Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Conventional and Social vs. Unconventional and Individualistic

After concluding my previous post, I thought it was a little ironic that I had to take refuge in Kierkegaard to confirm something that is stated with such vigor in the Upanishads, namely that God, or the life of faith, is known exclusively by the path of subjectivity, or by what the Indian system would call antarmukhatā or turning inward. And if any yoga system holds this to be more true than another, it is certainly that of bhakti, which opposes the empirical method of jñāna. yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyaḥ.

I tend to want to defend the intellectual effort as an act of devotion in itself, since I hold that all human faculties, especially one as fundamental as reason, must have a devotional function. This is what is meant by jñāna-yajña in Gita 18.70. Since desire is the essence of bhakti, the desire to understand God, the way He works and His will for me personally, is what the power of reason was meant for.

In terms of knowledge, it will always be inadequate, for one can never know “the whole picture,” and one has to make decisions on the basis of faith and intuition, however well informed one may think one is. The safe path of obedience to external authorities, tradition or received knowledge is ultimately alienating. When Krishna says sarva-dharmān parityājya, he means that all those external demands must be seen in the context of the intuitive impulse, which comes from Krishna.

When I saw Advaita's quotes of Satya Narayan on his blog today, I thought that I would reflect on it a little in the light of the above. Advaita is contemplating his uniqueness, perhaps isolation, among Western Vaishnavas as a member of the Advaita parivar. But this leads him to recall a dissertation that Satya Narayan Baba gave on the individualistic approach to attaining God.
Once a saint, after death, reached the abode of the Lord and was very surprised to see the Lord alone. So he asked: "How is it that you are alone? I thought there were so many sadhus, so many societies, religions--Muslim, Christianity, Judaism--so many religions and so many saintly people, so many priests and popes and acharyas.”

The Lord said: "I am alone and only one who is alone can come to Me. Those who are with a crowd they cannot reach Me because they remain entangled. So those people who have their big big temples and sects, they really don't want Me. If I went there people would worship Me and not them. For that reason, I am always alone. Nobody wants Me - they only want to exploit My name, but they don't want Me. That is why I am alone. But since you have not fallen into that trap, you have [been able to] come to Me. Only people like you can approach Me."

The idea is here that only when one has become fully devoted to the Lord can one approach Him. If one has any other desire then he cannot reach the Lord." (Caitanya Caritamrita CD1, lecture 2 31st-34th minute)

The point Satya Narayan Dasji is making is that desirelessness and aloneness are somehow inextricably connected. Such a discourse is very prevalent amongst the bhajanānandi Vaishnavas and one that we ourselves often repeated on leaving Iskcon and the Gaudiya Math, where service to the institution seemed to lead to a panoply of ills. It seemed that it was so easy to get distracted from the essentials of bhajan in a large society, what Rupa and the Bhagavata refer to as bahv-ārambha [Jiva and Vishwanath say "like temples and maths"] or "making many disciples," and advise against as detrimental to bhajan. We made a direct connection between the diksha question and this divergence from the pure bhajanānandi attitude.

Since then, however, I have come to respect Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati originality in promoting the goṣṭhyānandī ideal. One can see a parallel between this opposition of attitudes in the early Buddhist split between Sthavira-vada and Mahayana. We could easily argue that the first élan of the Chaitanya Movement was based on the conviction that through mercy, prema had already been given and it was only incumbent on his followers to adopt in faith a generous spirit of freely giving it to others, but some say that was the case only during Chaitanya's avatar, and that in the post-Chaitanya period, sadhana is needed. But what has long fascinated me in this is the contrast between religion's social role and its part in the individual quest for self-realization.

In his famous Putana article, Saraswati Thakur himself took an individualistic stance when he emphasized the “unconventional” nature of the Guru. One who makes compromises with social convention is ultimately giving priority to some personal motivation—his personal safety or security, his personal pleasure or reputation—rather than to the uncompromising demands of the Lord in the Heart. The scriptures are a guide. The guru is only a guide to achieving the awareness of these demands. Jiva and Bhaktivinoda Thakur tell us that the scriptures nothing more than the realizations of those who have entered into direct communion with God (vidvad-anubhava). Through the Guru and Shastra, i.e., through following a path to which we are particularly suited, we are to become unique gurus ourselves. This means that ultimately we have to express our individuality, which comes of our exclusive and unique relationship with God.

However, as I quoted Stephen Clark the other day, “Someone who claimed to be 'religious' in a way that no one else could or should understand or share, who claimed a literally unique route to the appreciation of a divine reality no one else could grasp, would not easily be distinguished from an ordinary hobbyist: if 'my' God cannot be anyone else's, how is He God at all?"

In other words, if we become so individual that we have nothing to say or share with others, then it makes our religious experience suspect. Guru means teacher, so when Bhaktivinoda Thakur says tāi śiṣya tava, thākibo sarvadā, na loibo pūjā kāro ("I will always remain your disciple and never accept anyone's worship."), his purpose is to emphasize the humility, without which we can never be the recipients of divine instruction, he does not mean one should avoid the duty of charity that is imposed by divine realizations. The Mahayanists identified these two poles as those of wisdom (prajñā) and compassion (karuṇā). Wisdom is the achievement of direct experience of God, compassion is the joy of sharing it. Therefore, for the Mahayana Buddhists, the Bodhicitta, or true transcendent consciousness, resided in the union of these two forces.

Human beings are social. Religion is more than a personal experience, it is something that is shared. This is why Alfred North Whitehead's famous definition is so often called inadequate by the Christians: “Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness. It runs through three stages, if it evolves to its final satisfaction. It is the transition from God the void to God the enemy, and from God the enemy to God the companion.” (Religion in the Making, 1926.)

Religion is an important basis for the deepest level of socialization. When Srivas Pandit was told that Nimai had become a Vaishnava, he whispered the blessing, asmākaṁ goṣṭhir vardhatām--“May our society grow!” What he meant was that he wished for the values that he held so deeply to be shared with others, and especially by one who had the virtues and talents of a Nimai Pandit.

Human societies, big or small, are created around shared values. Those who plunge into the depths of their inner being and come face to face with Divine Truth are obliged by the very structure of the heroic myth to come back with treasures for all humanity. Siddhi (success) is no success at all unless it can be communicated.

Religious systems create symbols, language and literature, an entire culture, around the divine realizations of saints; these symbols, language and literature make it possible for those who are connected to them to communicate among themselves as members of a single family. This impulse to seek association is profound and necessary, not the kind that results from superficial values. It leads to the potential for intimacy that can only come from sharing the deepest of values.

There is, however, a necessary middle point in this process. That is why I previously stated that sexuality is a necessary aspect of the devotional life: not a superficial sexuality divorced from the search for Self, but one that in itself symbolizes the union of wisdom and compassion: one that recognizes that Krishna wants the club to grow, not through wisdom alone, but through prema.

Sex is a sociological phenomenon; indeed, it is perhaps the most fundamental sociological phenomenon of all. Those who value individuality absolutely, mostly men, tend to shun sexuality or at least the personal commitment that is contingent on sexual relationships. They are afraid of the compromise to their individuality that comes from human love. For the same reason, others feel that the intimacy of sexual love is the very opposite of love for God; how can love of God be compatible with exclusive commitment to a mere jiva, especially one whose embodied existence threatens to plunge one into attachment and commitment to the body and all its extensions?

These arguments are contextual, with reference to the status of the sadhaka. It is indeed necessary for one to go through some kind of initiatory process in order to discover one's identity in relation to God. But that discovery of one's identity in love of God, which must be guarded and nurtured through individual sadhana throughout one's life, must nevertheless be expanded outward to benefit society and the world.

The second stage of sadhana, which in keeping with the sahajiya tradition I call the sādhaka stage (the former being the pravartaka stage), is a median stage between the individualistic and the communalistic approaches to spirituality. In fact, the fullness of individual spiritual realization must incorporate all three stages. As one progresses, the emphasis changes, though one never entirely gives up what went before.

To make the point another way: Seeing God is NOT the end of the spiritual process. After all, who ever sees God in full anyway? We only see aspects of God as he chooses to reveal them to us. There is a continuing dialectic process going on in our spiritual advancement, and "seeing God" is only a dialectic counterpoint that marks a synthesis. But the process is one that continues, for Krishna keeps disappearing from the Rasa dance and coming back eternally.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very nice discussion!!! Dandavats Pranam!