Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jai Nitai


What would today have been without a mention of Lord Nityananda? The day is almost over and Nitai-pada-kamala is echoing in my mind.

Last year I picked up a fairly new Bengali language publication about Nityananda Prabhu in Kolkata. The author is named Uma Bandyopadhyaya, title is Bangla Charitra Sahitye Nityananda ("Nityananda in Bengali Biographical Literature"). This is her Ph.D. thesis and Kanan Bihari Goswami has written a fulsome foreword.

There are pictures of Ekachakra, Khardaha, Kalna (the house of Surya Sarkhel, Nityananda's father-in-law and Gauridas Pandit's house), and Panihati. They are black and white and not super quality, but still it is nice to see these places. Raghava Pandit's home seems to have been fixed up since the last time I was there.

Some new stuff in this book: I had never heard of a book ascribed to Basu Ghosh called Subarna Bonik Katha o Kirti, "The Subarna Boniks, their story and fame." Strange title for a book by Basu Ghosh. It is about Uddharan Datta, primarily, as far as I can see, recounting Nityananda Prabhu's visit to Saptagram, initiation of Uddharan (his original name was Divakar, but Nitai gave him Radha Krishna mantra and changed his name because he had saved his jati).

According to this work, Uddharan Datta then started preaching all along the west bank of the Ganga as far as Katwa, establishing Nityananda vigrahas carved in wood to go alongside Gauranga. There is a village near Katwa called Uddharanpur, where he apparently lived out the later part of his life. It is not far from Krishnadas Kaviraj's birthplace also.

Nityananda himself established Gaura murti puja in many places, and it appears that Uddharan Datta may have simply added Nityananda murtis next to the ones that were already there.


kaṇṭaka-nagara madhye joto grama chilo
sarvatra prabhura mūrti uddhāraṇa sthāpilo
sahasra deule nityānandera vigraha
śobhā pāya śrī-caitanyera dāru-mūrti saha

Nityananda ordered Shashtibara, one of his best kirtan singers, to remain in Saptagram with Uddharan and this was how it became one of the principal preaching centers in Bengal. The book has a picture of the Gaura Nitai deities there. Unfortunately, I have never had the occasion to see these deities, even though I have been to Triveni, which is just nearby.

I just opened the book at random to be able to say something about Nitai Prabhu today. The next section is about his marriage.

The Caitanya-bhāgavata passage where Mahaprabhu sends Nitai back to Gauda Desh does not contain any specific mention of marriage. Dr. Bandyopadhyaya quotes a verse from Jayananda's Caitanya-maṅgala which does:


nityānanda gosāi tumāra gauḍa-deśa
āji hoite chāḍo gosāi avadhūta-veśa (Jayananda, 217)
nityānanda vivāha korite ādeśilā
gaura ājñāya bhakta-gaṇa nija-deśe gelā (Advaita-prakāśa)

Jayananda also says that Sachidevi told Nitai to get married. She said, "Start wearing the brahmin thread again and get married. Keep my word and it will be well for you." (Jayananda, 75) The author guesses that this took place in about 1519-20.

Nityananda came to stay in Khardaha in 1522. About his life there, UB quotes the Muralī-vilāsa describing the beautiful surroundings of the house by the banks of the Ganga. Virabhadra was born in 1535 in the Kunja Bati. His samadhi is there also.

In 1570, Birbhadra received a large piece of stone from the Nawab, which was then carved into the Shyamasundar deity.

Nityananda's disappearance year is not known with certainty. UB quotes several sources, that he left the world in 1542 (Vaishnava Digdarshini) at the age of 69. Jayananda says the tithi was Ashwin Krishashtami. There are two accounts. Jayananda says it happened during kirtan in the Shyamasundar temple in Khardaha, but this is impossible as there was no Shyamasundar yet. Another book attributed to Vrindavan Das, Nityananda Vamsa Mala, says that Nitai was taking Jahnava to visit Ekachakra and he merged into the Banka Ray deity there.

Bhakti-ratnakara says Nityananda merged into the Banka Ray deity in Ekachakra when he left this world. Anyway, there is no samadhi anywhere, just like there is no samadhi for Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Interesting quote from Chaitanya Mangala by Jayananda. When the brahmins came complaining about Nityananda's behavior to Mahaprabhu, Mahaprabhu criticized Nitai. But Nitai told him that in the Kali Yuga, austerities are not necessary or helpful in the performance of sankirtan. (kAThinye kirtana kaliyuga dharma nohe) And with that he refused to change his way of doing things.

So, the main things that Nitai did was to get rid of caste consciousness. (jāti bheda nā karimu caṇḍāla javane--Jayananda). In particular, UB points to the Chira-dadhi Mahotsava in Panihati as a "revolutionary event" in Hindu society.

Anyway, while Mahaprabhu was engaged in high deliberations and ecstatic moods with Svarupa and Rama Ray, Nityananda was having kirtan everywhere. heno nitāi bine bhāi, rādhā kṛṣṇa pāite nāi. dṛḍha kori dharo nitāier pāi.

Jai Nitai

Saturday, January 23, 2010

India


On the last day of our stay at Sadhana Kendra ashram, we visited the school on the ashram grounds, named after Swami Chandra's guru. I had been impressed by the cheerful and respectful students on my way to and from our residence to the ashram core of meditation hall, dining hall, library, and Swami Chandra's quarters. The children all folded their hands and said, "Hari Om."

On this day, the headmaster (he called himself the children's friend), Swami's disciple, a brahmachari whose name I don't recall, took us around to see the classes and hallways, which were of a very good quality, especially when you consider that many of the pupils come from homes that are little more than stone and grass shacks.

He took us to the assembly where the students begin their day with prayer. You can see from the picture how they all sit in rows and chant Sanskrit prayers and a Hindi bhajan or two. Our students chanted the morning prayers that we use at SRSG.

The headmaster introduced us and I spoke a word or two about the saha nau avatu prayer, telling them to both teach and learn in joy and with the blessings of God.

The assembly ended with the students standing and singing the national anthem of India. Here is A.R. Rahman's excellent version, featuring many of India's greatest living musicians.




Anyway, I only tell this because, God's honest truth, tears started flowing from my eyes. Maybe it was when they sang "Yamuna Ganga" and all this Save Yamuna Save Vrindavan business came back at me, but my eyes were running for at least five minutes.

So what is that? I never once in my life shed a tear for O Canada. Never even learned it, in French or in English... Maybe it is time to seriously consider Indian citizenship.

I have been thinking about it. The idea that I am a "foreigner" who has no say in the way India grows or develops irks me, especially where the holy places are concerned.



Raising of the flag on Ganatantra Divasa at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama.

The Future of Sanskrit

I was recently quite surprised to receive an invitation to "spearhead" an effort to revive a Sanskrit college in Chennai. The mission, "to establish an institution conforming to and excelling the best international standards of scholarship, research and education." I thought I would post my response here, since I think that its scope goes far beyond the simple accepting or rejecting of the invitation.



Pranams. Please forgive me for taking so long to respond to your letter. January has been particularly filled with activities, as you may have noticed from the Facebook pages "Save Yamuna Save Vrindavan" and "Stop the Vrindavan Bridge."

Now, as to your interesting proposal. My immediate reaction was to say no, that it would be impossible for me to leave the various duties that I have at the moment. And indeed, I have commitments that should take me well into the summer. Nevertheless, I have been rethinking my spontaneous negative reaction because of one thing and that is this:

The shortcomings of Sanskrit and indeed most Indian vernaculars at the present time is the paucity of translations from other languages. This paucity stretches across the spectrum of texts, from literature to scientific treatises, and is something that needs to be corrected if Sanskrit is ever to become a viable medium for communication.

Even today, the use of English dominates at almost every level of education in India and no one takes any other medium seriously if they seek material advancement. Because of the international situation, this may never change, as English is becoming more and more dominant everywhere in the world and there is even some concern in India that the advantage it enjoys due to having a fairly large English-speaking base is eroding. This is putting even more pressure on improving the English-medium educational system. This is a dangerous development, as it will mean the core of the Indian identity itself will be weakened and the people of this country will become more and more alienated from their own history and culture.

Be that as it may, we represent, let us say, a small but significant coterie of Sanskrit lovers who would like to see it revived as a lingua franca of the Indian intelligentsia on some level or another. But this cannot be done if all we do is hearken back to the age of the Upanishads or Kalidas. The Sanskrit Bharati organization is trying to revive Sanskrit as a spoken language, which is admirable enough, but Sanskrit likely never was nor will be the language of the bazaar. It was always a language of the educated, of the high arts and of ideas.

Sanskrit's lessening influence can be traced to one reason: its insularity. (1) It was pretty much restricted to the elite ruling classes and the brahmins, who controlled education. And (2), after a certain time, brahmins refused to interact with other castes and cultures and so stopped the infusion of life blood into the language.

The life blood of human society is the interaction of ideas and thought. If one sits back on the idea of one's inherent superiority and refuses to even consider anyone else's point of view as worthy, then slowly one atrophies and withers.

The fact is this: Sanskrit is THE Indian language par excellence. It is the only Indian language that can claim universality. In ancient times it was the language of ideas and debate in philosophy. If it lost strength, it was because it became rooted in various dogmas, about literature, about philosophy, about science, and stopped debating with others.

But it is hard to see how any country can legitimately find its own soul by selling itself out wholesale to another linguistic tradition or culture, especially when its own traditions are as rich and varied as those of India. It finds its soul by translating ideas taken from any variety of sources (viSAd apy amRtaM grAhyaM) into its own words and engaging with them, teaching those it finds worthwhile to its own people in their language, and then rethinking, reformulating and developing them independently.

In a recent paper, Swami Veda Bharati said that one great problem is the negative effect that arises from Indian teachers translating Indian concepts through the filter of Western eyes.
...when philosophical concepts in the words of one language are translated to another, the translation may not be truly expressive of the meaning or the concept originally intended. Nowadays many texts are being read only in their translations in Eurocentric languages. When they are retranslated back for the readers in the original countries, be it India or China or Tibet, the entire meaning is diverted. This is known as the ‘pizza-effect’ [1].

Where pizza originated cannot be ascertained but the original pizza of Italy upto 17-18th centuries was a flat bread with some garnishes put on it and sometimes warmed-up or cooked in oil. However, it migrated to America, evolved there, and took on a very different form. Then this neo-pizza returned to Italy where now the people have all but forgotten the original, and the American pizza is the pizza. This is the pizza effect in translations, as we see it in the contemporary developments in some elements of the Indian (or Sino-Japanese etc.) culture in translation. A Hindi or Tamil word is translated into English according to the mind-set of the Anglophone people and is brought back into India. Here, many of the professors, teaching Indian philosophy through English medium, some not having deep access into the original languages or associated practices, are using that word which the students translate back into Hindi or Tamil according to the contemporary mind set[2]. This ‘pizza-effect’ needs to be corrected and the words need to be brought back to convey their original intent[3]. This can only be accomplished by referring to the lab work called meditation.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] A term coined by this author’s friend (an Austrian) late Swami Agehananda Bharati of the Dashanami Tradition, author of The Ochre Robe, later head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Syracuse, NY.

[2] See, supra, our reference to the concept of ‘mind over matter’.

[3] For example, the
ni-rodha is not stoppage. According to the authentic commentators it means sva-karane layah : dissolution of vrttis, operative waves, into their originating source, the mind-field, chitta, and the dissolution of chitta into its source, the equilibrium of prakrti.
This effect is not entirely negative, as it sparks discussion and the refinement of understanding. But the process should work both ways. Aristotle and Plato, Anselm and Aquinas, Shakespeare, Molière and Goethe, should all be available in Sanskrit so that their input is made into a truly "world-class" thought system, one that engages more truly the Sanskritic tradition with the European one. And of course, the thinkers of other great cultures like the Chinese and Japanese should also be made available. And such efforts should be made with reference to the original works, not filtered through the Anglophone sphere, as so much of the Indian experience of the wider world is.

To make a long story short, I think that I would be interested in setting up some kind of institution which had as its principal goal the translation of foreign language texts into Sanskrit, where these ideas would be taught, discussed and debated in Sanskrit. Of course, the traditional knowledge would have to be maintained, but its main purpose would be to establish a correct vocabulary. Sanskrit Bharati, for instance, often uses Sanskrit neologisms when there are perfectly good words already available, but are either unused or forgotten. But when engaged in such a vast project, the challenges on the language to grow and expand will be stupendous.

Some of the work has already been done by the Indian vernaculars, but most of it has been haphazard and without any governing body like a language commission to help create or police vocabulary. Such a body would need to be created for Sanskrit. Sanskrit Bharati cannot be allowed to inflict its regionally-based version of the language and pass it off as pan-Indian.

Furthermore, the regional disparities in creating Sanskrit-based terminology means that some order needs to be established in the attempt to create a pan-Indian Sanskrit. There must be a new Sanskrit dictionary that makes use of ALL Indian vernaculars and filters their application of Sanskrit in coining their own neologisms.

Plenty of Sanskrit institutions are chewing the already chewed (The Sanskrit departments of Indian universities each year produce hundreds of doctoral dissertations with bland titles like Svetasvatara Upanishad: Eka Adhyayana). What is needed is an institution that truly attempts to bring Sanskrit into the modern era.

Such a project would be very expensive and challenging endeavor. We would need to cooperate with existing Sanskrit institutions as much as possible, as well as to find experts in the different fields who would be willing to cooperate. But any attempt to teach Sanskrit only with reference to the Indian past is bound for stagnation.





Yamuna Devi

Giancarlo Colombo took a couple of photos at the Yamuna near Domet. We were there for to visit Swami Chandra's Sadhana Kendra Ashram. I have given an account of our visit there.

We walked along the road that follows the nala on the high bank outside the flood plain. Seeing this picture makes me nostalgic for the old parikrama marga in Vrindavan.


Here Mahantadeva Swami and Gangesh Chaitanya are pouring Yamuna water on me. The river here is about 150 kilometers from Yamunotri and about 200 kilometers north of Delhi. By the time it gets there, 90 percent of the water has been removed and replaced by raw sewage and garbage.

I was told that due to corruption or whatever, 11 of the 13 sewage treatment plants that were built in an attempt to clean up the Yamuna are inoperative.


The water is so clean here that we had no hesitation in drinking big mouthfulls. It is shallow but fast running. My gamcha was carried away by the current.


Jai Yamuna Devi ki jai.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Direct Meaning of Radha Krishna



In the previous post I talked about śabda-vṛtti and rasa. Now in fact this was a preamble to a response to those who are confused about metaphorical interpretations of Radha and Krishna and the lila. In another earlier post (The Two Rasa Lilas, Again), I made a statement to the effect that Krishna was both bhagavān and the archetypal man.

Shivaji said that calling Krishna the archetypal man was a metaphoric interpretation. That is wrong. It is the direct statement of the shastra, even though many devotees turn a blind idea to this.

To again clarify: The idea of Krishna as bhagavān is the Bhāgavata version. If there is a metaphorical version of Krishna lila, it is there in what the Goswamis called and rejected as the ādhyātmika interpretation. In fact, however, they cannot entirely reject the metaphorical version. It is just that they would not take the metaphorical version exclusively at the price of the literal one which the Bhāgavata makes clear, especially in the verse 10.33.36:

anugrahāya bhaktānāṁ
mānuṣaṁ deham āśritaḥ
bhajate tādṛśīḥ krīḍā
yāḥ śrutvā tat-paro bhavet
In order to show mercy to the devotees Krishna appears in a human form and performs such pastimes [as the rāsa-līlā], hearing which one becomes attached to him.
The intimate connection between the the divine and the human in Krishna is what is enchanting (madhura) about him. And the most enchanting līlā of all, the līlā-śiromaṇi, is the rāsa-līlā.

Though the Bhāgavata's idea seems prima facie to be that Krishna's taking of a human body is only to help us remember him. But that develops into something completely different in later texts. The Brahma-saṁhitā directly calls Krishna "the original man" (ādi-puruṣa) and the Chaitanya Charitamrita says:

kṛṣṇera jatek khelā, sarvottama nara-līlā,
nara-vapu tāhār svarūp
gopa-veśa, veṇu-kar, nava-kiśor, naṭa-var,
nara-līlār hoy anurūp
Of all Lord Krishna’s diversions, his human pastimes are the most excellent, for the human form is his actual identity. In this form He dresses as a cowherd boy, plays the flute, blossoms with ever fresh youthfulness and dances expertly. His activities resemble those of a human being. (Madhya 21.101)
The last words are particularly interesting, because it seems to place the humanity as prior to his divinity, reviving the old chicken or egg question about projection rather openly.

Anyway, the point is: By the direct statements of shastra, Krishna is presented as an archetypal man. When the Gita says avajānanti mam mūḍhā mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam, etc., that is to remind us that his humanity is archetypal, not entirely human in its limitation.

The problem then is to understand what is the relation between the Deity and the human archetype, where one imposes an attitude of devotion and the other an exemplary code of behavior. Even though the Bhāgavatam warns about not imitating the rāsa-līlā, it also states that one becomes free from lust or material sexual desire through hearing this specific pastime.

In order to understand how this works we have to take a bit of assistance from modern archetypal psychology, but I think that rasa theory will, from the Indian vantage point, offer sufficient material to help understand how this is meant to work. I wrote about this before here, so you can look there. This article probably needs to be looked at by me again, too, but not today...

The point is that the more one humanizes God, the more the forms of bhakti also change. But, at the same time, it also has the effect of humanizing your human relationships and investing them with love. Sexuality is fraught with difficulties because it is the locus where the modes of nature most powerfully exhibit themselves. Because of that, it is also the most significant arena of spiritual practice. But people try to destroy desire, which is the Mayavadi approach to spirituality, instead of transforming it. That is what Sahaja is all about.


Quote from Herbert Guenther

In keeping with the actual main theme of this blog (I separated blogs at one point in order to keep this one "pure", but as usual, things have gotten untidy. I picked up a book, which I had read before, and just opened randomly to the page that contained the following:

The Vaishnava conception comes closest to the Western distinction between “sacred love” and “profane love” in the image of Krishna and Radha and the gopis. The great strength of the Krishna cult has been its truly all-embracing eroticism and the exploitation of all possible minutiae of physical passion. Indian scholasticism was at pains to see in the frank eroticism an allegory of the relationship of humanity to God, but it did not condemn the sensuality involved.

Footnote. Contrast with this attitude the modern Western Krishna cult which under the influence of Victorianized Hinduism adopts an extremely negative and puritanical outlook and which is utterly devoid of the warm and humanistic feeling that permeated the original version.
(Herbert Guenther, “Male-Female Polarity in Oriental Thought” in A Spiritual Approach to Male-Female Relations, (ed. Scott Miners), Theosophical Publishing House, 1984. p. 180)

Guenther was one of the leading 20th century scholars of Buddhist and Hindu tantra.


Court orders temporary injunction against building bridge


This news that the Allahabad High Court has ordered a temporary injunction against the construction of the bridge over the Yamuna is most welcome.

We can rejoice and thank the devotees from around the world. Their massive sigh of despair has no doubt influenced the way that the karmic wheel is turning.

More and more people have become conscious of the issue and have been deeply affected emotionally at the thought of the wanton desecration and destruction of our beloved Vrindavan Dham.

But we are far from winning this war. It is only lull, a break, a little bit of time to mobilize our forces for the even greater obstacles that need to be overcome.

This war will not be won by mind vibrations only, nor even by Harinam alone. It will require convincing people on a massive scale in India and around the world.

When we started in Krishna consciousness so many years ago, we thought that the whole world would turn to Krishna in a very short time. We were so enthusiastic and convinced. And yet, it did not take very long for us to see how strong Maya is and how she can undermine our efforts in so many ways.

The biggest weapon Maya has is to weaken our faith and make us passive. Maya will say, "God is in control. He has no need of your seva. He has already determined the results. You only need to be a detached and passive observer."

I say that this is Mayavada philosophy. Devotees take pleasure in serving and enjoy the apparent challenge that comes when they have to dig deeper into themselves and their practice to find the strength and intelligence to serve in the ways that Krishna asks them to serve.

Now this is really a very amazing moment in the history of the Krishna Consciousness Movement.

This issue cuts across all sampradayika lines. Whether you belong to Iskcon, the Gaudiya Math, another Vaishnava parampara, or even to any Hindu sampradaya... it goes beyond even those who have purely religious interests and extends to all who are into the protection of the environment and that of human cultural and historical heritage.

As such, it can and should take us out of our tiny parochial universes and make us see how we share common values with so many others.

It can and should remind us that we need to put aside our petty egoisms about being the best or purest or most representative of Krishna or Mahaprabhu, or God Himself, and work together to achieve a goal that is both concrete and realizable.

I will say that again: This is a goal that is concrete and realizable.

Making everyone into Mahaprabhu's bhakta may or may not be. Making everyone recognize Srila Prabhupada as the Yuga Acharya may or may not be. All of our biggest goals have a potential date of realization so far in the future that they are, in a sense, neither concrete nor realizable.

But this is a goal that is both concrete and realizable.

Not only that, but it can be seen as a stepping stone to our higher and more longterm goals, for all of us.

If Vrindavan is preserved as a sacred place, will that not inspire people from India and around the world to see it a source of inspiration, and to chant the Holy Names and recognize the saints who lived and worshiped here as preceptors of a truly beautiful and valuable mode of religious thought and practice?

And if the Yamuna is preserved as a sacred river, will that not function as an important stepping stone to a return to the consciousness of the sacred nature of the world as the manifestation of God's energies? Is a pure and clean Yamuna that can be bathed not an essential brick in the reconstruction of the Dham as a sacred land?

And if we accomplish these things, will not Iskcon, the Gaudiya Math, all the Gaudiya vamshas and parivars, all the Vaishnava sampradayas, all Hindu sampradayas, all religions and environmental groups, indeed all human beings, not benefit from the achievement?

John Donne said that no man is an island. Neither is any sampradaya. This is a worthy goal for all of us and we must work together to do whatever is necessary to achieve it.

This is a goal for which the tools that we have already become trained are so eminently useful, whether it is writing, speaking, convincing the public, doing the footwork, going from door to door, creating enthusiasm, etc.

So please, keep on using the tools at your disposition to network, to publicize the issue, to push forward the letter writing and petition work.

We will win this war only on the field of public opinion and that is where we must descend and do battle. We must inundate all the offices of responsible parties, of influential people, with letters that let them know the way we feel. Give concrete ideas and proposals, but never forget the essential:

Vrindavan is OUR sacred place and we will not allow shortsighted business or commercial interests to destroy it.

Jai Radhe! Jai Krishna!! Jai Vrindavan !

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Imagining Dhama Seva


We may or may not stop the bridge, but as Vaishnavas we are not attached to the results of our action. We neither lose enthusiasm for doing the right thing when we fail to achieve the results we sought, nor do we stop and rest on our laurels when we do reach our goals. Seva to the Divine Couple is infinite.

The degradation of the Vrindavan environment has been going on for some time, but without cars or accumulations of garbage, it was somewhat tolerable. We could live with it and still appreciate the underlying transcendental atmosphere.

The exponential increase of pilgrims over the past decade has meant that the environmental degradation is also increasing apace. It has also meant that a taste for materialism has crept into the spirit of the people, with all that this entails. The sum result is that it is getting harder and harder to see or feel the sacred power of Vrindavan. Service to the Dham means perceiving and making manifest that sacred power. That is prema.

We are actually happy that devotees are coming to Braj, but we have to participate in the process of development so that we get the Vrindavan WE want. By saying that, I don't mean that we are going to shove some ideas down the Brajvasis' throats. It is theirs first and only ours by adoption.

But we do have the right to _imagine_ Vrindavan in terms of its sacred character and think how that aspect of the town can be preserved and enhanced. That is service to the Dham and to the Divine Couple. Make no mistake about it. Serving the Dham is sakshat seva, a most powerful sadhana, and most fortunate are they who are given the opportunity to engage in it.

One important thing is that Vrindavan should be understood in terms of Madhurya, not Aishwarya. Ideas like Krishna Disneyworld, 100-foot Vishnu statues and other crass compromises with materialism should be opposed at all costs. Any malls or commercial centers catering exclusively to materialistic attitudes should be kept on the periphery of the town. Attempts at creating and developing green public spaces like Seva Kunj and Nidhivan, etc., the Parikrama Marg and the Yamuna flood plains should be encouraged.

Vrindavan is in the mind first. It is, as someone pointed out, Radha's mind. However, it does not exist only in the mind, but also in the senses. Recreating the mind's Vrindavan, even in the circumstances of the age, means engaging all the senses in the service of the Divine Couple.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Freud, Sexuality and Spirituality

(continued from previous)

So is Freud relevant?

Nowadays it has become the accepted wisdom that Freudianism is dead. But so many of his ideas are now considered commonsensical that it is almost a joke to reject him by name without knowing which of his ideas are still current and on what level of discourse.

I could go into this in some depth, and I think that especially for devotees it would be salutary to consider these points.

The relations of sexuality to love and to spirituality are the complexes that need to be decoded. I tend to accept Freud's monistic view of psychic energy, or consciousness, and not make a radical distinction between material sexuality and spirituality at all. Now this will seem counterintuitive for those people who do make such a radical distinction. Kama andha-tama, prema nirmala bhaskara and all that. But if we say that they are generic opposites, that is erroneous. They are simply different ends of one continuum or spectrum, that of desire.

Lust is fundamentally a desire, integral to consciousness, for love or union, but one that is misdirected through ignorance. Prema is that same desire, refined and properly directed. In both cases, the object of the desire for a kind of transcendent union, reminiscent of the union one had with the mother in the womb, or even, one might say, of the experience of the transcendent love the mother and father had at the time of conception. The immediate causes of the perversions of love arise in some disruption of this ideal at a very early age. The distant causes are based in our samskaras.

One who is in a perverted state of knowledge thinks of love in self-centered terms and only through identification with the body. This is what Freud calls the Id, the animal instincts. Through sublimation, the psychic energy of the Id is channeled into creativity and acts of a higher order. Such sublimation thus, practically speaking, defines the human being.

This concept of sublimation is universal in all human cultures and religions. For Freud, it is what sets the human apart from the animal. It has been especially mapped in Tantric psycho-physiology as the chakra system, through which the consciousness is elevated until it rises the cerebral region. Such sublimation, however, may also be a misdirection of these energies. In such cases, we subconsciously substitute indirect goals for the direct goal of love.

The special feature of the Tantric conception is that it recognizes that it is the sexual energies that are being channeled. They do not seek to cut one off from those energies artificially. Because in fact, the sexual energies are not sexual energies at all, but psychic ones, spiritual ones that are only identified as sexual when one is completely in bodily consciousness.

The Sahajiya concept recognizes something more in all this than the simple play of energies. It recognizes that the goal of these energies is the finding of love. But that requires an understanding of the two levels or two kinds of Rasa-lila. For the Sahajiya, mere pessimism about the nature of material sexual relations is an inadequate response to the problem of love.


The Two Rasa Lilas, Again

I got into a bit of a debate with Sachin Gupta, a devoted follower of Vivekananda and Hindu nationalist, on Facebook. He posted a review of Wendy Doniger's book History of the Hindus, which reiterated criticisms that sensitive Hindus have had about her work almost since the beginning.

Fair enough. She has attracted a lot of attention ever since she wrote Shiva, the Erotic Ascetic for raking up every juicy bit of erotica she can find in the Puranic mythologies. There is a lot of defensiveness amongst some Hindu nationalists who resent it when scholars point out the sexual nature of much of Hindu symbolism and mythology.

My intention here is not to defend Doniger in what she says, as the accusations leveled against her ("Doniger's is not a prayerful, thoughtful approach, but a whimsical, frivolous approach to both the mundane as well as the esoteric.") in all likelihood do have some merit; nevertheless, to totally deny the explicit sexuality of much of the content of Puranic mythology and iconography, etc., is to be deliberately obtuse.

There are two basic points to be made here. The first is that the Puranas and epics are a copious body of literature. There are so many stories that mutually contradict each other. These stories about God in mythical form are written by human beings and may in some respects be inadequate metaphorically. After all, why must every one of the puranas, for instance, be accepted as especially insightful about the highest nature of transcendence?

Often enough they are blatant manipulation of different social groups by brahmins, of women by men, and so on. They may have been simply stories meant to titillate and amuse. And they may just as well be more revealing about a particular human psychological or sociological phenomenon within the larger landscape of religious thought in India than of some deep eternal or philosophical truth.

Why do some people feel it necessary to defend every bit of the Indian literary tradition in order to save their faith in Hinduism?

But Sachin responds to me in the following spirit, which I give here for the amusement of any readers, and to which I will respond with my second and more important point:
You are Wendy Freudian Doniger's das. I don't think you are Krishna devotee. You have shown it earlier too with many of your foot-in-mouth comments. Is for you Krishna a Casanova and playboy, seducing other women? And Jayadeva's Gita Govinda porn and sexual literature? Is this your understanding of Krishna? Have you never heard of allegoric meaning? It portrays the divine ecstatic love of the soul for the Supreme Soul through that of Radha as embodied soul longing for Supreme Soul, Krishna. The truth behind is hidden from the profane mind and intellect!
Now this is the typical argument: These sexual escapades of the gods are meant to be metaphorical in some way. Admittedly, in many cases that is true, particularly where the Bhagavata Rasa-lila is concerned. But to plead metaphor in every instance is in fact an obfuscation.

Simply calling these stories allegories is to only see half of the picture. The literal depiction of sexuality as a purushartha has to be given its due, and the depiction of the highest gods, whether it is Shiva or Krishna, as sexual beings is an essential part of the discourse on spirituality AND sexuality in India. So Doniger's attempt to understand these tales in sexual terms, even Freudian terms, is a legitimate exercise.

Both these elements are there and their juxtaposition needs to be understood. One is not there to the exclusion of the other. If one says that the linga and yoni are representative of Shiva and Shakti, the Great God, then one is saying, in effect, that sexuality itself is in some way representative of God.

I doubt that Sachin has ever read Gita Govinda and is simply repeating what he has heard others say about it. This is the usual technique of putting something on a pedestal and honoring it from a healthy distance, bracketing instead of investigating. Where in Jayadeva's Gita Govinda can you find any hint of an allegorical attitude to the story? One would expect something --anything -- but there is nothing, not even in the commentaries.

We must therefore take it as a depiction of what could be called "archetypal humanity." It is not mystical, but a celebration of human love and sexuality projected onto the Divinity as the archetypal manifestation of such relations. Since the 19th century, the attempt in Bengal has consistently been to portray Vaishnavism as a humanism: sarvopari manushya sattva, tar upari nai. That is the position of Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo, and even Vivekananda, even as they look askance on the sexual aspects of the lila and bracket it as an allegory or as irrelevant to contemporary circumstances.

Even now I am looking at the new Asiatic Society reprint of the 1924 Kalna Chaitanya Charitamrita where Ramakanta Chakrabarty writes in his foreword:
[First,] Chaitanya and his followers attached great importance to human life. It is said that of all the sports of Krishna, the best were those in which he accomplished as a Man, and that the human shape of a milkman (sic) was his essential form. This is certainly a glorification of humanity, in which there is no difference between God and Man.
I am saying that this is the current BENGALI view of Chaitanyaism. And yet they have found it necessary to wipe out any sexuality from Krishna, when madhura rasa is the very essence of the humanity of Krishna. Not madhura rasa as debauchery, but as the fullest and purest manifestation of love.

The trouble is in reconciling this Gita-govinda Rasa-lila with the Bhagavata version, which is more overtly metaphorical, even though, strangely enough, there is a deep resistance on the part of Gaudiya Vaishnavas to state this. No commentary, from Sridhara to Vishwanath, says explicitly, "This is an allegory of the soul and Supersoul." Sanatan Goswami even says directly that he rejects the adhyatmika or allegorical explanation.

So Ramakanta Chakrabarty's next sentence, which is also correct, still makes a confusing jumble out of what Vaishnavism is.
The second concept is bhakti, or the principle of devotion, a truly civilizational ideal, in which untruth, unseemly behavior, sex, gluttony and rustic manners have no place.
In both the allegorical interpretation (where the upameya still validates the upama) and the literal interpretation (where the presence of sexuality in the divinity is seen as a literal manifestation of God's experience of the best that life offers in the association of his hladini shakti), the sexual element, particularly in its parakiya manifestation, is placed at the pinnacle of human emotional experience.

Now it is this parakiya rasa that causes so much trouble, the "rustic" (gramya) element that has "no place" in bhakti.

This is where the real problem arises. I could go into great detail, but it is not enough to just point to Victorian English mores and blame them. It is in the very nature of the patriarchal vision of male-female relations in India.

India has the social institution of prajapatya-vivaha, which is arranged marriage meant to serve a social function of family continuance. Osho says, rather dourly, that Hindus may play lip service to love, but the custom has always been that the moment a boy and girl fall in love, their families do everything they can to destroy it. What Bengali girl of past generations has not been married to a man she did not love when she had already developed feelings of love for another? It is taken as an inevitable rite of passage.

And yet, when the Vaishnavas pointed to natural love as being the best, they were condemned for being debauched and pornographic. Are we not to assume it has only been accepted as true because of the dominant society's successful propaganda?

I recently heard a report from a lady in Vrindavan, who has been living there amongst the local community for many years and has come to know the sexual behaviors of the local people quite well. It is not pretty: Basically she informed that widespread homosexuality is the norm. The separation of men from women before marriage means that both seek satisfaction from their own sex, and even after marriage this tends to continue because there is so little mutual understanding. Needless to say, this kind of "prison homosexuality" does not lead to real social cohesion.

If I say that all human failure is a failure of love, it is nowhere more apparent than there where we most directly seek love, in our sexual relations. As such, the models provided in both Rasa-lilas are important for holistic spiritual development.


Conference on Spirituality and the Science of Consciousness

Interesting conference of “Spirituality and the Science of Consciousness” in Kolkata at the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. This is the second time I have come here, both times in the somewhat awkward position of being Swami Veda Bharati’s representative and thus more or less as an observer and student.

Last year I was somewhat aware of the rather odd cultural disconnect that I felt in the surroundings of an ersatz Western institution, reproducing in me memories of aspects of my old Jesuit-run high school, like the auditorium and refectory. The use of English language and European dress in a milieu that was 95% Bengali also seemed somewhat strange. Also, the aging and somewhat eccentric nature of much of the audience was particularly evident.

This year, however, I was more conscious of other aspects of the Ramakrishna Mission. First of all, the institution seems to be very well run. Things are clean, on-time; staff is polite and helpful, etc. But more particularly I was thinking about the very nature of the conference itself. Over the past 8 years, the mission has held five such “international conferences” on the subject of consciousness, with slightly differing themes. International because a number of the speakers do come from outside India or from non-Bengali speaking parts of India, and use the English medium to write or communicate their findings.

This year’s two-day conference had a grand total of 23 speakers, from a number of different fields, including a few very skeptical scientists, presenting a rather wide range of views. Swami Atmapriyananda, who I believe is the rector of the Belur Math’s “deemed” university, gave a rather eloquent summing up at the end by refering to the passages of the Upanishads that talk about the “dearness of the self.” He said that though the scientists and different spiritual seekers from different schools may have differing points of view, and though we may come to no conclusions, still there is great joy to be had by inquiring into the nature of the self, or consciousness itself.

Roughly speaking, the speakers at the conference could be divided into three categories. There were the scientists who were involved in studying consciousness from some point of view or another. Then there were spiritual practitioners and philosphers who were interacting with the scientific research in some way, and finally those who simply summarized the point of view of a particular school of thought.

Both last year and this, I remarked on the absence of any representative from any Vaishnava school, what to speak of Chaitanya Vaishnavism, which seemed to be an oversight. I went and spoke to Swami Sarvabhutananda, the director of the RMIC, and he simply said he could not find anybody. I told him that I would supply him with a list of people so that the oversight would not take place again.

But then I had to think about whom I could recommend. What representative of Gaudiya Vaishnavism could speak to the subject? Satya Narayan Dasji is really the only one I could think of, though there are probably some within and without Iskcon who could do so.

A cursory look at the Ramakrishna Mission bookstore shows a rather wide variety of books from translations and commentaries of Sruti and Smriti texts, to historical texts discussing the founders of the RKM as well as scholarly studies of various aspects of community, society and spirituality. Overall, the scope is much wider than one would expect to find in a typical Gaudiya Math or Iskcon bookstore.

The value given to education and a Western approach to study, or at least an interaction with Western rationalism, is a feature that has to be admired. Though the RKM sannyasis who spoke—Swami Prabhananda, Swami Sarvabhutananda, Swami Bhajanananda, Swami Atmapriyananda and Swami Sarvapriyananda all showed remarkable erudition, and all defended the Advaita position, they were all quite competent in dealing with the issues under examination in the conference. And it must be remembered that whatever the Vaishnavas’ disagreements with them, as Vedantists we are allied with the Mayavadis in our acceptance of the irreducibility of consciousness.

I think it would be worthwhile sharing some of the material that was discussed and will try to find time over the next couple of days to summarize some of it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Addresses for Letter Writing Campaign


Here is a start. Use any or ALL these modes of communication. But I think we should definitely continue to use snail mail. There is nothing quite like an avalanche of paper to let people know that something is significant.

I suggest writing the snail mail letter, printing it out. If it looks good, then send it by email also.

SHOW LEADERSHIP

Send this list to all your friends with your own sample letter.

We don't want all the letters to look the same, but if all you say is "The Keshi Ghat flyover in Vrindavan is an eyesore that does not respect Vrindavan's heritage as a sacred pilgrimage. We are dismayed that such insensitivity and lack of comprehension is being shown to a place that attracts so many pilgrims from around the world. Please STOP the Keshi Ghat Yamuna Flyover NOW." Or some variation thereof, it should be enough.

QUANTITY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN QUALITY. Keep your letter short. One page maximum. Use short paragraphs. Use bold type to highlight strong points. If you want to say more, send a second letter.

Mark envelopes on the outside with some relevant slogan: STOP THE YAMUNA FLYOVER. PROTECT VRINDAVAN's HERITAGE. Any other suggestions can be added below.

PLEASE NOTIFY FOR CORRECTIONS

1. The Honorable President of India
Pratibha Devi Singh Patil
The President of India
Rashtrapati Bhavan
New Delhi - 110 004
Fax: +91-11-23017290, +91-11-23017824
presssecy@alpha.nic.in (Press Secretary of the President)
presidentofindia@rb.nic.in
http://helpline.rb.nic.in/GrievanceNew.aspx

2. The Prime Minister of India
Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
7, Race Course Road,
New Delhi - 110 001
http://pmindia.nic.in/write.htm

FAX: +91-11-23016857, +91-11-23019545 (PM Office)
+91-11-23015603 (PM residence)
PHONE: +91-11-23018668, +91-11-23015470 (Residence) +91-11-23012312, 23018939 (Office) +91-11-3016996 (Joint Secretary of PM)
+91-11-3018939 (Personal Secretary of PM)
manmohan@sansad.nic.in OR
Email to PM at http://pmindia.nic.in/write.htm

3. Ms. Mayawati
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
13-A, Mall Avenue, Lucknow, U.P.
Tel. - 2236657
mayawati@sansad.nic.in

Alternative address:
C-I/12, Humayun Road, New Delhi.
Tel. - Mobile 9868181001

Mayawati is a champion of the Dalits, lower castes, untouchables, etc., and has a background in social work. Approach on the greater benefit of channeling money to causes benefiting the lower castes, etc., in Vrindavan. Also that the general benefit should be thought of in other ways than overrunning the town with cars. Vrindavan was not built for cars. Also the FRO threatening Sandeepani schoolteachers, which is such a good work for underprivileged girls, could be mentioned.

4. The Governor of Uttar Pradesh
Sri Banwari Lal Joshi
Raj Bhavan, Lucknow U.P.
Fax: (91) 0522-2223892
email: hgovup@up.nic.in

5. Sonia Gandhi, chairman of Congress Party
Smt. Sonia Gandhi, MP
10, Janpath
New Delhi.
Tele. (O) : 23034984, 23034285
Tele. (R) : 23014161, 23014481
E-Mail: soniagandhi@sansad.nic.in

6. Nitin Gadkari
President, Bharatiya Janata Party
11, Ashoka Road,
New Delhi - 110001
Tel: 011-23005700
Fax: 011-23005787
www.nitingadkari.org, email: nitingadkari@email.com

BJP is the main opposition party and sympathetic to Hinduism. This guy is big on building flyovers and expressways, though. But, "He organized the great plantation drive in Nagpur which planted 40 lakh trees in 2 years. He aimed to make Nagpur the Greenest City in India."

8. Loka sabha deputy for Mathura (Uttar Pradesh 17)
Jayant Chaudhary - Rashtriya Lok Dal (LSE)
Address: 244/2 SHIVAJI ROAD, MEERUT, UP
Grandson of Charan Singh, son of Ajit Chaudhary. Looks like good people.

9. Shri Satish Chandra Mishra
All India General Secretary BSP
17/6,Windsor Place,
Behind Yojana Bhavan
Lucknow – 226 001
Also web contact: http://bspindia.org/contact-us.php

10. Environment Minister (This is probably not relevant)
Shri A. Raja,
Union Minister,
Ministry of Environment and Forests,
Rm # 424, Paryavaran Bhavan, C.G.O.Complex,
Lodhi Road Institutional Area,
New Delhi
+91-11-24361748; +91-11-24361727

11. Dr. R K Singh
Vice-Chairman
Mathura Vrindavan Development Authority
Rajiv Bhavan
A-32 Civil Lines
Mathura, UP 281 001
0565-2401090, 247068701
Email: vcmvda@rediffmail.com, mvda@mvdamathura.com
http://www.mvdamathura.com/contact-us/index.htm

12. Sri Dinesh Chandra Shukla
District Magistrate
Civil Lines
Mathura

(0565) 2404152 2403200 2404613




More later. If Chandan Maharaj wants to specify which addresses are the most important, that would be helpful. If you have the time, send to all. Send many.

Let's have Letter Writing Parties. Devotees can get together, bring their laptops. Make sure they have a printer. Sit together, have a kirtan, read some inspiring passages from Prabodhananda's Vrindavana-mahimamritam, and then start writing, printing, signing, stuffing envelopes, sticking stamps.

Meanwhile, you can take turns cutting and pasting your texts into emails and send them off.

Then do nagar kirtan to the mailbox!! Take prasadam and go to bed and sleep peacefully with dreams of Radha and Krishna in the divine bower!! With no cars flying over!

smara nibhrita nikunje radhika-krishna-chandrau!!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Advice to Self, Activist

Lessons learned so far:

If you are going to lead, you need a tremendous amount of tolerance for all kinds of personalities, those with strong or dogmatically held opinions, those who have just plain bad faith--and those are just your friends.

Always discuss the issue with the attitude that everyone is seeking the greatest good for the greatest number. Even if someone is obviously seeking some personal benefit, keep the language idealistic as far as possible. Always appeal to the highest nature.

You need to be focused and optimistic. All the time. You need a strong center, and if that strong center is spiritual faith, that will help just that much more.

You need to focus on the issue you are fighting, while recognizing what is practically attainable. If you don't do the first, everyone will try to turn the issue into some subset of their own little pet peeve. If you don't do the latter, you will end up isolated and unable to achieve anything. Or you may win a small battle and lose the war.

You need to be ready to continue even if defeat is inevitable. The forces of selfish interest are generally more concentrated, those of selfless community interest more dispersed and harder to galvanize into action. Entropy, lethargy and indifference are powerful forces to overcome. Rajas can sweep over tamas before sattva even wakes up.

Remember that there is something ineffable about the creation and cementing of community in idealistic action, which has value far beyond the issue of the day, and will pay dividends in the long term. Never confine your vision to the immediate issue.

An Appeal to Vaishnava Leaders Around the World

The Yamuna Vrindavan Heritage Foundation has been set up in Vrindavan with Padmanabha Goswami and K.P.S. Gill as its principal officers. The constitution is in the course of being written and a website is being set up.

The first task of the Foundation is to mobilize efforts to stop the Keshi Ghat Flyover, but it is an attempt to rally all the various organizations in Vrindavan behind the concept that Vrindavan and the Yamuna are heritage sites that need special protection. There have been some very encouraging developments lately which we will hopefully be able to report soon.

The website will contain a discussion board, plenty of background information, official petitions and links to related petitions and other organizations doing similar or related work.

An important upcoming event is preoccupying the leaders of the YVHF and that is the Supreme Court hearing on January 10. More information about that will be posted soon, but Sri Chandan Goswamiji already made a report about this
earlier. The main purpose of the hearing is to decide whether the moratorium on construction will be upheld.

Now this is very short notice, but Chandan Maharaj proposed a goal of 100,000 signatures before the Supreme Court hearing. Let me remind everyone that when the Friends of Vrindavan protested the paving of the Parikrama Marg in 1998, they collected 10,000 signatures on their petition, mostly local, and it had no effect whatsoever.

That does not mean the effort is hopeless. It just means that we have to try harder.

I have thought about this, and though I am encouraged by the participation on this page and the response that we have had to the online petitions and so on, we have clearly only just begun. The only way I see us achieving the goal of 100,000 signatures is if the big international Vaishnava samsthas participate.

ISKCON and H.H.Srila Narayan Maharaj have large followings around the world. H.H. Indradyumna Swami and H.H. Govinda Maharaj in particular have many dedicated followers in the former Eastern Block. But all of Iskcon's stalwart preachers have made their mark in their own specific territory.

And now the Ritvik movement is also accumulating strength and numbers in various part of the globe, most notably Bangalore.

H.H. Paramadvaita Maharaj has a large following in South America and Europe. H.H. Srila B.S. Govinda Maharaj has many disciples around the world, especially in Russia.

There are also many disciples of H.H. B.V. Puri Maharaj, H.H. B.B. Tirtha Maharaj, H.H. B.B. Bodhayan Maharaj, H.H. Tripurari Maharaj, H.H. Nrisingha Maharaj, etc.

As Devakinandan Das says, "With grass between my teeth, I bow down to all these Vaishnavas, to all those who have been or will be servants of the Lord."

If these influential individuals and their organizations throw their weight behind this effort, simply by telling their disciples of its importance, I am sure that 100,000 signatures could easily be collected and thousands of letters would flood the offices of the government officials.

If those organizations gave official support to this protest and sent out their disciples and well-wishers on a one-day marathon for signature collecting, they could surpass these goals with ease.

Even if they simply asked everyone at their Sunday feasts or satsanga programs to sign such a petition, it would no doubt immediately number in the five figures.

H.H. Paramadvaiti Maharaj is already more closely involved with the YVHF. He was present at the demonstration on Dec. 25. I must say that I appreciate Paramadvaiti Maharaj as one of the most non-sectarian liberal and constructive Vaishnavas in the entire Gaudiya Math. He has worked hard and long for a unity in the Vaishnava world through the WVA-VVRS movement. His VINA website was one of the first to post news about this issue and raise awareness about it around the world.

I have seen a letter from H.H. Bhakti Charu Maharaj of Iskcon in which he shares his concern about these developments in Vrindavan. His Grace Deena Bandhu Dasji and Her Grace Nirguna Dasi at MVT and several other longstanding Vrindavan Iskcon devotees and Prabhupada disciples have all responded with shock and dismay at these events and expressed their desire to help.

Several of the hardest-working and dedicated people helping Sri Chandan Goswami prepare the Supreme Court deposition are from Srila Narayan Maharaj's sangha.

I mention these groups primarily, but the traditional paramparas and parivaras are also extending their presence and building followings around the world, and I do not exclude them or minimize their importance, for the Goswamis of Sri Sri Radha Raman are taking the lead here, so I offer them my special obeisances. Goswamis of the Nityananda Vamsa, the Vallabha sampradaya, and so many others are now preaching Hari-katha from one end of the globe to the other.


But there are now worldwide movements of the Nimbarka Sampradaya with Goloka Dham, Kripaluji, Barsana Dham in Houston and so on and so on. Please forgive me for not mentioning them all.

All this preaching has increased the attraction of Vrindavan to people from every corner of the planet. But this has not just had the positive effect of making more Vaishnavas, it has also resulted in so much pressure on Vrindavan's infrastructure that it has made this project necessary in the eyes of the government. Since we have all helped contribute to the problem, we must now participate in finding solutions. That begins with stopping the bridge, by making the government officials aware that any solution must be based on an awareness of the sacred character of Braj.

This effort has already brought together Vaishnavas from so many different groups, showing that we all have a deeply held common interest. Despite the differences of approach, Radha, Krishna, the bhaktas and Vrindavan, are our
prana-dhana, our life and soul. Vrindavana ramya sthan, divya chintamani dham...

At this point, we can no longer afford slow, gradual action. We must mobilize as quickly as possible, and for this we need as much top-down direction as possible. If the leaders of these worldwide organizations could organize some kind of official signature and letter writing campaign, we could guarantee making a significant impact.

Please do not make any political calculations. Despite the encouraging signs made by those already mentioned above, others, even those who have worked in Vrindavan environmental issues for decades, have withheld their unconditional support due to personal or longstanding differences with others who are involved, suspicion of others' motivations, the desire to lead or get credit, or sectarian concerns, etc.

But when the problem becomes as acute as this one, there are no more strange bedfellows, my friends. Let us put all these trivial considerations aside and respond to this call for action, which--make no mistake--is coming from Yamuna Devi herself, from Vrinda Devi herself, from our Prana Thakurani herself.

So I ask all of you. If you are already a leader, put aside your misgivings and throw your weight behind this endeavor by holding signature collecting marathons and letter writing parties.

If you are not a leader, please solicit your leaders and beg them to order all disciples and well-wishers to support this campaign.

Humbly, praying at your lotus feet, I make the above submission.

Jai Radhe!!

New Year's Message


Dear Friends, Radhe Radhe !

This New Year is a time of mixed feelings for me and many other devotees.

Along with the usual hopes that come with every new beginning, there is a sentiment that our beloved Vrindavan Dham is in serious trouble.

Many people in this great land of India have bad memories of a colonial past and fears of a neo-colonial future. They also have tremendous hopes for a technological and economic awakening. They want India to take its rightful place as a global leader and political powerhouse on the world stage.

All these things are natural, and indeed, since most devotees love India in a special way, loving her because she has contributed to their own spiritual awakening, they sympathize with all these ambitions.

Indeed, our great hope is that India, empowered by her unique spiritual heritage, would be a leader in the very things that we cherish most dearly: peace, non-violence, the harmony of humanity and nature, and a human society that is centered on the values of simple living and elevated spirituality.

Many Indians share the sentiment that the Western countries have exploited the resources of the world for so long, taking more than their fair share, and that now it is their turn to do so. They resent it when people from the West, however well meaning, try to push their values on them. Indeed, they may use the proverb, "There is no more pious woman than an old prostitute" to describe us.

I remember one suspicious person telling me so many years ago, "The British first came here in the name of trade and commerce, and ended up creating an empire. Now you are all coming in the guise of yogis and devotees, but your goal is the same!"

All these persons fail to understand the sentiments that so many of us have towards India and its holy places. Most of all, why should India suffer by making the same mistakes that our countries have made?

The mad rush for development is all based on a materialistic and purely consumerist concept of human happiness. This is a huge error in the way that we approach the meaning of human life.

There is nothing wrong when we, who have been awakened by the great spiritual leaders of India--the Buddha, Krishna, Shankaracharya, Chaitanya and so many others--hold up the mirror of their teachings to their countrymen, who are now desecrating their holy land in the name of progress. These are not our values; they are yours!

Surely there is a way of transmitting this message humbly and sympathetically, but it must be done. It is not just India that is in danger, but the whole world. Surely India can find ways of developing that give the proper value to its own heritage. Surely India can find ways of leading instead of merely copying blindly!

Let us all participate in this campaign to save Keshi Ghat from this unsightly bridge. But more than that, let us make the different levels of government in India aware of our sentiments. Let them know with perfectly clarity that this is no longer a local issue that only affects a few medieval pietists, but one that concerns the whole world.

In fact, Vrindavan is a world heritage site, whether it has been officially so declared or not. That is what we must show them. Vrindavan no longer belongs to India alone. India is merely the guardian of a treasure that belongs to the world. The people of India must think of polishing that treasure, so that its inner light shines on the world, not covering it in a rubbish heap of senseless development.

Don't hide the unique qualities of this land in the wrapping of the global consumer culture.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with us requesting them to do so. Indeed, to not do so is an error of judgment.

Please join the letter writing campaigns. Please sign the petitions. Please make our voice heard.

Jai Radhe.

The Big Picture of the Keshi Ghat Flyover


Shyam Das kindly posted maps of Vrindavan which make it possible to better visualize the big picture. On the map, the bridge roughly from the numbers 10 to 17 along the top right hand side.

Here is the story: There is a new superhighway being built from Noida just east of Delhi all the way to Agra. This highway is being built with great haste as a part of the 2010 Commonwealth Games preparations. The Taj Expressway or the Yamuna Expressway. It runs along the south bank of the Yamuna. That may be a bit confusing when looking at this map because the Yamuna is always curving. It's general direction, however, is flowing southeast.

Now what they have done is to build a bridge across the Yamuna near where the N on the directional arrow is pointing. This bridge is part of an access road that joins the new highway to Vrindavan.

What the planners decided was that the Parikrama Marg would make a perfect continuation of this access to the town itself, but it did not solve the problem of congestion in the town itself by the influx of outside traffic. They have already built a new major road and flyover across the railroad tracks just to the west of the map connecting the Mathura Road to the Bhaktivedanta Marg. What they are doing, in effect, is creating a ring road that will go around the entire town, using the Parikrama Marg wholesale for that purpose. That way, traffic going to the very busy northeast corner has several points of access.

Since the highway is running basically to the south of the old town, the access point they chose was the most logical, because it is the closest. To build a bridge further along the Yamuna would mean extensive expropriations of land as well as a lot of new construction (in their wisdom they have already paved most of the Parikrama Marga and opened it to vehicular traffic).

Judging by the map, the southwestern portion of the Parikrama Marg as far as Mathura Road is probably a write-off. It cannot be saved. The access road will be built and traffic channeled to Krishna-Balaram that way. However, what is the necessity of a double access from both sides? If they really want to build something on the eastern or northern side, why not use the other side of the river? Of course, as stated above, this will also be politically difficult, since they have already had a lot of trouble (as is usually the case) with expropriations of farm land. It would also be much more expensive, as it would require quite a bit of new road to be built as well as a second bridge somewhere further along the northwest corner of the map. Since much of the farmland there is flood plain, the bridge would also have to be much longer than the current project requires.

Moreover, from the ecological point of view, new roads on that side would mean new unbridled development, which would be, in other ways, just as damaging.

The overarching idea is that during the Commonwealth Games, an influx of tourists is expected. These tourists will almost inevitably go to the tourist triangle of Jaipur-Agra-Delhi. Vrindavan is conveniently located on this axis, but has been missing out on much of the tourist traffic because of access difficulties. The MVDA sees this as a golden opportunity to suck in a few of these tourist dollars, but it requires a fast-in, fast-out. The main tourist spots are not the old temples in Vrindavan town. Not even the architectural heritage sites like Keshi Ghat, but Krishna-Balaram, Kripaluji's huge temple and things like Pagal Baba's temple, all of which are near to this route. Other sights like Keshi Ghat or Madan Mohan can be looked at from the bus or car window.

People may even stop for a moment as they go by and snap a picture of Keshi Ghat from the bridge and paste it on their facebook page. Dollars are king. The peasant bhaktas bathing in the polluted waters below, if there are any left, will merely be exotic color for their photo albums.

The only light I see in this tunnel is that the absolute necessity of building the bridge right now, etc., before 2010. It will be a little more troublesome, but the new flyover to the west of the town means that there is access to that sector. So perhaps they will agree to a revision of the project.

Everything stated above is my own opinion and no one else's and is based on my best understanding of the current situation.