext with which to browbeat Radha into surrendering her virtue. And indeed we will see this theme recur in later chapters also.

So what to make of it? Well, one point that I have been trying to make throughout my "career" is that Radha and Krishna, as a Divine Couple, have gone through many different metamorphoses, and that we, as devotees, have to "purify" that concept in keeping with the highest ideals of love.

Chandi Das is particularly raw in his descriptions, and, as I already said, his version clearly lost popularity with the rising of the post-Chaitanya Mahajanas. One thing that seems clear, as Basanta Ranjan Ray says in his introduction, this Chandi Das is not a Sahajiya. Sahajiyaism requires an apotheosis of love itself, and such an apotheosis is dependent on a veneration of the symbols of that love, Radha and Krishna. Chandi Das is simply telling an entertaining story, and Radha and Krishna are the vehicle for it.

Some of the songs, taken out of context, could be seen as worthy of Mahaprabhu's Gabhira līlā, and much ink has been spilled arguing the pros and cons of whether this was the Chandidas that Mahaprabhu venerated and enjoyed. But it is a little harder to see him enjoying the entire poem, as it is. But that is something that we can also consider when we go through the work: Radha's viraha is the most moving chapter of the work, and we all know the role that viraha played in Chaitanya's lila. And many of the other features of Krishna's character are universal in Chandidas and the rest of the popular literature.

Of course, it may be argued that any love story apotheosizes love, elevates it into some kind of divine entity, and I think that the possibilities for this were recognized by Chandi Das and also by the Vaishnavas of his day; they simply felt that he had not realized them and that they needed to be reworked. The inspiration to do so came from the Bhāgavatam.

It is a little difficult to know when the Bhāgavatam actually became known in Northern and Northeastern India. My suspicion is that it was relatively late, although I cannot prove it. There are several reasons that spring to mind (off the top of my head):
  • Sridhar's Sad-ukti-karṇāmṛta has one Bhāgavatam verse (12.13.1) in it, but it is ascribed to someone else.
  • A Bengali lexicon of the period has no references to Bhāgavatam, though it quotes from many other purāṇas.
  • It seems doubtful that the Gīta-govinda was directly influenced by the BhP.
  • A manuscript in Vidyapati's own hand is the oldest MS of the BhP in Northeastern India.
  • The first Bengali translation is Śrī-Kṛṣṇa-vijaya, which dates to 1472 CE.
  • Numerous other Bengali translations of the BhP start to appear in the late 15th and early 16th centuries (Gopāla-vijaya, Prema-taraṅgiṇī, etc.)
  • Numerous commentaries from Bengal only start appearing on the inspiration of Chaitanya, even though it is evident that the book was being popularized with a monistic interpretation in centers like Nabadwip.
  • Sridhara's commentary from the early/mid 15th century appears to be at the root of this popularization.
So if it is the case that Chandi Das was building on a folk tradition with elements from the older purāṇas (Harivaṁśa and Viṣṇupurāṇa, in particular), then it seems natural that the impact of the Bhāgavatam and the purification tendency would have been felt.

Another possibility is that some parts of the Bhāgavatam would have been known--without necessarily the kind of theological sophistication that the Goswamis brought to the discussion. Or, that the original story elements of the Bhāgavatam (which in all likelihood are older than the Bhāgavatam anyway) had spread before the arrival of the book itself. Even so, we see from the translations, etc., like the abovementioned Śrī-Kṛṣṇa-vijaya, Gopāla-vijaya, and Kṛṣṇa-prema-taraṅgiṇī, that the main interest was not in the philosophical aspects of the BhP, but in its accounts of Krishna’s activities in Vrindavan. Even the portions dealing with previous incarnations are only dealt with in Prema-taraṅgiṇī, and that briefly in comparison.

So, as we look at the combination of factors that go into the evolution of the Bengali Vaishnava tradition, we see that the principal elements are :
  1. The development of an original folk tradition that contains a number of non-Purāṇic themes. Though some of these appear to have existed in the court of Lakshman Sen, which would make an interesting subject for analysis). These themes are most enthusiastically expressed by Chandi Das in Śrī-kṛṣṇa-kīrtana.
  2. The Bhāgavatam, if it was known for a long time before Chaitanya, was mostly a source of interest popularly for its stories of Krishna. But these stories are quite different from those told by the folk tradition. Even the themes unique to the Bhāgavatam which have some apparent similarity in Chandi Das, such as the stealing of clothes (vastra-haraṇa), etc., are told in completely different ways. This also applies to other, older Purāṇic accounts like the chastising of Kāliya.
  3. Philosophical portions of the Bhāgavatam (as is evident from the famous Devananda Pandit incident recounted in Vrindavan Das’s Caitanya-bhāgavata leaned to a non-devotional interpretation.
  4. Chaitanya’s appearance led to an emphasis on the philosophical and theological portions of the Bhāgavatam, stressing the devotional elements (śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ pramāṇam amalam). This influenced the recounting of the stories in this light. Whereas Chandi Das was primarily concerned with entertaining the public through the frail curtain of Krishna’s adventures, Chaitanya and his followers were deadly serious about the devotional goal (premān pumartho mahān. Chaitanya’s interest in the Dhruva and Prahlada stories (as mentioned in Caitanya-bhāgavata and as popularized also in the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya, a non-Bhāgavata based telling of these two Viṣṇu-purāṇa originating stories) is further evidence of the widening theological seriousness of Vaishnavism of Chaitanya.
  5. However, though the Bhāgavatam provides some fodder for the rasika interpretation of Krishna-līlā, most of Rupa Goswami’s original contributions are based on the secular poetic and dramatic tradition, as are many of the themes found in his poetic works. 
  6. Sahajiyaism needs to have a serious, sacred vision of love and sexuality to be meaningful. It does not seem that either Chandi Das or the Bhāgavatam on their own could provide this.
OK. That is all for now.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chandra Vadani

This is the top of the mountain.
We walked the last kilometer, and there were stairs,
so no alpinist heroics, but the air is thin
enough to make our heads all spin.

We look down on freewheeling falcons
flying far above the terraced slopes.

Wisps of cloud cling to neighbor peaks
like the yaksha's doot, resting weary from his trip,
waiting maybe for more messages to bring
the beloved, who wanes upon the snowy summits
that trim the no longer lost horizon.

Devi mantras, dhaks and dhols,
sussurating Sapta-shati, bellows and bells.
I buy my coconut and bring it to you,
Devi Chandravadani.

O Yoga Maya, I am with you again,
under this pale and crystal sky.
Like I was in Vrindavan,
in elated circumambulation;
Like I was in in Nabadwip,
under the midnight black and tangled
branches of Pora Ma.

I am praying once again for what you have,
with which you tantalize, but never give;
I beg you: apavrinu apavrinu.

From here on high, Paurnamasi Devi,
from this tiny particle of Govardhan,
from this place where you cover the universe
with your dancing veils of illusion,
I am praying again, apavrinu apavrinu.

With straw in my mouth, I ask you this:
Why do you separate the Divine Couple?
Why do you make them vagabond apart,
lost in thorn and snake-filled Vrindavan?
Why do you make Radha wear this maan?
And make Krishna powerless, like a captured thief,
who begs the trees and birds, and you, for relief?

Can't you make it simple, fling open wide the drape,
and show us their divine, eternal, joyous state?
It seems you like this keeping them apart.
I know it's all a question of your art,
but this Lila's weighing heavy on my heart...
Devi, apavrinu apavrinu.

What am I doing here?

I mentioned Ma Seva Bharati the other day. After my RRSN reading yesterday, I ran into her on the promenade by the Ganga. We stopped to talk. She is still ruminating over her month-long bhakti experience with Dhanurdhara Swami and other senior Iskcon old timers.

Ma Seva was full of questions about me. "I was amazed," she said, "to learn that the devotees think that Radha and Krishna's love affairs are the highest truth, beyond even Brahman. Do you also believe that?"

That is a big question to take in one swallow. I said, "Yes. But you have to start from the point of understanding that the Supreme Truth is personal. You are a person, so why do you think that in the state of perfection you will be less than what you are now? And why would the Supreme Truth be something less than what you are now, in the state of bondage?"

"They are so strict," she said. "I think bhakti is only for the healthy. They told me that you have to take a complete shower every time you go to the toilet! Do you do that? Do you offer all your food? Do you chant 16 rounds every day?"

That was quite a bit to answer. When I saw Gadadhar Pran last year, when we had our argument, he said disgustedly, "You used to be a sad-ācārī. Now you have no sad-ācāra whatsoever. You've lost everything."

No doubt, that sad-ācāra thing is pretty heavy duty in the Gaudiya Vaishnava world. So it looks like even Iskcon leaders are now trying hard to enforce and keep those standards. In general, I don't make a lot of it, but that is partly because I am so one-sided. I do my japa and meditation most of the time, but I plunge into books almost as soon as I can and consider that to be my principal sevā.

I have Giridhari, but I don't cook for him. I give him some tulasi manjaris and flower, some incense, the occasional arati. I have in fact been offering the ashram food to Giriraj on an increasingly regular basis, but I am hardly Prithu... (pṛthuḥ pūjane, Padyāvalī 53). Arcana is not my path, but I do recognize that this is one of Iskcon's greatest achievements.

The other day I posted something about Sharat Chandra and mentioned his visit to an Vaishnava akhra mostly populated by women. The joy those passages gave me came from the descriptions of the devotional life centered around temple worship, the magic of which Sharat himself, though claiming to be a non-believer, and all the while pooh-poohing as puttula khela (playing with dolls), nevertheless senses.

An ashram with no temple has no soul, it seems. People in the world at large are used to living without a soul (or with a TV for a soul), but the Vaishnava community life is centered around the Deity. It is the soul, and even the guru, the living deity, bows down to the image in the temple. Sharat Chandra quoted many of the Vaishnava arati songs--Jaya Madana Gopala ki! It just seemed that the book came alive at this point.

I mentioned this to Ma Seva and clearly she recognized the truth of it and nodded. "So what are you doing in a Mayavadi ashram? How do you give Gita class? What do you say?"

I did not answer much. I said that there is a lot I can learn, too. We talked about meditation techniques and so on. As a matter of fact, I am very glad to have learned the things I did here about meditation and I intend to use and teach them as necessary parts of any sadhana. I have lived for much of the last twenty years without any Vaishnava association at all, so on the whole, I am not doing all that badly compared to where I was just 15 months ago. I have learned pretty well how to keep my own spiritual life to myself and not impose it on anyone. Here, at least, I can chant aloud and sing, wear tilak, be pretty open about my Vaishnavism without being treated like a pariah. I feel bhakti frothing in my heart and pouring out of me most of the time.

My devotional sanga, the Ramachandra whose sanga I beg for, will come. In the meantime, the Holy Name, my mantra, the books, are all sources of tremendous joy.

But Ma Seva is not the first person to ask me those questions. Raghunath Das said he wouldn't even go to Dvaraka, even if Krishna sent him a personal invitation. Gopa Kumar wouldn't even stay in Vaikuntha when Narayan and Lakshmi were taking the trouble to dress like Radha and Krishna just to keep him there and happy. And I am somehow passing my time here, untroubled?

I am in a waiting mode. Biding my time. What for? Every day I pray, "Radha, just let me chant your glories." I have confidence in her.

My Gita classes have mostly been pretty good balancing acts. Explaining, but not really saying everything I feel. I had been waiting, I think, biding my time through the first six chapters. I know what happens in the Seventh Chapter. In the first six--Krishna does not lay all his cards on the table right away. The last verse of the sixth chapter is really the bomb that changes the whole tone.

This evening I started the Seventh Chapter. I couldn't believe how forceful and aggressive I was. I guess something happened to me. I started by recapitulating 6.46-47. "The yoga of the Gita and Patanjala yoga are not the same. Too often, people who are interested in yoga think that only the sixth chapter is important. In fact, the sixth chapter is just a part of the story. The Gita is about action, and the test of any achievement in meditation comes when it is time for action, whether it is something as simple as hanging a picture or going to the toilet, these things can often test our spiritual gains. But here, Krishna is filling out the picture of what yoga is when he tells us that a yogi is better than an ascetic, a jnani or a karmi, and that the best yogi is someone who engages in bhajan. Bhajan comes from the same root as bhakti. It means service.

"Bhakti is much more than just offering the results of your work, karmārpaṇam. This is the definition of bhakti that is given in the commentaries to Yoga-sūtra when talking about īśvara-praṇidhāna. But what devotion or service is that. If attachment to the results of activities is undesirable because it leads to bondage, then how does turning it over to God constitute devotion? If I give you something, an old pair of trousers that I don't want any more, is that really service or an act of love?"

And then into the Seventh: "The sāṅkhya of the Gita and the sāṅkhya of Kapila and Ishwara Krishna are not the same. Krishna says the jiva is his prakṛti. He is the puruṣa. (7.4-5)"

"The purpose of the Vedanta is to inquire into Brahman. The immediate answer is janmādy asya yataḥ. Here Krishna says, ahaṁ kṛtsnasya jagataḥ prabhavaḥ pralayas tathā--'I am the origin and destruction of the entire universe. Everything rests on me like beads on a string.'"

"The Maya of the Gita is not the Maya of Shankara--daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā. Krishna says, 'Maya is my energy. The buck stops here. I take responsibility for it.' Shankara's Maya is illusion. Adhyāsa. Snake on a rope. If we are Brahman then what the heck are we in illusion for? And if Brahman is nirguṇa and impersonal, then what desire led it to want to become illusioned and suffer birth, old age, disease and death? If being liberated is better than not being liberated, then why does Brahman want to be conditioned? Is Brahman an idiot? And what is this 'want' anyway?"

I was a little out of character, you might say. But my hands are not trembling as they often do after speaking strongly to a non-receptive audience. I have the usual adrenaline overload, but I don't feel anxious. I just told the Gita the way I saw it.

I really feel like a puppet, dancing on strings being pulled by Who Knows Who. Who knows where I will end up. I will be back in Canada in two months, with no real plan, no clear path before me. Swami Veda wants me to come back here, and that seems to be the likeliest turn of events, unless Who Knows Who has got something up her sleeve that she is waiting to spring on me.


If you missed them, I recently posted two backdated articles.

* Nivritta and Rasika

* Nagari Das

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Remembering my first meeting with Ananta Das Baba

I went to the Ganga for my RRSN reading today. I am ashamed to admit that I forgot to include Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj in my list of gurus the other day. I have now corrected that. Our little group is growing. There is a Bengali devotee, a Gaudiya Vaishnava, who lives in a little hut on the Virbhadra Road. I saw him today and invited him to come to listen. I think he got a taste of something he was missing.

I first met Ananta Dasji in 1982 or thereabouts, in Puruliya district. I was invited up there in the run-up to the Quincentenary of Mahaprabhu's appearance. We went to Kunjabihari Dasji's birthplace not far from Puruliya city. Then we went off to Manbhoom district, which would be in Jharkhand state now. That is where I met Ananta Dasji. I don't remember all the details now.

I remember that there were so many people with Radha Kund tilak everywhere. They all looked like they had just stepped out of Radha Kund. I went to some villages that were really isolated. You forget that there are actually places in India that you have to walk over empty fields for miles and miles before you can reach them. We came to one village market where there were tribals walking around in loincloths with bows and arrows slung around their bare chests, carrying the carcasses of animals they had hunted.

I remember a bus in which a wedding party climbed aboard. The bride was about six and the groom maybe ten. My companion said, "This is what we call a doll wedding. Totally illegal, but still goes on in these isolated parts."

Then, in Manbhoom, a crowd of at least five thousand Vaishnavas appeared out of nowhere to listen to a series of speeches. That's where I first met Maharaj. One Nabadwip Gosai from the Mahaprabhu vamsha, who had been a Vidhan Sabha representative but was not much in the way of the bhakti marga, spoke before me and I spoke before Ananta Dasji.

I did some talking and then Ananta Dasji did some real Harikatha pariveshan. I had never heard anything like it before. I became totally enchanted. The way he just seemed to know every shastra by heart and delivered it with so much sweetness and anubhava.

Anyway, he was very gracious to me afterwards and it was the first of several times that we ended up speaking at the same place on the same occasion. And of course, I had one occasion to do Karttik in Radha Kund and hear him regularly. And in 1984, I was at Sringar Bat translating Mañjarī-svarūpa-nirūpaṇa while he was staying at Keshighat Thor printing up the first edition of Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, the Hindi translation of which I am now reading. On several occasions I went to see him to ask about points of difficulty.

No one made mañjarī-bhāva come alive for me the way that Ananta Dasji did... and indeed does. He has real single-minded niṣṭhā for rādhā-dāsya and he inspired me in that direction more than anyone else.

So to get back to the point I have been making about the nivṛtti and pravṛtti-mārgas. In the Gita, Krishna says that both have the same end result, but that pravṛtti-mārga is in fact better. This means that for most people--I won't go so far as to say everyone--thinking of Radha and Krishna's erotic lila without reference to experience of love and eros in the concrete, sensual world, is not only psychologically questionable, but tends to create a disconnect between one's experience of the inner and outer worlds. This is exactly the opposite of what one should be trying to achieve.

I say this with all respect for the many ways in which sannyāsīs have contributed to the culture of rādhā-dāsya by preserving and developing the rasika traditions. So please try to understand that I am not undermining that tradition. May it flourish. But the sannyāsīs should understand that the pravṛtti-mārga [I have started using this term a little carelessly, I am afraid, but I think that, at least for the time being, I will continue to do so.] is not about "having as much illicit sex as possible."

The enjoying spirit is one thing, enjoyment is something totally different. The activities of the senses include both serving and enjoying. Bhakti includes many activities that are pure enjoyment--enjoying Krishna katha and kirtan are entertainments, are they not? How are they to be thought of as service or as karma, in the strict, Protestant work ethic sense that we want to impose on it?

But this is something that will develop on this site as we go along.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Nagari Das

Last time I was in Vrindavan I picked up a book called Nāgarī dāsa kī vāṇī (ed. Vrajavallabha Sharan, Vrindavan: Sri Sarvesvara Press, 1966). Nagari Das was a Nimbarki virakta who lived in the mid-18th century (b. 1699, d. 1765).

Some of you may have read my article on Prabodhananda Saraswati. What really struck me about the research I did for that article is the extent to which sectarian feeling dominated the Vaishnava world and how historical accounts differ, preserving the extensive prejudices and resentments that exist in one or the other factions. Not that these may not have foundation.

For instance, for all of my appreciation of the Radha-vallabhi tradition, I take it that the evidence points to the kind of ingratitude and inability to acknowledge the human avenues of divine mercy I wrote about in a previous post. The Radhavallabhi tradition says that Harivamsa wrote the Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi when he was five years old. Do I have any takers for that one? They say he got mantra from Srimati Radharani directly when he was seven. And so on.

I don't want to go into that any further here. I did want to say that unless and until we have an awareness and openmindedness about history, our own Gaudiya history included, and are ready to face prejudices and so on that exist on our own side of various conflicts, there is a kind of insufficiency in our own spiritual maturity that will hold us back from advancing. It is the problem of transcending designations, even while being dependent on them for progress.

Nagari Das turns out to be an interesting character and there are many things in the introduction to this book, which discusses his life, that though not mentioning Gaudiya Vaishnavism, do in fact have an indirect bearing on GV, and contains many things that are worthwhile knowing.

Nagari Das is the Vaishnava name of Raja Sawanta Singh of Kishangarh (Ajmer, Rajasthan). This kingdom was closely related to those in Ajmer and Jaipur, etc. The kings of Kishangarh were supporters of the Nimbarka sampradaya and were connected to the nearby Salemabad seat (Nimbarka Pith) of the Nimbarka sampradaya. This seat was founded by Parashuram, one of Hari Vyasa's 12 principal disciples and is accepted as being the most important site for Nimbarkis outside of Vrindavan.

I am not going to say anything about Sawant Singh's involvement in Gaudiya affairs, I don't get much information in this book, but he is definitely the same fellow who is mentioned in the Bengali Bhakta-mala as participating in judgments involving certain thorny disputes amongst or within sampradayas. Shrivatsa Goswami knows a lot about these Rajasthani kings and even had a book published on the subject at the IGNCA. So it would probably be worth checking that out.

It seems that Sawanta Singh also got involved in his own sampradaya's politics around 1741 when the Salemabad gaddi was about to be vacated with the approaching demise of Vrindavan Devacharya. Though many disciples were qualified, one individual, Jairam Sesh, was favored by the Jaipur king, Jai Singh, as well as by the princely rulers of Udaipur, Kota, Karauli, Shyopur and Barauda, etc. Maharaja Jai Singh had come to the conclusion that all renounced sadhus and acharyas everywhere should become householders. [I assume he had good reason, but nothing here is mentioned.] Sesh had been a householder before taking vairagya and this is why the king favored him. On the other hand, the Vaishnavas and general populace did not agree with these ideas and held fast to the rule that only lifelong celibates should sit on the gaddi.

When Vrindavan Devacharya died, the plans of the kings came to nought when the sants and vairagis' candidate, Govinda Devacharya, was place at the head of the math. However, there was a schism as Jai Singh gave Seshji shelter and put him in charge of all Nimbarki ashrams and temples in his jurisdiction. Many of the other kings, including Sawant Singh's father Raja Singh in Kishangarh did the same.

Bad feeling between the Salemabad pith and the royal families grew and other Vaishnava sampradayas tried to take advantage to fill the void. However, good sense returned to the king of Jaipur and subsequently to the kings of Kishangarh and Rupanagar. They went to Govinda Devacharya and asked his forgiveness. All, that is, except for Sawant Singh's younger brother Bahadur Singh.

Bahadur Singh even gathered an army and tried to take Rupanagar, and an army of 500 Vaishnava nagas was sent to counter him. Somewhere during this time, Bahadur Singh broke with the family tradition and took initiation from the Vallabha Goswamis. So vehement was he in his rejection of the Nimbarkis that he insisted everyone in the court follow his example. Instead of the Nimbarki tilak, they had to wear the Ballabhi vermilion colors. The story is told that one courtier, Mahonota Hathasingh, came in the next day with his gopi chandan urdhva-pundra and was immediately taken to task by the king. Mahonota’s response was to uncover his belly and point to the red tilak on it, saying, "Your Highness, I have given my head to my guru. But since you own my belly, I have put the Vallabhi tilak on it."

Jai Singh died in 1745, which helped to calm the Salemabad controversy. The king of Jodhpur intervened with Sawant Singh and encouraged him to appease Bahadur Singh by giving him 13 villages. This calmed things between the two brothers for a time. Sawant Singh went to live in Delhi with the Mughal emperor, Mohammad Shah, but he died in 1748, followed two days later by the death of Raja Singh. Sawant Singh was made king, even though he was still in Delhi.

Bahadur Singh took the opportunity to make a play for the kingdom and in 1749 attacked both Rupanagar and Kishangarh. Sawant Singh came with a force to meet him, but decided that it would be improper to incur the loss of any life to pay for this worldly struggle and turned to Vrindavan. He went to Govardhan and did a parikrama with his entire retinue, accompanied by the beating of drums and blowing of bugles. He came to Radha Kund where he camped at Srinivas's baithak and enjoyed kirtan (Srinivas was a direct disciple of Nimbarka who wrote an expanded commentary on the Vedanta).

There is a verse that Nagari Das wrote when he arrived in Vrindavan. When the Vaishnavas heard that Sawant Singh Raja had come, nobody came to see him. When it was announced that Nagari Das had come, then everyone flocked to see him.

suni vyavahārika nāma mo, ṭhāḍe dūri udāsa
dauri mile bhari naina puni, sunata nāgarī dāsa

On hearing my worldly name, everyone stayed away, indifferent. But when they heard the name Nagari Das, they came running to meet me and fill their eyes.

Mughal rule in India was weakening at this time and the Marathas were on the rise. Sawant Singh decided to ally himself with them. But he was told by one saint Haridasji to retire from royal duties and live in Braj, so he decided to follow this advice and sent the reinforcements taken from the Marathas to his other brother Sardar Singh. Sardar Singh immediately attacked Kishangarh and a vicious battle took place in which many men were killed. Bahadur Singh came to his senses and pleaded for a truce. The kingdom was split and Bahadur Singh took Kishnagarh, while Sardar Singh took Rupanagar on behalf of his older brother. This was now 1757.

In order that peace be maintained between the brothers, Sawant Singh and Bahadur Singh went to Salemabad to receive Govinda Devacharya's blessings. With that, Nagari Das returned to Vrindavan and became a complete tyagi and engaged in bhajan until he died in 1765.

Now, what makes this interesting is that after his death, a controversy arose about whether Nagari Das was a Nimbarki or a Vallabhi saint. Several publications, including the Krishna Bhakti Kavya Mem Sakhi Bhava book that I have refered to from time to time, have taken the position that despite his "his poetry bears the imprint of the Haridasi and Radhavallabhi sects, even though he was initiated in the Vallabha sect." (688)

Vrajavallabh Sharanji argues against this mistaken idea, and indeed the above account shows that it was most unlikely. What is quite shocking is that there seems to have been a systematic attempt to erase all references to Nimbarki gurus, etc., from Nagari Das’s writings and wherever possible to interpolate others to Vallabhi saints and gosais. I will not present all the arguments, which are based as much on historical records from the royal houses as on manuscripts that have not been so altered. Furthermore, Sawant Singh was also an artist and he drew portraits of many of the Salemabad acharya and other Vaishnavas. [He is know for his patronage of these arts as well.]

Vrajavallabha Sharan dryly suggests that the family feud was not all that peaceful and that Bahadur Singh still bore a grudge against his older brother and the Nimbarka sect, which took this [rather childish] form.

Some things that Vrajavallabhaji points out that are of interest are that Nagari Das was a strong believer in the Chari Sampradaya idea. In one work, Bhakti-maga-dipika, he translates the famous verse, sampradaya-vihina ye, into Brijbhasha.

cāra sampradā meṁ guru kariye
aurana ke mata meṁ nahiṁ pariye
vishnuswami nimbādita āraja
rāmānuja aura madhvācāraja
vishnuswami ke guru tripurārī
nimbādita sanakādika cārī
hai ju ramā tahāṁ śrī rāmānuja
vidhi sikha madhvā parma dharma dhuja
ina cāraṇa bina guru mati ṭhānoṁ
aura ke mantra aphala kari mānoṁ

That is pretty clear, I think. What is interesting is that these lines were cut out of the Vallabhi revision of the text and replaced by a single couplet:

prasiddha sampradā meṁ guru kariye
mana kalpita mata meṁ nahiṁ pariye

Instead of saying that one should take initiation in any one of the four sampradayas, it says that one should take initiation in a "prasiddha" sampradaya and not follow any "invented" doctrines. Vrajavallabha Sharanji points out here that the Vallabha sampradaya only grudgingly accepted affiliation with the Vishnuswami sampradaya, and in fact many people still (as with the Gaudiyas and Madhva) do not recognize this connection at all.

That is not very hard to understand if you look at this quote from Vallabhacharya's own Bhagavata commentary:

trividho bhakti-yoga uktaḥ. te ca sāmprataṁ viṣṇusvāmy-anusāriṇaḥ, 
tattva-vādinaḥ, rāmānujāś ceti tamo-rajaḥ-sattvair bhinnāḥ. 
asmat-pratipāditas tu nairguṇyaḥ.

Three kinds of bhakti-yoga have been spoken of here, namely that in the modes of ignorance, passion and goodness. These are represented nowadays respectively by the followers of Vishnuswami, the Tattvavadis, and the Ramanuja sampradaya. The doctrine we are setting forth, however, is beyond the modes of material nature. (Subodhini to 3.29.37)

This quote reveals two principal facts. One is that Vallabha did not identify himself as a follower of Vishnuswami. Nor, did he even recognize the existence of four sampradayas. Furthermore, he did not know or give any importance to Nimbarka. I cannot think of a quote that is more likely to scupper any attempt to argue that the four sampradaya idea existed at the time of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his contemporary Vallabhacharya.

Another interesting little tidbit I picked up is that the Nimbarki tilak is based on the idea that the two lines represent a Hari mandir. The black dot symbolizes Sarveshwar Hari. The Vallabhi interpretation of the tilak is that the two lines represent Shiva and Brahma and the empty space between (akasha) is Vishnu. If I am not mistaken, both these interpretations can be found in the Hari-bhakti-vilasa.

It is interesting to note that this sectarian feud, the origins of what are not really known at all (Why were the kings insisting that only householders should be gurus?) and which led to loss of life (though surely Bahadur Singh's motives could not have been entirely motivated by moral outrage or sectarian piety), shows that Hindus and Vaishnavas have some blemishes of this kind on their history, too.

Nagari Das wrote the following song:

hameṁ shastra kī samajha na parihai
nahiṁ samajhe abahū nahiṁ samajhe
jina samajhe tina kahyo sukari haiṁ
parama dharma vettā ācāraja
cyārani hī ke mata anusāri haiṁ
haṁsa vāhinī haṭha salitā meṁ
būḍaka laiṁke nāṁhi uchari haiṁ
braja rasa keli sudhā piya kaiṁ
phira vidyā-vādani nāṁhi jhagari haiṁ
nāgari dāsa vāsa vṛindāvana
nita vihāra taiṁ kabahuṁ na ṭarihaiṁ

Tentative translation. [My Brajabhasha still not all that good.]: We are unable to understand shastra. We don't understand, we still don't understand. One who does understand can explain it simply. The four acharyas are the knowers of the supreme dharma and we follow their doctrines. [Something about being in stream of the Nimbarka sampradaya, which is also said to be descended from Hamsa avatar.] We drink the rasa of Braja nectarean pastimes and don't waste our time in arguments about doctrines. Nagari Das lives in Vrindavan and never gives up singing of the Nitya Vihara.

Vrindavan Devacharya Maharaja giving sangita lessons to Sawant Singh (Nagari Das), and two disciples, Virajananda and Ghanananda.

Nivṛtta and Rasika

Advaitaji has duly noted my return to active blogging and has immediately taken up his active role as a defender of the pure Goswami siddhanta. I bow down to him and his service to Srimati Radharani.
In their commentaries on that Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu verse (3.5.2), Jiva Goswami and Visvanatha Cakravarti clearly say that nivṛtta refers to those who have no taste for madhurya rasa, not to renunciates - asmād rasād virakteṣv anupayogitvād ayogyatvāt. In the commentaries there is nothing said about renunciates at all. I have made this point earlier, in my blog of December 16, 2006 and perhaps even more often. Perhaps Jagat has overlooked that or perhaps he simply doesn't want to admit it. His interpretation of that verse is not just wrong, it is highly irresponsible because it could lead to the conclusion that the more illicit sex one has, the more one qualifies for madhura rasa. At any rate, if renunciation would disqualify someone from madhura rasa, then why the very authors of those books, Rupa, Sanatan, Visvanath etc., were so renounced? Any reasonable person will easily see the folly in Jagat's reasoning.
I am glad, as usual, of the opportunity to clarify my ideas, and I must admit that I was pleased to see that Advaitaji's tone changed a little and he spoke to the irresponsibility of the teaching rather than accusing me of serial adultery. This indicates to me that he thinks that, after all, there may be some merit to the teaching, and the principal problem is only that innocents may potentially be misled. That sounds like progress to me.

Mukunda is indeed much closer to saying what I think is correct with nivṛtteṣu tāpasādiṣu, i.e., nivṛtta means those people who have an ascetic frame of mind. We will discuss this further on.

But Advaita's quotation from Jiva Goswami is also incomplete. He and Vishwanath both say, "Nivṛtta means those who are have no taste for Bhagavan's madhura-rasa because they are unable to see any difference between it and material love." (nivṛtteṣu prākṛta-śṛṅgāra-rasa-sama-dṛṣṭyā bhāgavatād apy asmād rasād virakteṣv anupayogitvād ayogyatvāt)

So the point is that the nivṛtta is someone who is repelled by material sexuality, who sees sexual desire as the essence of the material condition, and thinks that Radha and Krishna's love affairs are of the same order. In the Gaudiya Math, also, we see this point being hammered away repeatedly and even Jiva Goswami warns about the old puruṣendriya starting to act up when hearing chanting or meditating on these intimate pastimes (Bhakti-sandarbha 338, BhP 10.33.40). So better keep away from it then.

The Rasa-lila ends with a reference to the potency of this lila for overcoming lust if it is heard and chanted with faith, but this word faith is a goalpost that moves with the whims of the commentator.

If you can't tell the difference between this and mundane sexual titillation, Hustler magazine, for instance, then you probably should not bother with it. But Vishnudasa quite rightly remembers Rupa Prabhu's verse from the Vidagdha-mādhava (and always one of my favorites, it's also quoted in CC)--

udāsatāṁ nāma rasānabhijñāḥ
kṛtau tavāmī rasikāḥ sphuranti |
kramelakaiḥ kāmam upekṣite’pi
pikāḥ sukhaṁ yānti paraṁ rasāle ||
May those who are ignorant of rasa be indifferent to this play, while the rasikas take delight in it. Koils find the greatest pleasure in the mango tree which is completely ignored by the camels. [VM 1.9]
My point is that we do see the difference and are not in the slightest troubled by the similarities. If I did not see the difference between Radha and Krishna and the mundane lovers who are beset by limitations of the material world, then there would be NO POINT to anything that I am saying or doing here. If someone is coming to justify a life of wanton libertinism, then he is bound to be disappointed, because it is not that. If as a result of reading these pages anyone thinks that I promote having as much illicit sex as possible in order to attain spiritual perfection in any way, shape or form, they are just weird.

This is about finding the prema prayojana, my friends. I put straw in my teeth and fall at your feet and beg you to just try to understand. You cannot do that if you are not sahaja. If you are afraid of tṛṣṇā, instead of surfing the wave of tṛṣṇā to enter the Divine Lila, you are still being affected by nivṛtti consciousness--the idea that this world is false and a danger. bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt. In the beginning, it may have some utility--jñāna and vairāgya--but these are never the causes of bhakti.

Generally speaking, a warning not to equate two things is an indication that the similarities are obvious and the differences less so. Like if I say, "Don't take pyrite to be gold." It means pyrite looks like gold, but is not; it is fool’s gold. If pyrite had other uses, then we would have to be aware of both similarities and differences.

So in this particular case, what are the similarities and differences? If we are so aware of the differences that we do not take note of the common features, then we are no better off, because then we miss what could be of use in overcoming the very thing we are afraid of--usually due to incomplete knowledge. It's the old snake and rope thing.

For instance, seawater and fresh water are undeniably different despite their similarities, but if I extract the salt and minerals by some process then I get distilled water, which is usable for drinking. This is called discrimination. In the particular case of madhura-rasa, what we really want to get at is yoga, or expertise in action (yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam)

Were I thirsty and I had the means to convert salt water into sweet, then to not do so would result in my death. "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink."

prapañcikatayā buddhyā
mumukṣūṇāṁ parityāgo
vairāgyaṁ phālgu kathyate
Those desirous of liberation who give up things that have a relation to God out of the idea that it is purely material are engaging in phalgu vairagya or false renunciation.
It is not for nothing that Krishna in the Gita gives a similar warning:

karmendriyāṇi saṁyamya
ya āste manasā smaran
indriyārthān vimūḍhātmā
mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate
Those who restrain the senses and their organs but whose minds still dwell on sense objects certainly delude themselves and are called pretenders. (3.6)
This is where we come back to the terms nivṛtti and pravṛtti. The Gita is primarily a pravṛtti-shastra because it does not say to us that the world is unreal, just abandon it. Pravṛtti means action—and it should be pointed out here that action does not just mean "working in prescribed duties," but includes all the activities of the senses, whether visibly pleasurable or unpleasurable. It is not that one is obliged to only do unpleasant things. Since sexuality is a rather fundamental human activity, it is necessary to undertake a cool-headed analysis of what it is, and moreover, what is being communicated to us by Radha and Krishna’s divine loves, before we make any blanket assumptions about it.

And saying sex is just for procreation is a canard. Sex for procreation is an aṅga of vātsalya-rasa. If sex was only for procreation, then Radha would be having babies all over the place.

You don’t just say to a devotee, “All eating requires killing some living creature. To avoid the sin, don’t eat at all.” You say, “We cannot avoid incurring sin in almost every action, including that of eating. We minimize violence by eating vegetarian food and we deal with the rest of any sinful reactions by offering it to Krishna. But the most important thing is that we do so to please Krishna and thereby go beyond the mode of goodness to the transcendent state of Bhagavan-consciousness.” This is karmasu kauśalam.

Basically, the goal is to see everything in relation to God. The meditator, the bhakta, tries to reshape his entire inner apparatus (antaḥ-karaṇam) so that his perception is altered in that way. But the test of jñāna or consciousness comes when we interact with the world, i.e., in action. This is why Krishna says in the Gita that action is better than inaction. Because action is inevitable and unless one is trained in "consciousness in action," one is inevitable disrupted when training the consciousness alone.

Now I am beginning to see that the jñāna and karma of the Gita are two aspects of bhakti: the conscious and the active part. All human endeavor has a nivṛtti and a pravṛtti aspect: in order to do anything, you must give up a myriad of alternative possibilities. To be vyavasāyātmikā buddhi, you need to resist the temptation to travel the countless other branches of the saṁsāra tree. You need, in fact, to cut down the tree with the axe of detachment. If you want to tune in to the Vaikuntha channel, you need to stop watching the Maya channel.

But nivritti and pravṛtti are two tendencies, and we tend to favor one or the other. Turning off the TV is not the same as watching another channel. [This is a bad example for me, personally, because I consider TV one of the enemies to my spiritual life and I think turning it off is a pretty good idea, but let's say you have to watch something, then simply turning it off is insufficient.] But obviously, pravṛtti on its own, without a transformation of consciousness, is the concrete side of our problem as conditioned souls. Hence, all the warnings and prohibitions in the shastra.

So this is a little more of what I have to say about pravṛtti and nivṛtti. There is a lot in the Bhāgavatam that says bhakti is a nivṛtti path, and that's O.K. That is a slightly different meaning, but it can mislead us into a kind of Mayavada approach to Krishna's energies.

[So I am going to stop here. I have been having a lot of trouble getting this post up. I left it open all day long and added things, etc. This time I kept a backup, and that is good because I needed it. The power goes while you try to upload, poof everything is gone.]

Gratitude, honesty and commitment to the truth

I posted this verse a long time ago, but on my Sunday walk yesterday it was one of my meditative verses.

na dīkṣāsyāḥ śikṣā-śravaṇa-paṭhane vā guru-mukhāt
tathāpīyaṁ rādhā tri-jagad-abalā-vismaya-bhuvām |
kalāmbhodheḥ śaurer api parama-santoṣaṇa-kṛtāṁ
kalānām ācāryā vraja-mṛga-dṛśām apy ajani sā ||

Our Radhika was never initiated, nor did she ever take any lessons from a shiksha guru. Even so, she has become the acharya from whom the doe-eyed Vraja sundaris learn all the arts of satisfying the heroic artist himself, Krishna, arts that are the source of amazement to every other attractive damsel in the three worlds. (GLA 11.124)

Well, that is Radha: the svarūpa-śakti, the eternal embodiment of the highest power known in existence: that of Love.

I was reflecting on this, because I have a strong saṁskāra that makes me think it is important to acknowledge one's gurus. In fact, it is my feeling that acknowledging gurus is the whole point of parampara. I have written about this in the past and it was the very basis of my leaving the Gaudiya Math.

The other day I heard Kirtanananda storming on about Gita 4.34 and how no one can progress unless they receive initiation in disciplic succession, and I was thinking, "Yeah, but?"

All things come from the Divine Couple, but They use devotees as Their instruments, and when They do, They become THEM. [God save us from our clumsy language.]

What happens to us of little faith, basically, is that we don't want to associate ourselves with some individual or group because of some perceived defect in them. Bhaktivedanta Swami said sexist things, racist things. O.K., but through him came the Holy Name. How can we chant without acknowledging that? And so many other things:

satāṁ nindā nāmnaḥ paramam aparādhaṁ vitanute
yataḥ khyātiṁ yātaṁ katham u sahate tad-vigarhām

What the heck have the Namaparadhas been drummed into our heads since the very beginning for? And what's the deal that we can't open our hearts to understand the meaning of evaṁ paramparā-prāptaṁ? All knowledge, no matter how original, has antecedents. Newton said, "If I have seen far, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants."

Prabhupada talked about putting old wine in new bottles, but he was more conservative than almost anyone. Call me whatever you like, but you don't just throw out the baby with the bathwater. For me, the tradition is part and parcel of the Truth.

The Holy Name came to us through a particular parampara. It is effective even without diksha and so on, because some effective things do so on their own power. Even so, Hare Krishna DOES have a parampara. And that parampara does have requirements such as gratitude to those who preserved and passed on the knowledge. We don't pick and choose the members of our tradition like so many basketball all-stars. You play with the team you got.

I remember translating some texts by Bhakti Promode Puri and he was having a great deal of trouble with this verse from Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (4.359), even suggesting that it was interpolated:

avidyo vā sa-vidyo vā gurur eva janārdanaḥ
mārgastho vāpy amārga-stho gurur eva sadā gatiḥ

The guru is always the manifestation of God, whether he has knowledge or not. Whether he is on the right path or not, the guru is always our shelter.

No surprise that this bypasses the understanding of someone in the Gaudiya Math. It seems to contradict all the rest of the instructions about finding a qualified guru. Yes, but life requires a certain amount of subtlety. One can act in certain ways and think in others. But gratitude (which is really what this verse is all about) is not, as far as I am concerned, negotiable.

śloka-pādasya vaktāpi yaḥ pūjyaḥ sa sadaiva hi
kiṁ punar bhagavad-viṣṇoḥ svarūpaṁ vitanoti yaḥ

A person who speaks even a quarter of a verse is to be revered, what to speak of the one who reveals the true nature of Lord Vishnu.
This bad habit of not acknowledging paramparas in modern Gaudiya Vaishnavism began with Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, because he did not like Bipin Bihari Goswami. Whatever the reasons, whatever the positive consequences, this leaves the existing Chaitanya Vaishnava movement with holes in it. Whatever its external power, whatever its virtues, however wonderful its followers, they will be handicapped unless and until they capitulate and thank the people to whom thanks are owed. If Bhaktivinoda could honor his guru, why cannot those who claim to follow Bhaktivinoda? Ever hear of half-a-hen logic?

Can you do that to everyone in every such case? Can you thank fully everyone who has given a verse or half verse of knowledge? No, you can't. Is this a reasonable demand? Probably not. So you do bhakti with an air of general gratitude, not one of grudging admission. Creating a new cult without correcting this at the root will simply exacerbate the problems; I don't care how successful you are. You can light a room with only a billionth part of the sun's light. That does not mean you have the sun.

You don't separate yourself from a tradition because you don't like some people in it. You serve the tradition; you purify it. I hear the names of some so-called jagad-gurus and avataras and such and feel such irritation because they haven't found one person to thank in their entire careers as God-men, except maybe that they fatuously claim to be some previous saint's reincarnation.

And you don't get to pick and choose, either. If you learned to chant and dance from Kirtanananda Swami, whatever he happened to become in the interim, whatever he is now, you still owe him a debt, I am sorry.

It is like renouncing your parents. You were not born out of thin air. No storks left you in a cabbage patch. And then you were taken care of and brought up. And no matter how defective those parents were (as a result of your karma) they were still the agents of God in keeping you alive and raising you.

It is the same with gurus--whether they gave you one sentence of enlightened wisdom or changed the very way you see your life.

I am not afraid to acknowledge Bhaktivedanta Swami, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, Lalita Prasad Thakur, Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj, or Priyalal Goswami. Or the other gurus, whose books I have read. Behind them all is the Parameshti Guru whose mercy infused them all. But I won't discredit the means he has taken to reveal these truths to me. What the heck is Guru Tattva all about? My advice to everyone: The first thing you do when looking at a guru is to find out whether he is thankful. Bhakti and thankfulness go together. Try to do one without the other; it is impossible.

And that's just about gratitude, let's not speak of honesty, what to speak of "due diligence," what to speak of commitment to the truth! What's the point of anything without these fundamentals?

Someone has written to to me jokingly say that I should renounce the term Sahajiya because it is "the previous century, last millennium, male-centered, gender-biased old world Bengali term." It is "Dysfunctional Oriental Bukwus" and we should shift the paradigm and come up with our own terminology, like "ananga-ranga."

Well everyone wants to be an original. If you want to do away with all previous century, last millennium, male-centered, gender-biased old world Bengali terms, you had better just drop everything. You haven't got a hope, because nothing comes out of thin air. And certainly Narayana Maharaj and the rest of the IGM are not doing much to changing that samskara at all.

The Sahajiyas and other like-minded sampradayas were the only people who had anything positive to say about women while the orthodox and the other sannyasa-based sampradayas were still quoting the Bhagavatam and Chanakya about how women are the most destructive force for a person wishing to cross over the material ocean, who did not even want to acknowledge that women were potentially greater devotees than men. And yet some arrogant feminists think that you have to reject the very people who recognized that Radha, the very symbol of love, placed her above Krishna, because they were "sexist." Those very Sahajiyas who were first to acknowledge that human love is a part of the process of understanding Divine Prema. Cut off the root and see what your Ananga-ranga is worth!

There is no "new age." We may be evolving, but we evolve OUT of something, not out of nothing. Don't forget Bhaktivinoda's statements, which are fully quoted and discussed in the article Implications of our Guru's moral failings.
"Begin anew," says the critic, "because the old masonry does not answer at present. Let the old author be buried because his time is gone." These are shallow expressions. Progress certainly is the law of nature and there must be corrections and developments with the progress of time. But progress means going further or rising higher.

Now, if we are to follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race another critic of his stamp will cry out: "Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!" In this way our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two great enemies of progress. We must shun them.(The Bhagavata: Its Philosophy, Its Ethics, and Its Theology)
And this same person wrote me recently to say that we should "take back" certain terms, like bhakti, because the Zeitgeist is warming to them again. If you can take back "bhakti" why can't you take back "sahajiya"?

And now that same person is telling everyone that they can solve the problems of sectarianism in the Vaishnava world. A clue:

kṛṣṇeti yasya giri taṁ manasādriyeta
dīkṣāsti cet praṇatibhis taṁ bhajantam īśam
śuśrūṣubhir bhajana-vijnam ananyam anyaṁ
nindādi-śūnya-hṛdam īpsita-saṅga-labdhyā

Sahaja is a term that has been around since the first half of the first millennium. You don't just throw away a term like that, with such a nuanced history, just because you have some prejudiced and ill-founded ideas about the people that used it. Well, Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself used it again and again. Kavi Karnapur used it when talking about Ramananda Ray. The Sants used it. I don't mind using it, and I will use it with pride.

Even Narasingha Maharaja is now publishing books condemning Sahajiyaism because he thinks Narayana Maharaja is a Sahajiya. You are going to say, "I am not a Sahajiya, I am an Ananga-rangi." Yeah, what's that? What cabbage patch did the storks leave you in, my friend? Maybe it is time to find out.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ramabhadracharya, Faith and Hearing

Did my usual Ganga walk on Sunday. Had a bit of a treat. Swami Ramabhadracharya was giving a Bhāgavata-saptāha at Paramarth Niketan. I just found out now by looking at the linked page above that he is blind. Anyway, there is no doubt that he is one of the top draws in the Bhāgavata-saptāha field, and there was a pretty big crowd, including quite a number of sadhus.

He is, I think, a Ramanandi, even though his tilak suggests Ramanuja. Thinking about it, his being blind might explain why his movements were a little strange, like a bhāvuka, but somewhat awkward. Also, his tilak also looked a little weird, like when you don't use a mirror... not in this picture, though. Have to be impressed by anyone who gets a PhD when blind.

I split my participation in two, first going before bathing, and returning afterward. You have to be impressed by the fact that these Bhāgavata speakers manage to keep an audience's attention for 4-5 hours at a time. The crowd had not diminished in the approximately three hours that I was around. When I was first there, Acharyaji was talking about the Mathura lila, that is Akrura coming to get Krishna and then Krishna's leaving for Mathura.

He actually quoted a verse that he said was from Vidagdha-mādhava, but isn't. At least I tried to find it, but couldn't. Radha asks Krishna to teach her what to say on this occasion that would be meaningful, because everything falls short of the emotion of the occasion. It was a good verse, I'd like to track it down. Ramabhadracharyaji chanted a couple of the verses that the gopis sing at that time, but on the whole barely scratched the surface of this lila.

Anyway, that part was not bad, but I found on the whole that the Bhāgavata-saptaha format is not very conducive to any kind of in-depth discussion. Ramabhadracharyaji went from one lila to another, straight from Rukmini's marriage, which he kind of did up with Vedic mantras, etc., to Sudama Vipra, in which he skipped what is really the most important bit about service to guru. But that is evidently a popular lila, because he sang three songs in that section, some of which people were able to sing along with. Then he went right to the end of the tenth canto, skipping Kurukshetra milan altogether. Did a little of Śruti-stuti but not much, as far as I could tell. I left around this point.

The crowd applauded after Ramabhadracharyaji said some things. Sudama's wife sent her husband to see Krishna in Dvaraka. "Wife" means Wonderful Instrument For Enjoyment. That's what English speaking culture is about. Patni has two meanings, one pat = patanāt, ni = nayanam. "One who leads the husband away from falldown, i.e., protects the husband." Another, jagat-patim prati patim nayati. "One who leads the husband to the supreme lord of the universe." A bit hokey, but the audience got a good laugh.

As always, everything was being videotaped for showing on one of the religious television channels. You can also buy CDs. I noticed that Tirtha Maharaj in Delhi was also being taped and shown on Internet whenever he spoke publicly.

One great regret I have is that I never learned to sing, because it seems like a necessary talent. Now it really seems too late--I am still trying to learn Hindi, for God's sake. Svarupa Damodar Goswami's comments always haunt me that I will never really be able to deliver on this kind of rasa-pariveṣaṇa approach to the Bhāgavata. On the one hand, it is very hard to master the language to that level, on the other, my mind is too busy. Too many years being trained up in the IGM, so I find it hard to think of speaking on the Bhāgavata in terms of entertainment. I am a siddhānta man, even if a poor one... On the other hand, the Bhāgavata itself says pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam.

I sometimes remember a Dr. Phil episode I once saw where a middle-aged, not terribly ideal physically, woman had an ambition to be a professional tap dancer. Her day had obviously passed and now she was spending every last penny, getting in debt, to try to fulfill her dreams through her daughter. Dr. Phil was advising her to cut her losses and "get a normal job." He was doing a whole series on these people who had unrealistic ambitions.

Anyway, I think this is something different. Nehābhikrama-nāśo'sti. I am gathering my riches in heaven. The sky is infinite. There is lots or room for lots of different kinds of birds to fly around in. If Radha is merciful, she will speak through me sometime to someone who finds that I have something worthwhile, both meaningful and relishable to say. In this life or the next.


On the walk to the Ganga, I got a lot of pleasure reciting the following verse from Narada's talk to Vyasa--

tatrānvahaṁ kṛṣṇa-kathāḥ pragāyatām
anugraheṇāśṛṇavaṁ manoharāḥ
tāḥ śraddhayā me'nupadaṁ viśṛṇvataḥ
priya-śravasy aṅga mamābhavad ratiḥ

By the grace of those saints I was able to hear the enchanting topics of Krishna katha, for they sang every day. As I listened with faith to every word, I quickly developed love for Krishna, whose descriptions are so dear to the ear. (1.5.26)

This caught my attention because of the verses in Gita 13.24-25:

dhyānenātmani paśyanti kecid ātmānam ātmanā |
anye sāṅkhyena yogena karma-yogena cāpare ||
anye tv evam ajānantaḥ śrutvānyebhya upāsate |
te’pi cātitaranty eva mṛtyuṁ śruti-parāyaṇāḥ ||

Some see the self within the self by the self through meditation, others by the process of sankhya-yoga, others through karma-yoga. Yet other persons, not knowing [the Self] in this way, worship it after hearing from others. They also overcome Death due to being dedicated to the process of hearing. [Gita 13.24-25]

Tilak makes a lot of these verses. The second verse refers to devotees and the bhakti marga (the Gita Press edition goes so far as to call them "dull-witted," though there is really no justification whatsoever in the verse for them to get insulting), since the act of faith in others' words is implied. However, Tilak himself makes a good argument that most knowledge--even that which we call scientific--is ultimately indistinguishable from faith.

[You hear this argument quite often in atheist/believer debates. The essence of the scientific endeavor is the faith that the world is governed by laws that are rationally comprehensible. Even though some philosophers still insist that there is no rhyme or reason to anything.]

In actual fact the last verse, by saying "not knowing the Self in this way [evam]," simply refers to all sādhakas who have not yet attained direct vision. Whichever path they follow, they do so according to the faith in teachings received from one source or another.

Tilak makes another big deal out of the fact that bhakti is not a niṣṭhā like jnana and karma, mentioned in Gita 3.3. This is indeed interesting, and my response to that is that bhakti is not a niṣṭhā in that sense because it encompasses or underlies both. In other words, these are niṣṭhās of what? Attitudes leading to spiritual realization, which is bhakti. And bhakti in its perfection includes both a consciousness and action. On the level of sādhanā, I think they may be roughly equated to Jiva's ruci-pradhāna and vicāra-pradhāna approaches to bhakti.

I will have to think about this a bit, because there are differences as well. Jiva says that bhakti is a kind of knowledge (actually we really should get used to translating jnana as consciousness), and certainly when we are interested in perfecting bhakti, which is a kind of consciousness. It is undifferentiated consciousness, but still consciousness that at the same time has an object.

And now, believe it or not, Verdi's Nabucco is showing in the Meditation Hall.

Radhe Radhe!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Radha nama.

Sitting here working on Bhagavat-sandarbha and listening to Gaurava Krishna Goswami singing the "Radha Nama sange Braja 84 kos yatra" which I mentioned before. The track lasts 45 minutes, so you have to be kind of addicted to Radha's name to listen to it, but I don't find it all monotonous. In fact, I want to play it over and over. It's a real pick-me-up, a real upper.

This really awakens nostalgia for Vrindavan.

Sri Yamunaji ki laharen bole Sri Radha Radha!
Vrindavan karkata bole Sri Radha Radha !

Brahma kund men (Radhe Radhe),
Gopishwar men (Radhe Radhe), ...

He goes through all the places on the 84 kos parikrama. Several refrains...

hamaro dhana radha sri radha sri radha,
parama dhana radha radha radha radha radha!
jivana dhana radha radha radha radha radha!

Bhaja mana sri radhe gopal !

There are some hokey special effects, like echo and reverb, but they manage to work, somehow.

I was just reading in Osho's commentary to Gita 4 where he says that first-time lovers feel they are experiencing something for the first in the universe, ever. Well, I am feeling like that right now listening to Radha's name. Like, what is everyone missing?

Especially when I read those atheists on Guardian Comment is Free. What cocktail of bile, and bitter melon are these people consuming when they get up in the morning? I kind of don't blame them when you think of what passes for religion in most of the world. But Prabhupada had it right: Chant, dance and be happy! That is sahaja!!

Communicating this... It HAS to be possible. Am I crazy or am I really in some kind of special ecstasy that most of the world is missing? People have this ego that makes them insist everything is alright, or at least put up a front for the world to see, "I'm O.K., You're O.K."

I really think I should give Ma Seva a copy of this CD. Radhe Radhe Radhe Varsanewali Radhe...

I have to include a picture here. But I want to offer my obeisances to Shyamarani. Everybody is stealing her pictures all over Braj and everywhere. She gets no compensation, not even a word of gratitude from any of these "copylefters" as someone put it recently. Anyway, I at least want to say that I appreciate her bhava and her service. Shata koti dandavats.

OK, I am out of here. Off to the Ganga for my Sunday walk. I am changing rooms today. Radhe Radhe!!

Ganga Ma

The sky is cloudy today and there is quite a breeze, almost automnal. My most enthusiastic listener was there today with his wife and two small boys. Turns out he has only been in Rishikesh for a couple of months. He is the pujari at an ashram near the river. A couple of other people also joined us today, but his enthusiasm for Hari-katha definitely makes it a little more festive than on other days. I was feeling a little low before I came, and left in much better spirits.,

Today's verse--

vṛndāvaneśvari tavaiva padāravindaṁ
premāmṛtaika-makaranda-rasaugha-pūrṇam |
hṛdy arpitaṁ madhupateḥ smara-tāpam ugraṁ
nirvāpayat parama-śītalam āśrayāmi ||13||

O Vrindavaneshwari ! I take shelter of your supremely cooling lotus feet, so full of the unlimited essence of the ambrosia of pure love, which when placed on Krishna's chest, extinguish the violent blaze of his desire.

Ananta Das talks about separation in the commentary. He makes the point that separation is not just considered by Rupa Goswami to be something that supports and augments union, but is a rasa in its own right. No doubt, viraha is the crucible. Excruciating.

At one point we were discussing a sentence of Ananta Das in which he said, "Although love appears to be delicate, it conceals infinite power." I tried to tell the story of Bilvamangala, but I kind of screwed it up. My friend (whose name I still don't know) went and told it, though he knew it in relationship to Tulasi Das. Exact same story.


On the way back I ran into Ma Seva Bharati, whom I may have mentioned before. She is Dhanurdhara Swami's cousin. She was quite pleased to see me and told me that she had just spent six weeks in Vrindavan as Dhanurdhara's guest, including some time at Govardhan where she followed a retreat with Sachinandan Swami, Bhurijan and others whose names she did not remember. She kept repeating how she could feel the spiritual potency of Braj.

She also seemed impressed by the devotees she met, although she said she could never submit to the Iskcon regime. She seemed quite surprised at how much she liked bhakti... and how well she was hosted by her cousin. Actually, she never has anything but the nicest things to say about him, so kudos to him.


Last night my Gita class was mainly on 6.46-47. It was a little awkward because it wasn't held in the meditation hall, but in the knowledge center because of carpet cleaning, etc., going on in the usual lieu. The last two verses of the sixth chapter really round out that whole first six chapters on karma-yoga rather well and segue into the next section of the Gita. But I found myself falling a little short of the message that flings itself to my eyes every time I meditate on those two verses. Bhaktir eva gariyasi.

Tilak is such an Advaita-vadi. He does so well on the score of karma-yoga and seeing how that is at the core of the Gita's message. What he fails to see is how the Gita is placing bhakti on the most elevated platform. He still thinks that bhakti is nothing more than a device or stratagem for the less intellectually endowed, leading to Advaita jnana.

On this score, Jagadish Ghosh is much better, even though his understanding of Bhakti is deeply anchored in the concept of worldly welfare work. Nevertheless, the idea that seeing and serving God in all creatures is not entirely foreign to my way of thinking.

Tilak has some important insights, despite being fundamentally wrong about the ultimate nature of the Supreme. I mean, if it is so important to continue doing prescribed duties after one is situated in knowledge, then why wouldn't bhakti also continue while in the state of kaivalya? As I go through his chapter on Bhakti-yoga, I will give a more detailed opinion and critique.

Radhe Radhe !

Friday, March 20, 2009

Two old posts published

(1) "Gita 3.3" from December last year. This is about the pravritti-nivritti marga ideas that were recently revisited in the "Gita, chapter 6 and Yoga" post.

(2) "The heroic mood," from February this year. This is a continuation of various themes that I have been reflecting from time to time. In particular it is the result of reading Vivekananda's biography and B.G. Narasingha Maharaja's edition of Prakrita-rasa-shata-dushani.

I had reservations about both of these posts, and I suppose if I reread them really carefully, I would see what those reservations were. But for the time being, they will stand up fairly well pretty much as they are. I have a few others that might be presentable in the same way, which I will update and post when I get the chance.

Radhe Radhe !

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Move your butt to Braja, O mind!!

Since my own laptop has been on the blink I have had to share the office computers with Souresh. He has been out most of the time lately, so I could pretty much use them when I wanted. That is no longer the case, so I am missing a bit of the independence I have enjoyed until now. I will need to buy a new laptop, but unfortunately I don't have the money right now.

This morning I could not work from 5.30 to 7.30 as usual. I am in my 8.30-12.30 period now. Yesterday evening I was tired and did not write anything for the blog. I cannot afford to let up on the self-discipline if I want to get Bh.S. finished before leaving India, along with a lot of the other stuff I need to get done. Nevertheless, again a "pro forma" post.

A lot goes through my head, which I would like to share, but fatigue, distractions, or lack of time make it all fizzle into the maha-shunya.


Yesterday we read RRSN 9, a nice verse, but very direct and uncompromising:

vṛndāni sarva-mahatām apahāya dūrāt
vṛndāṭavīm anusara praṇayena cetaḥ |
rādhābhidhānam iha divya-nidhānam asti ||
O mind! Abandon all the greats from afar and follow [the path to] Vrindavan with love. There is in Vrindavan a divine treasure named Radha (or, the name "Radha" itself) which is an ocean of ambrosial nectar of the greatest love (mahā-bhāva) by which those who are devoted to truth (sat) will be delivered tāraṇī-krita.

Ananta Das is quite strong here, perhaps because this is the first real instruction that has come up so far in RRSN. Up until now we have been getting namaskāras, stutis and prārthanās. In fact the previous verse was the first real glorification of Radha's kinkaris, whom Krishna himself has to approach in order to calm Radha's anger. Ananta Das introduces his commentary by saying that after having this elevated sphurti of the lila, Prabodhananda crashes into external consciousness and asks himself, "What can I do to attain this exalted position of service to Srimati Radharani?"

He answers his mind directly: "Get your butt to Vrindavan." Verse 2 said, "I offer my obeisances to the direction where Radha is present." Like Muslims pointed towards Mecca, we prostrate ourselves to the direction where Radha is. But that is not good enough, seems to say Prabodha. (Whose very name seems to echo "Wake Up, sleeping soul!")

Well, that is a message that strikes this sleeping soul right in the solar plexus. I am so close and yet so far here in Rishikesh, which the locals refer to as a kṣetra. I am currently chanting Raghunath Das's Sva-niyama-daśaka on a daily basis. There are a couple of verses that speak of Das Goswami's niṣṭhā for Vrindavan. Here is one that seems surprising at first...

na cānyatra kṣetre hari-tanu-sanāthe’pi sujanād
rasāsvādaṁ premṇā dadhad api vasāmi kṣaṇam api |
samaṁ tv etad grāmyāvalibhir abhitanvann api kathāṁ
vidhāsye saṁvāsaṁ vraja-bhuvana eva pratibhavam ||2||
I will not live for even a moment in any other kshetra, even if it is governed by Krishna's living presence, even if I can engage there in Hari-katha with premika devotees that brings the taste of rasa. In fact, I would rather live birth after birth in Vraja, spending my time having mundane conversations with ordinary village folk.
With Vrindavan seemingly going the way of dissolute modernism, it seems easy to find excuses to not live there. Some people say they have bad health in Vrindavan, others find fault with the sadhus, others the heat, the noise, the traffic, the garbage, the pigs, monkeys and cows, the corruption and uncontrolled development. And yet, it is still Vrindavan.

The above verse by Prabodhananda shows his Vrindavan niṣṭhā and is one of the reasons it seems unlikely that Harivamsa or anyone else wrote RRSN. But here is a verse that has some of the flavor of Raghunath Das's verse:

vṛndāraṇye varaṁ syāṁ kṛimir api parato no cid-ānanda-deho
raṅko’pi syām atulyaṁ param iha na paratrādbhutānanta-bhūtiḥ |
śūnyo’pi syām iha śrī-hari-bhajana-lavenāti-tucchārtha-mātre
lubdho nānyatra gopījana-ramaṇa-padāmbhoja-dīkṣā-sukhe’pi ||2.1||

I would rather be a worm or insect in Vrindavan than have a transcendental Vishnu form in some other eternal abode. I would rather be a poverty-stricken outcaste there than have amazing and unlimited opulence somewhere else. I would rather live there without even a spot of desire for Krishna bhajana and greedy for completely insignificant things than in other place, even if I can taste the joy of being initiated into the service of Gopijana-vallabha's lotus feet.

Prabodhananda is talking to his mind. If you can't be there in body, be there in mind. True enough, but that is no excuse. It is not one of the five principal sadhanas for nothing. A lady here, Joanne, was asking me about Vrindavan, for she has some feeling for Krishna. [Actually Swami Rama recorded a full CD of Krishna bhajans.] "Is there any kirtan going on there?" She asked...

In a way, the way I see it is if you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Of course, money and political power help if you are serious about turning Vrindavan into a heaven on earth instead of just and extension of Noida, Gurugaon or Faridabad. Nevertheless, if you love and believe, you are obliged to open your eyes and act.

So my plan is that if all goes well, I will give a month of RRSN classes in Vrindavan in Karttika 2009. That is my plan. Now it is up to Srimati Radharani. I have to get back here first.