Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bhava-rasa in RRSN 147 (continued)

Now HLV gives a short analysis of this verse, in particular looking at the meaning of the word tāratamya, listing a number of items that have been analyzed in the Radha-vallabhi doctrine in the comparative or graded approach.
  • With regard to Radha and Krishna, the mutual distinction of who is object and who is subject (rati-viṣayāśraya-bheda) and thus who is the attached (āsakta) and who is the object of attachment (āsajya). This latter is a favored terminology of HLV and used throughout his commentary. Though Radha and Krishna are mutually object and subject, in the end HLV stresses the superiority of seeing Krishna as the lover of Radha and Radha as the object of his love. At
  • In the sakhis, there is a gradation of independence and dependence depending on the distinctions between rasa and bhāva.
  • Where Vrindavan is concerned, in the matter of the Braj and the nikuñja, and so on, there is a gradation of externality and internal, i.e., degrees of confidentiality and intimacy of the pastimes.
So in Prabodhananda's verse, "may my mind seize these distinctions, and only then will it become a unique or supreme source of astonishment." The word anya here should be taken to mean "different from the customary understanding of rasa." Therefore those full of passion and feeling, who have a taste for poetry and literature (bhāvuka), whose eyes and hearts have been moistened by this flavor (rasa) alone will be the worshipers on this path of devotion, and not others. Completely forgeting the four kinds of dependent awareness – on public opinion, scriptural injunction, family requirements and saintly custom, they are established in the bhajana of the intimate (rahaḥ) understanding of Radha and Krishna as rasa and bhāva respectively. The conclusion (sva-mārga-siddhānta) is that this way of devotion is incomprehensible to ordinary people or devotees.

The word vraja-maṇi illuminates the complete relationship of Vrishabhanu and Nanda Maharaj, because the dasi is given by the father of the bride and so she naturally has rasa for her mistress and bhava for the husband of her mistress.

Moreover, it is said that love for gods, kings and so on (devādi-viṣaya-ratiḥ) is called bhāva. This means that where love has as its object a person who is distant or unobtainable, that is called bhāva. This is because the love is one-sided and not reciprocated. Rasa arises when love is mutual (ubhayor mithaḥ prītau raso bhavati).

Moreover, rasa is at first indifferent to the object that is being relished. Then, according to the difference of its containers, it takes on the specific characteristics of vatsalya and so on. In this instance, the sadhaka's mood is that of laughter and friendship, which means that she lovingly thinks of Radha as her swamini or as her friend, Radhe accepts her as an intimate friend and so there is a mutual relationship of friendship and service. As a by-product of that love, she also has love for Krishna. Nevertheless, the object of her love is always the rasa of service to Radha. She serves Krishna, the dearmost of her swamini out of a desire to please her, but her principal sense of belonging is invested in Radha. So the means to the end is service to her beloved; it is not the end in itself. This was previously discussed in connection with the verse:

yad govinda-kathā-sudhā-rasa-hrade ceto mayā jṛmbhitaṁ
yad vā tad-guṇa-kīrtanārcana-vibhūṣādyair dinaṁ prāpitam |
yad yat prītir akāri tat-priya-janeṣv ātyantikī tena me
gopendrātmaja-jīvana-praṇayinī śrī-rādhikā tuṣyatu ||
I pray that Sri Radha, who loves the son of Nanda more than life itself may be pleased with my mentality, which grew and expanded in the nectar lake of descriptions of Govinda, or the days that I passed engaged in singing his virtues and engaging in the other angas of devotion like puja, and all the feelings of deep affection and love that I felt for his devotees. (RRSN 115).
So, since this feeling is secondary, it is a bhāva, not rasa.

The position of a person who worships Radha, though in this way inexperienced in the ways of the society, etc., is not understood by ordinary people who have no experience of such a thing. Only some rare souls have an idea of the external behavior, so what can they understand of the inner emotions. Even the avataras act like conventional human beings are are hard to understand, so what of the ways of their inner mind.

evaṁ līlā-nara -vapur nṛ-lokam anuśīlayan |
reme go-gopa-gopīnāṁ ramayan rūpa-vāk-kṛtaiḥ ||
Thus the Lord, appearing like a human being to perform his pastimes, following the ways of men, enjoying himself and bringing pleasure to the cows, cowherds and milkmaid with his beauty, words and actions. (10.23.36)
Or the word sthiti "situation" can mean their conviction with relation to their sthāyi bhāva. This is also beyond the ability of common people to understand. In other words, if they had the chance to meet Krishna in private and received his mercy, then they would not be able to maintain their determination to maintain the sakhi-bhāva for Radha. Evidence for this is in the munis and Shrutis, etc., who became gopis. Therefore this unwavering certainty in sakhi-bhava is not understood by others.

This has been stated elsewhere in RRSN:

yadi snehād rādhe diśasi rati-lāmpaṭya-padavīṁ
gataṁ me sva-preṣṭhaṁ tad api mama niṣṭhāṁ śṛṇu yathā |
kaṭākṣair āloke smita-sahacarair jāta-pulakaṁ
samāśliṣyāmy uccair atha ca rasaye tvat-pada-rasam ||

O Radha, if out of affectionate you direct me to be with your beloved when he is acting up to his untrammeled playboy ways, then listen to me and let me tell me of my determination. I will look at him with smiling sidelong glances and I will tightly embrace him, causing his hairs to stand up on end. But despite this, I will be taking pleasure in serving your lotus feet. (RRSN 87)
Furthermore there is another similar verse,

nija-prāṇeśvaryā yad api dayanīyeyam iti māṁ
muhuś cumbaty āliṅgati surata-mādhvyā madayati |
vicitrāṁ sneha-rddhiṁ racayati tathāpy adbhuta-gates
tavaiva śrī-rādhe pada-rasa-vilāse mama manaḥ ||
Even though Krishna again and again kisses me, embraces me and maddens me with the nectar of amorous pleasures, and behaves in a wonderfully rich and affectionate manner, all because I am your object of mercy and you are the queen of his life, O Radhe my mind will always remain fixed in the taste of service to your feet alone. (RRSN 55)
And so it is said here that this is "in secret" (rahasye).

What is more, for them such a certainty of attitude is difficult to maintain in front of Krishna, who is the enchanter with beauty greater than that of a million Cupids because they do not have that power of service to Radha.

The word api here should be read in conjunction with na.

api sambhāvanā-praśna-śaṅkā-garhā-samuccaye |
tathā yukta-padārthe ca kāmācāra-kriyāsu ca ||

According to the Viśva-koṣa the word api is used in the sense of possibility, questioning, doubt, accusation, as a conjunction, appropriate object or in wanton activities. In this case, however, it should be taken to mean an appropriate object (yukta-padārtha). In other words, it is quite appropriate that such sentiments should be outside the purview of the common folk.


The important point that should be taken from this is that unreciprocated love, or love that cannot be reciprocated, remains on the level of a bhāva, more specifically a sañcārī-bhāva and not a sthāyi as such. An understanding of this point seems relevant to the understanding of bhāvollāsā, also.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Prabhavishnu Swami's fall from sannyasa

Prabhavishnu Swami, a leading ISKCON sannyasi and guru, 60 years old, was recently caught in flagrante delicto with a woman, apparently a non-devotee, in Bangkok. Another tiresome episode that has ISKCON's critics jumping up and down with indignation, and many disciples crying in pain and disbelief.

Where are the pure devotees? They cry. All the gurus are false, they scream. ISKCON is full of fakers and misleaders, they say. Prabhavishnu himself has given a litany of excuses -- overwork, too much travel, etc. But they refuse to put their finger on the obvious.

Neither the ISKCON leadership nor their critics in the Prabhupadanuga camp have identified the real flaw, which is the sannyasa institution itself.

Sannyasa, like brahmacharya, is something of a cult trick. It is a leftover from the Mayavada influence on India that rejects the world, and therefore sees woman and sexuality as false. An organization like ISKCON demands uncompromising and absolute fidelity to the cause, and that absolute commitment is expressed in celibacy.

When a sannyasi "falls down," the institution's principal objective is to get the experienced, committed and selfless servant back into the groove -- making money and money-makers for the cause. This, it is argued, is correct because the good they do outweighs the bad.

Those in opposition to the current institution want to hold the so-called gurus and sannyasis to their standard of absolute celibacy because that is their only sure-fire externally verifiable measuring stick for determining who is a "pure devotee."

We say it is not a genuine measuring stick, but an artificial one that has been established for purely institutional reasons. Indeed, the whole institutional ethos is opposed to prema, because it makes dedication to the institution, an inherently impersonal entity, more important than personal relations. Dedication to the institution is seen as the path to perfection, but because it is an impersonal entity, that dedication ultimately cannot take one to the goal of prema.

Sannyasa serves an institutional purpose in the name of a transcendent ideal, but it is artificial. It therefore has only three possible outcomes -- falldown, isolation or hypocrisy, which is really a combination of the other two. As an institution deterioriates, hypocrisy becomes the norm and it is aided and abetted by other privileged leaders who are profiting personally from the status quo, and in all likelihood are counting the days until their own hypocrisy is exposed. One should not underestimate  a large, wealthy spiritual institution's capacity for hypocrisy.

And therefore, the verse Prabhupada loved to quote to show that the achievements of Mayavada are only temporary applies here too:

ye’nye’ravindākṣa vimukta-māninas
tvayy asta-bhāvād aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ |
āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ
patanty adho’nādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ ||

O Lotus-eyed One! Those others who falsely think themselves are liberated, who have no love for you, and whose intelligence is [thus] impure, may rise to the highest realms
through intense austerities, but [eventually, inevitably] they fall down again due to ignoring your feet. [10.2.32]
This verse means that even those who are engaged in spiritual practices and tapasya, whether they claim to worship a personal God or an impersonal God, if they have not attained prema, who do not attain rasa, find that all their relationships eventually deteriorate into impersonal I-It relations. Even the much touted personal relation with God turns into an I-It relationship. Because the God that exists in the temple or even in the mind is just a mental construct. Their sannyasa is simply a show for prolonging the self-deception of spiritual advancement.

Only in madhura-rasa sādhana can one truly come to a cultivation of I-Thou, which produces love that is then expanded outwards into the rest of one's life.

Prabhavishnu couldn't bear life without prema and so he sought solace in female companionship, which of course he mistook for sex desire. Unfortunately, it does not seem that the woman has a background in devotion, which means that this too is most likely to be short lived. I assume that he and his companion will tire of each other soon, he will come crawling back to ISKCON, receive his forgiveness and, once again, before long, be sitting on the vyasasana, glorifying pure devotional service. But he will not be any closer to prema, I fear, and the root causes of the problem -- in him and in ISKCON -- will remain.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bhava-rasa in RRSN 147

Harilal Vyasa (HLV) has given a lengthy 157 verse introduction to his commentary in which he points out his principal intentions in his work. In it, he cites verse 146 (147 in the Gaudiya edition) as a case of rasa-bhāva-vivecanam, and the point he makes there is the following:

rasopasarjanī-bhūto bhāvo mukhyo rasaḥ smṛtaḥ |
bhāvaḥ śyāme raso gaure yasya sādhāraṇo na saḥ |
[Since] bhāva is that which produces the rasa, rasa is therefore the more prominent [of the two]. One whose bhāva is in Shyam and rasa in Radha is not common. (103-104)
This is meant to be a quick summary of HLV's understanding of the verse and a highlighting of its importance. Now let's look at the verse itself in a little more detail:

na jānīte lokaṁ na ca nigama-jātaṁ kula-paraṁ-
parāṁ vā no jānāty ahaha na satāṁ cāpi caritam |
rasaṁ rādhāyām ābhajati kila bhāvaṁ vraja-maṇau
rahasy etad yasya sthitir api na sādhāraṇa-gatiḥ ||
One who does not know the ways of the world, nor the scriptures, nor the family traditions, nor even the behavior of the saintly, if [in his heart] he reveres (ābhajati) the rasa [as being] in Radha, and the bhāva in Krishna (vraja-maṇi), then his unique and secret status is not one that is accessible to common folk.
There are several ways of translating this verse and I am trying to be as literal as possible, even accepting that different nuances are possible. I have noted here that Ananta Das has two different possible versions and the Harilal Vyas edition, which has an extensive Hindi commentary along with and independent of the Sanskrit, mentions yet another from a commentary by Kripalal Goswami (KG), which is the same as one of the two interpretations given by Ananta Das (AD).

The main problem centers around the word vraja-maṇi, "jewel of Vraja," which AD and KG take to mean Radha, while HLV says it means Krishna. Since both are in the locative, it might be held that they are in apposition, with Vraja-maṇi taken as an adjective modifying Radha.

The translation following Kripalal Goswami's commentary is as follows:
One who secretly pursues rasa and bhāva in the jewel of Braj, Radha, knows not the ways of the world, nor the scriptures, nor the family traditions, nor even the behavior of the saintly. Such a person's condition is not common.

Amir Chandra Goswami (ACG) examines the Kripalal interpretation but ultimately argues that even though the word maṇi is used numerous times to refer to Radha (26, 46, 50, 77, 91, 159,203), Vraja-maṇi only comes up once, in verse 97, where it clearly refers to Krishna (yā vārādhayati priyaṁ vraja-maṇiṁ). KLG thinks the verse is uniquely about Radha and that the word bhāva should be taken as an adjective (!) of rasa. There are other difficulties with HLV's interpretation, but I don't think they bear on this essential element, which is the central point of the verse, so let us look at it in more depth.

It seems rather clear to me that the author of the verse intends to make a comment on the relation of bhāva to rasa and their respective connection to Radha and Krishna. The word kila creates an effective break between the two, and so I believe that HLV has correctly assessed the author's intention. Although rasikas generally throw the word rahasya around with abandon, in this case I feel that the author is using it to point out a special insight of some importance to him. This is confirmed by the word [na] sādhāraṇa (not common), which has also been extracted in HLV's introduction. This word also has other implications, so we will look at it in more depth.

In his primary gloss, HLV first takes up the theme that one who pursues rasa and bhāva in Radha and Krishna, their destination (gati) is not that of others who abandon the regulations of dharma or even the other devotees who worship Bhagavan in some other form. This point has come up several times in RRSN, so there is no point to belabor it again here. HLV would prefer the reading rahasye yas tasya in the last line and I concur, though perhaps it does not change the meaning.

HLV first makes the point that the particular phrasing here suggests not just one who has attained a higher level of devotion, even prema, but simply is aware of this particular truth, i.e., that taste (rasa) and feeling (bhāva) should be in Radha and Krishna respectively, has attained a state (sthiti) that is extraordinary, meaning that it is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary person. So what can be said of those who have reached higher levels through sādhana, etc.?

Now HLV turns to a discussion of the meaning of the all important words rasa and bhāva. He begins by equating bhāva with bhakti, i.e. an awareness of the supreme worshipable nature of the object of devotion (sarvottama-māhātmya-jñāna-pūrvaka-pūrṇa-bhajanīyatā), citing kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayaṁ (SB 1.3.28) and the following verse from Prabodhananda Saraswati's Śataka:

dhanyo loke mumukṣur hari-bhajana-paro dhanya-dhanyas tato’sau
dhanyo yaḥ kṛṣṇa-pādāmbuja-rati-paramo rukmiṇīśa-priyo’taḥ |
yāśodeya-priyo’taḥ subala-suhṛd ato gopakāntā-priyo’taḥ
śrīmad-vṛndāvaneśvary-atirasa-vivaśārādhakaḥ sarva-mūrdhni ||
Glorious are those persons who desire to climb out of the well of material existence and attain liberation; even more glorious are those who have dedicated themselves to the service of the Lord. More elevated again are those who have become attached to Sri Krishna’s lotus feet. Those who love the husband of the Queen Rukmini are superior again to such devotees, while more praiseworthy still are those who are dear to the son of Yashoda. More glorious again are those who have made friends with Subala’s comrade. Superior to those in the mood of friendship are those who worship the Lord as the lover of the gopis. Yet standing at the head of all devotees in the creation are those who worship him whose thoughts have been washed away by the flood of sacred rapture emanating from the daughter of King Vrishabhanu, Radha, and worship her above everything else. (VM 2.34)
[This verse is interpreted in another way by Gaudiya acharyas like Kunja Bihari Dasji, who sees worship of Radha in the last line. If all the other forms and names were those of Krishna, HLV's interpretation should be seen as better, but it is debatable (gopakāntā). Anyway, this is discussed in the commentary to verse 138, and clearly the above translation reflects the sense in which the Radha-vallabhis understand it. The word atirasa here also fits in with the theme of his discussion here.]

[As another aside, the following verse from Svapnesvara's commentary to Śāṇḍilya-bhakti-sūtra, introducing the third chapter:

bhajanīyottamatvena bhakter uttamatā yataḥ |
bhakta-tad-bhāvataś cātra bhajanīyo nirūpyate ||
Since the gradations of devotion are assessed by the relative superiority of the object of devotion, this chapter describes the object of devotion through an assessment of the devotees and their moods of devotion.
This principle is also applied, it would seem, in Muktā-phala and, of course, in the works of Rupa Goswami.]

These verses thus summarize the position of the scriptures that Krishna is the supreme object of worship (paripūrṇatama). The word rasa, however, is used for "taste" (āsvādane), a taste that is the fullest sweetness and leaves one with the impression that there is no superior taste to this, inasmuch as that Krishna himself, who is known as rasa-ghana, the embodiment of rasa himself, is given the joy of taste by her.

Krishna and Radha are therefore stated here to be, respectively, the supreme objects (viṣaya) of rasa and bhāva in the heart of the sādhaka. In fact, it can be said that the Divine Couple is both, as both are equal in sweetness and worshipability, but even so, some distinction is being made in this matter. Were this not the case, and rasa was in Krishna and bhāva in Radha, then the sakhī-bhāva sādhaka would feel attraction to Krishna that took on an independent character and this would then become gopī-bhāva. [For this distinction, you will have to rummage through old blogs here.]

Similarly, if one had devotion for Radha as the ultimate object of worship, then this mood would fall into the category of Śakti-vāda. Therefore, one worships Radha according to the manner of relishing the sweetness, while one's worship of Krishna is associated with a knowledge of his glory in being associated with her as her dearmost beloved.

The rasa of the sādhaka in relation to Radha is that of friendship, sakhya-rasa. As will be said here in verse 148:

na vedair brahmādyair na khalu hari-bhaktair na suhṛdā-
dibhir yad vai rādhā-madhupati-rahasyaṁ suviditam |
tayor dāsī bhütvā tad-upacita-kelī-rasam aye
durantā pratyāśā hari hari dṛśor gocarayitum ||
O Lord O Lord! I yearn to become the maidservant of the Divine Couple, Radha and Madhupati, and see with my own eyes their ever-expanding pastimes of delight, whose secrets are unknown to the Vedas, the gods, the devotees of Narayan, or even to Krishna's friends.
And again as was said in verse 139:

yātāyāta-śatena saṅgamitayor anyonya-vaktrollasac-
candrālokana-samprabhūta-bahulānaṅgāmbudhi-ksobhayoḥ |
antaḥ-kuñja-kuṭīra-talpa-gatayor divyādbhuta-krīḍayo
rādhā-mādhavayoḥ kadā nu śṛṇuyāṁ mañjīra-kāñcī-dhvanim ||
When will I hear the tinkling of anklets and bells as Sri Sri Radha-Krsna, finally meeting after a hundred comings and goings, and now splashed by waves of amorous desires, waves created by the splendid moon of gazing at each other's faces, enjoy wonderful transcendental pastimes on a bed in a forest cottage? (Internet)
In both the above verses, the erotic dalliances are those of the Divine Couple, but the rasa worship comes from the qualification to relish their ecstasy through directly witnessing it. (tad-ānanda-darśanāsvādādhikāritvena rasa-bhajanam)

This was also stated clearly in verse 138--

rādhā-keli-nikuñja-vīthiṣu caran rādhābhidhām uccaran
rādhāyā anurūpam eva paramaṁ dharmaṁ rasenācaran |
rādhāyāś caraṇāmbujaṁ paricaran nānopacārair mudā
karhi syāṁ śruti-śekharopari carann āścarya-caryāṁ caran ||
When will I walk on the pathways through the bowers where Radha plays, uttering Radha's names, following with sweetness and relish the supreme duty of devotion to Radha exclusively, joyfully serving Radha's lotus feet with all the various accoutrements? When, rising above even the teachings of the Veda and Vedanta, will I conduct myself in this most wondrous of ways?
In the above verse, the word rasena indicates that devotion (paramaṁ dharmaṁ to Radha is to be done with sweetness and relish, and not in consciousness of her glories and greatness.

Moreover, such an awareness of greatness is dependent on scriptures, while rasa is entirely based in the transports of one's own heart.

On the other hand, one can look at rasa and bhāva from the point of view of the rasa scriptures. In the Alankāra-kaustubha it is said citta-drava sthāyī bhāvaḥ premākhyaḥ prathamo rasaḥ , "The first rasa is called prema, which has the melted heart as its sthāyī bhāvaḥ."

[This is not an exact quote from AK, the first half is found in 5.11 in connection with prema-rasa, an innovation of Kavi Karnapura's that never caught on. Here HLV says that this is simply a synonym for sṛṅgāra. To get to the bottom of this would require a thorough analysis of Alaṅkāra-kaustubha. Of course, for me, it is interesting that HLV even knows of Kavi Karnapura. Even though the quote is apparently inaccurate, he quotes the verse 5.11, of which this is the vṛtti, in the commentary to verse 149.]

Also, [from Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.3.2, 1.4.1]—

premṇaś ca prathamāvasthā bhāva ity abhidhīyate
bhāvaḥ sa eva sāndrātmā budhaiḥ premā nigadyate
The first stage of prema is called bhāva. When bhāva becomes very intense, that is called prema by the wise.
And Bharata Muni says [not found in Nāṭya-śāstra. I think this is Mammaṭa.]

bhāvā evābhisampannāḥ prayānti rasa-rūpatām |
ratir devādi-viṣayā bhāva ity abhidhīyate ||
When bhāvas become greatly enriched, they take on the form of rasa. Affection or love for God is called a bhāva.
[This is a huge topic in itself which is at the heart of whether bhakti is a rasa or not. I don't think that we could do justice to it here, especially as that is not directly the topic. Most later theorists make the distinction between the kind of devotion that is exhibited to distant and formless deities as compared to those in human form engaged in human pastimes. For instance, in Bhakti-rasāyana

ratir devādi-viṣayā vyabhicārī tathorjitaḥ |
bhāvaḥ prokto raso neti yad uktaṁ rasa-kovidaiḥ ||
devāntareṣu jīvatvāt parānanda-prakāśanāt |
tad yojyaṁ paramānanda-rūpe na paramātmani ||
The argument made by the theoreticians that love for gods (gurus, sages, etc.) and such is to be considered a subordinate or transitory emotion and not capable of becoming a rasa is applicable to other gods who are jiva souls and not to the Supreme Soul, who is the very form of supreme bliss. (2.74-75)]
But prakṛtam anusarāmaḥ, let us return to HLV's argument. He says that in this verse bhāva does not mean that Krishna is being looked at as God, but only as the object of service. Were it otherwise, there would be a destructive effect on the rasa. [Aiśvarya interferes with the experieince of rasa; this is why feelings for the gods are considered bhāvas.] Moreover, as bhāvas are necessary in the development of rasa, so because Krishna is necessary as an accompaniment for rasa, the sakhī-bhāva upāsaka has bhāva for him (rasodbodhako bhāvaḥ. rasa-sahacaratvena kṛṣṇe bhāvam).

Here HLV refers back to verse 141, particularly the last line:

rādhā-nāma-sudhā-rasaṁ rasayituṁ jihvāstu me vihvalā
pādau tat-pada-kāṅkitāsu caratāṁ vṛndāṭavī-vīthiṣu |
tat-karmaiva karaḥ karotu hṛdayaṁ tasyāḥ padaṁ dhyāyatāṁ
tad-bhāvotsavataḥ paraṁ bhavatu me tat-prāṇa-nāthe ratiḥ ||
May my tongue become helpless
as it relishes the taste of the nectar of Radha’s name;
may my feet wander over the paths of Vrinda’s forest,
which are marked with her footprints;
may my hands be engaged in her work
and my heart in meditating on her feet --
O that I may become absorbed in her festive mood (tad-bhāvotsavataḥ)
and thus have love (rati) for the Lord of her life.
[Now we would really have to look at what is said there, because the word bhāva here is used in relation to Radha, and rati in relation to Krishna. Rati, of course, is a synonym for bhāva in the texts on rasa, including BRS, so there is no problem there. Moreover, the bhāva spoken of here is Radha's mood. The sakhi is praying for identification with Radha. Her love for Krishna is based in Radha's love for him.

In the commentary to verse 141, HLV discusses some of the same points as here and has also given a reference to this verse. He there says that the purpose of the last line is, again, to illustrate that Krishna is not being worshiped or adored separately from Radha, but only because of his relation to her. In both places, HLV quotes his own "terminological" (paribhāṣā) introduction, where he defined his terms and set the basic ground rules of his interpretation of RRSN, as given at the top of this article. (rasopasarjanī-bhūto bhāvo...): Bhāva is necessary for rasa, but rasa is preeminent.

HLV says the rasa is the erotic (śṛṅgāraḥ), and that the erotic mood exists mutually in the Divine Couple. The maidservants of Radha experience a kind of sakhya-rasa that is a combination of witnessing Radha and Krishna's śṛṅgāra, serving the Divine Couple, and experiencing ecstatic joy as a result. The experience of rasa comes from the symptom of complete loss of any other awareness other than of Radha (vigalita-vedyāntara, as found in the Sāhitya-darpaṇa definition, 3.2, vedyāntara-sparśa-śūnya). Moreover, the rasa that is based on a fundamental mood of service and friendship to Radha is the fullest manifestation of their minds' independence and possessiveness, whereas bhāva is dependent on rasa.

Bhajana that makes this hierarchical distinction between bhāva and rasa should be conducted in private because of its great confidentiality, and not in the open. Moreover, inexperienced and argumentative types will object to someone saying that rasa is incomplete in Krishna, or that bhava is dependent on rasa. So publicly you say that Radha and Krishna are to be worshiped equally, and you don't make hierarchical distinctions between bhāva and rasa. It is for this reason that this kind of bhajana and its performer are called "uncommon."

Prabodhananda Saraswati, however, has shown in the Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta that this inequality produces the supreme rasa (14.55)

rādhā-kṛṣṇāv ihā bhagavato rūpa-sāraika-tattve
tad-dhāmasv adbhuta-raha idaṁ śrīla-vṛndāvanākhyam |
āstāṁ vārtā tv iha dhṛtavatī tāratamyaṁ mamānyā-
svādya-premotsava-rasa-camatkāriṇī syāt paraṁ dhīḥ ||
Radha and Krishna are two components of a single tattva that is the essence of the Lord's form. And amongst his abodes, the wondrous mystery is this land known as Vrindavan. So be it, but when my intelligence has grasped that there is a hierarchy [in these matters] then it becomes wondrously capable of relishing the taste of a festival of love that cannot be had by anyone else.
Well, there is still quite a bit left in this commentary, including an expanded explanation of this verse, but I am going to have to leave it here today. Radhe Shyam.

na bhāva-hīno'sti raso na bhāvo rasa-varjitaḥ |
paraspara-kṛtā siddhir anayo rasa-bhāvayoḥ ||

"There is no rasa without bhāva, and no bhāva without rasa. Each of them depends on the other for its manifestation." Quoted at SD 3.288.

Further discussion of this topic: HERE.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yeah, the nostalgia thing

Life in the age of the internet. I posted something on Facebook and had barely finished when I got a phone call from a friend in England commenting on it...

And now I am listening to Radio-Canada Espace Musique (easy listening music in French) just like I used to when working in my basement in Laval. The weather is cold enough and I have a space heater near enough to nudge me into a state of nostalgia.

It coincides with a recent concerted look at the five past years of this blog... I need to organize this material and publish a book. It is clear that people don't really take a blogger very seriously unless he is notable for other reasons. I have been thinking recently about my various projects and having to prioritize. That is really a priority... much as all the other stuff is desirable, necessary, even a moral imperative.

But the blog... It is not just what was written, but what was not written. I recently wrote about being a hybrid. Being a hybrid is nothing unusual; I think most people in the world are some kind of hybrid. As a matter of fact, if you are not, then you are probably not fully alive. The key is to synthesize the various aspects of your character and experience and come up with a "newer, better model" you.

I was showing a friend my father's autobiography, which I edited nearly ten years ago, and ended up talking about his life experience as well as that of my (ex) in-laws. My father was a Polish immigrant to Canada, but really he was a refugee from Communist Poland. My father-in-law was similarly an escapee from Communist Romania. Both were talented, cultured, intelligent and accomplished individuals, knew several languages, and were on the whole happy in their new country... but it was like a graft that never really took. Even so, trips to their native lands were always bittersweet, because time does not stand still and nothing stays the same. The people are gone, the places have changed.

In some ways it feels that I inherited that same "stranger in a strange land" syndrome. It is almost as though I decided to jettison any identity that connected me to this body. That perhaps made it easier to become a Krishna devotee. It wasn't hard to say "I am not a Canadian" because, in a way, it was obvious.  Lucien Bouchard was famous for saying that Canada is not a real country, but then, all countries are somewhat artificial in their construction of identity.

There is a French saying, Qui prend mari prend pays. But for me, married life was a chameleon's existence. I was very much the one who tried to bury myself in a kind of prepackaged failure, going through the motions of middle-class family life. Alienation, one of the buzz words of my adolescence, the specter that really lurks beneath all of our facile identities, was waiting to strike and indeed it did strike.

We with greater or lesser facility grow into normality, the normal paradigms of our time, language and culture. Like fish in water, it is almost impossible to really question the comfort of that identity. Only when it is challenged by the inevitable changes... the attacks of the barbarians or some other equivalent incursion... do we find ourselves in a state of discomfort. Then we become the cartoon character we mocked as teenagers, a grumbling old Mr. Wilson telling us to get off his lawn.

The kind of adaptability that comes from being established in our true identity, beyond time, language and culture. Can we escape identity? I may not be a Canadian, but Canadianness has insinuated itself into a sinewy hold on my being -- I can look at it like a objet d'art, roll it over in my hands, admire many of its virtues -- but it is not mine.

At the same time, I can look at my Indianness... can I call it any more real?

You don't escape or create identity. But I laugh at those who think that it is possible.

Anyway, I like my identity as a devotee, a Vrindavana-vasi. It feels transcendental, free to go anywhere, unassailable.

Jai Radhe.

Chips from the workshop

A bit like old days... Alone working at the computer, listening to the radio and throwing chips from the workshop at the internet... Nostalgia is a curious beast. I was going through my old blogs for the past five years. Some of the most creative moments came from the cavern of a troglodyte.

kālena pādaṁ labhate tathāyaṁ
tathaiva pādaṁ guru-yogataś ca |
utsāha-yogena ca pādam ṛcchec
cchāstre ṇa ca pādaṁ ca tato'bhiyāti ||

The disciple learns one-fourth from the guru, one-fourth by his own effort, one-fourth by discussion with his co-disciples, and one-fourth by the efflux of time. (Sanat-sujatiya 3.13, according to Shankara commentary)
The translation does not give the four items in the same sequence as the Sanskrit, following the commentary ascribed to Shankara. Swami Veda's translation, which is more faithful to the original:
The disciple attains a quarter in time, a quarter through association with the guru, a quarter through his own enthusiasm and diligence, and the final quarter from the sacred scriptural instruction.
Ganguli's translation: He attains the first step of (knowledge of Brahman which is) the object of Brahmacharya by aid of time; the second step, through the preceptor’s prelections; the third, by the power of understanding; and finally, the fourth, by discussion.

The student gains the first part of knowledge from association/contact (yoga) with the guru.

The second part comes by utsāha-yogena, enthusiasm or effort, that is, buddhi-viśeṣa-prādurbhāvena (Shankara), "through the awakening of a particular kind of intelligence."

The third quarter of knowledge comes just by the influence of time [sounds a bit like, "25% of success is just showing up!" or "marks for attendance!"]. Shankara says that "in the course of time, the student's intelligence matures" (kālena buddhi-paripākeṇa).

And the last part is achieved from śāstra, which is here glossed by Shankara as "through discussion with other disciples."

Shankara justifies his interpretation by juxtaposing another, unattributed verse that says pretty much just that:

ācāryāt pādam ādatte tataḥ pādaṁ śiṣyaḥ sva-medhayā |
kālena pādam ādatte pādaṁ sa-brahmacāribhiḥ ||
A disciple learns one quarter from the acharya, one quarter through his own intelligence, one quarter comes to him through the influence of time, and one quarter from his fellow students.
So it would appear that Shankara [I have my doubts about his authorship] is saying that only one quarter comes from the classroom (or in a more spiritual way of looking, through the grace of the preceptor), one-quarter from homework (svādhyāya) or the student's effort and active engagement with the material, one quarter from just sleeping on it or quiet reflectiion, and one-quarter from discussing it with friends and fellow classmates.

The following verse, however, says

jñānādayo dvādaśa yasya rūpam
anyāni cāṅgāni tathā balaṁ ca |
ācāryayoge phalatīti cāhur
brahmārtha-yogena ca brahmacaryam ||14||
(14) The twelve great vows beginning with knowledge of the Reality (See 2.19) which form his essence, the six kinds of sacrifice (See 2.25-27), the capacity to practise them—all these become fruitful only with the support of the acharya, it is said. The practice of brahmacarya culminates in the realization of identity with Brahman only by the service of the acharya.
And indeed, when we look at verse 13, it would seem to say (1) the direct presence of the teacher in the learning situation is primordial, but (2) one also needs to imbibe enthusiasm and inspiration from his leadership, (3) time also permits the acharya's grace to operate on the disciple, and (4) the acharya provides the ambience, the situation where fellow students or associates, godbrothers and sisters can be found in which the knowledge can be discussed.

So it is still guru-kripa hi kevalam.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Year's Reflections, III: Vrindavan Today and Gaudiya Grantha Mandir

As I mentioned in the previous post, I started an on-line newspaper a year and a half ago called Vrindavan Today. This post has been sitting here for more than a week, unfinished. As usual, when this happens the flow of time is producing changes, fluctuations of mood, and so does not truly represent the way I felt on January 1. On the whole, I am much less optimistic about the fate of this project.

When I started this post, I had just posted an article on Vrindavan Today about Shripad Baba. While researching that, I read something about him that was on a blog by Hindi writer Karan Singh Chauhan. I did not have time to translate any of the interesting anecdotes that he wrote. But here is one:

तो देखा आपने बाबा का प्रभाव । पैसे की क्या कमी है ? उनके इशारे पर लाखों आ जाते हैं । आप जानते ही होंगे देवराहा बाबा को । पेड़ पर जो रहते थे । बड़ी-बड़ी हस्तियां उनके दर्शन को आती थीं । पैसे की तो चाह नहीं फिर भी आने वाले बोरा भर कर रख जाते थे ।

आश्रम के चार कमरे नोटों की बोरियों से भरे रहते थे । खुला भंडारा चलता था बारह मास । बाबा तो नहीं रहे, उनके दो-तीन मूढ़ से चेले हैं । वे बाबा के इशारे पर सब काम करते हैं । बाबा ने एक बार कहा कि तीन दिन का अंतर्राष्ट्रीय सेमिनार है, कुछ बंदोबस्त करना होगा । बस चेलों ने दो लोगों के सिर नोटों की बोरी लाद भेज दी ब्रज अकादमी ।

The gist is that although Shripad Baba lived like a vairagi with not a personal penny to his name, he was surrounded by bags of money. He would simply give the sign and hundreds of thousands of rupees would come to him. There was another influential sadhu in Vrindavan, Devraha Baba, who lived in a tree. Many many rich and influential people were constantly visiting him. He did not ask for money from anyone, but they would just leave bags of money there for him and leave. There were four rooms in the ashram and each one of them was filled with gunny sacks of currency notes.

Throughout the twelve months of the year, there would be sumptious food for anyone who was hungry. Even when Devraha Baba was not in the ashram, two or three not so bright disciples would stay there. They would do whatever Shripad Baba told them to do. On one occasion Shripad Baba had a three-day international seminar at the Vraj Academy and had to make arrangements. He told Devraha Baba's disciples and they immediately came there carrying the gunny sacks of money on their heads.

So that is what happens when things get to a certain point of influence and fortune. Which is completely NOT where I am at. I have never been an organizer or activist. This sudden possession by spirits is a combination of unexpected factors and has not met with the approval of everyone who matters to me personally. As a matter of fact, it is already causing a great deal of stress in my personal relationships.

A week ago I was saying: Yes, I have all these projects and come hell or high water I am going to get them ALL done. I was even thinking no particular strategy was necessary, that the pure force of some yogic will would be sufficient to bring everything to fruition. But of course my track record is particularly horrible and one should take that into account before inflating oneself with delusions about changing the world.

I have been doing Vrindavan Today for a year and a half, Grantha Mandira for nearly ten years. I can honestly say that not a penny has come to me personally from either of these projects in all that time.

The Grantha Mandira has been used by thousands of people who have literally downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents from the site, but what to speak of sending money, they don't even help the project's principal goal, which is to improve these texts by correcting mistakes and so on. Either no one really studies the texts or no one cares. I can't believe that nobody studies them or uses them for some purpose or another, even if just for copying and pasting verses, but I can believe that no one gives a damn.

Clearly, I have not thought about this as a money-making operation. I have another purpose. But my friend tells me that blogs are inherently "not serious." No one seems to take me particularly seriously here at this blog either.

In Vrindavan Today, there is the ever-recurring article about the plight of widows in Vrindavan. And brace yourselves for more. Recurring stories we can almost write ahead of time. I have heard that Oprah Winfrey intends to film a special on the subject in January or February.

So we can expect some lovely handwringing from well-meaning Americans who will open their pocketbooks to keep the numerous institutions serving widows in Vrindavan over the next few months. And Vrindavan's reputation as the "city of widows" will be etched even deeper in stone. And like the "international basket case" Bangla Desh, Vrindavan will be known as the town that has its palm eternally stretched out for a donation.

Today on another VT post, I crossposted an article about how wonderful Vrindavan is from an ISKCON devotee. One friend has given me an earful about why I am promoting this stars-in-the-eyes vision of Vrindavan. I should be puncturing balloons not puffing them up.

The ISKCON woman writes, "One hot summer day, when I got stuck in traffic on my way home, and all around me were metal cars, asphalt, huge buildings with shining glass windows. All of this was almost melting from heat and smoke. That is when a picture came to my mind of Krishna and the cowherd boys grazing cows in the forest. I suddenly realized that Srila Prabhupada has got a point there. He actually suggests an alternative to this hellish modern city life."

Then yesterday I posted another article about Shripad Baba and the Vraja Academy, along with George Harrison's impressions of Vrindavan and Devraha Baba in 1971. How he heard "choirs of angels" at night. And yet another article I crossposted laments the changes that the writer has observed in the last few years.

So which is the real Vrindavan? Is there a real Vrindavan?

My idea was that Vrindavan Today is about ALL the Vrindavans. It is the composite picture. And the purpose of the composite picture is that (1) some people will love Vrindavan in all its facets, and (2) will do something to make Vrindavan more like the ideal image of a sacred place.

Blind love is not the best love. I guess that some people are afraid to open their eyes because then their illusions will burst. My idea is that ideals are there only so that we work to realize them. They don't come in one piece.

But in all likelihood, Vrindavan Today will be abandoned as I work on this blog and publishing its contents and message. I am coming to the conclusion that this is my life's main task. Jai Radhe.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Brief meditation on pravartaka and sadhaka stages

Understanding the relationship of the pravartaka stage to the sādhaka stage.

There is a gulf of difference between these stages, as the higher level is practically unrecognizable as part of the same path to one in the lower stage.

As one progresses and gets closer to the subsequent stage, one inevitably thinks that he is coming close to either siddhi or to self-destruction. It is a confusing state until one has completed the transformation.

That transformation is easy to misunderstand for numerous reasons, which is why it is often condemned in various ways, usually by using the sahajiyā label as a term of opprobrium. Such propaganda serves the purpose of creating a wall around the next stage.

Like most steps prior to making a leap of progress, this can be characterized as the "wall of dharma" like the one the gopis had to cross to reach Krishna in the forest of Vrindavan on the night of the Rāsa-līlā.

In the pravartaka stage, the practices of devotional service themselves become walls that hold one back by confirming the mind-set that is part of the lower level of understanding, the essence of which is to see God in the deity, or rather to see God as something separate from his presence in the human. Or to see God as "out there somewhere," a blue boy in a place called Goloka or its equivalent in other traditions, and not in the human. It is characterized by the sense of separation and distance from God and the principal attitude is that of service, especially reverential service to the guru.

When the human relationship becomes prominent, i.e., when one falls in love with the devotee sādhanā  partner and sees that partner as the primary manifestation of the Divine, then one passes into the  sādhanā stage. At this point the gains of the pravartaka stage, especially those of the rāgānugā bhakti stage, flow into another level of understanding.

The sādhaka stage is characterized by a complete reversal in the very way of seeing Radha and Krishna, not as a divine object of vaidhī devotion, but as a model of love. Dāsya-bhāva is always predominant.

Though the sādhana stage according to Rupa Goswami is divided into vaidhī and rāgānugā, we feel that some clarification is needed. The goal is to diminish the barrier that exists between Krishna and the devotee. How can this be done?

Radha and Krishna are in the state of eternal desire for each other, kāma. This is actually the desired state that is cultivated by the prema-sādhaka.

Identification becomes prominent, but not in the artificial manner of āropa. It is the natural (sahaja) identification of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa. It is the natural merging of self into the universal substratum of love, which is Radha and Krishna.

This comes about essentially through the experience itself.

I am now firmly convinced that this stage cannot be reached without going through the pravartaka stage, especially not that of  rāgānugā bhakti. The orthodox preachers of vaidhī bhakti wish that pravartaka bhaktas never even make it to that stage, because that is the stage in which madhura-rasa becomes the prominent subject for hearing and chanting.

The orthodox sampradayas practicing rāgānugā bhakti are performing a great service of preserving the rasika literature, but it is much in the way that the guardian knights kept the Holy Grail away from intruders without being able to fully experience it themselves.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 Grinds to a halt: Part II: Vrindavan

Boat on Yamuna near Keshi Ghat. Well-meaning volunteers diverted the Yamuna stream to come to the ghat, but polluted water draining into the river from town sewers still predominates.
If I had to say what the main event for me was in 2011, it was definitely the move to Vrindavan. Since the end of 2007, I have been spending most of my time at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh, which was recently named the fourth best yoga ashram in India. Life was good there and, in terms of my own spiritual practices, I was given plenty of time to study, learn, teach and write. This year, I finished editing the revised and enlarged edition of Swami Veda Bharati's Yoga-sütras. I went back in September for a month to complete the project, and there are still bits and pieces left. I am also signed on with Swami Veda to work on a couple of other books. I like Swami Veda and I like his people; I also like the ashram. But Vrindavan has been calling for a long time. Vrindavan is my home.

About two years ago I got involved with the Braj Vrindavan Heritage Alliance and not long afterwards started Vrindavan Today. Actually, when I came to India in 2005, I realized that it was almost inevitable that I would become active -- just in the simple matter of doing something about the ubiquitous garbage eyesore.

I was just reading about Sister Nivedita (1867-1912) and Swami Vivekananda from a book called Changing Gods: Rethinking Conversion in India. She was an Irish convert to Hinduism, so the author Rudolf Heredia, an Indian Catholic priest, uses her personal story of conversion to draw attention to the problems of religious and national identity.

At one point Swami Vivekananda told Nivedita, "Let me tell you frankly that I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work for India. What was wanted was not a man but a woman; a real lioness, to work for the Indians, women especially. India cannot yet produce great women, she must borrow them from other nations." Despite having said this to Nivedita, Swami Vivekananda still had to advise her at another point to transcend her sense of Western cultural superiority, even going so far as to call it "sin." (See Heredia, 208-209)

That was an interesting contradiction, but I think that it was based on the insight that you cannot accomplish anything if you approach from the vantage point of self-superiority. It is hard for a Westerner, even one such as myself, to not fall prey to this kind of attitude. Things have changed considerably in the century since Nivedita died, but the problem of cultural and religious identity is still a very real one for someone such as I, who like her has adopted India through religious conversion and yet sees very real problems in this country, both from the standpoint of cultural background as well as religious idealism.

But I am not going to apologize for it. When I left India in 1985, it was specifically to decode and reexamine the Indian/Western cultural hybrid I had become. In the intervening 25 years, I can separate a little better what is my character, what is cultural conditioning, but more importantly what is right or wrong and what needs to be done.

In other words, I recognize with gratitude how I have been caught up in a current of God's making that I cannot deny, and yet to see from within how I must respond so that I personally and the world get the most out of it. And when I say "world" I mean "my worlds", namely India and whatever part of the West I can speak to.

I don't know what this latest, tiny chapter in the intersection of East and West, which were never supposed to meet, and in some ways still don't, means. Srila Prabhupada often gave the hackneyed metaphor of India as a lame man and the West as a blind one, who somehow were to come together in blissful symbiosis. But it looks like India has itself gone blind on top of its lameness and is in need of some direction, for it has chosen to surrender obsequiously to cultural, economic and aesthetic models that are increasingly obsolete.

Anyway, what it comes down to is this: Vrindavan is my sacred place. And I will be damned if my sacred place is not treated like one. If that is my cultural prejudice, so be it. India's elites seem hell-bent on following the West in every way possible, all the way to complete spiritual and material destruction it seems. The adoption of a modern outlook is not wrong in itself, but when it takes the form of a rapacious capitalism with its attendant short-termism and short-sightedness, then the effects on my Vrindavan are intolerable.

There are many forces, including political ones, that appear to be opposed to the sacred character of the town itself and would rather exploit it for its economic potential as a place of tourism, even turn it into a kind of living museum,  than allow it to develop naturally as a place with a religious vocation and all that this entails.

The fact is that we have a rather exemplary "think globally, act locally" situation on our hands here. The destructive path of so-called progress that India has embarked on may be inevitable historically, but environmentally it is the worst of all possible choices. I just read that China is now producing 50% more greenhouse gases than the United States. Though still lagging far behind, India is solidly in third place. The main reason is the coal-fueled power plants, but surely the huge increase in automobile usage is an important factor. These developments will not just have ramifications on India's future, but on that of the entire globe. Yet, from scanning the daily newspapers the conclusion is that local concern over these issues approximates nil.

Crowds near Krishna Balaram temple on New Year's Day.

When you look at the environmental problems of Vrindavan, a microcosm in the midst of this frantic, mad rush to "progress" and become an advanced industrial power (though any illusions of grandeur India may have in being grouped with Russia, Brazil and China as a so-called "BRIC" nation should be looked at askance), it is almost enough to despair. There are many Western devotees whose faith in devotion has been completely shattered by the totally cavalier attitude that Indians have toward their surroundings. It is more than just neglect or poverty, it goes deep into the fabric of the culture itself.

I don't know what it is exactly. In the Power Point document you can access by clicking on the picture below, I suggest that caste and impersonalist philosophy are two major reasons. The former leads to a compartmentalization of actions, especially cleaning, that are considered demeaning and therefore are ignored. I have seen brahmins living in the most appalling filth while attending punctiliously to rules of personal ritual purity.

The compartmentalization of society into competing groups undermines the sense of community, with the result is that there is practically no respect for public spaces anywhere in India, what to speak of the common good. An egregious example is that thieves routinely steal parts from machinery that is meant to serve the public good, like electric transmission stations or pumps and generators in sewage treatment plants, etc. But public urination and defecation, wholesale littering and dumping, are some of its ever-present manifestations.

These are not amusing cultural eccentricities. These are deep-seated cultural flaws.

The illusionist (Mayavada) philosophy denies the reality of the world and thus makes care for the environment, aesthetics, the poor, etc., a waste of one's time. Though this may have some salutary effects for cultivating a stoical attitude to personal misery, but it also leads to indifference, and worse, in those without spiritual acument, it weakens the moral fibre.

There are few peoples in the world that are publicly so selfish, competitive or indifferent to others as Indians. Look at how they enter a train or bus, or how they drive on the roads. Vrindavan is a town crowded with pedestrians. But now that so many people have cars and motorcycles, or even tractors, it is not uncommon to see vehicles bearing down at full speed on a crowd of pilgrims from some village with klaxons blazing. Traffic jams are commonplace because no one is willing to cede to another driver, no doubt for fear of being eternally left behind by the hundreds of others who are competing for the same few centimeters of road advantage. Little wonder then that the Mathura Hindustan newspaper announced yesterday that more than 500 people had been killed in road accidents in the district in 2011. I personally suspect this figure is low.

Burgeoning population, poverty and illiteracy are no doubt big factors in the inability of India to improve its true standard of living. I honestly would not know where to begin if I did not think about what I want in my holy land. We want the Yamuna River to be clean. We want the historical and heritage temples to be well maintained and beautiful. We want the streets to be clean and well kept. We want the Yamuna view to be preserved. We would like a parikrama marg that can be walked in peace and in a meditative and devotional mood. We want a population that is respectful on even the most simple level of human interaction, respecting the public space, respecting other people's right to silence and so on. I realize I have already gone way over the realistic in this wish list, but believe me, I could add so much more to it.

So where to start? I start with the cleanliness. It seems that this is in itself the essence of it all and it attacks many of the root problems that are addressed in the above few paragraphs. This is why I have been batting around the idea for a Vrindavan Safaikrama for some time. Now it appears that the time has come to actually make a first attempt at doing it.

The purpose is to:

  1. Make a massive statement by engaging as many different institutions in voluntarily cleaning Vrindavan, with the hope of actually making a dent in the widespread, normalized state of dirt.
  2. Through the examples of spiritual, religious and political leaders to set a standard of ideal behavior.
  3. Through the dissemination of propaganda materials and public programs with the goal of changing attitudes.
  4. To petition the municipality to take responsibility for the problem and to institute a proper garbage collection and disposal system.
In order to bring this program to a reality, a tremendous amount of work will need to be done over the next two months. Currently, a few people have signed on, but basically we are still on the very ground floor. Anyone who wishes to help in whatever way they can are welcome to communicate with me here or at Vrindavan Today.

2011 Grinds to a halt: Part I: Prema Prayojana

One year is over, another begins. Happy New Year to all.

For me, it is again a time for some reflection. It has been an eventful year for me, but still not entirely satisfying, mainly because of my own limitations. What have I done this year? What have I accomplished? And where am I going and what do I hope to yet achieve? I am going to make a couple of blog posts musing on these matters, which will no doubt look like navel-gazing, but then what are blogs for?

Of course, the main, basic, fundamental point is prema. This is such a grand and cosmic goal that it sometimes gets lost in the day-to-day functioning of life, the immediate goals, but one should never forget it. And in fact, everything that I do, in one way or another, is connected to that overarching principle, prema is the prayojana. Even when it appears otherwise, that is the principle that I live by to the best of my understanding. And if one ever feels satisfied, then that merely means his hunger was not great enough.

And I am certainly not satisfied, on practically any level. And yet, being satisfied while increasingly suffering an unsatisfiable hunger and unquenchable thirst is perhaps the great paradox of bhakti. I just opened a book that quoted the Gita:

bāhya-sparśeṣv asaktātmā vindaty ātmani yat sukham
sa brahma-yoga-yuktātmā sukham akṣayyam aśnute

One who is not attached to the contact of the external sense objects but finds pleasure within is one who has been linked in yoga to Brahman; he experiences imperishable joy. (5.21)
That is Brahman; Krishna is a different matter.

I have passed into my 61st year and still I feel as though I have no legacy, that there are too many things left undone. Some may call this a kind of illusion, the exigencies of an overpowering superego or whatever. I am not going to argue all that. Dharma is dharma. You gotta do what you are impelled to do. What will repression accomplish?

So though what I am going to say in these posts is going to sound a lot like whining, oh well...

This Blog

This blog has been pretty inactive in terms of new articles over the past year. As a matter of fact, there has been a progressive decrease in the amount of new content since I first started in 2007. Compared to the other blogs I do, it is comparatively active, but there were only 36 new posts and 5 new pages.

Nevertheless, because some people appear to have linked to certain articles and because of posts related to controversial matters, there was an overall increase in the traffic. The average number of pages visited here is in the vicinity of 200 per day. But I will be honest and say that, to me, most of the good, important stuff is ignored. Feedback, which in the early days was frequent, is now next to nil. The number of people who "follow" is stuck at a mere seven...

The pages, in particular, were meant to begin giving an overview of the essence of the prema-prayojan philosophy in terms of sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana. Judging by the amount of response I get, nobody takes this aspect of my thinking very seriously yet. Clearly the content there and elsewhere on this blog will have to be published as a book so that people can see it as a comprehensive whole. Otherwise, how will they understand the momentous nature of this approach to our entire tradition and the tremendous transformative potential that it has?

But I guess that the obstacles are many. I am either not convincing or not charismatic, or simply too complicated, or not "out there" preaching enough... who knows? Maybe the fault is not with me, for as Ramananda Ray says,

nānopacāra-kṛta-pūjanam ārta-bandhoḥ
premṇaiva bhakta-hṛdayaṁ sukha-vidrutaṁ syāt |
yāvat kṣud asti jaṭhare jaraṭhā pipāsā
tāvat sukhāya bhavato nanu bhakṣya-peye ||

One may elaborately
worship the friend of the suffering
with all the richest paraphernalia,
but the devotee's heart will only melt with joy
when it is filled with love for him.

For is it not that for only as long
as the belly knows hunger and thirst
do the delicacies of food and drink
bring pleasure?
(Padyavali 13)

Well, let us not lament. Perhaps because I have allowed my energies to be scattered, as my dear one tells me, and have thus not seen the vital importance of making a mission to present the Vaishnava Sahajiya philosophy coherently, or Radha-Krishnaism, to restore the centrality of the human and human loving relationships in sadhana, without which bhakti cannot be meaningful or even a worthwhile endeavor at all. Without human loving relationships, there is no meaning to loving God; the door of faith closes and one inevitably starts looking to labha, puja and pratishtha, or to material pleasures. It is as simple as that.

The entire edifice of Gaudiya Vaishnava siddhanta, temples, literature, puja, culture, aesthetics... all come to nought.

śabda-brahmaṇi niṣṇāto na niṣṇāyāt pare yadi
śramas tasya śrama-phalo hy adhenum iva rakṣataḥ

One may learn all the shastras, but if he has not become fixed in the Absolute Truth [of prema], then the result of his efforts is just the effort itself, like maintaining a cow that does not give milk. (11.11.18)

But it is not simply that, in contrast to the orthodox error fomented by premature sannyasis, human loving relationships are an essential element on every level of sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana. It is that we see the havoc that the stifling of the desire for human intimacy wreaks on those who have come to the devotional life with great hopes for attaining the highest perfection of human life and love. This is what happens when spiritual life becomes identified almost exclusively with sexual abstinence or indifference.

The worst of it is manifest in young devotees marrying or carrying on with non-devotee partners, losing complete sight of the secrets of happiness that were confided to them as their birthright, but were locked away by the misunderstandings of their guardians; a sublime knowledge and life-practice locked behind a wall of literalism. But you also see it in the continuing crust of misogyny and misdirection that permeates the sannyas culture and the ramifications such a culture has on both the new society of devotees and the larger Indian society where its fossils are still moving and kicking.

And as to the mundane sexually obsessed West, with its pincer illusions of pornography and romantic love devoid of the sacred connection or sadhana, it has fallen into a blind hole of Mariana Trench proportions.

The sexual, my friends, is the root of everything. Religion that denies sexuality rather than engaging it is on a course to hypocrisy, irrelevance and destructiveness. The path of love is that of understanding the sacred nature of śṛṅgāra-rasa, in the image of the Divine Couple.

Well, when the time comes, I suppose, and my sense of urgency about these issues grows, I will take more and more to publicly speaking out on them. There is more to this than talk, you know, it requires guidance...

Anyway, my Other tells me this is the only important thing that I was put on earth for, and all the rest is a waste of my time and misdirection. My other activities, however important they may seem to me or anyone else, are Maya, stumbling blocks, and a lot of lollygagging. So expect 2012 to show the influence of her lobbying on me.

Me, recording some bhajans at SRSG.