Web         Gaudiya Discussions
Gaudiya Discussions Archive » BOOK REVIEWS
Reviews of titles by Gaudiya authors, as well as by other relevant spiritual and secular authors. Tips for reading. Discussions on various books.

Dance of Divine Love - by Graham Schweig

Jagat - Wed, 11 May 2005 16:38:08 +0530
Dance of Divine Love :
India's Classic Sacred Love Story : The Rasa Lila of Krishna

by Graham Schweig

Cloth | 2005 | $35.00 / £22.95 | ISBN: 0-691-11446-3
448 pp. | 5 1/2 x 9 1/4 | 15 halftones. 3 tables. 1 map.

user posted image

Satyaraj Dasji sent me a copy for review to put in the Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Actually, I solicited it, since I have been looking forward to seeing the results of Graham's work for some time. The first thing that one remarks when one holds a book like this in one's hand is that the book is certainly a beautiful thing. It is sensual: the glistening, silken cover with its rich colors, the jewel like words strung across fresh page after fresh page... one wants to caress as much as read...

Prof. Schweig is, of course, known to many of us as Garuda Das. He is not reticent about his devotional background and in his credits mentions Steve Rosen, Hridayananda Goswami and Srivatsa Goswami, as well as A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami ("who through his deep faith and undaunted determination was able to spread Vaishnava teachings worldwide for the first time in history. Without his achievements, I never would have entered the academic study of Vaishnavism, and his life and work continue to inspire me in both my scholarly and spiritual pursuits.") His academic pedigree reads like a who's who of modern American Indology: Dimock, Eck, Ramanujan, Ingalls, Pollock, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Ninian Smart, van Buitenen, Ricoeur, Charles S.J. White, etc. Not to mention other thanks which go to David Haberman, Klaus Klostermaier, June McDaniels and Edward Bryant. Not least, the foreword is by the venerable Norvine Hein. And indeed, Prof. Hein is not parsimonious with his words of praise:

With the appearance of this major translation, a milestone will be passed in the world's acquaintance with the Sanskrit poetry of Krishna-centered Vaishnavism. In a thousand years, Krishna-worshiping communities produced in Sanskrit two lyric poems of supreme quality: the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva, and the Rasa Panchadhyayi that we have at hand. The unsatisfying nature of the early translations of both caused critics to doubt that the difficulties of translating either of them would ever be met. But, twenty-five years ago, Barbara Stoler Miller produced Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva's Gitagovinda (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977) to such acclaim that experts declared that the way to Jayadeva had been opened. This should be the year of a proclamation of like importance : that the world has access now to both of the masterpieces of an entire poetic tradition. (page xii)

Powerful words, indeed.

I am only beginning my reading of the book, but I shall summarize here my thoughts as I go through it. If anyone else has a copy, feel free to make your thoughts known here.
jijaji - Wed, 11 May 2005 16:59:44 +0530
They have the introduction along with some nice photos and paintings under sample chapters;


Jagat - Thu, 12 May 2005 16:48:40 +0530
Schweig spends most of the introduction arguing that the appellation "the Indian Song of Songs" is more appropriately applicable to the Rasa Panchadhyayi than to the Gita Govinda. I find the argument rather nebulous--it's like asking whether the face or the feet are more appropriately comparable to a lotus.

I suppose that the point is the central "Sacred love story", i.e., "Which of these two poems has been more central to Indian epithalamic mysticism?" In which case, it would have to be agreed that the Bhagavata is ultimately more significant than the GG, though I wonder whether Jayadeva had been influenced by the Bhagavatam. Nevertheless, there is a possiblity of further debate here: The Gita Govinda, like the Song of Solomon, does not bother with theology or metaphor. It is a love story, pure and simple. The Bhagavata, on the other hand, makes several theological arguments and makes the metaphorical aspect (soul/God) fairly obvious. In other words, it is more reflective and self-conscious. The Gita Govinda can thus perhaps be said to have influenced in a different way than the Bhagavata. Who can deny "Srimad Bhagavatam pramanam amalam"? At the same time, had Jayadeva not described Krishna falling at Radha's feet, would anyone have really had the insight into her greatness? Would the Rasa-sudha-nidhi have been possible?

Schweig also argues that the Rasa Lila is the central element in the Bhagavatam, something that most Vaishnavas would consider self-evident, but may not be so evident for other readers. The trouble I guess is that the Rasa is also in Harivamsa and Vishnu Purana where it barely makes a ripple. Here, however, though the overall structure of the BhP is based on those books, the Rasa has clearly been magnified proporitionately to take a much greater role in the overall shape of Krishna/Vishnu's description. Schweig specifically takes the Venu Gita and Bhramara Gita sections (which he also translates) as being the "frames" for the Rasa Lila. I'll have to read through the whole book before commenting on this analysis.

Schweig approaches the Rasa Panchadhyaya as a drama, calling each chapter an "act" and subdivides it into scenes. This reminds me a bit of my reflections on the structures of the Rasa Lila on these pages some time back. This was what made me think that a symphonic musical approach would work very well for the Rasa.

* * * * *

I have been going through this books slowly, reading it with my wife. We just finished the first chapter of part II, "Background of the Text."

First of all, I wanted to say (did I already say it?) that I feel somehow that this last year has been some kind of threshold year in Gaudiya Vaishnava publication. Haberman's Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, Dimock's Chaitanya-charitamrita, for all their limitations, tenare sterling contributions to the literary corpus available in English. This book is also very important, as it is the first (?) production by an Iskcon devotee that deals directly with the rasika aspects of Gaudya Vaishnava theology in a scholarly and original manner.

The first part of the book consists of the translations of the Rasa Panchadhyaya and two other chapters of the Tenth Canto (21 and 47), which are meant to serve as framing passages for the Rasa Lila. This is the principal part of the book, and I will return to a discussion of this later.

This first chapter of the second part is a short history of erotic mysticism in Hinduism, with passages from the Rigveda, Upanishads and Gita giving support to passionate devotion and the analogy of conjugal love. It also gives some theological background to various other aspects of Vaishnavism to place the Rasa lila in its Vaishnava context. This has been done succinctly and effectively, though the abbreviated nature of the discussion leads to the glossing over of some areas. But there is nothing particularly disturbing.

Madanmohan das - Sun, 29 May 2005 04:53:33 +0530
Having gone through the book a bit more, I realise that this is for scholars, and can only hope to become worthy of delving into the subject.
Jagat - Wed, 08 Jun 2005 01:47:39 +0530
Schweig's book contains four sections. The first is the translation, the second a theoretical discussion of various aspects of the five chapters of the Rasa Lila. The last section contains sequential notes on the verses of the Rasa Lila, drawing primarily on the commentaries of Sridhar and Visvanath, as well as cross-referencing to other Gaudiya Vaishnava works, namely the Chaitanya Charitamrita and the Sandarbhas of Jiva Goswami. The fourth section contains the original Sanskrit verses in both Devanagari and transliteration.

There are also three appendices, the first is a useful discussion of Sanskrit metres used in the Rasa Lila, the second Schweig's approach to translation (which he calls "dedicated free-verse translation") and the third a synoptic analysis of the Rasa Lila, i.e., a comparison of the three principal puranic versions, the Harivamsa, Vishnupurana and Bhagavata. There is also a glossary and bibliography.

* * * * *

Schweig is, as mentioned above, admitting that he is a devotee. Other than Hridayananda Maharaj, there are, I think, very few devotees in academia who make this kind of admission. In fact, I would guess that academia places challenges on a devotee scholar's faith that mean he would rather dissimulate his religious affiliations. The academic life means calling elements of faith and even faith itself into question. Certainly, the culture of questioning will result in the modification of the contents of that faith.

Schweig has done a courageous thing in admitting his position--just as there are many other reputable scholars of religion who admit their faith--especially amongst Christians, but also amongst Buddhists and other Hindu sects. It seems rather strange that some devotees have more trouble with this, but perhaps I am only talking of myself. We have the kind of double personality where our devotional self is hidden and crying to get out rather than public.

Anyway, what does all that mean here? The answer to that comes in the middle section of the book, "Textual Illuminations," and there in the third chapter, "The Messages of the Text." There again, the section entitled "Symbolism in the Rasa" contains the kernels of much that could be valuable in advancing Vaishnavas' own understanding of the text as well as reaching outside of the tradition and communicating its universal meaning. After recognizing Jung's affirmation that the mandala "signifies the wholeness of the self" (Schweig's italics) and various other aspects of the mandala, Schweig states:

"The Rasa Mandala is a symbol of supreme love for those traditions that honor the Bhagavata's Rasa Lila as their highest revelation. The question arises--can this symbol speak to those beyond the boundaries of its tradition to communicate a universal message? All symbolos derive their power and depth of meaning from the tradition out of which they come. But there is a certian point at which a symbol bursts through the boundaries of its own tradition and culture, and begins to speak to the greater human community. As a symbol once enclosed within its limited realm moves beyond itself, its ultimate intrinsic value takes on an extrinsic purpose." (pages 179-180)
...More to still come.

Jagat - Wed, 08 Jun 2005 06:39:42 +0530
* * * * *

Some other random thoughts:

I like what Schweig has done in analysing the structure of the Rasa Lila. This includes his discussion of meter and the application of dramatic categories to the Rasa Lila. Though these sometimes may come across like academic exercises that only partially enrich our understanding, such a structural analysis is very useful.

The cross-referencing also sometimes comes across as mechanical, as though the author did not really know what to say. This is of course something that has become easier and easier to do with electronic databases and Lord knows I am guilty enough of doing this myself, however, as a preliminary exercise and as a resource for future students, it is an extremely useful collection of data.

Another thing that caused me slight concern was the lack of reference to the two (or three) Vaishnava-toshanis, especially that of Sanatan. As Schweig is bringing us the first real English-languae analysis of the Rasa Lila based on Gaudiya Vaishnava sources, Sanatan's really should have been given attention prior to Vishwanath. Jiva's LaghuVT is also more important than his three other discussions of the Tenth Canto (Krama-sandarbha, Brihat-krama-sandarbha and the comments in the Six Sandarbhas*) [* The Krama-sandarbha is generally a placing of the Six Sandarbhas in the appropriate place of the Bhagavatam. This is true of all but the Tenth Canto, where KrS is very brief and often has little or nothing to do with the comments on these verses found in SatS. The reason for this is beyond me.]

Schweig has evidently chosen to leave these as remnants for future scholars. Again, a comparative reading of the Gaudiya commentaries with those of other traditions, especially the very voluminous Vallabhi tradition, would provide much fodder for future scholars. What are the real differences in vision between the different acharyas of these schools? Can any signs of mutual influence be recognized? These kinds of discussions would be sure to stimulate further insight into this central lila.

One last thing that needs to be said: There are more proofreading mistakes than one should really hope for in an academic work, especially in the transliteration of Sanskrit.
Jagat - Fri, 10 Jun 2005 01:28:46 +0530
In the two other topics I started today, namely Atamny avaruddha-saurataH and Garuda on the siddha deha, I am trying to formulate my response to Garuda's Rasa-lila.

As I see it, there are three main possible approaches to the Rasa Lila--

(1) One that is purely symbolic. Krishna is God, the gopis are the jivas. The Rasa Lila is an allegory of the souls' relation to God. In this scenario, ultimately, Krishna as He is is barely necessary. He is a stand-in for something more diffuse and mysterious.

(2) The second is the vision that reifies the allegory. This is the position that most of us take, whether we are in Iskcon or in traditional parivars.

(3) The last is a postion that most of us would call Sahajiya. In this scenario, Krishna and Radha are symbols of supreme male and femalehood. The story is stripped of its theistic allegory, if you will, and the sexual symbolism accepted as prominent.

Schweig is tossing around the idea that there is universal value to the Rasa Lila. Universals mean stripping away the cultural particularities, as he puts it. In this case, the only one of the three which cannot lose its rootedness in Indian culture is the second.

* * * * *

I am sorry that I choose to use the Internet as the place to throw around these ideas. It is rather immature of me. I should really be beavering away in stony silence. But I appreciate feedback and I also like to think that someone is thinking about the same things I am.
Lancer - Fri, 10 Jun 2005 02:22:14 +0530
QUOTE(Jagat @ Jun 9 2005, 12:58 PM)
I am sorry that I choose to use the Internet as the place to throw around these ideas. It is rather immature of me. I should really be beavering away in stony silence. But I appreciate feedback and I also like to think that someone is thinking about the same things I am.

And if you do quit "throwing around these ideas", you will deprive me (and I assume a lot of other readers) the pleasure of peeking behind the scenes and seeing how scholarship in religious studies is done. If anyone should be apologizing, it should be those of us who read your "beavering" and don't give you any feedback. Give us time, man! My poor lil' ol' brain is working feverishly to catch up. One of the enjoyments I derive from logging on to GD is that when I see there is a new Jagat posting, my mind says, "Oh, boy, this will be something to think about for a while." And one of these days, I will have something substantive to add, I promise. rolleyes.gif

adiyen - Fri, 10 Jun 2005 07:57:11 +0530
Jagatji. I think you have written an excellent review of Garudadas's book, which has inspired me to look at it, while taking your points of difference with it.

But I'm not sure I understand your personal issues above. Aren't you taking Academia a bit too seriously? I made 2 attempts at a college degree. The first was in the 1970's, which I dropped to join the Hare Krishnas. Back then I was a TM follower of the 'Maharishi', as were many Faculty members. The worst was a respected senior Maths Professor, leader of the local TM chapter. When a group of us split to join the Hares this same Professor became a raving fanatic, making all kinds of threats against us for our 'disloyalty'. Meanwhile Social Sciences was full of raving ideologues, attacking their opponents as 'fascists' at every opportunity (and again the worst were former friends who had become splitters). The Maharishi himself was surrounded by PhDs, even Nobel Laureates! That's how he was able to set up his own accredited college in Iowa, now the centre of a 'Vedic City'. To hear a respected Professor giggling like a child describing how he offered a flower to Maharishi, is to see Academic achievement as superficial at best. Ultimately even the best minds are flawed, even brainwashed (as the TMers certainly are!). I mean Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe, my friends? rolleyes.gif

When I joined the Hares, college preaching became one of my specialties, and I even was a regular in dhoti tilak and sikha at my former Alma Mater, where the TMer's would shun me and the leftists would yell, 'Fascist!'. So what?

Then in my later successful college degree attempt (after leaving HK), one of my Pol Sci supervisors was a famous Buddhist who was openly 'preaching'. I could go on and on.

Collegiality is a fine thing. A forum where standards of debate are enforced so that well reasoned arguments can get a hearing. Well supposedly, but nowadays? I suppose a Politically Correct code has been imposed. Is that what you are worried about, Jagat? The PC Police?

Then the bigger question of 'Universality'. Well if the 'University' falls so short of the ideal as above, then does the ideal even exist? My cross-cultural experiences lead me to doubt it.

If you begin with such total skepticism as I do, say from the philosopher Hume's standpoint*, then the boundaries between the 'universal' and the particular are not very important.

Then from my perspective what you seem to be describing is an identity conflict. I find that to settle this you just need to simplify.

(* Not that I understand Hume's or anyone's philosophy at all well, but just a suggestion which might help to see where I think I'm coming from.)
Jagat - Fri, 10 Jun 2005 09:02:17 +0530
Thanks, Adiyen. Those are helpful comments.

It is my impression, in general, that many of the devotees who enter academic life, as I did when I returned post-HK are indeed identity conflicted. There are some hardcore HK fellows (I am thinking particularly of Hridayananda, but Garuda may well fall into this category also) who are in the academic environment for the purpose of "preaching."

Speaking idealistically, and I was idealistic when I went back to uni, the purpose of the university is to "find the truth." I am a little more sanguine about that, as are you (and somewhat cynical as always), but nevertheless I take this as a basic premise.

So to return to the particulars above.

(a) Garuda is preaching: He is establishing

(1) The underlying theological allegory of the Rasa Lila.
(2) While at the same, presenting the cultural particularities of the Rasa Lila in as attractive a manner as possible. I personally don't see how we can separate religion from its aesthetics. If it can't be done in Buddhism, then how can it be done in a Bhakti religion?
(3) The third aspect of sexuality is evidently optional, and I would not expect him to promote this point of view, though I think that it is necessary to deal with it. Freud is out of vogue nowadays, and this places discussions of sexuality have lost their bearings these days. This is not to say that Freud was necessarily right, but now that he is no longer the Prophet, an awkward kind of PC has indeed taken over.

(B) So by so doing:

(1) He enhances the possibility for ecumenism by finding common vocubularies with other religious traditions,
(2) He creates respectability for a belief system that has been sadly undermined by bad recent history.
(3) He shows leadership by presenting the face of a mature lay believer.

My major concern above was philosophical, really. I agree with you that the universal and the particular are not really so much at odds. After all, I am philosophically an idealist (though I am hardly the philosopher you are, nor as well read), and so I see the world as hopelessly subjective. That makes me hopeless to live with, I suppose, especially for one who talks about love. Is it possible to be a philosophical idealist (who constantly runs the practical risk of solipsism) and still believe in the possibility of love? I think that's what fascinated me about the Upanishad passage quoted earlier in this thread.

Jagat - Fri, 10 Jun 2005 23:33:14 +0530
There is another matter that I would like to consider with regard to the Rasa Lila. That is the comparison to the Bhagavad Gita. Schweig does not deal at length with this question, but I am somewhat surprised that he hasn't, as he makes the word "song" and "song of songs" a major issue. (I myself find such discussions about as meaningful as arguing about who is "the Pelé of cricket.").

There are some clear structural parallels between the Rasa Lila and the Gita--the centrality of a prayer in both is something that draws attention (11th chapter in the Gita, 3rd chapter in Rasa Lila). Both sets of prayers end with an epiphany--Krishna appearing in human form. But the real difference between the two is that the Gita ends with sarva-dharmAn parityajya, whereas the Rasa Lila begins with the gopis doing just that.

I have just read a book by Arvind Sharma, The Hindu Gita, published in 1985, in which he discusses all the so-called contradictions in the Gita. His conclusion is that the goal of the Gita is to get Arjuna to fight by hook or by crook. So whatever argument serves that end is legitimate material. It's like when you give any kind of pep talk to influence, say, your children--you're going to use whatever arguments you can in order to get them to do what you think is in their own best interest. In other words, "Just do it!" is the Gita slogan.

I have often thought that the real subtext of the Gita is this: God is seated in your heart; he is the driver of your chariot. Man proposes and God disposes. Your real duty is to propose in a way that is most pleasing to God. The Gita is not so much a religious rulebook as a manual for hearing God's voice. In this light, "dadAmi buddhi-yogaM taM yena mAm upayAnti te" is the real essence of the Gita.

Again, in this light, sarva-dharmAn parityajya means abandoning all the various specific instructions given throughout the world's religious texts in order to directly experience and hear the word of God. The Gita is thus very subversive as a religious text, and it is justifiable to call it non-sectarian.

However, if the ultimate goal of the Gita is to give up everything for God, we are talking about a true "leap of faith." Whatever action we take up in true commitment to the will of God will always be a leap of faith. The Rasa Lila starts with the gopis taking that leap by jumping into Krishna's arms in response to the sound of his enchanting flute.

In the Gita, Krishna answers Arjuna's question about what happens to one who takes that jump--does he lose BOTH this world AND the next?--by saying "my devotee never perishes."

So what happens to us when we take that leap of faith? Where do we go? This is the Rasa Lila. Krishna tells the gopis that it's a roller coaster. You are no longer under the mastery of karma, but that does not mean your suffering ends. It means that suffering in separation is the reward that you get. Mark: this is certainly an odd response to the Upanishadic injunction to seek out the "highest pleasure" (bhUmaiva sukham and raso vai saH).

The Gita often seems ambivalent--is it jnana, is it karma, is it bhakti that we are supposed to follow? Or is it a combination thereof? "All these equivocal instructions, Krishna, are simply confusing me. Will you be a little clearer, please?" In the Rasa Lila, Krishna makes a joke out of it: "Go home and serve your husbands [but I am your REAL husband]." "Adultery is wrong, wrong, wrong [but I am the Soul of your soul, so where is the adultery? Where is the abandonment of duty?]"

But just as the Gita ends with Arjuna accepting the burden of fighting an unpleasant war, the gopis end by returning home to their so-called husbands. The Rasa Lila ends with the seemingly contradictory promise that "they won't even notice you have gone"--even though we know that some of them got up and left home in the middle of dinner, in the middle of other family activities, and struggled out of their family members' clutching hands. In other words, "ahaM tvA sarva-pApebhyo mokSayiSyAmi mA zucaH."

Of course, we cannot count on that kind of freedom from reaction. Schweig talks about death extensively. The gopis leaving their homes to go to Krishna is a kind of death--jahur guNamayaM deham. He argues that the devotee goes to Krishna in the spiritual body, even as he remains in this world in the dharmic body, i.e., the body of duty. Thus, the Rasa Lila does not really take place at all on the bodily platform, but is something that is comparable to the meditation of a yogi.

In our spiritual lives, we tend to want material rewards. Ultimately, the instruction that Krishna gives the gopis--"your reward is your own good deed" is the same as saying, karmaNy evAdhikAro'sti mA phaleSu kadAcana. You have no right to the results--devotion is about selfless action. If we seem to suffer as a result of our selflessness, that is not an excuse for losing faith.

God's reward for our commitment to him is simply his presence in our hearts and minds. The reward is the ongoing conversation that we have with him in the battle for faith. It is the joy of seeing him in everything. It is the joy of being able to love everything through him.
Jagat - Sat, 11 Jun 2005 19:49:52 +0530
I still have at least two more things that I would like to discuss. The first of these is one that has been hashed over on these forums before--the issue of separation. This is a very important theme in the gopi-Krishna cycle, indeed Hardy wrote a thick and, to most, impenetrable volume on the subject of Viraha Bhakti, so it is obviously a worthwhile matter for analysis. The following quote is from page 165:

For the Vaishnava, then, the combination of humility and passion in devotion is an essential balance, exhibited by the Gopis. The intimate deity is emphasized over the cosmic or almighty deity and yet, for the devotee, they are always experienced in dialectic tension with one another. Neither is excluded; rather, the one is implicitly or explicity experienced while the other is in the background. The intimate deity inspires passionate devotion, and the cosmic or powerful deity, a devotion of humility. The devote "knows" the greatness of God, but due to being absorbed in devotional passion, appears to "forget" this dimension. With paro dharma in the foreground, however, the devoted soul continues to apprehend, in the background, the ethical dimension of dharma that flows from the divinity.

Veneration and awe for the greatness of the deity create an atmosphere of deep reverence and humble admiration among followers, whereas intimacy with the divine elevates the devotee into a transethical sphere of love and amorous play with the Lord, as well as affectionate fellowship with other devotees. This intimacy is nowhereelse demonstrated more dramatically than in the Rasa dance itself, in whcih the Gopis join hands in fellowship, and simultaneously, as individuals, interact exclusively and amorously with their beloved.

Although the Rasa dance is the culmination of the drama, the Gopis experience and express their most intense feelings for Krishna in his absence, specifically in the middle act, "The Song of the Gopis." The greatest form of intimacy with the deity is understood by this school as viraha-bhakti, "devotional love in the experience of the absence of God." The Bhakti-sutra (text 82) describes viraha, out of eleven different types of loving attachment to God, as the highest process: "Devotion in separation from the Beloved is the highest devotion of all. The Chaitanya school not only accepts this statement but indeed models its devotion specifically on "the attainment of service in separation," known as vipralambha-sevA. It is especially this type of loving service that balances humility and passion in devotion.
I would say this is an intelligent presentation of one of those Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati doctrines that has penetrated IGM consciousness as being coterminus or identical with the Chaitanya movement as a whole.

No one, not Chaitanya, not the gopis, ever sought service in Krishna's absence. The gopis want to put Krishna's feet on their breasts! Chaitanya cries out frantically, "Where can I go? What shall I do? Tell me how I can ever see that Krishna, on whose lips sings the bamboo flute."

Furthermore, if aisvarya is associated with viraha, as the above discussion implies, then how on earth could it ever be the goal of the Chaitanya Vaishnavas?

There are, as I said above, three ways of looking at the Rasa Lila. As with any literary text that has inspired a tradition, we have to be able to look at a text critically: "What was the original author's intent?" In other words, we have to be able to separate the original text from the commentarial tradition that surrounds it. We accept interpretations as coterminus with the original and forget that the original never said anything of the sort. Or, conversely, the original may say things that the tradition avoids or supersedes. This is one of the reasons that I am somewhat uncomfortable that Schweig goes straight to Vishwanath Chakravarti without taking account even of Sridhar (as in the Atmany avaruddha-saurataH case), what to speak of other, pre-Gaudiya commentaries (Vasana-bhasya, Vijaya-dhvaja Tirtha, etc.), or the earlier Gaudiya commentaries (Sanatan, Jiva, Srinath). What to speak of confusing Saraswati Thakur's interpretation with either the original author of the Bhagavatam or the Gaudiya tradition. (Not that I don't appreciate Saraswati's vision here. It is a novel and interesting, albeit independent, way of looking at things and it merits attention, at least as another flowere in the bouquet of interpretations in the ongoing effort to relish and understand the Bhagavatam.)

In the above citation, the juxtaposition of aisvarya with viraha may have some meaning in the original author's way of looking at things. The entire idea of viraha in the Bhagavatam needs to be looked at more thoroughly. It is not seva in separation that we strive for, but it is that which we have to content ourselves with. Why? Krishna is not lying when he says, repeatedly, that he is present in our thoughts of him, even when we feel most distant (See BhP 10.23.31, 10.29.27, 10.32.21, 10.47.29-37, 10.82.42-47). Taken from the allegorical point of view, God is all-pervading and not confined to his symbolic representation. In other words. These appeals to the intellect are words the sadhaka needs to hear in his push to leave behind the kanishtha and madhyama stages, but they are not siddhi. Otherwise, there would be no point to the very last verse spoken by the gopis in the Bhagavatam (10.82.49), which has been treated to such glorious effect in the Chaitanya Charitamrita.

In short, viraha is in itself neither a goal nor a sadhana. It is a fact of devotional life, for which the word "dialectic" used above is indeed appropriate. Aisvarya means knowing God is never absent; madhurya is forgetting it. The latter sometimes seems less religious, less pious, but it is not the same as atheism or agnosticism, or even kanishtha bhakti. We temper our fledgling eagerness in devotion with knowledge--that makes us mature human beings. Internally, however, we aspire to the mood of the gopis.
Jagat - Sat, 11 Jun 2005 21:30:44 +0530
The second thing I wanted to say returns to the Gita discussion in Post 15 above . In telling Arjuna to fight, one of Krishna's important messages is that karma (in the sense of results of one's acts) is not an issue if one is detached from them.

Thus, it is said, rather shockingly (Gita 18.17),

yasya nAhaGkRtI bhAvo buddhir yasya na lipyate
hatvApi sa imAn lokAn na hanti na nibadhyate

In the state where one no longer thinks he is the doer,
if his intelligence is not tainted by the modes of nature,
he may kill all these worlds,
and yet not really be killing, nor be bound by his acts.

Radhakrishna interprets this as follows--
The freed man does his work as the instrument of the Universal Spirit and for the mainenance of the cosmic order. He performs even terrific deeds without any selfish aim or desire but because it is the ordained duty. What matters is not the work but the spirit in which it is done. "Though he slays from the worldly standpoint, he does not slay in truth."

Zaehner thinks this is a "disturbing doctrine." He writes: "Killing only takes place on the phenomenal plane, not on that of the Absolute. This disturbing doctrine had already been proclaimed in Gita 2.18-19 as it had in the Upanishads. Here it is reaffirmed with a vengeance. As the dialogue draws to its end, Krishna's thoughts become ever more concentrated on the immediate matter at hand--the successful prosecution of the war." (The Bhagavad Gita, 388).

What we have here is the problem of "antinomy," which I have discussed briefly in my article, The implications of a guru's moral failings, towards the end beginning with, "The End Justifies the Means." This needs a rather more in depth study here, because we really see the same thing going on in the Rasa Lila. When Shukadeva says (using Schweig's translation), he is really just repeating the same Gita doctrine as cited above (BhP 10.33.30-32).

Apparent transgressions of dharma
in the acts of the most exalted souls
can appear bold or reckless.
Among such powerful beings
there is no adverse effect,
just as fire can devour anything
without being affected.

If one, unlike the exalted soul,
is not powerful,
one should never perform
any transgressions,
even within one's mind.
Such a person
who acts foolishly would perish,
as anyone other than Rudra
would be destroyed by the poison
generated from the sea.

Words from exalted souls,
meant for us, are always true,
though their actions
only sometimes can be followed.
Therefore, one who
possesse intelligence
should act in agreement
with their teachings.

These specific verses are rather underdiscussed in Schweig's book, even though they may be justifiably considered vital to the entire intent of the Rasa Lila. After all, in assessing any work, we are told to look for what comes in the beginning and what comes at the end, as well as what subjects are specifically brought up for discussion.

Now someone may say, "The Gita is talking about a jiva, the latter verses are about ishwaras, i.e. God. Therefore the comparison cannot be made." I am glad to see that Schweig has translated Izvara as "powerful person" and "exalted souls" which are quite correct. (Some of the commentaries: Sridhar--"such as Brahma, Indra, Soma and Vishwamitra"; Srinath, "such as Brahma, etc., what to speak of the Supreme Lord"; Narayan Bhatta, "dehAdi-pAratantrya-rahitAnAm--those who are entirely free from the bodily concept of life." Again, anIzvara in verse 31, Sridhar "under the bodily concept"; Visvanath, nikRSTo jIvaH. However, Brihat-krama-sandarbha "anyone other than Krishna")

The reason I don't accept this dualistic bifurcation of Krishna and the jivas here is that we are talking about a unity of Krishna and the jiva. In fact, the same, or at least a similar, argument is found in the Gopala Tapani Upanishad in which both the duality of Krishna and the jiva are maintained, and yet their freedom from duality and sin through transcendental consciousness is stated. This is in Durvasa's instruction to the gopis--"Sound is the quality in ether. The atma is distinct from both sound and ether. The atma is situated in the ether, but the ether knows not the atma. So, being that atma, how could I be the enjoyer?" Thus Durvasa can say he has fasted when he has just eaten, and similarly Krishna can say he is a brahmachari even though he has just spent the night with the gopis.

Schweig writes:
"The essential message behind the name Acyuta--that despite Krishna's erotic sports with the Gopis, he does not fall into sexual relations with them--is a powerful and consistent theme running through the text. The narrator of the story carefully explains that Krishna's erotic play is due to the delight of rasa within the divine. In other words, when Krishna, who is full and complete in himself, engages in love's delights with the cowherd maidens, he is not conforming to the ways of this world. Rather he is allowing his devotee and himsefl to love intimately and freely in a realm that transcends the everyday world--and transcends even himself." (page 122)
Anyway, I will leave this discussion here for now, but the upshot is that I think the Bhagavatam is making fundamentally the same point as the Gita--with this difference. Where the Gita is talking about violence, the Bhagavatam is talking about sex. Each, however, in their own way, are talking about love.

I restate Augustine's famous dictum: "Love, and do as you will." Though this is true, and the same message we find above, it is "disturbing" or "dangerous" because it can be used to cover an infinity of sins. And yet, that does not make it less true. It is simply that if you accept this as the one law, you have to be ready to accept the consequences of your acts, no matter what suffering they bring. In order to be beyond karma, you must realize that this is not measured in purely external terms, but in the sense of moral freedom--what might otherwise be called a clean conscience.

But it is not just a Zen state, or Bagger Vance's "Authentic Swing," but a oneness with the will and love of God.
Jagat - Thu, 16 Jun 2005 18:54:04 +0530
The approach I am taking is this: "Who is the intended audience of this book?"

Such projects start out as doctoral dissertations, for whom there is a small audience--the thesis supervisor and examiners. The starting point is the voyage of discovery, the application of hermeneutic or heuristic tools in order to coax new levels of meaning out of a text.

Schweig's experience as a teacher of undergraduate students shows in the work: general background is presented in a succinct yet easily digestible fashion. However, the stated purpose of this work is larger, as given on page 5, "My intention is to illuminate a particular tradition's special vision of such an important text, thereby facilitating further dialogue with other world traditions of theistic mysticism."

I would like to present my criticism of this work from the point of view of a practitioner of the tradition. Schweig himself has laid his cards on the table: "As one who is Western-born and trained in the academic study of religion, having had the privilege of living in India among saintly practitioners and participating with them in devotional practices, however, I am perhaps in a position to present this work to those both outside and within these traditions." (page 5)

This is a significant statement. The Gaudya Vaishnava movement outside of India has dealt little with the Rasa Lila. Indeed, there has been reluctance to give too much attention to it "for fear of misunderstanding." Schweig correctly points out that the Rasa Lila can be seen as the central point of the Bhagavatam itself, and indeed of the mysticism of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Even this simple statement is revolutionary in changing the fundamental orientation of Krishna bhakti in the Western world.


* * * * *

One other point I would like to make is this: I think that collectively, we are mostly on the stage of zravaNa. What I mean is that we are still on the platform of trying to understand what it is that our tradition says. Most of the debates are taking place on this level.

Manana means interpretation. Of course we are engaged in interpretation, but what I mean is a level of interpretation that examines assumptions and goals and underlying truths. In other words, while remaining faithful to the essential insights or revelations of the tradition, is able to be critical of it.

In this work, the conclusion that the Rasa Lila is THE essential meaning of the Bhagavatam requires mananam about the implications before nididhyAsanam or implementation of the results of such implications is possible.

* * * * *

By the way, I don't have my Folio at the ready. Can anyone provide me with a quote that steers Iskcon people away from "jumping to the Tenth Canto," particularly the Rasa Lila, etc.
Mina - Thu, 16 Jun 2005 23:11:06 +0530
As far as people in academia hiding their religious leanings, I think it is more a matter of potential repercussions for those outside the pale of Judeo-Christian institutions, since those institutions hold the purse strings and wield the political clout within Western universities. So, it is not all that surprising for many of them who might be Vaishnavas wanting to keep that under wraps. Nitai Das himself had some problems on account of his own affiliations. There was a gentleman at UC with us who also kept his diksa a closely guarded secret even though he had an Indian wife.

Someone like Srivatsa Goswami, on the other hand, would not fall under such scrutiny, being born into the tradition and being Indian. A Westerner taking to a Hindu sect is someone subject to being ostracized.

With respect to the issues surrounding the rAsa lIlA, I have to agree with Haridas Sastri about there being multiple levels of meaning of many of the passages of SB. I think you have already alluded to this though, Jagat.

Jagat - Wed, 22 Jun 2005 18:00:31 +0530
Though it is still incomplete, I have decided to upload to GGM the portion of Rasa Lila that has been done, as it fairly substantial and it may be some time before I can do the rest, The current status, as of June 22, 2005, is:

10.29. 60% complete.
10.30 100% complete
10.31 15% complete
10.32 85% complete
10.33 75% complete

Readers will thus have about a 2/3 chance of finding the commentaries to the verses they seek.

The principal source for the commentaries found in this edition is the Bhagavata Vidya Pith edition: (ed.) Bhagavata Rishi and Krishna Shankar Shastri (Sola Karnavati, 2052 saM=1996). Vol. III. I have not included all the commentaries that are found in this huge volume, but only those that are of principal interest to Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Hopefully all these commentaries will one day be available electronically. That day is probably not too far off, but for the time being we will take the small step of offering this portion.

I have access to a few other commentaries which I have used to confirm and check readings. That information, along with a few comments, is given here:

1. zrImad-Ananda-tIrtha-madhvAcAryasya bhAgavata-tAtparyam

This commentary is not included in the Bhagavata Vidya Pith edition. Only two verses of the Rasa Lila have comments by Madhva (10.29.11, 15). Madhva lived in the 13th century. I have used (ed.) Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha, Calcutta : Chaitanya Gaudiya Math, 1995.

2. zrI-zrIdhara-svAminaH bhAgavata-bhAvArtha-dIpikA

(ed. Ramateja Pandeya, Benares: Chowkhamba, 1996). The text for Sridhar Swami's commentary was entered by Robert Gafrik. Sridhar's commentary is probably not the earliest

3. zrI-vaMzIdharasya bhAvArtha-dIpikA-prakAzaH

This 19th century author's commentary is of limited value. I have included it immediately after Sridhar because it follows that commentary rather than the BhAgavata verses directly. It appears that in most cases, Vamsidhar also repeated Vishwanath's commentaries (see below) and occasionally the Vaishnava Toshani as well. I considered this unnecessary repetition and a waste of space, so I have not included this reduplicated material.

4. zrI-zrInAtha-cakravartinaH caitanya-maJjuSA

As far as I know, the only published edition of this commentary comes from Haridas Das. I do not have a copy of this. Srinath Chakravarti was the spiritual master of Kavi Karnapur. It is thus a fairly early text, though it probably does not precede Sanatan Goswami's work.

There is a discernable influence of this commentary on Jiva's BRhat-krama-sandarbha, which apparently was written after Jiva had the occasion to read it. So, in the future, I will likely displace this commentary to immediately before BRhat-krama-sandarbha

5. zrI-sanAtana-gosvAminaH vaiSNava-toSaNI

Although Puridas published an edition of this text, I only have access to a portion of it. This is the most influential Gaudiya commentary. The Bhagavata Vidya Pith mistakenly attributes this commentary to Jiva Goswami, and the following BRhad-vaiSNava-toSaNI to Sanatan, a source of no small confusion. Where Sanatan writes anyat tair vyAkhyAtam, I believe he is refering to Sridhara, though I confess this is not always obvious. Where Jiva uses the same words, it is somewhat more difficult to see to whom he is refering. It is either Sridhar or Sanatan.

Besides this VaiSNava-toSaNI, I have also included Sanatan's Dig-darzanI comments from Hari-bhakti-vilAsa, wherever verses from this text appear there.

6. zrI-jIva-gosvAminaH bRhad-vaiSNava-toSaNI

My only source for this was the Bhagavata Vidya Pitha edition. The confusion over the VaiSNava-toSaNIs is compounded by the common knowledge that there is also a Laghu-vaiSNava-toSaNI. Further investigation into this matter is still required.

7. zrI-jIva-gosvAminaH krama-sandarbhaH

Through the kindness of Srivatsa Goswami of Jai Singh Ghera in Vrindavan, I have a copy of Puridasa Mahasaya's 1952 edition, which is the principal source here. It is noteworthy that with the exception of the Tenth Canto, Krama-sandarbha is basically a sequential (krama) displacement of the comments found in Jiva's SaT-sandarbha. This exception is to me inexplicable, as the Sandarbha comments to the Tenth Canto verses are not duplicated in any of Jiva's other Bhagavata commentaries (unless they are in the Laghu-vaiSNava-toSaNI). I felt therefore that it was worthwhile to insert those texts here.

8. zrI-jIva-gosvAminaH bRhat-krama-sandarbhaH

Ekkehard Lorenz made TIF files of Puridas's edition of this text available to me. See Caitanya-mata-maJjuSA above.

9. nArAyaNa-bhaTTasya rasikAhlAdinI

This commentary is also quite early, perhaps preceding Jiva Goswami. Narayan Bhatta was born in 1532 (saM. 1588) in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, but came to live in Braj in 1546. He was initiated by Krishna Das Brahmachari, a disciple of Gadadhar Pandit who was serving at the Madan Mohan temple in Radha Kund. He is famous for a number of works like Vraja-bhakti-vilAsa and Vraja-pradIpikA, etc., which are the most exhaustive early descriptions of the Braja Dham parikrama (See Entwistle's Braja: A Place of Pilgrimage). He also had great influence in establishing the Rasa Lila performance tradition in Braja (see Vasant Yamadagni's RAsa-lIlA tathA rAsAnukaraNa vikAsa, New Delhi: Sangita Nataka Academy, 1980). This edition was published by Kusumasarovarawala Krishna Das in the 1950's. The editor is Prabhu Dayal Mittal, a very highly reputed scholar of the Radha Vallabha Sampradaya. This edition was the source of the Bhagavata Vidya Pith edition, to the extent that even obvious errors have been repeated. Though Narayan Bhatta was contemporary to Jiva Goswami, there appears to be little influence of his work, or even of Rupa Goswami, to the extent that he cites RasArNava-sudhAkara to the total exclusion of Ujjvala-nIlamaNi.

10. zrI-vizvanAtha-cakravartinaH sArArtha-darzinI

(ed. Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha, Calcutta : Chaitanya Gaudiya Math, 1995). Nothing really needs to be said here except that Vishwanath's popularity has led to neglect of the VaiSNava-toSaNI, which is, in my opinion, unjustified.

11. baladeva-vidyAbhUSaNasya vaiSNavAnandinI

Though the Bhagavata Vidya Pitha has published Baladeva's commentary to the Tenth Canto, there does not seem to be anything at the Rasa Lila. Whether Baladeva actually did comment on these verses is unknown to me.