Sunday, February 26, 2017

Postscript to Bhaktivinoda Janma Sthan threats

Postscript to Bhaktivinoda Thakur's birthplace under threats from Land Mafias.

I am thinking a little bit more about the idea that ISKCON might have a permanent presence in Birnagar.

I will be quite frank, my gurudeva never wanted Dwadash Mandir to "fall into the hands" of the Gaudiya Math or ISKCON. He was not an ambitious man, my gurudeva, in the sense of wanting to become a great guru. He wanted a simple life that was reclusive in style. If he was a guru, he was a rural guru in the traditional Vaishnava manner. Totally Bengali Vaishnava, but with the stamp of Bhaktivinoda Thakur. He wanted to preserve Bhaktivinoda Thakur's tradition in the way that he himself did it, saw it, and wanted it.

If this were to happen, the fear is that by running from the lion one will fall into the mouth of the tiger. If we run to ISKCON as our protector, will they turn into predators themselves, in their high-minded idea of appropriating some kind of monopoly on his legacy.

I can see the positive possibilities but negotiations will be needed. I would rather that other options be found, but I there is a certain inevitability about it. I don't know that we will be able to pull this one out of the hat ourselves. Let's see what Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself wants. All is Bhagavan's lila. I don't think he is unhappy that his teachings have been spread to all parts of the world.

And Prabhupada's work is a good reminder to the people of Bengal that their contribution to the world is not just an eternal game of playing catchup to the West.

The coming of Kali Yuga means that the reclusive bhajan style becomes harder and harder to maintain. To the rajasik, it appears like tamas. And in the unevolved mind, sattva does easily deteriorate into tamas. It seems that we no longer have the luxury of sacred cows. Do we need, in order to protect the soul of our Krishna consciousness, which is bhajanananda, to take shelter of the rajasik? The rajasik must protect and serve the sattvik, which is the life of bhajan.

Bhaktivinoda Janma Sthan is meant to be a window into another age. Nowadays, for show, everyone wants to put up a marble temple and a big gate and have impressive deities and so on. Lots of high class musical devotional entertainment. The externals have taken precedence. It is no one's fault, it is the nature of the age.

But the task of the devotee is still to turn inwardly. And this is what Lalita Prasad Thakur taught. Being the younger son, he was more influenced by the latter part of Bhaktivinode Thakur's life when he was more devotee than philosopher or intellectual. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, being older, took the more externally-oriented thought and went with that. The two sons represent two legitimate paths that originate with Bhaktivinoda Thakur -- the goshthyanandi and the bhajananandi.

These two are like two wings on a bird. You sacrifice one and it is the bird who can no longer fly. So the thought that the purest tradition of bhajanananda will not be preserved in the Bhaktivinoda Dhara is, in a very real sense, committing a kind of suicide.

It is very much like worshiping your mother. Birnagar is a place of the Mother Goddess, Ula Chandi. The Dwadash Mandir consisted of ten Shiva temples, and a temple to Durga and one for Kali. Though these temples have been converted to other use -- one Shiva linga is there, and the Durga temple is now the home of Gaur Gadadhar, and the Kali temple has been left unused due to concerns about the appropriateness of its use for anything, since animal sacrifices held there had rendered it not so. But the presence of the Mother nevertheless stands guard and also influences the overall mood of the ashram.

This is where the mother of Bhaktivinoda Thakur, brought forth that soul into Prakriti. Let his entire legacy be protected, not just the externals of Bhakti for the Material World.

What I am trying to say is that homogenizing Vaishnavism is a danger to Vaishnavism. All spiritual discoveries come from the inner path.
This is the shrine to Bhaktivinoda Thakur's birthplace by the kund. The image is taken from the spot that is claimed by the encroachers.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur Janma Sthan under threat from Land Mafia

I was greatly disturbed today to learn from my godbrother Hari Gopal Dasji Maharaj, the current president of the Bhaktivinode Gosthi, that the Birnagar birthplace of Bhaktivinoda Thakur is under attack. Some neighbors are claiming that they have ancestral rights over the land, even though the property was clearly given to our Gurudeva, Sril Sril Lalita Prasad Thakur, in the 1930’s and the ashram has the papers to prove it.

It happens that the town of Birnagar has grown up around the Dwadash Mandir property, making it extremely valuable real estate. Dwadash Mandir for the most part is unchanged from 40 years ago before greed and development had become the de facto religion of this country. In the last few years, the population of the ashram has dwindled and made it vulnerable to this kind of attack. Land Mafias everywhere in India take advantage of such situations to their profit.

When it became clear to the trustees of the Goshthi that the ashram was in danger, they invited Hari Gopal Dasji to leave his bhajan in Radha Kund and come back to Bengal to protect the land and rebuild the ashram as a fitting place representing Srila Lalita Prasad Thakur’s wing of the Bhaktivinode Thakur legacy.

On accepting this responsibility, Hari Gopal Dasji first began by having a protective wall built around the property. The neighbors filed a case to stay construction, claiming that it was intersecting their own property. Apparently, though, it is now clear that they have their sights set on taking over the entire property, as they have now started putting up buildings on the pukur across from Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s shrine.

The legal papers and so on are all in the Mandir's favor, but it appears that underhanded tactics are being used to prevent the court from making a decision while encroachments are constructed so that will more and more become difficult to remove the squatters, until their occupation becomes a fait accompli.

In this case it appears that local politicians from the Trinamul Party are supporting these people. Hari Gopalji even went as far as getting an audience with Mamta Bannerjee, the CM of West Bengal, thinking that she would be able to rein in the miscreants in her own party, but no action has been taken by her.

Hari Gopal is feeling the pressure as he has no support from any powerful people and has inadequate funds to fight the case. The cards seem to be stacked against him. At any rate, he is on the defensive and in danger of losing, and is very unhappy and disturbed by the situation.

He is even talking of ceding a part of the property to ISKCON, in the hope that they can use their power and influence to protect Bhaktivinode Thakur’s birthplace from falling into the hands of those who are too greedy to recognize the spiritual and ecological value of this property. It may be necessary to lose a village to save the country.

This is really a time for the worldwide nembers of ISKCON, the Gaudiya Math, the World Vaishnava Association, and others in the world-wide Bhaktivinoda Thakur family to put aside any institutional or doctrinal differences and come forth to protect their common heritage, this memorial to the inspiration for the preaching of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s message to every town and village. Indeed, any religious Hindu should be shocked that a place with this kind of religious importance can be so callously turned into just another real estate development to enrich greedy and selfish people.

How can those who love Bhaktivinode Thakur’s contribution to the world-wide prema bhakti mission allow the lovely Dwadash Mandir ashram to be decimated or destroyed by the forces of Kali Yuga?

As to the town of Birnagar itself, even if its people are not Vaishnavas, they should know that its greatest claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Greed has destroyed many a thing of value in this world. Let this not be one of them.

I ask everyone of my Bengali friends to help fight this injustice. Jai Radhe.

যদি কোনো বাংগালী বন্ধু আমাকে সাহায্য করিয়া এই প্রবন্ধের অনুবাদ করিতে পারে, তিনি ধন্যবাদার্হ হইবেন. ঠকুরের কৃপাপাত্র হইবেন.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Is this an obsession with sex?

As often happens on Facebook, I get strong reactions whenever the word sex is mentioned. It leads to discussions with various points of view being expressed, and the inevitable ensues. A senior woman devotee said the following on reading one such discussion:

What do guys think about most of their lives as males? SEX, so I'm told, and that never wanes into old age. So when I see these same males trying to superimpose their lifelong addiction onto Radha Krishna pastimes, I want to puke.

At about the same time, I had a personal conversation here in Vrindavan with a person who is an avid reader of my blog to whom I more or less summarized my point about why I, an old man of 67, is talking so much about this subject.

In fact, I sometimes feel a bit like the old drunk guy in that Carson McCullers story, pegging the innocent kid and slobbering the wisdom earned from the school of hard knocks all over him. The failure who has got it all figured out, where he went wrong and why his life became such a mess.

There is no need for me to be proud of my record in "love." I have trampled over a number of lives in its name, in my different experiments with love, or as one guru said, "Love's experiment with me." Sometimes it was in the name of some kind of ethereal spiritual love that is only available to ones who reject the phantasm of love in this world. And, of course, sometimes it was not in the name of love at all, but in a fog of confusion about love and life and my purpose in it.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that my samskaras are interfering. That even ritual sadhana and philosophical understanding are not necessarily very strong in counteracting the confusions of worldly love. But neither is ignorance. Recognizing the limits of ritual and philosophy means that one comes to the attempt to understand deeper psychology. The purpose of the spiritual paths is always psychological: they understand that the mind is the problem and the solution is to be effectuated in the mind.

Therefore, I look at rāgānugā bhakti just like that: It requires an examination of the emotional life. We have the ideals of Braja bhakti and we have our own failed attempts to experience anything remotely like it.

Once I quoted Bell Hooks as saying that though women probably go through more suffering from love, it is somehow mostly men who write the philosophical or psychological analyses of love. She found this to be a paradox, but it is true that men have a tendency to want to figure things out. So I will continue to do the drunken man in the bar routine and any innocent young person who can tolerate my whiskey breath is welcome to hear my observations.

The problem in society is that there is insufficient love, not that there is sex or no sex. Sex or no sex is not the solution. The solution is love. So we must learn to love, sex or no sex. In other words, love with detachment. Love without attachment to the results.

Nevertheless, like it or not, sex plays an important part throughout human life. And religion has traditionally emphasized the purpose of sex to be procreation, and contrasted it with the animal characteristic of the sexual act itself. But according to evolutionary theory it is not about procreation alone, but also about creating the bond between a man and woman so that they will stick together to raise a family and therefrom form community together. As such, the sexual relationship of men and women is the basic building block of community and society.

In other words, there has to be love in the world in order for anything to function And the basis of all love in society starts in the male-female unit, from which family and community grow.

But such is the nature of human culture that it has imbued sexual love with a mystic significance, what may be called the romantic fallacy. The Indian scriptures are very circumspect about this fallacy and recognize that the orderly control of the sexual instinct is necessary for the smooth functioning of society.

They recognize that even when worldly love is seen as nothing more than extended self-interest and mundane, its function is important. As we can observe with the current disintegration of traditional norms, a community based on mere sexual pleasure has very little chance of attaining cohesion or staying power. This is the disaster of modern civilization.

Therefore, another basic building block of community is religion. Religion is the highest ideals of man organized into ritual form. In Gaudiya Vaishnava terms, the only way to realize love in the world is to imbue it with the svarūpa-śakti, to make the individual understand that love is ultimately for the One Underlying Truth of all things, who is the only Other who is both One and the Other. The only way to realize the full spiritual potential of sexuality is to combine it with religion -- both its symbolic and ritual power. This is not about the vexations of repression, but uplift through sublimation. This is the secret to genuine human evolution.

Young people today have no knowledge of this and are thus confused about both religion and sex. And most confused about love. So I am an old man who by trial and error has learned something about this subject. and I feel that I am obliged to share my findings and help in whatever tiny way I can to eliminate their confusion.

In particular, I feel that the Gaudiya Math and ISKCON model, which emphasizes renunciation of sexuality to people who will never be able to do it, without showing how it is to be done, without showing how sexuality and love are connected to their spiritual life, is incomplete. Those who follow it are bound to continue in the cycle of birth and death. How can they show the glories of Radha and Krishna's madhura-rasa and then deny that it has any reality in, meaning for or relation to love this world? Only by learning how to associate sexual love with the path of prema can we have any hope of turning this around.

This is a feature of the human form of life that one should avail themselves of.

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्यवरान् निबोधत

uttiṣṭhata jāgrata prāpya-varān nibodhata

"Arise ! Awake! Become aware of the boons attainable in this human form of life!"

So I will end this brief comment with the following advice to all young people who are thinking of making spiritual advancement on the path of bhakti -- especially that of madhura-rasa-bhakti -- and who are inclined to seek partnership with someone who shares their inclination: "Yoga for the bhaktas and bhakti for the yogis."

तस्माद् योगी भवार्जुन
tasmād yogī bhavārjuna

योगिनामपि सर्वेषां मद्गतेनान्तरात्मना।
श्रद्धावान् भजते यो मां स मे युक्ततमो मतः॥

yoginām api sarveṣāṁ mad-gatenāntarātmanā |
śraddhāvān bhajate yo māṁ sa me yuktatamo mataḥ ||

Yoga means, male or female, preserve the bindu.

मरणं बिन्दुपातेन जीवनं बिन्दुधारणात्।
तस्मादतिप्रयत्नेन कुरुत बिन्दुधारणम्॥

maraṇaṁ bindu-pātena jīvanaṁ bindu-dhāraṇāt |
tasmād atiprayatnena kuruta bindu-dhāraṇam ||


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Ekadasi Jagaran at Tatia Sthan (Maghi Krishna Ekadasi)

From Vrindavan Today: Every Maghi Krishna Ekadasi is a special day at the Tatia Sthan, as the annual jāgaraṇa is held in commemoration of Swami Lalit Mohini Das, the eighth acharya of the renounced order of the Haridasi sect. Though the scriptures enjoin that every Ekadasi one should follow very strict rules, which include keeping vigil, i.e., staying up all night, this is rarely practiced. As far as I know, the Haridasi sect does not follow Ekadasi particularly strictly, but at least on this one night, they do the jagran. And it has become an important event on the Tatia Sthan's yearly calendar, attended by all the ashram's sadhus and by many devotees from Vrindavan and beyond.

The Tatia Sthan owes a lot to Swami Lalit Mohini Dev, and it is said that much of the strong tradition of the Haridasi sampradaya that exists there is the result of his work. Though like all the acharyas who followed Swami Haridas he wrote many songs, he was nowhere nearly as prolific as others like Biharin Das or his own guru, Lalit Kishori Das, the founder of the Tatia Sthan. Nevertheless, he is credited with much of the development of the congregational chanting or samaj tradition, giving it its present form. Lalit Mohini also brought the mood of sadhu seva to Tattia Sthan and made it the principal aspect of his service. He also established the worship of Mohini Bihari, the deity that still presides over the ashram.

The Tatia Sthan covers a fairly large area that is filled with venerable and flourishing trees, and though there are numerous individual kutias for the sadhus, it has an open feel to it. The central portion of the ashram where arati and samaj are held is a walled compound near the front gate. One has to pass through a narrow entrance to get there. Here one finds the small temple building of Radha Mohini Bihari, which has the traditional carved red sandstone facade like so many Vrindavan temples from the premodern period.

There are a number of other small buildings, one which houses the waterpot and a shawl that were used by Swami Haridas. There are also several small samadhis. The building with Swami Haridas' relics is under a large neem tree, and to one side is the raised seat where Swami Radha Bihari Dasji, the current mahant, holds audience every evening during the daily samaj. Other buildings and walls are whitewashed, unimposing. Entrances are arched, often with multifoil arches.

As we entered this compound, we were stopped by a guard at the entrance with the greeting "Shri Haridas," a rather good form of address if you ask me, for it not only recalls the name of the sect's founder, but is a constant reminder that each person is also a servant of Hari.

The guard's job was to get everyone to switch off their cell phones and he insisted on watching us as we did it. No flashlights, phones or cameras are allowed on the premises. Indeed, there is no electricity in this part of the ashram. No recording is allowed. In this age of Facebook and Twitter, I was wondering how I would be able to share this event with my friends, having to rely on words alone to paint the images and replicate the musical sounds. But I can see that this being cut off from the world is an essential step in passing from the outer realm to the inner, the transcendent state of consciousness, the true Vrindavan to which one is to be transported. Indeed, I personally crave this kind of primitive gathering in the sacred intimacy of the darkness, under the sky and trees and on the silken sands of the Yamuna.

We had arrived a bit early and the sandy area in front of Mohini Bihari was being covered with durries for sitting. Clay lamps were still being lit and placed all around the quadrangle including the eaves of the temple and surrounding buildings. Some were placed on stands so that those following along in books could read. The main group of singers was served by a glass case that held several such lamps, and throughout the night, one of the Haridasi babas went around with a bucket of oil and a ladle to keep the lamps filled.

The inner area slowly filled and by nine, there was no room to speak of. The babas were in the center assembled before Swami Haridas' shrine, other male-bodied entities surrounding them. On the other side of the shrine were about 150 women. I estimated maybe 500 men. The Tatia Sthan has a strong rule about women at night -- none are allowed. It being winter, the babas were decked in a wide variety of colorful regalia. Of course, the Tatia Sthan babas as usual had covered their faces with Braja raj and wore their distinctive turbans and kurtas. I noticed a bit of sadhu glamor here and there, though, someone wore a yellow silk kaftan, some others had satin shirts stuffed with cotton for warmth.

The Mahant came in and offered prostrations to the temple and to Swami Haridas' shrine, took his seat. Most of the people in the audience came to offer him their respects and then returned to their seats.

The program began. There was a flute and a big sitar, a tampura, one harmonium and one pair of manjeera hand cymbals. Throughout the evening the musical instruments were subdued in comparison to the chorus of male voices, which were almost a capella against the quiet drone of the tampura and other instruments. There were no microphones or loudspeakers so the hundreds of voices singing in unison dominated, which is as it should be. The walls and buildings enclosing the small quadrangle provided some echo and amplification.

The audience at first was still a bit restless and there was a bit of talking here and there, but by and large, everyone was attentive in a way that is rare in any Indian gathering, no matter how great the artist. Where people don't pay, where the sound is cranked up to the eleventh degree, it seems that inattention is the norm. Perhaps people who understand naturally the words that accompany the music have no need of attentiveness, but I have always found it the single most irritating thing disrupting my own concentration to the point of complete disturbance. One of those things about Indian life, like the ubiquitous garbage, that annoys me terribly. But tonight I got a reprieve from that particular pet peeve. This was singing as sadhana, as a meditation. And everyone who was there knew it and achieved a kind of communal union in the harmonious mood of contemplation on the Divine Couple in the Nitya Vihara.

Though the Haridasi samaj has some responsive chanting, occasionally the crowd spontaneously split into two groups to sing different parts of the interwoven lyrics and refrain. The program began in the deepest parts of the lower octave and the first couple of hours seemed mostly to be spent there, but the waves of sound peppered with individual voices that here and there stood out in harmonious congruity built up and fell from crescendo to crescendo.

In all, the first part of the evening, 42 different songs were sung. Most of them were either from the Kelimāla compositions of Swami Haridas himself, or the compositions of Biharin Dev "Gurudeva Ju" and other greats from the tradition. None were, as I expected, songs about the saint himself, nor did they fit into any pattern, but seemed to be nitya-vihāra padas chosen somewhat at random. Two short ones by were written by Lalit Mohini Das himself. The first appears to be a vasanta-pada, meaning one that describes a scene in the springtime (and as I am writing on Vasanta Panchami, it seems fitting to quote it here):
piya piyarī seja banāī āja |
piyarī jhalaka camaka saba
piyare basana banai saba kāja |
piyare phūla banaiṁ saba tana meṁ
piyarī sobhā sahaja samāja |
śrī lalitamohanī yaha sukha dekhata
syāma tanai piyare saba sāja ||

Dear Radha has today prepared a yellow bed.
It shines and sparkles yellow; she has used her lover's yellow cloth.
She decorates the bed and his body with yellow flowers,
while all the assembled sakhis also glow in yellow beauty.
Lalita Mohani watches this blissful scene,
where Shyam's black body is covered by yellow costume.
A little before one o'clock, gifts were brought out for the singers -- bahirvasa and chaddar -- and little bags of prasad were passed out to all the attendees. The first half of the program came to an end and for about half an hour there was a party atmosphere. Some pistachio tea was served, there were several fires burning with groups of guests and sadhus warming their hands and talking. Vrindavan Bihari Goswami walked by me with a blissful look on his aged face: "This is the central place. This is the heart of Vrindavan," he said.

Many people left before the second half began. But by 2 a.m. there were absolutely no distractions. Though some of the audience fell asleep, others were entranced. The complex harmonies and responses, the intensity of the chorus of male voices... it was how I always imagined kirtan should be -- group samādhi.

It has taken me a few days to recover from the all-nighter, but with each passing day, it seems that the effects linger on in profound ways that I have not yet been able to perceive. Right now, the strongest thoughts are reflections on the glories of an unbroken original tradition, on parampara, especially on this one that reflects the roots of the Vrindavan mood more closely than other, more recent manifestations, which for one reason or another have drifted away from the exclusive devotion to Radha and Krishna's nitya-vihara.

My answer to Vrindavan Bihari Goswami was, "I don't understand why the Tatia Sthan model has not been cloned. Why isn't everyone trying to emulate this? You are right, this is the real Vrindavan, the real Vrindavan concept."

A short history of the Tatia Sthan

The first eight acharyas of the Haridasi sampradaya are given particular importance. The first two, Bithal Bipul Dev and Biharin Das, were direct disciples of Swami Haridas. Their samadhi temples stand in Nidhivan next to that of the sect's founder.

1. Bithal Bipul Dev
2. Biharin Das (Mahant 1576-1603)
3. Nagari Das (1603-1627)
4. Saras Das
5. Narahari Das (1627-1685)
6. Swami Rasik Dev (1685-1702)
7. Lalit Kishori Das (1703-1767)
8. Lalit Mohini Das (1767-1802)

Up until the time of Narahari, the renounced sadhus of the Haridasi sampradaya had their center in Nidhivan, but Rasik Dev was forced to abandon this original site of Swami Haridas's bhajan and of Banke Bihari Dev's appearance, and to establish new ashrams for his disciples. This was because there was some disagreement with the Goswamis of the Banke Bihari temple who claimed the rights over Nidhivan (they were blood relatives of Swami Haridas) and the renunciates were obliged to move away.

This happened at the end of the 17th century and resulted first in Rasik Das opening the Rasik Bihari temple in the Athkhamba area in 1699. Rasik Das's appearance day is also today, Vasanta Panchami, and is celebrated at Tatia Sthan.

Rasik Das had three main disciples: Pitambar Das, to whom he gave the responsibility for the Gori Lal temple, to Govinda Dev he gave the service of Rasik Bihariji, and to Lalit Kishori Das he gave the kantha and karua of Swami Haridas. Although his guru wanted him to take over the service of Rasik Bihari, Lalita Kishori prefered to live under a tree near the Yamuna banks. Some say that he had been turned out of Nidhivan by envious people in the community.

Though Swami Lalit Kishori Das was living at that spot in great austerity, devotees made the area more delightful by planting trees and flowers. They also built a bamboo hut for the relics of Swami Haridas and surrounded it with bamboo stakes interwoven with branches to form a protective fence, which is called a ṭaṭṭī, hence the name ṭaṭṭīya sthāna.

Because of his exemplary renounced life Lalit Kishori came to be called a "second Swami Haridas." It is said that when King Jai Singh heard that the sadhus of Tatia Sthan would not observe ekadashi, he became concerned, since he wished for the sadhus of Vrindavan to maintain the scriptural standards of behavior. To test Lalit Kishori he sent a representative with a clay pot full of sweets to see how he would respond. When the servant came to Lalita Kishori, he found him deep in meditation. He waited a long time for his samadhi to break, but only when a poor Brijvasi woman came and offered him some dry rotis did he come back into external awareness. He ate the rotis without leaving his seat, cleaned his hands with the dust of the ground beside him, and then returned to his meditation without paying any attention to the sweets.

Lalita Mohini Das was born in 1724 in Orcha from the same family as the famous Hariram Vyas of Kishore Van near Loi Bazaar. It is said that he more than anyone else set the mood and rules for Tatia Sthan that has been preserved to this day. He also set the standard for the samaj tradition, which makes me suspect that the songs sung during the Jagaran were favorites of his.

One of the features of Lalit Mohini Das's administration of Tatia Sthan was his devotion to Vaishnava seva. He made no distinction between devotees of different sects and would feed at least 100 people every day. Nevertheless, his rule was that whatever came in to the ashram in the form of food and gifts would be used for Vaishnava seva in the same day. His motto was:

santana bina hari na mileṁ hari ne kahī pukāra
mo sevata sumirata bhaiyā būḍhauge majhadhāra

No one can attain Hari without going through the saints, as Hari himself states so clearly:
"Oh brother! Even if you remember me and serve me, without the mercy of the saints you will still drown before you cross the river of material life."

rupe se cāvara sone se dāra
tana mana dhana se santana ko vāra

"With your silver buy rice, with your gold purchase dahl.
With body, mind and wealth, serve the saints."

One story is told of how Lalit Mohini Das attained siddhi through sadhu seva. One time, prasad was being served to a line of devotees at about the same time that a solar eclipse was expected. Some of the Vaishnavas were concerned that it would be inappropriate to engage in any activity during that time. Lalita Mohini simply said, "There will be no eclipse in the Tatia Sthan." And so it was. When the devotees looked up at the sky over the Tatia Sthan the sun remained uncovered, but on going outside the perimeter, they saw Rahu swallowing it.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Shakti

Someone said, "I look forward to meeting your Shakti."
My humors bubbled over. "It will be hard," I thought.

My Shakti has turned to iron-clad indifference.
The weightiness of her maan knows no bounds
and she is teaching me the path of renunciation.

Her body is untouchable,
but she has taken up residence in the six chakras:

In the womb, in the machine of desire,
on the seed sound of desire,
she placed the two jewels of the sampradaya,
nivritti and pravritti, and intoned:
May these two join in the central stream
and become a fountain of nectar.

In the bulbous root center,
she joined me to the umbilical cord of prana,
and in the filigree of the nadis
she spread her love to every nook and cranny
of this bag of elements, and made it holy.

The ida and pingala of her breasts
defibrillated my heart and gave it
the will to a newer, subtler vibration of life.

My throat's thirst was quenched by the
nectar of immortality that flowed from her mouth.
Hear me speak. These words are hers.

And in the center that orders and brings orders,
I saw the tattva of Radha and Shyam,
and in the thousand-petal lotus
I saw them play.

My Shakti has done well to abandon me,
She now pervades the universe.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Last darshan of Shriji Maharaj at Nimbarkacharya Peeth

My day. I got back from Salemabad at 8 a.m. after all night driving. Started working on uploading photos. Kirtan at 9 with Babaji.

Worked on the Shriji article, etc., until noon. In passing I watched President Obama's farewell address. I felt some grief.

Took lunch, then slept until 6. In the evening I watched the film Kadambari with Andrej. Ah, the anguish of love in the world!!

Then I sang and realized that nothing in this world can be held onto, other than the eternal, underlying ground of being and love, which is my Divine Kishore and Kishori.

How much mercy of how many saints has had to fall for me to see this today. And yet, I feel so much grief letting go.

Vrindavan, 2017.01.15 (VT): Haridas Sharan's kindness, I was able to go on lightning run to the Nimbarkacharya Peeth in Rajasthan.

We got the news through Vrajvihari Sharan that Shriji Maharaj -- Radha Sarvesvara Sharana Devacharya Maharaj, the universally respected acharya for the entire Nimbarka Sampradaya -- had left his body in the morning of the 14th.

Haridas Sharan arranged for a car and after an eight hour drive with his mother and maternal uncle we reached Salemabad at around 11 pm and immediately went up to the room where hundreds of devotees were surrounding Shriiji Maharaj's Shrivigraha, keeping up a constant but subdued chant:

Radhe Krishna Radhe Krishna
Krishna Krishna Radhe Radhe
Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam
Shyam Shyam Radhe Radhe
A steady line of people was passing through the open chamber where he was lying, covered in a mountain of garlands.

Haridas Sharan, his mother and maternal uncle brought prasadi cloth and garlands from Sri Bankey Bihari Ju Maharaj from Vrindavan. These were given him by Sumit Goswami and Raghu Goswami Ji of the Banke Bihari Goswami family.


Haridas Sharan is a disciple of Shriji Maharaj. His mother and uncle are in fact initiated in the Tatia Sthan, but they were brought up in their ancestral home right near the Badi Shriji Kunj in Retia Bazaar. So he and his sister used to attend events at the Kunj frequently and had the opportunity to meet Shriji Maharaj there many times even in their childhood, as well as many, many other saints of the Nimbark and other sampradayas.

On the long ride to Salemabad, they told many of them with much joy and laughter and praise for him.

With Yuvacharya Ji's permission, the three Brijbasis blissfully offered Bihariji's sri-anga prasadi to Maharaj Sri.

We were told that Shriji Maharaj got up at his usual time of 3 a.m. and had done his nitya-kritya as he did every day, even in his advanced age. He then met with a bhakta to discuss the panchang, as it was Makara Sankranti and its coinciding with other tithis had to be examined.

After the meeting, Maharaj went into samadhi in a seated position and left his mortal body. He was 88 years old and had adorned the Nimbark sampradaya's acharya gaddi for an amazing 74 years.

Yuvacharya Shyam Sharani Dev
His successor, usually called the "Yuvacharya"
is 38-year-old Shri Shyam Sharandevji.
Shriji Maharaj was a prolific author in Hindi and Sanskrit, yet able to communicate complex truths and give guidance in simple language, he has left an indelible mark on the sampradaya, establishing a unity in the tradition as well as a firm presence for it in the Vaishnava world.

It would not be exaggeration to say that he was the most respected figure in the Vaishnava world of today.

In the morning, Haridas Sharanji went to take darshan of the Mahant of Tatiya Sthan after coming back from Salemabad. The Mahant said in honor of Sriji Maharaj's entry into the nitya nikunj:

आइ मिल्यौ परिवार आपने हरि हँसि कंठ लगायौ ।
स्यामास्याम जू बिहरत दोऊ सखी समाज मिलायौ ।।
Aai Milyo Parivar Aapne Hari Hasi Kantha Lagayo |
Syama Syam Ju Bihrat Dou Sakhi Samaj Milayo ||

Translation:- Sri Sri Ji Maharaj has eternally entered into nitya nikunj lilas of Shyama Shyam, where Shyamsundar and Priyaju along with group of Sakhis including Rangdevi Ju Lalita Ju and Hari Priya Ju personally embraced their new sakhi and welcomed her into their pastimes.

 Devakinandan Thakur, one of Shriji Maharaj's most illustrious disciples, speaking with Yuvacharyaji.

The cremation of Shriji Maharaj's mortal remains was conducted the next morning at 10 a.m. According to sources in the press, more than 150,000 people attended, including many Rajasthani government dignitaries.

Shriji Maharaj

Salemabad is the place in Pushkar Kshetra where Jagadguru Nimbarkacharya Swami Shri Parashuram Devacarya Ji Maharaj performed austerities in the early 1540s. He was there because his own Guru, Jagadguru Nimbarkacharya Swami Shri Harivyas Devacharya sent him there to counter Masting Shah who was terrorising visitors to Pushkar at that time. From then, the Nimbarkacharya Peeth moved from Narad Teela to Salemabad. The first iteration of the Peeth was completed after the death of Swami Parashuram Devacharya by Gopal Ji Bhati of the Bhati clan in 1607. After a few of the Bharatpur kings sought refuge from the British onslaughts, the Peeth was destroyed and was rebuilt again soon after by the royal houses of Jaipur and Kishangarh. (Vrajvihari Sharan)

For more about Shriji Maharaj, see this article by Vrajvihari Sharanji from last year.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

BInode Bihari Baba in Barsana

The Rutgers students who came for a three-week course during their Christmas break went with a few others from Jiva including myself. We went to Binode Bihari Babaji's ashram near Priya Kund and then went with him on Barsana parikrama.

I first met Binode Bihari Das Babaji Maharaj in 1984 when his guru Tinkori Goswami came to Nabadwip. In those days, Tinkori Prabhu was the topmost bhajananandi in the Gaudiya Vaishnava world. It was a great surprise to everyone when, like Jagannath Das Babaji, he decided to spend the last part of his life in Gauda desh. So naturally there was a great attraction to go and visit him in Manipur Ghat, not far from the crematorium.

I visited several times since in those days there was a general enthusiasm building for Mahaprabhu's 500th appearance day anniversary. Tinkori Prabhu had many disciples in Nabadwip, and I used to join them daily for early morning nagar sankirtan through the streets of Nabadwip, singing "Sri Krishna Chaitanya, Prabhu Nityananda, Hare Krishna Hare Rama, Sri Radhe Govinda." As the anniversary drew closer, more and more such groups started forming, some chanting Hare Krishna, some Nitai Gaura Radha Shyam, some Bhaja Gauranga or Vishnupriyara Prananath. Ramananda Goswami took out a group from the Srivas Angan temple singing different Gaura padavali. It was quite an exciting time.

Tinkori Prabhu left his body before the 500th, however, and his Samadhi was built there in the ashram. After he left, however, I was invited a couple of times to speak on Chaitanya Charitamrita. I may even have done so when Tinkori Prabhu was present, I don't remember. Binode Bihari Baba was Prabhu's personal servant at the time.

It was rather embarrassing for when I introduced myself as Jagadananda, he immediately said, "Not the Jagadananda who used to come to Manipur Ghat and speak on Chaitanya Charitamrita." I said, "No, you must be thinking of Jagadish." But he insisted, "No, Jagadananda. Don't you remember me, I am Binode Bihari!"

I don't know why I have such a hazy memory of such important events. Sometimes I think I have lived my life in a kind of unconscious daze. Anyway, I was flattered like anything that he remembered me, and ashamed that I did not remember him from that time. I said, "I am such an ahankari manush that I only think of myself. I remember all the Vaishnava disciples of Tinkori Prabhu, but I don't remember anyone specifically, and over the years I have forgotten all of their names. But I am so glad that you remember me, I will come another time and stay for a while and get your association, if you bless me."

Then I translated for him as he gave a short homily to the Rutgers students and other members of the group: "We are not these bodies, that is the first thing to remember. We are in confusion because we separate ourselves from that which is truly close to us, and we try to possess the things that we can never have. This body is not the real self, and yet we try to make it our self. And we try to distance ourselves from Krishna, who resides everywhere within and without, and who is the Soul of our soul. Krishna is ours and we are Krishna's. The purpose of life is to realize this."

Then we went out on the Barsana Parikrama, during which Babaji distributes toffees to all the children and monkeys. Everyone knows he is coming, and even some older people come to get his mercy. We ended up in the Ladli temple for arati. It was a very nice atmosphere everywhere. There were many Gaudiya vairagis in the temple and most came to sit around Baba when he arrived. Some Braja vasis also came and they told stories and sang songs while waiting for arati.

Toni, one of the girls in the Rutgers group, took many photos. I found the ones of me and Baba to be interesting because it showed how Baba was surprised as he recognized me and my reaction. I am only putting a few of the pictures here as a sample. She took at least fifty.

This is me in a selfie with Toni, the photographer. Jai Radhe.

Prema's testing ground and laboratory are in the human

In the last three articles, Another look at Aropa and Vatsalya, Worshiping Krishna as the substratum in all beings and The natural loves and prema, I have been responding to Muralisvara Dasa's letter. In these posts we have established several things that beginner devotees find problematic. Indeed, it takes a bit of a paradigm shift to move from the beginning level of duality between God and man in aiśvarya to the eradication of this difference in mādhurya. This is the human dimension of love.

To summarize: Without giving up the basic practice of arcanā, one has to cultivate the middle stage of devotion, which is, as we have all read in the Bhāgavatam:

īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca |
yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ ||
One who behaves with love towards God, friendship to those who depend on the Lord, with compassion to those who are innocent, and indifference to those who hate the Lord, is on the middle level of devotional achievement and practice. (SB 11.2.46)
In Kapila Deva's verse, this was expressed as follows:

atha māṁ sarva-bhūteṣu bhūtātmānaṁ kṛtālayam
arcayed dāna-mānābhyāṁ maitryābhinnena cakṣuṣā
Therefore, through charity and offering respect to others, through friendship and by viewing others as non-different [from the Self], one should worship me, who have made my home within all living beings as the Supreme Self. (3.29.27)
Maitrī here takes the primary position, and this forms the bridge between the positive and negative paths. I have mentioned this here. This is also applicable to this sādhana in madhura-rasa. But of course, for the sake of this discussion, abhinnena cakṣuṣā, or seeing the devotees or, in particular, partners in sādhanā, as not different or in any way separate from Krishna, is the raison-d'etre and goal of this sādhana.

Krishna is the ultimate Self in all beings. To see and love him within oneself is the inner path. To see and love him in others is the outer path. The combination of both is the full path. Neither is complete without the other.

With this awareness, then, one should understand that āropa is a bit of a misnomer, since we are not falsely attributing qualities that do not exist onto something or someone that does not have them. Krishna in whatever form we wish to worship him, exists in that form in the Other as it manifests in the sādhaka's life, i.e., even in imperfection. If we understand Jiva Goswami's comment cited at the end of the previous post, we will understand that more clearly. The example of the other rasas is particularly cogent.

The point is that one way or another, the sādhanā is learning to love the Supreme Self in the self, in the other and in everything. It is not an artificial construct because there is in fact nothing other than Him. kim atad-vastu rūpyatām. This is how we learn to see Him in the other. When one sees that the Self in the other is the same Self existing within oneself, then the question of selfish desire does not arise. This is how kāma is conquered.

This is how the development of the vision of God as described in the verses 3.29.28-33 evolved from the unconscious to the most conscious entities. It reminded me of the following story from Sam Keen in his To a Dancing God:
Carson McCullers once wrote a short story which suggests the proper place for a course in loving to begin. She tells about a young paperboy who encounters a drunk in an all-night diner. The drunk insists upon showing the boy a picture of his wife who fifteen years previously ran away with another man. He goes on to explain that in those days he did not know how to love but that subsequently he has developed a science of love that will allow him to win his wife's love. The mistake he originally made was to begin with the hardest object of love – a woman. His new science established a hierarchy: first love a rock, then a cloud, then a tree, and gradually your powers will grow until it will be possible to love a woman. There is a wisdom in this story that the Greek philosophers would have understood. Plato also insisted that love had a ladder of ascent whose lowest rung was a simple object. Eros is first directed toward modest objects, and only afterward may it reach the good, the beautiful and the true. Practice in loving best begins with objects, things—rocks and trees, or beautiful machines. (Collins Fontana ed'n, 1971: 58).
This is why limiting love of God to the God on the altar, the One "out there," in a heaven or some liberated state, though good as a basis, eventually becomes problematic. Even if we superimpose personality on the object, in some way it keeps some of its limitations, which are not fully perceived by the beginner. Is this not the flaw identified by those who protest against any possibility of love in the world, namely that kāma can make us think of them in terms of our conditioned -- subtle or gross -- saṁskāras objects of sense gratification? In the Vishnu Purana verse quoted in Prīti Sandarbha (The natural loves and prema) the word viṣaya is often mistranslated as "sense object," when it is really meant as in the rasa-śāstra sense as the object of love, like Krishna is the object of Radha's love.

This is the basis for our speaking about "I-Thou" relationships mentioned here and there on this blog. And this is why the Christ's statement is so powerful: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4.20, KJV) [Many translations have "believer" rather than "brother," which also sheds light on the idea of the madhyama stage, where the emphasis is on the loving relationships with fellow sādhakas.]

The denial of love in this world is the denial of God-as-Love. Sometimes God is thought of by atheist psychologists as a "transitional object" or a kind of substitute for cruel reality (example). The Christian psychotherapist see his role as a kind of guru who acts in the same way as mediator to God. What we are saying is that both these standpoints are correct: We learn to love God in a multiplicity of ways, but its testing ground as well as its laboratory are in human love.

This is also how I read the verse from the Gītā,

kleśo'dhikataras teṣām avyaktāsakta-cetasām
avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaṁ dehavadbhir avāpyate
The anguish for those whose minds are attached to the Unmanifest is greater, because embodied beings can only attain the goal of the Unmanifest with great difficulty. (Gītā 12.5)
Here, the unmanifest means the God that does not exist anywhere except as a general concept in the mind. If one loves a mental concept (avyakta or unmanifest), this love does not have the impact that love for something concrete and accessible to the senses will have. And the worship of God in the vyakta corresponds to the sequential order as given in Kapila's verses: from the unconscious elements, worshiped in the deity form, to a human being, and of them, particularly the devotee.

Love for a devotee will always be higher because that love will confirm and increase the love for God in his human form, ultimately Radha and Krishna, since they are absorbed in Radha and Krishna and therefore the Radha-Krishna-ness radiates from them directly.

Not that it is necessarily easier to go there right away, as Carson McCullers' diner drunk recognized, for the person who has not developed the capacity to do so, or who lacks the requisite background knowledge, often chooses an unqualified object of love in the sādhanā stage.

But when a bhakti-yogi recognizes that the devotee is the closest that we can come to experience God in the human, due to his or her embodiment of Krishna-consciousness, and if that is revealed to him or her directly through the numinous experience or epiphany of falling in love, then he or she is ready to start the process of bhāva sādhanā.

The point I want to make is that all sādhana contains within it a process of āropa. We apply God-ness to objects that ordinarily we do not think of having God-ness. The Deity in the temple is called an "idol" by the non-believer for whom the concept of āropa corresponds to idolatry. The devotee defends against the charge: We are told to see Krishna in the deity; we are told Krishna is genuinely present there as a result of mantras and rituals that infuse it with his consciousness (prāṇa-pratiṣṭhā) In fact, there is nothing but Krishna. Krishna is the object of all love. It is only idolatry when we see something else that is meant to serve our interests separate from God. Nevertheless, in real terms, worshiping the deity is an act of superimposition or āropa; it is an act of the buddhi, imposing an awareness of God where in ordinary consciousness there is none. Thus the many legends about awakened murtis, like the story of Nrisingha arising from the Shiva linga.

With the devotee this should be less difficult, but alas our vision is impure. The fault finding tendency battles with our practice of "seeing the truth" (āropa), the so-called "real" and so-called "fantasy" fight it out to no conclusion. Seeing God in the human is not an easy practice.

[Take another look at the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu verses about rāgānugā bhakti in this light as well in that of the Bhakti-sandarbha 106.]

Now, in my view, one has to have undergone a thorough training in āropa in the pravartaka stage before one can start practicing it on the level of human beings. Your mind needs to be imbued with bhakti saṁskāras through hearing and chanting, and meditating on what one has heard, i.e., through the preliminary practices of vaidhī and rāgānugā bhakti. For anyone who has not got faith in the deity form of the Lord, or in the Lord's human pastimes, there is no point in attempting to go further in bhāva sādhanā.

When it comes to madhura-rasa, devotees who might otherwise accept the idea of āropa in vātsalya and other types of rāgānugā devotion find it difficult to make the leap from there to the erotic mood. This is no doubt why Rupa Goswami himself separated rāgānugā into two divisions, one called sambandhānugā (following the relation), the other kāmānugā (following the erotic desire). The latter is further subdivided into sambhogecchāmayī and tad-bhāvecchātmikā (BRS 1.2.297-298). These are then defined:

kāmānugā bhavet tṛṣṇā kāma-rūpānugāminī ||
sambhogecchā-mayī tat-tad-bhāvecchātmeti sā dvidhā ||
keli-tātparyavaty eva sambhogecchā-mayī bhavet |
tad-bhāvecchātmikā tāsām bhāva-mādhurya-kāmitā ||
That devotion which follows the erotic desire is that devotional thirst that follows the love [felt by the gopis] which appears like lust. It has two divisions: that which has as its goal the enjoyment of dalliance with Krishna is called "following] devotion which desires [erotic] union" (sambhogecchāmayī). That devotion which is filled with the desire to experience the sweetness of the mistresses' mood is called "devotion desiring their mood" (tad-bhāvecchātmikā). (BRS 1.2.299)
The former has its meaning (tātparya) in erotic enjoyment with Krishna. The latter in the desire to relish the sweetness of the moods of the lovers of Krishna such as Radha.

Vishwanath argues in his commentary to BRS 1.2.298 that this process the following of the gopis is not to be taken as imitation (anukāriṇī). Here he decries the "Sauramya" school, which is generally associated with Rupa Kaviraj, one of the earliest Vaishnava Sahajiya philosophers, about whom far too little is known. Jiva Goswami also emphasizes that of the two, the latter path is superior. This is because any ordinary jiva who thinks that he has the capacity to be a nāyikā who can control Krishna with her love the way that Radharani does is surely engaged in a futile pursuit. And the desire for sexual union contains a whiff of personal desire that is entirely absent in the tad-bhāvecchātmikā devotees, namely the manjaris or sakhis.

So the problem is here associated specifically with the sambhogecchā-mayī mood. It has been hinted at in other ways by Jiva Goswami. For example in Bhakti Sandarbha 310-311 where two verses of the 11th Canto are cited from Pingala's soliloquy. These are used by him as examples of rāgānugā bhakti, specifically to show that Pingala was not bound by rules and attracted to Narayan purely by ruci. The terms sambhogecchāmayī and tad-bhāvecchātmikā are not used in Bhakti Sandarbha, but Pingala clearly belongs to the former category.

suhṛt preṣṭhatamo nātha ātmā cāyaṁ śarīriṇām |
taṁ vikrīyātmanaivāhaṁ rame’nena yathā ramā ||
He [Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa] is the friend, the most beloved, the master and Self of all embodied beings. I shall purchase Him through the price of my self-surrender, and thus delight with Him, just like Goddess Lakṣmī. (SB 11.8.35, Bhakti Sandarbha 310)
Moreover, from her prayers, we can see that Pingala also belongs to the svakīyā mood.
santuṣṭā śraddadhaty etad yathā-lābhena jīvatī |
viharāmy amunaivāham ātmanā ramaṇena vai ||
Feeling contented and living upon with whatever I get, with full faith, I shall now sport with him alone as my husband, for he is my own true Self. (11.8.40, Bhakti Sandarbha 311)

Here Srila Jiva Goswamipada makes the distinction that Pingala is lamenting that her "natural husband" is the indwelling Lord, but she has instead chosen to prostitute herself to worthless men out of a desire for money and sexual pleasure. He states that in the world, marriages are based on mantra and ritual and are therefore the oneness of husband and wife is artificial (kṛtrimam ekātmatvam), not innate or natural. But in the case of Bhagavān this oneness is not so because He is the Supreme Self by his very constitution. But this statement applies to couples marrying within the varnashram system. As we have already stated above, the sādhaka is situated in the knowledge that it is not artificial, but as a ground for practising the presence of God in relationship.

To the second verse Jiva says that the sexual relationship with Krishna for those following Pingala's path, i.e., in this kind of rāgānugā bhakti, the mind is most important. This prevents the insolence (auddhatya) of physically engaging in such acts with the deity form. I am sure we will all agree that something does not sound quite right -- that would be a very gross understanding of the erotic relation with God -- and the fact that Jiva Goswami even had to mention it raises questions. But we also agree that the ground of rāgānugā is in the mind. And if one has not imprinted the mind with the image of the Yugala, the path of Yugala Sādhanā will be full of potholes.

In this post, I have discussed the following verses from Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, which are also relevant here. I will just conclude with the following reminder:

vartitavyaṁ śam icchadbhir bhaktavan na tu kṛṣṇavat
ity evaṁ bhakti-śāstrāṇāṁ tātparyasya vinirṇayaḥ
rāmādivad vartitavyaṁ na kvacid rāvaṇādivat
ity eṣa mukti-dharmādi-parāṇāṁ naya īryate

Those who wish for true joy (śam) should identify as devotees and not as Krishna. This is the conclusion of the devotional scriptures. "One should identify with Rama and not with Ravana, this is the method followed by those who are devoted to deliverance and justice." (UN 3.24-25)
The art of love lies in becoming the āśraya not the viṣaya. It is because of this whiff of personal desire that the sambhogecchā and svakīyā moods are considered lesser, as well as being associated with one another. (See BRS 1.2.303)

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The glory of the human body

it is true that to speak on these matters in public is inviting opprobrium. People have already (as I suspected they would) complained to other senior Vaishnavas about me.

People hear the word "sex" and they immediately respond with their deepest samskaras.

Sex is the desire for love manifest in the human body. Love is the desire for giving and receiving the pleasure of union. Union with the non-physical normally does not precede union on the physical plane. Even while the experience of union on the physical plane without spiritual maturity is a pipe dream.

Union with God based on disgust with the material world is not love. It is mukti.

The human organism has many levels. The foolish think they can reach the spirit and the soul without first purifying the gross body, the prana body, the mental body, the vijnana body, the ananda-maya body.

Similarly the experience of love is beyond the body, but just like the lotus flower grows out of mud, this human form of life is the basis of our highest and most transcendental experiences. To say, "I am not this body" and then deny the body is the path of asceticism, which has been rejected by Buddha, by the yogis, but most of all by the bhaktas.

This does not mean that one does not engage in tapas, i.e., giving up sense pleasures for the sake of one's spiritual endeavor, i.e., prioritizing your spiritual life over your mundane predilections. Brahmacharya is a great tapas, and the householder who practices it attains the perfection of his ashram.

Jugupsa and madhura-rati.