Vanity thought #1440. Off the chest

There’s one other issue that aroused my interest while searching for information relevant to yesterday’s topic. Once again, I don’t want to ascribe any direct criticism to any senior devotee but rather deal with residual attitude. This approach might be hypocritical on my behalf – I take direct quotes and so one way or the other I accuse the author of being wrong. But what can I do?

For one thing, I take these quotes in isolation, as statements floating somewhere on the internet. When one reads them one is affected by their content and so it’s possible to disassociate them from their source. Another tactic is to use these quotes merely as an examples of what I see is erroneous thinking. I could have expressed it in my own words but then someone could say that I would be fighting strawmen as no one actually said these things. Here quotes come in handy – I do not create my own image of the opponents, I create it on the basis of the quotes.

It’s all a bit confusing, I know, maybe one day my thinking on this matter would crystallize and I would be able to express it in a few unambiguous words. For now it’s more or less like this – I do not want to attach quotes to personalities but rather use them as examples of memes floating around, pretty much in Dawkins’ sense of the word – ideas that have taken life on their own and got planted themselves in general public.

This is not a novel approach, btw, and I think I will address it again tomorrow.

Today’s quote is this:

    Kṛṣṇa stretched out his arms and embraced the gopīs. He further aroused their passion and enjoyed with them by touching their hands, hair, thighs, belts, and breasts, as well as by playfully scratching them with his fingernails, joking with them, laughing with them, and glancing at them. In this way, he engaged in erotic sport with them as prescribed in the Kāma-sutra.

It comes from a book on rāsa-līlā sold in book stores for general public. It’s a good question why would such exposé on “passionate love”, as its said in the title, should be put in Barnes & Noble.

Here’s our BBT translation of the same verse (SB 10.29.46):

    There Kṛṣṇa threw His arms around the gopīs and embraced them. He aroused Cupid in the beautiful young ladies of Vraja by touching their hands, hair, thighs, belts and breasts, by playfully scratching them with His fingernails, and also by joking with them, glancing at them and laughing with them. In this way the Lord enjoyed His pastimes.

Note how it’s a lot less, umm, arousing. In the first quote it’s “aroused their passion” instead of “aroused Cupid in …” and BBT’s last word “pastimes” became “erotic sport.. as prescribed in the Kāma-sutra”. I’m not going to argue which translation is more accurate, there’s no mention of Kāma-sutra in Sanskrit, for example, what is it there for? The book, however, wasn’t presented as a translation, it does not give numbered verses, so textual accuracy should not really be expected.

My impression is that the change is meant to titillate but I have not read the rest of the book, maybe it’s just an odd one out. Reference to Kāma-sutra is important.

The author defended it by saying that Kāma-sutra is a serious work by a serious sage and even Sanātana Gosvāmī mentioned it once when talking about pastimes of Lord Balarama (“..he is very expert in the various types of conjugal pastimes mentioned in the Kāma-sutras.”)

The use of the word “erotic” is also defended on the ground that practically all our ācāryas, including Śrīla Prabhupāda, used it when talking about Kṛṣṇa’s relationships with the gopīs.

That is true but, afaik, they used “erotic” as in “erotic principle”, or “erotic element”, or “erotic feelings”. This is definitely true for Śrīla Prabhupāda who even has this sentence in one of his purports (CC Madhya 14.158):

    Lord Kṛṣṇa’s lusty desires and all His dealings with the gopīs are on the spiritual platform… Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī are here talking about the relationship between Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs; therefore the subject matter is neither mundane nor erotic.

I want to point out that when talking about specific activities rather than the principle itself Śrīla Prabhupāda denied them being erotic, we should not use this term like this way, yet the quote in question does exactly that.

Now, the Kāma-sutra. Originally it might have been a legitimate Vedic scripture but to modern people it means Indian sex manual, basically an excuse to look at legitimate porn. I’m pretty sure that’s not how Sanātana Gosvāmī meant it, plus he says “expert in .. pastimes mentioned in the Kāma-sutras (also “sutras”, not one particular version). Someone said in defense of the quote that Kṛṣṇa employed this art in His dealings with the gopīs, but did He, really? I don’t think He was schooled in it at the time of the rāsa dance. As the Supreme Personality of Godhead He doesn’t need to be schooled in anything, of course, but then there’s no need to refer to Kāma-sutra as a source of His expertise.

Balarāma was expert in pastimes [also] mentioned in Kāma-sutras, that’s how Sanātana Gosvāmī put it. In the quote, however, Kṛṣṇa engages as prescribed in Kāma-sutra, giving people the impression that He learned from the sex manual just like anyone can do nowadays. This is not “erotic principle”, it’s mundane erotic behavior.

The back cover of the book reportedly carries an endorsement from the author of “Mystical Sex: Love, Ecstasy, and the Mystical Experience”, further cementing the impression that it’s all about sex and eroticism. Why would a devotional book need to be validated by a sex-guru is beyond me. Doesn’t it diminish its status as a serious work on the highest form of spirituality? And is it, really? Just because there’s no “erotic” in the title but “aesthetic” instead?

To the accusation that such confidential matters should not be disclosed to general public the defenders say that the part about rāsa-līlā is sandwiched between two chapters on philosophy, so it’s presumably okay, it prepares the readers properly. I would quote from the same purport by Śrīla Prabhupāda, no need to reach too far:

    One has to be transcendentally realized before even considering relishing the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa with the gopīs. One who is on the mundane platform must first purify himself by following the regulative principles. Only then can he try to understand Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs.

Does reading two chapters (actually only one before the reader gets to the juicy parts) enough? Is that chapter as purifying as reading nine cantos of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam while performing all the processes of sādhana-bhakti? Rhetorical questions, of course, the bits about philosophy is just a formality, like “Pamho, AGTSP” line we insert at the beginning of e-mails without much thinking. Even when we really mean it, it’s not the actual subject of our communication.

I’m not trying to prove that the book is an example of sahajiyā, that is not my concern at all, what interests me is how and why it might be seen as such. How translation is slightly tweaked to make it hot and sexy, how the word “erotic” is used in a different way from our ācāryas, how reference to Kāma-sutra is inserted for no particular reason and not in the way our ācāryas used it, too. All these elements on their own are legitimate but the way they are misused and put together makes the result unacceptable, at least to me.

That’s what we should watch out for in our practice – how and why deviations can happen even when we operate with legitimate sources.

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