Friday, May 29, 2009

Back in Canada

I have been here for five days now. The weather has been dull and uninviting. Clouds, cold, rainy, windy.

I met with Satya Narayan Dasji in Faridabad on Saturday before leaving. We went over the last batch of text I sent him. Now there is only one more batch to do before finishing, although I will have to enter more corrections in the first few batches also.

I wanted to go to Gurgaon and meet with Baijnath Aryan and see his museum, but a big storm with hail and high winds struck and made driving almost impossible. Worried that this would cause difficulties getting to the airport I cancelled. But, finally, Gurgaon to the airport is a very short drive with the new highway. 15 minutes max. We could have done it, because the rain only lasted 30-40 minutes.

The flight was tight on Lufthansa. Air Canada from Frankfort was more comfortable. Watched movies in the plane. The Reader was pretty good. Pretty much everything else I saw was indifferent to pure drivel. I always learn something about rasa when I watch a film though, both material and spiritual.

Since coming here, I have been typing out the S.N. Shastri commentary to DKK as well as looking over the materials that I have here for the planned Dana-keli book I am working on. I also reread a short book, The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, which I had read before, but of which I retained little. It is, however, a significant and influential work, which compares and contrasts the "natural" loves with love of God from a Christian perspective.

From the comparative point of view, it has (as always) points of contact and points of diversion from my understanding, and of course that very "alien" undercurrent of Christological belief. But in view of the stated goals of this blog, an analysis of Lewis's ideas will be quite enriching, I am sure. So I will try to do that here as soon as I get a chance. It will probably take more than one entry.

On the whole, Canada feels quite alien to tell the truth. I wrote on Facebook, without quite thinking what I meant. "The protective barriers of sattva-guna: myth and ritual." Shiva Talwar wrote: "Paradoxical! How can the protective sheath of something sattva be myth?"

Myth means the symbolic universe by which we frame our life's meaning. It is sustained by ritual activities. If that is not strong, then the steady maintenance of a progressive consciousness (i.e., sattva-guna) becomes impossible.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dana-keli-chintamani

In my continuing research of the dana-keli I am going through Raghunath Das's Dana-keli-chintamani. I don’t have Haridas Das’s edition, so I have used Advaita Dasji’s translation. He as included the Sanskrit verses and occasionally elements from Haridas Dasji’s commentary. He has done a good job and I thank him for his work. The translations below are based on his, whether they are improved upon or not, I don't know.

The purpose of this exercise is just to see what fundamental similarities and differences can be drawn between the Chandi Das version and that of Rupa and Raghunath. I am assuming that much of what will be said about DKC will also apply to Dana-keli-kaumudi, but I am leaving that for last. Actually, I did an annotated translation of DKK some time ago, but I want to go through Surendranath Shastri’s commentary and also type it out for the Grantha Mandir for the benefit of future generations.

Actually the Bharati Research Institute (Indore) edition (1976), which was edited by the abovementioned S.N. Shastri, is a good addition to the work that has been done on DKK and has many worthwhile ideas in both the introduction and the commentary.

I also picked up another book on DKK by a Dr. Jayasree Mitra, published the Sanskrit Book Depot (Kolkata, 2003). Frankly, this book is a disappointing jumble and totally unreadable, but somehow it got published, probably on the author's own dime. I suspect that this is her thesis, in which case, heaven help the Indian university system. I will go through it for any kernels of value, but at first glance those are few and far between and barely worth the effort. I don’t recommend that anyone spend the 150 Rs. that this book costs.

I will return to Chandidas later. I have to compile my notes on the dana-lila in SKK, and I have found out that I have another, different annotated edition of SKK edited by Amitrasudan Bhattacharya (De’s Publishing, Kolkata, 2003), which has a different introduction, etc., for the Bangla Sahitya Samsad edition, so I will go through that before I publish the next article on Chandidas’s Dana-khanda.

I also have another book here in Montreal called Gopala-vijaya (ed. Durgesh Chandra Bandyopadhyaya, Shanti Niketan: Vishwa Bharati, 1966), which has a dana-lila in it. I will discuss that on another occasion as it is also very interesting.

The dana-lila and other original lilas found in Chandidas are not in either Maladhar Bosu’s Sri Krishna Vijaya, nor in Raghunatha Bhagavatacharya’s Krishna-prema-tarangini, both of which faithfully follow the Bhagavata Purana. Gopala-vijaya was written after those two books by Devakinandan Kavishekhara, son of Chaturbhuja (the probable author of Hari-charitam, a Sanskrit work on Krishna’s life). The critical edition is based on 8 manuscripts, which is a pretty good number, considering that SKK itself is based on the single MS ever discovered. It indicates a sustained popularity over time.

Devakinandan lived in the same general area (a village near Ramkeli) as Rupa and Sanatan, and was a contemporary of Sri Jiva. It would seem a safe bet that Jiva himself would have been familiar with this work. This indicates that there was already a strong Krishna-bhakti tradition in the area even prior to Mahaprabhu’s coming.

Devakinandan has also based his book primarily on the Vraja lilas of Krishna in the Bhagavatam. (Sri Krishna Vijaya does the whole 10th Canto, Prema-tarangini does primarily the 10th, but briefly covers the main parts of each of the other cantos as well. Devakinandan however also adds some of the elements of SKK, for which he actually apologizes in his introduction. Anyway, we will have more about that later.

Radha-premamrita is one more source that I may already have mentioned. It is a Sanskrit work primarily based on themes found in SKK, but adding a bit of Sanskrit poetic sensibility. It is very sparse and barely developed, certainly barely anything of the post-Chaitanya mood is there, though there is something that can be seen as intermediate between Chandidas and the Goswamis.

Three of its verses are quoted in Padyavali, but these are related to nauka-khanda. (There are no dana-lila verses in the Padyavali.) RP has only 16 verses on the theme, and in fact many of them kind of stray into another subject. The following verse shows a kind of typical dana theme as found there.

rAdhe tvadIya-hRidi kANchana-kumbha-yugmaM
lAvaNya-ratna-paripUrNam idaM vibhAti |
tasyopari sphurati mauktika-hAra-yaSTir
nAlokase kim iti ratna-mayaM sharIram ||9||

O Radhe, in your heart, you have these two golden pitchers which seem to be full of jewels of radiance. And on top of that are all these strings of pearls. Don't you recognize that your entire body is made of valuable jewels?

This is when Radha says to the customs man, "I have nothing to declare." Anyway, there is some glorification of Radha in RPA.

So here are some salient points from DKC, in no particular order:

(1) The buildup is more controlled in Dana-keli-cintamani when compared to Chandidas. In other words, the purva-raga element in Chandidas is almost nil. In DKC, though purva-raga is not relevant, there is still an introductory portion in which Radha sees Krishna, Krishna sees Radha. This first encounter is portrayed with elaborate alankarika figures of speech, like sandeha, where Radha asks, “Is this a cloud? No, it cannot be, because...”, etc. The gopis or gopas might tease Radha or Krishna about their feelings, etc.

(2) There is much less back and forth, less repetition. In Chandidas, the same themes are repeated over and over again as Krishna makes his proposition, Radha responds, etc. In DKC, many of the very same themes appear, e.g. the threats to tell Kamsa (146), Yashoda (90) or Abhimanyu (108, 143). But these are only briefly mentioned, usually in a single verse, and not elaborated on.

(3) The theme of what taxes should cover what beauteous features is only briefly developed in one or two songs in SKK. In DKC, these take up a substantial portion of the work (verses 49-84). Then Krishna does the same with several of the sakhis (92-98).

(4) In SKK, Kamsa is mentioned several times. But only once in DKC. In DKC, an important role is given to Madana-raja, Smara-nripati, “King Cupid,” who is mentioned several times. (verses 26, 32, 37-38 105, 125-126, 137, 139, 147, 148). The most significant verses state that Krishna is non-different from him (his own claim, tad-advitiyah). Indeed, this theme is important enough to be investigated.

In particular the two following verses (147-148) are noteworthy. Madhumangala says:

mahA-madana-bhUpater ayam abhinna-dehaH svarAT
nrishaMsa-nripa-jIvitAdhika-vayasya-keshy-AdikAn |
vimathya dara-lIlayA sphurati yo’tra goShThAntare
sa eSha tava kaMsataH sakhi bibheti kiM me sakhA ||
147. “O sakhi! Krishna is an emperor
not different in body from the king Cupid,
manifest here in the pasturing grounds.
He playfully crushed Keshi and others,
friends of the cruel king, dearer to him than life.
Do you think my friend is afraid of your Kamsa?

athaiSha prithu-manmatho ya iha tasya sAmAntakaH
sa eva laghu-manmathaH param amuShya kaMso vashaH |
ato’sya lipim ankitaM sapadi tatra nItvA dadan
nripAt kaTakam Anayan pati-kulAni badhnAmi vaH ||

148. You see, my friend Krishna is the great mind-churner,
and the small mind-churner is his satrap,
by whom this King Kamsa is easily subdued.
So I am immediately going to Kamsa,
taking a signed letter from Krishna,
and then, bringing chains from him,
I will bind your husbands and families.

(5) In DKK, Radha and gopis are much stronger (e.g. 104). The theme, familiar to Gaudiya Vaishnavas, that Radha is the queen of Vrindavan and is better than Krishna (112), which is in the concluding portion of the DKK also, plays large. In fact, this is really the key to understanding the difference between the two sets of works. In Chandidas, Radha is weak and helpless. Here she is not only strong and a queen, but is worshipable.

Raghunath Das cannot resist glorifying Radha’s name, which is almost unthinkable in SKK, where Radha is bullied and overwhelmed, and ultimately succumbs helplessly, not in control or in full freedom.

nAma svastyayanaM yadatra vilasatpIyUSato.api priyaM
rAdheti prathitaM samastajagatIromAJNchasaJNchArakam |
tasyAmUlyatarasya dAnam aparaM yogyaM kvachit kiM bhavet
tasmAdujjvalakeliratnam atulaM rAdhe mamAdhIyatAm ||

79. This name, the most auspicious mantra
that vibrates everywhere here in Vraja
and is dearer than the nectar of the gods,
these two syllables, Ra-dha,
that send a thrill around the world.
So priceless is this wealth that it
is impossible to find a way to tax it,
so therefore, Radhe, you must give me
the unequalled jewel of your effulgent lovemaking.

The main thing really seems to be Radha's supremacy. The kidding and joking and flirting is all centered around, "We know who's boss."

In Chandidas, Krishna is crazy with desire for Radha, but she doesn't have any control. She has no sense of being in control of his desire and over him. At least not in the dana-lila chapter. I will have to go through the whole book to really see whether the mood changes later, but I don't think so.

But like verse 112. Tungavidya gets on Chitra's case for wanting to run away:

rAdhA sadA jayati goSTha-vanAdhinAthA
tasyAH pracaNDa-sacivA lalitA ca shUrA
pashyAdya tad-vana-vinAshaka-go-karArthaM
baddhvA nayAmi madhumangala-bhaNDa-vipram

Radha is always victorious, for she is
the overarching monarch of the cowherd community.
Her ferocious chief minister is the valorous Lalita.
Just watch me: today for taxes due
for damages done by the cows to the forest,
I am going to imprison
this buffoon of a brahmin, Madhumangala.

(6) There are more characters, both among Krishna’s and Radha’s entourage. This means that Radha only has to do very little of her own defending. Lalita and the others truly are the extensions of her personality. Radhe needs, deserves and gets protection.

At one point I was thinking that Lalita could be said to correspond to the Borai Buri in Chandi Das. If you look at the SKK and Gita Govinda, Radha is practically on her own. In particular, the role of the Borai is really slanted toward Krishna. And though there are sakhis, they seem to play no significant role.

The sakhi in Gita-Govinda is the "third" person. In all the other earlier versions of Krishna lila, there are other nayikas (as in GG) and sakhis, but they are shadow figures. Even the go-between sakhi in GG has only a shadowy role. The Borai in Chandidas is more significant, since she has some personality, but not really all that agreeable or friendly to Radha. At the very least, it is somewhat ambiguous.

In verse 86 of DKC, Radha blames Lalita for getting her into the trouble with Krishna, which is similar to the way Radha blames Borai (with justification).

yAsyAmy ahaM nahi pathA rata-hiNDakena
sandUSitena nitarAM sakhi tena tena |
itthaM mad-uktam api naiva nishamya garvAd
AnIya mAm iha dadau lalitA kare’sya ||86||

I told Lalita, "I am not going.
I cannot take a path that is contaminated
by a womanizing scoundrel."
But Lalita did not listen to me
and indignantly insisted I come,
and now she has put me in the hands
of that very person.
In this respect, Lalita is similar to Borai. But as we saw, Borai Buri’s role in Chandi Das is very ambivalent, and she is very strongly taking Krishna’s side. Here it is clear that Lalita's role is much stronger. See also verses 117, 118. Verse 119 is a theme typical of Chandidas, but spoken by Lalita it has more force. It is a typical threat but demonstrates how Lalita is the boss of the others.

AryAm ihAnayatu tUrNam itA sudevI
chitrAchireNa kuTilAM jaTilAM saputrAm |
vRRindottamaM sapadi yaGYika-vipram ekam
AlokituM naTanam asya naTendra-bhartuH ||119||
Sudevi should quickly leave and bring Ma Yashoda here.
Chitra should go as soon as possible
and get that crooked Jatila along with her son.
And Vrinda Devi, go right now and bring
a first class sacrificial brahmin
so they can all to witness the play
this star is putting on.

(7) In DKC there is no Mukhara or Paurnamasi. Nandimukhi does come in to play the peacemaker, a role that no one plays in Chandidas (or Radha-premamrita).

(8) Some favorite insults: Krishna's untouchability. I will have to go through this a little more thoroughly to catalog the various kinds of insults. Same for the threats.

I think there is more, but that will have to do for now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Language and Spiritual Realization

I am currently working on an editing project for Isabelle Quentin here in Montreal, revising a translation of a work on "listening reeducation," Mieux écouter pour mieux se réaliser by Lise Christophe Laverdière.

One of the interesting things about being a translator is that you are often challenged by texts that are in domains with which you have little familiarity or expertise, and often deal with fields that one would have little cause to learn about if the job did not make it obligatory. This can be quite demanding and difficult, as one has to learn the terminology of a particular specialized field from scratch, even when the book is, as in this case, intended to be a popularization meant for a more general audience. People tend to develop idiosyncratic vocabulary based on their own specialization. Just look at me! I am always being told I am incomprehensible to the "layman."

Anyway, even at the risk of making an idiot of myself, I will post this.

This book has taught me a number of interesting things. Some are, I suppose, common knowledge, but they made me think anyway.

  1. We hear through the right ear first. The left ear confirms what we heard through the right.
  2. The ear is the first sense to develop in the womb, but hearing is not limited to the activity of the ear, but is felt through the entire body.
  3. The ear not only provides a sense of physical equilibrium, but also is the original source of cerebral organization. The original reference points that orient a person come from hearing.
  4. The left brain (Organization, Logic , Language, Mathematics ) is connected to vision and the right brain (Imagination, Vision , Creativity, Affectivity ) to hearing.
  5. Overstimulation of the eyes disrupts the cerebral balance. Silence is necessary to restore the balance.
  6. Vision provides more information to the brain, more stimulus. Images can thus be addictive. Seeing is always a more passive activity that hearing. (This is also the basis of Marshall McLuhan's theory of "hot" and "cold" media.)
Laverdière's book is about education and kids with listening disorders. Her goal is to establish "central listening," which is first of all based on a reeducation of the ear, putting left and right ears in the correct balance. If the left ear dominates, it can disrupt one's capacity to process sound. The failure to process sound results in trouble learning to read, which is essentially a way of connecting sight to sound. Various imbalances in hearing also cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, dyslexia and other learning disorders. These can be exacerbated by the domination of visual stimuli over a culture based on hearing. More and more, visual aids are used at the expense of cultivating the ability to hear properly.

Today, the image is omnipresent. Children start playing video games in their very infancy. The screen provides them with images that instantaneously satisfy the brain’s need for answers. They no longer need to make use of engrams to create images, since these are presented to them externally, on a screen.

The implications of all this on spiritual life--the connection between hearing and the affective part of the brain, and in turn to spirituality--seems to be confirmed. I don't on the other hand, quite understand the relation of the image and visual sense to the rational part of the brain. The author states that this is because logical thought is "imagined" in the sense of being pictured in a logical structure.

Of course, the two sides of the brain are harmonized in the Corpus Callosum, and that should be warning enough against taking sides in any kind of intracerebral war.

But I guess what really gave pause to my inner reflections was Mme. Laverdière's depiction of the destablizing nature of a primarily visual culture at the cost of an aural one and the addictive nature of the image.




Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Madhurya Kadambini


Rasaraj Dasji has just reminded us all that hundreds of copies of the Mādhurya-kādambinī we all worked so hard on several years ago are just gathering dust in various people's basements.

It is really wonderful, when you think of it. In the Gaudiya Discussions days, an almost magical kind of synergy developed, and this publication was probably its most concrete and permanent fruit.

Advaita Dasji did the original translation, and that was then gone over with a fine tooth comb by yours truly. Many wonderful posts and discussions on the Gaudiya Discussions resulted from that work and my reflections on it. Advaita Dasji later renounced all credit for any work that he had done because he did not wish to be associated with anything that had my name on it (sigh!) but later he generously admitted that I had done a good job. Anandaji did a great job on the layout, Rasaraj and Braja provided funds... I think that everyone who participated in this work could and should feel proud of what they accomplished.

Also, the Grantha Mandir edition benefited as I went carefully through the Sanskrit, correcting and in many places editing the text so that it is one of the most reliable ones on the site. This was always my idea for the GGM, that when people actually worked on a text in Sanskrit, they would make the fruits of their labor available freely.

While going through the text, I consulted numerous versions in Hindi, Bengali and English, including the translations by Sarvabhavana Das and Dinabandhu Das, which are currently available and treated by people in Iskcon/Gaudiya Math as authoritative. I can assure you that these translations are full of mistakes as well as misunderstandings.

Moreover, this edition is adorned with the commentary of Radha Kund Mahanta and unparallelled scholar of the rasika tradition of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Ananta Das Babaji, who surely needs no introduction to most of the readers on this site. But if you have never read anything by Ananta Das, this is a great book to start with. You really get a feel for the Radha Kund mood of bhakti. It is the same Chaitanya Gaudiya sampradaya, don't worry, but the mood is so sweet. And no one distributes that sweetness with more profound understanding and feeling than Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj.

The Mādhurya-kādambinī is a unique work in the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya. In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Srila Rupa Goswamipada has given an outline of the various stages that a devotional practitioner goes through before attaining the ultimate goal of prema. Though there are a great many books on Vaishnava practice, there is very little, at least in one place, that speaks practically of these different stages to help a sadhaka recognize his or her particular level of advancement.

Many of Vishwanath Chakravarti Thakur's insights are unique and relishable, such as his analysis of the different substages of anartha-nivritti, or his analysis of ruchi, asakti and bhava. It certainly belongs on the bookshelf of anyone seriously interested in Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

Even for scholars of Vaishnavism who have little interest in the practice, this text is valuable for its accuracy and authenticity.

So, although the participants in this project dispersed like that banana slurpy that sprays everywhere when the mixer's top suddenly comes off, we have this wonderful testimonial to what was, in fact, a magic time in all of our spiritual lives. I hope that reflecting on this, we will all be able to bury some of the acrimony that still persists and get back some of that love that we all felt in those days. All was not lost!!

At an amazingly reasonable price!! Too generous in fact.
United States - $10 US
International - $20 US
All prices include shipping

Here is contact info. Each of these links gives some additional information about the publication:

Radhe Radhe !

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Program for my last days in Rishikesh

Dear friends,

First of all, please forgive the inactivity on this blog for the past little while. There are plenty of good unfinished articles that will be completed in the future, but for the time being I have decided to call a moratorium over the next 10 days or so as I prepare for my return to Canada.

Tomorrow I will deal with any unfinished business on the computer, but in the days that follow, I will check my email only once a day and otherwise not touch the computer, and certainly not go on the internet. I will be doing a week's complete silence, in particular on the next ekadasi.

Silence is a fairly important element of the yoga practice in this ashram. I have a bit of a reputation around here as a noisy person who is always singing and talking loudly. That is perhaps an exaggeration, but it is simply the contrast with the dominant ethos here.

Swami Veda has a concept called "five pillars of sadhana": stillness, silence, fasting, celibacy and conquest of sleep. Today I had to lecture on the subject in Sanskrit to the Sanskrit Bharati people (I will hopefully post something about this tomorrow on Jagat Jindagi as one of those last items) and it crystallized something that has been developing in me over the past several days.

The above five are the kinds of heroic practices that I haven't touched with a ten-foot pole for centuries. But now that I am leaving, I feel that some kind of intense preparation for my reentry into the "West" is, if not really needed, at least a way of honoring my residence here.

In my room, I have an altar in front of which I occasionally sit and chant japa. A few days ago, while I sat there, I realized that there was a powerful pull coming from the ground. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I felt it was the pull of sadhana, placed there by the thousands of years of passing sadhus that have made this land sacred. The modern modes of passion and ignorance that engulf India in the present "ghora kali" may disturb on the superficial level, but the underlying power of spirituality is still present.

I realized also that during the last few weeks, in which my sadhana schedule was disrupted in an attempt to complete a chunk of Bhagavat-sandarbha, that my focus had lessened a little. On the other hand, I became aware of the overall positive effect of this last 18 months I have spent in India, living and teaching, meditating and engaging in various spiritual practices over that time. There has definitely been a cumulative effect, set on a bedrock of love for this world of devotion, prema-bhakti and the life of sadhana, and I would like to consolidate all that by a period of intense reflection and interiorization.

I probably have a hundred things that I should busily be doing in preparation for my departure. But a kind of exhaustion has also set in and so I barely feel inclined to even lift a finger in any kind of endeavor whatsoever, other than this. It is no doubt the mercy of the saints and of the Divine Couple, who wish me to strengthen the little bit of sattva-guna that I have managed to acquire in this setting.

So feel free to email, etc., if there is anything important, but basically, maunam is the order of the day.

Radhe Radhe!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Dream by John Donne

What I really like about Sahajiyaism, I guess, is its romanticism.

Image of her whom I love, more than she,
whose fair impression in my faithful heart,
Makes me her medal, and makes her love me,
As kings do coins, to which their stamps impart
The value: go, and take my heart from hence,
Which now is grown too great and good for me:
Honours oppress weak spirits, and our sense
Strong objects dull; the more, the less we see.
When you are gone, and reason gone with you,
Then fantasy is queen and soul, and all;
She can present joys meaner than you do,
Convenient, and more proportional.
So, if I dream I have you, I have you,
For, all our joys are but fantastical.
And so I ’scape the pain, for pain is true;
And sleep which locks up sense, doth lock out all.
After a such fruition I shall wake,
And, but the waking, nothing shall repent;
And shall to love more thankful sonnets make,
Than if more honour, tears, and pains were spent.
But dearest heart, and dearer image, stay;
Alas, true joys at best are dream enough;
Though you stay here you pass too fast away;
For even at first life’s taper is a snuff.
Fill’d with her love, may I be rather grown
Mad with much heart, than idiot with none.

Fantasy is queen. Associate it with the eternal.