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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Aindra's book, part 2

Reminder: This is a review of the e-copy of Aindra Dās' book. If anyone notices that the final printed copy does not contain some or any of the upcoming quotes, or reversely, that there may be important things left out in the e-copy, please let me know.

On pages 62-63 Aindra writes,

"Having become “fixed-up” and satisfied on the brahminical platform of goodness (sthitam sattve prasidati), one becomes freed from the major lot of gross material distractions. At this point one may gradually focus and absorb one’s mind and heart (from smarana, dharana, dhyana, anusmriti, to samadhi) in the remembrance of one’s given vraja-svarupa while cultivating the mental service of Radha-Krishna’s eightfold daily pastimes (asta-kaliya-lila-manasa-seva)."

Brahminhood and the mode of goodness, however, have nothing to do with aṣṭakāla līlā adhikāra, though surely purity is required for the practise of līlā smaraṇam. It is surely nice he speaks about a given svarūpa here.

More on page 63:

"After the attainment of svarupa-siddhi, a siddha-bhakta anxiously cries to be reinstated in his or her original constitutional relationship (vastu-siddhi) with the Lord."

How can one cry for perfection when one is already perfect (siddha bhakta), and then even for 'reinstatement' as if we have been in the spiritual world before? And where does the word vastu siddhi appear in the ācāryas' books?

Page 72 - "Do not bother yourself to become too much infatuated with Krishna. Rather, act in such a way that Lord Krishna may become ever more infatuated with you."

I have heard this siddhānta in many Iskcon lectures but somehow have never found it in śāstra. I cannot see any difference between one and the other. How can one not get infatuated with Kṛṣṇa unless one is a walking refrigerator? And why would one act in a way to infatuate Kṛṣṇa unless one is already infatuated with Him and thus eager to experience His presence?

Also on page 72:
"Just as there are left-wing (vama) and right-wing (daksina) yutheshvari-gopis and sakhis with many varieties of devotional dispositions, so also there are many varieties of left- and right-wing manjaris. Rati Manjari is daksina-mridvi by nature, right wing and very soft and sweet. As evidenced in Srila Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami’s Vilapa-kusumanjali, Rati Manjari, from her right-wing vantage point, stands as perhaps the greatest exemplar of the mood of belonging to her yutheshvari, Shri Radhika. “I am Yours! I am Yours! I cannot live without You! O queen, please understand this and bring me to Your lotus feet.”

This is not in any śāstra either – it would mean that so-called 'left wing mañjarīs' would say "Rādhe! You are mine You are mine" (which is the madīyatā bhava of vāma nāyikās)? The madīyatā- (‘you are mine!’) and tadīyatā- (‘I am yours’) parties are the sakhīs, who have a certain attitude towards Kṛṣṇa,  not the mañjarīs, who have the bhāvollāsa rati (preference for the devotee over the Lord) towards Smt. Rādhārāṇī.

"The famous Shri Ananga Manjari is also vama-madhya in temperament."

Aindra gives no source reference to this. About Anaṅga Mañjarī: In Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Gaṇoddeśa Dīpikā [1.96-97] Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī lists Anaṅga Mañjarī among the vara-sakhis; they are like the aṣṭa-sakhī [etad aṣṭaka kalpabhiḥ], they are nāyikās and are 12 years old. Rūpa Goswāmī only lists mañjarīs at the end of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Gaṇoddeśa Dīpikā, not including Anaṅga Mañjarī. This would indicate that the mañjarīs have another, non-sambhoga, relationship with Kṛṣṇa than the, also 12-year old, vara sakhīs. The vara-sakhī class could indicate that [some] mañjarīs, or 12-year olds, do have vilāsa with Kṛṣṇa and that mañjarīs need not always be fully celibate, and some verses in Govinda Līlāmṛta and Kṛṣṇa Bhāvanāmṛta seem to support that too, but the mañjarī-tattva of the majority of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, that ‘mañjarī’ means 'bud' and is therefore not enjoyable by the bee, and the mañjarīs do not enjoy with Kṛṣṇa,  period, is far more relishable, and that is also clearly expressed in Vilāpa Kusumāñjali’s verse 16, which is pivotal to that rasa siddhānta and indeed to the entire Vilāpa Kusumāñjali.

On p.73, Aindra says:

"He (Krishna) often finds Himself futilely begging at the feet of Radha’s relentless left-wing manjari maidservants who derisively keep Him at bay, playfully enhancing the effectiveness of the vipralambha-rasa...."

Here Aindra promotes his own brand of mañjarī bhāva-shaped sakhī-bhāva. mañjarīs do not reject Kṛṣṇa out of vāmya but out of loyalty to Rādhā alone. A study of Mañjarī Swarūpa Nirūpaṇa could have helped him perhaps.

p. 78-9: "Greed-induced multi-aspected absorption in ananda-maya-vraja-bhakti-bhajana, both internal and external, could never in its real light be discerned by a deepest intellect to be a selfish or self-centered affair. It should never be confounded with the egoistical approach of the Himalayan forest-dwelling liberationist referred to by Prahlada in his prayers to Lord Nrisimhadeva, as recounted in Shrimad-Bhagavatam. If it were, it could hardly be accepted as vraja-bhakti, because by definition, at its very core, the exclusively selfless, self-giving service attitude...."

I am glad that Aindra independently had the same realization as I had on this issue. The Bhāgavata verse 7.9.44 does not condemn rāgānuga bhajanānandīs at all, nor does it even mention them, though the verse is sometimes used to condemn rāgānuga devotees as selfish. It speaks simply of yogīs and jñānīs meditating in solitude.

Aindra continues on p.79:
"Lalasamayi, the intense desire for being reinstated in one’s eternal, constitutional, perfect spiritual body (siddha-deha) as an eternal resident of Vraja, should in no way be presupposed by anyone to be any sort of gross or subtle material or spiritual sense gratification."

This too I applaud (though ‘reinstated’ and ‘constitutional siddha deha’ are again beyond the parameters of Vaiṣṇava theology).

On pages 80-81 Aindra reconciles the bhajanānandī and goṣṭhyānandī (a division which was never made by the Goswāmīs anyway) by saying :

"The incomparable, unswerving life of concentrated bhajana fortitude exemplified by the Gosvamis and their followers in and of itself stands ever monumental in the hearts of the anuragi Vaishnavas and perennially serves as a pre-eminent paragon for the world at large,......"

He repeats this reconciliation on page 85 too, where he calls denouncement of either bhajanānandī or goṣṭhyānandī 

'perverse, lopsided religio-institutional bias, immature subjective superstition."

This is surely to be applauded.

On p.84 Aindra pleads further for the bhajanānandīs in a charming way, saying that

"all the trees, creepers, insects, lizards, rodents, birds, and other creatures within or around our shuddha-nama bhajananandi’s bhajana-kutira – how many souls would be residing within his very body?"

, and:

"Any sound vibration produced anywhere on this planet is believed to encircle the Earth seven times before dissolution. This makes it possible for his chanting to purify the ethereal atmosphere of the whole world. The result would be all the more powerful if he would be living in Vrindavana, where the purificatory benefits mount a thousand fold. No man is an island."

p.86: "Some less-than-philosophically-astute individuals attempt to purposefully popularize as institutional dogma a fallacious understanding that by externally serving Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana movement in vaidhi bhakti alone one will automatically pop up somehow or other in vraja-lila after the end of the present life – an unverifiable post-dated check."

Bravo again. I would give the following example - if you go out on book distribution and just stand on the street like a tree, how many books will you sell? You have to go and approach people, do something, then you will get the result. Similarly, just lazily and passively thinking "Oh, siddha deha will be revealed if I just submissively do my service" will not do the job. That has been proven also in the growing history of western Vaiṣṇavism,.

To be continued.............

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aindra's book, part 1

Much has been made of the charismatic Iskcon-kīrtanīya Aindra Dās (Edwin Striker, 1953-2010), who passed away suddenly due to an accident last summer, and his long-awaited book, 'The Heart of Transcendental Book distribution'. I downloaded a copy of the book from the internet, I do not know if the hard copy has the same page numbering, this is a review of the pdf. The language is pompous and the overall mood is rather overbearing - over-sophisticated language in extremely long sentences makes the book quasi- elite and unreadable. There is also a poignant lack of scriptural quotations, which makes the book seem really Aindra's own mental product rather than a genuine representation of eternal Vaiṣṇava siddhanta.

He clearly still believed in envy-vāda, as he writes on page 5:

"It would be inappropriate to acquaint people who have yet to be divested of their long-standing envy of the Lord with Radha-Krishna’s most intimate lilas without first philosophically establishing them in the principles of prema-dharma."

He strikes a more realistic note on page 10-

"My dear Shri Shri Radhe-Shyama! What is the use of having innumerable hands, each distributing transcendental literatures by the billions and trillions, if as an outcome of it all, not even one soul becomes Your fully self-realized, pure, unalloyed kevala-madhurya-premika devotee? What a perfidy if, by broadcasting countless volumes and volumes of transcendental scriptures, not even one thoughtful book distributor could fortunately gain the essential penetrating insight to deeply discover the esoteric truths behind the black (Krishna) letters on all those white (Radha) pages!"

The conclusion of all this is optimistic and positive, though-

"My dearmost beloved Lordships Shri Shri Radhe-Shyama! If, however, as a result of all such laborious efforts even just one fortunate soul could somehow or other by Your unbounded special causeless mercy finally, even if after billions and trillions of lifetimes of devotional struggle, attain that most cherished goal of life, then by all means, please let there be thousands and millions of “brihat-mridanga” printing presses, each producing millions and billions of transcendental literatures describing Your unlimited names, forms, qualities, and madhurya-lilas in the sweetest of all sweetest lands, Shri Vrindavana-dhama."
This a nice one on page 13-

"Let thousands and millions of externally oriented prakrita-bhaktas fill the atmosphere with endless streams of prajalpa, faultfinding, backbiting, and fratricidal bickering, on top of all the petty institutional and interinstitutional wrangling and war – what do we care for it?"

On the same page Aindra starts with some pretty sordid politics, speaking about rubber-stamped Gurus, their pompous pedestals and their proximity to female disciples. Yawn.....even he..... One wonders how much taste a 'rasik bhakta' must have before he can give up such petty sordid gossip. Some of the language about his bureaucratic Godbrothers is so strong one wonders whether this is boldness or outright Vaiṣṇava aparādha? He goes on page after page saying he does not care about rubber-stamped bureaucrats, gṛhamedhīs and show-bottle bhajanānandīs, making one wonder that if he really does not care, why does he waste so much time writing that he does not care instead of relishing Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa aṣṭakāl līlā and harināma. Life is short, as he has experienced himself. Ironically, he stresses the need to focus, focus and refocus [on page 19] - the question, after all these pages, is, focus on what?

Finally, on page 21, Aindra gets more positive-

"We should understand that the sight of others’ misdemeanors and various other calamities are shown to us by Krishna for the purpose of dynamically educing our own pure devotional qualities, to enhance our devotional adhikara."

And on page 23 he gets even charming, telling a story of how a boy attracts a girl's attention first through nasty pranks and later through love-letters etc, making the point that Kṛṣṇa just wants our attention and this may start in a negative way, but has a positive purpose.

Like Jagadānanda, Aindra also has his own ideas about kaniṣṭha-, madhyama- and uttama-adhikārī, which may or may not have been the intention of Śukadeva and Vyāsa.

On page 29 Aindra expresses an interesting strī-tattva:

"He (the elevated Vaishnava) will therefore allow the sight of the illusory womanly form within this world, which faintly resembles the radiance of spiritual muliebrity (not found in my dictionary), to prompt within himself an internal recollection of the supreme root of all minor expanded varieties of femininity. This original feature of all transcendental womanhood is none other than Shri Radha, who mothers not the material existence of repeated birth and death but rather spiritual birth into eternal loving devotion. A subordinate king’s attitude toward the emperor’s envoy conspicuously reflects his general attitude toward the emperor. As a well-wishing emissary coming on behalf of the emperor’s government to examine the condition of a subordinate is to be properly honored, so similarly any expanded form of femininity should be honored as a representative of Radha.........Externally maintaining a respectful distance from Radha’s messenger (duti) so as not to commit offense, while humbly considering himself to be unqualified to directly associate with her as long as he remains in the sadhaka-deha, he will simply pray from within that she mercifully inform her Svamini (Radha) about his pure devotional intents."

This is actually sahajīyaism, as sahajīyas try to compare mundane gender with spiritual gender. In other words, gopīs are gopīs and mundane women are mundane women.

Aindra hits out at the eggheads, on page 33:

"Furthermore, one may unfortunately entertain an immodest impression of one’s “superiority” over others who are less materially qualified, thus gobbling up heaps and piles of temporary hog-stool-like false prestige on the basis of accumulated collegial upadhis. One must sagaciously avoid the snobbish, over-intelligent, grossly idiotic notion that such slaughterhouse academia is in any way a prerequisite for high-grade devotional eligibility, competency, or potential, or to any degree indicative of such. When has such a conceited, specious idea ever been taught by an acarya or upheld by shastra? How highly educated was Valmiki? Were Hanuman, Sugriva, Jambavan, or Jatayu college graduates? How doctorately decorated were Mrigari, the hunter; Dhruva; Prahlada; or even their guru, Narada, in his previous life as the son of a maidservant? How sophisticated or cultured was the prostitute who, by the grace of Haridasa Thakura, converted to Vaisnavism and chanted no less than three lakhs of hari-nama daily? What about Haridasa Thakura himself? How literate was the celebrated South Indian brahmana whom Lord Gauranga embraced, eulogizing him as having truly understood the essence of the Gita? How boastfully bookish was Srila Gaura Kishora Dasa Babaji Maharaja? How many pointed examples are required to illustrate the principle? Besides, we should simply ask – Is the world over not teeming with college graduates and professionals who profess avowed atheism or agnosticism?"

(Bravo, Aindra!)

On page 39 Aindra calls bhāvollāsa rati "the immaculate, spontaneous selfless loving service moods", but that has nothing to do with bhāvollāsa, which simply means a greater love for a devotee than for the Lord. One wonders if Aindra really splashes around fancy words to pose as an advanced devotee, and if he has always perfectly understood siddhānta really.

I do appreciate, and support, his staunch opposition to organized religion, but at the same time he was himself also comfortably living off a corrupt bureaucratic institution.

At least Aindra, unlike most of his fellows, understood (on page 48) that one must first understand siddhānta before one starts preaching, though I wonder how much benefit people will have from the verbal constructions he himself produces in this book.

He tackles another troublesome misconception on page 54:

"We must acknowledge that although solitary bhajana and sankirtana appear to be divergently constituted, the objective of both ways of worship is one – to please Krishna. It is nowhere indicated that progress in Krishna consciousness demands a unidimensional, one-sided approach to the Lord’s loving service."

In page 56 Aindra pleads for the introduction of siddha praṇālī as a supportive tool of one's sādhana (a very good concept), saying:

"It is insufficient simply to know by negation that “I am not ‘this’ [illusory material] body.” At a certain point, a seriously inquisitive individual must inevitably ask, “If I am not ‘this’ body, then what body am I?”

Aindra argues that even the dāsānudāsa concept is a false upādhi (designation). I do not fully agree with this, as Rūpa Goswāmī has clearly said that sādhana is simultaneously done with the external and internal body and both are considered spiritual. Anyway, after rejecting traditional Gauḍīya practises like Siddha Praṇālī as cheap, monkey-ish etc. he says:

"Although the absolute dependency upon siddha-pranali-diksa as such for the evolvement of raganuga-sadhana is denied in the Sarasvata doctrine, timely instruction (shiksa) concerning the internally conceived siddha-deha is nevertheless essential."

After quoting (śāstrik quotes are rare in this book) the necessity of harināma, Aindra writes:

"Shastric evidence such as this, however, in no way poses to preclude the sadhaka’s need to be esoterically instructed."

Acknowledging that you cannot just get svarūpa siddhi by just blindly chanting hare kṛṣṇa.

To be continued. Blog originally composed December 2010

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Toooooo late!!!

Prabhu Sītānāth's annual utsava [festival of advent] has started on 6th february and today, on the Vasant Pañcamī [8th february] only the printed invitation has arrived here. Anyway, there is still time to attend the 24-hour harināma saṅkīrtan in the ashram tomorrow [9th febr] and the nagar saṅkīrtan on Sītānāth's advent day [10th febr], along with the abhiṣekha of Madangopāl Jiu, Janma līlā Kīrtan and Prasād of course.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Nityānanda Vaṁśa Vistāra

This is a brief review of Śrī Nityānanda Vaṁśa Vistāra, said to be by Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura.

I found this booklet in one of the many makeshift book-stands at Rādhākuṇḍa last Kārtik. This book is sometimes used to establish the legitimacy of the Nityānanda Vaṁśa (family lineage), but actually it only describes the pastimes of the first generation after Lord Nityānanda, particularly His son Vīracandra. I am not sure if this booklet is actually written by Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura because -

1] A later Gaura-theology like rādhā-bhāva dyuti is there (Mahāprabhu being Kṛṣṇa accepting the feelings and glow of Rādhā), something Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura never said in Caitanya Bhāgavat.
2] Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura is an aiśvarya bhakta who always compared Caitanya Mahāprabhu with Lord Nārāyan. Such attitude is not there at all in Nityānanda Vaṁśa Vistāra, it is all much more rasik and madhura.
3] One also wonders if Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura,  who is the earliest biographer of Mahāprabhu with his Caitanya Bhāgavat, was still around when Nityānanda's grandsons were born. It is estimated that Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura passed away in 1589.
4] In his Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Abhidhāna Haridās Dās cautiously calls it vṛndāvan dās ṭhākura āropita - 'ascribed to Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura'.

The booklet itself is quite charming, being largely filled with elaborate and ecstatic accounts of festivals Vīracandra Prabhu held. Vīracandra Prabhu is considered by the author to be a reincarnation of Mahāprabhu and his pastimes, like travelling to Vṛndāvan via Jharikanda, are also similar. Sādhu Bābā would typically say of such reincarnations 'What is the use of the copy when one already has the original?'

The books contains some verses ascribed to the Purāṇas or Upapurāṇas which establish Nityānanda Prabhu as a joint incarnation of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and this obviously contradicts standard Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology, which says He is Balarāma. Even if this is explained away as Nityānanda Prabhu being non-different from Mahāprabhu its very unlikely that such things are described in the Purāṇas, and it is anyway a wrong Gaura-tattva because Gaur is Kṛṣṇa, not Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.

One should surely not throw away the baby with the bathing water though - the book contains very tasty and ecstatic devotional narrations for sure. The book has 3 parts, Ādi-, Madhya-, and Antya-līlā, and 10 chapters, which contains the following:

Chapter 1 describes how Mahāprabhu ordered Nityānanda to marry, how Nityānanda went to Bengal to do saṅkīrtan, and how He came to Ambikā to meet Sūryadās Paṇḍit and marry his daughters Vasudhā and Jāhnavā. Chapter two describes how Vīracandra appeared in the womb of Vasudhā, how Abhirāma Ṭhākur came and tested Vīracandra [by offering obeisances he had killed Nityānanda's preceding offspring], and how Adwaita Ācārya came from Śāntipura to respect the child. Chapter three describes how Maheśa nivāsī Sudhāmoy went to do tapasyā in Purī with his wife and received a daughter, Nārāyaṇī, from the ocean, how Nityānanda merged into the deity of Śyāmasundara in Khardah and then re-emerged, how He finally merged within the deity of Bankim Deva in Ekacakra, how a festival was held in His memory, how Advaita Ācārya held an abhiṣekh for Vīracandra, how Jāhnavā-devī showed a 6-armed form and gave dīkṣā to Vīracandra, how Vīracandra went to Purī and met Sārvabhauma and others there, how he married Nārāyaṇī devī there, how he returned to Khardah and curbed the power of the Nāḍās by creating Nārīs, and how his dynasty emerged. (I could not find out what or who are the Nāḍās, I presume they are shaven-headed ascetics.)

The Madhya līlā starts with chapter four, in which Vīracandra's second marriage took place, Jāhnavā Devī went to Vṛndāvan and Gopījana Ballabh Prabhu showed his prowess on a chariot and created an abode of vines. Chapter Five describes how Jāhnavā Devī went to Ekacakra and stayed at Kuṇḍalī Talā, had darśana of Bankim Deva and gave dīkṣā to Viracandra's eldest son Gopījanaballabh. It also describes her journey to Vṛndāvan via Gayā, Kāśī and Prayāga, and how she merged with the Gopīnāth deity. Chapter six explains the tattva of Nityānanda and Caitanya Mahāprabhu, chapter seven describes how Vīracandra travelled to East Bengal and gave Harinām to the Muslims with the aid of the Nāḍās and how he showed an 8-armed form to the local Nawab, thus bestowing his mercy on him. Chapter eight describes how Vīracandra wandered up north, how he went to Maldah, and how he established a Śrīpāṭa there on the pretext of bestowing mercy on Durllabh Chatri.

The Antya Lila starts with chapter nine, where Vīracandra wandered through the Rāḍha-deśa and had darśana of Kuṇḍalī-talā and Bankim Deva, how he instructed Gati Govinda on Kṛṣṇa, met Śrīnivāsācārya and bestowed his mercy on King Bīrhambīr. Finally chapter ten describes how Vīracandra went to Kāśī via Jhārikanda and then went to Vṛndāvana via Prayāga, instructing Jīva Goswāmī there on bhakti-tattva. At the end there are very rasik descriptions of Śrī Rādhākuṇḍa and pastimes that Kṛṣṇa performed there with Anaṅga Mañjarī, which is really light-years away from the formal Nārāyan-Mahāprabhu Vṛndāvan Dās Ṭhākura eulogized in his Caitanya Bhāgavat.

This booklet is, to my knowledge, not yet translated into English.

Blog originally drafted in December 2010.