Friday, March 6, 2009

Avoiding Six Kinds of Vaishnava-aparadha

How do the scriptures define Vaishnava-aparadha, the mad elephant we are told to keep away from the garden of our hearts? In the 265th anuccheda of his Bhakti-sandarbha, in explaining the ten offenses against the holy name, Sri Jiva quotes a verse from the Skanda Purana, delineating varieties of unbefitting acts in relation with a Vaishnava.

satAM nindA ity anena hiMsAdInAM vacanAgocaratvaM darzitam | nindAdayas tu yathA skAnde zrI-mArkaNDeya-bhagIratha-saMvAde –

nindAM kurvanti ye mUDhA vaiSNavAnAM mahAtmanAm |
patanti pitRbhiH sArdhaM mahAraurava-saMjJite ||
hanti nindanti vai dveSTi vaiSNavAn nAbhinandati |
krudhyate yAti no harSaM darzane patanAni SaT || iti |

“Defamation of the saints, as violence and so forth, as well as verbal, is now presented. Blasphemy and so forth are presented in the Skanda in the discourse of Sri Markandeya and Bhagiratha:

‘The fools who defame Vaishnava-mahatmas fall into a place known as Maharaurava along with their ancestors. The six degrading acts against Vaishnava are (1) killing him, (2)  blaspheming him, (3) being envious of, or hating him, (4) not glorifying him, (5) being angry at him, and (6) not being happy upon seeing him.’”

According to Jiva it is also not acceptable to witness one, or several among the aforementioned degrading acts of defamation. The place known as Maharaurava is described in the fifth skandha of the Bhagavata (5.26.12) as follows:

evam eva mahArauravo yatra nipatitaM puruSaM kravyAdA nAma ruravas taM kravyeNa ghAtayanti yaH kevalaM dehambharaH ||

“Thus certainly a person who is exclusively absorbed in nourishing his body will be thrown to Maharaurava, where blood-thirsty hounds will devour his flesh and torment him.”

That said, let us examine the six kinds of degrading deeds.

1.To kill. This is obviously a heinous act bound to destroy the creeper of devotion. Under this heading, any and all acts of physical violence are also included.

2. To blaspheme. All verbal acts of defamation come under this category. Calling a Vaishnava names, speaking harshly to him or about him, speaking lies of him and so forth are considered blasphemy.

3. To be envious or hateful. To be envious of a Vaishnava, to wish for his demise or suffering and to act towards this goal, and other thoughts, speech and deeds prompted by a feeling of malice towards a Vaishnava come under this heading.

4. To not glorify. All Vaishnavas are worthy of respect. To not respect a Vaishnava in accordance with his qualification, or to refuse from recognizing a particular good quality or deed of a Vaishnava, is unbefitting. Everyone is to be given all the respect they deserve, regardless of their having different opinions from ours.

5. To be angry. Whatever a Vaishnava does, we are not to display an outburst of anger towards him. It is permitted to display anger towards someone who is hateful towards the bhaktas, but this, too, is to be done in a civil, constructive way for the rectification of the wrong-doer.

6. To not be happy upon seeing. Whoever has accepted the holy names of Krishna is a blessing to the world. To not feel happiness upon meeting a soul who has chosen to approach the Lord, regardless of his defects, is inappropriate.

Now I would like to bring this down to a practical level and examine the implications of the above unbefitting acts or attitudes when we evaluate the history of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the doctrinal differences between various teachers, and so forth, in our discussions. Let me condense it into two sentences.

Regardless of what anyone has said or done, we should not (1) assault him or his followers, (2) call him names or speak of him harshly, or (3) wish anything bad for him. We should (4) justly give him all the credit he is due and praise his achievements, (5) avoid anger towards him as a person, and (6) be happy upon seeing or hearing of him or his followers, remembering that despite all differences, they also chant the all-auspicious names of Krishna.

I believe if we keep this in mind, we can live our devotional lives with a feeling of safety in the heart.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Q&A: What books should a new western traditonal Gaudiya Vaishnava read?

Q: Can someone tell me which translations that are in English of Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrta does a traditional Gaudiya Vaishnava use? I realize that many disciples of Ananta das Babaji came from Iskcon and so still have the translations of BVSP to use, but what translations would be recommended for the brand new generation of GV's? Also, what is actually the recommendation of which books to read? Is it these three mentioned and in addition a book similar to Bhaktirasamrta Sindhu, or some other book that outlines the preliminary stages to the devotional path?

A: There is still a long way to go until we have carefully translated, definitive translations of all the core Gaudiya Vaishnava texts. The current selection of translations on the market often calls for a number of footnotes on the credits and shortcomings of the works to go along with the recommendation.

Below is a list of titles I consider essential reading for a Gaudiya Vaishnava, who wishes to be well acquainted with the theological foundations of his tradition – alphabetically listed. Notes on currently available editions, whether partial or complete, have been included.

Bhagavad-gita with Vishwanath Chakravarti’s and Baladeva Vidyabhushan’s commentaries – A classic text outlining the philosophical foundations of all Vaishnava-traditions.

Availability: Bhanu Swami has recently published an edition of Vishwanath Chakravarti’s commentary. BV Narayana Maharaja has published an edition with Vishwanath Chakravati’s and Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s commentaries. Of the two, the latter includes anvaya (“word-for-word”), as does A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s, whose well-known edition includes a commentary of his own, using Baladeva’s tika as the foundation. Aside this, there are many contemporary commentaries.

Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu with the commentaries of Jiva Goswami and Viswanath Chakravarti – The definitive work on devotion in practice and the nature of the perfection sought for.

Availability: David Habermann has published a complete edition in cooperation with Srivatsa Goswami of Chaitanya Prema Samsthan. Some notes from the commentaries have been included. B.V. Narayana Maharaja has published an edition of Vishwanath Chakravarti’s Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu-bindu, a summary of Rupa’s work, which is also very useful.

Jiva Goswami’s Bhakti-sandarbha – A thorough and systematic delineation of the theology of devotion in practice.

Availability: Kusakratha Das has presented a complete translation of the text. Satya Narayana Das of Jiva Institute has recently published the first volume (of three) of the text, including Devanagari-text, transliteration and translation, making a vast improvement over Kusakratha’s edition that is regrettably not a very accurate representation of the original.

Sanatana Goswami’s Brihad-bhagavatamrita with his own commentary, an exploration of bhakti-siddhanta in the form of a narrative, supplemented with Rupa Goswami’s Laghu-bhagavatamrita, a concice thesis of the above.

Availability: Gopiparanadhana Das and BBT have presented a fine edition of the text in three volumes, including a translation of most of the tika, re-worded for smoother reading. Other translations, without a commentary, float around as e-texts. Kusakratha Das has published an edition of Laghu-bhagavatamrita that is being re-published.

Vrindavan Das Thakur’s Chaitanya Bhagavata – A voluminous biography narrating Sri Chaitanya’s years in Navadvipa.

Availability: Bhumipati Das and Pundarika Vidyanidhi Das are publishing a multi-volume edition of the work with the original text and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s commentary. Sarvabhavana Das has published a one-volume edition. BV Puri Maharaja has published an edition that appears to be a polished version of an early draft of Sarvabhavana’s work.

Krishnadas Kaviraja’s Chaitanya Caritamrita – A wonderful blend of biographical narrative and philosophy, focusing on Sri Chaitanya’s later years.

Availability: Edward Dimock has published an edition of Chaitanya Caritamrita with aid from Radha Govindanath’s famous commentary in his translation. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami has published an edition with his own commentaries, drawing from Bhaktivinoda’s and Bhaktisiddhanta’s. Unlike Dimock’s, his multi-volume edition includes both the original Bengali text as well as synonyms. Dimock’s edition appears to be a more literal representation of the original.

Dhyanachandra Goswami’s Gaura-govindarchana-smarana-paddhati – An outline of the specific practices a sadhaka is to undertake in the course of his day-to-day bhajan.

Availability: Haricarana Das has translated the work. It was once available as an e-text, and is currently being re-edited and published in cooperation with the Blazing Sapphire Press.

Krishnadas Kaviraja’s Govinda-lilamrita – A voluminous narration describing the eight-fold daily pastimes of Radha and Krishna.

Availability: Advaitadas has published an edition with Rasbihari Lal & Sons. While the language of the translation could flow better, it is a fair representation of the original. Gadadhara Prana Das has also published an edition, and while his language certainly flows colorful, it would benefit from splitting elaborations into footnotes.

Gopala Bhatta Goswami’s Hari-bhakti-vilasa with Sanatana Goswami’s commentary – On matters of sadachar and rules for worship.

Availability: Rasbihari Lal & Sons are currently publishing a five-volume edition of the work with the first two volumes (ch. 1-10) currently available. While certainly helpful, the works could benefit from a translator who would translate directly from Sanskrit. Bhrigumuni Das has published a work called “Dearest to Vishnu”, a faithful presentation of chapters 12-16 dealing with Ekadashi.

Vishwanath Chakravarti’s Madhurya Kadambini – A comprehensive work outlining the course of a sadhaka’s progress towards the perfection.

Availability: Sri Krishna Chaitanya Shastra Mandir has published an edition including the original Sanskrit text and Ananta Das Babaji Maharaja’s elaborate commentary. Sarvabhavana Das and Dina Bandhu Das have both published translations of the text.

Narottama Das Thakur’s Prema-bhakti-chandrika – A beautiful outline of all that’s essential on the path of bhakti.

Availability: Sri Krishna Chaitanya Shastra Mandir has published an edition including Ananta Das Babaji Maharaja’s elaborate commentary, the English edition is currently available in manuscript form. Isvara Das has published an edition that could benefit from more accuracy. The included Bengali script is riddled with mistakes.

Srimad Bhagavatam with Sanatana Goswami’s, Jiva Goswami’s and Vishwanath Chakravarti’s commentaries – The vast garden in which the seed of our tradition of bhakti-rasa was planted.

Availability: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami has published translations of cantos 1-10/1 with the original Sanskrit text, transliteration and synonyms. His followers have published cantos 10/2-12 in the same style, often including translations of passages from earlier tikas in their commentary. Gita Press has published a complete translation of the text, which is, a few blunders aside, generally fine. Bhanu Swami has recently translated Vishwanath Chakravarti’s commentaries on the 10th canto.

Rupa Goswami’s Upadeshamrita from Stava-mala – A concise, yet essential work offering instructions to a sadhaka who seeks progress in his practices.

Availability: BV Narayana Maharaja has presented a translation of the work with three commentaries, by Radha Ramana Das Goswami, Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. While the translations at times drift a bit aside from the original, the edition is useful.

Rupa Goswami’s Ujjvala-nilamani– The post-graduate study of Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, an extensive study of the nuances of madhura-bhakti-rasa.

Availability: Puri Maharaj of Gaudiya Math has published an edition which is far from being definitive, but helpful nonetheless. BV Narayana Maharaja is rumored to be preparing an elaborate edition with a commentary.

Raghunath Das Goswami’s Vilapa-kusumanjali– The zenith of aspirations on the path of raga, a heart crying out for Sri Radha’s service.

Availability: Ananta Das Babaji Maharaja has published an edition with elaborate commentaries, currently available in manuscript form. Availability is generally restricted, on the author’s request, to initiated traditional Gaudiya Vaishnavas.

Additionally, there is a rich tradition of Pada-kavya in our tradition – thousands and thousands of poems have been written over the centuries by early and modern pada-kavis alike, compositions that are instrumental in entering the world of bhakti-rasa.

Availability: BBT has published a song-book called Songs of Vaishnava Acharyas, Dasarath Suta Das has published a song-book called More Songs of Vaishnava Acharyas. BV Narayana Maharaja has published a song-book called Gaudiya Giti Guccha. Countless individual padas have been translated and are available online.

There are dozens of other titles that could justifiably be included in this list, such as select short works from Rupa Goswami's Stava-mala and Raghunath Das Goswami's Stavavali, or from among Baladeva's voluminous works.

To ensure that there is no room for misunderstandings or misinterpretations, consultation with devotees familiar with the works is recommended, and basic knowledge of Bengali and Sanskrit languages is very helpful. The Gaudiya Grantha Mandira offers a large repository of Sanskrit texts that may be used to supplement editions without the original text included.

* * * * * * *

Q: But I notice that a good number of the works you mentioned are works done by and commented by IGM figures, such as the referral you gave for Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam. In some cases, I guess not only the commentaries, but also the verse translation may not be considered accurate by a Traditional Gaudiya Vaishnava. In the case of the various bonafide siddha pranali lines, do they use translations of these texts that are made by people in their own lineage, but are in Hindi or Bengali? In that case, it shouldn't be too hard for an English translation to come fairly soon.

A: The Gaudiya tradition is very cross-lineage in its approach as far as general themes such as these are concerned. I haven't heard anyone expressing concerns over reading translations from those outside one's own parampara. In fact, it is quite common that one may have an instructing guru from a different lineage - this was the case with my Param-guru, whose first siksha-guru, Sri Krishna Chaitanya Das Babaji, was from Shyamananda-parivar, and whose vesh-guru, Pandit Advaita Das Babaji, was of Advaita-parivar. The stress on diksha-parampara must not be taken out of proportion and context.

Yes - accuracy is a great concern with many, if not most, translations currently available on the market. So much so that I personally refuse to accept any scriptural references as evidence unless accompanied by the original text. How many times have I come across "evidence" that was practically unrecognizable as a translation of the original!

Practically all important Gaudiya Vaishnava texts have been translated to Bengali, most are available in Hindi as well. Goofs in translations, however, are not the privilege of ISKCON and Gaudiya Math publications - as long as one does not familiarize himself with the original language of the text, one will have to live with a degree of uncertainty over the exact and precise meaning of the text.

To accurately translate Sanskrit-texts, I do not consider a mere translation from a Hindi or Bengali translation to be adequate. The translation must be verified against the original Sanskrit, so much can change in translations of translations. The original translator may have found some passages hard to understand, or may have felt a need to explain something more elaborately than the original for ease of reading. The translator of translation, then, will in his turn do the same - how far will the text evolve from the original?

Many works published from ISKCON and Gaudiya Math contain translations or commentaries that we would not consider accurate or tasteful. Regardless, they are helpful, and have therefore been mentioned. I rarely read contemporary commentaries from IGM-sources, aside occasional peeks as a matter of curiosity, or if the work contains a substantial amount of references from earlier sources.

It is a fact that these works should all be soon translated into English, and indeed wiht some volunteer effort, it could easily be accomplished. Sadly, few have come forward to offer their services, even if in return for limited financial compensation. Our society in the West is still in a budding state, and resources for abundant financing of such projects just aren't there.

Q&A: Discussing one's bhajan with others

Q: Is it all right to discuss one's bhajan with others? Perhaps one may have an exceptional dream or a realization during bhajan – to whom may one speak of it, and to whom not?

A: We sometimes come across Vaisnavas who are fond of liberally sharing of their experiences, gained in dreams and in wakefulness all the same. However, visions and dreams with special spiritual significance are private matters one should cherish within the chamber of the heart. By airing them out in the public, their impact on the self fades and vanishes over time.

As recommended in Hari-bhakti-vilasa:

svapne vAkSi-samakSaM vA Azcaryam atiharSadam /
akasmAd yadi jAyeta na khyAtavyaM guror vinA //2.143//

"In dreams, or before one's eyes, if an astonishing, thrilling event suddenly occurs, it is not to be told of to others aside the guru."

If there are senior Vaisnavas in whom we have deep faith, and whom we regard essentially in the capacity of a guru, dreams and other special events may be disclosed to them as well.

However, only one who has digested and well internalized the experience may share it with others. Even then, they are to be shared with the faithful alone – with those who will respect and find deep inspiration in the same. Revealing heart's matters before the faithless is wholly improper. If this warning is not paid heed to, we gradually lose the impact of the experience, and additionally risk becoming subject to pride and a host of other vice arising from an inflated sense of self-importance and the possible admiration of others.

Again, in the words of Narottama Das Thakur Mahasaya from his Prema-bhakti-candrika:

Apana bhajana kathA, na kahiba yathA tathA, ihAte haiba sAvadhAna /

"The topics of your own bhajana, speak not of them here and there. In this, I shall exercise caution."

Then, he notes: rAkha prema hRdaya bhariyA"Protect your love, burying it within your heart!" He says, gupate sAdhibe siddhi"Perfection is attained in secrecy." The intimacy of experiences with God is likened to the lovers' relationship in an apt metaphor found in Hatha-yoga-pradipika (3.9):

gopanIyaM prayatnena yathA ratna-karaNDakam /
kasyacin naiva vaktavyaM kula-strI-surataM yathA //

"Hide them with persevering effort,
as you would a basket of jewels –
Truly don't speak of them to anyone,
As a noble lady wouldn't speak of making love."

Therefore, accomplished Vaisnavas never share of their experiences in bhajana in public. The absence of replies does not make a commentary on the presence or absence of experiences as such. Often, it only tells of the wisdom of silence. Those who have something factually precious to share will carefully guard it as a hidden treasure. Access to such treasures is gained through gaining the Vaisnava's confidence, for such things are not to be squandered in broadcasting to a mixed audience, as one would not hurl bucketfuls of pearls before the swine.

Again, in the words of Sri Jiva from his Bhakti-sandarbha (339):

atra ca zrI guroH zrI bhagavato vA prasAda labdhaM sAdhana sAdhyagataM svIya sarvasva bhUtaM yat kim api rahasyaM tat tu na kasmaicit prakAzanIyam yathAha:

"Then, the secrets of one's own that are obtained with practice and in attaining perfection – with the grace of Sri Guru and Sri Bhagavan – are never to be disclosed to anyone. As in the Bhagavata:

naitat parasmA AkhyeyaM pRSThayApi kathaJcana /
sarvaM sampadyate devi deva guhyaM susaMvRtam // BhP 8.17.20

"This is not to be disclosed to outsiders, even if inquired on by someone;
All the secrets of the gods, O Devi, will yield their fruit when well concealed."

The warnings aside now, observe the merits of containing the experience – at the opening of Rupa's Utkalika-vallari, one of his final works:

prapadya vRndAvana-madhyam ekaH
krozann asAv utkalikAkulAtmA /
udghATayAmi jvalataH kaThorAM
bASpasya mudrAM hRdi mudritasya //1//

"Cast down amidst Vrindavana is one
In tears with the longings of an agitated heart
I shall reveal the fierce burning
The marks of tears imprinted in the heart."

The word bASpa means tears, and it means steam as well. Countless tears have left their deep wounds in Rupa's heart. The outburst of seventy verses of intense emotion are the result of decades of withholding an immeasurable depth of feelings. Read the description of Bhakti-ratnakara:

eka dina rAdhA-kRSNa viccheda kathate /
kANDaye vaiSNava mUrccha-gata pRthivite //
agni-zikhA prAya jvale rUpera hRdaYa /
tathApi bAhire kichu prakAza nA haYA //
karu dehe zrI-rUpera niHzvAsa sparzila /
agni-zikhA prAYa sei dehe braNa haila //
dekhiYA sabAra mane haila camatkAra /
aiche zrI-rUpera kriyA kahite ki Ara //

"One day, the separation of Radha and Krishna was discussed;
The Vaisnavas cried, falling senseless on the ground.
Rupa's heart was ablaze like the tip of a flame,
And yet outside nothing was manifest at all.
Whose body Sri Rupa's exhalation would touch,
That body would be burnt, as if touched by a flame.
Seeing this, astonishment filled all –
Such are Sri Rupa's deeds, what more can one say?"

This is the power of conserving emotion and experience within. This is the power of devotion contained. Do not build up your bhajana only to waste it away, let it not be blown with the wind to a thousand directions.

* * * * * * *

Q: What kinds of experiences can be revealed, and what ought to be kept hidden?

A: There are experiences that are very particular, and the revealing of which would set one apart from others and draw particular attention to oneself. Such experiences should be kept carefully under a lid, even among an assembly of devotees.

For example – you have had a dream where Thakur has given you a beautiful darshan or an advice, or you have had a vision at the time of illness that has cured you, or a strong experience has cast you into an ocean of anubhava and sattvika-bhava – things like this you should keep carefully hidden.

The experience you note is a beautiful experience, but it is a general experience, and something that can be easily shared by many. In fact, if someone is not moved to tears after reading of the acts and character of saints like this, there is something very wrong. Even a worldly person would feel moved at the sight of such sincerity.

Still, something such as what you mention should not be spoken to non-devotees, but in an assembly of devotees it is fine. I have been particularly protective of the sanctity of this forum's atmosphere especially for the aim of our being able to speak and have exchanges more freely than we could have had at places like Gaudiya Discussions with a completely mixed member base. This is why we also have members only sections and a public section here. I can't recall to which you posted the passage you cite, but it didn't strike me as inappropriate; rather I was very pleased to read it, and it no doubt serves as inspiration for others, too, to read and hear such narrations.

There are fine lines, and the lines are subjective to a great many factors that make up what you are, contributing to your eligibility to do diverse things. Your own borders are only found through experience and reflection.