Wednesday, July 25, 2012

India, one of the worst places for women?

One of the subjects that I am confronted with on a regular basis is that of the woman's experience in India. As a self-avowed Sahajiya, any issues related to gender and sexuality are of particularly interest to me, so I am an observer of sexual attitudes in this part of the world.

A recent event taking place in India has once again pushed the issue to the front pages of the newspapers and other media, primarily for its sensationalism. An Assamese reporter happened to film the brutalization and sexual harassment of a woman in the Guwahati streets at night by a gang of men. A discussion of the event and the general situation can be found in this Guardian article by Helen Pidd, Why is India so bad for women?.



The litany of related news items in this article makes one hang one's head in despair. The land of the Goddess, of Shakti, of Radha... I truly want to weep, not only because I have been hearing this for so long, but once again this is brought to my attention so I want to say a thing or two about it.


One thing that springs to attention is the number of people, men and women, both foreign and Indian, who report experiencing fondling, etc., of women in public places, even in the presence of their spouse or other men. I personally know many women who have had similar experiences in India.

One of them has a policy -- she is physically strong -- of whacking the guy hard and screaming at him. But that is difficult to sustain when the problem is so endemic. What do you do if you are alone in an overnight bus and one of the conductors comes and sits behind you and starts groping? And what do you do when it is the second, or third, or even fourth time in the day that it has happened?

We wrote some articles on the subject of the problem of modern society and changing sexual morality on Vrindavan Today. In these changing times in India, there are many different things that are pointed at as the sources of blame. But y
ou cannot point the finger at Western influences or Bollywood or the prevalence of pornography alone. These things come along and when added to a susceptible social situation result in weak-minded and immature men engaging in these kinds of sleazy behaviors, nearly all of which are cowardly in the extreme. 


Being in the midst of a social upheaval, with the old social fabric falling apart and the new one misunderstood, with the resultant ambivalence and hypocrisy, legal solutions are barely practicable. In fact, the legalistic approach of the old social order, with its patriarchical diminishing and marginalization of women and the order to "protect" them, fails completely in the face of a society in which women are slowly taking possession of their rights at the same time that men are inflamed by sexually stimulating media products and offered little means of meeting the rising expectations they produce. In fact, pornography is little more than propaganda for the basest instincts in men and so leads to increasingly distorted sexual values, whether it is West or East. People who claim it is liberating are surely deluded.


When I wrote about Kripalu, it was done against the backdrop that his attitude -- and that of his colleagues in the guru/sexual abuser dynamic -- was really basically the same as that of the Indian street and subway groper. Lying on a bed with his eyes closed and directing the woman's hand to his genital. Or like a prostitute's client, picking disciples out of the women's section and having them brought up to his room. The common feature of both is the total depersonalization of the woman and the accompanying droit-de-seigneur universally appropriated by the male of the species. 

If this is the way the so-called
 avatars behave, what can we expect from the rest? And if that is the society from which these avatars spring, is it any surprise that they are just bigger, fatter, more successful examples of the same distorted and deformed human development? And it is no surprise that the defenders of India who respond to Ms. Pidd's article with squeals of anti-India bias, etc., sound uncannily similar to the defenders of Kripalu and his ilk.

All of this, my friends, gets to the crux of what it means to be a Sahajiya. Sahajiyaism says that love doesn't exist without transcending the purely bodily dimension of sexuality and seeing the other as Thou, which is another way of seeing the absolute divine in the human presence of the lover. The flaw in the religions that are prescriptive in their definition of a human being's role in terms of caste or gender is that they are always going to circumscribe what should be natural human freedoms through depersonalizing the individual and subsuming him or her to those impersonal categories.

The biggest failures and errors of much of Hinduism today is that many think that these defined roles are integral to dharma itself. They are not. In particular, Vaishnavism, that is, the worship of Radha and Krishna, begins from the point of the male (yes, it is principally targeted at males, and correctly so, as this whole discussion should show) accepting the divine humanity of women, recognizing that they are entirely dependent on woman for the one thing that they truly desire, which is love. 



And until these fools recognize this fundamental fact, they will be running around like chickens with their heads cut off, chasing after everything that militates AGAINST love -- whether it is consumerism, careerism, corporatism, ever more dramatic sexual stimulations, anything.

Love is the locus of the sacred. And for men, heterosexual men at least, there is no possibility of cultivating love as an experience of the Divine, Prema, without starting at the very basic and necessary point of recognizing the humanity and personhood of women. Actually, the entire business of the beginner in spiritual life is to cultivate an awareness of the divine presence in the Other. One comes to the second, Sadhana stage, only when that awareness has reached a certain stage of maturity.

Sexuality is, if not the most fundamental problem of humanity, then at least one that stands near the top. Sex desire, is at the very basis of human psychology. I don't say that because of Freud, I say it because of Rupa Goswami. This is because sex desire is really the expression of the soul's desire for love while in the body.

The need to fulfill our desire for loving intimacy in its fullest form, in a profound, spiritual, sacralized relationship, has to start from the point of recognizing the equality of women. This does not mean putting women on an artificial pedestal of "divine motherhood," which is a refusal to admit the sexuality of women, in other words the need to experience human love, as an equal with the lover. 



The denial of female sexuality in India is the same as to deny the woman's personhood. Women are shunted from childhood to motherhood as quickly as possible, in order to become waddling, hip-heavy, juggernauts of maternalistic misery. Vatsalya at the cost of madhurya is a failure for everyone. The sons and husbands of such mothers are very likely the same ones who cannot keep their hands off women in the public place.


The essence of respect is simply to accept a human being’s humanity. Empathy. Don’t do to others what you would not like done to yourself.

Unfortunately, this is something that religion has tried to mediate or obstruct in various ways since time immemorial. Because of other kinds of social priorities. And so a fundamental religious attitude, which had its origins in the preservation of a particular kind of social order, actually proves to be an obstacle to the attainment of the divine consciousness of shared samadhi, or prema.



Who will ever get to shared samadhi unless they first become yogis?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Anti-semitism and anti-intellectualism revisited

An article written a couple of years ago is again making the rounds, this time on Facebook. Though I wrote about this when it first came to my attention and posted on this blog, I will address it again here.

A few years ago... who cares any more... Nara Narayan Viswakarma wrote in Puranjan's newsletter that the influence of Catholics was ruining the movement! Which I fond to be an interesting point of view and a surprising one, to say the least. It would be interesting to see if he would still defend this point of view now and what his reasons would be. (I forgot his argument,, to be honest).

But it would definitely be quite a matter of interest to analyze exactly what the so-called JBD ("Jewish background devotee") influence on the movement is or has been, or what a Catholic influence would be, or what we can expect now that Orthodox or Communist atheist background Russians are slowly beginning to become numerically the dominant part of the world Vaishnava population.

I have to agree that childhood samskars, as the writer says, continue to influence a person throughout his or her lifetime. But is the writer of the article himself free from such samskaras? How can we tell? Perhaps he is importing an anti-Semitic samskar from his childhood influences!

Why should academic or interfaith tendencies be specifically related to JBD? Are they not a part of the world we live in? When a Radhanath, for instance, who is currently the ISKCON guru ISKCON critics love to hate the most, engages in a kind of public dissimulation of bhakti and is borderline New Age, etc., is he reflecting a specifically JBD point of view? I would like to see a little more finesse and research in these matters.

Is it not that in the face of increasing anomie in the current world of Western Vaishnavism, where old devotees are often directionless and alienated from the institutions, where new recruits from the non-Indian background segment of the population are becoming rarer, where children born into the tradition are estranged from it, where nearly everyone has become confused about the relevance of its beliefs and practices, that some exercise of the intelligence would be necessary by devotees of whatever background?

Isn't this called engaging the intelligence in Krishna's service? And is it not incumbent on every individual to sweeten the fruit of bhakti by adding his own realizations, which come through the entire system of intelligence, mind, body and senses when transformed by surrender and grace? To put the old wine into the new bottle of his or her own realization? 



It is clear that in ISKCON's current impasse in the Western developed world (Europe and North America), some intelligent analysis of the problems is needed. To do so, it appears inevitable that those with intellectual inclinations are going to want to study religion in general and Gaudiya Vaishnavism in particular to understand them as specifically human phenomena -- psychological, sociological, anthropological, historical, philosophical, etc. One place this can be attempted objectively is in an academic setting. 


This seems to me to be a natural human response and hardly related to any race or people specifically. If something you value has stopped working in the way you desire, you try to find a way to fix it. This requires making use of the tools available, without discrimination. If it proves to be of value, you do the needful, if not, you jettison it. This will be done by people of all backgrounds and persuasions, not only Jewish. 


Different people will inevitably come up with different prescriptions. And indeed former Catholics and former Jews may have somewhat differing approaches, but such differences should be judged objectively as far as possible, even while being aware of possible background influences. But one thing is sure -- in the modern world, blindly parroting dogmas from past ages, literal acceptance of what are often outdated and irrelevant mythologies, etc., are in all likelihood a non-starter and simply put Hare Krishnas somewhere in the same neck of the societal fringe as Scientology or Mormonism. Perhaps even worse. 


There are many devotees who prefer the exclusiveness of being non-mainstream, of being "way out there" on the margins of society, but a stated goal of the movement is the "building of a house the whole world can live in." How is that supposed to happen?

So, all in all, it seems to me that the critique of the various challenges to dogmatic and literalist approaches to Krishna bhakti should be dealt with by their defenders in open debate on an issue by issue basis, rather than pointing to the ethnicity of the person promoting these views. To do so will indeed be anti-semitism or some other kind of racism and will not lead to anything remotely approaching auspiciousness.

Jai Sri Radhe.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mature Religion

Reposting from a comment on this blog

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Atheists believe that much of the problem with humanity lies in religion. They have many good reasons for so doing, as one can read in the intelligent critiques made by Chenna Keshavan in the discussion on the above thread. But even though religion is often seen as a culprit, I would like to say that it is not religion per se, but immature religion, that is the source of the problem. There is no reason to believe that mature individuals with a rational and scientific understanding of the world will still not be persuaded of things like God and the soul when they reach the limits of their rational outlook.

The answer lies in "mature" religion. Even Krishna in the Gita mentions four kinds of people who take up religious life--the suffering, the desirer of benefits, the curiosity seeker and the knowledgeable. Moreover, he distinguishes between knowledge and other kinds of religious activities in terms of sattva, rajas and tamas, which are three effective broad characteristics of phenomena.

The Gita, for instance, teaches that only through sattva can we find happiness, because only a sattvika person has the capacity to appreciate the immediate present. In fact, whatever happiness we have, even when we are dominated by rajas and tamas, comes from the vestiges of sattva that remain in our character.

A person who has a scientific attitude may also be rajasik or tamasik. So atheists like Mao or Stalin were supposedly acting is some kind of "rational" manner based on scientific realism, but were in fact being governed by baser motives. The psychological basis of action is also a matter for scientific research. And much of it is still shrouded in mystery. Even a scientific rationalist can be a complete idiot when it comes to human behavior. Like the Unabomber, for instance. a PhD in mathematics, but mentally unstable, or the latest shooter in Colorado, also a "brilliant science student." 

There are different kinds of religion. The Bhagavata, for instance, talks of beginner (kanishtha), medium (madhyama) and advanced (uttama) kinds of devotee, which can roughly be equated with tamas, rajas and sattva. 

Atheists believe that they are totally rational and above religion, but I think there is an honest debate possible here. Not necessarily by trying to prove the existence of the soul or God, but by reinterpreting these terms in ways that are more broadly meaningful. Indeed, through scientific analysis of the psychology of religion, we may be able to understand what "soul" and "God" are as psychological truths.

No human being can live without ideals. Ideals are formed through both the negative process (i.e., denying false gods, idols, neti neti, etc.) but also through establishing absolute values by which we can live our lives and find lasting happiness.

The natural tendency of human beings is to create language and symbols to establish social and cultural norms that enshrine these values.

But of course, there are degrees of maturity. The bane of the world is immature religion, which absolutizes the external shell, i.e., the symbols or words, without having truly delved into the meaning or realized the ideal. Which takes religion and puts it into the service of base motives, especially in the area of promoting ego strength and combatting ego weakness.

So, to use one example, the universal love preached by Christ becomes nationalist and sectarian zealotry, pitting one class or nation against another. The principles of purity lead to casteism. The principle of social cohesion become fanatic crusades or jihad. All because one's religion "makes one better than the other."

We can call this the work of "Maya" or the "Devil". After all, why not give it a name? The Christians say that the Devil is very expert in quoting shastras. Evil comes in many forms, and no form gives Evil more delight than that of piety and saintliness. Rationalism is clearly a great defense against tamasik religion because rationalism recognizes that the underlying meaning of a symbol is more important than the symbol itself.

However, I do not think that rationalism on its own is the ultimate key to finding the secret to happiness. Rationalism is what the Hindu tradition calls jnana. But the human being is more than reason. Hinduism's tripartite psychology also includes will and love. To reject reason is a dangerous path, but it is far from being the only secret to happiness.

The thousands of years of tradition, of research into religion through individual practice and rational discourse as it manifested within the parameters of those who followed the path of self-examination, should not be thrown aside without any appreciation of their value. This is to completely reject the intelligence of our forefathers. It is, in effect, saying that they had no wisdom whatsoever. This is truly irrational.

Rather, we must see ourselves as part of a single human tradition that seeks self understanding. The scientific age is only 200 or 300 years old. And we are seeing the disastrous consequences of our so-called scientific world as we plunder the world's resources, create a burden of overpopulation, climate change, and so on. Were these problems caused by religion? They may be exacerbated by it, but it is not the cause. We must look deeper into human nature for that.

Science is a means to help us understand ourselves more deeply, but it is only a late addition to the quest. Just as an adult may have increased wisdom without rejecting his past, it is necessary for humanity to understand and appreciate the discoveries of the past as well as to make use of new ones.

So though there is much of value, much food for thought, to be found in the atheistic critique of religion, you cannot cut yourself off from thousands of years of human development and evolution. There are also things of value there that need to be reconsidered, understood and perhaps implemented for the greater benefit of human society.

Sri Radhe Shyam!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Shared samadhi

Union in absolute silence is the cornerstone of making love.

That is to say, another word for love is shared samadhi.

Such sharing of samadhi reaches its apogee when the sharers are capable of individual samadhi. With no knowledge of such, sharing becomes imbalanced and tilts towards receiving. Then it effectively ceases to be strictly madhura.

The constant flow between equals of giving and receiving the samadhi impetus, or of creating effective waves in the ocean of samadhi, is the ideal of madhura-rasa.

Expertise in love is when both lovers are experts in samadhi. Therefore Krishna rightly said, "Be a yogi."

And such yoga must be asamprajnata yoga. Because even the so-called samprajnata of the devotees must pass through the door of asamprajnata.


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Physical lovemaking has an external power to take one to a certain level of samprajnata samadhi, but this is incorporated into a broader state by the expert yogi.

Due to its  mostly external nature, or to the extent of its externality, the degree of samadhi in lovemaking is affected by one's status in rajas, tamas, or sattva, or transcendence. Even so, since samadhi pervades all levels of the mind-field, one's momentary happiness in the sex act, even the most brutal, comes from that, i.e., from the sattva of samprajnata samadhi.

To experience the fullness of love, one must go through the door of a-samprajnata samadhi and into the transcendence known as Vrindavan.


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Sankirtan is shared samadhi in the plural.

Since shared samadhi has the basic feature of being together in silence, meditation in groups is also sankirtan.

Nama sankirtan exists on both sides of the river of silence.

But the same rule as above applies. The level of sankirtan samadhi is heightened through the presence of individuals with genuine samadhi experience, especially the samadhi of the Vrindavan kunja -- prema, Radha-Krishna, and the sakhis.

And of course, such friends dress the Name-form in delightful sound.


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Expect to get kicked in the butt

Maya infiltrates everywhere.

As soon as there are signs of bhakti, she comes to do her job. Lābha, pūjā, pratiṣṭhā, what to speak of ordinary sense gratifications, are all important parts of her arsenal.

Institutionalization is a particularly effective trick employed by Maya because it allows her to use the whole panoply of allurements, surreptitiously, by stealth as it were, deceptively, by dressing and decorating them in disguise as saintliness, dutifulness and surrender.

Ultimately, though institutions and organizations may serve a temporary benefit to (mostly) beginners in spiritual life, at some point they outlive their utility to the individual practitioner.

As you progress in spiritual life, you recognize the presence of the guru in the proximate, and not in the remote.

The principle is: the more distant the guru, physically and psychically, the less advanced you are. If your guru is only present in books, or on an altar, or on a stage 300 meters away, or on a screen, or in videos, etc., this goes without saying.

The guru relationship is human, it is present, and it is sweet in character.

If your guru relationship is predominantly touched by aiśvarya-bhāva, it may be temporarily beneficial for vaidhi type bhakti, but you will in all likelihood end up getting kicked in the butt. Expect it. One way or another. Direct or indirect.

Taking shelter of a guru or human institution for physical needs, etc., is not shelter, not surrender. It is a subtle way Maya has of sucking you into the closed institutional model (cult/sect, etc.) rather than the universal one of Prema.

Seek out advanced sādhu-saṅga, which is sweet and headed in the way you want to go. Seek out other, informal ways, of associating. That was the old model that Vaishnavism followed before the advent of modern institutionalization. It is the "small is good" model.


Sunday, July 01, 2012

Where's the monsoon? I want my monsoon!


More than two months now of daily max temperatures, officially, at between 45 and 47. I don't check every day, but today just seemed hotter than ever. Yesterday was ekadashi and I did the Vrindavan panchakosi parikrama. I left at 4.30 when the sun was still high and the temperature hot. I forgot to take water with me or to wet the gamcha I wrapped around my head, so by the time I got to Keshi Ghat I was beginning to heat up pretty badly.

The water looked fairly clean, for which I think Chandi Heffner should be thanked, and I immediately descended the steps and dipped multiple times. I may well have gone in even if it was gutter water, that was the state I was in, but by Chandi's grace, the bath was experienced as truly sacred and refreshing. Since I bathed fully clothed... not that fully clothed means much in this case, I am pretty much down to my old babaji uniform, a piece of torn cloth for a bahirvasa, another as an uttariya. Kaupin and nothing else. Gamcha wrapped around my head. In this heat, naked or just a kaupin to cover one's modesty seem to be the best option.

So, refreshed by my bath and with my clothes successfully soaked in Yamunaji's sacred spring, I set off again. The Yamuna non-stop kirtan was going on, but this time it was someting special, a group of women doing Hanuma Calisa or something. Anyway, it was a day when my usual curiosity did not rule my actions and I just sped onward. Usually, I sit and do kirtan for a while with the Yamuna Bachao people.

I bought water at the other side of Keshi Ghat where the pontoon bridge is. There are now at least a dozen shops there, where only a year or two ago it seems there were none. But I barely paid attention. I was doing parikrama at Brijvasi pace. Even with the bath, I marched onward.

I did not stop at Tatia Sthan this time. I have been going every parikrama for the past few weeks. The other day I had a great experience there in the mid afternoon. I grabbed an old gunny sack and made an asan for myself and sat in meditation. Just absorbing the quiet.  Somewhere, one of the babas is practising on the harmonium a Haridasi bhajan. The monkeys seem fearless and calm, wandering within inches but without creating any sense of danger, though I still kept my bag and glasses under close surveillance.

There are so many birds who seem to be chattering constantly. I swear that the parrots in Tatia Sthan have developed their vocabulary way beyond what would be their normal range. Since I had recently been going through Govinda-lilamrita, I could almost feel myself in Krishnadas Kaviraja's place in the Braj of the 16th century, hearing the parrots chatter and translating their speech into rasika poetry. At one point, some bird made the usual shrill parrot sound, maybe a danger warning or something. I swear the other parrots started mocking him. "What an unsophisticated speech! Must be a country bumpkin cousin..."

But today, no Tatia Sthan. I do the parikrama without my glasses nowadays. I have nothing to look at any more. I would rather not lose another pair of glasses to those conniving creatures again. You never know how far the science of stuff stealing has spread amongst the banar samaj. I have given up thinking I am outside the danger zone. I was well past Bamshi Bat and Tatia Sthan last time. There were no shops, no people. I had just put on the glasses thinking I was safe, and still a monkey did the pick and went bouncing up into a tree. Some kids showed up and after ten minutes or so retrieved them, but not before the critter had chewed the ends off the plastic temples. Luckily, this time the lenses were left unscratched, by some miracle. The opticians are probably the only Brijbasis who celebrate the monkeys' naughtiness.

Anyway, I dashed on. Completed the whole parikrama in 2 1/2 hours, which is a pretty good time for the 15 km walk. But when I got back, man, my body was in major complaint mode.  I didn't think I could manage, but still gave my Dana-keli-kaumudi class.  In the following 24 hours, though, I had to take extended moments of rest.

Sewak Sharan has been asking me to come and see him, so today I went there in the morning. A man from eastern U.P. was there and Sewak Sharanji was explaining his theories to him. He has been asking me to listen to his ideas about "Vrindavan consciousness" for some time, so I have been going through his website as well as reading all the printed materials he provided me with several moons ago.

One thing that particularly caught my eye was the 1982 manifesto making proposals to conserve the Vrindavan heritage. It was signed by a great number of major spiritual leaders of the time, Akhandananda Saraswati, Uriya Baba, Prabhudatta Brahmachari, Tatia Sthan mahanta Radha Charan Das, Jagannath Prasad Bhaktamali, Sharan Behari Goswami, Shrivatsa Goswami, and many others. Regrettable indeed that the proposals made in that official statement were completely ignored.

Sewak Sharan told me that in about 2001 he gave up actually fighting for Braj conservation. and went into a two-year period of meditation. The result of it was his idea for a universal system based on the natural world, which he calls Vrindavan consciousness. I told him honestly today that I was having a hard time putting in the hours that I need to put into working on Paramatma Sandarbha, especially now that I am giving the daily evening class, which usually lasts more than two hours. But with the time lost to sleep and bhajan, with a constant anxiety about my own personal writing that does not seem to be moving forward, I did not know how much time I would be able to give him, but still it was pleasant to be in his company.

Nearly everything I said, though perhaps inadequately expressed in my crappy Hindi, even though Sewak Sharan's English is quite good, still seemed to meet with agreement. Anyway, I have made a commitment to go to see him regularly and hopefully I will learn something useful.