Monday, April 23, 2012

Lovers, Mothers and Fathers

Just like the male guru is the new father, the female guru is the new mother. Mothers and fathers don't operate in the same way. We men are obliged to forget what motherhood is when it is time to become men. And because we are obliged to forget that vital part of our character, we do not know women. And even when we love a woman, we don't see her or recognize her.

We men dance like fools or prattle our knowledge like drunken professors, and we can't stop performing.... 

What I mean is that men are always the benighted vishaya. They always want to be the center of attention. Their mothers loved them and they think other women should too. They have no concept of what it means to be the ashraya of love. And they have to do a lot of work to overcome that wall of ignorance.

So Mahaprabhu wailed. And Krishna finally got the message. You need to understand Radharani by entering into her soul. That is what lovemaking is all about.

Sex and Bhakti Yoga (Part II)

In the conclusion to the previous article (Part I), I summarized my objectives there, which was to show that since any activity engaged in with expertise is yoga, or sādhanā, therefore there was no reason to think that sex could not be a part of that. I will continue on the same theme, and in so doing, will counter one or two of Abhaya Mudra's points.

First of all, let me remind everyone that we have, after great good fortune, attained the human form of life, which is the plavaṁ sukalpaṁ, the most suitable boat for crossing the ocean of saṁsāra. The guru will do the steering, and the Lord will blow the winds of grace. Why would you not take this opportunity to attain the experience of prema, the summum bonum of human life?

nṛ-deham ādyaṁ sulabhaṁ sudurlabhaṁ
plavaṁ sukalpaṁ guru-karṇa-dhāram|
mayānukūlena nabhasvateritaṁ
pumān bhavābdhiṁ na taret sa ātma-hā||
This human body is the original form [for it is God's own svarupa, and the human being was made in God's image]. It seems so easily obtained, yet is in fact extremely rare. It is like a boat especially designed for crossing the ocean of material existence. If one has a spiritual master to guide him like the boat’s helmsman and is given the favorable winds of my mercy, but still fails to cross over, then he is a suicide. [11.20.17]
Sexuality is a part of the human form of life, and it is the main activity of Radha and Krishna, our sambandha tattva. The revelation of Krishna and Radha as the Deity in human form, experiencing the delights of amorous love is a statement about what it means to be human.

So, if sexuality is an integral part of the human life, does it not stand to reason that it is a very important piece of the equipment we have been given for crossing the ocean of saṁsāra? Indeed, the attempt to renounce sexuality is the backward looking act of a child, like the four Kumaras who refused to become grownups.

Does it make sense that refusing to grow up would be the means to achieving the higher levels of spirituality? Is it not the adult human who is at the peak of his faculties, physical, mental and spiritual? And does that total human being not possess sexuality as one of those faculties? Why lament the loss of childhood? Actually, it is never lost -- look how Radha and Krishna remain completely innocent in the egoless world of Love.

Everything you need for spiritual life is found within your body, and since the whole psycho-physical system gets its raw energy from the genitals, you can bet that sexuality is not only useful, it is absolutely necessary to attain a higher spirituality. Radha and Krishna are the sign that sex is sacred and that it should be engaged in sacramentally and yogically.

How is it that some people think that to become spiritual they must amputate the most powerful force, that which is at the very core of our being? We may just as well ask the philosopher if he wants a lobotomy!

Well how, then?

"But how?" You ask. "Please reveal the secret, we are curious..."

The beginnings of the answer are found in the Gita and Bhagavata, as we may have guessed...

āmayo yaś ca bhūtānām jāyate yena suvrata
tad eva hy āmayaṁ dravyaṁ na punāti cikitsitam
"O good soul, does not a thing, applied therapeutically, cure a disease which was caused by that very same thing?" (1.5.33)

Everything is an emanation from the Supreme Spirit, and by His inconceivable power He can convert spirit into matter and matter into spirit. Therefore a material thing (so-called) is at once turned into a spiritual force by the great will of the Lord. The necessary condition for such a change is to employ so-called matter in the service of the spirit. That is the way to treat our material diseases and elevate ourselves to the spiritual plane where there is no misery, no lamentation and no fear. When everything is thus employed in the service of the Lord, we can experience that there is nothing except the Supreme Brahman. The Vedic mantra that “everything is Brahman” is thus realized by us. [A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's translation and purport]
It would have been nice if Srila Prabhupada had specified, "And sex too." But unfortunately, he did not give us the details of how sex can be treated therapeutically. Each sense is offered into the sacrificial fire differently. We offer our food and take prasadam, we gaze on the Deity form, chant the Holy Names, listen to Hari Katha, each sense has its own way of being engaged in this transformative action.

Though all these senses are being engaged in svarüpa-siddha bhakti activities, in order for sexuality to be transformed in this way, we must look to the mind. In fact, all the above activities are diminished if the mind is not engaged with them. So the first step in the Sahaja sādhanā, which is called the pravartaka stage, is about the culture of the mind.

You must imbue your mind, inundate your mind with the pastimes of Radha and Krishna. Radha and Krishna are about the śṛṅgāra-rasa. Since śṛṅgāra contains all the other rasas, one must become purified by an understanding of the other rasas. This is actually character formation. To be a lover, one's first task is to become a worthy human being. Only a yogi can be a lover in the true sense of the word. And only a bhakti-yogi with his mind and senses drenched in the nectar of Radha and Krishna's nitya-vihāra can extract – and bestow – the highest benefit from the love of a sādhanā partner.

brahmārpaṇaṁ brahma havir
brahmāgnau brahmaṇā hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyam
brahma-karma-samādhinā

Brahman is the offering, Brahman the oblation.
Brahman offers into the fire of Brahman.
Brahman alone will surely be attained
by one thus absorbed in Brahman action, (4.24)
So sādhanā means to connect it all with Brahman. How? First of all by seeing that every element of the sacrifice is conducted in awareness of its Brahmanhood. Here of course by Brahman we are talking about the Divine Couple Radha and Krishna. So the various elements in the act of love making are somehow identified with Radha-Krishna and their lila.

Abhaya Mudra placed great importance on the impersonal character of sex, but even love itself, as a quality, is not a person. I may identify Love as a Deity, but in fact, Love is the entire complex of rasa, including the āśraya, viṣaya, uddīpanas, anubhāvas, vyabhicārīs and sāttvikas that combine to create prema-rasa. Krishna is Rasarāja, Radha is Mahābhāva. The Brahmajyoti when experienced without the personal aspect is dry impersonalism, the Brahmajyoti when experienced as rasa, is the total experience of Prema. The total absorption in that realm of experience comes when one attains prema-samādhi.

In fact, the lila of Radha and Krishna conveys the message that men and women should be happy in love. That in love they find a vision of Them. They are present in love and love-making. It is simply a question of being conscious of Them. And if one is unfortunate enough not to recognize that, then Rupa Goswami says, “Too bad.”

prāpañcikatayā buddhyā hari-sambandhi-vastunaḥ
mumukṣubhiḥ parityāgo vairāgyaṁ phalgu kathyate
False renunciation (phalgu-vairāgya) is defined as rejecting something related to the Lord, in the interest of seeking liberation, out of the false understanding that it is material. (BRS 1.2.256)

You were unable to recognize the possibilities of the love-making act in devotional life and so you rejected it, how it is related to the Lord by mirroring the very first act of creation: “He was alone, He was unhappy. He made himself two and became man and woman locked in embrace.”

You did not recognize how you could connect to the Divine Couple through the association of an intimate devotee partner, sādhaka or sādhikā, and so you ended up withering in the desert of false renunciation.

anāsaktasya viṣayān yathārham upayuñjataḥ
nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate
Appropriate renunciation (yukta-vairāgya) is defined as the correct use of the sense objects by bringing them consistently into connection with Krishna with detachment. (BRS 1.2.255)
Moreover, since madhura-rasa is the special gift of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, it would be a shame to miss the opportunity given by all those great saints and sadhus who filled the world with songs and stories of the Divine Lovers by not availing oneself of this joyful sādhanā, which truly is a festival for the spirit.

anarpita-carīṁ cirāt karuṇayāvatīrṇaḥ kalau
samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasāṁ sva-bhakti-śriyam
hariḥ puraṭa-sundara-dyuti-kadamba-sandīpitaḥ
sadā hṛdaya-kandare sphuratu vaḥ śacī-nandanaḥ

Never at any time did the Lord bestow the treasure of devotional love, this most elevated, effulgent taste of sacred rapture. Nevertheless, out of His mercy, He has incarnated in this age of quarrel in a golden form to distribute that treasure freely to the world. May Lord Chaitanya, the son of Sachi, dwell in the cave of your heart like a lion forever. (Vidagdha-mādhava 1.7)
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to spread the yuga dharma, nāma-saṅkīrtana. And also to give Braja prema. Aren’t they one and the same thing? You may ask. In fact, the knowledge with which you chant the names dictates your experience of the name. If your names are madhura-rasa oriented, they will have one effect; if they are aiśvarya oriented, another. If one has the good fortune to be in a madhura-rasa line and is surrounded by devotees who relish that mood, then the chanting of the Holy Name will more directly lead to prema in the mood of the gopis. Otherwise, as can be seen, many become devotees of Rama or Nrisingha or Narayana or Shiva, and fail to enter into the sweet beauty of Radha Shyam.

One of the Name’s qualities is that it is sarva-bhakti-sādhana udgama, it opens the doors to all the devotional practices. So through the Name’s grace, one gets the opportunity to engage in other sādhanās that enhance one’s experience of the chanting.

No one says you have to close your mouth and ears when you make love with your sādhanā partner. As a matter of fact, in the ecstatic intimacy of the love game, the sādhakas cannot help but chant the name of Radha Shyam. The Holy Name becomes the environment in which they love, the ocean in which they bathe.

Sādhakas cannot help but remember the pastimes of Radha and Shyam. In the midst of their own union, they get a vision of the Divine Couple, the original and eternal supreme lovers present in them both, internally and externally. As a matter of fact, in their union they become non-different from the Divine Couple, or more precisely, with Radha, just as the manjaris are one with her.

The sādhikā as Guru-tattva

There are many varieties of sādhu-saṅga, but I am here to tell you that the activity of amatory sharing with the sādhaka or sādhikā is best among them all and is indeed indispensible for those doing the sādhanā of madhura-rasa.

Why? Because it associates the act of lovemaking with the Supreme. The chanting of Radhe Shyama’s sweet names becomes indelibly linked to the highest physical and psychological pleasure known to humanity. But moreover, the union of the lovers, which takes place on all levels of their being, through all the koshas, from the touching of the love-making organs through the subtle bodies as the chakras are activated, to the subtlest spiritual levels of Divine Union in love. It is the lovers' love that is offered to and touches God.

There is no greater misunderstanding than that which says the association of woman is the gateway to hell. A sādhikā is not a woman. She is Guru, she is a manifestation of Radha, the Divine Incarnation of Love. A man who does not have guru-buddhi in the sādhikā will never progress far in this sādhanā. If there is only guru-buddhi of the woman to the man, this is called samañjasā rati and is of a lower kind. It is mixed with aiśvarya-bhāva and does not lead to Braj. In madhura-rasa, there must be mutual guruship. This is why this culture is different from tantra and indeed from many traditional Sahajiya practitioners as they have evolved in Bengal.

In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, an important part of the relation of sādhaka to sādhikā is that the male must have full empathy with the female partner. This is the whole point of mañjari-bhāva. You say you want to become a mañjari, but you are terrified of women! This is one important reason that Sahaja-sādhanā is the most personal of devotional practices. It is intimacy in love; it is union with the Other, in whom the Divine Presence is felt most powerfully.

These are all elements of the expertise required for this practice.

Orgasm and its retention

The physical aspect of the practice, as so many know, is retention of the orgasm. There are many reasons for this, including the healthy development of the chakra-body, which is vital for spiritual progress. But in this sādhanā, the function is to increase the mutual giving of pleasure. This again is personal.

The flickering and fleeting pleasure of the orgasm, no matter how enhanced by drugs, physical fitness, ambience and other props, is indeed, as Abhaya Mudra described it, akin to the mystical experience of egolessness. But it is the perfect orgasm, the holy grail of the rājasika and tāmasika bhogis, that epitomizes the mundane approach to sexuality. The acharyas were right, orgasm is only for reproduction. Otherwise, sex is an exercise of the amative function of the genitals, and if engaged in as a way of serving the Other, then the orgasm will be seen a hindrance and a disturbance, a stumbling block to the enhancing of one’s partner's pleasure.

aṅga-stambhārambham uttuṅgayantaṁ
premānandaṁ dāruko nābhyanandat
kaṁsārāter vījane yena sākṣād
akṣodīyān antarāyo vyadhāyi ||62||
Daruka felt no satisfaction when the ecstasies of prema made him unable to move, for it became a huge interruption of his service of fanning the Lord. (BRS)
The meaning of service is to give pleasure to another. If orgasm interrupts that giving of pleasure, then this means that one's service was motivated. The training in withholding orgasm is about maintaining the pleasurable mutual experience of love. This is why amatory sharing is appropriately known in the English language as "making love." Love and pleasure are intimately connected. Premature ejaculation does not make much love.

This again is why this is personal and not impersonal. When there is no orgasm, there is no despair, no guilt, no post coite omnia animal triste est. With the control of the orgasm, the act of pleasure sharing goes on for as long as one wishes or as long as it can be sustained in the face of excruciating joy.

And because the focus of intimacy and shared love between two devotees is remembrance of the Divine Couple, one sees them in absolutely clear focus. And so Prabodhananda says,

nava-lalita-vayaskau nūtna-lāvaṇya-puñjau
nava-rasa-cala-cittau nūtana-prema-vṛttau |
nava-nidhuvana-līlā-kautukenātilolau
smara nibhṛta-nikuñje rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau ||
Oh my mind! Just meditate on Radha and Krishna within the hidden nikunjas. See them in the freshness of youth, the fullness of sparkling loveliness personified, their minds flickering with the desire to taste the fresh delights of Eros, every one of their acts ordained by the blossoming of their new love. They tremble with eagerness to engage in unsullied lovemaking pastimes. (Nikuñja-rahasya-stava 1)
parama-rasa-rahasyānanda-niḥsyandi-vṛndā-
vana-vipina-nikuñje divya-divyair vilāsaiḥ |
niravadhi rasamānau rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-candrau
bhaja sakalam upekṣya tāvakāḥ śāstra-yuktīḥ ||31||
Radha-Keli Chand’s most secret and divine Vrindavan nikunja keli oozes an ocean of delight. Hey bhaktas! You who relish the divine moods and flavors! Just discard other thoughts, family attachment and the Vedic strictures to perform exclusive bhajan of the Divine Couple as they relish these lovemaking pastimes! (Nikuñja-rahasya-stava 31)

Final words

Now it is necessary to remind everyone once again that we are talking about love sādhanā here. This is not a licence for lechery, though no doubt some will think it is. If one has read carefully the above, they will see that this is a sādhanā of love, of prema. It is not a sādhanā of sex. Sex simply is one of the tools, albeit a very important one, that is used. Abhaya Mudra is right: sexuality apart from Krishna is problematic. So learn how to use it.

It works best, if not uniquely, in an exclusive and committed relationship. Krishna may be the all-attractive male, but he is entirely committed to Radha and no other.

The simple prescription can be summarized as follows:
  • Become a good person and fixed in the sattva-guna. Become a lovable person, one who is capable of giving and receiving love.
  • Become Krishna conscious. Follow the process of being initiated in a disciplic line that aims at becoming fixed up in the identity of a sakhi or manjari and service to the Divine Couple in the nitya-vihāra.
  • Absorb your mind in the madhura-rasa through chanting, hearing and remembering those lilas.
  • Fall in love with a qualified devotee. Treat each other as guru and as manifestations of the Divine. Make prema-sādhanā the raison-d'etre of your relationship.
  • Learn how to restrain the orgasm. To do this, practising some aspects of yoga is helpful. Use this sādhanā to enhance your love.
  • See Radha and Krishna in the Love itself.
One final word about the personal and impersonal nature of sex, etc., as argued by Abhaya Mudra. One should not make distinctions between Krishna and the Brahmajyoti. They are not two different things. In the perception of God, perhaps the Paramatma will predominate in someone's consciousness, the Brahman in that of another. But the fact is that they are one, non-dual Truth.

Sexuality not only exists in Krishna, but in its amative function, is the very essence of the spiritual world. In fact, those who try to deny the actual sex act to Radha and Krishna are dissimulating on a terrible level of self-deception and completely misunderstanding the whole point of our sampradaya.

This article repeats many things that are said over and over again on this blog, so for the time being, I ask readers to kindly make use of the keywords or other search functions, or read the pages linked at the top of this screen. I clearly need to consolidate all the ideas contained here into a book and that is now my top priority.

Jai Shri Radhe!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sex and Bhakti Yoga (Part I)

Just as I finished writing about my renewed sense of purpose about teaching about the role of sexuality on the bhakti path, I came across an article posted by Abhaya Mudra Dasi on the Sampradaya Sun. Abhaya Mudra is a Bulgarian disciple of Suhotra Swami who has a jyotish website with Prabhupada disciple Patita Pavan Das. At first view, her article, Sex and Spirituality, is a defense of standard ISKCON teaching on sexuality, though it adds a few interesting twists.

I have personally come to the conclusion that even though mainstream Western devotees still following ISKCON and the Gaudiya Math start out deeply committed to a doctrine that marginalizes sexuality, as the years go by, a great number of them become frustrated by double standards and hypocrisy that seem endemic in the movement. The Western Krishna consciousness movement has no bigger "shadow" than sexuality. Though child abuse scandals have rocked ISKCON and repeated "falldowns" or sexual peccadilloes of gurus proclaiming to have transcended mundane sexuality (of whom Suhotra Swami himself was, sadly, one) is a constantly recurring theme of the Hindu and Vaishnava worlds, there has been little serious analysis or effort to understand sexuality either in scripture or by modern devotees attempting to get a grasp of its place in their lives or sādhanā.

Although Abhaya Mudra Devi is an apologist accepting the standard ISKCON dogmas about sex, at least she has made an attempt to open discussion on the subject, for which she deserves praise. However, as I disagree fundamentally with the entire approach that reduces the problem to one that sees sexuality as a curse rather than a blessing, I intend to present the Sahaja Vaishnava point of view by way of contrast. Abhaya Mudra correctly recognizes the problems in a purely negative or renunciation-oriented approach, her solution (prayer) does seems not only inadequate, impracticable and unrealistic, but is a proven failure. Not only has it been destructive to social relationships in the Vaishnava world, causing its slow and inexorable disintegration, but is philosophically inconsistent with the goal of Krishna consciousness, which is prema.

What is yoga?


The primary thrust of Abhaya Mudra Devi's article is theological, related to the problems of individual pleasure and impersonalism, the relationship of the Brahmajyoti or Krishna's effulgence to sex desire and material bondage. But before dealing with these arguments, I think it is necessary to simply deal with the question by which she begins and concludes her article: Does sex have any role in yoga.

Her answer is, of course, an "explicit no." But she has not really touched on the question of "What is yoga?" Since a clarification of this point may itself be sufficient to elucidate the entire theme of sex and spirituality, I would like to discuss it by reference to the Bhagavad-gita and the Yoga-sutra of Patanjali. Then later we can examine some of the other issues Abhaya Mudra has raised.

There are many definitions for yoga, but in the very beginning of the Gita, when Krishna starts talking about intelligence (buddhi), he makes it clear that yoga is a particular approach to action. This means, basically, that all actions are meant to be used as sādhanā for attaining "the supreme destination." This is natural, as the human proclivity is to evolve, to find ways of extracting the greatest benefit out of life and the human faculties.

Krishna's general definition is twofold: samatvaṁ yoga ucyate ("Equilibrium is called yoga") and yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam ("Yoga is expertise in actions.") Since the word yoga appears in this passage (2.48-53) several times, both as practice itself and as the goal of the practice, I think it is worth going through it with a bit of commentary. [Both translation and commentary are my own.]

yoga-sthaḥ kuru karmāṇi
sangaṁ tyaktvā dhanaṁjaya |
siddhy-asiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā
samatvaṁ yoga ucyate ||
Situated in yoga, engage in activities
without attachment, O Dhananjaya.
Remain the same in success of failure
for yoga means equilibrium [of mind]. (48)
dūreṇa hy avaraṁ karma
buddhi-yogād dhanaṁjaya |
buddhau śaraṇam anviccha
kṛpaṇāḥ phala-hetavaḥ ||
Through the yoga of intelligence,
O Dhananjaya, keep inferior acts away
Seek shelter in such intelligence
for only the miserly seek the fruits. (49)
Here, the commentaries are instructive. In particular, the words avaraṁ, “most inferior, lowly” etc., and kṛpaṇāḥ, “miserly” are deliberated on. Buddhi here means proper understanding of your spiritual nature; thus any activity not examined from the vantage point of its benefit to the cultivation of one’s spiritual nature is to be avoided, or kept at a distance. Such activity is defined as that which is engaged in for the purpose of enjoying the results and not for attaining spiritual beatitude, or in our case, prema.

Though one may argue that sex cannot be a practice or sādhanā, it is my contention not only that it can, but that it is the most powerful sādhanā for the attainment of prema. It is also natural, sahaja. Only a miserly person weighs actions on the external scale of piety and impiety, calculating the fruits that will be gained in this world or the next. In other words, he is not capable of risking the conventionally received wisdom about right and wrong. This is indeed our problem here also.

In Arjuna’s case it is matters of killing and war and the fear of sin there. In the case of the gopis, it is somewhat different because the gopis are engaged in what is commonly thought of as "material sense gratification," i.e., following their sexual attraction to a man who is not their husband. In both cases, they have to judge the activity not purely in terms of right and wrong from the customary social or religious point of view, but as a sādhanā for attaining divine beatitude, in whatever terms we define it.

Our upāsanā in the Gaudiya tradition, which is ramyā, delightful, is vraja-vadhū-vargeṇa yā kalpitā, that process which was devised by the wives of Braja. And that is what I am trying to explain here on this blog to all those who are bewildered about what this "delightful" or "beautiful" process is.

buddhi-yukto jahātīha ubhe sukṛta-duṣkṛte |
tasmād yogāya yujyasva yogaḥ karmasu kauśalam ||
One who possesses intelligence
gives up both pious and impious works.
Therefore engage yourself for yoga,
Yoga means expertise in action. (50)
Here is another definition of yoga. Some commentators say expertise means the same equanimity spoken of above. And this is partly true. But there is more to it than that. If you are equal to success and failure and free from attachment to the results, it means that you adhere to the sādhanā without giving it up. So basically, when a particular action has been established as a sādhanā, after giving up thinking of it in terms of sin or merit, then one has to approach it with an attitude of mastery.

Siddhi means mastery. It means learning to do the action expertly in such a way that it is done well. Arjuna is an expert warrior and archer. It is his service to Krishna, so he does it well. The gopis are Krishna's lovers and so they love him expertly. The yogis who are following the breathing and meditative practices to control the mind become expert in those skills, mastering them. Those who are engaged in sādhanā of the madhura-rasa also become expert in their chosen practice. Then they achieve prema-siddhi, or success in their practice, which is prema.

So expertise means doing something in the right way, so it is efficacious and produces the desired result. Sex is not in itself yoga, but when done in the right way it can become yoga or an element of yoga, just like Arjuna's fighting is not yoga in itself, but when the various ingredients that make up expertise are included it becomes an element of yoga. There are degrees of expertise, meaning that different results are obtained, and that is why there are karma, jnana and bhakti yogas and their various subdivisions. We are interested in the type of expertise that yields the result of prema.

Of course, in most cases sādhanās will not present a great ethical challenge, but the reason that the Gita was spoken on a battlefield in this particular situation, and why we are reusing it again in the context of sexuality and spirituality is because general conventional "religious" wisdom is being challenged. One sometimes has to disobey orders and the gopis are usually held as the greatest example of such disregard. sudustyam āryapathaṁ svajanaṁ ca hitvā.

karmajaṁ buddhi-yuktā hi
phalaṁ tyaktvā manīṣiṇaḥ |
janma-bandha-vinirmuktāḥ
padaṁ gacchanty anāmayam ||
Those fixed in intelligence who abandon
the fruits born of action alone are wise.
Liberated from the bondage of birth
they go to the plane of non-disease. (51)
Krishna hammers away at the same point.

yadā te moha-kalilaṁ buddhir vyatitariṣyati |
tadā gantāsi nirvedaṁ śrotavyasya śrutasya ca ||
When your intelligence goes beyond
the dark forest of confusion
then you will become indifferent
to all that was heard or will be heard. (52)
Now this section concludes—

śruti-vipratipannā te yadā sthāsyati niścalā |
samādhāv acalā buddhis tadā yogam avāpsyasi ||
Unaffected by scriptural injunction
when your intelligence stands firm
fixed solidly in samādhi,
then will you attain to yoga. (53)
All the yoga systems have the goal of samādhi. Indeed, Vyasa in his commentary on the Yoga-sūtras (1.1) simply defines yoga AS samādhi, which means total absorption on a single object, or in the case of asamprajñāta, no object at all. Of course, for the Vaishnavas, this is understood to mean that the mind has been completely spiritualized and is focused on the transcendental object, the Supreme Lord, so though the material mental functions appear to be operative, they are nevertheless completely spiritualized due to their absorption in Krishna.

The important thing is this context is that all spiritual practices are experiential. The practitioner is the laboratory in whom the experiment of yoga is conducted. Yogi-pratyakṣa or the direct experience of the yogi is the ultimate arbiter of success. This direct experience is more important than scriptural injunctions or even the preceptor's teachings. It is more important than logical reasoning. In the Sixth Chapter Krishna says that one who even inquires into yoga is above the scriptures, what to speak of one who has attained samādhi! jijñāsur api yogasya śabda-brahmātivartate (6.44).

Patanjali says that yoga is control of the mental functions, yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (YS 1.2). Vyasa makes it clear that the stages of progress in such control pass through single-minded absorption, ekāntatā, and this is clearly the premise of all the Vaishnava shastras as well.

smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucit |
sarve vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ ||
Vishnu must always be remembered and never forgotten. All injunctions and prohibitions are exclusively meant to serve these two rules. (BRS 1.2.8)
In the Gita also, Krishna says,

tasmāt sarveṣu kāleṣu mām anusmara yudhya ca |
mayy arpita-mano-buddhir mām evaiṣyasy asaṁśayaḥ ||
abhyāsa-yoga-yuktena cetasā nānya-gāminā |
paramaṁ puruṣaṁ divyaṁ yāti pārthānucintayan ||
Therefore, at all times,
remember me constantly and fight.
By surrendering your mind and intelligence to me,
you will undoubtedly come to me.

Being fixed in this yoga of practice,
the mind never going anywhere else,
thinking continuously [of him], O Partha,
one attains to the divine Supreme Person. (Gita 8.7-8)
Now it is my premise here, as already stated above, that whereas Krishna is telling Arjuna to fight, i.e., to adopt the work ethic and use his natural inclinations to activity and work in such a way that they lead to him, there is another natural side to the human character, which is the desire to experience the pleasure of love. When it comes to remembering Krishna, all means are good, but since the true goal of life is to experience the happiness of divine love of prema, the most direct means to attaining Krishna would be through such experience.

Work or service is clearly in the noble mood of servitude or dāsya, but the whole point of the later bhakti tradition founded by Rupa Goswami is to point out that the root of human existences lies in the affects, and since bhakti is more about emotions than merely external service and submission, one needs to cultivate the emotional side of one's being as the royal road to spiritual beatitude.

This is psychologically extremely astute, as it goes below the surface of action, beyond rote habit and superficial or apparent rationality, and tackles the very root of our existential problem directly.

Indeed, this seems to be the intent of the following very important texts of the Bhagavatam:

tasmāt kenāpy upāyena manaḥ kṛṣṇe niveśayet
Therefore, by whatever means possible, one should immerse the mind in Krishna. (SB 7.1.31)
The Yoga-sütra is also remarkably liberal in its prescriptions for meditation.

yathābhimata-dhyānād vā
Or, one can adopt an object of meditation according to one’s own predilection. (YS 1.39)
Or, as Swami Veda Bharati translates it: “Also, through meditation in whatever way or on whatever objecct is agreeable the mind-field attains stability.” But, of course, the YS is not interested in bhakti or prema. We are.

The Bhagavatam continues,

kāmād dveṣād bhayāt snehād yathā bhaktyeśvare manaḥ |
āveśya tad-aghaṁ hitvā bahavas tad-gatiṁ gatāḥ ||
gopyaḥ kāmāt...
By absorbing the mind in the Lord, whether through sexual desire, hatred, fear, affection, many attained to his side, just [as others] did through devotion. The gopis did so through sexual desire... (SB 7.1.29-30)
Since Rupa Goswami emphasizes ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānuśīlanam, the negative emotions are not given as much emphasis, of course, as sexual desire or the impetus to romantic love. The very centrality of sexuality itself, both in the world and in Radha-Krishna lila, should make us well aware of the need to deal with it directly.

Of course, there is admittedly a big difference in how Vaishnava and Hindu orthodoxy interpret such passages from that of the Sahaja Vaishnavas, and we shall discuss this further in the next article.

Our purpose here has simply been to propose that since the purpose of yoga is to remember God by whatever means possible, through exercising an approach to activities that is characterized by expertise, and since remembering God favorably with love is the purpose of Vaishnava yoga, that sexuality or romantic love may indeed find a place in yoga.

Go to Part II.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Vrindavan Today --- maybe tomorrow?

This morning I bit the bullet and posted the following on Vrindavan Today:

Dear friends, lovers and well-wishers of Vrindavan Dham,

Due to lack of time and funding, it is not possible for me to continue with this project for the time being. If anyone wishes to sponsor this important endeavor so that we can get competent help and material facilities, we welcome their help.

Vrindavan Dham, Braj and India as a whole, are at a crossroads. Indeed, the entire world is facing tremendous challenges in the coming century. In many ways, Vrindavan is a microcosm of those challenges.

The clash between modernity, with its technological advances on the one side and its neo-liberal economic rapaciousness and consumerist ethic on the other, and spirituality, which values above all the internal evolution of the individual and one's relation to God, other human beings and the environment, is perhaps nowhere more transparently manifest than here.

Vrindavan Today is meant to both chronicle what could well be the epic story of our age manifest here in the Holy Dham of Srimati Radharani, the supreme symbol of divine love as the goal of human life, and to serve the best outcomes.

We certainly hope that some friends and well-wishers will come forward to volunteer and support.

In the meantime, those knowing Hindi may consult the Hindi site for some of the latest news.

Jai Sri Radhe

Jagadananda Das

You may contact me at vrindavantoday@gmail.com

The real point is that I don't have the time. I have other things that I need to do. A general rule of thumb that one should try to follow is not to start anything new until the old stuff is finished. And this website itself is an indicator of the principal thing that I need to get done.

Vrindavan is, as I said above, a microcosm of the situation in the entire planet. I don't know how many times I will have to say it: the utter incapacity of the people of India to clean up their public spaces is the worst indictment of the country as a harbinger of spiritual change.

If you think democracy elsewhere is next to useless, just look at India. The current neo-liberal economic orthodoxy goes unchallenged. Vikas, vikas, vikas. Development is the only word you heard during the last elections, every candidate promising to outdo the others. And why wouldn't the politicians love development? Their own pockets get richly lined with profuse kickbacks and bribes.

Pushpa Sharma was municipal chairperson of Vrindavan for five years. At the end of it, she had made enough money to pay off the Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati with 7.5 crores just to get nominated a candidate for the Vidhan Sabha seat! And she did not even win! Somehow the vote got split four ways and the Congress incumbent won. But I doubt there will be much change overall.

Development is needed, but there seems to be no brake on the way it is done. No vision. No plan. Just let it happen without thinking of the longterm effects. The principal issues that have attracted attention from the religious and lay community in Vrindavan are the Yamuna River situation and cow protection. Discussion of the litter issue never seems to get past nominal banning of the use of polythene bags, which of course everyone ignores. All these things seem to get repeated coverage in the newspapers, but whether there is any actual attempt by anyone in the administration, political or bureaucratic, to seriously tackle any of them is hard to detect.

They will continue to try to turn Vrindavan into a tourist destination and the pilgrims and bhajananandi residents will be forgotten. Those sadhus and goswamis profiting will remain complicit and indifferent to the common good and long term future of the Dham. How long will it be before meat and liquor are available in the hotels and shops? The other day I saw a well-dressed middle-aged man in the street, completely drunk. Not that you don't see young punks stinking drunk regularly, but this man (right near the MVT, ISKCON's posh guesthouse) looked like the "way of the future."

Vrindavan suffers from noise pollution as an influx of uneducated economic migrants who have absolutely no awareness of the Dham's value, drive the tempos with their cinema music blasting. Now with its increasingly easy access for Delhi residents, Vrindavan is becoming a site for weddings, meaning that on a regular basis the clamorfest that is an Indian wedding saturates the ether... what to speak of the regular competition to burst people's eardrums that temples and ashrams seem to feel is their God-given duty as a part of religious festivities.

The Parikrama Marg has been turned into one of the town's principal thoroughfares, making it extremely dangerous most of the time for pedestrians. Certainly the two-wheelers blasting their horns constantly as they charge through the crowds of pilgrims have no thought of keeping the peace. But who thinks of peace? In a holy place? India has lost all sense of the concept of inner or outer peace.

Uncontrolled development and land price inflation with no zoning whatsoever means there is no protection of green spaces or public spaces. Every last square inch is being squeezed for every last paisa that it will yield until the town suffocates completely from lack of open spaces.

The town is infested with stray dogs that howl all night and defecate all over, an increasingly aggressive and dangerous macaque population, and hogs -- all of whom delightedly feed on the ever increasing piles of garbage and filth. After all, there is no place to put the damn crap.

And this is the worst of all, in my opinion, the blight that is the total and shameless use of any and every empty or public space to litter and dump refuse. There is no word to describe the complete absence of any awareness of the common space or common ownership. The municipal authorities have completed absconded from any responsibility to impose door-to-door refuse collection and protect the public spaces from this defacement.

I cannot walk the streets without feeling complete dismay at the utter disregard that the people of this potentially lovely town of temples have for their own home. What can I say? I can speak of history and sociology and culture, but there is no way to escape the feeling that this is a major, major social failure.

Whether any of these things can be turned around or not , I do not know. The Yamuna is perhaps the most glaring problem as a sign of things to come. Global climate change and the general weight of human population growth is nowhere more evident than on the deterioration of the Yamuna situation.

Naturally, the people here plead poverty. There are so many problems and efforts are being made. Hospitals and schools are being built. More people are being educated. Wealth is increasing and the whole society will benefit. But I see so many babies being born here. Little children under five with runny noses are literally everywhere, squatting in the alleyways to drop their little load of liquid excrement. There is not a young woman who doesn't seem to have a baby riding on her hip. How will this population growth ever slow down in time to thwart the impending disasters?

Anyway... I don't know what to say any more. Look at Vrindavan Today and see for yourself. Why don't I stay involved? It seems like a worthy cause. God knows it is a worthy cause, that is why I started it. But I have started a lot of things. The Grantha Mandir is another one that has been stagnating and floundering. Perhaps not as urgent, but important nevertheless in another way. As shown in a recent post, this project is about to be reinvigorated.

I also have other commitments, like the work on the Sandarbhas, what to speak of my own numerous unpublished translations and unfinished research work, much of it available right here on this blog.

But above all, the biggest task I have is really to write about sahaja sadhana. You may go, "Whaat?" But in fact, this is the root of it all, in my opinion. The root problem is sexuality and it always has been. If I don't at least complete this aspect of my life's work, then my life will be a failure. This needs to come first.

I need to write a book explaining the sadhana that I have been speaking of on this blog. It is time. My friends, I have been practicing this sadhana and discovering its potency for the past ten years. I am convinced of its truth and its value. I believe that I can explain it in ways that no one else can and that I can teach this practice to anyone who is serious about following it. Not only that, but more and more I am becoming convinced of its importance and even necessity. Not only do I think that this is the real message of Radha and Krishna bhajan, but I think that without it, the basic problem of sexuality will never be solved or properly harnessed for individual spiritual exaltation.

I am not someone who has come to his conclusions lightly. I have spent years studying Gaudiya Vaishnavism in its textual and living traditions. I love this religion of Radha and Krishna, in all its branches, in all its manifestations, even when practised by those whose most fundamental attitudes I disagree with. radheti yasya giri tam manasadriyeta. Whoever simply utters the name Radha receives my heartfelt affection.

But that does not mean that I do not have a strong idea about the meaning of Radha and Krishna bhajan. Radha and Krishna has meaning for both East and West and I think it is important that I share my discoveries in book form.

I have been writing on this blog for years now, but clearly no one takes blogs by unpublished authors very seriously. It is time to change that. And that is why I am, at least for the time being, washing my hands of the Vrindavan Today project.




Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is it time for the return of the counterculture?

I spent quite a bit of time over the past few days wandering more or less aimlessly on the Internet. As usual, when one does this kind of thing, disparate streams coalesce and one is left with certain impressions that carry a greater significance than one might have expected.

I started out by looking up the "reptilian" brain and ended up on a website connected to a rather well-known conspiracy theorist from England, but of whom I had never heard, David Icke. Icke describes what those on the left have become rather well aware of, such as increasing concentrations of power in the hands of a few, the global financial crisis and the opportunism of elites to exploit the situation in their own favor at the cost of common people (the "shock doctrine"), mass manipulation through media and education, and the increasingly repressive surveillance state.

Icke's summary of the situation is mostly cogent and frighteningly familiar, but totally marred by his fantastical talk of Illuminati and alien reptilian hybrid bloodlines, which no matter how supported with Zulu shaman accounts, pictures of deities from ancient Sumer and Egypt and appeals to various mystical traditions, including those of India, relegates him to the realm of derangement and paranoia.

As one skeptic says, "[Icke] strives painfully hard to connect every conspiracy trope ever conceived into a sort of Grand Unified Theory of Crazy so complicated and implausible that it defies all attempts at concise summary."

Not altogether lacking self-awareness, Icke himself talks of a "global spiritual awakening", by which he means that he is finding an increasing audience for his incredible theories, customers for his books and videos. And clearly, the main reason for the increasing interest is that more and more people are feeling a malaise at the general direction the world seems to be headed. Though some, mostly on the right, seem to be flailing at straws and taking refuge in wild conspiracy theories, others are seeking ways to respond.

Though I am living in Vrindavan, I keep an eye on the world, mostly through the lense of leftist websites in the United States. These sites also daily document many of the same symptoms that Icke points to, mostly with a worried and often hopeless attitude. In the last year, there are some stirrings of the torpid masses with the so-called "Occupy" movement, which started with "Occupy Wall Street." Though many of the Occupy activities were infiltrated by agents provocateurs who tried to instigate disruptions that would legitimize repressive tactics from the authorities, on the whole, they succeeded to some extent in spreading the idea of a counterculture.

In fact, for the first time since the 60's and 70's there seems to be a reaction taking place in opposition to the dominant culture of conspicuous and competitive consumption. The great burst of sense-gratification and materialism that followed in the wake of the counterculture activities of those decades pretty much assimilated everyone from Abbie Hoffman to the Hare Krishna Movement. It is time for a comeback, only this time it needs to be a change that is resilient. More than anything, global climate change is putting a date limit on the consumerist way of life that is intoxicating the entire world.

One of the left's more strident voices, Chris Hedges was not so long ago summarizing the historical developments of the 60's and the failure of the counterculture, in the course of which he mentioned Hare Krishna as one of the "self-indulgent schemes for inner peace and fulfillment," a self-absorbed obscurantism that sought to escape the categorical imperative to act politically, i.e., to do something to bring about fundamental change in society. What one writer even then called "the awareness trap."

To my recollection, in the counterculture, there were already spiritual and political wings with somewhat different agendas. Certainly, the call to "turn on, tune in, drop out" was one of the principal mantras of the time, along with "make love not war" and "flower power", etc. But the argument then, as now, is that there can be no anti-Establishment movement with any hope for success if there is no  program that offers a meaningful alternative.  The Occupy Mayday protest website seems to have the idea:
On May 1st, 2012, we are creating a new kind of holiday—A People's Holiday—One that's not just yet another flavor of consumerism, but is explicitly about imagining a world beyond consumerism.
On a recent blog, someone commented in response to Henry Giroux's impressive summary of the prevailing dangers as American and indeed Western liberal societies slowly trundle towards repressive fascism in the wake of neo-liberal economic orthodoxy. His succinct summary of what is needed went as follows:
This is going to keep getting worse and more extreme until and unless there is some kind of very real counterculture, a new culture that runs in opposition to the prevailing tide and somehow manages to turn it around.

What that will look like includes the embrace of sustainability, empathy for others, and a ferocious commitment to fairness, with an emotional narrative drawn from the most progressive threads of both religion and secular philosophy, a foundation of science, and a willingness to face facts courageously and act upon them boldly.
This is the crux of the matter. The Hare Krishnas were about "imagining a world beyond consumerism." As such they were a living part of the counterculture of the 60's. What is needed now is for the Hare Krishnas to find that role again. The great power of Sankirtan is still there to give energy to that effort, but the Hare Krishnas as they are today are a dim light indeed. Hedges' accusation of obscurantism is not entirely without merit; it means irrelevance.

The author of the above statement has summarized impressively what is needed. On how many of these points can the Hare Krishnas, in their current, dwindling, incarnation, make a contribution?

As a part of my web wanderings, I found myself listening to Radhanath Swami, one of ISKCON's great current hopes for a revival, lecturing on the Essense (sic) of Religions at a Unitarian Church in the USA. From what I can see, Radhanath Swami seems to be using the tactics of media manipulation to establish his credentials as a legitimate "saintly" person, guru and authority. To do so, he appears to be dissimulating, playing down the dogmatic aspects of Vaishnavism and advocating a kind of generic religiosity and spirituality in the New Age mould.

As such, his lecture stands as almost a polar opposite to David Icke. Whereas the latter brazenly and unapologetically harps on the clear and imminent dangers of the reptilian Illuminati's quest for world domination and the absolute imperative to respond to it, Radhanath pleads for acceptance of Krishna consciousness into the community of staid, intelligent, liberal religion preaching love and brotherhood and against the fundamentalist literalism of certain powerful Islamic and Christian societies. "Why can't we all just get along?"

This made it somewhat striking when in one place he mentions how, as a "child of the 60's" he sought justice when a Christian preacher prompted a university to cancel his vegetarian cooking classes because he was using it to preach dangerous ideas.

But it will take more than asking for acceptance. As long as ISKCON or the Hare Krishnas are somewhere in the same league of credibility with David Icke, they will be relegated to cult status, handfuls of followers somehow dissociated from the grand currents of the time. I already wrote about Hare Krishna's becoming a mere footnote in 20th century history if it cannot find a way to speak to the times.

What is needed is the courage to reinterpret the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition in a way that truly keeps its spiritual essence while firmly supporting the new counterculture in its reinvention of society in the current pivotal age marred by increasing spiritual poverty, massive economic inequality on the one hand and global warming on the other. But that cannot be done in its present form.

There comes a time, I am afraid to say, when adherence to a tradition and idolization of its saints and masters, holds us back. If Icke can find enough of a place in the world, then why not literal belief in Hindu mythology and its outdated social doctrines, and ISKCON's own conspiracies of Hidden Archaeology and moon-landing hoaxes? Sure, it may find a place on the margins of society, but these limitations will never allow it mainstream acceptance. In today's multi-polar and pluralistic world, this may not be altogether bad. But it is not leadership. Leadership comes from clear forward vision, not backward.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Disclaimer

I must make a disclaimer here with regard to the previous post, in which I made some hopeful comments about the affiliation of the Gaudiya Grantha Mandira to the Jiva Institute for Vaishnava Studies.

This affiliation is an extension of my friendship and association with Satya Narayan Dasji Maharaj. Over the past two years I have also been working with Maharaj on the editing of the Bhagavat-sandarbha and Paramatma-sandarbhas, and in all likelihood will continue to work on the Sandarbhas project until it is finished.

For these services I receive a stipend that is sufficient for my living expenses in India. In this and the Grantha Mandira affiliation, my relationship with Babaji and JIVS is purely professional. Any personal views expressed by me on this blog or elsewhere are entirely my own and have absolutely no relation to those of Satya Narayan Dasji Maharaj or the Jiva Institute.

Whatever opinions I may have about the purpose and practice of Mahaprabhu's Prema-dharma, they are my own. Satya Narayan Dasji is aware of these opinions and has taken a position that follows the standards of a professional academic institution, recognizing the distinction between the professional services I am rendering and my own private beliefs.

He is, of course, completely free to terminate any professional relationship if he feels that I ever overstep the terms of that relationship.

It is to be expected that those who respect Babaji will honor his judgment in this matter.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Gaudiya Grantha Mandir and Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies



To make a project like the Gaudiya Grantha Mandira function to perfection, money is important. Although we recently received two 100$ donations, the total amount donated since the inception of this site ten years ago comes to only a little over $1000, much of it from a single benefactor.

Not having institutional backing is simultaneously a blessing -- one is free to work or not as one likes -- as well as frustrating if one has real goals set in mind. I have never approached GGM as anything other than a labor of love and I have been satisfied with my own continuing efforts to share books I discover and wish to go through on my own.

Though the site has always had wider potential, I have at least been able to maintain its minimal purpose over the years, with the result that a fair number of texts (nearly 600) is now available, many of which are rare and interesting from both a scholarly and devotional point of view.

Of course there is only so much one person can do, and my lack of intense ambition to see the global purpose of this site realized is ultimately a loss for everyone interested in Vaishnavism, regardless of sampradaya, faith or scholarly purpose. This is a project in the spirit of Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Ramnarayan Vidyaratna, Siddhanta Saraswati, Haridas Das Babaji, Puridas Mahashaya, Kusumsarovarwala Krishnadas Baba and the many other great discoverers and dedicated researchers of Vaishnava literature over the last two centuries.

Now Srila Satya Narayan Dasji of the Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies in Vrindavan has long recognized the value of the Grantha Mandir project and recently come forward with his support, both moral and material. An official announcement will be forthcoming when everything has been put in place.

In the first instance we will have to find typists who are competent and have a modicum of Sanskrit knowledge. So far we have found one such person and I am in the process of training two others, one who can type Hindi the other who knows Sanskrit but has no experience with keyboards. Progress will clearly be slow, but hopefully steady.

Our first priority will be to complete the commentaries to the principal lila-granthas of the Gaudiya sampradaya--Govinda-līlāmṛta, Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta and Kṛṣṇāhnika-kaumudī; the other priority is the tikas to the 10th canto of the Bhāgavatam.

The list of texts we still want to get on the site, it is still fairly lengthy. The addition of the considerable corpus of Bengali and Brajbhasha texts is one direction into which we hope to expand, but there is no shortage of Sanskrit works that need to be made available for researchers.

Having other people working at GGM means I will have to commit more time supervising them and editing the texts that others have typed and less time doing it myself in isolation, but from another standpoint, this is actually better for reading, as typing can be done with only superficial understanding of meaning, which is not true for proofreading. From the standpoint of quality, the standards will likely improve.

Of course, the best way to go would probably be to have professional typists who can just churn the stuff out and then hire competent Sanskritists to proofread. At some point this may be possible.

The connection with Jiva also likely means that there will be some upgrading of the site itself. This aspect of GGM has been neglected for too long. Discussions are underway.

The original idea of the Grantha Mandir, as I was explaining to a prospect yesterday, was to be able to enter as fully as possible the mind of someone like Jiva Goswami by having full access to the very texts that he would have known. It may not be possible to ever fully duplicate that, but it would certainly be helpful -- not only for knowing what he accepted, but also for what he rejected. The all-important search function that GGM texts allows for the kind of quick research that was never before possible.

A case in point might be the Muktā-phalam of Vopadeva and its Kaivalya-dipika commentary by Hemadri Suri. These were clearly known to the Goswamis and appreciated, but the siddhantas were not fully accepted. Some of the influences can be intimated obliquely. For instance, Jiva Goswami's manner of naming the speaker of individual verses or sections of the Bhagavatam in the Sandarbhas may well be modeled on  Muktā-phalam  -- I have not seen it anywhere else.

Moreover, Vopadeva's classification of the Bhagavata according to the literary rasas from the tradition, along with Hemadri's commentary (Hemadri also wrote a book on poetics, Alaṅkāra-cūḍāmaṇi) present an analysis that could clearly be seen as a precursor to or inspiration for Rupa Goswami's Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. More research will have to be done and the GGM edition of Muktā-phalam  will no doubt be an invaluable resource for whoever does the work.

Thus by knowing Muktā-phalam, whether one considers it a strong or weak influence on the Goswamis, it nevertheless adds to our understanding of their general knowledge or the state of knowledge about the Bhagavatam to which they would have been privy.

On the whole, I continue with the Grantha Mandir at the expense of other important projects that I have started, including my own translation work and original contributions to the understanding of Vaishnava spirituality (what to speak of Vrindavan Today!).

There are now hundreds of devotee scholars who work on these texts, but very few seem willing to take the time to help improve this facility for the benefit of others, either by sharing upgraded versions when they themselves make use of them in their research, or even by simply reporting the mistakes that they detect. Hopefully the institutional affiliation with Jiva will give a boost in this direction also.

The GGM forums are the best place to contribute in this way, rather than by email. If you do use a GGM text for research purpose or more intensive study, please, please think of others and share your discoveries of errors, alternate readings, etc., with future scholars.

These forums could also be a good place for discussing other aspects of these texts also. Scholars are a solitary bunch generally. They are sensitive to criticism and also competitive and protective of their own discoveries. Those who are of the Vaishnava persuasion should perhaps consider the quality of generosity (audarya) as a model for an approach to the scholarly life. The current Western system of academia tends to exacerbate the individualistic rather than collegial (ironically) approach. There is still a possibility that GGM could serve as a community for those in the tradition who wish to share and learn.

Hopefully, the new developments at GGM will lead to closer contact with our members in the form of newsletters and so on and will help to make the original purpose of the site a reality.

It should be noted that for the 100$ donation, GGM benefactors receive a CD with all the GGM texts in their most up-to-date condition along with numerous other texts such as the Mahābhārata, Rāmāyaṇa, Padma-purāṇa, Nārada-purāṇa, Rigveda, and Manu-saṁhitā, in Balaram font, etc.

We are, of course, always welcoming of new sponsors. Radhe Radhe.

Grantha Mandir forums.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A few words about breathing

In the last two posts I spoke about meditation and sitting. I added a link at the end of the sitting post to another older one that had the same subject but gave a little more detail about the different meditation sitting postures, which you can check out.

Now I must continue this little discourse with a few words about breathing. As I may already have said, the elaboration of prāṇāyāma in haṭha-yoga is not directly connected to the aṣṭāṅga-yoga system. Any attempts to introduce this elaboration of breathing exercises into the aṣṭāṅga- or rāja-yoga process of meditation is not of great interest to us, though a knowledge thereof may have some beneficial aspects in the service of meditation and general physical health.

Physical health as taught by haṭha-yoga is entirely intended to serve the purpose of mental control and single-pointedness on the object of concentration. Breath actually serves as an intermediate point of concentration and a vehicle for channeling the mind towards other points, especially and firstly, the mantra.

The Yoga-sūtra says, pracchardana-vidhāraṇābhyāṁ vā prāṇasya: "Or, [the mind’s stability is established] by exhalation and restraint of breath and prāṇa." (I.34). This here does not mean the elaborate exercises of prāṇāyāma and those commentators who have read the rechaka, pūraka and kumbhaka,  nāḍi-śodhana (or varieties of anuloma-vilomaprāṇāyāma, or other measured breathing patterns into these terms are misleading the would-be meditator. Whatever else is known as prāṇāyāma is meant to serve this simple relaxed and natural  diaphragmatic breathing that is the most effective technique for calming the mind (citta-prasādana) and entering into deeper states of concentration on the object of meditation.

It is but natural that prāṇāyāma firms up the stability and stillness of mind, by way of one-pointedness because
  • the operations of all senses are dependent on and preceded by the operations of prāṇa.
  • Also, the wellness and comfort of mind and prāṇa in the field of their operation is mutually united.
  • Thus, prāṇa being brought to refinement, thereby brings the vṛttis of all senses to nirodha, and
  • is thereby empowered to bring about the one-pointedness of the mind-field (BR). [From Swami Veda Bharati's Yoga-sutra commentary.]
Swami Veda Bharati summarizes the essence of the breath awareness that this sutra speaks of:

  • Feel the touch and flow of breath in the nostrils,
  • Breathe slowly, gently and smoothly.
  • Train the breath to slow down, without jerks and without sound.
  • Do not allow any break between breaths.

When one has achieved stability in this breath awareness, then one can add the mantra so that it flows in the mind along with it. From this point, one can go into more complex meditation exercises of the lila  and yoga-pitha, etc. In other words, smaraṇa.

That being said, there is no question that the simple training in breathing can be mastered without a little help from the other kinds of prāṇāyāma, especially nāḍi-śodhana. The reason for this is that stability of the mind is highly dependent on balance, indeed that may be considered a goal of yoga itself, and the balancing of the breath through the central channel or sushumna is a desideratum in this process. There are so many kinds of nāḍi-śodhana that I am not going to go into detail here, but advise anyone interested in going deeper into the meditation process to look into them and start doing a little and observe the effects.

Another thing that really helps even if one does not do it regularly is neti, which means cleaning the nasal passages, usually with water. If you live in a dusty climate or in a city with a lot of pollution, you really should do this cleaning to clear up the nostrils and sinus cavities. Cleaning the nostrils clears the head better than any artificial method.

Some devotees may wonder why I am speaking of yoga when the Bhagavatam and other devotional scriptures seem to marginalize all practices other than bhakti. Indeed, some Vaishnava acharyas like Vishwanath Chakravarti are of the opinion that any activity other than svarūpa-siddha bhakti is a distraction and a disturbance to the prosecution of prema-bhakti.

My response to this misguided criticism is manifold. First of all, the goal of all yoga systems is to conquer the mind. Although one may think that bhakti is a yoga of the emotions, one still wants to quiet the emotions by mastering the mind through the diminishing of rajas and tamas and the increase of sattva. My impression is that many devotees both consciously and unconsciously identify rajasika characteristics with bhakti, thinking that there is no difference. If one is extremely rajasika or tamasika, then it is certainly better to get busy with some seva or whatever in order to achieve a level of discipline that will lead to the sattvika mentality. But that is just a step on the way. On one level sattva means the ability to sit and meditate.

āhāra-śuddhau sattva-śuddhi
sattva-śuddhau dhruvānusmṛtiḥ. 
smṛti-lambhe sarva-granthīnāṁ vipramokṣaḥ

Chandogya 7.26.2.

Of course, there is a lack of true seriousness about spiritual life almost everywhere. The bhakti promise of an easy way to salvation is very tempting, but I see more and more individuals who have been hanging around temples for most of their lives and have yet become complacent or even indifferent in many cases, or just simply conventional in their religiosity, content with a kind of conservative adherence to a set of dogmas that are in fact quite divorced from any true spiritual progress or maturity.

A half-century ago, American sociologists believed in a certain common ground of American religion that seemed to create a "mainstream" of conventional religion that stood above any individual sectarian view. Consumerism, the work ethic, a general ethical viewpoint, and above all, nationalism and patriotism were the main elements in this non-partisan "acceptable to all" religion, but it put a lie to most of the revolutionary characteristics these religions had in their purest and original forms.

Although it seems that there is a left-right split in American religion today, with most on the left associating any kind of religious belief with antediluvian obscurantism, there is still a certain amount of truth to this insight. There is currently a propaganda exercise underway in which Muslims are also trying to prove that they are Americans first and Muslims second. Another such attempt is the mainstreaming of Mormonism with Mitt Romney.

Another proof is in the general loss of direction of those devotees who joined the Krishna consciousness movement during Prabhupada's lifetime and their offspring, as well as the NRI Hindus who now dominate in ISKCON. They have tumbled into a kind of "Americanism" that is conventional in almost every sense. Perhaps vegetarianism being the only hard core point of resistance that remains. It is hard, of course, to withstand the pull of the larger society and its values; the psychological pressure on devotees is great, but the end result is echoed in the cry, "What are we supposed to do with this religion?"

Indeed.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

So Prabhupada said women like rape.

A couple of things in the current news cycle caught my attention and made me return to this unpublished post. 


“The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is, What does a woman want?” Sigmund Freud
At the risk of reopening a rather nasty can of worms, I am descending once again into the rape discussion. For background, see here, here and here.

I never really thought much about Prabhupada's famous statement that women "enjoy rape." Like most people, I suppose, I just laughed it off, or considered it irrelevant. I have no skin in the game myself as I feel no great need to defend Prabhupada at all costs. But since I have now been accused of "supporting rape" I feel challenged to at least inform myself about this debate.

One thing I have done fairly consistently on my blog, however, is to argue the following major points, which of course are nowhere in any of this literature.
  1. Important in my historical investigation of Krishna is the Sri Krishna Kirtana, which is a case that can be said to fit into a pattern that is psychologically and perhaps anthropologically relevant. Certainly it is relevant from the point of view of understanding the development of Radha Krishna lila. It is an outlier: Krishna literally forces Radha to have sex with him, and then slowly Radha falls in love with him, until the final deception comes when Krishna abandons her. It is not at all a fun story. And so the more antiseptic romantic story lines of Gita Govinda and the Bhagavatam are taken as the authoritative and canonical prototype of Radha-Krishna love.
  2. Moreover, I accept the vision of Freud and Tantra, which sees sexual energy or libido as being the central powerhouse of the entire psyche. What happens to the psyche from childhood will be reflected in the sexuality of the adult. But as a good Vaishnava, I believe that the purification or spiritual sublimation of the sexual energy is at the heart of the culture of prema.
  3. Therefore, from the Hindu scriptural point of view, sexuality must be analyzed in accordance with the three gunas. I have therefore made gradations in sexuality, beginning with tamas, which is the sexual act that is most in opposition to love. In this, I count violent rape as being the most extreme form of tamas. Perhaps some scientific research needs to be done. I really think the three gunas would make a very valuable analytical tool, though it would no doubt be hard to find ways of measuring something so complex. One would have to break things down, like diet, and see how they relate to psychology, in accordance with the broad outlines of the gunas given in the Gita and elsewhere.
  4. In light of the above, I accept the basic premise of Chaitanya Charitamrita that "lust" (i.e., from its most extreme form, tamasic sexuality, e.g. violent rape) is the very opposite and anitithesis of "love", which can be perfected through spiritual culture.
The Chandidas account of Dana-lila does perhaps indicate the cultural source of a belief in masculine aggressivity. Certainly the kind of aggressive interest Krishna shows in Radha is meant to be taken as archetypal and not as entirely negative. At a very minimum, "rape" could be thought of as such an aggressive interest in a woman. But this does not forgive the seeming favorable attitude with which Prabhupada states that "women like a man who is very expert in rape."

But what irritates me in these kinds of discussions is when people brush off analysis and the attempt to understand sensitive phenomena as "mental masturbation" rather than evaluating evidence that is sometimes quite problematic.

I have here introduced a particular nuance: that of the gunas. But let me say as I have elsewhere, and I hope that this will be understood: As someone who values the concept of prema, I cannot possibly condone or support rape, since it is the very antithesis of prema. I hope that is sufficiently clear.

Next I would like to say that I have no interest in either defending or vilifying Prabhupada in this matter. I would say that the forces of sanity are sufficiently strong, even among Prabhupada's disciples, that they do not take his statements as carte blanche for rape, nor are his women disciples expressing any great concern about their lack of a natural tendency to enjoy being raped.

I believe in Prabhupada's positive contribution because I am personally a beneficiary. However, as a Sahajiya, I strongly object to any doctrine that places women in a position of subjection to men, or of their sexual objectification or any of the other anti-humanist positions that patriarchy enforces. Human evolution is towards the complementarity of the sexes that can only be based on equality and mutual respect and love.

I still am both
  1. a transcendentalist, i.e., a believer in the possibility of spiritual edification of the individual and the need for a sacramental dimension to life; and
  2. connected by virtue of life experience and self-criticism to the Vaishnava religion, particularly that branch that worships Radha and Krishna. That is my life.
And my faith is this: Radha and Krishna represent or symbolize multiple levels of psychic and human perfection. Even though some may brush it off this as a myth, a mere romantic fantasy with no more relevance than wish fulfillment that compensates for the impossibility of achieving such felicity in real terms, I say that it can be associated with real practices to become a transcendent and sacred experiential reality. In which case, it goes well beyond the baser levels of sexuality to become prema. That is what I call the Sahajiya path.

I am saying that everyone wants prema. That is the fundamental truth. They want prema, not sex. But identification with the body and the effect of the gunas on the psyche means that the desire for prema is perverted. The more tamasic, the more opposed to prema.

Now the scientific investigations of the type described in the article cited below are revealing of substantial psychological differences between men and women. Right near the beginning also it states very tantalizingly that even women who are stimulated sexually [according to the instruments being used] do not report being stimulated, whereas men do. Think about the implications of that for a minute for the sake of discussion. It means that there is a certain lack of self-awareness vitiating this entire discussion.

And these are all a part of the mysterious interface between violence and arousal and orgasm in cases of rape:
Chivers, like a handful of other sexologists, has arrived at an evolutionary hypothesis that stresses the difference between reflexive sexual readiness and desire. Genital lubrication, she writes in her upcoming paper in Archives of Sexual Behavior, is necessary “to reduce discomfort, and the possibility of injury, during vaginal penetration. . . . Ancestral women who did not show an automatic vaginal response to sexual cues may have been more likely to experience injuries during unwanted vaginal penetration that resulted in illness, infertility or even death, and thus would be less likely to have passed on this trait to their offspring.” (page 4 of NYTimes magazine article).
... And this is a real kicker: The generally accepted therapeutic notion that, for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, Meana told me, often misguided. “Really,” she said, “women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic” — it is dominated by the yearnings of “self-love,” by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need. Still on the subject of narcissism, she talked about research indicating that, in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies center less on giving pleasure and more on getting it. “When it comes to desire,” she added, “women may be far less relational than men.” 
... "Women want to be thrown up against a wall but not truly endangered. Women want a caveman and caring. If I had to pick an actor who embodies all the qualities, all the contradictions, it would be Denzel Washington. He communicates that kind of power and that he is a good man.” (page 7 of above article).
“The word ‘rape’ comes with gargantuan amounts of baggage.” She continued: “I walk a fine line, politically and personally, talking frankly about this subject. I would never, never want to deliver the message to anyone that they have the right to take away a woman’s autonomy over her body. I hammer home with my students, ‘Arousal is not consent.’ ” (page 8 )
I started having rape fantasies as a teenager and now, about 15 years later, it is still the core of most of my sexual fantasies. I think perhaps they started because at the time, I felt that it was morally wrong for me to fantasize about willingly having sex, I was a kid, I wasn't married, etc. So, if I fantasized about rape, then it wasn't consensual, fantasy me was not doing anything "wrong." I think it was feelings of shame along with sexual curiosity that started it for me, and now that is what gets me off. I need that feeling that the man is overwhelmed by lust or somehow compelled to do it, that I am an unwilling participant, but that it is intensely pleasurable nonetheless. I need a bit of the dominant/submissive to act it out, but, like you have mentioned in some of your articles, pain is a big turn off. I would not want to be really raped, that would be terrifying, and yet it is an integral part of my fantasy life. Psychology Today.
At any rate. I am posting these references not as a defense of Prabhupada, but just to say that his observation is not entirely out of the realm of empiricism. The mistake is for anyone to think that it is prescriptive as the above quotes confirm.

In my view, rape fantasies arise partly from the biological and animal side of our nature (as argued above and in Sex at Dawn) and partly from disturbed conditioning experiences in this lifetime. These are the samskaras of this and previous lives. But as an aspect of spiritual evolution, it has to be put in its perspective. A woman who has such fantasies should perhaps seek mental and emotional purification. No woman in her right mind wants to be raped, and no healthy man thinks that his spiritual needs will be fulfilled by forcing a woman to have sex against her will.

But in answer to Freud, I will say the following: The soul, which lies beyond even male and female identities, seeks love. While embodied that love will have to follow the bodily identification, but will paradoxically only be found through transcending it. Radha and Krishna are symbolic of the purest love, in which there is no hint of mundane rajas and tamas, the realm of rape.