Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vaiyasaki in Rishikesh


Renowned kirtaniya Vaiyasaki Das came to Rishikesh for a few days in November. We hadn't seen each other for many years and he actually did not know me as Jagadananda, but in my former incarnation as Hiranyagarbha. Vaiyasaki had been in Toronto in the early 70's, where he joined a little after me. We later knew each other in Mayapur as he was part of the India BBT party, which he left to spend three years in Bangladesh.

I had been writing to him in somewhat excited anticipation of his arrival here, but he did not really know who I was. As he is a world-wide figure, chanting and doing kirtan in every corner of the globe, he is probably used to that kind of thing. If you look at the Facebook pages of him and his wife Kaisori, you will get an idea of their jet-setting ways.

He has been invited to Rishikesh several times by the disciples of Swami Rama, since, as the story goes, when Swami Rama heard Vaiyasaki's 1983 recording, "Transcendence," he was quite impressed. He told his disciple Ragani Beugel that this proved it was possible for a Western person to chant authentic kirtan and that she should take inspiration from his achievement. Ragani has gone on to become a well-known kirtan singer in her own right and Vaiyasaki is a regularly featured performer at the annual Maha-samadhi festival of Swami Rama at the HIHT in Dehradun and again at Sadhana Mandir in Rishikesh.

I went to see Vaiyasaki and Kaisori at Sadhana Mandir, but we actually met along the Ganga promenade. After talking for a while, he asked me if I knew Hiranyagarbha, which is when I had to tell him that I was indeed that person. He got a kick out of it and "remembered" a couple of stories about me. Since I had no recollection of either, neither may be true. Or, rather, the second one is most certainly nonsensebut so was somewhat instructive when it comes to understanding the way apocryphal tales come into the world.

The first was that he saw me packing on the very day I left Iskcon in 1979. According to him, he came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I apparently answered, "Prabhupada said work now, samadhi later. Well I want samadhi now." This I can believe, as it is something I may well have said at that time. I was in favor of following Rupa Goswami's upadesha-sara then, as I am now.

But then he said that he met me some years later in Nabadwip and asked me about what I was doing after initiation by Lalita Prasad Thakur. I apparently told him that I had been given the identity of a peacock in Vrindavan and was doing bhajan with this nitya svarupa. Now, this is, of course, completely impossible. I neither could nor would ever have said anything of the sort. A story like this was also told of Hrishikeshananda Das, but I have it directly from him that in his case too it was a bit of propaganda coming from people who had no understanding of raganuga bhakti. So, how did Vaiyasaki come to believe that he had actually heard it directly from me? Strange...

At any rate, I was happy to have the company of a devotee and spent an enjoyable hour or two with them discussing various things about the past and present. He has written a thickish book about the Radha Damodar travelling party and Vishnujan Swami, who was a great inspiration to him, as he was for so many others.

Vaiyasaki spent his teenage years in Winnipeg and was a contemporary of Randy Bachman and other members of a rock and roll band called the Guess Who, which had a few huge world-wide hits back in the 60's and 70's. He had his own rock band at the time, but that was interrupted when he became a devotee. (He is actually five or six years older than I am.) He said to me, "I think of Randy and those people and they are really just doing the same things they were doing back then. While I am having the time of my life travelling the world and spreading the chanting of the Holy Name. I would not trade places in a million years."

In the 1970's, with book distribution being the vogue in Iskcon, Vaiyasaki became involved with the library party in India. After a stint in Thailand, he suggested that the party make a tour of Bangladesh. There was some resistance, as Bangladesh was and still is a very poor country. They finally agreed, however, and that changed Vaiyasaki's life. One day, he was crossing a river in a ferry launch somewhere with a group of musicians, kirtaniyas who were going to join a Harinam festival somewhere. He was fascinated by them without really knowing why, and when they got off the boat, rather than continue on to his real destination, he jumped off and followed them and getting completely absorbed in the Holy Name for several days. After that, he spent the next three years with Iskcon in Bangladesh, learning the local style of kirtan.

Now kirtan seems to have become a bit of a fad, and so many people within and without Iskcon are recording devotional music, both in traditional and novel styles. Vaiyasaki keeps principally to his traditional Bengali style and on his latest album even sings Hare Krishna kirtan in the very tune that he first learned from the Bangladeshi kirtaniyas in the 1970's.

I was asked to introduce him at the HIHT on November 13. Vaiyasaki asked the audience whether they would prefer a concert-style performance or to participate in the chanting. He also did this at the second concert he gave at Sadhana Mandir. The Swami Rama bhaktas prefered participation and at both concerts were quite aroused by the chanting. On the second evening, Vaiyasaki even gave me a mike to be his back up vocal (I have to include a smiley here, :)) and so I had a lot of fun, too.

Vaiyasaki occasionally introduces philosophical points in his presentation, without being too aggressive for an audience that is of a different background than Vaishnavism. He talks to yogis about cultivating the heart chakra through kirtan and things like that.

Overall, it is easy to be impressed by Vaiyasaki's achievements. He has been persistent in developing his art and Iskcon has given him that opportunity. Now, he still is invited by Iskcon and other people to various places and a wide variety of audiences around the world and can do so independently. He has done more than anyone to introduce and develop the Bengali style of kirtan to Iskcon and the world. So I offer him a sincere "Jai Gaura Haribol!"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Universalist Radha-Krishnaism

Subal  Das-Steve Bohlert
Steve Bohlert, otherwise known as Subal Das Goswami, is a friend and a senior Godbrother, having taking initiation from Lalita Prasad Thakur several years before I did. Since his life trajectory and mine have some interesting parallels, I feel a great affinity and friendship for him. Some time ago he sent me a book that he has written, Universalist Radha Krishnaism: A Spirituality of Liberty, Truth and Love, published by Sky River Press.

My intention was to review the book then, but for whatever reason, I have been amiss in so doing, which is more than just a minor oversight. This book is sufficiently important that its wide dissemination amongst devotees is a desideratum. Indeed, with the book Subal sent an ebullient review written by former ISKCON public relations officer and author, Nori Muster, which shows that it can answer at least some of the doubts and fulfill the desires of erstwhile devotees who are seeking to use their religious experiences to grow after becoming dissatisfied with their ISKCON experience. Another review has also been posted more recently by Scottsdale Arizona religious studies professor Michael Valle on Facebook.

Subal has an interesting history... and the Krishna Consciousness Movement has been around long enough for most of us early birds to have had interesting histories by now. One of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's earliest disciples who broke open several regions for ISKCON, Subal also spent three years in India, during which time he encountered Srila Lalita Prasad Thakur and was initiated into the raganuga-bhakti path.

Though he continued in ISKCON for a while thereafter, he eventually left and went to the prestigious Graduate Theological Union in Berkely, California, where he picked up a Master of Divinity degree. This led to ordination in the United Church of Christ, a liberal denomination in the Reformed tradition.

Eventually, Subal's Vaishnavism sprang back to the fore in his consciousness and he became convinced that it was necessary to attempt to synthesize his experiences. In his book he mentions that his personal history as a Vaishnava have always been a part of his identity, and it was even welcomed and appreciated by his mentors and teachers at the GTU and in the liberal tradition where he became a pastor. Nevertheless, his studies and life in the liberal Christian milieu have enriched his understanding of spirituality, which he has now applied to the Gaudiya tradition. The ways he does so may not please everyone, but he certainly makes a valuable contribution to the discourse and his work will be, as Nori Muster puts it, like "a cooling breeze on a hot day" for many.

My own experience mirrors Subal's in many ways. I spent a longer time in ISKCON than he, and more time in India studying and practicing the Gaudiya tradition into which Lalita Prasad Thakur had initiated me, though I also came into contact with the Gaudiya Sahajiya traditions during this nearly eleven-year period. But I also returned to a Western university setting with the intention of objectively studying my personal experiences and contextualizing it through critical methods of study. Nevertheless, my area of research at the Ph.D. level was rooted in the Sanskrit tradition rather than theology. Whereas Subal's gestation period was spent in the Christian ministry, I eked out a living primarily as a translator and editor. Nevertheless, despite our completely separate paths, somewhat different orientation, linguistic and cultural commitments, we have an amazing amount of common ground, no doubt due to our similar backgrounds in Krishna bhakti and the sharing of certain universal liberal values.

Liberal Christian influences

I have often said to devotees that they have the tendency to criticize Christianity, usually using straw man arguments and rarely appealing to the best in progressive Christian thought, whether it is its social activism,  serious interaction with modern philosophical thought, deconstruction of mythology and the like. Like most fundamentalists, they feel that liberal Christianity is excessively rational and incompatible with true religious experience.

The fact is that experiential Christianity has been in contact with scientific and modern philosophical thought far longer than any other religious tradition, and though it sometimes seems that they have been playing defense, those of integrity recognize that the only moral approach is to accept Truth wherever it is found. They recognize that even as they bow to well-founded critiques of their own church's history, myths and traditions, they can still find legitimacy in their own spiritual experience, and the meaning and moral force that it gives them. Thus, anyone who has struggled with such critiques, regardless of which tradition they swear allegiance to -- Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim -- can still learn something from Tillich, Bornhoeffer, Barth, Teilhard de Chardin, Niebuhr, and many others.

This is of course the basis of the universalism in "Universalist Radha-Krishnaism." Devotion to the Divine Couple is only one religion amongst many, with things to teach as well as to learn to the worldwide community of faith.  An arrogant sense of privilege in any religion will ultimately lead to rotting from within, no matter how much short term success it may claim. So Radha-Krishna devotion should be ecumenical, in the true spirit of interfaith dialogue and participation in the progressive evolution of human society as a whole.

The liberal approach is multifaceted, but it begins with a healthy relativism that has long been known in Hinduism, but is rejected by zealous sectarians or those who are politically motivated. Such people are the bane of progressive spirituality.

Subal has very correctly stated that Bhaktivinoda Thakur is a great inspiration to anyone who seeks to reform or move the Gaudiya tradition forward, and he cites many of the Thakur's most famous passages supporting this idea. In particular, he adopts, as do I, the term "essence seeker" (sāra-grāhī) as a by-word for this progressive approach and as a stance against the regressive literalism that is prevalent in ISKCON and much of the Hindu world.

Subal further equates the progressive theological position with "process theology," which he says  forms a "fabulous combination" with Chaitanyaism (p.40). He was impressed by how his own church was constantly reforming itself and realized that this kind of dynamism needs to be applied to the movement started by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. As in Christianity, there is of course a strong resistance to such reform in the Krishna consciousness movement, as the Truth is seen as an unchanging complete whole that was given at one time in its entirety by a historical Master, rather than one that is constantly revealing Itself through history.

In many of my own writings on this blog and elsewhere, I have tried to show how this has never been the case, that the traditions of India have undergone constant change through debate and interaction with each other. There is no reason to think that we, as modern Vaishnavas with a totally different experience of life, will not transform Vaishnavism -- whether we intend to or not. ISKCON, in order to preserve its institutional integrity, is obliged to enforce loyalty to Srila Prabhupada's doctrinal vision, which severely hampers its ability to manoeuver. As is often the case, most of the original thinking about Radha Krishna devotion will come from outside institutional Vaishnavism, and Subal's contribution is an important and welcome one.

Second Naiveté, Reenchantment

Some of the terms Subal borrows from liberal theology are very useful. One is "hermeneutical leap", which is the leap of insight that comes when old beliefs are given apparently radical new interpretations that widen their scope and potential for meaning.

Another, taken from his Old Testament professor at GTU, Marvin Chaney, is "second naiveté", used to describe the renewed zest one feels for deconstructed historical, theological or mythological themes when they have been reinvigorated by a broader understanding. This indicates the richness of the renewed faith that comes when we make accept the challenge of doubt in the dialectic of faith, rather than trying to crush it with false zealotry.

Disenchantment comes from the loss of a spiritual point of view due to an excess of rationalism. For many, this is dealt with by a retreat into the shell of fundamentalism or hypocrisy when the intellectual challenges become too strong. For others it results in a crisis of faith that leads to total rejection of a specific faith or of any faith at all.

Those who accept the challenge of doubt and investigate religion and their own religious experiences as an objective phenomena in all their aspects—mythological, theological, philosophical, anthropological, psychological, sociological, etc.—often find that their faith takes on a new enlivened form, if their samskara (the faith based on the original religious experience) is strong enough. One then interacts with God through his symbolic manifestations with much the same innocence and love that he or she did when they were entirely new and presented themselves in all their original mystic splendor. In that state, he makes genuine further progress internally.

This is what the Bhagavata infers in 3.7.17 when it talks about going beyond intelligence. You cannot hide from reason and, if you try to suppress it, you run the risk of hypocrisy and all the ugliness it entails. Facing reason means undertaking a dark night of the soul, but the rewards are so much greater, because the nature of evolved faith is so much sweeter and satisfying than the futile struggle to remain true to received dogmas.

One of the problems I see in the whole "enlightenment" and rationalist discourse is that it is essentially a desacralizing movement. In my own experience, certain conditions of extreme innocence and rejection of the so-called "rational" social order were necessary in order for me to even chant Hare Krishna and discover the sacred in the first place. Jiva Goswami talks about ruci-pradhāna and vicāra-pradhāna devotees, while making it very clear that [despite clearly being in the latter category himself] that those who can move directly into the path of sacred experience are more fortunate, for the vicāra-pradhāna devotee will only have to return there when his faith has been renewed. The trouble is that the genuine simplicity of a ruci-pradhāna devotee who never interacts with rational doubt is extremely rare.

In view of my own pilgrimage, I agree that by developing a more sophisticated understanding of religious experience, we make it possible to deepen it and communicate it to a wider audience. But an overly sophisticated attitude may also make it difficult to enter into direct communion with symbols like Radha-Krishna that are God's way of revealing himself to us. 

Christianity has the advantage in some ways of having dealt with modernity and its sophisticated secular critiques of religion of for a longer time than India. In many ways, India is still fighting the rearguard, trying to defend the literal word of God, however confused, hyperbolic and self-contradictory it may be. Bhaktivinoda Thakur clearly stated that the "word of God" is the words of inspired men, rishis or seers. It is sad that the progressive tendencies of Bhaktivinoda Thakur have been overrun by a regression to old-style fundamentalism.

I have pondered over the question of whether the narrow vision of the kaniṣṭha vaiṣṇava serves some necessary function in the development of one's devotional life. But the great problem of the kaniṣṭha is that he has little understanding of what the psychological changes and real difficulties there are in stepping up to the madhyama level. Because there are so many precious preconceived notions and cherished ideas that must be jettisoned, there is a great deal of fear that must be overcome.

The sad fact is that kaniṣṭha vaiṣṇavas are the kinds of religious people who start wars and pogroms. They are also the ones who are susceptible to the greatest hypocrisies because they do not face the existential challenges of doubt and so become empty internally even as they exploit the credibility of the neophytes they surround themselves with for personal gain.

One of those great fears is that of Māyāvāda. Subal has done a great service by introducing or naming the Vaishnava concept of deity as panentheism. For those who have not studied comparative religion, this term will mean nothing. But it really is the best English language term for Mahaprabhu’s acintya-bhedābheda, because while recognizing the personal nature of the God and our relationship with him, it gives full importance to the his immanence and identity with us.

How this plays out in practical terms is of course something that I am deeply interested in, because it completely changes the nature of our sadhana.

Cultural Directions

One of the areas in which Subal is attempting to make headway is "establishing an indigenous Radha-Krishna devotional culture" (116). As stated above, I think it presents the broad outlines of the direction we want to go, and though culturally, just in the way of our spiritual development, we are in slightly different frames of mind, the grand strokes of his vision are fairly close to mine.

Both Subal and I are, let us say, "deviants" from the tradition. We have both consciously and willingly allowed ourselves to be influenced by thinkers from outside the tradition, and this makes us suspect when when we claim to defend it. I often find myself in the odd position of defending the tradition or even ISKCON while simultaneously seeming to be arguing against what so many identify as its core beliefs!

Now, where did Lalita Prasad Prabhu really stand on these issues? As far as I can see, most of his present-day disciples are so influenced by the Gaudiya Math, since the GM is the main publisher of Bhaktivinode Thakur's books, that they mostly don't understand (who does or did?) Bhaktivinode Thakur's innovative and modernizing tendencies. Since it seems that Bhaktivinode Thakur himself came into a second naiveté at a certain point in his life, he was able to drop his concerns with philosophy and modernism and concentrate on bhajana; thus to them he appears to be a traditionalist.

This is where everyone is wrong. Bhaktivinode was practicing, but not necessarily simply accepting things at face value. A century down the road from Bhaktivinode [his 100th disappearance day is in 2014], the kinds of secular criticisms of fundamentalism are so much stronger, but at the same time, the synthetic position which both defends against the excesses of literalism and pinpoints the essence of the spiritual search have also become so much more sophisticated. This is the area that Subal feels Vaishnavas need to enter if they are truly to understand Bhaktivinode Thakur and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's gifts to the world.

Natural Vaishnavism

Subal uses the word "natural Vaishnavism" or "natural devotion" to refer to rāgānugā bhakti. "Natural" is clearly a translation of the word sahaja, so we must inquire into the appropriateness of his usage of the term.

Bhaktivinode Thakur himself used the term with some frequency, but I question whether he intended it as a translation of rāgānugā bhakti or that he was following the long tradition of sahaja in Buddhism or Sant Mat or indeed in Vaishnava Sahajiyaism.

This word has such a long tradition in Indian thought, particularly in (a) Buddhism (Sahaja-yana) and (b) in the Sants like Kabir and Raidas, as well as in (c) post Chaitanya Vaishnava Sahajiyaism, that it seems almost aberrant that BVT would choose to use it. We need to go back and do a thorough study of his use of the word to see exactly how he meant it in every single instance. But it is clear to me at least that there is a convergence of these expressions.

Subal also takes this natural Vaishnavism to imply a position against renunciation, which he feels leads to aberrations on the path. At the same time he advocates for enjoying the things of the world within reason and with detachment, just as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu instructed Raghunath Das during his householder life. Indeed, Subal asks whether God may not ask at the time of death whether we have "enjoyed life enough".

When describing the sadhana of Universalist Radha-Krishnaism, he frequently repeats that one is to follow in the footsteps of the residents of Vrindavan, Krishna's eternal associates, as exemplars or ideal human beings. This is, of course, the traditional rāgānugā position, but later in his book, he (influenced it seems by Dimock's Place of the Hidden Moon) takes a more directly Vaishnava sahajiya position in which Radha and Krishna's love itself becomes the "natural" path.

There are some articles by Joseph O'Connell rebutting Dimock's contention that Gaudiya Vaishnavism has been sahajiya from its earliest times, and both these scholars certainly bring out some of the historical uses of the term. But the crux of the matter comes is the place of sexuality in the sacred life. I am becoming more and more adamant that the rejection of or deep ambivalence about sexuality is not only the target of sahaja, but is also the fundamental problem that vitiates the impersonalism-permeated spirituality of India and by extension its social life and individual personal development.

In many ways, Rajneesh (Osho) is much closer to my way of thinking--even as a non-devotional spiritual leader --than the devotees who reject woman and sexuality as the principal obstacles to their spiritual advancement. But, of course, for those in the ISKCON/Gaudiya Math tradition, the word sahaja ("natural") implies some kind of antinomian, id-directed and thus immature sensuality. That is not the case; it is simply the redirection of the most powerful forces in the psyche towards spiritual culture and prema.

We use the symbolic vocabulary of Radha, Krishna, Vrindavan and the gopis, to train our minds and then through mantra come into harmony with our partners on a deep level of inwardness, so that the experience of love pervades our being and radiates outwards. Though the celibate lifestyle may mean the outward redirection of sexual energies into other kinds of service, sublimation has its limits -- as Freud so rightly pointed out.

Not only that, but I believe it is not what the Vaishnava tradition, with its overriding sensual nature, is about. We are not an ascetic tradition, at least not in its external flaunting of sannyāsa, celibacy, misogynistic world view, etc.

But the question here is, obviously, can we hold the above beliefs and still claim to be followers of Bhaktivinoda Thakur? Where did the Thakur stand on these matters? He clearly was not a Sahajiya in the traditional sense as found in the Bengali culture of his time. He was a Victorian and, let us face it, influenced by the British culture of that epoque. I think that as an educated and sophisticated aristocrat of the period, he would have been repulsed by the uneducated and unsophisticated Sahajiyaism that was rampant in the underclasses of Bengal.

But it is clear that undergirding this uneducated and unsophisticated Sahajiyaism in practice, there is a very sophisticated and philosophically defensible system of understanding. Can we connect the Thakur's understanding of sahaja to this "despicable" target of so much of his and Bhaktisiddhanta's preaching?

Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and his followers opposed the "immature" acceptance of the rāgānugā-bhakti path because they felt it would lead to the above kind of antinomian aberration. I favor rāgānugā, as it seems does Subal, precisely because it favors the reformation of sexuality. It is about transforming kāma into prema. It is about reforming the id-controlled ego into a love-permeated ego. We need to reread Bhaktivinoda Thakur to see if he had any glimmers of this perception.

But, like Subal, I think that my conclusion is not dependent on what Bhaktivinoda Thakur did or did not believe, do or  practice, but what we have ourselves concluded is the right course and appropriate sādhana, which we feel ultimately stands in consonance with the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition as presented by the Goswamis of Vrindavan. I have already defended that position on these pages and will continue to do so in the future, with ever increasing commitment and conviction.

The last verse of the Rāsa-līlā says that by hearing these erotic pastimes of Krishna the sensual desires of the conditioned soul, the disease that vitiates human life, kāma, is cured. How on earth is that supposed to happen? No one seems to have a clue. Everyone simply assumes it means that you become a celibate monk.

This "otherworldiness" or underlying assumption of the falseness of this world is the essence of the monistic impersonal ideas of Māyāvāda. And unless we recognize the dual nature of femininity and masculinity, learn that their unity is a potential dual-nondual miracle of spiritual felicity, we will always be misdirected into the anti-love concept of Māyāvāda.

So, in a sense, we may have a difficult time claiming direct, literal adherence to Bhaktivinoda Thakur's beliefs. We can only say, as I think Subal does, that we have taken the ball he passed to us and are running with it. If this is where it takes us, through our sādhana and our long years of reflection, then we must not deny our inner inspiration, but embrace it and pursue its implications, and experiment with the practices, and learn through experience about its consequences, its limitations, its joys and sorrows.

Social Involvement

Besides these approaches to one's own textual tradition, Subal takes another page from liberal Christianity in its orientation to social involvement. If the world is real, as is a fundamental element of the Vaishnava doctrine, and if compassion is an essential characteristic of the devotee, then surely social involvement should be a part of the broad scope of a religious movement's activities.

There is no doubt that Subal's is an important brick in the wall of religious discourse about Vaishnavism. Many of the things that he says are those I have been saying repeatedly. His great contribution, of course, is that he has gone out on a limb and attempted to make a coherent and systematic presentation of Radha-Krishnaism according to his vision. This means, of course, that he has set himself up for criticism, but that kind of courage he has shown is what is needed to push the discourse further.

I really hope that all of the friends I have here, especially those who are disenchanted from the enchanted world of Krishna consciousness, but still have a lingering taste for something, they are not quite sure what, of the Krishna conscious experience (See Bhagavata 1.5.19), it will help get their juices flowing and their intelligence focused on what exactly it was or is that they are still holding on to. Or what, as I think Subal shows both from his personal life and intellectual evolution, what they need to hold on to.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya :: Five best verses

Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya is purported to belong to the Narada Purana, but this is spurious. It cannot be found in any edition of that Purana and so was likely a later work that tried to hitch a ride on the NarP. Nothing unusual about that.

Ramnarayan Vidyaratna, the editor and translator who under the sponsorship of Maharaja Manindra Chandra Nandy of Cossim Bazaar (1860-1929) brought to light hundreds of previously unpublished works of the Gaudiya sampradaya (the Murshidabad editions), was the first to publish this work. He based it on three manuscripts, two of which came from Agartala in Tripura, the easternmost part of Bengali speaking India. This seems to confirm that the work was probably written in Bengal and its circulation was limited to this part of the subcontinent.

It was recently reprinted by the Sanskrit Book Depot in Kolkata, without any change or editing. Madhavananda Dasji of Bhubaneswar made PDF files of the recent reprint available to me, and so I am working on a GGM edition. There are a number of obvious mistakes which as far as possible we will correct for the online digital file.

It has 20 chapters and 1415 verses. The apparent contradiction in verse numbers may come from the way of counting verses according to syllables (a verse = 32 syllables, therefore a 44-syllable verse counts as 1.38 verses) rather than indicating missing portions.

Of the 20 chapters, 10 are devoted to Prahlada and two to Dhruva. The book begins in Naimisharanya with the same cast of characters found in the Bhagavatam, only Narada is the guest speaker. His tale begins with an account of Parikshit's last days. The book concludes with a chapter describing the glories of tulasi, the ashvattha tree and the Vaishnavas, another on yoga and the final chapter glorifying bhakti-yoga.

Rupa Goswami, Jiva Goswami and Krishnadas Kaviraj quote several verses from this book in their works. There are a number of verses quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilasa as well, but not all of them can be found in this edition of HBS. Many of these verse are very strongly supportive of pure devotion and the association of devotees, and always made me curious about the work.

For the pleasure of the devotees, I am giving my top five Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya verses, with a little bit of commentary:



(1)

यस्य यत्सङ्गतिः पुंसो मणिवत् स्यात् स तद्गुणः ।
स्वकुलर्द्ध्यै ततो धीमान् स्वयूथानेव संश्रयेत् ॥

yasya yat-sangatiḥ puṁso
maṇivat syāt sa tad-guṇaḥ
sva-kula-rddhyai tato dhīmān
sva-yūthān eva saṁśrayet

Like a mirror, a person takes on the qualities of those with whom he comes in contact. One who is intelligent should therefore seek the company of those who have the same ideals in order to develop their good qualities in himself. (HBS 8.51, BRS 1.2.229).
Though Rupa Goswami quotes this in support of sat-sanga, Hiranyakashipu originally spoke it to Prahlada to advise him not to associate with devotees. The word sva-kula actually means "one's own family," indicating a sectarian kind of consciousness. It reminds me of when Srivas Pandit heard that Niimai had become a Vaishnava, he said, "May our congregation go on increasing." But Rupa Goswami's usage is correct. Congregations are there so that we can cultivate our own values in common with like-minded people. Our kula is not our material family, nation or guild, but those with whom we share common values. When our values become clear and refined, we naturally seek those with whom they can be shared and developed. It may have a negative aspect or a positive one, so one should be careful.

There is a "spiritualistic" tendency in modern society that sees spirituality as so individual that any grouping around spiritual values is "religion" and therefore suspect. But this is not true. Human beings need association at every level of their spiritual development. And such spiritual development can never be devoid of spiritual language and symbolism which may differ from those used by other equally advanced spiritual individuals. One may be a poet in Russian or Chinese. This does not mean one will be a poet in Swahili.



(2)

भगवद्भक्तिहीनस्य जातिः शास्त्रं जपस् तपः ।
अप्राणस्यैव देहस्य मण्डनं लोकरञ्जनम् ॥

bhagavad-bhakti-hīnasya
jātiḥ śāstraṁ japas tapaḥ
aprāṇasyaiva dehasya
maṇḍanaṁ loka-rañjanam

One may possess high birth and learning; and he may meditate on his mantra and perform austerities. Nevertheless, if he is devoid of devotion to the Lord, these things are as useless as beautiful decorations on a dead body. (HBS 3.11, CC 2.19.75)
This is one of those unequivocal statements about bhakti that makes non-devotees feel uncomfortable about sectarian leanings. Devotees can indeed be sectarian, especially when the truth of such a statement first dawns on them. But in fact, statements about the uselessness of a life without spiritual realization are rife in all transcendental literature. What is the point of living like a cat or dog, with only material survival or pleasure as the goal? This body is a lump of dead flesh, the animating spirit is what is of true value. We must learn how to "add value" to what is truly of importance. Otherwise, it is all useless decoration of a lifeless body.



(3)

अक्ष्णोः फलं त्वादृशदर्शनं हि तन्वाः फलं त्वादृशगात्रसङ्गः ।
जिह्वाफलं त्वादृशकीर्तनं हि सुदुर्लभा भागवता हि लोके ॥

akṣṇoḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-darśanaṁ hi
tanvāḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-gātra-saṅgaḥ |
jihvā-phalaṁ tvādṛśa-kīrtanaṁ hi
sudurlabhā bhāgavatā hi loke ||

The goal of the eyes is to see someone like you; the goal of the skin is to embrace the body of one such as you. The goal of the tongue is to sing the glories of one such as you, for great devotees of the Lord are rare in this world. (HBS 13.2, HBV 10.287, C 2.20.61)
This verse is spoken by the Earth Goddess to Prahlada Maharaj. She had just finished catching him when Hiranyakashipu had the poor boy thrown off the palace roof.

I really like this verse and have quoted it several times on my blog. Let us just say that it is one of the most delightful glorifications of sadhu-sanga that I know of. Indeed, the glorification of devotional association is one of the primary features of the entire book. This could easily have been my number one.



(4)

स्थानाभिलाषी तपसि स्थितो’हं
त्वां प्राप्तवान् देवमुनीन्द्रगुह्यम् ।
काचं विचिन्वन्न् अपि दिव्यरत्नं
स्वामिन् कृतार्थो स्मि वरं न याचे ॥

sthānābhilāṣī tapasi sthito'haṁ
tvāṁ prāptavān deva-munīndra-guhyam |
kācaṁ vicinvann api divya-ratnaṁ
svāmin kṛtārtho smi varaṁ na yāce ||

“O my Lord, I took up the practice of penance and austerities out of a wish to become a great ruler. Now that I have attained you, who remain hidden to even great demigods, saintly persons and kings, I feel like someone who had been searching for fragments of glass but has found instead a most valuable jewel. I am now so fulfilled that there is no benediction left for me to request.” (HBS 7.28; quoted at CC 2.22.42 and 2.24.213).
This verse is spoken by Dhruva after experiencing direct realization of Vishnu and realizing the insignificance of his previous desires. So here you have devotion as superior to artha and kama.



(5)

त्वत्साक्षात्करणाह्लादविशुद्धाब्धिस्थितस्य मे |
सुखानि गोष्पदायन्ते ब्राह्माण्य् अपि जगद्गुरो ||

tvat-sākṣāt-karaṇāhlāda-
viśuddhābdhi-sthitasya me |
sukhāni goṣpadāyante
brāhmāṇy api jagad-guro ||

O Lord ! O guide to the world! For one like me, who is completely merged in the pure ocean of bliss that comes from seeing you directly, the pleasures of Brahman realization appear to be as tiny as a cow’s hoofprint. (HBS 14.36, BRS 1.1.39, CC 1.7.97)
Another delightful verse, quoted by Rupa Goswami to support the idea that bhakti is mokṣa-laghutā-kṛt, capable of making even liberation seem insignificant.




The HBS evidently teaches pure bhakti to Vishnu, so is of limited usefulness to ekanta Radha-Krishna bhaktas, but nevertheless, these glorifications of devotional association and pure devotion are very valuable and attractive, showing why this book was held in high esteem by Rupa and his followers.

There are some other verses from the HBS quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilasa, but I have not been able to find them all. Maybe this edition is incomplete.