Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Swami Veda follows Grandfather Bhishma


I just received a call from Adhikari in Rishikesh that yoga master 108 Sri Mahamandaleshwar Swami Veda Bharati Maharaj has left his body. I hereby offer my condolences to all his disciples and followers, many of whom have become good friends over the years.

Swamiji was a good friend and guide to me. I first became associated with him in 2007 when I joined the SRSG Gurukula as a teacher of Sanskrit. It is unfortunate that I never knew him earlier in life. Those who did knew him as a tireless teacher of meditation and Indian yogic culture. He was, in fact, an extraordinarily learned person, not only in traditional branches of knowledge, but in Western scholarship as well. He was a magnet for scholars of Sanskrit and Hindu shastra, especially those who came from the West, and I got to meet many of them at SRSG -- David Frawley, Bettina Boehner, Chris Chapple, Mark Singleton, to just mention a few off the top of my head.

When he was still in fairly good form, Swamiji would have very lively meals in the evening, usually with special guests, mostly very interesting ones. Swamiji would lead the way with much boisterous story telling. Over the years I met his son and daughter, grandchildren, as well as hundreds of his disciple children. It was a good and interesting company. Swamiji's evening meals were called the "Rishikesh Nightclub" and they always finished with Swamiji reciting, like a maha-mantra, the various choices of beverage with which the meal could be concluded, including cinnamon from Malaysia and cocoa from Trinidad.

At first I was primarily a Sanskrit teacher, but Swamiji approved of my meagre Sanskrit skills and so asked me to work on a number of projects, including several old translations that had been sitting around and just needed finalizing. Sanat-sujatiya and the Gita in the Vasishtha Ramayana were two of them. Swamiji also confided me with the Yoga-tarangini work. He also sent me a couple of times to represent him at conferences at the Ramkrishna Mission in Kolkata and Punjab University.

But the biggest project was redoing the first volume of Yoga Sutra, in the hope that the copyright to it could be wrested from the Himalayan Institute. The new volume was published privately, and it looks pretty good. Swamiji naturally wanted the other volumes of YS to be at the same standard, which may now never happen.

Nevertheless, I finished going through the third volume just before leaving Rishikesh a couple of weeks ago and so I am quite confident that this volume will be up to the standard. Swamiji had already started going through Volume II to revise that one also. And there are notes and so on for Volume IV. I tried to persuade Swamiji to concentrate on the sutras of the fourth volume and to leave aside the multitude of appendices he wanted to add to other volumes. Swamiji really wanted to present the Yoga Sutras authoritatively, encompassing the entire Sanskrit commentatorial tradition and highlighting practices or interpretations as given in the oral tradition, as he had received it from Swami Rama and others in his many years of contact with the world of yoga.

Although these projects will need to be carefully cared for, may Swamiji's desire to create an atmosphere where serious minded yogis -- particular those from the West -- can study and practice without distraction or disturbance and make real progress towards the higher reaches of yoga, namely Samadhi -- be fulfilled.

Swamiji also has, he has let it be known, a volume of reminiscences of his relationship with Swami Rama, which he wanted to be published posthumously. One of the reasons that he wanted it published posthumously is because there are many incidences in these memoirs that have a miraculous flavor to them, and moreover would seem to show his guru's special favour on him. But this was characteristic of Swami Veda. Although he was proud of his career, of the special circumstances of his early life and the role he played in the Caribbean with the Hindu diaspora there, and the winding road he took that led him to create Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama and the Gurukula project in Rishikesh, he always kept an attitude of humility towards everyone.

Swamiji made a point of not allowing his pictures to be hung in any official location on the ashram grounds, though some individuals naturally kept his photo on the walls of their room. But Swamiji had a horror of the lavish worship and cultish mentality that so many gurus promote. He wanted his disciples to understand the proper relationship of disciple to guru, but he refused to use such gross techniques to manipulate their minds. There are, of course, certain superficial advantages to the cult mentality, and had he so wished he could easily have employed those techniques, but he refused on principle.

Though I have written a few things about my experiences with Swami Veda on this blog and elsewhere, in the last few months that I spent at SRSG Swamiji called me to his room a couple of times. With John and Souresh present he made me promise to finish the Yoga Sutra project (and a lot of others that would require too much commitment from me). Then on another occasion -- just when the Yoga Tarangini came out -- he again exacted the same promise from me.

Where the Yoga Sutra is concerned I think that if I am to continue with the project even now, that we could follow the same technique that Swamiji used and then make use of recorded lectures and notes to supplement them to come up with something that would be close to his standard and his teaching intentions. It would, of course, require the contributions of all of Swamiji's longtime associates and disciples, who were most likely to have received the grace of knowing his lesser known secrets. Swamiji was proud of his connection to Swami Rama and the "oral tradition" of Himalayan yoga. This is where I would no doubt be less helpful.

I hope that all these projects will be maintained and carried out in the way that he envisioned and that his disciples will be empowered to carry his mantle and continue to lead the way and spread his legacy and that of the Himalayan tradition.

Many years ago, Swamiji wrote books about death and preparing for death, Meditation and the Art of Dying. He also cited the example of Grandfather Bhishma from the Mahabharata and his iccha-mrityu. Many times he expressed to me admiration for that model of departing from the world willingly. This last year Swamiji told me several times that the astrologers had told him that the mahamaraka yoga of inevitable death was hanging over him, but that he simply "refused to die." Each time he said this, he said it with absolute determination. He would especially go into silence and meditation, using nari shodhana and other techniques to stay the call of Death, all so that he could see his projects through. Just before I left SRSG in mid-June, Swamiji again said to me that he hoped that he would be able to finish everything, then say goodbye and enter kaivalya forever. I cannot believe that even though he left quietly in the auspicious brahma muhurta he did not do so in keeping with his ambitions of a glorious and voluntary death.

At any rate, it is not for a person's death that we remember them, but for their life and the good they do for others. Swamiji's contributions to deepening humanity's understanding of yoga and meditation and their benefits will long be remembered. And I would not like to minimize the work that he did for international peace and finding ways of harmonizing different religious traditions through meditation. His sterling relations with the Keralan Christians and Sufi sheikhs are just two examples of the work he did in this regard.

And again, to all those who have been with him for more than forty years -- Swami Ritavan, Stoma Parker, Swami Radha, Joanne Sullivan and a host of others, including Maryon Maass, Silvia Barata, Caroline Hume, Caroline and Stephan Hodges, etc., as well as those like Suren, Mei Wan, Tejas and the rest of the residents of SRSG who have been with Swamiji and served him for so long -- I offer my heartfelt condolences.

May he live in immortality.

By the way, his absolute last instructions to me were to floss…

The culture of bhava

I started publicly professing to be a Sahajiya when I saw various individuals promoting an agenda that I was not in tune with. I do not believe that sexuality is meant to be "free," or to be indulged in wantonly.

The Prema we talk about is pure. That is the axiomatic basis. Just because sexuality is involved does not mean that it is necessarily kāma, any more than any other activity transformed by relation ("dovetailing") to Krishna is kāma. It is part of the process of converting the innate desire that is expressed towards matter (kāma) into prema, i.e., that same desire directed towards God. There is only one energy in the soul, that is desire for union. Everything else is subordinate to that, and everything else is a servant of that. sarve vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ.

I fully expect Sahajiyaism and the other paths related to Gaudiya Vaishnavism -- good, bad and ugly -- to manifest in the course of time, just as happened in Bengal. There is too much sex in the West for a movement towards sacred sexuality not to take place. There are already many people who are flailing in this direction... and so some look for the sacred in polyamory, group sex, Tantrik sex, etc., etc., ... giving them some "sacred" overlay or justification. These are mostly off the mark, but any movement towards spiritualization has some validity. But we do not accept that sexuality equals love (that would be incredible!) but rather that it has utility for someone with prepared consciousness.

Rupa Goswami has defined love and indicated the higher stages of love that one can aspire to. But sacred love is not Krishna loving millions of gopis, but in his exclusive love for Radha, for which reason Radha is Krishna's guru. "Imitationism" comes in when one acts as the viṣaya of love. The challenge is to become the āśraya of love.

Sahaja is also yoga. Yoga means samādhi. Samādhi means total absorption in the object of meditation. One can never immediately feel love for the Deity with the intensity with which one can feel loving attraction for another human being. There are many reasons for this, but the basic one is stated in the Gita 12.5.

kleśo'dhikataras teṣām avyaktāsakta-cetasām |
avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaṁ dehavadbhir avāpyate ||
The misery of those whose minds are attached to the unmanifest is greater, because the goal of the unmanifest is attained with difficulty by the embodied beings.
The only way this will be possible is if we can see the Divine Person in the person who is connected with us in love.

In other words, we can look at the "Object" of love. We say that it is kāma when it is love for someone other than God, and it is prema when the object is God. But God presents himself to our perception in many ways. Because we are physical creatures, i.e., embodied, -- even when fully spiritualized -- according to Gaudiya philosophy, the fullest realization comes when we realize God directly, physically.

This is also the meaning of the Gopis desire to see Krishna return to Vrindavan instead of accepting the reality of Kurukshetra.

So to see Krishna means what? Do we focus on the Object or on the Bhāva? The point of difference between the pravartaka stage and the sādhaka stage in Sahajiyaism comes when we concentrate on the bhāva rather than the object per se. In other words, it is as much about loving as about the object of love. If you recognize the divinity of the object of love and cultivate that love in that consciousness, that is Sahajiyaism. The Vaishnava Sahajiya uses the cultural superstructure of Vaishnavism as an aid to the communion that is the culmination of love. Love is only possible between those who have a common basis. Of all common bases, consciousness of Radha-Krishna's madhura-prema is the best for the sādhanā of love.

In the pravartaka stage, one becomes transformed by Krishna consciousness, i.e., one becomes single-mindedly fixed on the Divine Couple (this is the best for Sahajiyas) with an imbalance or bias towards Radharani, who like Krishna is both āśraya and viṣaya, but as the feminine principle is more predominantly āśraya.

Now since feeling towards God, since it is primarily an internal process within oneself ("singular") it cannot on its own be prema. That is why the poeticians always called it a bhāva and never allowed it to be called an independent rasa. [More about this later.] It is only when Krishna is fully human that rasa is possible.

But to experience rasa in relation to Krishna one needs to have bhāva. And that bhāva will be experienced with greater intensity by the greatest majority of people within their love relationships in this world. This is the point of reference by which we can understand the metaphor of Radha and Krishna's love. But by the culture of love, recognizing that Radha and Krishna's love is imperfectly reflected in our human attempts at love and dovetailing it with devotion to the Divine Couple transforms the attraction to the numinous manifestation of divine humanity that is the object of love -- the sajātiyāśaya, snigdha, svato-vara sādhu-saṅga -- into divine prema.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Sandarbhas summarized in four verses

I was reflecting again on the idea of abbreviated works, like the four-verse Gita or Bhagavatam. We have also found a four-verse Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and a five-verse essential Gīta-govinda. Now here we present the essential four verses of the Sandarbhas.

As we would expect, since the Sandarbhas deal with the subjects of sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana, Jiva Goswami summarizes each of the divisions of the Sandarbhas with a verse at the conclusion of each. So the Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha, which concludes the section on sambandha has one verse that tells us what Jiva's final word in sambandha-tattva. Similarly, Bhakti-sandarbha concludes with a verse that similarly summarizes the abhidheya and Prīti-sandarbha the prayojana. The first verse, however, comes at the very beginning of Tattva-sandarbha and though it mentions prema, and bhakti, its main emphasis is again on sambandha-tattva. So the summary looks like this:
  • Tattva-sandarbha (sambandha-tattva, general, preliminary)
  • Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha (sambandha-tattva, specific, concluding)
  • Bhakti-sandarbha (abhidheya)
  • Prīti-sandarbha (prayojana
These verses are worthy of deep reflection and meditation, keeping an eye to the subtleties that they contain. So, without elaborating too much on the verses, just giving their translations, here they are:

(1)

yasya brahmeti saṁjñāṁ kvacid api nigame yāti cin-mātra-sattāpy
aṁśo yasyāṁśakaiḥ svair vibhavati vaśayann eva māyāṁ pumāṁś ca |
ekaṁ yasyaiva rūpaṁ vilasati parama-vyomni nārāyaṇākhyaṁ
sa śrī-kṛṣṇo vidhattāṁ svayam iha bhagavān prema tat-pāda-bhājām ||8||
In one feature Sri Krishna exists as pure consciousness, without any manifest characteristics, and is referred to as Brahman in some portions of the Vedas. In another feature He expands as the Purusha, who regulates the external potency, Maya, by His many plenary portions. In yet another of His principal forms He is Narayana, resplendent in the spiritual sky, Vaikuntha. May that Sri Krishna, the original complete Absolute Truth (svayam bhagavān), bestow love for Himself on those who worship His lotus feet in this world.
This is the general overview of sambandha, following the vadanti verse (1.2.11) of the Bhāgavatam. Note that Chaitanya Charitamrita 1.1.3 is calqued on this one. The next verse takes us beyond the Bhāgavatam. Krishna without Radha is given as the sambandha here, though the word Shri is usually interpreted to mean Krishna's Shakti.

The verse also includes the abhidheya (tat-pāda-bhājām) and the prayojana (prema), and allows that grace is the ultimate deciding factor, so it is more than simply the tattva.

(2)

gaura-śyāma-rucojjvalābhir amalair akṣṇor vilāsotsavair
nṛtyantībhir aśeṣa-mādana-kalā-vaidagdhya-digdhātmabhiḥ |
anyonya-priyatā-sudhā-parimala-stomonmadābhiḥ sadā
rādhā-mādhava-mādhurībhir abhitaś cittaṁ mamākrāmyatām ||
Let my heart be ever overpowered from all sides by the sweetness of Sri Sri Radha and Madhava who have a golden and blackish brilliance, manifesting the ever pure festival of their dancing eye movements, who are completely soaked in the expertise of the art of amorous activities, and who are supremely delighted by the fragrance of the ambrosia of mutual love.
Radha and Krishna, or the Divine Couple, or Krishna in the association of His primary potency, Radha. This is the final sambandha of the Gaudiya Vaishnava. In my view, Jiva Goswami spreads his net wide, but this is the fish he wants to catch and that is shown by his concluding verse to Krishna Sandarbha. And, in fact, for those who get this far, there is no need to go back.

(3)

guruḥ śāstraṁ śraddhā rucir anugatiḥ siddhir iti me
yad etat tat sarvaṁ caraṇa-kamalaṁ rājati yayoḥ |
kṛpā-mādhvīkena snapita-nayanāmbhoja-yugalau
sadā rādhā-kṛṣṇāv aśaraṇa-gatī tau mama gatiḥ ||
The guru, scripture, faith, taste, adherence and accomplishment… all these things are found at the lotus feet of Radha and Krishna, whose lotus eyes are bathed in tears of ambrosial compassion. may they become my shelter for they alone give shelter to those who have none.
Note that though the Bhakti-sandarbha is about the practices of devotion, the summary indicates an unfamiliar series of six principal stages or apparent causes of prema, but all of which are dependent on divine grace. This is an apt summary of the process of bhakti. Putting Guru and Shastra at the beginning prior to faith is an interesting approach, but could be said to be two stages of shravanam, which is emphasized throughout the Bhagavatam and Bhakti Sandarbha as the first stage of devotion, which even leads to faith. "Guru" is any sadhu whose presence inculcates faith in the devotee. All these six stages are dependent on Divine Grace.

(4)

ālībhiḥ paripālitaḥ pravalitaḥ sānandam ālokitaḥ
pratyāśaṁ sumanaḥ-phalodaya-vidhau sāmodam āmoditaḥ |
vṛndāraṇya-bhuvi prakāśa-madhuraḥ sarvātiśāyi-śriyā
rādhā-mādhavayoḥ pramodayatu mām ullāsa-kalpa-drumaḥ ||
The girlfriends of Srimati Radharani carefully nurture the desire tree of the Divine Couple Radha and Madhava’s jubilant pastimes in Vrindavan’s fertile soil, in constant expectation of seeing its beautiful flowers and fruits; they watch it develop and grow, and when those flowers and fruits appear, they are the ones to relish them. May that tree, by its unparalleled beauty, give pleasure to us also.
The role of Radha's sakhis is mentioned for the first time in the explanation of the prayojana, which is apt and significant. Also Vrindavan is spoken of for the first time.

Watch the video. If you want to skip the long-winded introduction, go to minute 10:


Sunday, July 05, 2015

Uploaded two videos to YouTube.


Singing the gopis verses from the first chapter of Rasa Lila, 10.29:



An introduction to Prema: The underlying ground of being from which all things arise, in which they subsist and in which they find their ultimate fulfilment: