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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Experiences in bhakti

Review: Experiences in bhakti - the science celestialBy Dr. OBL Kapoor
163 pages, Published by Blazing Sapphire Press, 2006

For starters, the cover of the book is really charming. I am having some trouble with the very title of the book, though, since I have learned that ‘celestial’ refers to the mundane joys of the material heavens, and I would suggest that words like ‘divine’ or ‘transcendental’ would be more suitable. Dr OBL Kapoor has written his book for an intellectual audience and it shows. I cannot understand all the scientific stuff he writes but I did notice that he consistently makes the point that science cannot give the clues that bhakti can, so I trust everything is allright.

On page 4 Dr. Kapoor says: “The whole of spiritual life is governed by the Law of Harmony. Love is the Law of Harmony in its highest form. Self-surrender on our part and mercy on the part of God are the manifestations of the Law of Harmony. In the yoga of self-surrender the soul strikes a divine chord and relishes an inner harmony which is of the highest order and a poise and equilibrium which is much more than intellectual.” I think that is a bold statement.

However, on page 7 he says that the jñānīs ‘attain release (mukti) and immersion in Brahman after a great deal of effort but there is every possibility of their again falling prey to māyā.” Dr. Kapoor then quotes a verse from the Yoga Sūtra quoted in the Bhakti Sandarbha (110) jīvan muktā api punar bandhanaṁ yānti karmabhiḥ, without stressing the word jīvanmukta here. It is not clear from this whether or not Dr. Kapoor has understood that jīvanmukta is not the same as atyantika mukta, because the atyantika mukta is merged in Brahman, period. He has no more material body, while the jīvanmukta is still situated within a material body. In other words, only the jīvanmukta can still fall down, but not the atyantika mukta.

On page 23 Kapoorji makes an interesting 4-fold division of bhakti: 1. The law of gravitation, 2. The law of reciprocation, 3. The law of subjugation, and 4. The law of unification, and provides examples of them too. He says that the law of gravitation in bhakti means that bhakti attracts Kṛṣṇa, as in Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu – śrī kṛṣṇākarṣiṇi. He also quotes Jīva Gosvāmī, though there is no exact reference here, saying that “..blowing air around is nice, but when you blow that air into the holes of a flute there are wonderful sounds coming out of it. Similary, the hlādini śakti has a relish of its own which is sweet beyond description when it resides in Kṛṣṇa, but its relish increases a thousand-fold when it is implanted in the heart of a devotee.”

On p.25 he gives the following example: ‘The attraction of the devotee’s loving service makes Him come down to his level in the form of the Śrī Vigraha or the holy image and accept all its limitations. He suffers hunger and thirst and heat and cold to enjoy the food and drink and the clothes lovingly offered to him by the devotee.” Then follow the typical examples Kapoorji is so expert in narrating – bhakta caritas of saints like Kṛṣṇa Prem (Ronald Nixon), Lālā Bābu, Pisi Mā and their adventures with their Thākurs.

2. The law of reciprocation is defined by Kapoorji by quoting the famous Gita phrase ‘ye yathā māṁ prapadyante’ I worship those who worship Me accordingly” and other stanzas. He explains that “Kṛṣṇa has as many forms as the devotional attitudes of His devotees and in each form his figure, attitude and divine sport correspond to the attitude of the devotee. In other words each devotee’s Kṛṣṇa is his own and no one else’s.”

3.The law of subjugation is described as Kṛṣṇa voluntarily allowing His devotee to control Him with his/her love. Jīva Gosvāmī describes in Prīti Sandarbha how Kṛṣṇa enjoys more transcendental bliss from his svarūpa śakty ānanda (the love in the hearts of His devotees) than from His own innate internal bliss (svarūpānanda).

4. The law of unification means how Kṛṣṇa and the devotee enter into each other’s hearts. This is illustrated by quotations from the Gītā and Bhāgavata, and this one from the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, where Kṛṣṇa tells the gopīs: ‘You are the same as I. There is no difference between you and me. I am your life breath and you are like my life breath to me.”

In chapter 4 Kapoorji makes the point that though bhakti’s verification is based on revelation it can still be verified in its own way, experientially, and he quotes from the Upaniṣads and the gospel of John how we are actually chosen by the Lord and not vice versa. Once that choice is made, though, the longing for giving and receiving service always increase in the hearts of both Kṛṣṇa and the bhakta. Kapoorji elaborates on the point of verification in chapter 5 with famous examples of how Rādhā-Vinod came to Lokanātha Gosvāmī and Madanmohan to Sanātan Gosvāmī.

Chapter 5 contains the for me hitherto unknown and charming story of the milk of the Gujari woman from Karauli, Rājasthān. The story of Karamā Bāi and the khichuri for Jagannāth I recently read in Rādhāballabh Patrikā, but the story of Govinda Deva’s pomegranates is again new to me. I can't remember if these stories are already mentioned in other English publications of Kapoorji, if not then it increases the value of this book. One problem with these miraculous stories, in which the Lord tolerates violation of sadācāra is that western devotees, the main target audience of this book, will neglect sadācāra, thinking it isn't necessary, because Karamā Bāi etc also didn’t practise it. They have already no or little upbringing and education in this from birth – perhaps they aren’t the right target audience for this, or at least while narrating these stories the narrator should put more stress on the compulsory status of sadācāra, especially for them. Some topmost devotees were exempt from sadācāra because of their complete and pure devotion, but this should and cannot be imitated by ordinary devotees.

In chapter 6, ‘Verification of the law of reciprocation, p.94, Kapoorji repeats the story of Krishnaprem of page 26. I think it should have been mentioned just once, preferably in the second instance.

On page 97 Nitai Das makes an interesting literal translation of the word raja-guṇa, comparing it to dust in the wind – it is very nice, but is strictly for knowledgeable devotees (who should already be) aware of the philosophical-practical meaning of the word.

On page 110 Kapoorji interestingly claims that Kṛṣṇa never married Mīrā Bāi in Vṛndāvan but only played hide and seek with her, and that it was on the instigation of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī that she finally went to Dwārkā to marry Kṛṣṇa there since such a thing was impossible in Vṛndāvan.

Many stories in this book have not been published in English before and that is a great asset of this book. Many of them narrate how Kṛṣṇa came to devotees and performed their chores for them in their absence, or brought them food etc., events that took place in different places and different times and that are quoted from many different sources, which makes the narrations credible. The original story about a statue coming alive to serve the devotee is, as far as I remember, the story of Sākṣi Gopāl testifying for the Brahmin boy that he was promised a certain girl in marriage, in Caitanya Caritāmṛta.

I personally am irritated at the repeated use of the word ‘grace-food’ for ‘prasāda’, though I admit the translation is technically correct. Somehow I prefer the original word, which, as I pointed out earlier, will be understood by everyone and simply sounds better.

All in all a book which will inspire many mostly because of the wonderful stories about the deities coming alive or Kṛṣṇa taking the form of His devotees – one will have to chew through the first 20 'science'-pages, though, or just perhaps skip them altogether to get to the gist.


  1. Nitai's over-literal translation of some Sanskrit words is present in his other projects too, such as Manindranath Guha's Nectar of the Holy Name.

    I cannot remember some examples right now but I also felt irritated a little. I appreciate that Nitai is also writing for an academic audience (I think the ambition to increase academic attention to Gaudiya Vaishnavism is very admirable) but sometimes the translation is over-literal and sometimes harms the meaning of the sentence at hand.

  2. I have a copy of the same book, published by Sri Badrinarayana Bhagavata Bhusana Prabhu, Founder-acarya of Sri Caitanya Bhakti Raksaka Mandapa, Caracas Venezuela for Sarasvati Jayasri Classics, 1994. It is a small book of 185 pages. How does Nitai Dasa's edition differ from this one?


  3. Bhrigu, I have no idea, I havent read that version nor did I even know of its existence. I suppose the best way to find out is to get a copy of Nitai's version and compare the two.

  4. I mean to say that a better strategy to translate a text (keeping in mind an "ignorant" audience) would be to explain the word one time and then use the original Sanskrit word thereafter to retain the original flavour of the text.

    For example:

    "Prasad (literally, "grace-food") is regarded as holy in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. There are four different types of prasad. Mahaprabhu said that prasad must be eaten without a moment's delay."

    And so on.. It explains the word and then retains the original flavour of the text. Instead of:

    "Grace-food is regarded as holy in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. There are four different types of grace-food. Mahaprabhu said that grace-food must be eaten without a moment's delay."