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East Coast Pilgrimage - The Govardhan-puja weekend

purifried - Thu, 25 Nov 2004 06:38:05 +0530
Notes from the gathering... FINALLY!

I think I'm just going to strictly type out my notes with a bit of editing. Perhaps this could go in a new thread? I think with the wide variety of subjects we covered, even my notes could split into a few threads. Also anyone who feels the need to correct me, please do so. smile.gif So let me know what you want me to do with this. Here's a start -

11/13/04 Govardhan Puja, Lake Washington Retreat...

As for here, I wanted to note what's happened so far. At this point the attendees are: Jagat, Govinda dasi, Hari Sharan, Revati, our hosts Caitanya Caritamrita and Lalita. Braja & his family come later in the day.

Last night we chanted Damodarastakam and after that Jagat was reading Sanatan Goswami's commentary on the Damodarastakam. One point he started with was how Sanatan & Jiva give many different explanations of one Sanskrit verse. They use the term 'yad va,' which means 'or it could also mean' and they go on to give another meaning and then another yad va... Jagat said how most of the goswamis' works are based on that of Sanatan, with the exception of a few works by Rupa called Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu and Ujjvala Nilamani. Those books by Rupa paved the way to manjari sadhana and raganuga bhakti. So much so that Sanatan says that he is a follower of Rupa (though Sanatan is senior). One meaning of Ujjvala Nilamani is 'blue saphire' which has come from the churning of the nectar of devotion (BRS).

Over dinner Jagat was making a point about how the individual experience of Krishna is more important or valid than the historical Krishna. He compared that to how Christ has been seen and understood differently as time has passed. Who is the real one? The real one is whom the individual experiences and this differs for different people.

He also made the point about how in vaidhi, the individual wants to be an instrument for Krishna. He or she wants to fall in line with what Krishna wants them to do. In raganuga however, the individual tells Krishna what to do, or approaches Krishna according to their inclination. In the raga sense, Krishna becomes greater by becoming smaller in the sense that He becomes subservient to the devotee. Another point made along this line is that Krishna doesn't pretend to be afraid of mother Yashoda. He really IS afraid of her - somehow He becomes covered. Jagat went on to give his own 'yad va' wink.gif by explaining that daridra narayana 'can also mean' that Krishna becomes poor by becoming subservient to His devotees. The usual take we hear about daridra narayana is that Krishna is not poor... (see Srila Prabhupada's writings).

(new point) Jagat explained that Mahaprabhu is our deity and not only did He come to give the yuga dharma, but also to give raganuga. If He only came to give the yuga dharma, that that would have been lost or covered already.


I'll leave it at that and see what kind of feedback I get before putting more up.
Jagat - Thu, 25 Nov 2004 07:04:54 +0530
Sounds OK, though it's a bit weird to see it reduced like this in someone else's words. The point about Mahaprabhu at the end and the other point about the individual experience of Krishna vs. the historical Krishna are connected.

The point I am making here is that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was first known as the (historical) avatara who came to preach the yuga dharma. But this was a bit thin on the ground as far as providing a theological underpinning for the movement. This is why there were still so many controversies before Kheturi, and a lot of jostling for position amongst Mahaprabhu's associates. You had the belief that he was an avatar of Krishna, but it did not mean much more than that he was somehow great. But what would differentiate Mahaprabhu from other great teachers, mystics or avatars like Sai Baba, Ramakrishna, Balak Brahmachari or Anukul Thakur?

The real apotheosis came when the "hidden" purpose of Mahaprabhu's incarnation came to the fore. Then Mahaprabhu practically speaking ceased being a mere historical figure and transcended history to become a "symbol." As Krishna tasting Radha's love, he suddenly embodied much more than God's compassion for the lost souls in the Kali yuga, he became the personification of the entire meaning of life.

Similarly, the question of Krishna's historicity is one that is or has been debated. For some people it is imperative that Krishna be understood as a symbol (based in the Upanishadic image, i.e., Kurukshetra--the field of work or dharma, the chariot of the body, the Supersoul driving the chariot and providing intelligence, the passenger on the chariot making the ultimate choices about where it is to go, etc.), for others it is the historical figure, the politically involved great man and teacher, with a new doctrine of dharma, etc.

This is directly comparable to Jesus Christ--the historical Jesus is seen as the teacher, but the cosmic Christ is the mythical figure who suffered and died on the cross and suddenly became the second Adam and the Savior of Mankind. The historical truth of what happened is not as important as this great myth that embodies a thousand years of Middle Eastern traditions of death and resurrection.

Note here again that the historical Krishna is usually reduced to a man and teacher. There is a reductionist process that goes on when the historian looks at Krishna, which is resisted by the devotee, because he insists that Krishna is the Supreme Person, who really can show the visva-rupa, etc.

But when Krishna says, "Time I am, destroyer of worlds." This is true, whether that happened historically or not. This is an eternal fact, that God creates, maintains and destroys. This will remain true even if it is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kurukshetra never happened, could not have happened, etc., etc.

History is a funny thing. Though the historian tries to establish some kind of historical truth, such truth is very elusive. There is an old saw about "winners writing history." And this is true, the version of history we have is usually slanted to show the winners' point of view. And if there is an alternative, protest version, it is usually date-stamped. The gods of the losers become demons. (This is actually true in India--asuras are demons in India, Ahura is God in Iran. Same word, two points of view.)

So, what I am getting at is that the concept of God is really more important than the truth of historical events. Religion is about the ideal forms of humanity that we striving to attain. And those ideals are embodied in our vision of God--a vision that is revealed to us by Him--through history, but not bound by it.

Don't misunderstand, I don't mean to completely reject the historical element. In these cases, history is a powerful addition, because when there is an intersection of the mythical with the historical, it adds turbo-power to the myth. It makes it REAL, in other words, it reshapes the myth's ancient forms and renews their life by bringing them back into the world.
Jagat - Thu, 25 Nov 2004 07:37:22 +0530
The point about Daridra Narayan is an important one also, that I have been making of late.

The devotee's expertise is to see Krishna everywhere. But the point of a personal God is not to have a God who is not human--we already know that God is transcendental, omnipotent, omniscient, the cause of all causes, the beginning, middle and end of all things. This is not particularly new about God. These are basic definitions of God.

What is unusual about Vaishnavism is that we go against the grain of deconstructing God. Everyone is saying how God is not like a human. This is called idolatry, or shirk (Muslims) or Maya, or whatever. Everyone automatically assumes that a God in a human form is relative and therefore contingent.

We on the other hand are going in the other direction. Why? Because we are specifically putting a value on the human form of life, on its manifestations--its beauties, its loves, its relationships, its compassions, its valor, its heroism, its fears and its horrors. But most of all, on its loves.

Krishna still represents the ideal, but he is the embodiment of these ideals. Love ultimately rests in him and is exchanged with him. But at the same time it MUST, it HAS TO validate the human relationships that we are living from day to day. Those who claim that loving God negates, supplants, supersedes or relativizes our human relationships is misunderstanding what it means to have a human God.

God is omnipresent, so he is present all around us. But he is MOST present in the other consciousness that is right next to us. The kanishta bhakta has to focus on Krishna as distinct from these other forms. When he encounters other people, his wife, her husband, their children, they are all seen in terms of bodily relations and therefore in terms of sense gratification. This is why the kanistha normally has troubles with personal relationships, because he is conflicted about whether or not they are conducive to his spiritual advancement. So he is measuring each person he meets by their value to his own spiritual life. The uttama adhikari does not sense that duality.

So God as human means God as needy. It's a tough one, because there is so much need all around us, and most of that need is artificial, false, the creation of Maya. I need a Mercedes SUV, AND a Porsche. Not two but three houses. And so on, the unending multiplication of artificial need. And so we usually misinterpret "giving" with catering to the artificial needs of those we only think we love.

But God is infinite and he is therefore infinitely needy. He thirsts for love and only Radha is infinitely loving. This is why we are unconditionally devotees of Radha, because only she knows how to satisfy him. She can calm his thirst.
Jagat - Thu, 25 Nov 2004 07:58:25 +0530
Of course, being a kanishtha is not a bad thing. It's a step you go through. And this does not mean that tyagi Vaishnavas who concentrate exclusively on the ideal form of Krishna, the lilas, etc., etc. are by definition kanisthas, as Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati is reputed to have said.

These great souls are following a different path, but what they are is the preservers of the ideal forms. So Radha Kund does indeed represent the hub of our universe.
Mina - Thu, 25 Nov 2004 07:59:04 +0530
Calm and quench. Yes!
Jagat - Thu, 25 Nov 2004 18:10:55 +0530
Just to add a brief comment to the above: My concern is and has been this: How to find a this-worldy orientation for Gaudiya Vaishnavism. I think I may have mentioned it at WLR, perhaps even while talking about the above issues. Maybe at another time.

I discussed briefly the Shakers, the Oneida Community and the Mormons, all three of whom experimented with sexuality and religion during the 19th century. (They were all rural New York movements, which somehow figured into it.)

My point really was, though, that the Shakers had an ethic of total celibacy, total otherworldiness, and they eventually died out. The most successful of the three, the Mormons, are the ones who abandoned their experiment (at least most of them) in polygamy and reoriented themselves to a very this-worldly (with various promises for the afterlife) orientation to family values.

So far, the Gaudiya Vaishnava ethic has been totally programmed to renunciation--sarva-dharmAn parityAjya, and all that. But Varnashram Dharma as a program for progressive renunciation is not attractive in the long run.

We want to have our cake and eat it too. And that is in fact what is on offer. Jesus said, "I have come to give life and give it more abundantly." Krishna-bhakti is the same.

It's not about a life of sense-gratification, because sense-gratification is a covered well, full of hollow satisfactions. Rather, it is about finding spiritual substance. We can look at other people as spirit souls, parts and parcels of Krishna, or we can look at them as bodies.
purifried - Tue, 30 Nov 2004 05:58:32 +0530
11/13/04 Conversations over breakfast -

(the above was primarily discussion from 11/12 evening)

Jagat was saying he didn't know how well Madhurya Kadambini has been translated by ISKCON (he gave the Dina Bandhu version a higher mark than the Sarvabhavana version), but there is a section that discusses the supremacy & independence of bhakti. More important is the implication that if we engage in bhakti with out other rules that bhakti will bring us up to practice the other rules. Obviously this point isn't considered in ISKCON and thus it skews the translations.

A different topic was that of how the elderly of western countries develop dymentia and alzheimers - basically that of a break down in old age and how in teh west people usually send their parents to some type of assisted living facility. This was contrasted to India where we don't see old people suffering from these diseases. Difference in diet, culture (extended family) and sexuality.

Another topic... about the purpose of the institution of marriage. One of our members, I'll refer to him or her as 'W' seemed to be heavily criticizing marriage, though claiming that his or her marriage was ideal. W was making a point related to the discussion last night about raga vs vaidhi - raga being that if you just want Krishna (& no family, even if you have a family) why not just drop your family and go for it? vaidhi being doing your duty as it is 'Krishna's arrangement.' I thought W was making marriage and bhakti out to be exclusive of one another. I see it that marriage can be very instrumental in the practice, experience and advancement of bhakti. Of course that depends onself and his or her mate. In one sense it can and probably is one's own responsibility to see marriage in a beneficial way, but obviously to be married to one whom one can discuss and cultivate these points with is even better. There was also a point made how in marriage, the individuals are focused upon their own spiritual life, seeing family as an impediment. (I think Jagat already touched a bit on this in his comments above) Family takes work and patience. I brought up that renunciation can be accomplished in a 'normal' family life - yukta vairagya. While renouncing one's family is more likely not renunciation. - action in inaction and inaction in action.

New topic... about how some of BST's changes may no longer be valid for everyone. The changes served a purpose for their time and for some they are still valid. Yet they can be compared to the electoral college system (in the US) in the sense that they aren't needed anymore.