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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

11 comments:

  1. muliebrity |ˌmyoōlēˈebrətē|
    noun poetic/literary
    womanly qualities; womanhood.

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  2. > 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.

    Comfortably living... You don't know what are you speaking about. He was struggling so many years, they even almost kicked him out of the temple. And by the way, he was sleeping on the hard floor with vraja dust without any bed or bedsheet in the small room half of which is occupied by salagramas. He did such for 25 years without any comfort.

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  3. Radhe Syam,
    I slept on the floor in ISKCON too - everybody did in my time [1970s]. Vaishnavas outside of ISKCON have no water, no electricity, no automatic prasad supply, no elaborate visa arrangements, no taxis, no chokidaras and do not bring editors for their books over by plane from America.

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  4. Dear Adwaita Ji,

    Aindra Prabhu is a guru to me so please allow me to speak some words in his defense. First however let me speak a word of general agreement with you in the sense that (a) I too really wanted a different book from Aindra Ji than the one we got, and (b) I too find the writing style really poor - like a melody with so much alankar that there is no rag left.

    Also allow me to thank you for highlighting many things you liked in the book.

    Now, please allow me to comment on some critical points you make -

    He clearly still believed in envy-vada...

    I don't think "envy-vada" is inherently antithetical to jiva-tattva, as "envy" can be used as a reasonable english equivalent of "bahir-mukha."

    ...Aindra starts with some pretty sordid politics... 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 Vaishnava aparadha?

    This bothered me a LOT at well, and I feel pretty nearly exactly as you do. However I have to refer back to Aindra's PURPOSE for writing the book in the first place. Srila Prabhupada came to Aindra in a dream and asked him to "write a book about book distribution." Aindra interpreted this to mean that his Gurudev wants him to write a book explaining how the main activity of the Guru's mission should operate. Therefore Aindra's motus operandi is to correct ISKCON, that's the whole purpose of the book.

    For me, personally, that's why I am let down about the book. I don't have much at stake in "ISKCON" proper, therefore the main thrust of the book is not relevant to me - and that's what dissapointed me. But I don't feel confused about WHY Aindra wrote the book that he did.

    I do think he went overboard, however. But that's part of what I love about him - the way he goes over the top all the time.


    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 Krishna just wants our attention and this may start in a negative way, but has a positive purpose.

    One of my favorite parts in the book, too.

    On page 29 Aindra expresses an interesting stri-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, to prompt within himself an internal recollection of the supreme root of all minor expanded varieties of femininity..."

    This is actually sahajiyaism, as sahajiyas try to compare mundane gender with spiritual gender. In other words, gopis are gopis and mundane women are mundane women.


    It would be FAR more accurate to say, "This is reminiscent of sahajiyaism," or "This idea has something in common with sahajiyaism." I am not sure if there is an official definition of sahajiyaism anywhere? But as I understand it, it would be something like:

    Sahajiyaism - To equate mundane affairs with divine affairs, and consider participation in such affairs to be equivalent to participation in divine lila. The most prominant example is a male considering himself equivalent with Krsna and the women around him equivalent with the Gopis, and their sexual and/or romantic intercourse equivalent to Rasa Lila.

    So Aindra's viewpoint is NOT Sahajiyaism. It roughly shares one component with sahajiyaism, which is to link mundane women to the gopis. However it does not literally equate them, nor does it suggest the male equating with Krsna, and it's whole purport is to encourage abstenance from romantic and sexual intercourse, not to sanctify it.

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  5. One wonders if Aindra really splashes around fancy words to pose as an advanced devotee...

    This is overly critical, I think.

    ...he was himself also comfortably living off a corrupt bureaucratic institution.

    Aindra really did live extremely simply. You may not be fully aware of his renounced lifestyle. He did stay within the institutional walls - but it is unnecessarily critical to say that this was done for comfort, when his Gurudev explicitly ordered him to stay within the institutional walls. He was tolerating the ISKCON institution barely as a service to his Gurudeva, and he was anything but lavish or indulgent. Really, I promise.

    Thank you.

    Your servant,
    Vraja Kishor das

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  6. Vic, the conditioned soul is not envious of Krishna, this is not shastric siddhanta. This is what the Sanskrit dictionary says of bahirmukha:

    bahir-mukha [ bahirmukha ]

    mf ( ī ) n. coming out of the mouth ( opp. to antarm° ) cf. L.

    ( ifc. ) one who turn his face away, indifferent to ( °khī-√ bhū, to turn away from ) cf. Śaṃk. ( also with loc. cf. Divyâv. )

    one who has his mind directed to external things cf. Śaṃk

    m. a deity ( prob. w.r. for barhir-m° ), L


    Not a single one of this is envy or even resembling envy. It is indifferent, ignorant. In Bengali bahirmukha means a mundaner, also not envious.

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  7. ...he was himself also comfortably living off a corrupt bureaucratic institution.

    Vic, comfortably living does not just mean sleeping on velvet cushions. It also means using the sect's political power to get a 24-year visa for India and using the sect's global influence to attract thousands of followers. It means getting an editor over from America just to edit his book (you think any sadhu in Vrindavan could afford those 2000 bucks for the plane ticket?)

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  8. To me, the second definition of bahirmukha is roughly analogus to envy. I see a woman stamping her foot and turning her back on her so-called lover. This is not literally envy, and this is not literally what happens in the jiva/krsna thing. I do not subscribe to the version of falling from Krsna lila at all.

    Envy - "occurs when a person lacks another's (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it."

    Although we are not intentionally envious of Krsna directly, the act of attempting to enjoy objects rather than be an object enjoyed by Krsna is so similar to envy that the word can reasonably be used to illustrate it.

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  9. It also means using the sect's political power to get a 24-year visa for India

    Yuktam vairagyam ucyate!

    If something is in my hand which allows me to stay in Vrindavana doing 24-hour kirtana seva - and I renounce that thing, such is phalgu-vairagya.

    and using the sect's global influence to attract thousands of followers.

    From this statement I have to doubt that you had any close association with Aindra. Aindra did not "use" anything to "attract followers." If you are implying that recording the mahamantra and distributing it throughout a global network is an act of pratishtha, canvassing for thousands of followers I have to marvel at your cynicism. By this token anyone who writes and publishes a book is a bhukti.


    It means getting an editor over from America just to edit his book (you think any sadhu in Vrindavan could afford those 2000 bucks for the plane ticket?)

    This book had an editor??? That editor ought to be cross-examined, hahaha. The book is a MESS! What a waste of money THAT was.

    Anyway again, what is the big deal? I don't see the big deal.

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  10. Although we are not intentionally envious of Krsna directly, the act of attempting to enjoy objects rather than be an object enjoyed by Krsna is so similar to envy that the word can reasonably be used to illustrate it.

    That is not correct, for all the shastras speak of anAdyavidyA - beginningless ignorance. The conditioned soul does not know that Krsna is the enjoyer instead of them, unless they learn this from sat guru.

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  11. I see the whole book differently. Aindra prabhu is not faultfinding. He is ecstatically rambling in a Pingala-like mood- "To hell with it all, including my own foolishness". He acknowledges that there are genuine people in ISKCON.

    Obviously this book confuses people. It is not for everyone. It is very deep.

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