Saturday, April 02, 2016

Begging for Jiva Goswami's mercy


So I took a major step today. In my strategic program of concerted efforts to tie myself down to this place called Vrindavan, I went to the Sri Sri Radha Damodar temple and begged the sevayat, Sri Balaram Goswami, for the privilege of giving daily readings from the Bhagavata Tenth Canto or Gopala Champu in front of Srila Rupa Goswami's samadhi.

He has shown favor to the idea and we are to finalize tomorrow the times and so on. When a starting day has been fixed, I will invite all of you, my dear readers, to come and join me in a little, inostentatious ceremony there worshiping the Bhagavatam and for you to give me your blessings.

Holi has passed and the hot season is coming. The mood usually changes abruptly after Holi. But Vrindavan’s sustained, increasing energy is observable, as clearly as the scientists are able to observe the rise of the global temperature.

Here it was a Friday, which explains in part why the streets are as crowded as on any weekend or holiday. Ammachi is coming to Vrindavan in a few days and this will definitely mean a major influx of people at the Fogla ashram, you can be sure. Hundreds of thousands of people attended Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s event in Delhi, and many of those visitors -- some of whom came from around the world -- naturally overflowed into Vrindavan.

Every temple is brimming with life, it seems. But none more so than Radha Damodar. Of all the temples in the old town, Radha Damodar is the most international, mainly because of the presence of Srila Prabhupada’s quarters.

I came in the evening and a Tirtha Brahmin was sitting with a small group of middle-class Indians and telling them about Prabhupada. He wryly noted that there were three white-skinned people sitting in the room with us. I complimented him in Hindi to thank him for putting Srila Prabhupada on his “tour” as it were. I appreciated his awareness of the history of Vrindavan and Srila Prabhupada’s place in it, which is just as a religious tour guide should.

Balaram Goswami had seen the brief resume of Nirmal Chandra Goswami’s life written by Hari Bhakta Das that we published when his father left the world of mortals not so long ago. We spoke of his father and what had been written there (http://news.vrindavantoday.org/2016...). Following that, I explained to him a little of what I had written in my article about the three Vrindavans.

He understood perfectly what I was saying about the three Vrindavans.

I think he himself looked a little amazed at what is happening. Radha Damodar vibrates the best of Vrindavan energy. Either it is because the Yoga Peeth is so close, perhaps like the magnetic north pole and the geographical north pole, differently empowered, it does indeed vibrate.

The deities themselves sparkle in the electric light bouncing from their silver thrones to the constant sound of kirtan. Pairs of Radhas and Krishnas, all bigger than life, yet looking mesmerizing with their unblinking eyes, giving the same loving expression, their faces painted so as to turn them into mandalas, pools into which you can sink into a kind of aesthetic simplicity and ethereal calm.

And then there is the parikrama of the temple and the samadhis. This is much favored by people of all kinds. One woman, otherwise unremarkable, went streaming past me (I was admittedly looking this way and that, drinking it all in) with a strong and steady, determined Radhe Radhe! Another young father was holding his five-year-old’s hand and telling him to repeat the name of Radha. There were gaggles of colorful blond Russian girls seriously sitting in front of Jiva Goswami’s samadhi, but talking animatedly. One was showing another the samadhis of Siddhanta Saraswati and Narayan Maharaj.

My own eye was first drawn to the samadhi of Ananta Vasudeva Puri Das, who somewhat fittingly for me, stands first in this parade of Gaudiya Math presences in front of Kaviraj Goswami.

There was a young boy I first noticed praying before the Yogamaya temple, whose presence there drew my attention to that shrine. Then again I saw him stand extremely reverently behind the samadhi of Rupa Goswami, his head touching the wall. And again once bowing on his knees. He did not look physically particularly well or clean, an older street urchin or beggar, perhaps someone who had labored all day in the heat, but his devotional mood felt genuine and strong. He had no awareness of anything but his prayers, and yet there was no anxiety of a prayer coming from worries or material concerns.

I never cared much for the enclosing of the entire parikrama with a low ceiling. It felt to me like the hallways in a subway station or something. Which may for all I know to have been the intention, for it is always well frequented. Seven times, they say, is equal to once around Govardhan. Frankly I must be honest and say that despite the good intentions, it has to be one of the worst architectural errors I could possibly imagine.

Nevertheless I was very pleased to note that the Braj Vikas Trust has been doing some really quite elegant pink stone work in the haveli style on the inside of the main courtyard. I cannot imagine that Srila Bhakti Gaurava Narasingha Maharaj is not involved with this project, since he has (despite the subway halls and all that) been a sincere servant of Radha Damodar for many years and deserves all praise for it. Since the stone work is a little understated as the color is very light, it almost passed me by when I first came into the temple, and only noticed it after talking to Balaram Prabhu, so we did not discuss it and I was unable to ask these questions of him. But anyway, thumbs up as they say for the Braj Vikas Trust and the work they are doing restoring these temples.

You can see the new Govindaji temple here. The Braj Vikas Trust has also done the new Gopinath temple, Madan Mohan temple, and the Kaliya Daha temple. They seem to have no consideration of whether they are being profited on or not. At any rate I really liked the way the new Govindaji temple had been tastefully painted. It really brought out its 18th century feel of the building.

So, if everything goes well, I will shortly be taking a major step in my life by committing to a regular teaching activity, nitya patha, at a particularly sacred location with the express purpose of getting the mercy of Srila Rupa Goswami, Srila Jiva Goswami, Srila Bhugarbha Goswami and Krishnadas Kaviraj, Bir Ham Bir is also there... and of course the list goes on of our glorious parampara.

And there sits Srila Prabhupada in the procession, in a place of honor in the array. This is where the inspiration came from, I said to Balaram Prabhu. This was the energetic powerhouse that sent Srila Prabhupada outward. Prabhupada never kept his distance from the Goswamis. He had many friends among them and was obviously respected by them, from even before he came back with those dancing white elephants. But Srila Prabhupada must have quite understood that a great symbolic purpose was being arranged in his life, and that Krishna granted that symbolic purpose by giving him residence in the traditional nesting place of this particular breed of birds.

And here am I, one of Prabhupada’s offspring, beckoned from afar to come to serve at the Jiva Institute! Balaram Prabhu immediately asked after Satya Narayan Baba when I told him I stayed in Sheetal Chaya. There is this Jiva connection; Satya Narayan Dasji has also carved out a niche with Jiva Goswami. And it makes me proud to also be able to participate in and serve this tradition. Which is why I will be very pleased if the Lord will let me do this.

Radhe Radhe.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Govindaji Temple, Old and New

I was thinking about Govindaji this morning and remembered that I had never been to the new Govindaji temple. I also wanted to test the "Yoga-Peeth-ness" of the old temple by sitting and meditating there. I had quick results in the affirmative.

I played with the color on some of these photos, as the light was a little difficult for an amateur photographer like me. I did not have time to do a good job, so the duller pix are the ones that are "natural."



I believe this photo was published in Growse's District Memoir in 1873, Growse ordered the first renovations. It seems that a lot of the stone from the building was used here and there, and a lot of it was dumped in what is now called "Patthar Pura". According to some sources, a lot of the stone went to help build the mosque in Mathura at the Janma Sthan.


I believe this photo was first published in Growse's District Memoir in 1873, Growse ordered the first renovations. It seems that a lot of the stone from the building was used here and there, and a lot of it was dumped in what is now called "Patthar Pura". According to some sources, a lot of the stone went to help build the mosque in Mathura at the Janma Sthan.

The wall that appears on the roof here, according to Growse, was built by Aurangzeb as a mosque with qibla pointing to Mecca. He reports the legend that the Emperor himself came after the desecration of the building and offered his namaaz on the roof at this wall to proclaim the victory of Islam over Hinduism.

It is interesting to compare this with the previous black and white photo. This photo is probably from about 1960. It seems that the ASI renovations had already been quite extensive and had already been started here. Compare some of the other photos.


It is interesting to compare this with the previous black and white photo. This photo is probably from about 1960. It seems that the ASI renovations had already been quite extensive and had already been started here. Compare some of the other photos. But the original renovation work was started by Growse's efforts.


The temple is a massive cruciform building of red sandstone and resembles the larger of the two Sas Bahu temples in Gwalior. Part of the temple has been damaged, for at one time it was used as a quarry. The chief loss the temple has suffered is the loss of its central dome, the curvilinear tower which surmounted the cella. The temple is wonderfully grand and impressive, with lordly pillars with beautiful bracket capitals and numberless pointed arches opening into the deep shadows.] The temple is a massive cruciform building of red sandstone and resembles the larger of the two Sas Bahu temples in Gwalior. Part of the temple has been damaged, for at one time it was used as a quarry. The chief loss the temple has suffered is the loss of its central dome, the curvilinear tower which surmounted the cella. The temple is wonderfully grand and impressive, with lordly pillars with beautiful bracket capitals and numberless pointed arches opening into the deep shadows.

 "The temple now survives in its truncated form since its sanctuary was complete destroyed during the reign of Aurangzeb. It was originally seven storeys high and atop the temple a large lamp was kept burning. The story goes that from Agra Aurangzeb saw the majestic lamp and got infuriated by the greatness of this Hindu temple and sent troops to demolish it. The Mohammedan soldiers were able to dismantle the top four stories of the seven storied structure. According to another version, the upper four stories were neatly dismantled and placed alongside. During the attack, the deities enshrined within were moved to Jaipur, where they remain until the present day." (Baij Nath Aryan in Economic Times 19-4-1991)



"The temple now survives in its truncated form since its sanctuary was complete destroyed during the reign of Aurangzeb. It was originally seven storeys high and atop the temple a large lamp was kept burning. The story goes that from Agra Aurangzeb saw the majestic lamp and got infuriated by the greatness of this Hindu temple and sent troops to demolish it. The Mohammedan soldiers were able to dismantle the top four stories of the seven storied structure. According to another version, the upper four stories were neatly dismantled and placed alongside. During the attack, the deities enshrined within were moved to Jaipur, where they remain until the present day." (Baij Nath Aryan in Economic Times 19-4-1991, This is the central dome. You can see the patterns in the setting of thestone. I wonder if the original intent was to have some of these surfaces painted. The dome seems to be intact.


This is the central dome. You can see the patterns in the setting of thestone. I wonder if the original intent was to have some of these surfaces painted. The dome seems to be intact.


"Architecturally speaking, the temple possesses great formal beauty which is enhanced by the balconies, the loggias of bracketed archways, moulded buttresses, prominent eaves and ornamental parapets. The interiors are constructed with equal competence. The combination of vertical, and horizontal lines covering the whole surface contributes to the remarkable effect and therein lies the real merit of the design. It is more than evident that Rajasthani masons were engaged in its construction. The sudden upsurge of temple building activity was the outcome of the bhakti movement that was sweeping the northern Indian plains as a reaction to continual Muslim invasions."Baijnath Aryan
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"Architecturally speaking, the temple possesses great formal beauty which is enhanced by the balconies, the loggias of bracketed archways, moulded buttresses, prominent eaves and ornamental parapets. The interiors are constructed with equal competence. The combination of vertical, and horizontal lines covering the whole surface contributes to the remarkable effect and therein lies the real merit of the design. It is more than evident that Rajasthani masons were engaged in its construction. The sudden upsurge of temple building activity was the outcome of the bhakti movement that was sweeping the northern Indian plains as a reaction to continual Muslim invasions."Baijnath Aryan.


"The monuments in Agra are visited by millions from all over the world, but it is a pity that only a handful of devotees visit this grand monument in Vrindavan which is barely an hour’s drive from Agra. The architecture of Fatehpur Sikri conveys the imporession of a building, but the Govinda Dev temple is sculpturesque in conception and proportions. And I personally feel that the architecture of Govinda Dev temple is far more impressive than that of Fatehpur Sikri." Baij Nath Aryan (written in 1991)


"The monuments in Agra are visited by millions from all over the world, but it is a pity that only a handful of devotees visit this grand monument in Vrindavan which is barely an hour’s drive from Agra. The architecture of Fatehpur Sikri conveys the imporession of a building, but the Govinda Dev temple is sculpturesque in conception and proportions. And I personally feel that the architecture of Govinda Dev temple is far more impressive than that of Fatehpur Sikri." Baij Nath Aryan (written in 1991)

OldGovindaji_04


OldGovindaji_05

Several groups came through while I was there. This group was very vocal chanting the name of Radhe Shyam. Unfortunately, though, there is never Bhagavata or kirtan there. The priests told me that one would have to arrange it through the ASI. The temple opens at 7 a.m. until noon, then 3 p.m. to 8 pm.



Several groups came through while I was there. This group was very vocal chanting the name of Radhe Shyam. Unfortunately, though, there is never Bhagavata or kirtan there. The priests told me that one would have to arrange it through the ASI. The temple opens at 7 a.m. until noon, then 3 p.m. to 8 pm.

Usually during the daytime there are many monkeys, especially in the hot season when they come inside to cool off. This time, however, there was just this lone straggler.


Usually during the daytime there are many monkeys, especially in the hot season when they come inside to cool off. This time, however, there was just this lone straggler.

OldGovindaji_10


Baijnath Aryan writes, "The complete absence of figural sculptures from the walls of this temple has been ascribed to Islamic influence, any display of imagery being prohibited by this religion. But I do not accept this view. I think this temple has been constructed more in terms of a palace of a god than a temple in the conventional sense." It may well be that these brackets were to be used for such a purpose. These niches were also used for the evening functional/religious lamps.


Baijnath Aryan writes, "The complete absence of figural sculptures from the walls of this temple has been ascribed to Islamic influence, any display of imagery being prohibited by this religion. But I do not accept this view. I think this temple has been constructed more in terms of a palace of a god than a temple in the conventional sense."

It may well be that these brackets were to be used for such a purpose. These niches were also used for the evening functional/religious lamps.


"The cruciform structure reminded western scholars such as Percy Brown and Fergusson of a Greek cross, but this should not mislead us into thinking of foreign derivations. Such cruciform structures find extensive mention in our ancient Vastu texts. In its external appearance and the principles on which this temple has been designed, this structure derives from and has striking affinities with numerous large temples built in the same style, the most notable example being the Sasbahu temple inside the Gwalior fort. The elevations of both the temples comprise several storeys, each containing open arcades. The builders of Govind Dev temple seem to have made considerable advances in the disposition of the arcades since the Gwalior experience. It would be appropriate to say that they had acquired entirely new insights in temple architecture." Baijnath Aryan The temple looks fairly well maintained, but the surroundings are awful. Had a nice talk with this Baba from Kolkata.


"The cruciform structure reminded western scholars such as Percy Brown and Fergusson of a Greek cross, but this should not mislead us into thinking of foreign derivations. Such cruciform structures find extensive mention in our ancient Vastu texts. In its external appearance and the principles on which this temple has been designed, this structure derives from and has striking affinities with numerous large temples built in the same style, the most notable example being the Sasbahu temple inside the Gwalior fort. The elevations of both the temples comprise several storeys, each containing open arcades. The builders of Govind Dev temple seem to have made considerable advances in the disposition of the arcades since the Gwalior experience. It would be appropriate to say that they had acquired entirely new insights in temple architecture." Baijnath Aryan


The walls of this shrine are ten feet thick and perhaps the best part of the building is the labyrinth of stairs and passages that it contains, leading up into the triforium and hanging balcony, when one can look down either into the shadowy depths of the interior or out into the glowing world of sunshine." Baijnath Aryan


The walls of this shrine are ten feet thick and perhaps the best part of the building is the labyrinth of stairs and passages that it contains, leading up into the triforium and hanging balcony, when one can look down either into the shadowy depths of the interior or out into the glowing world of sunshine." Baijnath Aryan

This is the Yogamaya temple that is usually difficult to get access to. One can only be taken in by the priests from the temple through an inner passage, down some stairs and into a Sanctum Sanctorum. This temple marks the spot where Govindaji was discovered on Goma Tila. This temple was built before the big one, according to Anuragi Baba, it was started in 1570 and took twelve years to complete. F.S. Growse: "ON their arrival at Brinda-ban, the first shrine which the Gosains erected was one in honour of the eponymous goddess Brinda Devi. Of this no traces now remain, if (as some say) it stood in the Seva Kunj, which is now a large walled garden with a masonry tank near the Ras Mandal. Their fame spread so rapidly that in 1573 the Emperor Akbar was induced to pay them a visit, and was taken blindfold into the sacred enclosure of the Nidhban [1] where such a marvellous vision was revealed to him, that he was fain to acknowledge the place as indeed holy ground. Hence the cordial support which he gave to the attendant Rajas, when they expressed their wish to erect a series of buildings more worthy of the local divinity. The four temples, commenced in honour of this event, still remain, though in a ruinous and hitherto sadly neglected condition. They bear the titles of Gobind Deva, Gopi-nath, Jugal-Kishor and Madan Mohan. The first named is not only the finest of this particular series, but is the most impressive religious edifice that Hindu art has ever produced, at least in Upper India. "


This is the Yogamaya temple that is usually difficult to get access to. One can only be taken in by the priests from the temple through an inner passage, down some stairs and into a Sanctum Sanctorum.
This temple marks the spot where Govindaji was discovered on Goma Tila. This temple was built before the big one, according to Anuragi Baba, it was started in 1570 and took twelve years to complete.

F.S. Growse: "On their arrival at Brinda-ban, the first shrine which the Gosains erected was one in honour of the eponymous goddess Brinda Devi. Of this no traces now remain, if (as some say) it stood in the Seva Kunj, which is now a large walled garden with a masonry tank near the Ras Mandal. Their fame spread so rapidly that in 1573 the Emperor Akbar was induced to pay them a visit, and was taken blindfold into the sacred enclosure of the Nidhban [1] where such a marvellous vision was revealed to him, that he was fain to acknowledge the place as indeed holy ground. Hence the cordial support which he gave to the attendant Rajas, when they expressed their wish to erect a series of buildings more worthy of the local divinity. The four temples, commenced in honour of this event, still remain, though in a ruinous and hitherto sadly neglected condition. They bear the titles of Gobind Deva, Gopi-nath, Jugal-Kishor and Madan Mohan. The first named is not only the finest of this particular series, but is the most impressive religious edifice that Hindu art has ever produced, at least in Upper India. "

A pavilion for Jhulan Yatra. This is around the back, on the temple parikrama. It is near the rear exit, which is the passageway to the new Govindaji temple. "Another inscription records the construction of a small chattri (gazebo) behind the temple during the reign of Shahjahan at the behest of Rani Rambhavati, wife of Bhim Singh, son of Rana Amar Singh of Mewar." Baijnath Aryan


A pavilion for Jhulan Yatra. This is around the back, on the temple parikrama. It is near the rear exit, which is the passageway to the new Govindaji temple.

"Another inscription records the construction of a small chattri (gazebo) behind the temple during the reign of Shahjahan at the behest of Rani Rambhavati, wife of Bhim Singh, son of Rana Amar Singh of Mewar." Baijnath Aryan


The temple looks fairly well maintained, but the surroundings are awful. Had a nice talk with this Baba from Kolkata. He has been living here and doing seva for five years.


The temple looks fairly well maintained, but the surroundings are pretty awful. It would be nice to see some greenery here. I had a nice talk with this Baba from Kolkata. He has been living here and doing seva for five years.

The new Govindaji temple.

I went around back to look at the new Govindaji temple, which I am quite ashamed to admit, I had never visited before. Renovations by the Brij Vikas Trust have been going on there.

The new Govindaji temple has been recently restored by the Braj Vikas Trust. It is looking pretty good.



This is the first entrance.into the first courtyard. It looks like this was probably a temple at one time, perhaps the first "new" one.


This is the outdoor entrance into the first courtyard. It looks like the temple was probably here at one time, perhaps the first "new" one.

The style of architecture here is very similar to that of the new Radha Gopinath temple. Indeed this temple, the new Gopinathji and the new Madan Mohan temples were all built by one man, Nanda Gopal Bosu of Kolkata, who had a dream in which Krishna appeared to him and said, "I never leave Vrindavan, so please rebuild the temples and reinstall deities at these places." (Anuragi Baba, p. 55) Anuragi Baba says this dream took place in 1734, which seems a bit early to me. Most of the murtis that had fled Vrindavan in that period were still in various different places in Rajasthan and had not yet found permanent homes. Aurangzeb desecrated the temples in 1669.


The style of architecture here is very similar to that of the new Radha Gopinath and Madan Mohan temples. Indeed these three temples were all built by one man, Nanda Gopal Bosu of Kolkata, who had a dream in which Krishna appeared to him and said, "I never leave Vrindavan. Even though it appears that I fled to Jaipur, in actual fact, I am still there in my original home. So please rebuild the temples and reinstall deities at these places." (Anuragi Baba, p. 55)

Anuragi Baba says this dream took place in 1734, which seems a bit early to me. Most of the murtis that had fled Vrindavan in that period were still in various different places in Rajasthan and had not yet found permanent homes. Aurangzeb desecrated the temples in 1669.

A group of women doing their regular morning bhajans at the temple.


A group of women doing their regular morning bhajans at the temple.

The old temple sadly has no spiritual activity going on there to speak of. Aurangzeb's subversion of Hindu life in Vrindavan was clearly unsuccessful, but this building is pretty much inactive, which is a shame, as this is the site of the Vrindavan Yoga Peeth.

The three foundational temples of the Gaudiya sampradaya in Vrindavan -- Madan Mohan, Govindaji and Gopinath, were build on the three highest promontories in the area. Except for Madan Mohan, these tilas are barely noticeable nowadays, but before there was any settlement here to speak of , these three spectacular temples must have been clearly visible all around.

Bhaktivedanta Marg and the Three Vrindavans

Much of the talk about Vrindavan on this site 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



[caption id="attachment_10559" align="aligncenter" width="751"]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.[/caption]

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.

[caption id="attachment_10575" align="aligncenter" width="512"]Prabhupada giving Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu classes at Rupa Goswami's samadhi, 1972, Prabhupada giving Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu classes at Rupa Goswami's samadhi, 1972,[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_10576" align="aligncenter" width="512"]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[/caption]

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, who died in 2013.

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.

Posted originally on Vrindavan Today.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Radha and Partha Sarathi


Vrindavan is, I have taken to repeating, the de facto spiritual capital of India. The main reason for this is the proximity of Vrindavan to Delhi and the increasing ease of access through modern communications. It is no longer a labor to get from the metropolis to Vrindavan. And speakers of the Bhagavata currently dominate the religious television networks.
 
But the second reason for Vrindavan's rise in status is the acceding to power of the BJP. The BJP is considered by outsiders to be a party of religious nationalism and an engine of identity politics in the interest of the traditional dominant caste of India, the brahmins. Commentators from other political perspectives condemn Hindu nationalism because they associate it primarily with certain backward social ideas, especially racism and communalism. Therefore they make facile comparisons of the BJP to the rise of the racist right wing in the USA (with the politically incorrect Donald Trump) and Islamic fundamentalism.
 
A lot of this is the result of political forces. Nehru wanted India to be a secular state, which was quite different from Gandhi's vision. This is not the place to go into a historical analysis of what has happened over the past 60 years to bring us to this point of having an extremely popular BJP government. But let it suffice to say that for a Hindu, Hindu nationalism is nationalism pure and simple. To love India means to be a Hindu. It is only religious because India is by nature impelled since time immemorial by a fascination with the spiritual and the transcendental.
 
India's social system grew out of this and nothing else. Those who genuinely sought Truth and the highest human values, who developed techniques for finding genuine peace and happiness, and who mastered those techniques themselves, were placed in the center of society. And in the ideal world, those who maintained order, who created economic wealth, and those who worked for the others, all followed the directives that came from this spiritual intelligentsia.
 
Now all systems are subject to degradation and therefore to critique. But the point is that the brahminical system is meant to be elastic and to respond to the challenges of a changing world. But the fundamental challenge of the modern world is that it wishes to deny the insights of ancient man, or shall we say the insights of humanity's first several millions of years of evolution and conclude that somehow the last 200 years was the only time anyone ever said anything intelligent or knew anything about anything.
 
So more than anything, the BJP is about reclaiming that culture that placed spirituality at the center.
 
Amd one must remember that for the Indian, India is a holy place. For the Hindu Indian, at least. The entirety of Bharatavarsha is a holy land, where the gods came to play, where Krishna has his avatar, where saints and sages sat in meditation and had direct encounter with the divinity. Holy waters that awaken an awareness of God's all-pervading presence. This is how one comes to love one's homeland. To say one loves one's motherland means that it becomes sacred for one. It is best that such sacred awareness be recognized for what it is, the DNA of India.
 
Secularism has tried to kill this consciousness. Religion is the opium of the people, they think and believe. For some reason, Hindu secularists who have turned to neo-atheism, or the old Marxist variety, or the Freudian or Nietzschian varieties, have never understood that Hinduism long ago anticipated those arguments and assimilated them. Atheism swept India 2500 years ago. Do you think India does not know atheism?
 
India turned even atheism inward into a sadhana of spirituality and self-perfection.
 
Without expanding any further, I will simply say that the comparisons of Hindu nationalism to Islamic or Christian fundamentalism is fairly limited. One cannot deny that there are points of similarity, but these are in many ways conservative reaction to modern permissiveness and due to a misunderstanding of most atheistic critiques. As a Hindu myself, I tend to see the positive aspect of Hindu nationalism and I support it entirely.
 
Since Vrindavan became the de facto religious and spiritual capital of India, the parliamentarians of the ruling party, the BJP, have been increasingly frequent visitors here. Almost every week, it seems, there is either an important religious event that is attended by political guests, or there is a political convention of some sort.
 
Smt. Hema Malini, our local MP, is a superstar. There is no doubt about that. I attended an event the other day and was asked to speak. Hema Malini was late in arriving, but I had barely stepped up to the mike when she came in the door, surrounded by more paparazzi than we usually have locally. I was quickly forgotten -- as was nearly everyone else on the stage. And when she left, the hall emptied behind her like water being flushed down the sink.
 
This is another source of Vrindavan's current rise in the consciousness of India as a whole.
 
But this would not be the case if Vrindavan did not already have an infrastructure that is 500 years old. If it did not have a historical and mythical connection with the capital of the Pandavas. This is the childhood home of Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad Gita, the most important religious book of the Hindus. The advisor and charioteer of Arjuna.
 
Srila Prabhupada had a great sense of humor when he named his Delhi temple “Radha Partha-sarathi,” which is of course so against the principles of the bhakti-rasa shastra that a rasika would have to shake his head.
 
But in fact, Delhi can be seen to represent the adult Krishna. But as the child is father to the man, we also look for him where he was a child. And Krishna was a child in Vrindavan.

To connect Radha to Partha Sarathi would only be possible in Kurukshetra because that is where, according to the Bhagavatam, the childhood lovers saw each other one last time. Only sometime after that was Kurukshetra to become the same place that he spoke the Gita to Arjuna. But how can such a story of separation, of departure from Vrindavan, the complete abandonment of Vrindavan, be agonizingly mocked by linking the name of Radha to that of the very Krishna who had left her behind. Like in the Bhramara Gita where Radha plaintively refers to Krishna as the "friend of Arjuna."

But perhaps bringing Krishna back to Vrindavan was Prabhupada's intent. And if you want to know more about that you will have to read the Chaitanya Charitamrita. And that is where I am going. We are bringing these symbols home to the 21st century.
 
Just recently, perhaps it is still going on, an annual event took place at Vatsalya Gram, the ashram of Sadhvi Ritambhara. Sadhvi Ritambhara is a Bhagavata speaker, and an excellent speaker of the Bhagavatam she is. She is also a political activist on the side of Hindu nationalism.
 
Her event was attended by two of the most highly placed officers of the BJP, Party President Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Baba Ramdev and other religious leaders who are also tied to the nationalist cause came there. She is without a doubt one of the most prominent and revered women religious leaders in the Hindi-speaking belt. Her involvement with the Babri Masjid/ Ram Janma Bhoomi incident a few years ago, however, makes her a most despised personality in secularist circles.
 
Of late, Sadhvi Ritambhara is less politically active and concentrating on her Vatsalya Gram project here in Vrindavan. Stated quite simply, she is extracting vatsalya, “motherly love”, as her primary lesson from Krishna lila.
 
The cultivation of womanhood, of motherhood, of the feminine power, shakti, is the essence of her mission. And she distills that quality to vatsalya. So she especially tries to create a community for women -- widows and unmarried students -- in order to develop and promote this concept of vatsalya. I personally think she has had an important insight. Her teaching is important, and it comes directly out of Vrindavan and Vraja lila. The inspiration is the sacred symbol of Yashoda.
 
Prabhupad specified Radha with Partha Sarathi. It may take some time before we can bring the mood of madhura rasa into the halls of power. And of course, it is not the madhura rasa itself that would be found there (again, rasabhasa), but the effects of that inner spiritual culture of pure love that is represented by Vrindavan’s queen of Love, Srimati Radharani.
 
The feminine is the shakti. It is the internal power that animates the external masculine power. The character of the shakti affects the character of the shaktiman. Vrindavan represents the shakti, Delhi the shaktiman. 

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Faith and Belief

I was talking with some friends about śraddhā on Facebook and I thought I would post this from Swami Veda's Volume I of the Yoga Sutra (1.20).

श्रद्धावीर्यस्मृतिसमाधिप्रज्ञापूर्वक इतरेषाम्॥२०॥
śraddhā-vīrya-smṛti-samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām ||20||

The samādhi of (some) others has as its preconditions faith, strength, intentness, meditation and the awakening of wisdom in samprajñāta. 

[Vyāsa] upāya-pratyayo yogināṁ bhavati | śraddhā cetasaḥ samprasādaḥ | sā hi jananīva kalyāṇī yoginaṁ pāti | tasya hi śraddadhānasya vivekārthino vīryam upajāyate | samupajāta-vīryasya smṛtir upatiṣṭhate | smṛty-upasthāne cittam anākulaṁ samādhīyate | samāhita-cittasya prajñā-viveka upāvartate | yena yathāvad vastu jānanti | tad-abhyāsāt tad-viṣayāc ca vairāgyād asamprajñātaḥ samādhir bhavati ||20|| 
Samādhi, the causal cognition of which is cultivated through method (upāya-pratyaya) accrues to the yogis:
  • Faith (śraddhā) means full clarity and pleasantness of the mind-field. Benevolent like a mother, she protects the yogi.
  • When that yogi holds to faith and seeks discriminating wisdom (viveka), strength (vīrya) gathers in him.
  • As strength gathers in him, intentness attends upon him.
  • At the presence of intentness the mind, free of disturbance, becomes harmonized and established in samādhi.
  • When the yogi’s mind-field has become harmonized and established in samādhi, the discrimination from awakening wisdom (prajñā-viveka) appears, and one then knows the exact reality (yathārtha-vastu).
By the practice (abhyāsa) of that and through dispassion (vairāgya) concerning it, the asamprajñāta samādhi occurs.


Swami Veda Bharati’s commentary (on śraddhā)
Śraddhā is a feminine word, expressive of a gentle quality, associated with humility and reverence, and not over assertiveness or fanaticism. Vyāsa says: "Benevolent like a mother, she protects the yogi."

She is a capable and strong (samarthā) mother, who protects the yogi from the possible calamity of falling onto the wrong path and from becoming attracted to allurements of pleasure (NB). She crushes the power of a thousand impediments so that no breach in the process of yoga may occur.

Such is not the śraddhā of those who have wavered and gone off the path to become videhas and prakṛti-layas. Even though they may have started off with a certain strength of faith and all the rest, they have weakened and turned away from unwavering pursuit of self-realization. This śraddhā, the will to attain the final objective, produces endeavour, maturing in a certain virility and vigour (vīrya).
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This is worth meditating on. Vyasa seems to be equating faith with the desire to find the truth, vivekārthī. In other words, faith means there is a truth to be believed in. Even the most atheist scientist and believer (!) in chaos theory has to admit to that.

So, we satkārya-vādins say, "Just as hunger indicates the existence of food, but not the quality of the food, so similarly faith indicates the existence of truth, but not necessarily the shape of that truth."

Belief is the shape truth takes. It is never objective because it is not based on fact but on interpretation of fact.

Nevertheless, after the fact of experience we use our rationalizing powers to interpret that experience in order to be able to reproduce it. By experience I mean of course "peak" experience. The goal of all śāstra and philosophy is quite simply happiness.

Faith means to believe that happiness exists (because I want it, therefore it must be there to fulfil that natural need), but not necessarily in the means to or content of that happiness.

But rationality applied to experience, engineered by faith can result in perfecting the problem of human happiness.






















Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Archetypes: Remembering the Essence (sāra)

My problems in Krishna consciousness arose out of the mostly literal interpretations given to the shastras by the devotees. There is a huge caveat in the Bhagavatam about everything that is said in that text: Krishna favors indirect speech.
parokṣa-vādā ṛṣayaḥ parokṣaṁ ca mama priyam 
The sages speak indirectly for the indirect mode of teaching is dear to me. (11.21.35)

parokṣa-vādo vedo'yaṁ bālānām anuśāsanam |
karma-mokṣāya karmāṇi vidhatte hy agadaṁ yathā ||

These Vedic literatures teach by the indirect method: they are meant to control or discipline those of incomplete intelligence. They therefore teach sinless works or karma so that these people can become free of karma. (11.3.44)
GP Translation [based on Sridhar's commentary]: The Veda has deeper import than what the words apparently convey. The real purpose of the Veda is to secure exemption from actions and their fruit, but the temptations of gaining heaven through prescribed actions are held out to the ignorant, just as a child is tempted with sweets so he will swallow a bitter medicine.

I think the first translation is a bit clearer than the second. But the idea is similar to that in Gita 3.28 where Arjuna is told not to disturb the minds of the ignorant but to encourage them to act in detachment. The idea then is that higher realms of understanding are not accessible to someone on the lower level, but the general principle of action in detachment is the baseline of all spiritual life, and its end result.

What these two statements of the Bhagavatam in effect do is open the doors to various kinds of secondary and tertiary interpretation, which may or may not be already part of the traditional way of thinking about these statements.

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On the pages of this blog I have been taking certain statements as being ruling or governing statements, paribhāṣā. Such statements do not need to be the most numerous statements in a book to still have a dominant position for interpretation in the overall rule. Many of these statements, following the above principle, open the door to different kinds of interpretation than those provided by the simplistic, literal understanding of the texts.

Indeed, the different schools of philosophy in India provide numerous techniques of interpretation that make it possible to envision the purpose of different texts in different ways. Jiva Goswami is himself a master of these different techniques, and it is through them that he arrives at some of his most significant conclusions about Radha-Krishna lila. We now accept his conclusions without question as our starting point, but it was not always so.

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One of the differences in my way of thinking is based on Platonic archetypes as mediated through Jung's psychology. Jung made an effort to be as empiric as possible about psychological phenomena, but of course these are not "hard" science, in the sense that they are based on general observations about the products of the human imagination and the unconscious mind.

What is an archetype? I would define it as the ideal form of a particular universal phenomenon. If we look at Radha and Krishna as male and female archetypes, or together as the archetype of Love, then this understanding will, first of all, give us a deeper understanding of personalist theology, as well as understanding how Radha and Krishna are meant to be psychologically transforming. The humanistic aspect of Vaishnava theism is what I have called its double-mirror effect, i.e., that of mutual reflection. Radha and Krishna cannot be understood without the experience and psychological understanding of love, and human love itself is transformed by meditation on the archetypal love of the Divine Couple.

The original purpose of the rasa-shastra is to educate through transformation. Rasa is always transformative because the melting of the mind that accompanies the experience of rasa leaves samskaras on the conscious and unconscious minds, and these samskaras produce in turn instincts and desires that are, in the case of sattvika or shuddha-sattvika productions conducive to the elevation of consciousness.

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The main purpose I have here is simply to look at some uses of the word sāra, or "essence." These citations are not meant to be exhaustive, and there are other words that are used to express the concept of essentiality in Sanskrit. What I would like to say is that when a reference is made to essentiality, that is an appeal to the imagination to follow the path of experience to go to a place where any limitations of the phenomenal are eliminated and only the Perfect and Pure are left.

This is a natural tendency in the human mind, and indeed, even when we speak negatively about any phenomenon whatsoever, it is due to an unstated or unspoken concept of the ideal, however understood. The presence of ideal characteristics in an ordinary human being results in an ordinary human taking on archetypal qualities, which can have far reaching consequences in human society. Transferring the archetypal qualities to a realm outside direct experience, i.e., the world of the imagination, is one way of protecting ourselves against falsely attributing transcendence to mundane phenomena.

The principal archetypes are all catalogued in different ways in books like Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and other works of poetics where different kinds of heroic personality types are listed. Because of the vast number of possibilities available to the imagination for ideal personality types, they are personified in particular forms.

So, simply stated, in order to understand Radha and Krishna we are asked to find the essence of certain characteristics and qualities.
lāvaṇya-sāra-rasa-sāra-sukhaika-sāre
kāruṇya-sāra-madhura-cchavi-rūpa-sāre |
vaidagdhya-sāra-rati-keli-vilāsa-sāre
rādhābhidhe mama mano'khila-sāra-sāre ||26||
May my thoughts always rest in her who is named Radha, who is the essence of loveliness, the essence of rasa, the single essence of all happiness; who is the essence of compassion, the essence of all charming depictions of beauty, the essence of cleverness in the arts of love, the essence of amorous love-play, indeed who is the essence of the best of everything. (RRSN 26).

The word sāra appears 30 times in RRSN. This verse is the sāra of them all. The same word appears over 80 times in the Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta as well. Not surprisingly, we find the following there:

sakala-vibhava-sāraṁ sarva-dharmaika-sāraṁ
sakala-bhajana-sāraṁ sarva-siddhy-eka-sāram |
sakala-mahima-sāraṁ vastu vṛndāvanāntaḥ
sakala-madhurimāmbho-rāśi-sāraṁ vihāram ||17.85||
 
Residing in Vrindavan is the substance
that is the essence of all opulences,
it is the single essence of all religious duties,
it is the essence of all bhajan
and the single essence of all success;
it is the essence of all glory,
the essence of all the oceans of divine sweetness.
Here are a couple of nice ones from Govinda-līlāmṛta:

nayana-yuga-vidhāne rādhikāyā vidhātrā
jagati madhura-sārāḥ sañcitāḥ sad-guṇā ye |
bhuvi patita-tad-aṁśas tena sṛṣṭāny asārair
bhramara-mṛga-cakorāmbhoja-mīnotpalāni ||
The Creator collected the essence of every beautiful object in the universe to make Radha’s eyes. But when the leftover portions fell to the ground they became the bumblebees, the chakoras, the lotuses and their finest species, the blue lotus.” (Govinda-līlāmṛta 11.100)
dṛṣṭvā rādhāṁ nipuṇa-vidhinā suṣṭhu kenāpi sṛṣṭāṁ
dhātā hrīlaḥ sadṛśam anayā yauvataṁ nirmimatsuḥ |
sāraṁ cinvann asṛjad iha tat svasya sṛṣṭeḥ samāsyā
naikāpy āsīd api tu samabhūt pūrva-sṛṣṭir nirarthā ||143||
Lalita Sundari exclaims, “Seeing Radha’s exquisite form, the Creator desired to make more beautiful women like her. But after collecting his best ingredients and employing his finest artistic ability—he became depressed; not one of them could match Radha! Thus ashamed, he thought: “The lotus and the moon are in no way comparable either !” Hence, just as one crosses out a misspelled word, the creator splotched the lotus with swarms of bees, and scribbled a deer-spot over the moon !” (GLA 11.143-144)

So, what I am saying here is that meditation on Radha and Krishna is an act of the active imagination, in the sense that by searching out the ideal we search out God. In other words, the tendency to the Ideal is the tendency towards God.

I searched out the word sāra, but of course there are many other statements of the same sort using different language. In fact, if we examine the use of alaṅkāra, then we will see that practically all alaṅkāras -- not only in the literature related to Radha and Krishna, but in all Sanskrit poetry and literature -- is meant to push the imagination to an ideal beyond the best of everything, to admire a certain quality or attribute and to stretch it to infinity.

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Just a couple more examples, this time in relation to bhakti itself, or to the process of extracting the essence.

Let us start with what Narottam Das calls the essence of the practice of rāgānugā bhakti:
monera smaraṇa prāṇa, madhura madhura dhāma
yugala vilāsa smṛti sāra
sādhya sādhana ei, ihāra por āra nāhi
ei tattva sarva vidhi sāra
Meditation or remembrance is the life of the mind, an abode of ever-increasing sweetness; and the Divine Jugala’s loving dalliances are the very essence of that remembrance. This is the practice, this is the goal of the practice: this tattva is the cream of all instruction. (Prema-bhakti-candrikā, 62)
Briefly: Since the essence of all meditative practices is to reduce the directedness of the mind to a single object, remembering Radha and Krishna's pastimes is the essence of devotional practice. It is at the same time the end of the practice. Practices are either direct or indirect. When the practice is not different from the goal, that is called a direct practice. Therefore there is nothing beyond this. So reducing both the practice and the goal of the practice to their essence, one comes to prema bhakti. There is nothing beyond this.

So philosophically, it is our job to extract the essence. Therefore Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad has the following:
mathyate tu jagat sarvaṁ brahma-jñānena yena vā |
tat-sāra-bhūtaṁ yad yasyāṁ mathurā sā nigadyate ||
 
The name Mathurā has been given to this land because the manifest essence of the knowledge of Brahman by which the entire universe has been churned appears there. (Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad, 2.63)
Commentaries (VV):
Nārāyaṇa now explains the meaning of the word Mathurā.[1] That by which the entire universe is churned is called matha, or knowledge of Brahman. That knowledge of Brahman is the person of Gopāla. Alternatively, the word found in the verse suggests that the universe is also churned by Madanagopāla.[2] Mathurā is the site where pure knowledge, i.e., where erroneous understanding of the universe comes to an end, is manifest in its essential form.

Prabodhananda and Jiva Goswami [exactly same in both]: By giving the etymology of the word Mathurā, Brahmā reveals more of the glories of the location where one should perform the meditation described in the previous verses. The act of churning produces butter from cream; similarly, knowledge of the supreme person, the personal form of Brahman, is revealed through the churning of the entire universe. The word (“or”) indicates an alternative which is not openly mentioned in the verse, namely bhakti-yoga. The place where both these (i.e., knowledge of the Lord and bhakti-yoga) are revealed in their fullest, most perfect manifestation, is known as Mathurā, i.e., the word mathura refers to the practices of knowledge and devotion (jñāna-bhakti-sādhanam). This meaning can be established from the Uṇādi-sütra.










[1]The following verses (63-72) give an explanation of the meditation found in 58b-62, identifying the form of the Lord with the viçva-rüpa or virāò-rüpa.


[2]Scholars have not been able to find any definite etymology for Mathurā. A word matha with this meaning is not found in the dictionary and there is no suffix -urā in usage in Sanskrit. As such the etymology must be considered fanciful. Manmatha a name for Cupid that means that he churns the minds of everyone in the world. Thus the reference to Madana-gopāla.



Monday, February 01, 2016

Prakriti-Purusha, Svartha-Parartha


In Sāṅkhya-Yoga I became intrigued by the concept of

Puruṣa = svārtha, Prakṛti = parārtha.

i.e. the Spirit Self exists for itself, but Nature or Phenomena exist for another, i.e., the Puruṣa. (See Sāṅkhya-kārikā 17, 56, Yoga-sūtra 3.35 and their commentaries.)

The idea is that as conscious beings, we experience and process phenomena entirely as though we ourselves are the center of the universe. This has really nothing to do with selfishness in its ethical sense, though that is an outcome of this perfectly natural state. This is in fact one of Sāṅkhya philosophy's arguments for the existence of the spiritual self as separate and distinct from matter.

Any Vaishnava looking at Gītā 7.4-5 will recognize how the idea of the Puruṣottama adds a further dimension to this concept, but it is one that makes a huge difference.

bhūmir āpo'nalo vāyuḥ khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṁkāra itīyaṁ me bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
apareyam itas tv anyāṁ prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām
jīva-bhūtāṁ mahā bāho yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat
My material nature is made up of eight separate energies: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego. Besides these, O mighty armed Arjuna, I have a superior prakåti, consisting of the individual souls who sustain the universe. (Gītā 7.4-5)

Thus the individual soul or jiva is both Puruṣa (in relation to matter) and Prakṛti (in relation to the Puruṣottama).

Thus the Puruṣa is meant to employ Prakriti in the service of Puruṣottama.

Where is the Puruṣottama? How can we make the distinction between ātmā and Paramātmā ?

Bhagavad Gītā also takes up the Sāṅkhya concept of kṣetrajna and says there is one field-knower per field, but that the Supreme Field Knower, sometimes called "Cosmic Intelligence" by those who are reluctant to admit that Cosmic Intelligence is also attached to the Puruṣottama, pervades all fields.

But in terms of experience, the search for ātmā cannot be separated from the search for Paramātmā. One can only know the self truly in relation (parārtha) and not "in itself" (svārtha).

Sāṅkhya and Yoga say that the self cannot really be known in that way. As soon as one is self-reflective, one employs Buddhi, which is a material product. So because of this, they ultimately renounce even Buddhi to become Isolate (kevalin), where they live in splendid isolation, for themselves only.

The Vaishnava philosophy criticizes the concept of bliss that requires the renunciation of experience, especially the experience of love. Love is when svārtha and parārtha become one. That is when you know that both ātmā and Paramātmā have been realized.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Meanwhile, Back at the Blog

Meanwhile, back at the blog. Poor blog has been quite neglected these past few months. It really started in Karttik when I was doing both Krishna Sandarbha and Vrindavan Today.

Even so, a little surprisingly, readership has not diminished overall, and I am still running an average of close to 10,000 pageviews a month, which is up slightly from before I stopped posting. In particular I notice I have been getting a surge of Russian readers of late and Russia surged to the top of the list of countries from which readers are coming. This is not altogether unsurprising. VT, on the other hand, gets triple that, over 60% from India, 40% just from Delhi alone, which is also unsurprising. Articles are generally shorter and less demanding.

Vrindavan Today is a fantastic and important project, but so far I haven't been able to find good people who will be able to help move it forward, other than the occasional contributor. We have had a few promising candidates, but so far haven't been able to keep them. Jagannath Poddar is doing a great job, but he also is being pulled in many directions for his seva. Luckily, he does understand VT and is doing what he can, but we need some other Vrindavan lovers who can write. Anyway, the site is still growing. I would like to see much more in depth informative articles about all aspects of Vrindavan history and culture, as well as the environmental and heritage issues we tend to emphasize.

Right now I am back at working on Swami Veda's Yoga Sutra in Rishikesh and this is also a very challenging project, mainly because I make it so and because I believe that Swami Veda had my interests in mind when he entrusted this work to me. Or, to put it another way, God decided I should learn more about yoga, not just intellectually but experientially. This has also led me to undertake a more serious study of Sankhya philosophy, namely Īśvara Kṛṣṇa's Sāṅkhya-kārikā. I have also been lecturing on Sankhya to the Gurukula students here.

Usually when I get into a job like this or Krishna Sandarbha, I do not write much about it publicly, partly because I am usually too absorbed in details to be able to make a coherent presentation. Not only that, but writing for the blog or elsewhere requires time and an effort that I don't always have the intellectual energy to follow through on, especially when the intellectual demand on me are greater.

Whatever the nature of this blog, and I don't expect that it is easy for most people to follow, and certainly the overall philosophy to which it is creeping towards is not firmly grasped by many, or agreed with, but on the whole I strive to achieve a certain standard of professionalism in what I do. Out of respect and love for my gurus, I wish that their legacy should be honoured through my efforts to understand the process and purpose of bhakti-yoga. So that takes time that I usually guard jealously. Thus, whatever reflections I make on the text are primarily reinvested in the work itself rather than externally.

Also, the mind is always in the process of accepting and rejecting. Some of the philosophical conclusions of Sankhya and Yoga do not match my own, and certainly are opposed to the conclusions of the Gita and Bhagavata. It is easy to make light of theological differences, but they do matter, as I will elaborate on in one of the articles to which this is a preamble. And, indeed, Swami Veda Bharati himself, though a worshiper of the nirguna, was a universalist. He felt (and I agree with him on this) that the method of yoga, of inner movement of the mind towards the Self, was universally applicable, whether one is Christian, Muslim or belonging to some other religion. It would probably be more correct to call Yoga an attempt at a practical scientific psychology. As such, the process of inwardness will be the same, regardless of what meditation objects (ālambana) one uses. Other religious followers will no doubt disagree about the merits of the Meditation Object, and that is as it should be. One should only meditate on that which has been invested with numinosity by way of experience. But the processes and external symptoms in the mind, i.e., attaining full absorption in that Object or samādhi, will be more or less the same.

Every sutra of this Chapter III has multiple demands that cannot be understood without following the process of meditation itself. For most people, yoga or religion are confined to what is considered by Patanjali himself to be its external portion. Religion is to be held in the most external limbs, according to yoga, as īśvara-praṇidhāna, which is something that needs to be explained properly to religious people who have not really entered its more spiritual dimensions or are less self-aware. I call these people kaniṣṭhas and there is plenty of stuff on this blog about what a kaniṣṭha is.

There is no harm in being on some external level, since everyone is situated in their own situation and cannot pass beyond it without passing through it, but the real test of yoga is in its internal dimension. This is the subject of the Third Pada, where the three internal limbs (antar-aṅga) of yoga, namely dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi, are discussed.

For me, all this work is ultimately bahiraṅga. But as I just said bahiraṅga here does not mean negligible. You cannot skip steps. Taking a plane to Vrindavan does not get you there any faster than walking. It takes the time it takes in other words. And intervening steps are beautifully important.