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Friday, February 27, 2009

mantra-japa, siddha-deha and Stavamālā

Bhakta: "You once spoke about mantra smaraṇa. What is that?"

Advaitadas: "It is meditation on the mantras one receives from Guru during second initiation."

Bhakta: "Can one whisper these mantras?"

Advaitadas: "No, one should do them fully mentally, not even whispered. They are secret gifts from Guru. Therefore the English verb 'chanting' does not apply to this practise, as chanting indicates loud utterance."

Bhakta: "When chanting (nāma-) japa, apart from listening to the sound you have to think something, like I am a servant or so?"

Advaitadas: "Śrī Ānanda Gopāl Gosvāmī teaches that when you meditate on Kṛṣṇa's pastimes, in the beginning you will have the ahamtā of 'I am sitting down here and meditating', but if you go deeper you will lose that self esteem and just merge into the līlā. The holy name must descend upon your spiritual identity. When you are doing kīrtan or japa there must be some attitude on the background, just like my PC is constantly processing all kinds of things on the background while I am working on it, without me noticing it. In such a subtle way the service attitude must be present while doing one's sādhana. A greedy businessman doesn’t always think 'O I'm so greedy I'm so greedy' - no, he just acts according to his desires, without pondering his motives. Similarly the bhakta just works for Kṛṣṇa's pleasure, thinking only of that. In the beginning one thinks: "I am doing this sadhana for the grace of Guru and Gaurāṅga", while later one starts identifying with one's manjari svarupa. See, for instance, Viśvanātha Cakravartī's commentary on Śrīmad Bhāgavat 10.29.10-11: 

guṇamayo’pi bhavatīti bhakta-dehasyāṁśena nirguṇatvaṁ guṇa-mayatvaṁ ca syāt | tataś ca—bhaktiḥ pareśānubhavo viraktiḥ [bhā.pu. 11.2.42] iti tuṣṭiḥ puṣṭiḥ kṣud-apāyo’nu-ghāsam iti nyāyena bhakti-vṛddhi-tāratamyena nirguṇa-dehāṁśānām ādhikya-tāratamyaṁ syāt | tena ca guṇamaya-dehāṁśānāṁ kṣīṇatva-tāratamyaṁ syāt, sampūrṇa-premaṇy utpanne tu guṇamaya-dehāṁśeṣu naṣṭeṣu samyak nirguṇa eva dehaḥ syāt tad api sthūla-deha-pātas tu bahirmukhatotkhātā bhāvārthaṁ bhakti-yogasya rahasyatva-rakṣārthaṁ ca bhagavataiva māyayā pradarśyate, yathā mauṣala-līlāyāṁ yādavānāṁ kvacit tu, bhakti-yogotkarṣa-jñāpanārthaṁ na darśyate ca, yathā dhruvādīnām

“Though it is made of three modes of nature, a part of the devotee’s body is spiritualized and a part is material. It is said in Śrīmad Bhāgavat (11.2.42) that the more one eats the more one is nourished, loses hunger and is satisfied. Similarly, the more one advances in bhakti the more one’s body is spiritualized and loses its material aspects. When prema is complete the material portion of the body is destroyed and it becomes fully spiritual. To protect the feelings of the bahirmukhas (non-devotees) and the confidentiality of bhakti yoga the Lord shows through His maya (the demise of the devotee’s) material body, as He did during the Mauṣal-pastime (wherein the Yadu dynasty destroyed itself in genocidal civil war). On the other hand, the excellence of bhakti yoga can be shown also in the case of Dhruva (who left this world in his very body, which had become totally spiritualized)."

Some ridicule Vaiṣṇavas for practising mañjarī bhāva while having material engagements or desires, but the ācāryas are consistently teaching this is a gradual process, whereby material and spiritual awareness more or less overlap each other. The above quotation is really not the only one of its kind. Viśvanātha repeats it in his commentary on Śrīmad Bhāgavat 11.9.23 and in Mādhurya Kādambini."

Bhakta: "Sometimes it seems that it's impossible to become Kṛṣṇa-conscious in the west, where the culture and environment are so unfavorable."

Advaitadas: 'Where there's a will there's a way. Rūpa and Sanātana did bhajan while working for the Muslims, Prahlād did bhajan in the house of Hiraṇyakaśipu. It's illogical to think that Mahāprabhu has given us foreigners the opportunity to do bhajan without the prospect of accomplishment. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad Gītā (9.31) kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhakta praṇaśyati "Arjun! I promise (pratijānīhi) that My devotee does not perish!"


The Stavamala is a great source, along with the other works of Rūpa Gosvāmī, of all the wonderful granthas the later ācāryas have composed, like Govinda Līlāmṛta and Kṛṣṇa Bhāvanāmṛta. One devotee checked it with me:

Bhakta: "In Rūpa Gosvāmī's Keśavāṣṭakam, verse 1, it is said in an English translation: 'Kṛṣṇa is wearing a brāhmin thread of flowers' - I didn't know He wears a brāhmin thread in Vraja and then why would He wear one of flowers?'

Advaitadas: 'The word vaikākṣaka in the verse refers to a thread which is worn on the left shoulder, under the right arm, which is exactly the position of the brāhmin thread. But yes, you're right, Kṛṣṇa doesn’t wear a brahmin thread in Vraja. Gopāl Campū says Kṛṣṇa could not marry in Vraja because He had not undergone the sacred thread ceremony yet. Either this type of a garland is one of the romantic eccentricities of Kṛṣṇa, or it is a poetic metaphor. Such an apparel of Kṛṣṇa has not been mentioned anywhere else, to my knowledge."

Bhakta: "In Rūpa Gosvāmī's third Caitanyāṣṭakam, verse 7, it is said, in one English translation, that He has 'sleepless lotus-eyes'. Is that right?"

Advaitadas: "No that is not right. The words used here are 'anidrā padmekṣaṇa' in which anidrā, not sleeping, means 'blooming'. When the lotus flowers go to sleep at night they close their petals and when they wake in the morning they open them. That blooming of the lotus flowers is called 'not sleeping'. anidrā is an adjective here of the lotus, not of the eyes."

Bhakta: "In Rūpa Gosvāmī's Līlāmṛtākhya stotram verse 3, one English translation says rādhā mānābhāsa vaśīkṛta "Kṛṣṇa is controlled by the shadow of the jealous anger of Rādhā'

Advaitadas: "It is perhaps more clear to use the word 'semblance' than 'shadow', though strictly speaking 'shadow' is not wrong for the word ābhāsa."

Bhakta: "In Rūpa Gosvāmī's Premendu Sāgara', verse 43, the wager is a kiss. But what is the difference between getting kissed or giving the kiss?"

Advaitadas: "Hahaha - yes, somewhere in the Gosvāmīs' books, I can’t remember where, Śrī Rādhikā is complaining about such a wager, because in the case of a full kiss on the mouth, indeed it makes no difference - there is neither a winner nor loser. If the kiss is given on the cheek of course it is different."

Bhakta: "In the sense of pleasure, who is the loser when a kiss is given on the cheeks?"

Advaitadas: "Ah, it is more a question of losing prestige in front of one's friends more than anything else."

Bhakta: "In Keśavāṣṭakam, verse 4, one English translation says: 'Kṛṣṇa's cheeks are licked by a stream of perspiration"

Advaitadas: 'It could have been put a bit more delicately - (Gauḍīya Maṭh's) Arpaṇā Devī's Bengali translation says 'His cheeks are beautified by drops of perspiration'. Strictly speaking the Sanskrit word 'līḍha' does mean licked or devoured, but I think Arpaṇā Devī made a more gentle interpretation. Also English translators must beware of rasābhāsa and of jugupsa rati, the mellow of disgust, which never applies to Śrī Kṛṣṇa."

Bhakta: "In the English translation of text 6 of Keśavāṣṭakam it is said: "He wears a garland of dust"

Advaitadas: "It is as if the translation was made by some software or so. Rūpa Gosvāmī speaks of dhūli-dhūmra-srajam, which is translated by Arpaṇā Devī as 'a flower-garland which is greyed by the dust thrown up by the hooves of the cows." That much is obvious."

Bhakta: "Elsewhere in Stavamālā it is said that Kṛṣṇa wears golden dhātu tilak. What is that?"

Advaitadas: "dhātu tilak means tilak made of pigments collected from the base of Girirāja Govardhan."

Bhakta: "In Mukundāṣṭakam, verse 1, the first lines are translated here as 'May Mukunda, Who, with His saffron splendour, crushes the luster of sapphire....." I thought Kṛṣṇa was blue?"

Advaitadas: "The 2nd line says that Kṛṣṇa wears powder like kunkum saffron splendour on His charming form, which is itself of a sapphire splendour (balabhid upala kānti)."

Bhakta: "Verse 3 of Mukundāṣṭakam says Kṛṣṇa wears a red garment. I thought He wore yellow. Is this like a kurtā or so?"

Advaitadas: "No it is a scarf around the neck."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shiva Ratri 2009

Sādhu Bābā always gave me the best of everything. In 1982, when he saw me studying the Bhāgavat, he recommended the commentary of Rādhā-binod Goswāmī to me, because he was also a descendant of Advaita Prabhu. I found it a bit strange that he would not recommend Jīva Goswāmī or Śrīdhara Swāmī instead. Not that he excluded them in his advice, but now that I finally began to read Rādhā-binod Goswāmī, his Bhāgavat-commentaries in a Bengali volume I bought many years ago, I come to realize that this is another great gift of Gurudeva. The commentary is lucid and comprehensive, not only containing the gist of Jīva Goswāmī and Śrīdhara Swāmī's tikas but also adding many of his own realizations to it - an ācārya in his own right, like that other luminous descendant of Adwaita Prabhu, Śrī Ānanda Gopāl Goswāmī, Sādhu Bābā's pitṛdeva. As a true descendant of Sītānāth (Sadāśiva) Rādhā-binod Goswāmī pleads here for observance of Śiva-rātri. Here is the English translation of his commentary on Śrīmad Bhāgavata 10.34.1-4: "There is a doubt about whether Śiva Rātri is to be observed by Vaiṣṇavas. Those who claim it is not to be observed quote the following verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavata (4.2.28), quoted in Haribhakti Vilāsa (14.195-197)-

bhava-vrata-dharā ye ca ye ca tān samanuvratāḥ 
pāṣaṇḍinas te bhavanti sacchāstra-paripanthinaḥ

"Those who observe the Śiva vrata or who follow such persons act against the genuine scriptures and are atheists." Apart from this statement from Śrīmad Bhāgavata some opponents of Śiva vrata say that when Śrīman Mahāprabhu encouraged Vaiṣṇavācārya Sanātan Gosvāmī to write a Vaiṣṇava Smṛti He gave him a list of items that did not include Śiva Vrata. Śrī Kṛṣṇadās Kavirāja has made a list of these items in his Caitanya Caritāmṛta (Madhya līlā, chapter 24), including Ekādaśī, Janmāṣṭamī, Śrī Rāma Navamī, Vāmana Dwādaśī, Śrī Nṛsiṁha Caturdaśī - this also excluded Śiva Rātri. In this way there seemed to be a lot of support for the opponents of Śiva vrata who claimed it should not be observed by Vaiṣṇavas. Others, who are in favor of Vaiṣṇavas observing Śiva vrata, quote the following evidence from Padma Purāṇa -

śauro vā vaiṣṇavo vānyo devatāntara pūjakaḥ 
na pūja phalam āpnoti śiva rātri bahirmukhaḥ

(Haribhakti Vilāsa 14.188)

"Whether it is a worshipper of the sun, of Viṣṇu or any other God - if he is averse to Śiva Rātri he will not obtain the fruits of his worship of these deities."

This Padma Purāṇa verse is also quoted in the Haribhakti Vilāsa (14.64). How can these contradictory statements be reconciled? Śiva Rātri Vrata must certainly be observed to please Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Though Śiva Rātri is indeed not mentioned in the list in Caitanya Caritāmṛta of items the Haribhakti Vilāsa was to contain, still if we have a close look at the Haribhakti Vilāsa we see that the siddhānta is established there that Shiva Ratri Vrata is observed to please Śrī Kṛṣṇa,  the same goes for worship of Nṛsiṁha. The evidence from Haribhakti Vilāsa is the following (14.63):

śiva rātri-vrataṁ kṛṣṇa caturdaśyās tu phālguṇe
vaiṣṇavair api tat kāryaṁ śrī kṛṣṇa prītaye sadā

"The vow of Śiva Rātri is observed on the 14th day of the dark quarter of Phālgun. It is always to be observed by Vaiṣṇavas for the love of Śrī Kṛṣṇa."

There is more evidence for the fact that Śiva Rātri is certainly to be followed by Vaiṣṇavas. It is an offence to the chanting of Harināma to consider there to be a qualitative difference between Śiva and Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the scriptures have instructed us to see Them as non different. By recognizing this non-difference while observing the Śiva Rātri vow one attains love of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Sanat Kumāra instructs the best of Munis Nārada as follows in the Padma Purāṇa (quoted in Haribhakti Vilāsa 11.283):

śivasya śrī viṣṇor guṇa nāmādi sakalaṁ dhiyā bhinnaṁ paśyet sa khalu harināmāhitakaraḥ

("He who sees difference between the qualities and names etc of Lord Śiva and Viṣṇu certainly does injustice to Harināma", 2nd nāmāparādha). In the Hari-Hara Pratiṣṭha Varṇana in the Hayaśīrṣa Pañcarātra (quoted in Haribhakti Viläsa 14.192) the Lord has said:

yaḥ śivaḥ so'ham eveha yo'haṁ sa bhagavān śivaḥ
nāvayor antaraṁ kiñcid ākāśānilayor iva

"He who is Śiva is Me and He who is Me is Śiva. It is like the sky and the air - they are non different from each other too. So it is also with Us."

Śrī Sanātan Goswāmī comments in his Dig Darśinī Ṭīkā of Haribhakti Vilāsa 14.67:
śrī viṣṇor eka devaḥ śivaś cānyo deva ityevam anyatve bhāsamāne tan namaskārādikaṁ vaisnavānām ayuktam eva kintu yathā matsyādayo līlāvatāras tathā śrī śivaś ca guṇāvatāro'yam ityabhedena na doṣāvaham. api tu guṇa eva bhagavad bhakti viśeṣa eva paryavasānāt.
'If one argues, 'Śrī Viṣṇu is one God and Śiva is another God, so it is improper for Vaiṣṇavas to offer obeisances to Shiva', then this is to be refuted by saying that just as Matsya, Kūrma etc are Līlā-avatāras of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Lord Śiva is a Guṇāvatāra of His. If one offers obeisances to Him or follows His vrata in this way there will be no fault in that, rather it will be a virtue, because it has become an act of devotion to the Supreme Lord."

Some devotees have requested me to quote Haribhakti Vilāsa on Śiva Rātri. Actually, the gist of that is already included here in the blog by Prabhupāda Rādhā-binod Goswāmī; still, I will add here some more interesting verses of the approximately 40 verses about Śiva Rātri there -

parāt parataraṁ yānti nārāyaṇa-pārāyaṇāḥ;
na te tatra gamiṣyanti ye dviṣanti maheśvaram 
yo māṁ samarcayen nityam ekāntaṁ bhāvam āśritaḥ; 
vinindan devam īśānaṁ sa yāti narakāyutam

(Haribhakti Vilāsa 14.189)

The Supreme Lord told Bhṛgu Muni: 'Those who surrender to Nārāyan will go to the Supreme Abode, but those who hate Maheśvara (Śiva) will not go there. Those who always worship Me exclusively with great love but who also criticise Īśān (Śiva) will go to hell for 10.000 (years or births)."

Elsewhere the Lord says:

mad bhaktaḥ śaṅkara dveṣī mad dveṣī śaṅkara-priyaḥ
ubhau tau narakaṁ yāto yāvaccandra divākarau

(Haribhakti Vilāsa 14.191)

"Both My devotee who hates Śaṅkara and the devotees of Śaṅkara who hate Me will stay in hell as long as the sun and the moon exist."

In the Bahvṛca Pariśishta it is written:

śivāya viṣṇu-rūpāya śiva-rūpāya viṣṇave;
śivasya hṛdayaṁ viṣṇur viṣṇos ta hṛdayaṁ śivaḥ
yathā śivamayo viṣṇur evaṁ viṣṇumayaḥ śivaḥ;
yathāntaraṁ na paśyāmi tathā me svastir āyuṣaḥ

(Haribhakti Vilāsa 14.193-4)

Viṣṇu is the form of Shiva and Shiva is the form of Viṣṇu, Viṣṇu is Shiva's heart and Shiva is Viṣṇu's heart. Just as Viṣṇu is full of Shiva and Shiva is full of Viṣṇu,  and I can thus see no difference between Them, let me similarly have a long life."

kāryaṁ guṇāvatāratvenaikyād rudrasya vaiṣṇavaiḥ
vaiṣṇavāgratayā śraiṣṭhyāt sadācārasya tad vratam

(Haribhakti Viläsa 14.195)

'Because Shiva is one with Viṣṇu due to being a Guṇāvatāra, because Shiva is the greatest Vaiṣṇava and because it is an item of Sadācāra, the Vaiṣṇavas perform this (Shiva-rātri) vow."

In the Nāgara Khaṇḍa it is written:

yāni kānyatra liṅgāni sthāvarāni carāni ca; 
teṣu saṁkramate devas tasyāṁ rātrau yato haraḥ 
śiva rātris tataḥ proktā tena sā hara-ballabhā;
śuddhāpoṣyā ca sā sarvair viddhā syacce caturdaśī 
pradoṣa vyāpinī grāhyā shiva rātriḥ shiva priyaiḥ; 
rātrau jāgaraṇaṁ tasyāṁ yasmāt tasyām upoṣaṇam

'Mahādeva is present in all the mobile and immobile Shiva liṅgas on earth on the night of the fourteenth dark lunar day, hence it is named Śiva Rātri, the night of Shiva. It is dear to Hara (Shiva) On that Caturdaśī one must fast......." "Those who are dear to Shiva observe the evening of Shiva and hold a vigil that night, including fasting."

atha śiva vrata vidhiḥ (Now follows the description of the Shiva Vrata:)

sāyaṁ śivālayaṁ gatvā śucir ācamya ca vratī; 
kṛtvā śivāgre saṅkalpam ārabheta tad arcanam 
pañcākṣareṇa mantreṇa śata rudreṇa dvija; 
kṣīrādibhiś ca śuddhādbhir dhārayā snāpayec chivam
mahārcām vidhinā kṛtvā gandha puṣpitalādibhiḥ;
samarpya dhūpa dīpādīn śaṅkenārghyaṁ nivedayet

(Haribhakti Viläsa 14.209-211)

"In the evening the worshipper goes to the Shiva temple and takes a vow before Lord Shiva before commencing his worship. Brahmins worship with the 5-syllable mantra (Namaḥ śivāya) or with the Śata Rudra Mantra and then commence showering Lord Shiva with milk and other items (these include honey and ghī, Sanātan Goswāmī says in the ṭīkā). Then one offers sesame seeds, perfumes, flowers and other items, as well as lamps, incense and arghya in a conchshell."

atha tatra mantraḥ (Now the mantras for Śiva Pūjā:)

gaurī-ballabha deveśa sarpāḍhya śaśi-śekhara;
varṣa pāpa viśuddhārtham arghyaṁ me pratigṛhyatām
ācāryaṁ paripūjyātha dattvā tasmai ca dakṣiṇām; 
vidhivajjāgaraṁ kṛtvā prātaḥ pāraṇam ācaret

(Haribhakti Viläsa 14.212-213)

"Spouse of Gauri, lord of the Gods, beautified by snakes and the crescent moon! I am now offering You arghya to purify myself from the sins of a year - kindly accept it!" After offering arghya with this mantra one worships the ācārya and offers him dakṣiṇā. After the prescribed vigil one breaks the fast the next morning."

śiva vratasya māhātmyam asya sarvatra viśrutam; 
vyādho'pi mukto yat tādṛg lingārccā jāgaraṇādinā

(Haribhakti Viläsa 14.217)

'Such glorification of the Shiva vrata is well known everywhere. Even sinful hunters are liberated by worshipping the Linga and observing the vigil."

atha śiva rātri vrata māhātmyam "Now the glorification of the Śiva Vrata:"

svayambhu liṅgam abhyarccya sopavāsaḥ sajāgaraḥ; 
ajānann api niṣpāpo niṣādo gaṇatāṁ gataḥ
śivaṁ ca pūjayitvā yo jāgarti ca caturdaśīm; 
mātuḥ payodhara rasaṁ na pibet sa kadācana
śrī kṛṣṇe vaiṣṇavānām tu prema bhaktir vivarddhate; 

The Nāgara Khaṇḍa says: "A caṇḍāla once performed worship of the unborn Linga, fasted and observed the vigil, unaware and in ignorance. He was freed from sin and became an associate of Lord Shiva."
In the Skanda Purana: "Whoever performs Shiva Pūjā on Caturdaśī will never again drink from the breast of a mother (he/she will be liberated)."
Another śāstra says: "Any Vaiṣṇava who observes the Shiva vrata will increase his/her prema bhakti towards Śrī Kṛṣṇa, by the grace of Rudra, who showers the essence of the rasa of Kṛṣṇa Bhakti."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Detachment, life without Guru and the Lord's role in karma

Bhakta: "Does detachment play any role in rāgānugā bhakti?"

Advaitadas: "Detachment is neither the means nor the goal, not in rāgānugā or in vaidhi bhakti, period. It is a concomitant result of bhakti only. janayātyāśu vairāgyaṁ (SB 1.2.7). Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī teaches in Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu (1.2.248-251):

jñāna-vairāgyayor bhakti-praveśāyopayogitā
īṣat prathamam eveti nāngatvam ucitaṁ tayoḥ
yad ubhe citta-kāṭhinya-hetū prāyaḥ satāṁ mate
sukumāra-svabhāveyaṁ bhaktis tad-dhetur īritā

"Knowledge and detachment are not limbs of devotion but at best suitable at the very first entry on the path. They both harden the heart and are therefore incompatible with the tender nature of bhakti."

Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī then quotes the Bhāgavata (11.20.31)—

tasmān mad-bhakti-yuktasya yogino vai mad-ātmanaḥ
na jnānaṁ na ca vairāgyaṁ prāyaḥ śreyo bhaved iha

Kṛṣṇa tells Uddhava: "Therefore for bhakti yogis neither knowledge nor detachment is very beneficial."

Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī concludes:

kintu jñāna-virakty-ādi-sādhyaṁ bhaktyaiva sidhyati

"But knowledge and detachment find their own fulfillment only on the strength of devotion itself."

Bhakti itself generates a higher taste which will automatically cause detachment. Kṛṣṇa tells Uddhava in the Bhāgavata: na nirviṇṇo nātisaktis bhakti-yogo'sya siddhi-da "Neither renunciation nor over-attachment will grant the perfection of bhakti." You should simply want to serve Kṛṣṇa, and if you do that you will have neither time nor taste for sensual matters. If you deliberately endeavour for detachment it is jñāna mārga - you want to stop suffering, wanting liberation. That is not devotional. Devotion just aims at pleasing Kṛṣṇa  - anukūlyena kṛṣṇānuśīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā  (Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu). In the Bhāgavata Māhātmya it is described that mother Bhakti has two sons - Jñāna and Vairāgya (grammatically, Bhakti is female gender and  Jñāna and Vairāgya are male). They are produced by bhakti alone, they are not independent."

Bhakta: "Is it necessary to know all the details about all the gopīs?"

Advaitadas: "You should definitely know the details of the main players in Kṛṣṇa's pastimes, but otherwise, the spiritual sky is not a National Park or a zoo where we go for site-seeing - there is a lot of service to do, rather than just socializing with everyone. One needs to be particularly acquainted with the members of the group in which we are initiated. When Sādhu Bābā gave me siddha praṇālī I asked him whether I had to memorize the svarūpas of the whole 13-generation paramparā. He said: "No, just yourself, myself, param Guru and Sītānāth."

Bhakta: "I have been offering food to Rādhārāṇī first and then to Kṛṣṇa, because bhāvollasa or rādhā snehādhikā means we love Rādhārāṇī more than Kṛṣṇa."

Advaitadas: "That is not correct. You can not mix the world of feelings with the world of rules like that. On the same grounds you would start dressing your male body in female garments like the Sakhībhekhīs do in India - it is the mixing of two dimensions of worship. Gopī bhāva is a feeling, not a (part of) ritual. The rules say that Kṛṣṇa eats first and then His devotees, including Rādhārāṇī. This is how Sādhu Bābā taught me and it is proven in Govinda Līlāmṛta (15.138-139): "(After Kṛṣṇa took His lunch at Rādhākuṇḍa) Śrī Rādhikā and Her girlfriends happily sat down to enjoy the nectarean remnants of Kṛṣṇa's food, served by Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī and Vṛndā. Nāndīmukhī, Kundalatā and others were joking to increase the joy of their meal."

It is clear from Vilāpa Kusumāñjali (46-49) and Govinda Līlāmṛta (20.67-71) that Kṛṣṇa also eats first in the evening and then Śrī Rādhikā.

The idea that one offers first to the Guru or hands the food to the Guru, because 'only a pure devotee can offer food' is not in śāstra. There are certainly parameters of qualification for offering food, as Kṛṣṇa has said in Bhagavad Gītā (9.26), prayatātmanaḥ, one must be pure in heart and body (see my blog of June 6, 2006), but no śāstra says one should hand food to the Guru or an image of the Guru so that he can offer it, because only a pure devotee can offer. In all Vaiṣṇava traditions the prasād comes down from the top (Kṛṣṇa) to the bottom (Guru and sādhaka), not vice versa. Same for the idea that we offer to Śrī Rādhikā and She will offer to Kṛṣṇa. The above Govinda Līlāmṛta verses show the opposite sequence. The wife takes the remnants of the husband, not vice versa. Though the gopīs are not formally married to Kṛṣṇa they do act as His wives. There is no difference in this regard between rāgānugā- and vaidhi-practises."

Bhakta: "There are many verses praising the efficacy of Guru's mercy, but is it really impossible to attain perfection without a Guru?"

Advaitadas: Yes. There is ample evidence for that, like:

yasyāprasādān na gati kuto'pi - 'Without the Guru's grace you are not going anywhere' (Gurvaṣṭakam 8)

gurur yena parityaktas tena tyakta purā hariḥ
'He who has abandoned the Guru already abandoned Hari in advance' (Haribhakti Vilāsa)

martya’sad dhiḥ martya iti durbuddhis tasya śrutam bhagavan mantrādikaṁ śāstrādikaṁ śravaṇa mananādikaṁ ca vyartham ityarthaḥ
«If a fool thinks the Guru is an ordinary mortal not only his learning, but also his practise of his mantra, his hearing and his meditation on the Lord are all in vain. » (Viśvanātha Cakravartī's comment on SB 7.15.26)

vijita-hṛṣīka-vāyubhir adānta-manas tura-gaḿ
ya iha yatanti yantum ati-lolam upāya-khidaḥ
vyasana-śatānvitāḥ samavahāya guroś caraṇaḿ
vaṇija ivāja santy akṛta-karṇa-dharā jaladhau

“The mind is like an reckless horse that even persons who have conquered their senses and breath cannot control. Those in this world who try to subdue the uncontrolled mind, but who abandon the feet of the Guru, encounter hundreds of obstacles in their cultivation of various adverse practices. O birthless Lord! They are like merchants on a boat in the ocean who have failed to appoint a captain.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavata 10.87.33)

That has been my experience several times. Whenever I turned away from Guru I lost control over the senses and got philosophically deluded, and as soon as I turned towards Guru again, I regained security in both these respects.

harau ruṣṭe gurus trāta gurau ruṣṭe na kaścana;
tasmāt sarva prayatnena gurum eva prasādayet.

“When Śrī Hari is angry, Śrī Guru can protect the devotee, but when the Guru is angry no one can save him; hence Śrī Guru must be pleased by all means.”

Bhakta: "Now that Vaiṣṇavism is global, many devotees from poor countries cannot go and travel to meet a Guru. That is why perhaps Guru is not necessary."

Advaitadas: My experience with such persons is that they do have money to buy cars, TVs, PCs, houses, maintain illicit sexual partners or go on mundane vacations to Thailand or Mexico. On the other hand I have seen devotees in Vraja from really poor countries from Central Asia, Eastern Europe or South America who made it there and cherished every moment of it. Where there is a will there is a way."

Bhakta: "How about just relying on the Supersoul for guidance?"

Advaitadas: "That is all right in the case of day-to-day affairs, when you may have to make snap decisions, but for timeless, general philosophical issues you need a Guru, and if your Guru has expired (like in my case) and there are difficult questions leftover, the 6 Gosvāmīs will give the final verdict in their books. All of this does not mean one should not take shelter of a Guru at all. Even if the Guru passes away in an early stage of our spiritual life, he will be there for you eternally, regardless. Surrendering to Guru is an injunction, not an option."

Bhakta: "Does the law of karma prove there is a God who controls it? You pointed out too that since karma is beginningless (Vedanta Sūtra, na karma vibhāgād iti cennānāditvāt), it was not created by God, so some say that therefore the law of karma does not prove the existence of God."

Advaitadas: "Theoretically that could be the case, but, apart from the fact, of course, that Kṛṣṇa's existence is obviously experienced by those who practise hearing-chanting-remembering, we must accept the verdict of the ācāryas on such philosophical matters. Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad Gītā (5.15) nādatte kasyacit pāpaṁ  "I do not take anyone's sins" and so He seems to be unattached, but Śrīdhar Swāmī comments on this verse prayojako’pi san prabhuḥ kasyacit pāpaṁ sukṛtaṁ ca naivādatte na bhajate. tatra hetuḥ – vibhuḥ paripūrṇaḥ. āpta-kāma ity arthaḥ "Although He is the prayojaka (employer or cause) He does not take anyone's good or bad karma. The reason is that He is self-satisfied." Note here the word prayojaka, instigator. Of course I could quote a whole catalog of verses, but perhaps this one is most apt: mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūta sanātana (Bhagavad Gītā 15.7) - 'The jīva souls are eternally My particles."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pañcatattva Mantra, Gopī-bhartu, dāsānudās position, madhura sakhās and more...

Bhakta: "This mantra śrī kṛṣṇa caitanya prabhu nityānanda hare kṛṣṇa hare rāma śrī rādhe govinda, what is wrong with that?"

Advaitadas: "Nothing wrong with it so much, other than that it tries to worship both Rādhā Krṣṇa and Nitāi Gaura. Actually, the Hare Krṣṇa Mantra is already there for Radha-Krṣṇa and it should have been complemented with some full Panca Tattva mantra instead. This mantra has different strokes for different folks. The Panca Tattva mantra is for invoking their mercy for attaining and successfully worshipping Rādhā-Krṣṇa. There is nothing really wrong or offensive about this hare kṛṣṇa hare rāma mantra, but it seems to serve no special purpose."

Bhakta: "Is it not rasābhāsa?"

Advaitadas: "People use words like rasābhāsa, māyāvādī and sahajiya indiscriminately without knowing the meaning of these words, blindly taking over hearsay from other ignorant persons.  rasābhāsa is a whole intricate science - Rūpa Gosvāmī has explained it briefly in the final 41 verses of Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu. I see no grounds on which the above mantra should be called rasābhāsa, unless it can be pointed out on the base of Rūpa Gosvāmī's definitions."

Bhakta: "Is it true that if you introduce a mantra yourself that is Guru-aparādha?"

Advaitadas: "Yes it is, but note that this mantra (śrī kṛṣṇa caitanya prabhu nityānanda hare kṛṣṇa hare rāma śrī rādhe govinda) is not a mantra in the strict sense of the dīkṣā mantras which are in the 4th, dative, case and have a bīja and an ending like namaḥ or svāhā. Such mantras are secret. Hare Krṣṇa and the above mantra are in the 8th case, and are thus public. But on the whole, yes, if you add or change things that is Guru aparādha."

Bhakta: "There is this Caitanya Sahasra Nāma - is that not rasābhāsa? All names are mixed up there, of Krṣṇa and Mahāprabhu. It is said to be written by Rūpa Gosvāmī. There is a whole range of aiśvarya and mādhurya names there, all mixed up with each other - names of Gaura, Krṣṇa and Viṣṇu.."

Advaitadas: "There are 3 such sahasra nāmas - one is by Kavi Karṇapura, verse 2 in it says it was recited by Brahma Haridās to Rūpa Gosvāmī in front of Kavi Karṇapura (obviously in Puri). Such a mix up of aiśvarya and mādhurya is quite common for such Sahasra Nāma Stotras. As for mixing names of Gaura and Krṣṇa in one writing, it is done also by Rūpa Gosvāmī himself in his Caitanyāṣṭakams. That is done to preach to the public that Mahāprabhu is Krṣṇa only. Most of the names actually apply to all three (Gaura, Krṣṇa and Viṣṇu)."

Bhakta: 'This verse Mahāprabhu chanted, 'gopī bhartur pādakamalayor dāsa-dāsānudāsa - does it mean its higher to be a servant of the servant of the servant of Rādhārāṇī than to be somewhere in Viśākhā or Lalitā's camp?"

Advaitadas: "First of all this verse has nothing to do with gopī bhāva, it has to do with the superiority of bhakti over varṇāśrama. Krṣṇa happens to be called Gopī bhartu here, He might as well have been called Nanda-Nandana or so. It applies to cowherd boys just as well. Secondly, servants of Rādhārāṇī are usually either in Lalitā's or Viśākhā's camp."

Bhakta: "What I mean is, isn't it better to be the servant of the servant of the servant, instead of being so far up, so close to Rādhā-Krṣṇa?"

Advaitadas: "It is a universal verse which is both philosophical and devotional. Being the servant of the servant of the servant doesn't mean you are at the end of the line, some 25 miles distance from Rādhā-Krṣṇa. It means you are right there, massaging Their feet during the most intimate pastimes. Being the servant of the servant of the servant means just that you are always aware of your servanthood of the servants of Rādhikā - Guru Mañjarī serves under her Guru Mañjarī etc etc all the way up to Viśākhā devī. It is a statement of humility and service attitude only. It does not create even a micrometer geographical distance between you and Śrī Rādhikā. Servant of the servant means your Guru gave you the service of massaging Rādhārāṇī's feet, and he/she him/herself is right by your side, fanning Her. Servant of the servant means you never stop serving the Guru, unlike the māyāvādīs, who serve Guru up to the stage of mukti. In the liberated state Guru becomes Mañjarī and you become Mañjarī and the master-servant relationship continues from there, eternally."

Bhakta: "I think only a few people can go to Krṣṇaloka because otherwise it would have to expand so much."

Advaitadas: "Indeed, attainment of Krṣṇa-loka is very rare, but don't worry - there is place enough for everyone. Either way, both the material world and spiritual world are unlimited. Plenty of space. There is one Rādhā-Krṣṇa for each liberated soul."

Bhakta: "Perhaps only in our meditations."

Advaitadas: "In Krṣṇa-loka too, as far as we can call it a location. jīvanmukta stage means you are liberated within the body and this has a devotional purport, too. Srila Rūpa Gosvāmī says:

iha yasya harer dāsye karmanā manasā girā
nikhilāsv apy avasthāsu jīvan-muktaḥ sa ucyate

"Whoever is serving Lord Hari in all circumstances, with works, the mind and speech, is called a liberated soul in this body." (Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.187)"

Bhakta: "So if the spiritual sky expands like that, everything will be Vṛndāvana and there is no more material world?"

Advaitadas: "We discussed this before. Both the material and the spiritual worlds are limitless."

Bhakta: "I heard that Subal and other cowherd boys also have mādhurya bhāva, and thus their sakhya bhāva is higher than vātsalya."

Advaitadas: "That is correct. A small group of cowherd boys have thus superseded the devotees of vātsalya rasa, although normally vātsalya rasa is consired higher than sakhya rasa. A few members of vātsalya rasa also have access to mādhurya, though, like Mukharā and Paurṇamāsī, who, like Subal and other priya narma sakhās, also assist indirectly in mādhurya līlā as supporters. At Śyāmakuṇḍa, the eight chief sakhās are under the command of the eight chief sakhīs. Madhumangal is under the command of Lalitā, although in the līlā they quarrel so much. (Govinda Līlāmṛta 7.111-117) A boy is more likely to confide in his intimate affairs with his boyfriends than with his parents."

Bhakta: "Is it possible that while practising Mañjarī sādhana one comes to realize that my sthāyi bhāva is actually Rām bhakti or so? All types of bhakti are welcomed by Śrīman Mahāprabhu...."

Advaitadas: "Attraction can not be forced. Even Mahāprabhu, God Himself, could not dissuade Murāri Guptā from Rām-bhakti. If you would have no attraction to Mañjarī bhāva I can see no reason why you would take initiation into it. This is a purely theoretical question, but attraction overrides all theories. Attraction to the feelings of the Vrajabāsīs gives access to rāgānugā bhakti. na ca śāstraṁ na yuktiṁ ca (Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu) - "śāstra and logic do not give access to rāgānugā bhakti." The only reason why one might become attracted to a lower rasa is offences committed to Krṣṇa or His devotees -

bhāvo'py abhāvam āyāti kṛṣṇa-preṣṭhāparādhataḥ; 
ābhāsatāṁ ca shanakair nyūna-jātīyatām api (Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.3.54)

(To be continued.....)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Suicide at Govardhan, murmura, and more Gaura-questions

Bhakta: "It is said that Raghunāth Dās Goswāmī wanted to jump off Govardhan Hill to commit suicide, and that it is a custom to commit suicide like this, but I don't see it high enough anywhere to jump to death from."

Advaitadas : "Towards Pucchari its pretty high, but even there there's no steep cliff. You could break a leg or get a concussion at best there. He could have drowned himself in Yamunā or Rādhākund as well, but that's not the point. The point is he was feeling intense grief. In the end he never committed suicide, also not when Rūpa and Sanātana Goswāmīs disappeared. Mahāprabhu had already forbidden Sanātan Goswāmī to commit suicide."

Bhakta: "In the Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Caritāmṛta Murari Gupta says that Lakṣmī-priyā was an Apsarā banished from heaven, but in the end she would be redeemed by marrying Nārāyan [Mahāprabhu]. "

Advaitadas: "There is no need for confusion. In Gaur Gaṇoddeśa Dīpika Kavi Karṇapur describes multiple swarūpas for one person and one swarūpa for multiple persons too. It is all possible. The gopīs also were Devis, Upaniṣads, sages, and the nitya siddhas. Droṇa and Dharā merged into the nitya siddha Nanda and Yaśodā, too. Murāri Guptā is Hanumān, so his authority cannot be ignored or disbelieved."

Bhakta: "There is this nice verse from Rūpa Goswāmī's Padyāvalī (361) :

asyās tāpam ahaṁ mukunda kathayāmy eṇī-dṛśas te kathaṁ
padminyāḥ sa-rasaṁ dalaṁ vinihitaṁ yasyāḥ sa-tāpe hṛdi
ādau śuṣyati saṅkucaty anu tataś cūrṇatvam āpadyate
paśCān murmuratāṁ dadhad dahati ca śvāsāvadhūtaṁ śikhī

"O Mukunda, how will I describe the sufferings of this doe-eyed girl? Her sighs constantly fan the flames of Her suffering. When a beautiful lotus petal is placed on Her burning breast it first become dried, then shriveled, then turns to powder, and then becomes a blazing dust-fire."

Advaitadas: "I had not noticed this verse before. It is clear that it must have inspired Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartīpāda to compose the verses about Śrī Rādhikā's unguents drying to a crisp:

gehāgatāṁ virahiṇīṁ nava-puṣpa-talpe
tvāṁ śāyayāni parataḥ kila murmurābhāt
tasmāt paratra śayanaṁ visa-punja-klṛptam
adhyāśayāni vidhu-candana-panka-liptām

"When you return home in the afternoon I will lay You to rest on a fresh bed of flowers, which I will anoint with unguents like vertiver, camphor and sandal that will cool off your afflicted body, which burns in the fire of separation from Kṛṣṇa in such a way that it makes the bed smoulder like a chaff-fire in no time." (Sankalpa Kalpadruma - 72) This verse even contains the same word for it, murmura.

tad ālīnāṁ pālyā samucita saparyyākula dhiyāṁ
dravaiḥ paunaḥ puṇyān malayaja-bhavai lipta vapuñaḥ
stṛtāyāś cābhīkṣṇaṁ visa kisalayaiḥ saindhava-rasaiḥ

"Although Her sakhīs served Her with anxious hearts as was proper by repeatedly anointing Her body with sandal paste, lotus pollen and camphor, the heat of Her afflicted body (that burned in the fire of separation from Hari) made these substances dry up (at once) and then they had to apply them again." (Kṛṣṇa Bhāvanāmṛta 16.3)

Bhakta: " When Mahāprabhu met Lakṣmī-priyā (Caitanya Caritāmṛta Adi 14.66) He told Her to worship Him as Maheśvara. Sometimes that's translated as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but prof. Dimock says it means Śiva."

Advaitadas: "In this case prof. Dimock is right. Young maidens worship Śiva to get a good husband. That is why Mahāprabhu told her He is Śiva."

Bhakta:"In Caitanya Caritāmṛta Adi 11.28, Prof. Dimock says Purandarācārya floated in the ocean of prema like a croc."

Advaitadas: "Here he is wrong. The verse says premārṇava madhye phire yaichana mandara - 'He rotated [phire means rotating, not floating] like the Mandara mountain (which also rotated, on Kūrma-deva's back)."

Bhakta: "In Caitanya Caritāmṛta Adi 10.15 Gadādhara Paṇḍit is called Lakṣmī rūpā. Some say that means he's as beautiful as Lakṣmī, others say he is the Lord's pleasure potency. Which one is right?"

Advaitadas: "They both are. In Bengali the word 'rūpa' also means beauty. It seems strange this is ascribed to a male person, but Gadādhar Paṇḍit is śakti-tattva in Gaura-līlā, an aṁśa of Smt. Rādhārāṇī."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Yogapīṭh, Gaura Līlā, Sādhu Saṅga and Nityānanda Trayodaśī

Yogapīṭh, Gaura Līlā, Sādhu Saṅga and Nityānanda Trayodaśī

Bhakta: 'What is Yogapīṭh practise?"

Advaitadas: "It means the sacred meeting place of Rādhā Kṛṣṇa. It is not a concoction, it is mentioned in Govinda Līlāmṛta (21.94, with reference to the Vedas) and in Sankalpa Kalpadruma (51) by Viśvanātha Cakravartīpāda. It is a ritual diagram in the shape of an 8-petalled lotus flower. It has been developed into an elaborate ritual, involving two diagrams, one of Navadvīpa and one of Vṛndāvana, in which you have to offer so many articles like sandal pulp and flowers to so many characters inside the diagram. In the whorl of the lotus are Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, and each of the petals houses one sakhī; under each sakhi serves again one main mañjarī. There is a mirror-model of Navadvīpa, where Mahāprabhu stands in the whorl, surrounded by all His associates. The practise has been elaborated upon by Gopal Guru Goswāmī and Dhyānacandra Goswāmī of the Vakreśvara Paṇḍit parivāra."

Bhakta: "But in your parivāra you don't practise the Navadvīpa-yogapīṭha, right?"

Advaitadas: "We don't practise either of them; it has not been given by Advaita Prabhu and we will not add things ourselves."

Bhakta: "In Nārada Pañcarātra there is a description of all kinds of circles existing around Lord Nārāyan in Vaikuṇṭha. Is there some sort of parallel there?"

Advaitadas: "Yes, that may be the text that is referred to in that Govinda Līlāmṛta verse (21.94) I quoted just now. The Goswāmīs presented us with a rasik version of these ancient tāntrik rituals (tantra here means Vedic ritual, not the sexual practises)."

Bhakta: "But we are not in circles around Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, right?"

Advaitadas: "If your Guru gives you this Yogapīṭh practise then you must take your position within the diagram, at least during the time of pūjā. As I said, it is mentioned in śāstra - in chapter 7 of Govinda Līlāmṛta you find a description of the 8 sakhīs' groves around Rādhākuṇḍa, each in a fixed corner of the kuṇḍa. They have exactly the same position in the Yogapīṭh in Vṛndāvana (situated roughly where the Govinda Mandir is, in the north of town). Its current form is a pretty recent practise."

Bhakta: "I heard that if you don't practise Yogapīṭh you cannot attain Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa or realize your mañjarī svarūpa."

Advaitadas: "I have not seen that in śāstra or heard it from my Guru. It's hard enough as it is - there are 10 offences to the name, 32 offences in service and 6 offences to the Vaiṣṇavas - that is 48 hurdles already. That should be enough."

Bhakta: "Professor Dimock, in his presentation of Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta, says: "Kṛṣṇa did not have the experience of Rādhā to the full. For a while He was with Rādhā, but He did not experience fully what She was experiencing, so He became Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa in a single body, etc." That does not sound correct."

Advaitadas: "No that is not correct and that is why Sādhu Bābā cautioned against reading Kṛṣṇa-kathā from non devotees. They cannot understand due to a lack of spiritual insight which is only gotten through bhakti practise - bhajatāṁ prīti pūrvakaṁ dadāmi buddhi yogam tam (Bhagavad Gītā 10.10) "I give buddhi yoga (spiritual intelligence) to those who do my bhajan with love." This buddhi is different from mundane intellect. It is expanded consciousness. They have no dīkṣā and perform no sādhana, without which it is simply impossible to understand these things. bhaktyā mām abhijānāti yāvan yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ (Bhagavad Gītā 18.55) Kṛṣṇa was not with Rādhā for a while. Swarūp Dāmodar has given three reasons for Mahāprabhu's descent - succinctly it boils down to one - wanting to understand Rādhā's feelings for that. Was there any conclusion to that? Is it written at the end of Caitanya Caritāmṛta, 'Yes, now He understood it!'? No. If Kṛṣṇa were able to understand Rādhā's love then Gaura-līlā would be temporary, a once-only mission. Yet all pastimes of the Lord are eternal, including Gaura līlā. He tries to understand, but cannot, eternally so. Otherwise what would be the use of Gaura-līlā "

Bhakta: "Prof. Dimock concludes that two become one in Mahāprabhu, Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa."

Advaitadas: "Not only he, even most Vaiṣṇavas have that mistaken understanding. Mahāprabhu is Kṛṣṇa, accepting the feelings of Rādhā. That is quite something else from a merger. Look at it like this - your father is English, your mother is English, so genetically you are 100% English, yet for many years you have accepted the feelings and culture of India. So now are you English or Indian? You are English, accepting the mood of an Indian. If one of your parents were Indian and the other English, you would be a half-breed, as what Dimock and many Vaiṣṇavas misunderstand about Gaura. Gaura is Kṛṣṇa, cent percent, but He accepts the feeling of Rādhā. rādhā bhāva dyuti subalitaṁ naumi kṛṣṇa svarūpam. Returning to the topic of intellectuals vs devotees, devotee association is crucial. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says ādau śraddhā tathā sādhu saṅga'tha bhajana kriyā  First there must be faith, then association with sādhus and only then one can commence bhajan. Furthermore, in his commentary on these verses Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says that even before that faith occurs one requires association with devotees. Without devotee-association there is neither the commencement of bhakti nor its continuation or survival. You can distribute millions of books but they can only give a first prompt to a candidate. The candidate will have to seek out a personal explanation from a living devotee in order to understand the philosophy."

Bhakta: "Did Advaita Prabhu offer Tulasī-leaves to His Śālagram Śilā to invoke the advent of Śrīman Mahāprabhu?"

Advaitadas: "tulasī dala mātrena jalasya culukena vā - He offered water and Tulasī yes, but not to a Śālagrām. Not a single biography of Advaita Prabhu mentions Him having a Śālagrām. He had dual deities of Rādhā-Madangopāl only."

Bhakta: "One Vaiṣṇava told me that there is difference between the historical dates of a scripture and the content."

Advaitadas: "Transcendental devotional stories are not always historical facts, nor do they need to be. They are in fact far far superior to matters or events that fit in time- and space-frames. They are meant to give us meditation on Kṛṣṇa, and attraction to Him. In many cases, especially hagiographies, like those of Advaita Ācārya and Śrīnivāsācārya (in the beginning of Bhakti Ratnākara) it is very clear that they are impossible to fit into a chronological sequence. This does not mean that the stories are not true or that they are fabricated or made up. Same thing with hagiographies of Gurus and sādhus."

Bhakta: "How to break fast after Dvādaśī if the next day is Nityānanda Trayodaśī?"

Advaitadas: "The whole complication has been created because people have introduced the advent days of Adwaita Prabhu and Nityananda Prabhu as vrata (fasting-) days, which they are not according to the Haribhakti Vilāsa. That includes Rādhāṣṭamī too. If one would not fast on Nityānanda's day you could easily break the Dvādaśī-fast that often precedes it. Ekādaśī prevails over non-śāstric vratas, no doubt."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reconstructing tradition (4)

This is the 4th and final part of my book review of Mrs. Rebecca Manring's book 'Reconstructing tradition', dealing with the life of Śrī Advaita Prabhu.

Next, a controversy is discussed about the maternity of Kṛṣṇa Miśra Goswāmī – it seems only Advaita Prakāśa (though it is my family’s main digest) claims that he is the son of Sītā-devi (but given for adoption to Śrī-devī), while all other biographies of Advaita Prabhu seem to claim he is the only son of Śrī-devī. This may require some further investigation. Mrs. Manring suggests that Īśāna wrote this because ‘The son of a secondary wife like Śrī-devī usually is considered to have a less legitimate claim to inheritance than his half-brothers by the chief wife. Only householders can inherit, however, and four of Advaita’s six sons had chosen monastic lives.’ From Advaita Prakāśa it’s clear that, of the two only gṛhastha-sons of Advaita, Kṛṣṇa Miśra inherited the deity worship and Balarām Miśra inherited financially. Mrs. Manring: “That second son (Kṛṣṇa Miśra), according to Advaita Prakāśa, though generally recognized as the only son of Śrī-devī, is actually the son of Lakṣmī (Sītā) and Mahāviṣṇu. Śrī-devī, generally understood to be Kṛṣṇa Miśra's mother, is identified with Lakṣmī only secondarily, by association with her sister Sītā, who, Īśāna had already told us, was found in a lotus in a marsh by her father when she was a child. That is, Sītā IS the goddess Lakṣmī.  Obviously the torchbearer of Advaita Acarya’s lineage is Sītā-Lakṣmī, not the more obscure Śrī-devī. Īśāna needs to make Sītā Kṛṣṇa Miśra’s mother….to help bolster his position that Advaita Ācārya was actually the most significant member of Navadvīpa Līlā.” I find this largely unfounded speculation, especially the last assumption.

Finally, Premavilāsa, Advaita Prakāśa and Narottam Vilās all indicate that mother and sons were initially at odds but eventually reconciled. Ramākānta Cakravartī suggests that Advaita Ācārya’s following split into at least three rival groups following the leader’s death – one led by Sītā, one by Acyuta and the third by the younger sons and Kāmadeva. According to the Prem-vilāsa and the Sītā Caritra the rift between Sītā-devī and Kṛṣṇa Miśra as mended through the efforts of Īśāna and Jānu at a kīrtan-festival. Mrs. Manring suggests that Raghunāth and Dol Govinda, Kṛṣṇa Miśra's two sons, were named reincarnations of Gaura-Nitāi in an attempt to reunite the sampradāya. Mrs. Manring also suggests they appeared to console Advaita Prabhu, who suffered the pangs of separation from Gaura-Nitāi so much.

Goswāmīs in Śāntipur insist that Sītā devi fought against the tendency among Sītānātha’s followers (which, if true, could have only been associates of her own children) to elevate Advaita Prabhu to the position of the Supreme Lord himself, thereby bypassing Śrīman Mahāprabhu.

A golden saying in this book I find ‘The saint is a human being, but one possessed of superhuman qualities” (p.219)

In the epilogue Mrs. Manring quotes a Bengali devotee saying (rightly) about the many contradictions between the biographies: ‘There is no way of knowing which one is right or wrong. Scholars of the tradition seem to have no more interest than the academic in establishing the accuracy of one account and the error of all the others. Rather they viewed each text as its author’s paean to Advaita Ācārya, testimonies to the devotion of their creators.” Personally I would follow what the Guru has told me and what makes obvious sense. On the age of the biographies, Mrs. Manring says that ‘the grammar of the middle Bengali of the Advaita Maṅgal, Advaita Prakāśa and the Sītā Carita appears to be consistent with the grammar of the language of the late 16th century……”, though “a good modern scholar of Bengali could certainly reproduce the earlier forms of the language in his own compositions…..scribes have been known to ‘correct’ texts as they copied them.” The old system of hand-copying texts of course left room for both error and interpolation, but there’s no reason to believe that the bulk of books like Advaita Prakāśa especially is not genuine biography. Nowhere in this book is a death-blow given to either sceptics or believers of the biographies. On p. 242 Mrs. Manring again suggests the Advaita Prakāśa could have been written around 1896 only, but if that were so, whence all the details about Advaita Prabhu’s life – how could they have been known so many centuries later? Mrs. Manring writes (p.243): “Acyuta-caran (Chaudhari) writes in his introduction to the Balya lila sutra that after Advaita’s death his then-elderly former household servant Īśāna Dās went to Lāuḍa to propound Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and write a book about Advaita’s life at Sītā Devī’s request. Īśāna took (apparently the sole exemplar of) the BLS along with him far to the east to use as a reference for details of the early portions of Advaita’s life that he himself had not witnessed. Thus….the BLS remained hidden in Lāuḍa until it came to his (Acyuta Caran’s) attention in the late 19th century.” On page 248 Mrs. Manring reminds us that Lāuḍa (NE Bangladesh) was and is a remote place, so most devotees had simply never heard of the Bālya Līlā Sūtra.

At the end of the day, it is the faith and devotion that counts. Opponents of the Gauḍīya Maṭh do not believe that Prem Vivarta was written by Jagadānanda Pandit but by Bhaktivinode or his followers, while opponents of the traditional Vaiṣṇavas claim that Advaita Prakāśa is not genuine. Ultimately it is the devotional boost one gets from such books that counts, not the scholarly and historical nitty-gritty (though I insist that the unique detail and quantity of the Advaita Prakāśa-narrations establish it as a genuine scripture).

Apart from a unique insight in rare books on Advaita Prabhu, Mrs. Manring also treats us on a report of her field trip to the actual birthplace of Sītānāth, in Sylhet (Śrī Haṭṭa, NE Bangladesh), towards the end of the book (p.230), at the base of the distant mountains of India’s Meghālaya. Apparently the place is lost and the village of Navagrām is now divided by one of the many constantly shifting rivers of the Bengali delta, though there is still a small temple at the birthplace where service is going on (at least in 1994). The place is just a small village with mud- and cow dung huts near a bamboo jungle and a beach – it sounds like the same rustic sweetness as rural Vraja. It is extremely hard to find and to reach and no Vaiṣṇava pilgrims go there. Some simple worship is still going on there, though, and the locals have not forgotten Prabhu Sītānāth. Earlier, Mrs. Manring described Sītānāth’s home in Śāntipur, Bāblā, as ‘no longer on the riverbank, but a small tributary still flows next to it. The place is especially beautiful, with mango- and other trees hanging very low and small boys herding their cows and goats around them. One almost expects to see Kṛṣṇa Himself dance out from behind one of the trees, playing His flute.” Yours truly can confirm the place is as beautiful – I was there once in October 2003.

On page 247, Mrs. Manring defends Advaita Prakāśa against doubts raised by her colleague B.B. Majumdar, that it has so many detailed birth dates, while this is not the custom in Vaiṣṇava hagiography, and that, therefore, it could be a later work than is claimed. Mrs. Manring: “However, the culture displays an intense interest in dates for ritual and astrological purposes, so, while an abundance of dates in an Indian text may be unusual, it is not entirely surprising that an influential family would keep track of the dates of birth of its sons. The AP purports to have been written at the request of Sītā Devī some thirty years after Caitanya’s death…five years after Advaita’s death, by which time concern of succession and legitimacy were beginning to arise within the Gaudiya Vaiṣṇava community. The dates, especially of the births of Advaita Ācārya’s sons, would have helped to establish rights of sectarian succession. Other texts in the Advaita corpus also mention dates……Although, as Majumdar points out, this interest in historical precision is unusual in South Asia, it seems to have been important to members of Advaita’s branch of the community.”

This article is now also posted on at the link-tab ‘Articles’

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reconstructing tradition (3)

Reconstructing tradition Part 3-
A common misunderstanding among worldly scholars is that there was some kind of feud between Nityānanda Prabhu and Advaita Prabhu. Mrs. Manring shares this opinion, writing that Īśāna Nāgar “….throughout this episode…puts seemingly mean-spirited words in Nityānanda’s mouth and conciliation in Advaita’s”. However, in ch.15 and 16 I can find only one such exchange in each, neither of them showing any other exchange than one of mutual love. The Bengali text of Advaita Prakāśa rather speaks of Advaita’s Premera Roṣa (loving anger). Throughout the manifest pastimes of Mahāprabhu Nitāi and Sītānātha were confirmed the best of friends, it is clear from all the scriptures on Mahāprabhu.

Another common misunderstanding among the scholars, Mrs. Manring included (she suggests so several times in this book), is that Advaita Prabhu was an actual advaita-vādī (non-dualist), although it is said in all the devotional scriptures that He only preached advaita-vāda or jñāna vāda to get a loving punishment from Mahāprabhu. Apparently the academics see this as a devotional embellishment of the actual truth instead of an actual devotional truth. In her description of the passing away of Nityānanda, at the end of Advaita Prakāśa, Mrs. Manring blunders again by suggesting that Vīrabhadra was humiliated by having to serve the leaders of Nityānanda’s group during the viraha utsava. She calls it a ‘subtle attack’ (by Īśāna on the Nityānanda followers), perhaps not understanding that in Vaiṣṇavism service is a privilege and not a humiliation. Her idea is contradicted almost immediately hereafter by the narration of Vīrabhadra Prabhu asking initiation from Advaita Prabhu, and Advaita sending him back to his own mother, Jāhnavā, for dīkṣā instead.

Mrs. Manring also accuses Īśāna Nāgara of making Advaita instead of Mahāprabhu the instigator of the bhakti cult but this is not fair – in all other scriptures, like Caitanya Bhāgavat and Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Advaita is also described as being an active bhakti-preacher before Mahāprabhu’s advent – if He were not so, why would He even have bothered to invoke Mahāprabhu’s advent in the first place? Her claim that some, like Īśāna, have presented Advaita Prabhu as superior to Mahāprabhu in every sense needs to be seen in the context of bhāvollāsa, wherein a devotee develops greater love for an associate of the Lord than for the Lord itself. Several times in her book, Mrs. Manring suggests there is a kind of gender discrimination in that mostly males are allowed to do mañjarī practises, but this is pertinently untrue.

A new controversy for me is the Śrī Advaita Abhiśāpa, ‘Śrī Advaita’s curse’, a booklet written by one Kiran-chand Daraveśa (sounds sahajīya to me), saying that Advaita Prabhu cursed Mahāprabhu for not staying in Nadiya after taking sannyāsa and thus hurting his loved ones. He would have to be born again to satisfy Advaita’s desire for his company. Because He spent 10 days at His (Advaita’s) place after taking sannyāsa in Katwa He would get a ten-generation grace period, and then He (Mahāprabhu) would have to take birth in Advaita’s family. This is a prediction of the advent of Vijay Kṛṣṇa Gosvami, who was born in Advaita Prabhu’s 10th generation. Mahāprabhu, according to this booklet, graciously accepts the curse, saying He can never be without Nityānanda and Advaita and that He will appear in a large form wearing dreadlocks (exactly fitting Vijaya’s description). This story does not appear in any other scripture and could be understood as a glorification of Vijay Kṛṣṇa Gosvami only.

About amplification or ‘accretion’ of the hagiographies, Mrs. Manring writes (p. 200) something interesting:

“Gaudiya Vaiṣṇavas often view such textual accretions not as extraneous padding and certainly not as anything suspect, but as further elaboration of the truth contained in a given work. This elaboration may include exaggeration or even downright creative license to make the author’s point about the stature and status of his protagonist. Such textual accretions are not regarded as dishonest but as reflections of the author’s wholehearted devotion to his subject. Further, the actual author stands to accrue some karmic benefit by contributing to the good reputation of his subject – and by doing so in a way that is clearly not designed to garner that author any fame or other benefit.”

I applaud this but would like to add the condition of rasābhāsa and viruddha siddhānta to it – additions and elaborations are all right as long as they do not contain bogus philosophies or perverted flavors.

Next Mrs. Manring starts reviewing Sītā Caritra, by Lokanath Das (not the famous Lokanath Gosvami), which is intriguing, because I searched for this booklet for long in India without ever finding it. It is filled with anecdotes rather than with a chronological biography, and is a newer text, since it mentions Caitanya Caritāmṛta. In chapter 2 of this booklet Sītā Devī crosses the river to Navadvīpa to visit the newborn Nimāi. She casts a spell over mother Śacī so that she can speak with the baby out of his mother’s hearing. The baby reaches out to Sītā, calling out ‘Rādhā!’ Sītā immediately understands that the infant is actually Kṛṣṇa, but also that he thinks he is in a different time and place, back in the cowherd village of Gokula. Sītā tells Him that she is not Rādhā but the brahmin wife of Advaita, and that He (Kṛṣṇa) is now born in Navadvīpa with a golden body….Nimāi then claims that Sītā is Yogamāyā who precedes Him in each birth (which is more on the mark). Sītā protests, reiterating that she is not the divine Rādhā but simply someone who wants to serve Rādhā’s feet. Chapter three deals with Nimāi’s studies at Advaita’s school and chapter 4 deals with the relationship between Nimāi and Acyuta, Adwaita’s eldest son. Here the story in Advaita Prakāśa is repeated, that Acyuta eats some food which had been meant for offering to Nimāi, but instead of bananas (as in Advaita Prakāśa) here it is cream. In chapter 5 Nimāi leaves Advaita’s home after completing His studies there, and Kṛṣṇa Mishra announces that Nimāi will eventually take sannyāsa and who will be His sannyāsa Guru. Chapter 6 describes how Mahāprabhu, after His disappearance, appears to Sītā Devī and consoles Her. Chapter 7 deals with Nandinī and Jangalī, Sītā-devī’s two male disciples who had a mystical gender change to qualify for dīkṣā from Her. Sakhī-bhekhī-groups try to incorporate Sītā and Advaita into their group by quoting this instance as proof that they are doing the right thing, but of course this is just a special pastime and a special mercy of Sītā devi upon Nandaram and Yajnesvara, men who would otherwise not qualify as Her disciples. It does not set a standard or create a precedent; indeed the practise of cross-dressing has never again occurred in Advaita Prabhu’s lineage. Mrs. Manring writes (p. 204): “When Sītā reminds the pair of the gender requirement for discipleship, the two disappear, returning a short time later dressed as cowherd girls, with braided hair, anklets, bangles, skirts and bodices. They announce that the practise of Rādhā-mantra has affected a sex-change in them. To prove that they are no longer male they disrobe and Sītā sees that they are, indeed, female. So great was their devotion to Her that they were ready to give up their male gender for Her.”

Chapters 7 and 8 are controversial because they conflict with the teachings of Sādhu Bābā that we did not receive Rādhā- Gaura- or Guru-mantras from Advaita Prabhu, while in these chapters Sītā devī is described as bestowing them upon Nandarām and Yajñesvara. Whether this was an exceptional situation, an interpolation or just falsehood that invalidates (this part of) the book is unclear. Later on in the book, perhaps somewhere in chapter 12, a very young girl gives birth to a boy of which she says it is Nandinī’s son, which is strange since Nandinī is supposed to have had a mystical gender change. Afterwards, the boy is never mentioned again, nor is this mysterious story to be found in any other biography of Sītā and Advaita.
In the final chapter of the Sītā Carita we learn of Jaṅgalī’s similar, though even more puzzling experiences. “The local governor… has come to investigate the reports he has heard about this strange woman. Jangali warns the governor that if he touches her he will die. He ignores the warning and commands his attendant to remove the woman’s garment. Jaṅgalī prays to Sītā and then, no matter how much cloth the attendant unwinds from her body, still more remains. Jaṅgalī, good disciple that she is, keeps her mind focused on Sītā’s feet and Sītā, in the form of Jaṅgalī’s garment, protects her disciple… Jaṅgalī’s death-curse then takes effect on the governor – blood flowed from his mouth and his strength drained out of him. He fell to his feet and begged forgiveness and even asks his erstwhile victim to punish him.” Mrs Manring here suggests the governor is a European but I fail to see how this could be, since the British only arrived in India some 200 years later. The final chapter of Sītā Caritra is really undermining its credibility as it apparently gives credence to superstitious myths on the Sundarbans and its ‘protecting deities’ Dakhin Ray and Boner Bibi, that protect travellers against ferocious tigers in the forest. In the story Dakhin teams up with his Muslim enemy Boro Khan Gazi with an army of fakirs to test Jangali and Sītā is supposed to be Devī who rides a tiger (that much is true). Of course this final chapter may have been added to the book later by others. Three chapters are dedicated to Īśāna, who sees Kṛṣṇa in baby Nimāi and wonders what his (Īśāna’s) role could be in Gaura līlā, since Kṛṣṇa had Himself brought all His friends and relatives along to Bengal. Īśāna explains that in Kṛṣṇa-līlā he had been Radhika’s maternal grandmother (Mukherā), who somehow got entangled with all of Kṛṣṇa’s naughty pastimes with the gopīs. Then, when Nimāi takes sannyāsa, he asks Īśāna to take care of His elderly mother and His young wife. So I suppose this is the other Īśāna, the personal servant of Śacī-mātā, and not the servant of Advaita Prabhu. It’s confusing really – were there two Īśānas in Advaita Prabhu’s household then, the servant of Śacī-mātā as well as the Īśāna adopted earlier by Advaita Prabhu, who wrote the Advaita Prakāśa? Or is there only one? Anyway, according to this account, Śacī-mātā and Viṣṇupriyā pass away shortly after Mahāprabhu and Īśāna then turns to Advaita Prabhu and offers his services to Him. He gets ‘bugs’, possibly lice, on his head, that start feeding on his blood, and very much like the leper Vāsudeva, places each of them back on his head if they fall off, afraid they will run out of food. Out of compassion Sītā Devī then places her hand on his head, making all the bugs instantly disappear.
In the following chapter (11) Advaita’s family travels to Nīlāmbara’s house for a celebration with the entire Vaiṣṇava community. Four disciples, including Īśāna and his friend Jānu Rāy, carry Sītā in a palanquin on their shoulders. Jānu wants the two to carry Sītā by themselves so they can get all the credit and Īśāna agrees, though he knows they should not do this. Jānu thinks he will one day be rewarded for the pious deed, but Sītā understands what is going on, gets out of the palanquin, rebukes him and rejects him ‘for contemplating God’s awesome majesty instead of having a more personal relationship with the divine’ (?). Sītā says Jānu’s family will always remain attached to karma kāṇḍa and never achieve pure bhakti. Mrs. Manring suggests that Sītā’s order to Īśāna to marry (again, which Īśāna is this?) is perhaps like a punitive order. As a last act, Īśāna reconciles Kṛṣṇa Miśra with his mother (although the cause of their conflict is not mentioned).

(to be continued........)