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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sanātan Gosvāmī on pramāda japa

I just found some interesting verses in Haribhakti Vilāsa (17.132-3) that confirm the points I made about absent-minded japa in my blogs of May 14 and June 22, 2006:

pralapan vā japed yāvat tāvan niṣphalam ucyate
vadan na gacchan na svapan nānyaṁ kim api saṁsmaran
na kṣuj jṛmbhana hikkādi vikalīkṛta mānasaḥ
mantra-siddhim avāpnoti tasmād yatnapuro bhavet

"As long as one speaks, one's japa will be fruitless. While speaking, walking, lying down on bed, or having one's mind agitated by thinking of something else, sneezing, hickuping or yawning, one cannot attain perfection in one's mantra practise."

Monday, January 29, 2007

bhedābheda - Oneness and difference

On his "Vraja Journal"- Blog Madhavananda Das writes the following:

"You are a free spirit: You belong to where your heart belongs to, and there alone do you belong. Beyond that, no-one can lay any claims on you that would have any substantial spiritual bearing. I remember someone coming to me once and asking whether I was a devotee of ISKCON or a devotee of Gaudiya Math. He was rather dumbstruck when I politely explained that we were devotees of Krishna. Cultivate this understanding as the essence of your life, as all other concepts of belonging will yield you nothing but grief in the end. These superficial impositions are nothing but obstacles in bhajana. It would be better to burn all mathas to ashes if that's what it takes for people to get back to the essence of bhakti and rid themselves of the countless upadhis, the phantom identities they are fondly embracing. "

While on the one hand I wholeheartedly agree, I do believe it is not that simple. There is simultaneous oneness and difference in everything and so also with the perceived divisions in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Sampradāya. Sādhu Bābā elaborately and strongly stressed the differences in sādhana and siddhānta between the Advaita Parivāra and the other parivāras, let alone with Iskcon and the Gaudiya Math. It is important to stand up and be counted as the convinced follower of one's own Guru and his distinct philosophy, it nourishes bhakti. śrī guru caraṇe rati ei se uttama gati. Having said all that, all branches of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Sampradāya agree for about 95% on the sādhana and siddhānta, and when we face common opponents like jñānīs or karmīs we stand shoulder to shoulder. It is true that in the past I myself stressed the bheda (difference) more than the abheda (oneness) and would absolutely not associate with members of this or that camp, but a few years ago I left that narrow attitude behind - I now dance in ecstasy in Iskcon's famous powerful kīrtans, have friends in the different Gauḍīya Maṭh-branches, or may listen to the philosophical lectures of Satya Nārāyan Paṇḍit or the rasika lectures of Ananta Dās Paṇḍit. Still I maintain my distinct convictions within the heart, and will preach them whenever possible. That is acintya bhedābheda philosophy in practise.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Recently I started getting worried about my line’s possible extinction (since I myself don’t qualify to be the next link in representing my parivāra, at least not yet). I discussed this with a devotee today and the following interesting exchange ensued –

Bhakta: “Somehow, the disciple will find his Guru, nothing can prevent this. By providence, the disciple and his Guru are brought together. No power in the universe has the strength to destroy this spiritual relationship... "

Advaitadas: “Yes you are right and I have already experienced this often myself. I wasn't worrying about myself but about possible extinction of my lineage, that is, after me. The thread is getting terribly thin over in India as well.....

Bhakta: “Also don't worry about that. Guru is travelling all over the universe, and wherever he sees, that there is a disciple of him, he will make arrangements, that they will get in connection. If the lineage stops now, that means, he collected all his disciples who were here on this planet.”

If nothing else, then perhaps that explains the complete lack of response to my preaching, despite my high personal popularity…..

edited 27.1.07 and 22.12.12

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Advent day of Advaita ācāryadeva

How Advaita Prabhu granted the śrāddha plate to Haridās Ṭhākur:

From a lecture by Sītānath Kula-kaustubha Śrī-Śrīla Nikuñja Gopāla Gosvāmī Prabhupāda, held on Advaita Prabhu's advent day, Navadvīp, February 1983:

Advaita Prabhu said: "Haridāsa, it is My order that you accept the prasāda of Śrī-Śrī Rādhā-Madana Gopāla." Haridāsa humbly folded his hands and said: “Śrīpāda! I am just a Yavan! Where is my adhikāra to accept the mahā prasāda of Śrī-Śrī Rādhā Madana Gopāla? Only if I can sit at the gate of the Mandira of Rādhā and Madana Gopāla as a dog to eat the remnants of the brāhmaṇas I will follow Your order!"

So in due course of time Haridās was served prasāda. All the powerful Vaiṣṇavas and brāhmanas were present when Prabhu Sītānātha personally served the śrāddha pātra, that was destined for the brāhmanas, to Haridās. "What is Gurudeva doing?" Haridāsa wondered. Prabhu Sītānātha said: "I am Veda Pañcānana, no one can overrule my order. Feeding you is equal to feeding a hundred brāhmaṇas, no, the result of feeding a hundred brāhmaṇas will be even exceeded by feeding you! Therefore it is my order that you accept this." What could Haridāsa do but bow down his head?

The brāhmaṇas of Navadvīpa were mostly tantriks accepting Satī-mantra. Navadvīpa was the greatest tantra tīrtha of Bengal at that time, and our Prabhu Sītānātha is Sadāśiva (the husband of Satī). The brāhmaṇas that were seated to take prasāda got up and washed their hands, saying: "Advaita, we will not come to Your house anymore. You are acting against the rules!" Sītānātha said: "What have I done that is against the rules?" Brahmins: "You should have given us the pātra. We are brahmaṇas, don't you know?" Sītānātha said: "What was done has been done — what to do now, please accept my rule." The brahmaṇas replied: "From now on we are finished with you. We will give up all connection with you and oust you from the samāja (society)!" Prabhu Sītānātha said: "tathāstu — let it be."

The brahmaṇas went home and that evening when they wanted to take evening prasāda with their sons, grandsons and other relatives their wives were not able to ignite their stoves for cooking, so they could not eat. The housewives went from (brahmaṇa-) home to home to borrow fire, but fire was not appearing in any brahmaṇa-home of Navadvīpa.

The next morning the same thing happened and one of the brahmaṇas thought: "What is going on? There is no fire only in the houses of those brahmaṇas who went to the invitation of Advaita Prabhu." One of the most learned tantrik brahmaṇas then went into his temple and sat down in meditation at the feet of his iṣṭa devatā (Durgā), thinking: "What offense have we committed?" Then, on the strength of his tantrik powers his iṣṭa devatā (Durgā) told him with a divine voice from within his heart: "You have committed an offense to my husband (Śiva = Advaita Prabhu). If you want something to eat tonight, then go to my husband and beg His forgiveness! If He forgives you, your whole life will be blessed and if not, then your whole life will be ruined!" Thus brāhmaṇas came from all over Navadvīpa to Prabhu Sītānātha and prayed to him: "Ohe Prabhu Sītānātha! Ohe Advaita Acarya! Ohe Sadāśiva! Please forgive us our offenses!" (Durgā said:) "What higher rule is there than the one enunciated by my Lord (husband)? What higher is there than bhakti?" Haridās is whole-heartedly surrendered to his Gurudeva's lotusfeet - if Gurudeva understands that he is a vessel of pure devotion, then who has the power to go against that? ādau ante ca madhye ca hari sarvatra gīyate ("In the beginning, middle and end, Hari is sung of everywhere")—the Veda Pancānana could see Hari everywhere. In the same way, devotion to the lotus-feet of Hari is primary. If a person upholds the etiquette by considering a person who is a bhakta as primary, then who is able to infringe that? Our Advaita Prabhu caused a revolution against the harsh influence of the Kali-age by preaching pure bhakti and showing how much power the pure devotion has to purify even the yavanas."

This transcript is added to the link-tab renamed 'Transcripts of some audio material" under 'Sādhu Bābā audio mp3' on

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Vasanta Pañcamī

Today is Vasanta Pañcamī. Today the deities in India are dressed in yellow, the colour of spring (in some temples the deities are in yellow throughout spring), and goddess Sarasvatī is worshipped (sarasvatī pūjā) - this festival is particularly big in Bengal. In Vraja Sarasvatī Pūjā goes largely unnoticed. In temples where the evening-ārati song is Jayadeva's Śrita-kamalā, the song is changed into Lalita Labaṅga Latā, also from Jayadeva's Gīta Govinda. In temples where other songs or just the mahā-mantra is sung, devotees commence singing a special vasanta tune for them and a vernal appendix song is added (haribolo haribolo haribolo bhāi). In Sādhu Bābā's āśram this continues until Advaita Prabhu's Dola Saptamī, which is one week after Gaur Pūrṇimā, a total of 47 days. Spring celebrations culminate into the colorful Holi festival, which takes place around Gaura Pūrṇimā. In Bengal Holi is celebrated only on the full moon (Gaura Pūrṇimā) day but in Vraja it continues for weeks, both before and after Pūrṇimā.

In my archives I found this charming translation of Gīta Govinda’s spring description by an unknown person:

“Canto I of the Gīta Govinda opens with a delightful description of spring. Rādhā was in search of Kṛṣṇa. Her thoughts were confounded by the fever of desire; she roved in the vernal morning among the twining Vasantis covered with soft blossoms, when a damsel thus addressed her:

Rāga Vasanta, Yatitala

lalita lavaṅga latā pariśīlana komala malaya samīre
madhukara nikara karambita kokila kūjita kuñja kuṭīre
viharati haririha sarasa vasante
nṛtyati yuvati janena samaṁ sakhi virahī janasya durante

"The breeze that has wantoned round the delicate clove plants, breathes from the southern Malaya hills. The arbours resound with the notes of the Koel and the buzzing of bees. In this lovely spring, when love cannot endure separation, Hari is enjoying himself and is dancing with young damsels. Friend Rādhā, go and seek Him."

Beautiful Rādhā, jasmine-bosomed Rādhā
All in the Spring-time waited by the wood
For Kṛṣṇa fair, Kṛṣṇa the all-forgetful,
Kṛṣṇa with earthly love's false fire consuming.

Another delightful illustration of the joy of spring from Canto I, it shows Rādhā seated on the bank of the Yamunā, listening to the speech of her female companion. The ground is carpeted with flowers, and the shrubs and trees are laden with blossoms. Every branch upon the Bakula tree droops downwards with a hundred blooms, and in every bloom is a bee. The Tamāla, with leaves dark and odorous, claims a tribute from the musk, which it vanquishes. The full-blown blossoms of Kesara gleam like the sceptre of the world's monarch, Love.

The orange tree, shivering with joy in its full white blossom, seems to laugh at the pain of those who are still pining in love! The pointed leaves of the keora resemble the darts of Kāma, piercing the hearts of lovers. The bunches of pink Patali flowers are filled with bees, like the quiver of Smara full of shafts. The tender blossoms of the Garuna smile to see the whole world laying shame aside, and from white blush modest red. The far-scented Mādhavi beautifies the mango trees round which it twines and pours incense through the grove. And the fresh silken-soft Mallika seduces with rich perfume even the hearts of the hermits. The painting illustrates the following verse:

unmīlan madhu gandha lubdha madhupa vyadhuta chutankura
krīḍat kokila kākalī kala ravair udgīrṇa karṇa jvaraḥ
nīyante pathikaiḥ kathaṁ katham api dhyāna vadha nakṣana
prāpta prāṇa sama samāgama rasollāsair amī vāsaraḥ

The sakhī diverts Rādhā's attention to the mango trees in heavy bloom:

"These spring time days are hard to get through. The ears are in a feverish state, for they are continuously and cruelly struck by the joyful melodies that the Koel trills forth from the blossoming branches of the mango, which are shaken by the bees attracted by their honey and fragrance. Now the hearts of lonely travelers, who are away from their mates, are pierced with anguish, and derive satisfaction from a dreamy vision of embrace with their sweethearts."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Is Bhāva Bhakti Uttama Bhakti?

Recently I had the following exchange with a devotee:

Bhakta: Dear Advaita-ji, Rādhe Rādhe!
When I first studied Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu as part of the bhakti-śāstrī program in ISKCON, I was taught that one could practice pure devotional service, despite being on the initial rungs of sādhana bhakti. As long as the devotional activities of a practitioner followed the paribhāṣa-sūtra of Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu (service performed to please Kṛṣṇa according to His desire, without alterior motives and free from coverings of karma, jñāna, etc.), the devotee could conceivable practice and experience pure bhakti (though, in all likelihood, not consistently) even though he or she may not be particularly advanced. However, I am beginning to question my understanding as I read Jīva's and Viśvanātha's commentaries on Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu.
What sparked my questioning was a comment made by Jīva Gosvāmīpāda in his ṭīkā on Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.1.37 (pages 67-68) in regards to bhakti's characteristic of sudurlabha. According to him, "Even though one executes sadhana-bhakti with attachment (asanga), until the time that one produces intense āsakti in that bhakti, the Lord does not give bhāva-bhakti." Gosvāmīpāda continues, "This is characterized by the phrase anyābhilāṣita śūnyam: that bhakti should be completely devoid of other desires."
It appears as though Jīva Gosvāmī is saying that the performance of uttama bhakti (as defined by Rūpa Gosvāmī) isn't possible until the attainment of bhāva, condsidering that Gosvāmīpāda further defines his first statement (bhāva-bhakti is not awarded until āsakti is present within that bhakti) by stating that it is qualified by the absence of other desires (anyābhilāṣita śūnyam). So, it is as though he is saying that the lakṣaṇam of anyābhilāṣita śūnyam isn't fully present until the attainment of bhāva; ergo, uttama bhakti isn't possible until that stage. After all, this statement is made in the context of the topic of sudurlabha, which is a characteristic of bhāva-bhakti according to Rūpa Gosvāmī. Do you follow my line of reasoning?”

I replied:

"I checked the Sanskrit ṭīkā of Jīva, but I could not find the words bhāva bhakti in there. The rest of the ṭīkā is pretty well translated by Bhānu Swāmi. Also in the preceding ṭīkā (36) I could not find the word bhāva bhakti, though Bhānu used that word in his translation there as well. Strange.....Anyway yes, your doubt is justified. Everyone is eligible to perform sādhana bhakti but that is not uttama bhakti. Perhaps they just meant that the basic idea is there in a new sādhaka that one should not mix up with karma and jnana..."

Bhakta: “So, according to your understanding, does one need to be sufficiently advanced (on the platform of bhāva-bhakti perhaps) in order to perform uttama bhakti? Is there any scriptural reference to your knowledge that a correlation exists between the performance of uttama-bhakti and the stages of sādhana, bhāva and prema bhakti? I can make assumptions (for example, the devotion of a sādhaka not at the level of bhāva would most likely not fit the definition of uttama-bhakti) but I would like to have a solid scripturally-based conception. Again, as you recall, I was taught that anyone, regardless of their respective stage of attainment in bhakti (sādhana, bhāva or prema) could perform uttama-bhakti. Thanks.

Bhakta: “Could it be that bhāva is mentioned because the characteristic of sudurlabha "unfurls" (as it is likened to leaves on the bhakti creeper) at the stage of bhāva-bhakti? As you recall, the first two characteristics (kleśagni and śubhadā) unfurl at the stage of sādhana, the second two (mokṣa-laghutakṛt, sudurlabha) during bhāva-bhakti, and the final pair (sāndrānanda-viśeṣātma and kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī) at prema. Therefore, Bhānu Swāmī mentions bhāva because the discussion is in the context of sudurlabha. Just a suspicion.

Advaitadas: Yes that is well possible but then he should have explained that link in a footnote or between brackets instead of leaving us guessing.

Bhakta: Another good argument to learn the languages in which these texts were originally written. For the time being, I suppose I will just have to bother folks like you. ;)

Advaitadas: “I know that was the central point of your question…. It seems obvious because bhāva is the stage in which one sees Kṛṣṇa face to face, and it takes full purity for that. Just common sense. Though Viśvanātha says that even at the stage of prema there are anarthas, that doesn't matter, it does not contradict the bhāva question.”

Bhakta: “Jīva begins his ṭīkā on 1.2.1 describing how uttama bhakti (again, according to Bhānu Svami's translation) has two subdivisions: sādhana and sādhya. Is it of any consequence that Jīva uses the term "uttama-bhakti" (as opposed to simply "bhakti") to discuss that devotion can be seen in relation to its practice and its perfection? Also, where Viśvanātha refers to bhāva-bhakti as supreme in his commentary to 1.2.2, uttama-bhakti is apparently equated with bhāva-bhakti. The impression that I am getting is that although uttama-bhakti can be seen in light of one attempting to achieve it (sādhana) and from the perspective of one who is already accomplished in its performance (sādhya), uttama-bhakti in its truest sense (according to Rūpa Gosvāmīpāda's definition) is correlated with the attainment of bhāva. Therefore, only one on the platform of bhāva-bhakti or prema can perform uttama-bhakti to the fullest extent.
The other point that leads me to think that this might be the case, is that previously anuśilanam has been defined as "constant service." Isn't the bhāva-bhakta described as always thinking of (and consequently serving) Kṛṣṇa? (Though, at the moment, I cannot find the verse that corroborates this.) The question still remains for me, can one in sādhana-bhakti experience a glimpse of uttama-bhakti if his or her devotional activity fulfills its definition? Or, is this categorically impossible?”

I wonder if any learned readers of this blog are willing and/or able to shed some light on this, preferably with quotations from the Gosvāmīs books?

Friday, January 05, 2007

The four atiśayoktis

A devotee asked me to elaborate on the issue of literalism so I looked up the word 'atiśayokti' (hyperbole) in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Abhidhāna. Haridās Dāsjī there quotes Śrīla Kavi Karṇapura's 'Alaṅkāra Kaustubha' (8.23) which I then faithfully quoted to that devotee. To cross-check my findings I asked my friend Kṛṣṇadas to give me a translation directly from the Alaṅkāra Kaustubha. This is what he wrote:

Dear Advaita,
Kavikarnapura recognizes four types of atiśayokti or hyperbole. He defines them as follows:

nigīrṇasyopamānenopameyasya nirūpaṇam. yat syāt atiśayoktiḥ sā ...

"A description of the subject of comparison by the object to which it is compared and that is swallowed up is the first type of hyberbole."

He illustrates this type of atiśayokti by the following example:

kṣitau śoṇe'mbhoje tad upari navau hema-kadalī
tarū nīcīnāgrāv iha kanaka-siṁhāsanam idam
tataḥ śūnyaṁ tasyopari sumilitaṁ koka-mithunaṁ
tataś candras tasmāt tama iti vidheḥ kā nu ghaṭanā

"On the ground there two red lotuses, above them two young banana-trees hanging down, above them a golden throne (siṁhāsan), then there is a vacuum, above which there are two cuckoos in sexual union, and then a moon and above the moon darkness. What a [indescribable] creation of the Creator is this?"

The word "swallowed" used in the definition means not expressed but recognized as it were within that with which it is identified. This kind of atiśayokti means that the poet does not use the subject of comparison, but he mentions just the thing the subject of comparison resembles, i.e. he does not use the word feet, but only speaks of red lotuses, he does not mention face, but only the moon etc. In Kavikarṇapura's example, in which Kṛṣṇa describes Rādhā's beauty, the relation between the subject of comparison (upameya) and the object to which it is compared (upamāna) are as follows:

feet = red lotuses (śoṇe'mbhoje)
thighs = young banana trees hanging down (navau hema-kadalī-tarū nīcīnāgrau)
hips = golden seat (kanaka-siṁhāsana)
navel = vaccum (śūnya)
breasts = cuckoos in sexual union (sumilitam koka-mithunam)
face = moon (candra)
hair = darkness (tamas)

... tad evānyatayā yadi. nirūpyate sā dvitīyā ...

"If it [i.e. the subject of comparison] is described by stating that it is different, it is the second type of hyberbole."

Kavikarnapura gives these two verses as examples:

anye śrutī te rasanā cā sānyā
cetaḥ satāṁ tat punar anyad eva
śrī kṛṣṇa-śīta-dyuti-nāma-līlā
rūpāmṛtaṁ yāni sadā dhayanti

"Different are the ears, different is the tongue, different are the minds of good men that always drink the nectar of Śrī Kṛṣṇa's cooling luster, name, pastimes, and form."

anyaiveyaṁ kanaka-latikā candramāś cāyam anyas
tasminn etan mada madirayor yugmakaṁ cānyad eva
anyaiveyaṁ tad upari mano janmanaś cāpavallī
rādhā-nāma sphurati manasaḥ keyam unmāthavīthī

"Different is this golden string of pearls, different is this moon, different is this pair of intoxicants in it, different is this bow of the god of love above it. What is this snare of mind that is manifested by Rādhā's name?"

... yady arthena tu kalpanā. yady asambhāvino'rthasya sā tṛtīyā

"The third type of hyperbole occurs when there is an imagination of an unreal object/meaning."

pūrṇo yadi syād aniśaṁ sudhāṁśu
sa cet kalaṅkena bhaved vihīnaḥ
cakora-peyo'pi na ced ayaṁ syāt
tvad āsya dāsyāya tadaiva rādhe

"If the moon is incessantly full and without spots, and although no Cakora-birds drink it, O Rādhe, it is fit to be a servant of your face."

... viparyaye . kārya-kāraṇayor anyā ...

"The fourth type of hyperbole occurs if the relation between the cause and the effect is inverted."

Kavi-Karṇapura's example:

aviddha eva praveśa yat kṛtā
saroruhākṣyā hṛdi kṛṣṇa vedanā
paras tato'nyena vilocanāñcalī
śareṇa viddhaṁ hṛdayaṁ tvayā'syāḥ

"The entrance made by the pain in the heart of the lotus-eyed lady is not pierced, O Kṛṣṇa. By a blade of the arrow of your glance Her heart is pierced."

Here, before the occurence of the cause in the form of wound generated by the arrow of a sidelong glance, the effect in the form of pain generated by such a wound is described. The relation between the cause and the effect is evidently disturbed.

However, it should be noted in this respect that there is also a little bit different classification and definition of atiśayokti but I won't go into their detailed comparison. Viśvanātha Kavirāja, the author of Sāhitya Darpaṇa, whom Jīva Goswāmī follows in Rasāmṛta Śeṣa, defines the hyperbole and its five types in this way:

siddhatve'dhyavasāyasyātiśayoktir nigadyate. bhede’py abhedaḥ sambandhe’sambandhas tad-viparyayau. paurvāparyātmakaṁ kārya-hetvoḥ sā pañcadhā mataḥ

"When the intro-susception is complete, it is called hyperbole. This is five-fold: as there is a denial of distinction where there is a distinction in reality, a negation of connection where there is a connection, and vice versa, and as the sequence in a causation is inverted."


Later, after I asked him whether the above applies to the Bhāgavata too, Krishnadasji wrote me:

“………Bhāgavata Purāṇa is a master piece of world literature, one can find in it all kinds of alaṅkāras. However, ācāryas do not mention them, they do only if they need to point out something special. Sāhitya śāstra is the key to see how literary works are composed. Literary works use language in a special way. The language of other Purāṇas is mostly quite simple. But the Bhāgavata is something different. It is very difficult to read in the original, as you may know. It is actually the obscure use of language that makes it so special and interesting from the literary point of view (apart from the rasa of course that goes somehow hand in hand with the obscurity of the language). Intro-susception means something like assimilation or according to a dictionary "the act or process of receiving within.”