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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta, Canto 1 chapter 1

Book review

This is both a review of Gopī-prāṇadhana Dāsa's rendering of Sanātana Goswāmī's Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta and of the text itself. Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta is a very important book about the progressive stages of rasa and sambandha (relationships with God) by Śrī Sanātana Goswāmī,  appearing in 14 chapters subdivided in 2 khaṇḍas or cantos. The commentary (ṭīkā) on it was written by the selfsame Sanātana Goswāmī.  It is full of important statements that establish Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava siddhānta. Overall, Gopī-prāṇadhana is a much better translator than Kuśakrath. Unfortunately, whenever he adds his own commentaries to Sanātana Goswāmī's original one, apasiddhāntas tend to creep in.

1.1.5 In the ṭīkā Sanātana Goswāmī quotes SB 10.44.13 :

puṇyā bata vraja-bhuvo yad ayaḿ nṛ-lińga
gūḍhaḥ purāṇa-puruṣo vana-citra-mālyaḥ
gāḥ pālayan saha-balaḥ kvaṇayaḿś ca veṇuḿ
vikrīdayāncati giritra-ramārcitāńghriḥ

'Blessed is this Vraja-bhumi, where the hidden Ancient Man (the original Lord) lives in a human form, moving about, adorned with a garland of sylvan flowers, herding His cows along with Bala(-rāma) and playing His flute, His feet adorned by Shiva and Lakṣmī-devī." The ladies of Mathurā (mathurā nāgarīs) see Kṛṣṇa on the streets of Mathurā and at the same time in the goṣṭha because the verse is in the present case.

1.1.11 Although Sanātana Goswāmī is Rupa Goswami's elder brother he does acknowledge Rūpa's superiority over him here, by saying priya-rūpataḥ  'I realized this through Caitanya-dev's dear Rūpa'.

1.1.12 and 53 have two self-written Christian commentaries by Gopī-prāṇadhana.  In verse 12, Gopī-prāṇadhana writes: "In general we may accept any initiated worshiper of Viṣṇu as a Vaiṣṇava, or even more liberally any monotheist....." This is not spoken by Sanātana Goswāmī, nor is it siddhānta.

In verse 1.1.53 Gopī-prāṇadhana quotes Genesis from the Bible. A Vaiṣṇava, however, is not a Christian, nor vice versa - Haribhakti Vilāsa (1.55) says:

gṛhīta-viṣṇu-dīkṣāko viṣṇu-pūjā-paro naraḥ
vaiṣṇavo’bhihito’bhijñair itaro’smad avaiṣṇavaḥ

'The learned call those human beings who took initiation into Viṣṇu-mantra and are dedicated to Viṣṇu-pūjā 'Vaiṣṇavas', while all others are Avaiṣṇavas."

A cow is an animal but not every animal is a cow. When a bird comes flying by we don't say, 'Hey, a cow comes walking by'. Similarly it is not that every concept of God is Viṣṇu - there are specifics about Viṣṇu. Nowhere in the Quran, Bible or Torah it is described that God is named Hari, Mādhava, etc, has a cloud-complexion, yellow silken cloth, Kaustubha-gem, etc. To call Jesus a Vaiṣṇava is just attachment to one's pre-devotee past. See my blog of May 29, 2009.

The entire purport of verse 53, including the non-Christian second part, is not by Sanātana Goswāmī and no philosophical claims can be made on its basis.

1.1.14, purport: "If we have confidence in this, we shall discover in Śrī Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta more than the subtle sense gratification sometimes called 'nectar' by immature devotees....."
This is Gopī-prāṇadhana's purport only and is an extreme apasiddhānta - can he quote us any ācārya and śāstra to prove this? The Bhāgavata (1.1.3) says at its very opening:

nigama kalpataror galitaṁ phalaṁ
śuka mukhād amṛta dravya samyutam
pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam ālayam
muhur aho rasikāḥ bhuvi bhāvukāḥ

'Oh rasiks and bhāvuks of the earth! Drink the nectar of the Bhāgavat, again and again, until you reach laya (a swoon of ecstasy)! This is the ripened fruit of desire-tree of the Vedic scriptures, becoming nectar due to being touched by the beak of a parrot (the mouth of Śukadeva Muni)!"

This verse will be later quoted and explained by Sanātana Goswāmī in his commentary on Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta 1.1.21-23 below. Sanātana Goswāmī further writes in his ṭīkā of BB 2.2.98-99: śrīmat aśeṣa śobhātiśaya yuktam ataeva sarvāṇīndriyāṇi sva guṇair lābaṇya mādhuryādibhiḥ anakti sukhayatīti tathā tat. yad vā sarvān indriyāṇāṁ guṇān viṣayān añjayati tat tad viṣaya bhoga sukhaṁ saṁyojayatīti -  'He is full of ānanda and beauty. With its luster and sweetness that form and attributes immerse one's senses in an ocean of bliss, or engages all one's senses in the bliss of (transcendental) sense pleasure in all respects."
Gopī-prāṇadhana's [own] commentary continues:
"Śrīla Sanātana is a transcendental genius, an eternal resident of Goloka Vṛndāvana, and an intimate companion of the Personality of Godhead's internal pleasure potency. He can easily perceive anything he wants to, in the past, present, or future, including lost scriptures from previous ages."
This is a sweet glorification of Sanātana Goswāmī,  but there are differing opinions on how the Goswāmīs got all the śāstrik quotations in their books. Some current Vaiṣṇava Gurus claim the Goswāmīs had their own libraries instead.

1.1.21-23 Gopī-prāṇadhana mentions the Garga Saṁhitā in his purport but this is not mentioned in Sanātana Goswāmī's ṭīkā. The Garga Saṁhitā's authority is not firmly established because the Goswāmīs never quoted it. The rest of the commentary, which nicely establishes the Rāsa līlā as the essence of the Bhāgavata, is by Sanātana Goswāmī until:

"The self-realized Vaiṣṇavas must be allowed their preferences, but neophyte devotees should not cheaply imitate them. Devotees not free from faults should strictly follow the complete course of the instructions of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, from the first chapter of Canto One through the last chapter of Canto Twelve. By repeated systematic study of the entire Bhāgavatam and its authorized explanations, devotees can aspire to gradually become fit to taste the immortal nectar hidden within it."

This prudent commentary is justified to some extent, but it would leave out rāgānugā sādhakas that may have anarthas and yet have a desire to attain the feelings of the Vrajabāsīs by studying and relishing the rasa-lila. Hence, despite its good intentions and because these are not Sanātana Goswāmī's words, it cannot be accepted as siddhānta.

1.1.22, Gopī-prāṇadhana's translation: "His compassionate grace inspired the best of His pure devotees in the great effort to extract the nectar of Srimad-Bhagavatam."
Śukadeva did not need great effort as he is siddha, but the word prayatnena in this verse can also mean 'with great expertise or care'.

1.1.39-40 Verse 40 speaks of Rādhikā in relation to Kṛṣṇa, not to Mahāviṣṇu,.
Verse 40 says "Nārada, who is a relisher of the taste of devotion to the Lord, spoke the following words to reveal the dearmost devotee of the Lord." Who that dearmost devotee is, is only revealed in the ṭīkā by Sanātana Goswāmī.

1.1.44 Gopī-prāṇadhana writes in the comment: "The devotee is sorry for having foolishly rebelled against his creator." This piece of fall-vāda is nowhere in Sanātan Goswāmī's original commentary, though.

1.1.73 The word 'flowers' is not mentioned in the śloka - the trees themselves fulfill the desires.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

God's paribhāṣā, rāgānuga sādhakas' supposed obligations and nāmābhāsa?

Bhakta: "Which Bhagavat-verse is the most fit to prove the existence of God?"

Advaitadas: 'If there is no willingness to accept the existence of God and the authority of śāstra, then no śloka or argument will work, but if there is a favorable attitude I think the opening verse, 1.1.1, will be the best. It is like a paribhāṣā (general definition) of God."

janmādy asya yato’nvayād itarataś cārtheṣv abhijñaḥ svarāṭ
tene brahma hṛdā ya ādi-kavaye muhyanti yat sūrayaḥ |
tejo-vāri-mṛdāṁ yathā vinimayo yatra tri-sargo’mṛṣā
dhāmnā svena sadā nirasta-kuhakaṁ satyaṁ paraṁ dhīmahi 

In short: 'I meditate on the Supreme Truth, from whom everything emanates and into whom everything returns, who is forever free from illusion, who is always situated in His abode, or true form, through whom this three-fold creation, though unreal, appears as real, who is fully cognizant and fully independent."

Bhakta: "rāgānugā bhakti is sometimes discouraged because instead of being attracted to the feelings of the Vrajabāsīs one may be attracted to the feelings of one's own relatives and so on."

Advaitadas: "rāgānugā bhakti does not mean one is immediately in a blazing fire of greed that makes one forget and transcend everything mundane. See my blog of November 28, 2006, on Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhuḥ:

"On to the famous definition of greed as cause of rāgānugā bhakti (1.2.292), ever-fascinating: Jīva Gosvāmī comments: 'When a person realises to some degree the sweetness of the love and activities of the inhabitants of Vraja...." note the words 'to some degree', which indicate that greed or lobha is not immediately an all-consuming fire in which the devotee is completely pure to qualify for rāgānuga sādhana. Bhānu Swāmī's translation is however, a bit played down, since yat kiñcit means 'slightly' more than 'to some degree' and he also fails to translate Jīva's important final words in the comment: tad eva lobhotpatter lakṣaṇam iti - 'This alone is the symptom of lobha or greed.'

When I told Sādhu Bābā about how gopī-bhāva is ridiculed in some circles, he simply quoted 'ataeva gopībhāva koro aṅgikāra' to me, spoken by Śrīman Mahāprabhu Himself (CC Madhya 8, 228). aṅgīkāra means 'accepting the feelings of a gopī'. 'Accepting' does not mean immediate full time absorption. To expect full absorption to take place from the very first day of rāgānugā sādhana is frankly, well, insane. 'Accepting' means at first just within the heart - it's like having a certain creed or political conviction - you go to Church on Sundays, and vote once a year on your party, but you keep them in the heart the rest of the time also, even without 24/7 mental absorption. Only in later stages, like niṣṭhā, ruci and bhāva, rāga bhakti will become full absorption. The problem in dealing with people who think one needs to be a pure devotee to do rāgānugā bhajan is that when you are known as a rāgānugā bhakta and you show some weakness you get ridiculed, based on their own misconceptions and prejudices, whereas it is clearly understood from our ācāryas that rāgānugā is a sādhana, during which lapses can be naturally expected."

Bhakta: "Some modern Vaiṣṇava teachers say that nāmābhāsa is a type of practise, be it an immature practise, a 'clearing stage'. It seems to be mixed up or joined with nāmāparādha."

Advaitadas: "Yes, that debate is going on. I have not seen nāmābhāsa mentioned as a type of sadhana in the Goswamis' books, though. The favorite example of nāmābhāsa is Ajāmila, who really chanted accidentally and not as part of a sādhana. 
nāmābhāsa comes in four kinds (SB 6.2.14) -

1. saṅketa - indicating something else,
2. parihāsa - as a joke, like one song I knew as a teenager, "Hari Hari Supermarket! Hari Hari London Bus!".
Both Śrī Jīva and Śrī Viśvanātha say it must be prīti upahāsa, loving joking, though, not nindā-garbha upahāsa, sarcastic joking.
3. stobha - all ācāryas gloss this as gītālāpa-pūraṇārthaṁ kṛtam, "added to complete a song or discussion", again like in "Hari Hari Supermarket"
4. helā, which means indifferently (sāvajña generally means 'with contempt' but avajña also means indifferent, nonchalantly, and that seems more apt here - 'kiṁ viṣṇunā!', in modern language 'Jeeeez!') or neglectful chanting (Jīva Goswāmī says yatna rahita, without care or effort). I can only imagine that this last one, inattentive chanting, could be part of a regular, intentional sādhanā

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three questions on Vilāpa Kusumāñjali

Three questions on Śrīla Raghunāth Dās Goswāmī's Vilāpa Kusumāñjali:

Bhakta: "It is said (in Vilāpa Kusumāñjali verse 60) that Nandīśvara (Nandagrām) is dearer to Kṛṣṇa than even Govardhana, but in Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī's Upadeśāmṛta it is said that Govardhana is higher than Vṛndāvana, and Rādhākuṇḍa is even higher than Govardhana, without mentioning Nandagrām. How does it work?"

Advaitadas: "No explanation has been given by any ācārya, but I can think of two answers -

1. Rūpa Goswāmī may have just given a summary list in the Upadeśāmṛta, with the main aim of praising Rādhākuṇḍa. In this way one can read between the lines that Nandagrām is rated between Rādhākuṇḍa and Govardhana.
2. In Vilāpa Kusumāñjali's context of mañjarī bhāva we can say - mañjarīs don't have business in Govardhana but Nandīśvara is very important to them - they accompany Śrī Swāminījiu to Nandagrām in the morning when She goes there to cook for Kṛṣṇa,  and accomplish Her meeting with Him there too (as described in Vraja Vilāsa Stava, verse 33). In the evening they go there again to bring Kṛṣṇa His evening-meal and to exchange messages with Him. In aṣṭakālīya līlā Rādhikā generally does not enjoy with Kṛṣṇa at Govardhan, though some exceptional pastimes are mentioned here and there. Overall Nandīśvara is more central to mañjarīs than Govardhan, which is mainly a place where Kṛṣṇa tends His cows and plays with His boyfriends. In fact the mañjarīs do not even pass through Govardhan. They escort Śrī Rādhikā directly from Yāvat to Rādhākuṇḍa and back at midday."

Bhakta: "In Vilāpa Kusumāñjali (54) it is said that Rādhikā decorates Her bed by dreaming on it. How is that possible?"

Advaitadas: "Śrīla Ānanda Gopāl Goswāmī explains that in his famous Vilāpa Kusumāñjali ommentaries - Her body is the ornament of the bed. In fact, in the Bhāgavat it is said that Kṛṣṇa's body beautifies His ornaments instead of vice versa. Similarly Rādhikā decorates the bed with Her body, as She sleeps and the sleep itself makes Her body even a more beautiful ornament of the bed because of the lovely body language caused by Her dreams - She smiles, rolls on the bed, moves Her legs, toes, fingers and arms in certain ways. The mind dictates the active senses, so actually its not Her body but Her mind which decorates the bed."

Bhakta: "Next in Vilāpa Kusumāñjali (53) it is mentioned that Lalitā offers ārati to Rādhā. Isn't that aiśvarya, since Arati is only offered to Gods?"

Advaitadas: "Mādhurya does not mean there is no service - how can a bhakta live without worshipping His iṣṭa? Kṛṣṇa is also offered Arati in Nandagrām, even by His own mother Yaśodā. We must serve, anyhow, in mādhurya or aiśvaryamañjarīs call themselves dāsī or maidservant, not for nothing. In Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Ādi līlā chapter 6, it is explained how all Kṛṣṇa's associates in Vraja, however intimate they may be with Him, consider themselves (maid-) servants of Him as well, with evidence from the 10th Canto to prove it." Jīva Goswāmī says - bhaj ityeṣa vai sevāyāṁ parikīrtita - Bhajan means service. Besides all of this, even in the village setting of Barsānā / Yāvat, Śrī Rādhikā is also the daughter of the local chieftain/village elder, so She is a superior person there too."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Haridas, Shiva and Govinda Candra

Bhakta: Shiva is said to be so renounced as he withstood the temptation of Devī in Kumāra Sambhava, but he fell down and lost his vital fluid when he saw Mohinī."

Advaitadas; 'One needs to deal with this cautiously. Citraketu ridiculed Shiva for having Pārvatī on his lap in an assembly of sages and he was cursed to become a demon as a result (see Canto Six Bhāgavat). Secondly, Shiva's seed created fields of gold and silver - hardly something that arises from an ordinary 'falldown', huh? We must thus conclude that this is a highly esoteric story with perhaps a sectarian edge, glorifying Viṣṇu at the expense of Shiva."

Bhakta: "In some books it is said that Haridās Thākur took birth as a Muslim as punishment or as atonement for his aparādha of stealing Kṛṣṇa's calves and boys, and yet it is also said 'gaurāṅgera saṅgī-gaṇe nitya siddha kori māne' - Gaurāṅga's associates are eternally liberated perfect souls."

Advaitadas: "I cannot find an answer to that in śāstra, but look at the example of Droṇa and Dharā, demigods who did tapasya to get Kṛṣṇa as their son - they eventually merged with the eternally perfect mother Yaśodā and Father Nanda, so this is most likely the case with Brahmā vis a vis Haridās Thākur too. Since not every universe's Brahmā is a pure devotee, it seems to me that the nitya siddha Haridās Thākur is superior to the Brahmā that may have merged with him as a partial expansion."

Bhakta: "And if Gaura-līlā travels around the universes, does that mean that Haridās is always born a Muslim and that there is Islam in all the other universes too?"

Advaitadas: "Hard to say. One of the chief services of Haridās Thākur is to show the examples of forbearance and humility. Perhaps he is oppressed by others in other universes. One nitya siddha can perform different activities even in one universe, in one avatāra, let alone in other universes and avatāras."

Bhakta: "In Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta it is described that Shiva wears a garland of bones of departed Vaiṣṇavas. If He lives in Vaikuṇṭha how can there be dead Vaiṣṇavas there, since there is no death in the spiritual world?"

Advaitadas: "They never died. The body and apparel of Shiva are eternal and beginningless. It is as inconceivable as the fact that our conditioned existence is beginningless."


My friend Karunamayi recently reported on Facebook that Govinda Candra Dās (Gilles Dubois) has passed away at the age of 55, due to heart failure. Govinda Candra was a French disciple of Madrasi Krishnadas Baba and was the painter of the famous painting of Kunjera, the elephant made entirely up of gopīs, for Kṛṣṇa to ride on (see picture on this blog). He also made a large painting of Śrīman Mahāprabhu for his Guru. I met him once at Rādhākund, around 1985, he had a devotee sister too, whom I also met at Rādhākund around the same time, she was very pure. Once, in 1997, he offered me to make illustrations for my books but unfortunately we lost contact after that. I offer my condolences to his friends and family.