Vanity thought #855. Elusive transcendence

A while ago I saw a critique of Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami’s Prabhupada Lilamrita, which, apparently, is an ongoing project. First part was about Prabhuapada’a transcendental position and accusation that Satsvarupa maharaj decribed him as attached to matter instead. From the looks of it the second part is more of the same, I didn’t get to look any further yet, not sure if there’s any benefit in dissecting criticism of other devotees.

The first accusation, however, is an interesting one because we have plenty of quotes to support that the body of pure devotee is always transcendental. Critics took it to mean that it doesn’t experience pain or pleasure or expresses human emotions. Being always absorbed in Krishna’s pastimes he/it/the body does not show any personal interest in the affairs of the material world, only for the sake of preaching.

Basically, they accuse Satsvarupa maharaja of making Srila Prabhupada look human and making his life look like a progress from conditional to liberated state, from innocent childhood through to turbulent youth to householder life to sannyasa and finally to the position of parivrajaka acharya, and even at that stage maharaj made Prabhupada look human on the pages of Lilamrita.

There are objections, for example, to Prabhupada expressing interest in a vacuum cleaner when he saw it for the first time, or objections to Prabhupada, as a school child, feeling ashamed when reprimanded by his teacher.

I just don’t get it, however. What was maharaj supposed to say? That while internally fully engaged in Krishna’s pastimes in Goloka Vrindavana Srila Prabhupada let the body of young Abhai Charan express external feeling of shame? I have absolutely no doubt that people around Prabhupada, from childhood to old age, saw his external behavior as fully human. Maybe they misunderstood the real, spiritual emotions behind his behavior, or maybe they misunderstood external manifestation of shame as Prabhupada’s actual emotional state but I have no doubt that this is exactly what it looked like on the outside and what it would have looked like to each and every conditioned soul in this universe including overwhelming majority of Prabhupada Lilamrita readers.

I’m not even sure that it’s possible to have one’s consciousness in two places at the same time – in the spiritual world and in the material world. We can do some multitasking, of course, but that is the workings of our brains, here I’m talking about our actual consciousness. If Srila Prabhupada’s manifestation in this world wasn’t accompanied by him applying his consciousness here then the whole meaning of the word consciousness loses any sense because this is the only manifestation of consciousness we know – through our material bodies.

This is how we recognize the presence of consciousness, this is how we separate living from non-living matter. Prabhupada looked like a living being, his consciousness must have been here. I don’t see any other way for it to look like this.

Another explanation to consider is that Prabhupada didn’t see the world as material, he saw it as Lord’s energy interacting with other living beings so his consciousness was here but it didn’t see the world in the same way even though it looked totally common on the outside.

This is where we need to learn to separate material from transcendental. I don’t know how, though.

In Chaitanya Charitamrita there’s a detailed story of Sanatana Goswami suffering from skin disease he caught while traveling through a forest (CC Antya.4). It might give us an insight into how material and transcendental feelings and emotions exist side by side, how they look to the outsiders and how they should be treated by devotees.

Sanatana Goswami got itching sores on his body that were oozing pus, I guess, he thought himself contaminated to be in the presence of Lord Chaitanya or servants of Lord Jagannatha so he stayed away from them, avoiding any contact for their benefit. Lord Chaitanya, however, saw it differently. He compared His attitude towards these sores and pus to that of a mother cleaning her child’s stool and urine. At one point He said that actually it all smells like sandalwood. Then He embraced Sanatana Goswami and sandalwood fragrance was manifested for everyone to see (or smell). Then the sores disappeared.

In this episode we can compare Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami to Krishnadasa Kaviraja and Srila Prabhupada to Sanatana Goswami. In both cases they were describing apparently material phenomena and in both cases they were describing spiritual personalities.

Krishnadasa Kaviraja didn’t go into detailed description of Sanatana Goswami’s suffering but “itching” implies feelings were there. Similarly, when Sanatana Goswami went to see Lord Chaitanya by the beach soles of his feet got blisters from walking on hot sand. Krishnadasa Kaviraja didn’t exactly say that it was painful but everyone, including Lord Chaitanya, saw it like this.

At no point Krishnadasa Kaviraja described Sanatana Goswami as having no human feelings at all. In fact, in the beginning Sanatana Goswami was even contemplating suicide and was rebuked by Lord Chaitanya for that. That was a clear lack of understanding on his part and Mahaprabhu defeated it philosophically. There is no sign in the book that Sanatana Goswami had some higher, hidden consciousness at that time. One could say that this temporary illusion was Lord’s pastime but then who is to say that Prabhupada’s human emotions weren’t pastimes, too?

Then there’s a question of how everyone saw and smelled pus but Lord Chaitanya saw and smelled sandalwood. Why is that no one saw it like the Lord? Sanatana Goswami’s transcendental body was there all the time for everyone to see but only the Lord saw it as full of spiritual bliss. Haridas Thakur, who was part of the conversation, didn’t see it like that at first, too. It looked like blisters on the feet and pus oozing from itching sores. No one described it otherwise until the Lord embraced Sanatana Goswami and manifested the real, spiritual quality of his body.

Spiritual transcendence was there all the time, philosophically everyone was probably agreeing with it, yet everyone *saw* things as they appear to ordinary non-devotees and this is the way Krishnadasa Kaviraja described it, too.

Therefore I don’t think the charge against Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is justified, he was just following in the footsteps of acharyas.

Better question, away from criticism and responses to it, is how to reach the stage where we can see everything engaged in the service to the Lord as full of spiritual bliss, how to catch that elusive transcendence.

Maybe it’s only possible by the special mercy of the Lord and we should follow example of Haridasa Thakura who simply kept chanting and remained equipoised throughout the whole episode.

Vanity thought #854. Reason to rhyme

I was wondering why almost all Vedic literature is in the form of poetry. Not all of it rhymes but all of it adheres to some kind of meter. Actually, the best kind of poetry does not have to rhyme, too, and in that sense Vedic literature might be a lot more sophisticated than appears on the surface.

Without knowing Sanskrit we can’t appreciate it, sadly, but properly composed verses have so many characteristics that Western poetry doesn’t stand a chance. I think. There was an article on Dandavats where some devotee demonstrated how he composed a verse glorifying Srila Prabhupada according to the rules of Cakra-bandha. It’s impressive, to say the least. Now think of kavis who could blabber off hundreds of such verses on the spot without the help of any kind of diagrams or visual aids.

This should give a deeper meaning to sundarim kavitam rejected in siksashtaka, we just don’t know how attractive it could be, lucky us. For us the equivalent could be giving up composing Twitter messages or texting, if we appreciate squeezing our thoughts into short, concise statements, or giving up facebooking if we just love talking and appearing smart.

It’s this push to comply with the rules what interests me today, however. Proper poetry is extremely expressive, just as intelligently constructed tweets, but very very few people can master such skill. Srila Prabhupada, for example, didn’t even try to write in meter though he did compose poems before coming to the West.

The problem is that, in general, prose is far more descriptive and precise. Even if you manage to pack all the shades of the situation in verse most people will fail to extract them back, something will always be lost. First it will be lost when you encode your message to follow the rules of poetry, then something will be lost when people fail to decode the original meaning.

Why bother at all, then?

Srila Rupa Goswami was composing his first plays for months, maybe longer than a year, and when he left Puri for Bengal he still wasn’t finished. Maybe later he mastered a way to write books faster but it’s safe to assume that simply telling the stories in prose would always be better. Or maybe stories of Krishna’s pastimes can’t be told in prose, for originally every step there is a dance and every word is a song.

Okay, but what about Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami? In Chaitanya Charitamrita he was describing events that didn’t look so poetic in real life, yet the entire book is poetry, and a very beautiful one at that. When native Bengalis recite Chaitanya Charitamrita it sounds so sweet no westerner can copy them ever. Yet it often deals with topics where simple narration would have suited better. Was it justified? Was something lost when putting straightforward description to verse and making them rhyme? All Chaitanya Charitamrita verses rhyme, btw, which is not the case with Bhagavad Gita or Srimad Bhagavatam.

Should we try to reconstruct the original situations from those verses? Should we try to find details that were discarded to fit the rules of poetry? Were there any such details?

I think it would be a fascinating mental exercise. Srila Prabhupada’s translations and purports are not poetic so he already did half the job, can we take it further? Can we try and reconstruct the episode with Amogha, who chided the Lord for overeating? Why not? There are many details in Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s verses that, when put together, would form a fuller picture than straightforward reading. We already do it when retelling these stories to others and it’s a totally legitimate practice, no one every complained about it.

Could it be said, then, that our reconstruction offers a better, more complete narrative than what we can see in Prabhupada’s translation and purports? After all, this is what we get when we listen to Bhagavatam classes – ever expanding, ever fresh stories of Krishna lilas. They all come from a few limited sources – Bhagavatam, purports, and Krishna Book, but the number of renditions is potentially unlimited.

There’s a danger lurking there, however. Imagine we constructed a complete picture of some episode from Chaitanya Charitamrita. We learned the context, we learned backgrounds of all the participants, we learned of their relationships and their individual aspirations, we also know how the story developed and how it ended and so we know who was right and who was wrong all along.

Then we say something like “In this verse Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja didn’t mention the fact that…” and in the end we make the whole episode look and feel somewhat different, which we call “complete”. You know, it’s poetry, can’t put every detail in the verses, right? Is it complete, though? And what does it mean to know the full story?

There were lots of people who knew the whole story as it unraveled in real life, knew it much better than any of us, but their opinions don’t matter. Why? Because we only want to know how pure devotee like Krishnadasa Kaviraja understood it. We need to know only the details and angles that increase our faith and devotion, not what somebody was wearing or how glamorous someone looked. If Krishnadasa Kaviraja didn’t include some details in this particular verse, it’s for our own benefit.

Similarly, there were many things happening in the world in Prabhupada’s time. World War II, Moon landing, the march of science, the birth of feminism etc. We can learn about them from books or, more likely, documentaries on History channel, but what is really important for us is to learn what Srila Prabhupada had to say about them. All other opinions combined don’t come even close in value to Srila Prabhupada’s observations. Of course they matter if you want to pass a test or show off your knowledge on r/AskHistorians or become a wikieditor but for our spiritual advancement they are all garbage.

Similarly, among all the renditions of Lord’s pastimes we hear in classes or in Ramayana/Mahabharata seminars only those that come from the tongues of pure devotees can really affect our lives. There are good storytellers that keep their audience captivated and enthralled but it will be of no spiritual benefit if their devotion is polluted.

Therefore I’m always skeptical about really engaging Bhagavatam classes, I’m afraid of the polluting effect of too many external, non-spiritual decorations that make someone’s speech from dull muttering into exciting storytelling. Intonation, rhythm carefully places pauses, sound effects – it all sounds nice but we listen to classes not to please our ears but to purify our souls. These two things are not mutually exclusive but there’s also no guarantee that they are always present together.

Therefore I don’t see much value in looking beyond what is said in Prabhupada’s translations and purports, especially if it changes the mood of the story.

Therefore I’d rather appreciate the sentiments Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami selected to express through meters and rhymes, for they are quintessence of devotion and not quintessence of useless descriptions.

Vanity thought #437. Big disappearance day

Today is the day of passing of three prominent Gaudiya acharyas – two of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana, Raghunatha Bhatta and Raghunatha Dasa, and also Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami.

It’s interesting that we know they day they left this world but we don’t know the years. Just like any other day (save for Ekadashi) there’s no discernible magic about it – if we were told that actual disappearance day is tomorrow it wouldn’t make any difference.

Actually, nowadays presence or absence of vaishnavas in this world is all skewed up, thanks to the Internet. We can see videos of devotees, listen to them speaking, or read their books. If it wasn’t for style you wouldn’t know whether the author of any inspiring book is still present in this world or not – Srila Prabhupada is present in his books, Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja is present in his Chaitanya Charitamrita.

Similarly, one could listen or read lectures and books by Tamal Krishna Goswami or Gour-Govinda Maharaj or Bhakti-Tirtha Goswami and have no idea that they all have left this world already. Has Aindra Prabhu left this world? Not if you listen to his kirtans. Same could be said about Gopiparanadhana Prabhu or any of the present day devotees. I often listen to lectures by devotees that I have never ever met in my life and I would need to check their bio to know if they are still with us.

As I said, in many cases it doesn’t make any difference anymore. It was not so in the Six Goswamis times when the world had very little “vani” but lots of glorious opportunities of “vapu” association. Losing vapu, therefore, was devastating – there was no internet to replay all the best moments, no youtube, and books were very few far and between, all copied manually.

When Srila Sanatana Goswami left this world Sri Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was devastated, when, only a month later, Srila Rupa Goswami followed his brother, life force left Raghunatha Dasa Goswami’s body, too. He became so frail and emaciated that his body had to be protected from strong winds. He didn’t stop his sadhana, though, and continued chanting, lecturing and offering pranams for many more years.

He didn’t do or wasn’t interested in anything else. Usually even old people have some ambitions in their lives, then, at some point, they feel that it’s their time to go, there’s nothing left for them here anymore. That was the situation of Sri Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, too, expect he had his service – daily chanting and daily offering dandavats. There was absolutely no self-interest in his existence, no self-preservation instinct, nothing, just engaging his body in the service of the vaishnavas and the Lord.

Stories about disappearance of Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami are similarly based on his reaction to loss of something he hold most dear – the teachings of Six Goswamis. Some say that he killed himself by plunging into a well when he heard that Jiva Goswami rejected his Chaitanya Charitamrita but learned acharyas say there’s no substance to this story whatsoever.

More plausible is Krishnadasa Kaviraja’s reaction to the loss of the manuscripts sent to Bengal with Srinivasa Acharya and others. When the chest with all the writings of the Goswamis was stolen on the final leg of the journey Srinivasa Acharya sent a letter with this news to Vrindavana. It was about half a year before the books were recovered, which is a fascinating story on its own. Anyway, when Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami heard that ALL the works of the Six Goswamis were lost he jumped in Radha Kunda and drowned himself. Alternatively, he survived but not for very long.

Lastly, in those days devotees lived under the constant threat of temples being desecrated by Muslim rulers so all these three acharyas, including Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami who left this world a few years earlier, were not placed in traditional samadhi but were cremated on the shores of Radha Kunda and part of their ashes deposited in the samadhis there while the rest taken and put in samadhi in Vrindavana temples.

Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami’s ashes couldn’t go anywhere but to his beloved Radha-Govinda temple, the most beautiful of all the temples in Vrindavana, and Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami’s ashes were placed at the Radha-Damodara temple where our Srila Prabhupada resided for many years before coming to the West to save us.

Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami, unfortunately, didn’t leave us any books and in this day and age we offer respect and devotion in proportion to how much we personally get from this or that acharya. If we enjoy reading lots of books we offer lots of respect and vice versa.

The more stories from vaishnavas lives we hear, the more we appreciate them. Srila Raghunatha Bhatta Goswami didn’t perform any miraculous feats, he just recited Bhagavatam day and night, not very impressive by modern day standards, thus his memory is the fuzziest one among all the Goswamis.

I hope this deficiency on our part will not prevent us from offering all respect we can every time his name comes to our minds, not only today.

Also, we don’t have to wait another year to relish the pastimes and devotion of these acharyas, we can appreciate their contribution every day, for example tomorrow.