Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bhakti and the culture of the human body (deha-sadhana)

In response to my discussion of asana-siddhi, it was suggested that this was intended to impress others rather than to be a value in itself.



Of course this is not about impressing anyone, except for impressing on them the importance of physical culture, deha-sādhana. I cannot possibly agree with those devotees who think that proper care of this human body is irrelevant to the pursuit of bhakti. Who think that exploring the potential of the human body has no relation to the culture of Krishna prema.

śarīram ādyaṁ khalu dharma-sādhanam

The body is the beginning point of all spiritual culture.

The shastra glorifies the human body as the vehicle to spiritual realization, but we think it is only talking about the human brain and we ignore the rest of the possibilities and glories of this body. Dattatreya says the human body is the 25th guru. In other words, of all the "natural" gurus, the human body is the best.

Yet we think that listening to and learning from this miraculous engine that is the human body is somehow "not" Krishna conscious.

Krishna took a human form and engaged in such pastimes as the world would be attracted to him. He didn't really need the body to have a brain or a mind. It was the human form itself that was desirable for its possibilities in terms of lila.

We reside in the middle of a complex system that is interconnected--body-mind-intelligence-self. If you think you can skip the lower self and go straight to the higher, I admire your courage, and indeed, God's mercy is great on all those who seek him by the most direct method possible. But those who know that the human body IS the Lord's grace on us will learn how to engage it in the service of divine consciousness in a multiplicity of ways.

Bhakti is also a yoga because it is also about transforming the mind. We have some different ideas from yoga, philosophically, but most of the basic principles of yoga sādhana also apply to bhakti -- sooner or later you have to go from the external to the internal, and the internal process begins by looking within the body. That means first seeing the body and then seeing what is IN the body: First the prana and then the mind. And then the intelligence.

sṛṣṭvā purāṇi vividhāny ajayātma-śaktyā
vṛkṣān sarīsṛpa-paśūn khaga-dandaśūkān
tais tair atuṣṭa-hṛdayaḥ puruṣaṁ vidhāya
brahmāvaloka-dhiṣaṇaṁ mudam āpa devaḥ
With the help of his illusory potency, the Supreme Lord created this visible world with its trees, serpents, animals, birds and other creatures, but his heart remained dissatisfied. Then he created man, who alone possesses the intelligence to see Brahman and was delighted. (SB 11.9.28)
labdhvā sudurlabham idaṁ bahu-sambhavānte
mānuṣyam arthadam anityam apīha dhīraḥ
tūrṇaṁ yateta na pated anumṛtyu yāvat
niḥśreyasāya viṣayaḥ khalu sarvataḥ syāt
After many, many births, one finally is born in a most rare and valuable human body which provides an opportunity to attain the supreme goal, but is nevertheless temporary. Therefore, the wise individual should immediately take up the effort to find that which provides the supreme good in all times and circumstances, and not give up that effort to the very moment of his death. (SB 11.9.29)
nṛ-deham ādyaṁ su-labhaṁ su-durlabhaṁ
plavaṁ su-kalpaṁ guru-karṇa-dhāram |
mayānukūlena nabhasvateritaṁ
pumān bhavābdhiṁ na taret sa ātma-hā ||
This human body is the root of all benefits. 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 willfully committing suicide. [11.20.17]
The first thing is to learn what the body is capable of spiritually. The body is the vehicle for the subtle body and the soul. So still the body and contemplate the mind. See the reflection of God in the body and the mind. See God in the intelligence in the thousand-petaled lotus. Set the energy rising from below to above, from the raw energies, the raw material of psychic energy or libido, on the path of transformation into the pure intelligence that manifests in the form of Radha-Krishna.

The intelligence of Prema.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Recognizing the channel of Grace

Bhakta : I find it a bit odd that the person (you) I respect and admire is defending someone (Prabhupada) who is the exact opposite. What I like about you is that you allow your perspective to change and grow as you become more realized, whereas Prabhupada presented himself as having all the answers for the next 10,000 years. If Prabhupada were here today he would probably deride you as a sahajiya - and yet you defend him. I know he is your first spiritual master... but, he is not your kind of a person.

People sometimes claim that if it weren't for Prabhupada then they would not have known about bhakti. I dismiss those arguments because we don't know what would have happened otherwise. I'm not so sure if on the balance what Prabhupada presented has caused more good than harm.

Jagadananda Das: Radhe Radhe. You can't talk about your life theoretically. Your life is all you have. The process of bhakti is to recognize the presence of Grace. And Guru Tattva means recognizing the channel of grace. You cannot take the grace and disparage the vessel from which it came, no matter how flawed.

We are in a transformative time. Prabhupada himself talked about the necessity of putting old wine in new bottles. But because our knowledge-universe is really so different from his, we need to do a lot of work to really understand the essence of bhakti.

Our knowledge universe has one kind of sophistication, but there is a great deal of sophistication in the yoga systems of India as well, which developed over millennia. Bhakti is also one of those systems and should not be looked at superficially. All these systems have universal applicability.

But if you simply observe things with a critical or empirical lens and without actual practical insight, then you are bound to misunderstand what is meant to result from bhakti practice.

We value knowledge over wisdom. And so a lot of shallow (though complex) thinking poses as wisdom in our day. The goal, as I see it, is to harmonize empirical observation with the inner practice and transformation.

God is not something that can be reified. God's presence in our lives is subjective. The mistake of most religious believers is literal mindedness. In this world of Maya, it seems madness to take this approach. The critiques of modern psychology, etc., help us to become free of it, but we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We can push things forward by seizing the essence. Don't underestimate the rishis.

And to bring this back to Prabhupada, don't underestimate his brilliance in attracting people to the bhakti path. If you think I have any good qualities, you should know that these good qualities also originate in him.

Guru, Grace and Gratitude.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sitting meditation postures and Bhakti Yoga

Thoughts after morning meditation. I am trying to attain asana siddhi, which means sitting for 216 minutes without moving - no stretching, twitching, itching, scratching.

What is interesting about asana siddhi is that you can't achieve it without pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. But pranayama, etc., really only start after one has attained asana siddhi.

Question: Doesn't Vipassana do it?

Jagadananda Das: All meditation systems require sitting still. But Vaishnava meditation is meditation on Krishna mantra, Krishna rupa, Krishna lila, and on the world of prema.

Prabhupada disciple: In this age Lord Caitanya gave the process of chanting Hare Krishna as the only and proper way quick spiritual advancement. Much better use of 216 minutes than trying to attain asana siddhi.

Jagadananda Das: Thank you for your input. Now my question to those who talk like this is, what is the goal of chanting?
Is one meant to concentrate on the Holy Name?

Does chanting lead to the desire to remember Krishna's name, form and pastimes?

If so, can this practice of remembering, which goes through five stages, namely smarana, dharana, dhyana, dhruvanusmriti and samadhi, have any accessory practices that might enhance that progression?

Is the best chanting exercised while pacing back and forth, while sitting in an awkward position with the back bent forward and the knees raised, in a sofa chair, or while sitting in a proper asana? In other words, by enhancing rajas and tamas?

Is remembering best enhanced by sloppy breathing through the mouth and into the chest -- which are also detrimental to physical health -- or by proper posture and proper breathing?

Furthermore, does not enhancing your sattva guna through quietening the bodily processes, the organs, the limbs, through the breath, result in the mind becoming clarified and more capable of hearing, chanting and relishing he Holy Name?

The desire to hear and chant itself should be motivation enough to learn to sit down properly and chant with complete attention in samadhi.

Jai Radhe.

Jayadharma Das: I too have a question: I have found myself in a wheelchair for the last decade, and can no longer practice proper posture or breathing as you have described here. Am I - and others who may find themselves in a similar position - then screwed? Can the Divine Name of God only be intoned by the able-bodied?

Vinode Vani Dasi: Good one, Jayadharma. Tere are no 216 minutes of siddhasana for many of us now; the body has morphed into something uncooperative.

Jagadananda Das: Of course not. I think this argument is a red herring. It has been leveled at me many times. You chant with emotion. Your physical disability probably enhance your emotional connection to the name.

Even if you have to sleep 23 hours and have one hour of half wake half sleep, that moment of chanting may be greater than all the chanting of all the yogi bhaktas everywhere.

BUT!!!! If you are able-bodied, then why drive your body into the ground by unhealthy habits? If you are able-bodied why not use this God-given human body,, which is healthy, to enhance your spiritual practice?

Are we to deny the body, when the human body is so glorified, not just for the enhanced intelligence, but for the various capabilities for experience that it gives us? Are we to reject the science of samadhi because some people are invalid?

And let me say further that any practice one undertakes will show its benefits even when you become invalid or uncooperative. Because it leaves a sattvika and transcendental samskara.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What is bhakti yoga?

I was asked by my friend Gustavo Plaza, the editor of Sadhana, a Spanish language magazine on yoga published from Ecuador, to answer some questions for their next edition, which will focus on Bhakti Yoga. Answers were requested to be short.



1. In your words, what is Bhakti Yoga?

Bhakti yoga is the application of the principles of yoga, i.e., single-pointed concentration, to the art of love. It is the path of achieving union with God through the art of love.

2. What is the relation, connection and similarities of Bhakti Yoga with the traditional paths of Classical Yoga (Raja, Dhyana) and its practices? And what are the main differences of Bhakti Yoga to these other yogas?

All yoga systems follow the fundamental outline of the Yoga Sutra, proceeding from external practices to internal transformation. As one becomes purified by the external practices of Bhakti-yoga, one enters into subtler realms of consciousness. The principal difference in bhakti yoga is the emphasis on God as a person. There are numerous other differences based on theology and philosophy and practice as well, but that is fundamental. God is the all attractive. Bhakti is the art of cultivating this attraction to God through the arts – poetry, song, and dance – as well as meditation.

3.Western practitioners of Yoga, tend to consider Bhakti Yoga as a form of Hindu Religion practice and cult, and most of the time people think that Bhakti Yoga is chanting “Hare Krishna” (for the influence of ISKCON in the West). But we miss the point that there are other forms of Bhakti beyond the Vaisnava Bhakti. Could you talk to us about the school of Bhakti of the Vaisnavas and the other traditions of Bhakti? If theres any other than that?

It is true that bhakti developed primarily in the Vaishnava tradition. But bhakti shares many characteristics with Tantra, especially where mantra, yantra and worship are concerned. The Bhagavata Purana, which is one of the main Vaishnava bhakti texts, says that one who is still governed by the qualities of darkness, or tamo-guna, tends to adopt sectarian and fundamentalist attitudes. But like all Hindu yoga systems, when one advances, one ultimately comes to a state of universal love where such boundaries are recognized as artificial. All resides within one God who is perceived differently by different people according to their taste and their qualification. This pan-Hindu concept is accepted by all schools of Bhakti yoga.

4. Bhakti Yoga has a important ritual componente as part of its practice. And Ritual is also essential in the Tantric traditions (such as the Kashmir Shaivism) is there any connection in history of Tantra and Bhakti? And also Tantra seems to be older than Bhakti, is this correct?

The Vaishnava Tantra is known as Pancharatra and is as old if not older than the kinds of Tantra that are present in other schools of worship. The great temples of south India are all based on Pancharatra. Pancharatra also includes the practices of yoga. Vaishnava bhakti has two main branches. One is Pancharatra, as above described, the other is the Bhagavata school, which emphasizes hearing and singing about, and remembering the mythology of Krishna and his incarnations.

6. Could you give us some insights that you might think that are import for people to know when we talk about Bhakti Yoga?

The emphasis on God as a person helps to bring the focus on interpersonal human relations. Love of God should not take us away from the world but lead to a vision of God's personal presence, first in oneself, then in others, and finally in everything. Many people think that God as a person is philosophically unsound, and that bhakti is a temporary process that falls away when one understands the all-pervading nature of God. But for the bhakta, the intensity of love of God is so sweet that he never thinks of abandoning that love for any other kind of spiritual experience, especially not those in which his own being is either annihilated or merged into the existence of an impersonal God.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Truth and the Deceiver


I have a reluctance to speak of politics on this blog, though it is not a hard and fast rule. As a non-American observer living in a distant land, it may seem presumptuous of me to comment on the recent American election. Indeed, many of my friends think that as a devotee living in Vrindavan, such an interest is inimical to my vocation. However, my response is that in today's world, where globalization is bringing us all closer together day by day, awareness of trends in the most powerful nation-state on the planet is to be concerned with the entirety of humanity and the fate of the planet itself. We live in Vrindavan because it is the holy center of our religious path, but we do not reject the world as false. Out of concern for humanity we state our truth. Moreover, out of concern for the principles of our religion, we state our truth.

Those who find me "too concerned" with mundane affairs, or accuse me of prajalpa (!) are often devotees who simply hold differing views. Normally, differing views are understandable and to be tolerated. But the situation has become abnormal. What is going on with the election of Mr. Trump is not a normal situation. Too many people claiming to be Vaishnavas fail to see how they are being deceived and how the President-elect is the very antithesis of our dharma. I hope the following will clarify a little, at least I speak my truth. Original version here.




I was just having a conversation with some devotees here at Jiva and they asked me about false gurus. I went into some detail as I had just been talking about to them about God as Truth.

They had been inquiring into the Gopala Champu, so I was giving them a bit of a rundown.

In the Bhagavatam, Krishna says he will come back to Vrindavan many times. The Bhagavatam begins with the words satyaṁ paraṁ dhīmahi, "I meditate on the Supreme Truth" which is Krishna.

When Krishna is about to be born, the gods begin their prayer to him in the womb with the words satya-vrata: God is devoted to the truth. In so many ways, the truth: He is the truth of the universal law, He is the womb of truth, He is the Truth of truth."

satya-vrataṁ satya-paraṁ tri-satyaṁ
satyasya yoniṁ nihitaṁ ca satye
satyasya satyaṁ ṛta-satya-netraṁ
satyātmakaṁ tvāṁ śaraṇaṁ prapannāḥ

We take shelter of you,
whose essence is truth:
You, who are true to your vow,
who value the truth above all,
who are truth in past, present and future;
You who are the womb of truth,
who are hidden in all truth,
who are the truth of truth;
You who are the eye of the truth
of the cosmic law. (10.2.26)

For an expanded meditation on this verse, see Musings on Truth and Love.
Such a Krishna cannot not come back when he promised he would. But the Bhagavatam does not tell that story. You have to deduce it. That is what the Gopala Champu is about.
God is Truth. And similarly the Guru is Truth. And a false guru means a liar. The Bible also, I believe, calls Satan "the Liar."

So I said, there are two kinds of false guru: one is misguided and one is evil. The one who is misguided is the sincere one who has reached the limits of his realization and stumbles. He can then choose the path of truth or the path of the lie. The latter course is to pretend to be something he is not and, if not careful, he will become evil over time by virtue of his lying.

The one who is evil lies deliberately to misguide you, the innocent one. And the Big Liar leads those who love his lies and wish to become liars like him, because they see what he gains from his lies--wealth, honor, prestige, power.
Like the Gita says of the asuric mentality, na satyaṁ teṣu vidyate -- there is no Truth in them. And at this point in my discourse, I was bound to use, as an example of a false prophet, Trump.

The world stands in open-mouthed amazement that a man whose every word is a lie, who slaps every honest person in the face with his narcissistic self-serving actions, can do so with such impunity, with such acceptance. He is the incarnation of the normalized Lie.

The Lie that was normalized in Fox News, in Rush Limbaugh, in Alex Jones, in Glenn Beck, in a dozen other such propounders of every possible deception they could invent, every molehill they could turn into a mountain -- that the best lies are those that have a grain of truth is well known.
Then he who was born of a falsehood -- the lie about Obama's birthplace -- took into his fold, as his aide-de-camp, the mastermind of the Breitbart site, which is one of the great modern innovators of using the internet to purvey Fake News as propaganda.
You may not remember ACORN and the doctored video that pretended to be a sting, but was a kind of attempt at entrapment. It was all Breitbart’s lie, he was taken to court, but it brought down ACORN anyway. It did its job.
And then one of Breitbart's acolytes, a certain Mr. O'Keefe, tried to do the same thing with horrible abortion videos and a similar attempt at entrapment to bring down Planned Parenthood.

Sensationalizing the idea that they were selling body parts of aborted foetuses. It was an easily debunked lie, but these people have learned that a good lie is one that goes on living even after it has been killed. They know a good lie is immortal in the subconscious of those who hear it often enough.
Told often enough, told in as many outlandish guises as possible, even fantastical and sheer extreme audacity of untruth ("The Big Lie"), it takes roots in the minds and hearts of those who are susceptible to its main purpose, which is Hate. And with success, they can learn to grow hate even where there was love. Hate stands at the end of the line that has goes through Rage and Fear.
These are the masters of the Lie. And they have, with their lies successfully created an atmosphere in which no one believes anyone, where any truth is the same as a lie, where false equivalence reigns, where one believes what one wants to believe and disregards the rest. A true postmodern man, whose only truth is that nothing is true. Where the only one who speaks the truth is the one who tells you to believe no one...

And Trump says, “Believe me.” It's his "tell." He speaks a brazen lie and says, “Believe me.” And they do. He calls everyone else a liar, “crooked,” and his minions love it. They do believe it.

cintām aparimeyāṁ ca pralayāntām upāśritāḥ |
kāmopabhoga-paramā etāvad iti niścitāḥ ||11||
āśā-pāśa-śatair baddhāḥ kāma-krodha-parāyaṇāḥ |
īhante kāma-bhogārtham anyāyenārtha-saṁcayān ||12||
idam adya mayā labdham idaṁ prāpsye manoratham |
idam astīdam api me bhaviṣyati punar dhanam ||13||
asau mayā hataḥ śatrur haniṣye cāparān api |
īśvaro’ham ahaṁ bhogī siddho’haṁ balavān sukhī ||14||
āḍhyo’bhijanavān asmi ko’nyo’sti sadṛśo mayā |
yakṣye dāsyāmi modiṣya ity ajñāna-vimohitāḥ ||15||

They are beset with immeasurable anxiety, up until the moment of their own destruction. Their only real goal is the enjoyment of their desires. They are bound by the ropes of a hundred desires, attached to lust and anger and for the sake of their lusts, they accumulate wealth by illicit means. They think, "I have accumulated this much today, and tomorrow I will fulfill another of my whims. I have this much wealth today and in the future I will accumulate so much more. I have killed that enemy of mine, and I will kill the rest too. I am ḻord and ṁaster; I am the enjoyer, I am successful powerful and happy! I am classy, and noble. Who is there equal to me? I will do some religious activities, engage in a bit of charity and just have fun." This is how they are bewildered by ignorance." (Gita 16.11-15)

That is the victory of the Liar. And here I speak of Satan. There is no truth in him. And he has got his man in the White House, who may have spoken the truth only this once, when he said, "I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and my followers would still believe in me."

Gandhi he is not. Satyam eva jayate.




The principal objection I hear to the above is the "false equivalence" that everyone is doing it. There is some truth to this, but it is an abdication of one's responsibility to the truth to make no discrimination. We hear "wet-stool, dry-stool" -- "it's all the same." This is also an abdication of responsibility to the truth. I take the Clintons and Obama to be at worst the "misguided" -- people who are corrupted by the system, who feel that in order to do good they must win, and in order to win they must play the game. The game is rigged to money and, now, obviously, to those who master the art of propaganda. One who enters this world courts danger, but if no one acts for the welfare of those who are less fortunate, one leaves the jackals and vultures to have free reign. And indeed that is what has happened with the total Republican domination of the American government.

I am not keen to waste my time responding to the inevitable plethora of negative comments that such a post invites, so I have disabled comments on this post. If you want to comment, this is also on Facebook. Jai Radhe.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Vaishnava scholar Fakir Mohan Dasji nearing the end


I just heard from Madhavananda Dasji of Bhubaneswar ISKCON that Fakir Mohan Das, a noted scholar of Orissan religious history and literature, is extremely ill and will probably not survive this crisis. His kidneys are failing and various other problems mean that the 90 year old sage and naishthika brahmachari is close to the end.

We met for the first time in many years just a few days ago in Vrindavan, where he had come for Karttik Niyam Seva, as was his wont. It was a wonderful, sweet meeting. I am sorry I missed the opportunity to associate with him more over the years as he is a fountain of knowledge about the history of Chaitanya Vaishnavism in Orissa.

I was a bit sad that he left Vrindavan when the heart problems struck again, but for him, Orissa is every bit as much a divya lila sthan as Braj. He was staying here with Nabadwip Chandra Das, a disciple of Gaur Govinda Maharaj, who was himself a childhood friend of Fakir Mohan's. When Gaur Govinda Maharaj opened the Bhubaneswar temple, he introduced his disciples to Fakir Mohan and encouraged them to associate with him. Among those whom he influenced are Prem Prayojan Das, Bhakta Rupa Das and Madhavananda Das, and many others.

He is truly a learned and humble Vaishnava. And though he has accomplished so much, he still has so many desires for service to the Vaishnava sampradaya left unfulfilled. I sincerely hope that someone will take up where he has left off, for without an understanding of Chaitanya as seen in Orissa as well as the later history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism there, our picture will be incomplete.

What to say? He will be sorely missed, he is a unique and lovely person, a jewel in the Oriya Vaishnava world. May his glories be widely known and his contributions to our knowledge be widely disseminated in other languages besides Oriya.

I feel very fortunate that I was able to get one last darshan. Jai Radhe.

I met Fakir Mohan Ji for the first time in 1980 or thereabouts. I was staying at Kanupriya Goswami's house in Prachin Mayapur translating Jiber Svarupa o Svadharma. He and several other disciples of Kanupriyaji came for the annual festival that year. I was also a student of Kanailal Adhikary at the time, who was an associate of Fakir Mohan's from the times they worked together for Sundarananda Vidyavinoda.

Though I hadn't seen him in the meantime, I was very happy that Gaur Govinda Maharaj's disciples sought out his association and admired his wealth of knowledge and insight into Vaishnava history and theology.

His attempts to seek out the Orissan roots of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the other Sylhet Vaishnavas who came and played such a big role in the formation of the Chaitanya movement are extremely valuable for our understanding, especially since it seems that the Bhagavatam and Sridhar's commentary were an important part of their heritage.

I especially found Mahābhāva-prakāśa, the small Oriya book by Kahnai Khuntia, a Mahaprabhu associate mentioned in CC, a member of Prataparudra's court, that he discovered and published, to be a valuable source of information about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's relationship with the Orissan king. It has not yet been translated into English, and I hope it will be soon. I have referred to it in this article about Prataparudra.

But Fakir Mohan Dasji also made a huge contribution to the tradition of Bhaktivinoda Thakur by helping to recover his ancestral home in Chhoti Mangalpur in Kendrapara district, where the Thakur spent a pivotal part of his life, along with the Radha Madhava deities that were worshiped there by that branch of his family.

Of course there is much more that he did, and a lot that remains unfinished. His guru did not give him permission to make disciples, which is rather unfortunate as he has no one to take up the work from where he left off, and I am sure there is plenty. Even if his writings in Oriya were translated into English it would be a great contribution, but only a beginning in terms of sharing his gifts to the sampradaya.

Most of all, when I saw him this time, I saw him as a lovely, lovely Vaishnava sadhaka, with an extreme purity of heart and total dedication to his service and to his bhajan.

I feel like I am jumping the gun a bit here, writing a premature obituary. It was just a few days ago that I saw him and he was glowing and enthusiastic. He made me enthusiastic to inquire more from him. I even invited him to come and speak at Jiva Institute to share a bit of his insights with the international students who are here for the Bhakti Tirtha course, and he was enthusiastically preparing to give a talk on Jiva Goswami to them when this latest health problems struck.

May he live forever. Jai Radhe.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Three validations

The amazing Ed Bryant (Advaita Prabhu Das) just received here at Jiva the final proofs for his new book, "Yoga in the Krishna Bhakti Tradition" to be published by the same company that did his Yoga Sutra, Macmillan. He has promised to give me a few excerpts for Vrindavan Today, so look for them in the coming days.

For all my friends in the AHYMSIN tradition, I will just say that Swami Veda Bharati wanted me to do something like this, research yoga in the Bhagavata Purana. He even had Ram Charit photocopy and paste all the relevant verses from BhP so that he could have it as a ready reference. And I even wanted to do it, and if I hadn't committed to Vrindavan  and the Sandarbhas project, I may have gotten around to it.

Swamiji was planning projects that he knew he could never ever finish to his final day.

Anyway, his desire has been fulfilled by a reputable scholar and, I may say, a great admirer of Swamiji's work. He relied on it heavily for his own Yoga Sutra work and considered it to be the ultimate standard on the Yoga Sutra available in English.

The yoga-related excerpts from Bhagavata Purana have now been translated and are included in Dr. Bryant's new book.

Edwin has done a lot to promote yoga to the bhaktas and bhakti to the yogis. So I only wish that he could have met Swamiji, as I am sure it would have been love at first sight.

Advaita Prabhu may have done this seva that could have been mine, but I think he envies me the years I was able to spend in close association with Swamiji.

Jai Radhe.

Today I actually became quite inspired.

First by Dr. Demian Martins, who has such a determination to serve Gaudiya literature by tracking down Baladeva Vidyabhushan's manuscripts. I have even said he may be Baladeva's reincarnation. He is the one who is pushing for the Vrindavan Research Institute to become more open and helpful.

Together we went to see Paramadvaiti Maharaj, who also inspired me. He is tireless and determined to see Vrindavan cleaned up and improved in whatever way possible -- but with the right kind of vision, perhaps a vision that comes from his Germanness, but one that nevertheless will not be easy to oppose -- green, clean and human. He just doesn't give up. Once he gets his teeth into a project, he just keeps it going and going, and going. He has his disciples and he gives them these jobs.

His overall vision is a very ecological one. He is the eco-bhakti guru.

Both Bhakta Demian and Maharaj inspired me to do my best to get Vrindavan Today clicking on all cylinders again. Both represent two arms of VT -- the devotional-historical-cultural aspect and the eco-bhakti aspect.

The third inspiration I got was from Ed Bryant, who is now writing another book, this time on yoga in the Gita. He is basically doing another translation of the Gita which he will orient towards a "bhakti - yoga" understanding. Understanding bhakti AS a yoga. I am proud that he is using the Grantha Mandir edition of the Gita with four commentaries, for which he was very appreciative. This has been wonderful confirmation that my work has served the purpose for which it was intended and how can I not find joy in that? So of course I asked him to proofread the text to the extent that he can.

So in a way, three aspects of my life were validated today:

* as a servant of the Vaishnava shastras,
* as servant of the Dham with Vrindavan Today,
* and as a servant to the scholarly Vaishnavas with the Grantha Mandir.

I have become determined to somehow or another find people who will help me in my service.

By the way, Demian Maritns signed up as a member of the World Vaishnava Association, another of Paramadvaiti Maharaj's projects, got a certificate and everything, and is now a member of the WVA team for collecting and publishing previously unknown Gaudiya literature.

Another postscript, Paramadvaiti Maharaj did meet Swami Veda Bharati ji during the Haridwar Kumbha.



Kevala kumbhaka and nadi shodhana

One of the great good fortunes I had in my life was to get the association of Swami Veda Bharati. Two things he taught me come to mind this morning:  
  • The actual meditation takes place on the outward breath. So lengthen the outward breath."
  • And, "It is one thing to meditate in a secluded place, but can you maintain that same meditative state at the main crossroads of the Rishikesh bazaar?"
What fortune that I have a place in the Dham where I can sit in silence and contemplate the name of the Lord. At the same time, I do have occasional contretemps which challenge my equilibrium and pretensions to saintliness. May love and peace rule our hearts and minds. Jai Radhe.

----

For those wishing more information about breathing and meditation, you can look here for more information). In short, the sequence of learning goes through the following steps:

(1) abdominal breathing through the nose; put an end to mouth and chest breathing; even when chanting japa, mouth breathing should be avoided.

(2) Sushumna breathing, i.e., observe the breath passing through the septum, i.e,. balancing the breath between the nostrils; More below.

(3) breathing smoothly, without breaks, without jerks, without pauses, the exhalation merging into the inhalation and vice versa. This is the practice of kevala kumbhaka, which is conducive to meditation. Kumbhaka as an element of pranayama is okay isolated from actual meditation, but only as a training for the lungs and breath awareness. Meditation should be undisturbed by irregular breathing, such as holding the breath.

(4) Associate the breath with thought stream of the mantra.

(5) Once you have mastered the above, you should slow down the breath, especially the exhalation.

Although the benefits will be noticeable, immediately with each step, the real effects will continue to be attained throughout all your years of practice.

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

I have a rather nasty strep throat and lung congestion today. So I spent my whole morning on sinus, nasal, throat and lung exercises. As much as I could do.

When Swami Veda was nearing the end of his life, he suffered a heart attack and was in a very delicate situation. During that period, he would come down into the meditation hall with a couple of close disciples and spend two hours doing just nadi-shodhana up until the regular meditation hour when he would sit with everyone.

The balancing of the opposites is a kind of Holy Grail in Hatha Yoga. That quest starts with nadi shodhana. And nadi shodhana should be internalized, i.e., one should be able to conduct the practice without the aid of the Vishnu mudra, simply by focusing the mind on the flow of breath through one nostril at a time.

This should then be carried over into all asana practices, especially those that require left/right side alternation.

For instance, in maha mudra, you stretch one leg out to one side with your other heel embedded in the yoni sthana (the spot between the muladhara and svadhisthana). Then you hold your outstretched foot, or your big toe, with both hands. The pressure on the yoni sthan gently activates the root shakti. The stretching of the leg activates the principal nadi from the big toe through the inside of the leg. The breath should accompany awareness of the nadi pathway from top to bottom, bottom to top.

Now there are various ways to breathe in this position. When the physical aspects are in place and reasonably comfortable (sthiram sukham asanam) one can turn one's attention to the breath. In this position you generally breathe in through the nostril that is on the same side as the outstretched leg. Right leg out, breathe in through the right nostril, out through the left.

But the alternative is also okay and you can even do an entire nadi shodhana routine in this position, on each side. The Goraksha Shataka says "until both sides are equal." So clearly this posture was envisioned as something that should be carried out for more than a few minutes.

Maha mudra is designed to give relief to the legs after long sitting in siddhasana or padmasana.

But the same goes for other positions, like twists or gomukha asana. By doing the alternate nostril breathing in each of these postures, one can follow the specific energy paths that are activated on each side.

Once this has been mastered, it is not a problem to associate the mantra with the process. As the breath slows, mantra concentration becomes more sublime.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Love and vastu shakti

Abhi sent me the following verse in comments on the debate post.

saṅgo yaḥ saṁsṛter hetur
asatsu vihito ’dhiyā
sa eva sādhuṣu kṛto
niḥsaṅgatvāya kalpate

"Association with the unholy that is undertaken by one in ignorance is the cause of material bondage. The very same association -- even in ignorance -- done with the saintly leads to freedom from material attachment."

"Association for sense gratification is certainly the path of bondage. But the same type of association, performed with a saintly person, leads to the path of liberation, even if performed without knowledge."

"If one keeps the company of the wicked, then the result will be a life of deep entanglement. Even if we don’t make the judgment who is a good person and who is bad, we will still receive the results of such association. On the other hand, if we associate with the saintly, we will be freed from all material attachment." (SB 3.23.55)

Vishwanath says that this verse shows that vastu-śakti (the innate power of a thing in itself) does not depend on knowledge, like fire burns with or without one's awareness of its power to do so. Therefore the word ignorant or bereft of intelligence (adhiyā) is common to both sides of the sentence.

This ties in nicely with the passage in the 11th Canto, Chapter 12, where various ignorant devotees are said to have attained perfection through sanga, including the gopis. (11.12.10-13).

Those verses are interpreted in a specific way related to the lila by Jiva Goswami, which will be shown in Krishna Sandarbha and Sankalpa-kalpa-druma, and we shall no doubt have occasion to discuss these things soon enough. Here, however, I would like to see them in their original, primary sense.The "ignorance" of the gopis is the same ignorance as of those situated in knowledge, i.e., who have gone beyond knowledge. Let me quote a couple of those verses:
tā nāvidan mayy anuṣaṅga-baddha-
dhiyaḥ svam ātmānam adas tathedam |
yathā samādhau munayo’bdi-toye
nadyaḥ praviṣṭā iva nāma rūpe ||
They knew nothing of themselves or their kin, of this world or the next, for their intelligence was bound in attachment to me; like sages in samadhi, like rivers flowing to the ocean, they merged completely into my name and form. (11.12.12) (SKD 1.232-236)
mat-kāmā ramaṇaṁ jāram asvarūpa-vido’balāḥ |
brahma māṁ paramaṁ prāpuḥ saṅgāc chata-sahasraśaḥ ||
Desiring to have me as their paramour lover, these girls attained Me, the Supreme Brahman, in their hundreds and thousands without even knowing their own true spiritual nature, just due to My holy association. (11.12.13, KS 177)
A similar point is made in Uddhava's glorification of the gopis,
kvemāḥ striyo vana-carīr vyabhicāra-duṣṭāḥ
kṛṣṇe kva caiṣa paramātmani rūḍha-bhāvaḥ |
nanv īśvaro'nubhajato'viduṣo'pi sākṣāc
chreyas tanoty agada-rāja ivopayuktaḥ ||
What comparison can be made between these forest-dwelling women who are tainted by their infidelity [to their wordly husbands] on the one hand, and this most elevated love for Krishna, the Paramatma, on the other. Surely the Supreme Lord grants the highest welfare to one who constantly worships him even without knowing his reality, just as the king of medicines, heavenly ambrosia, cures all diseases even when used unwittingly. (10.47.59) KS 145
I tend to think that the entire insight of the Vedic literature is concealed in the words atithi-devo bhava" ("see God in the guest"). God is present in the relation itself.
Love and service in this consciousness will bring you closer to God. The closer to God the object of love and service, the better, i.e., the closer to Love Personified the better. bhajanīyottamatvena bhakter uttamatā yataḥ "The gradations of devotion are assessed by the relative superiority of the object of devotion." (Svapnesvara's commentary to Śāṇḍilya-bhakti-sūtra, introducing the third chapter}. This is especially true for one in the early stages of bhakti.

Direct worship to God is also available to his deity form, and other ways also such as cultivating the presence of God in meditation, but as we have been explaining, on the second stage, relationships with the devotees is given greater importance because they are more directly reciprocal. This is the basis of guru-tattva in bhakti also.

If we have spontaneous love for a saintly and elevated person, that is already the result of many lifetimes of sadhana. Fortunate is the person who is spontaneously attracted in love to a pure devotee, Krishna's walking manifestation in this world.

But such spontaneous love in this world, even among sadhaka devotees, contains material admixture, and therefore requires the usual discriminatory processes specific to the life of a sadhaka.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A video about my fulfilling one of Prabhupada's last desires

This video was filmed very nicely and professionally by Radha Madhava Das. I am not particularly eloquent, but it gave me a chance to speak of what I consider a very important experience in my spiritual life.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Out and about in Vrindavan, end of Karttik

I was just out and about in Vrindavan. I ran into Jack Hawley, a great scholar of Surdas who happens to be in Vrindavan doing a research project on the current state of affairs here.

Because of Vrindavan Today, he has already been to see me once. But I have stopped Vrindavan Today for the last two months and practically never go out in the street any more, even to go to the temples. It is too painful for me.

It is Karttik and Purnima is just a couple of days away. The streets are full of people, Traffic jams. Impatient motorists honking incessantly when there is no way to move forward. Crowds of people in front of the banks trying to get their 500 and 1000 rupee notes changed. The town is filled with more garbage than ever. If there is a garbage can, it is empty and surrounded by mountains of styrofoam cups, empty bottles, plastic wrappers and other crap being fed on by cows, monkeys and crows.

It is not a scene from the holiest place on earth.

Every day, the situation in Vrindavan seems to be more frantic, more rajasik, more tamasik. This is what Hawley has come to observe. I have been observing it for years and I cannot see it without feeling distressed. Jack is a kind man with a good heart who loves Braj, and even so, I feel shame from my chosen holy place.

"I lost my heart in Vrindavan" is on the T-shirts. I say, "If it is lost, perhaps it got lost in a pile of garbage."

If this was not endemic to India, would pilgrims come? What happened to Swachch Bharat?

I am beyond trying to explain, or even to try to change, or play any role in what day by day is getting worse.

Now I see what has happened in the USA: Rapacious capitalism, Kaliyuga's engine, which is behind all this, has been given a huge boost. It has put its own avatar in charge. Why should I not call the devotees who think they have chosen an anti-establishment revolution fools?

My heart is heavy.

Vrindavan is one of the filthiest places I have ever been.

Friday, November 11, 2016

God in human form, love in this world, and the future of human society

We shall see what comes of this rather shocking election result in the USA. Some of my friends are very positive about it. They think that Trump knows the true hideous form of militant and imperialistic Islam and will rally the civilized world against it. The war of "civilizations" is finally being embraced wholeheartedly. The Wahhabis and their fellow travelers are out to convert India to Islam, to bring it back under their thrall as their quest for word domination continues and Trump is thus an ally in protecting Hindu India from them.

We are devotees. We are indifferent to the worldly powers. We know that God works his ways mysteriously. Who is to deny that evil is everywhere in the world? We believe that God ultimately favors his true devotees, even in the blackest of times.

The other day I was giving class on Gopala Champu on the second meaning of the introductory verse and the following expression came up:

नराकृति परं ब्रह्म
narākṛti paraṁ brahma
Rupa and Sanatan, and by extension Jiva, were very familiar with fundamental Islamic concepts like tawhid and shirk, its vehement iconoclasm and hatred of anthropomorphism. Could there be any greater affront to the Islamic beliefs than to proclaim that God has human form?

In a sense, opposition creates its opposite: Rupa Goswami only became STRONGER in his belief in God as human, God in human form. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu confirmed it by his lila. We can look at his madness in love as a cry for the accumulated miseries of humanity, which had found their solidified expression in Radharani's separation from Krishna.

He saw it all as the unbearable pain of a love story.

And what is a love story without the darkness of hate surrounding it, like the darkest night surrounding a pearl of great beauty?

Just try to understand the implications of this idea by contrasting it with the Islam that we have seen in its most ugliest, most egregious fanatical manifestations: The idea of God in human form is the seed of divine humanism, which is the soul of love in this world -- which makes love in this world possible.

To say God has human form, and a human form that reaches the height of excellence in Vrindavan, and that meditation on LOVE is the truest appreciation of the Divine, is the insight of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

Though a superstructure of protection against demonism is no doubt welcome, Rupa Goswami did not take that militant route. Nor, for that matter, did Saraswati Thakur, who told our Prabhupada that even the culture of bhakti in its external, ritual forms was more important than political action.

Rupa Goswami's message is to meditate on love and that will change the world. Call me naive, and those who have held this kind of doctrine have always been called naïve or worse. Chaitanya himself was called a naif, in this sense, as were the creators of Vrindavan.

For that matter, Gandhi, who belonged to that section of humanity who leans in this same direction, has been vilified as a naif.

The dream of a human society in the image of love will perhaps never be realized fully in the world, and is likely unrealizable. But the idea must always be cherished, for without the idea, without the ideal, you can be sure it will never be realized even in the microcosm of the individual sadhaka..


Jai Radhe.


A response:
Sometimes our Lord may use a blunt stone to crush a devil, and perhaps that is the case here too. We should never forget that our beloved Lord Krishna was not a fairy tale character in a fairy tale world, but a real historical personality. He spent a few years in Braj whilst over a hundred outside of it, and more often than not he was shedding the blood of the demonic.  
Of course, as Vaishnavas we avoid shedding blood and our beloved Lord Nityananda even counselled Sri Chaitanya against it, but who can say what is the master player's game? We should never underestimate the Master Player; He is behind the shadows of all and He alone is the doer. He may wish even now to crush a devil with a rough and bloodied stone.
No doubt true. But the core of Krishna's story is Vrindavan, that is the whole point. The Goswamis are saying that the greater glory is in Vrindavan, and that is the soul even of the other demon-destroying actions of Krishna. Without the soul, there is nothing. There is nothing to save.

So, the culture of the soul is the prime necessity. And that means the culture of love. Violence in the name of love is an easy deception indulged in by and for the tamasik.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Debate on love in the world at Jiva Institute (video link)




The other day in my Gopala Champu class, I said the following:

"We can't understand the love of God without knowing love in this world. It has to reflect reality. You won't find love of God through failure of love in this world."

This comment did not pass unnoticed and one of the students asked Babaji for clarification. He said he disagreed and the student asked us if we were willing to debate the issue. Since we have been doing Nyāya and Babaji is something of an aficionado, he presented his point of view as a logical syllogism, making that the center of debate rather than my original statement, which made the discussion a little untidy. I was not prepared to answer his argument directly, but many in the audience were disappointed by the radical bifurcation of kāma and prema.

At one point Babaji says that desire is not in the soul. Frankly, I think that there is a bit of confusion in the sampradāya due to the Hindu world-view arising from Mayavada and Yoga. This is why at one point I objected that the Yoga-sūtra should not be considered a final authority, pace the mention of īśvara therein. The goal of Yoga-sūtra is kaivalya, not prema. And though it may be argued that it is useful for individual uplift, it does not give absolute value to love, either in this world or the next.

Nevertheless, if we follow the Yoga-sūtra, we still cannot agree with his idea that kāma and prema cannot exist in the same substratum, even though that existence cannot be simultaneous. YS 3.9-14 discusses precisely this problem in the context of yoga: How do the saṁskāras of samādhi and vyutthāna exist in the same substratum, i.e., the mind of the sādhaka.

Babaji at one point admits that initiation changes the situation, and this is also what I was saying. Once a devotee enters the path of devotion, it can no longer be claimed that he is untouched by the svarūpa śakti, though the material saṁskāras will remain. Otherwise, what need would there be for sādhanā?

Babaji said that the desire to serve Krishna is the product of the svarūpa śakti. We agree, but if desire for material sense pleasure is the character of the conditioned soul and desire to serve Krishna is that of the pure soul, then how is there an absolute break between the two? Desire is common to both; it is only the object of desire that changes. It is Yoga philosophy that denies all desire to the puruṣa itself. The Upanishad says, "...a person (puruṣa) consists of desires. And as is his desire, so is his will; and as is his will, so is his deed; and whatever deed he does, that he will reap." (kāma-maya evāyaḥ puruṣa iti | sa yathā-kāmo bhavati tat-kratur bhavati | yat-kratur bhavati tat karma kurute | yat karma kurute tad abhisampadyate || BAU 4.4.5).

The problem here is that if you deny an essential quality or characteristic that is present in both the conditioned and liberated states, then you fall prey to the same kind of logical inconsistency that is attributed to the Buddhist kṣaṇika-vāda.

Babaji objected to the quotes that I used to open my talk, which were from Taittiriya Upanishad. He quoted the commentary of Shankara saying that ānanda in these texts means Brahman. Of course there is nothing wrong with this, but it obfuscates the meaning of the word ānanda itself, which he also equated with love later in the discussion. This equation is found in Priti Sandarbha 61. The association of pleasure (both giving and receiving) with love is a firm base of my argument.

Brahman is ānanda, of this there is no doubt. But if we understand ānanda as love, then the understanding of Brahman and these quotes changes. And do we not have the right to interpret the scriptural statements in a way that opens the discussion rather than closing it? "The world was created out of love." Why else would the One become Many? This is made clear from other Upanishadic passages.

And without the presence of God, not simply as an underlying force, but as experienced through love, however pale the reflection, would anyone survive or remain alive? Those who are without the experience of love feel no will to live. And those who are inspired to experience life in its fullest are motivated by the desire for love, knowingly or unknowingly. When that desire is fully understood, one seeks the answer to love in God.

In the end one enters into love -- that is the telos, the ultimate end of creation, the prayojana. So we have no quarrel with Shankara here, we simply say, "Let us expand on the concept of Brahman."

On another level of understanding, the world is maintained by the presence of love in it means that God always makes arrangements for the presence of the svarūpa śakti to exist in some form within the world to establish in the conditioned souls the faith that love does indeed exist, by God's grace.

And lastly (from the top of my head) the fundamental idea that runs through my argument is that there is a concept of pure love that exists in the minds of humanity. For the word  "love" exists. A word must have an object, without which this entire discussion would be moot. There would be no possibility of speaking of love at all, even though we may be able to discriminate between higher and lower loves. Therefore there are different systems in the world in which human beings by various processes both recognize the primordial need for love and strive to move towards that as the standard of human perfection. Christianity is a good example and I will write about C.S. Lewis' "Four Loves" as an example of the discourse as he presents it, which I think will be a valuable addition to the discussion. But this is not the only one. I have for instance talked about Martin Buber on this blog on more than one occasion.





Three weeks of Bhakti Tirtha completed


This is the team of teachers at the Karttik session of the Bhakti Tirtha course at Jiva Institute. From left to right, Dr. Edwin Bryant, Dr. Måns Broo, Dr. Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji Maharaj, my alter ego, and Dr. Matthew Dasti.

The first three weeks will conclude tomorrow after which Advaita Prabhu (Dr. Bryant) and Mahamuni Das (Dr. Dasti) will be be going back to their real lives. The three weeks went by far too quickly. It is, of course, madness to think that they would be able to find the time away from their other obligations to do this entirely voluntary service in Vrindavan.

Babaji has gotten the students working on Sanskrit quite intensively. Our two guest lecturers have gone into the nitty gritty of Yoga Sutra and Nyaya, thereby generating a lot of philosophical questioning about God and the nature of God, etc., the reality of the world, and so on, as well as making these texts relevant to Gaudiya Vaishnavas in other ways.

The collegial spirit of the teachers and the students, which has people from a very wide spectrum of backgrounds, from those who are still quite new to Vaishnavism to a number of war-weary Prabhupada disciples who hunger to deepen their engagement with the Vaishnava literatures in as authentic a manner as possible.

Dr. Broo (Bhrigupada Das), a longtime friend of both Babaji Maharaj and myself, was passing through and gave one informative lecture about his research work on Radha Tantra (recently completed and on the way to publication) and Hari Bhakti Vilasa (currently underway).

We do have the good fortune of being in Vrindavan, and so it is natural for devotees to come traveling through. And of course there are other scholars who are researching Vrindavan or Vrindavan-related topics. So the prospects of creating a vibrant devotional-academic environment for serious students looking to do a profound study of the Gaudiya Vaishnava canon and the surrounding knowledge environment,, and at the same time to be creative in terms of "practical Vaishnavism," are quite extensive.

The discussion following Bhrigu's presentation led to some interesting comments by Babaji Maharaj.
He said that the Gaudiya sampradaya is not one sampradaya but many out of design, principally because despite the preeminence of sankirtan, Rupa Goswami and Hari Bhakti Vilasa allow for much individual freedom in how one supplemented that activity, allowing for various tastes to arise.

I asked the question about Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati's distinction between Pancharatra and Bhagavata traditions and the question of mantra diksha being particularly relevant to the former (though present in both).

Babaji's answer was particularly cogent. He said that the Goswamis in Vrindavan established no specific diksha parampara. None of them took multiple disciples, but chose instead to write books. There being many angas of bhakti, Rupa Goswami himself says, and is quoted by Kaviraj Goswami, as saying that one can practice them all or just one. By the practice of any one of them, one can attain perfection.

So, he said, the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya does not really have a single stream, but many with differing approaches to the practice. This freedom has been freely given by Sri Jiva also. There is no single overarching ecclesiastical authority that governs Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Unlike our old alma mater, of course.

This could be a very liberating idea.

Bhrigu's PhD thesis was on the subject of guru tattva and you can read it freely on line: "As Good as God" by Måns Broo.

Some related articles from this blog:



Thursday, November 03, 2016

Bhaktivedanta Marg and the Three Vrindavans

In honor of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami's disappearance day, I am cross posting this article from Vrindavan Today.
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Much of the talk about Vrindavan on this site (Vrindavan Today) is meant to serve as a partial archive of Vrindavan’s changes as it enters this period of intense development. Older persons like myself have a great deal of nostalgia for the old Vrindavan, especially the Parikrama Marg as it was in the past. But we have to recognize the inevitability of the changes that are coming.
It is likely that what I say here won’t be new to most observers of the Vrindavan scene. I am reminded of Hit Kinkar Sewak Sharanji, whom some call the pioneer of Vrindavan environmentalism, and the attempts he made in the 1980’s to promote an environmentally friendly development with a strong green belt to act as a bulwark against the encroachment of aggressive modernity. He thought that Vrindavan should be “developed” as a kind of “human sanctuary,” in the sense that it should be an oasis from the modern world, in which the local society could pursue the spiritual duties of the human form of life as prescribed in the shastras and as exemplified in the lives of the saints of the Braj tradition.
Clearly that ship has sailed. I have seen several plans for development of Vrindavan provided by external or internal agencies; for the most part we have to trust the administration and the different levels of government, which are all acting primarily in the interest of economic development. From the very beginning I have been under the impression that plans are made and then sprung upon an unwitting population, which is often intentionally kept in the dark.
I was ambivalent, and still am pretty ambivalent about most of this development. But I am a son of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, and if anyone is to blame for all this, it is he. But I cannot fault him for it, for he brought me from a distant land and made me fall in love with Vrindavan and an aspirant to be a Brajavasi.
And this was only because he himself loved Vrindavan so much. I heard somewhere, though it may be in his biography, that when Srila Prabhupada was in New York, the devotees would find him sitting surrounded by pictures and objects that reminded him of Vrindavan, which he tried to recreate for himself in the midst of the American concrete jungle.
A few years ago, I had the strong impression that the Madan Mohan temple was built to stand like a lighthouse on the top of Dvadasaditya Tila, to act as a beacon to the world inviting it to come to this land and so to benefit from the gifts of prema bhakti that were safeguarded here.
Sewak Sharan once wrote that Vrindavan was a place for introspection and bhajan, not for loud noise-making, publicity or preaching. It is true that over the past 500 years there have been plenty of bhajananandis in Vrindavan, but the predominant ethos here quickly became the temple culture, the Rasa-lila and musical tradition, and the preaching of the Bhagavatam. So despite the fundamental depth of the introspective and meditative aspects of the bhakti tradition that developed in Vrindavan, its external orientation has always been a part of it.
And that orientation was solidly cemented into place in the modern era by Srila Prabhupada. It is taking increasingly clear shape and that is what I want to look at here, with a view to contemplating the future of this holy town, my sacred home.
Three Vrindavans
3vrindavan
The three Vrindavans are represented by the orange circle, the yellow circle and the grey shaded area. I will have to fix several problems with this rendition.
The inspiration here comes from the three phases of Srila Prabhupada’s direct and indirect accomplishments in Vrindavan and how each of these three phases represents a different segment of the current town and its development.
(1) Prabhupada’s engagement in Vrindavan began at what could perhaps be called its “Holy of Holies” for Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the Radha Damodar temple in Seva Kunj.
Even today, Srila Prabhupada’s destiny as a world preacher of Lord Chaitanya’s mission was given its aura of divine sanction through the period of residence at Radha Damodar, in close proximity to the very founders of that mission: Rupa Goswami, the one of whom it was said that he knew the mind of Chaitanya and manifested his desire in the world. This is where Jiva Goswami, the greatest scholar this sampradaya ever produced, the one who gave the world a coherent interpretation and explanation of the Bhagavatam, and who inspired its English translation to which Prabhupada dedicated himself.
When Prabhupada lived there up until 1965, and up until the construction of Krishna-Balaram in Raman Reti, this really was the only Vrindavan. Although there were numerous old temples that had been established over the years, and though the town had definitely grown in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially along the Mathura Road, Raman Reti was still very rural and was an important center for Gaudiya Vaishnava bhajan due to the presence of Ramkrishna Pandit Baba, Gauranga Das Baba, Kripa Sindhu Das Baba and others, who created a recluse community of true monastics. But there were many other places in Vrindavan for bhajanandi Vaishnavas also, from all the sampradayas.
This old Vrindavan is the central part of the town, from Kaliya Daha at one extremity following the Yamuna as far as Tatia Sthan, which would form the other extremity. Its true center is the Govindaji temple, which is the site of the night time Yoga Peeth. The other Yoga Peeth, for the daytime, is at Radha Kund. These are the two poles on the horizontal axis in my diagram above.
When I associate Prabhupada with Radha Damodar, I associate him with this most powerful zone of Vrindavan, its spiritual center.
Prabhupada giving Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu classes at Rupa Goswami's samadhi, 1972,
Prabhupada giving Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu classes at Rupa Goswami’s samadhi, 1972,
Prabhupada giving Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu classes at Rupa Goswami's samadhi, 1972
Prabhupada giving Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu classes at Rupa Goswami’s samadhi, ca 1972
After returning from the West with his disciples, Srila Prabhupada first brought them to Radha Damodar and let them experience the Braj raj first hand. But Prabhupada’s mission was to spread the Braj raj further afield. He built Krishna-Balaram and the modern phase of Vrindavan’s development started with that act.
(2) India is a vast country and it is easy to overestimate influences. Yet it is true that Prabhupada was visionary: He intuited the coming of globalization and wanted to make sure that Sanatan Dharma was also globalized as a response to it. He saw that India would also be inundated with the tidal waves of Kali Yuga and so he went to the very source of the wave to give bhakti a form that could survive in the midst of this increased influx of rajas and tamas. And so the movement of Vrindavan’s growth started outwards from its center, taking a giant leap along the Raman Reti axis as far the edge of the second Vrindavan  at the Parikrama Marg.
The Parikrama Marg is the periphery that includes both the old Vrindavan center and the newer set of developments that followed on after the inauguration of Krishna Balaram in 1975. Peaceful ashrams have turned into loudspeaker blaring sources of kirtan or Bhagavata lectures, the streets are festooned with announcements of festivals and celebrations, kirtans and katha. The old town also has some of this, but there the sounds of temple bells, of people shuffling off to mangal arati at Radha Damodar or Radha Raman, are far more prevalent.
(3) Outside the Parikrama Marg we have the newest developments; this is the empire of the MVDA, the period after the liberalization and opening of India’s markets to the world. But this portion is also a new frontier with the Prem Mandir being the first step, on to Akshaya Patra’s bid to build the tallest Radha-Krishna temple in the world. It is clear that the India of the future wants to be here. Devakinandan Thakur’s recent massive temple inauguration is another sign that Vrindavan’s face to the world, its aishwarya, is to be manifested in even greater measure here.
Bhaktivedanta Marg
The road that stretches from Vidya Peeth to ISKCON and then to Chattikara is given various names. Early on, it was officially renamed Bhaktivedanta Marg and recently the present authorities decided to rename it again after the painter Kanhai Chitrakar. A rather shortsighted move in my opinion.
But if we look at this thoroughfare as running through the three Vrindavans, three circles or āvaraṇas from Radha Damodar, to Krishna Balaram, and then to Akshay Patra and Krishna Bhoomi, we can see that there is a connection of the three phases of Srila Prabhupada’s contribution to Vrindavan. One, Vrindavan in itself, then the Vrindavan of Prabhupada’s own shaping, and now the third Vrindavan fully manifesting in the world after the end of his worldly pastimes.
This progressive development can be looked at as a process of externalization of bhakti and the reverse effect of admixture of the world.
In other words, bhakti is an inner spiritual experience which was most clearly manifest externally in the early temples of Vrindavan, and then that preaching of the Vrindavan mood bubbled or expanded outward.
The influence of Bhaktivedanta Swami is quite pervasive in almost all manifestations of modern bhakti in Vrindavan. and is especially prominent in  the latter two spheres, as well as being solidly established in the inner sphere. Therefore, Bhaktivedanta Marg is the most appropriate name for this road. I personally will cease referring to it by any other name.
The NH-2 is the cutoff point and I will talk about this in a moment. But first the meaning of the other pole, the other Yoga Peeth, must be understood. This article is already very long and most of these esoteric significances have been discussed and will be discussed in due course. But all energy passes between two poles, and though Braj has many such poles or powerful spiritual centers, these are the principal. Of the two centers, Radha Kund is actually more antaranga, as Rupa Goswami himself stated.
Implications of this understanding
I see the above vision of the “shape” of Vrindavan and this particular axis, like a Sushumna channel connecting the two Yoga Peeths. The energy of the external manifestations of bhakti carry on expansively. The world — especially the modern world — is attracted to displays of aishwarya. But the process of spiritual life is always a movement from the external to the internal, from aishwarya to madhurya.
I therefore draw the following ideas for the future of Vrindavan :
(1) As far as possible, the inner part of Vrindavan must be developed in a way that preserves the architectural heritage and shows it in its best light. Old buildings of architectural merit should not be destroyed or covered with plaster or shop signs or hoardings. New buildings should be strictly controlled to follow architectural guidelines. Streets should be safe for walking, especially at certain hours of the day.
Here as traditional as possible an atmosphere should be preserved. And this does not have to be anti-tourist economic development. It should be seen as pro-tourism, but a more sophisticated and cultured tourism than will be found in the outer Vrindavans, for those who tend to the inner orientation.
I would also recommend that the Govindaji temple in some way be given the kind of attention that would highlight its position as the Yog Peeth and spiritual center of Vrindavan Dham.
The model that should be followed here is that of Europe, where the heritage of old towns is kept intact and the environment caters to the peace, comfort and sattvik pleasure of visitors.
(2) The main feature of the second Vrindavan is the Parikrama Marg, which also encircles the Old Vrindavan. Here again, the Parikrama Marg should be promoted as a tourist as well as pilgrim activity. The Parikrama Marg should also be developed with that view in mind.
Those portions that come near to the Yamuna should be especially beautified with greenery, buildings, especially old buildings and temples, should be renovated and so on.
Pilgrimage walks like Parikrama are being revived in Europe and have even become an attraction for people who do not necessarily accept the particular beliefs of the religion with the pilgrimage tradition, but are attracted by the spiritual features of pilgrimage. This is something that needs to be researched and written about in a way that promotes the activity in the interests of attracting people to Vrindavan for spiritual purposes.
Certain limitations on cars and traffic in the second Vrindavan are also desirable, but this needs to be done in a way that causes the least inconvenience to everyone.
(3) The outer Vrindavan should be governed, as it is, by the MVDA. Let it be developed as a modern city, but with the natural promotion of devotion to Radha and Krishna and so on in the form of ostentatious mega-temple projects, etc., according to the best intelligence of those who would preach and present the concepts and teachings of the tradition to educated persons living in the modern world.
But there is no point or possibility of the external forms of bhakti to completely usurp the traditions and insights of the past. The Marg points to the inner sanctum of the old town and old temples. The responsibility of the Goswamis is great.
(4) As far as possible, the section of road from Chattikara to Radha Kund should be very much controlled. Let the road to Radha Kund be lined with trees. If possible, let some of the agricultural land be reclaimed for forest. Let the path to Radha Kund be one that calms the mind and spirit. Radha Kund is the thousand-petaled lotus of Braja Dham,
Development in Vrindavan is proceeding at lightning speed. Let’s make sure that we understand what we are doing before we act, with a clear awareness of the spiritual meaning of Vrindavan. After all, being the spiritual capital also means genuine insight, and not simply political posturing.