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Lament - for the impervious

Jagat - Tue, 13 Apr 2004 01:20:58 +0530
I reported my phone call to Mahavirya on the Liturgy discussion this morning. I did not realize how it had affected me, but I have been thinking about it all day. Just now, I went for a japa walk in the spring sunshine and realized that I had encountered fear and not recognized it.

Barely had the words "rasa lila" pass through my mouth than Mahavirya said, "We don't consider ourselves advanced enough to discuss such things." I made a few attempts to pierce the thick wall that he had thrown up, but he said, "We have made a decision to only listen to our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, and nothing else." Srila Prabhupada may have written about the Rasa lila in the Krishna book, but it was not just the subject matter, it was obviously me. My reputation as the "Great Guru-Tyagi and Offender to Srila Prabhupada" hangs over me like Joe Bftsplx's cloud.

Now I like Mahavirya--I consider him a loyal devotee of Srila Prabhupada and a talented musician who has shown occasional inspiration and even brilliance in his composition. Somehow, I had the illusion that as a musician he was an ally in the desire to understand and appreciate rasa. My wife disabused me of that. "Sometimes musicians are the most narrow-minded of people--think Wagner," she said.

But those are the errors we make. When I first took shelter of Lalita Prasad Thakur, I was so inflated with the beauty and logic of it all that I took my message to the Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandira--to meet with a gatekeeper who had specific orders to keep me out. The hostility was palpable and a bucket of ice water splashed on my ardor. It took some time to overcome the crusading spirit, to recognize that walls don't come down by hammering on them if there is someone on the other side putting two bricks up for every one you think you have knocked down. It's not our business to knock down other people's walls, anyway.

On the internet, we sometimes engage in these debates, but there is not much point in that either. But at least there is distance--we can even laugh at the foolishness of other people's stupidity, anger or narrow-mindedness. We have the time to look at the words on the screen and to compose clever ripostes or diatribes. We have the time to think about psychology and tactics.

But personal encounters on philosophical matters are something that at least I personally have long avoided with Iskcon people. What happened today? I guess I am not as immune to transports of zeal as I thought. Perhaps I thought that as soon as he heard the words, "rasa-lila," he would embrace me like Lord Chaitanya embracing Prataparudra and ecstatically repeating

tava kathAmRtaM tapta-jIvanaM
kavibhir IDitaM kalmaSApaham
zravaNa-maGgalaM zrImad-AtataM
bhuvi gRNanti ye bhUridA janAH
Nectarean discussions about you give life to those who suffer,
like water to those who thirst in the desert;
sung by poets, they destroy all of one’s sins.
They are auspiciousness for the ears,
they bring the fortune of love for Krishna.
Those who are most munificent of benefactors
distribute these wonderful words throughout the world.
(SB 10.31.9)
Live on illusion!

But this was a reminder of the gulf that exists between our approach to devotional life and that of Iskcon and especially the Ritviks. Some in the Gaudiya Math insist that Raganuga bhakti is the birthright of everyone in the line of Saraswati Thakur, but the walls that they have put around themselves to protect themselves from the dangers of Hari katha are the walls of vidhi bhakti. And no matter how many lifetimes they perform vidhi bhakti, unless those walls come down, na pAbe vraje vrajendra-nandan. It makes me sad, as I think of the beautiful verse that begins the Tenth Canto:

nivRtta-tarSair upagIyamAnAd
bhavauSadhAc chrotamanobhirAmAt
ka uttama-zloka-guNAnuvAdat
pumAn virajyeta vinA pazughnAt

The virtues of the Lord
who is glorified in the greatest poetry
are sung by those who know no thirst for material pleasure;
it is the medicine for the material disease
and is a joy to hear for all but the soul-killers.
Who then will care nothing for them? (BhP 10.1.3)
Who taught these bhaktas of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to become soul-killers?
braja - Tue, 13 Apr 2004 02:31:23 +0530
QUOTE(Jagat @ Apr 12 2004, 03:50 PM)
nivRtta-tarSair upagIyamAnAd
bhavauSadhAc chrotamanobhirAmAt
ka uttama-zloka-guNAnuvAdat
pumAn virajyeta vinA pazughnAt

Prabhupada's Krishna book begins with this verse, ironically. "Prabhupada Men" need to be men first, follower second, it seems. And the following is itself largely formed by the groupthink that evolved.

I have a partial response to your recent editorials that toys with ideas that you have raised here also. On the individual and institutional levels, there must be certain mindsets at work that lead to the fear of rasa, the fear of being open to sharing spiritual experience, etc. Perhaps it is partially psychological--the alpha male; partially cultural--Jung spoke of India as being like walking with bare feet: everything is out there, nothing is hidden, contrived, secret, you live and die in the view of masses of others, your personal space is neglible; partially historical--the reaction to imitation, classic sahajiyism, etc.; and partially a fear of being disappointed if you go to the topmost level but are disappointed. Oh, and Prabhupada's own statement regarding mayavada: "fear of spiritual identity."

When I joined the temple I didn't look at Radha-Giridhari for a long time--I'd only look at their feet. I did look at Jagannatha smiling at me, and Gaura-Nitai, but I had this inherent feeling that I shouldn't look at Radha and Krsna. A butcher from birth!
braja - Tue, 13 Apr 2004 03:01:09 +0530
I'd suggest that the problem isn't limited to ISKCON/GM though. There seem to be other groups taking the dry road. Breaks into a hearty rendition of "you take the dry road and I'll take the low."

And what of the Vrindavan Goswami/Sanskritic brahmana vs ecstatic Bengali tension? Not saying the Goswamis avoided rasa-tattva, of course, but did they "perform" publically?
Jagat - Fri, 16 Apr 2004 17:47:55 +0530
My use of the words “killer of the soul” provoked the following reaction from a devoted friend:
[Jagat] declares that only the likes of him and the "raganuga" camp have any acquaintance with spontaneous devotional service. Indeed, it is this kind of sectarianism and extreme prejudice and bigotry that isolates the siddha-pranali camp into a sect of prejudiced, arrogant and self-righteous fanatics. Therefore, if you are not in the "siddha-pranali" camp, according to Jagat, you are a "killer of the soul".

My God, is his ego so damn sensitive that over a little snub from an ISKCON type he has to start name calling and referring to them as "killers of the soul"?

These words taken from the Bhagavatam are indeed strong. I am not very enthusiastic about hyperbole and I don't usually use it, as it nearly always leads to misunderstanding, but they do seem to me applicable, in a figurative kind of way. My main purpose was simply to reflect on the different approaches to devotional life. As I said in the thread on Waves of Devotion,

Yesterday, when I was feeling hurt about Mahavirya's reaction to me, I ended up feeling better when I justified his reaction in my mind by calling it fear. But whatever his motivation, it was hard for me to feel respect for his guru-nishtha. That was wrong. After all, respecting other people's adhikara is the same thing as respecting them.

The universe is large, the jivas are countless. All are somewhere on the spectrum (to use the word again) and Sri Guru appears to them all in some form or another. Though we may say it is all kapata-dharma, that is partly unfair. Some have the samskara to understand the yugala-rasa, some don't. Rupa Goswami himself says you need both praktani and adhuniki samskara.

So far from being something we should condemn, guru-nistha is full of merit.

But this does not change the fact that there are strokes for different folks. Krishna is so kind that he accepts the service of all his devotees, but different devotees naturally see their own ways of doing things as superior to those of others.

In the ninth chapter of the Ujjvala Nilamani, Rupa Goswami gives a nice example of an indirect exchange between Radha and Chandravali, in which they use rather strong language to show the difference in their attitudes.

The following verse spoken by Radha has a double meaning running throughout, based on Chandravali = many moons. I'll just give the put-down part, with a rather liberal translation--

yA madhyastha-padena saGkulatarA zuddhA prakRtyA jaDA
vaidagdhI-nalinI-nimIlana-paTur doSAntarollAsinI
AzAyAH sphuraNaM harer janayituM yuktAtra candrAvalI
sApi syAd iti locayan sakhi janaH kaH soDhum ISTe kSitau
Chandravali has an ambiguous attitude; she tries to cover all bases; her approach to love is simple-minded; I think she is naturally dumb. She makes the lotus of expertise in pleasing a man wither up and die, and what is more, she delights in these flaws. And yet somehow she is engaged in trying to bring life to Krishna’s hopes! Sakhi, who in this world will stand for this?
And Chandravali's answer (speaking to a sakhi who is telling her to be more like Radha) to that, using a parallel metaphor, is:

SoDazyAs tvam uDor vimuJca sahasA nAmApi vAmAzaye
tasyA durvinayair muner api manaH zAntAtmanaH kupyati |
dhig goSThendra-sute samasta-guNinAM maulau vrajAbhyarcite
pAdAnte patite’pi naiva kurute bhrU-kSepam apy atra yA
Stop trying to persuade me to be meaner to Krishna! And don’t even mention the name of that other gopi, what to speak of comparing her to the full moon with all its sixteen phases. Her wicked behavior would drive even a peaceful monk to anger. Fie on her! The prince of Gokula, the most virtuous of the virtuous, who is worshiped by all the people of Vraja, falls down at her feet and she won’t even give him the time of day!
So these are the different moods in Vraja, but we should be able to extrapolate and recognize that there is honor in following one’s own nature in serving God, and though we may feel differently, we do respect that basic inspiration.

The other day I was translating the Mukta-carita, and I came across this passage which gave me a little trouble, but reading the ninth chapter of Ujjvala-nilamani clarified it for me.

vaidagdhyAvaidagdhyayor avicAreNaiva yatra kutrApi sarvatra pravRttir iti doSaH | sAralyAdhikyena uttamAnuttamAvicAreNaiva vaiSamyaM vinA sarvatra samatayA pravRttir iti mahAn guNaH |

Tungavidya accuses Krishna of being “mixed with both virtues and faults.” When asked what those virtues and faults are, she answers somewhat ambiguously—“Getting involved with all women without making a judgement of whether they are clever and dextrous in the matters of love is a fault. On the other hand, his involvement with all women without discriminating between superior or inferior out of a simple nature is a great attribute."

The point is that Krishna is kind to all, he is equal to all. He accepts everyone’s service, whether done with expertise or not. He is equal to all, regardless of their individual qualifications. Such egalitarianism is a virtue in the Almighty God. He is not impressed by a person's external achievements or failures. He responds to devotion. And yet, Tungavidya teases Krishna precisely because he accepts the devotion of those who don’t understand the highest mood that is incarnate in Radharani. (Notice the use of the word vidagdha in both passages.)

Even yesterday, in the world of Canadian politics, a situation came up that reminded me of this. Svend Robinson, a sitting member of our most left-wing party, who has always played the very public gadfly and defended issues that range from Palestinian rights, to gay rights to the right to die, got into trouble in a shoplifting incident and resigned from the House. The reaction from the Prime Minister was not one, as you might expect, of glee at the humbling of such an outspoken troublemaker, but good wishes that he recover from his lapsus so that he can come back and serve the Canadian people. This generous response recognizes that Mr. Robinson, though his approach may be at polar opposites to those of the PM, that still there is one fundamental common interest--service to the interests of all Canadians. So when we encounter conflicts, it is always a good idea to take a little bit of distance from the cut and thrust of debate and remember that we’re all in this together.

Nevertheless, we will not give up our nishtha simply to try to please others. Krishnadas Kaviraj would not have gone to so much trouble to establish the superiority of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s gift to the world. He would not have said,

jAr jei bhAva se mAne sarvottama
taTastha hoiyA vicarile Ache taratama
Though everyone thinks his own mood is the best, one who is impartial can see which is truly superior or inferior.
And we know which side he came down on:

anarpita-carIM cirAt karuNayAvatIrNaH kalau
samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasAM sva-bhakti-zriyam
hariH puraTa-sundara-dyuti-kadamba-sandIpitaH
sadA hRdaya-kandare sphuratu vaH zacI-nandanaH
The Lord has never at any time given the treasure of devotional love, this most elevated, effulgent taste of sacred rapture. Nevertheless, out of His mercy, He has incarnated in this age of quarrel in a golden form to distribute that treasure freely to the world. May Lord Chaitanya, the son of Sachi, dwell in the cave of your heart like a lion forever.
So though we bow our heads to every creature in the world, who knowingly or unknowingly strive to serve God or humanity, we feel a special distress when devotees of Mahaprabhu miss the point. If that leads us occasionally to strong words, please forgive us.

The whole article, completed and edited.