Bedrock of Rasa

Krishna spoke a lot of bogus philosophy when trying to convince His father to worship Govardhan instead of Indra, but he also slipped in a couple of slokas that are true and free from deception. Here is one of them:

na naḥ purojanapadā
na grāmā na gṛhā vayam
vanaukasas tāta nityaṁ

SB 10.24.24

I won’t copy the translation, please try to look at Sanskrit and let the meaning come to you, it’s an easy verse to parse.

Second “nah” in “na nah” means not “no” but “us”. “Puro” means “city” and “janapada” means suburbs. Okay, it’s not how it’s translated but close – areas developed (padah) by humans (jana). Second line is obvious – “na grama” means we do not live in the villages, “na griha” means we do not have houses, “vayam” means “we” again. Third line then tells us where they DO live – “vana” is forest, of course, and “okasah” means “residents of”. “Nityam” means forever, “nivasinah” means “where we live”, and we live in “vana-saila” – forests and hills. So here is the verse again, look at it and let it come to you:

na naḥ purojanapadā
na grāmā na gṛhā vayam
vanaukasas tāta nityaṁ

Earlier in this chapter Krishna addressed Nanda Maharaja as “pita” – father, but in this verse he uses a much closer, much less official term “tata”. So He turns to His father as close as He can, speaking in the most endearing way, and He lays down the foundation of their family – we do not live in cities or any developed areas, we do not live in villages and we don’t build houses for ourselves. We are people of hills and forests and we will stay this way forever. There is only us and nature, and civilization does not intrude into our lives.

A couple of verses earlier Krishna was speaking of the dharma of vaishyas and he listed four occupations:

kṛṣi-vāṇijya-go-rakṣā kusīdaṁ

SB 10.24.21

We know these things – krishi (agriculture), vanijya (trade), with only kusidam being new and it’s translated as “banking”. Krishna says in that verse that their family, however, was doing only go-raksa – protecting the cows. Trading and banking would tie them to people, and agriculture would tie them to one place – to tilling the land, to gardening etc, and we have seen that they were not interested in that – they were strictly the people of nature.

“Go” means cow and it also means the same as English “go”. Cows are animals that wonder around, looking for things to eat. Senses are called “go” for the same reason – they are naturally attracted to consuming their objects. It’s the same “go” as in the word for the universe – jagat – something that always gives birth to something new and in this way always moves forward. This is what “following the nature” means, too – the nature always brings forth one thing or another, cows and senses naturally follow, and Krishna protects them and brings them satisfaction as “Govinda”.

Why is civilization excluded? I’d say it’s because “nature” is dumb, in a sense that living beings that support it (“dharyate jagat” from BG 7.5) are too conditioned to spoil it with their own ideas. Nature follows the Lord, especially in Vrindavana, without abusing its free will. It’s a perfect example of “mama vartmanuvartante” from BG 4.11. Whatever comes down as a good idea from the spiritual world is fulfilled by nature here perfectly. It’s the humans that screw things up, relatively speaking – because people also do vartmanuvartante.

Now I have an explanation why I was always suspicious of agriculture and gardening, too. On one hand it brings people closer to nature, but on the other hand it lets people override God’s design for it and shape it in their own ways, which are not at all better. I was stunned by this realization once, ages ago, when I was asked to comment on a lawn. Lawns definitely look nice and are pleasure to walk on, but they lack this natural spontaneity, the wilderness that sets in when humans are not around. Lawns have only one type of grass but if you leave the same patch unattended for a month and all kinds of plants and creatures will take shelter there and transform it in unpredictable ways, always in competition and cooperation with each other. It’s not as pretty but a lot more inclusive, a lot more supporting, and a lot more forgiving environment than a lawn. Lawns are not places of love but forests are. In forests every creature is loved and every creature overflows with love for the world, too. Not exactly for the world but with honest and earnest appreciation for whatever opportunities are given. No twig and no leave would ever turn its face away from the chance to grow and shine forth. Only people can do that. Nature embraces life, people control and often deny it, and therefore Krishna follows nature.

Let’s go back to that verse again – Krishna declares what is most important for their lives. It’s connection to nature, the commitment to follow it, wherever it takes them. Vraja is not a place, it’s a style of life. An outlook on the world where you are not tied down to anything but to progress. An attitude where you never say “but we have to stay here” when the opportunity presents itself. I need a little clarification here.

We know nature is cyclical, that there are seasons and in winter everything goes to sleep. There are bigger cycles, too, however, and it’s very obvious when nature comes in touch with people. At first it brings forth fruits and honey and grass for the cows but eventually forest resources becomes depleted and that’s when Vraja has to get a move on and find a new place where nature is fresh and bountiful again while the old place is given a rest and recharges itself. This was the reason given for moving from Gokula to Vrindavan in Hari Vamsa. The old place, Gokula, became depleted, too many cows ate too much grass, too many people collected too many fruits, nuts, and honey. It had to be given a rest. It also attracted wolves, Hari Vamsa says. Bhagavatam doesn’t talk about this but it does say that city people started noticing it – Kamsa’s demons discovered where it was and raided it several times, and that was also a reason to move on, away from civilization.

So here it is, Krishna’s sweet sweet description of their lives: “There is only you and me, Tata, our cows, and the forest, and that’s all we ever need”. Why did I call it “bedrock of rasa”? Because all rasas find nourishment in this arrangement. Gopis meet Krishna in the forest. Cowherd boys can’t wait to get away from their homes and spend time with Krishna in the forest. Nanda Maharaja, as the protector of the realm, rules over forest and cows and makes sure Krishna is alright – this is the object of his vatsalya, too. Also, in the chapter about the autumn in Vrindavana the reason for giving this description is that because nature in autumn automatically produces sringara rasa in both Krishna and the gopis and so Sukadeva Goswami had to describe it to set the mood as the narration changed its course, setting its sights on rasa lila.

As I said earlier – nature is surcharged with love and nature accepts everything, which are distinctive characteristics of madhurya. Neither in nature nor in madhurya can a devotee say “I’m sorry, I can’t do that”. Mother Yasoda and cowherd boys excuse themselves from conjugal pastimes but there is absolutely nothing gopis won’t do for Krishna. They can bathe Him and they can play sports with Him, maybe not as well as Yasoda or Sudama, but they would never say “no, it’s not for us”. Similarly, no one ever says “no” in nature. Every shrub has a right to express itself. It might not be accommodated because of competition for sunlight and such, but it would never say “No, I don’t want to grow”.

In this way the forests of Vrindavana are on the lowest stage of devotion by one count – in santa rasa, as they say (though everything in permeated with madhurya there and so pure santa rasa doesn’t exist). But from another perspective the nature gives impetus to sringara and sringara becomes totally dependent on it. Thus, if we start counting from sringara and go down we will get to nature’s santa but then santa would link to sringara again, completing the circle.

I intentionally inserted a couple of Sanskrit words in the previous paragraph to make it sound theoretical. Let the theorists proceed in that direction if they want. The main point is that talking about gopi-bhava is theoretical without seeing it in the nature around us. Granted, it’s not Vrindvana, but nature is still nature and all the rasas are still there, either as seeds or as reflections, and nature is available to us – we all can go out and embrace it. I think it would be a much better and much more useful exercise than sitting around talking about gopi bhava. If one can’t see it nature he won’t see it in these conversations either.

Screenshot of a twig from Maturity

Vanity thought #544. Krishna and the nature

Honestly, I don’t get it – I can’t see God behind the beauty of nature. Everyday Internet spits out dozens of high definition pictures designed to inspire awe and wonder about the beauty of the world. Rivers, mountains, sunsets, beaches, icebergs, it’s got it all. Sometimes we get to see some of that ourselves and it is undoubtedly beautiful but I can’t see God behind it.

There must be something wrong with me because even in Bhagavad Gita Krishna described various aspects of nature as His own manifestations and it’s also one of our most trusted preaching techniques – to remind people that there must be a creator behind a beauty like this.

Maybe one day I will see the universe as Krishna’s energy but for now all I see is an illusion. It’s beautiful but it’s designed to attract us to itself rather than to Krishna. I know people who see some sort of higher truth in the wonders of the world but I don’t know anyone who got attracted to God that way.

Higher truth in this world is ultimately impersonal, we can’t learn of Krishna’s personal nature by studying the world around us. This gives me a reason not to worry about my lack of appreciation. If it comes, it comes, for now I don’t worry about and I don’t think that I should.

Beauty of the trees and flowers doesn’t remind me of Vrindavan either so I don’t need to worry about that aspect, too. In fact I can imagine what Vrindavan looks like only by looking at the trees outside my window and I know that it looks nothing like that in real life, so the beauty of the trees is ultimately useless, at best it gives me the wrong impression of the spiritual world.

Still, I know some devotees who can’t imagine the world as being separate from Krishna, I don’t understand them and so it worries me a bit. Either I am far behind them or they take Krishna too easy, somewhat like the sahajiyas do.

Neither of the answers gives me any comfort and so I leave the question of Krishna’s connection to the wonders of the world open. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not.

Safe option is to respect the unknown, connected to Krishna or not, best not to express any thought that might be construed as an offense, just in case.

Vanity thought #254. Doing Krishna’s job.

This is rather radical – Krishna has already created the varnashrama, why do we have to go and reinvent it again? Certainly the modern society doesn’t look anything like varnashrama of the vedic times but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Perhaps we assume that when Krishna said in Bhagavad Gita 4.13 that he created varnashrama he meant the idyllic agriculture based society and nothing else. When I read our literature produced on the subject I see that none of what I personally think is revolutionary, but somehow everyone ends up with advocating the vedic version and discards everything else. I’m sure it’s because that was what Srila Prabhupada wanted – small scale, oxen-driven farming and all that follows. Impossible to argue with this but it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that at this time it’s hardly helping anybody, too.

Sure, in the future, when the world around us implodes under environmental and industrial pressure those farms will come very very handy and might actually form the basis of the ten thousand years of Golden Age in the middle of Kali Yuga but that is surely some decades away at the very least and not many people will live long enough to see it.

For now, however, it’s main importance is in preparing for that glorious future, not for the benefit of the seven billion people currently munching away at our planet with ever increasing speed. Maybe they can’t be saved and should be chalked up as losses – they have the books, they’ve heard of Hare Krishnas, they had been given a chance, too bad they didn’t take it. Still a bit cruel though, if you ask me, they need to be saved, too, and now.

So my starting point is that “proper” varnashrama at this point is useless, we need a different approach. First of all, the divisions of society in varnas and ashramas as created by Krishna exists at all times, we just need to see it better. The thinkers, the rulers and protectors, and business people and the servants are all there, they haven’t gone away. It is all mixed and degraded but it’s not like things were absolutely perfect before either. There always have been brahmanas making money of their trade and there always have been kshatriyas abusing their power, just not to the same degree.

Maybe we should pay more attention to the guna-karma part of the verse – “According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them…” One meaning of this is that varsnashrama manifests according to the prevailing modes of the material nature, it’s just the symptom, we can’t treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying cause and we can’t change varnashrama according to our own will. If the codes of nature dictate an industry and service based society than there’s nothing we can do about that. Small scale farming will not reappear on its own, without underlying increase in the mode of goodness and that is not going to happen anytime soon.

I even suspect it’s not going to happen in Kali Yuga at all, it’s not the right age for increase in goodness. The Golden Age predicted due to the appearance of Lord Chaitanya might not come as a result of sudden increase of mode of goodness but rather as a result of people propagating His sankirtana movement that is transcendental to all the gunas, remember?

What we need to do is to add Krishna consciousness to whatever ugly and dysfunctional system is already there, not invent something entirely alien to the prevailing conditions.

At the present moment the world is controlled by the asuras, all the old vestiges of demigod power are being systematically dismantled and purged from the public consciousness. We don’t rely on gods to provide us with anything anymore, it’s all about realizing human potential and man made progress. Churches and religion in general are anachronisms and most of it was overrun but asuric attitudes already. We don’t pray for daily bread, we work for it, and we don’t rely on mystic powers, like Sanjaya of the Bhagavad Gita, to connect to the rest of the world. Our achievement in replicating vedic miracles might still be crude but we are getting there.

We have also successfully dismantled the institution of monarchy, our last physical connection to the Indra’s hierarchy. A few years ago I spent considerable time trying to defend the monarchy system of government but it’s just going against the grain, in principle it is always superior to anything else but at this point in time it just fails. Perhaps the reason is not deterioration in the quality of the present day monarchs but in Indra slacking off himself, his power just doesn’t trickle down in sufficient quantity even to those who try very hard.

Also, from the first days of Srila Prabhupada’s preaching in the west Krishna was the star attraction among the asuric beings – hippies, not among the church goers, and it hasn’t changed much since. ISKCON attracts people disillusioned with the old style, demigod based religions, and we are not putting those people back on track either, in fact we most brazenly ignore demigods existence, we jump over their heads and approach Krishna directly.

Our greatest enemies seem to be the ones coming from the entrenched religious traditions, from Christian anti-cultists to intolerable Islamic societies to caste Hindu brahmanas to Gaudiya gosai families to Radha Kund babajies.

We are, indeed, asuric rebels. It’s not that we don’t see the value of demigod tradition, we want to restore it ourselves, but we rebel against deterioration and trying to pass rotten tomatoes as the ripe fruit of vedic wisdom. We wouldn’t have the problem with aforementioned people if they actually did what they are supposed to do, we have a problem with their pretending to be holier than they really are, and in this regard the world is on our side, everybody and his dog is fed up with hypocrisy that is passed for religion nowadays.

Considering all this, why do we have to reject the existing, however perverted, varnashrama and try to force what our allies have developed natural aversion to? Why don’t we focus on undermining the current asuric varnashrama from within? Asuras can be devotees, too. Maybe in the next lives they get to be born as demigods as a reward but if that’s what it’s going to take then so be it. Do Prahlada Maharaj or Bali Maharah need to be reborn as demigods? I don’t think so but maybe we do, or maybe we are going to establish a new branch of asuras – deeply devoted to Krishna but dismissive of the demigods.

Maybe we should decouple ISKCON from “varnasrhama” altogether, it has been going on from the very beginning anyway – our sannyasis are nothing like traditional sannyasis, for example. Lord Chaitanya might have pulled it off but our sannyasis will never ever stand a chance of getting initiation in Shankara order. Their behavior and expectations are completely different, Shankarites want to renounce the world, ours want to embrace it and turn it to Krishna’s service.

In the last century it was all about printing books and flying around the world to meet preaching requirements, a big no no for “varnashrama” sannyasis, now we have television, movies and the internet, we just don’t have an acharya to show us how to best utilize those and if someone turns up we’ll embrace modern technology whole heartedly, just like we embrace selling books now.

So, what I mean by decoupling from varnashrama is to give up trying to live up to traditional expectations of what our sannyasis and brahmanas are supposed to do. In the outer world they might be doing the duties of kshatriays, vaishyas, shudras, and even brahmacharies and grihasthas but for us the only thing that matters is their dedication to service and detachment from the outer world. Obviously we are not going to give sannyasa to people living with their wives but if they engage in sexual relationships only for the procreation than they are as good as sannyasis anyway, we know that, we just can’t put sannyasi label on them.

Of course maintaining purity while operating in the material world full time is not an easy task and perhaps only few souls of the caliber of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada can manage it successfully but it doesn’t mean that we should stop trying and do something else. That won’t be following their footsteps, would it?

If we are born in an asuric society and are given asuric duties to perform why should we try to evade those in favor of some artificial constructions like ISKCON run farms? We should provide all help to those devotees who have natural affinity for farm life but we shouldn’t force it on those who don’t, meaning we shouldn’t point at our farms as the best thing people ever going to achieve if they join up. That’s just a turn off for billions of people who might be otherwise interested in offering selfless service to God. Hardly anyone can offer truly selfless service anyway, we are all conditioned by our birth.

We might also reconsider the gender roles in our society. In this day the physical appearance and the actual body functions do not always match. Sure, men can’t make babies but beyond that the bodies are pretty much interchangeable and the trend to unisex is undeniable and possibly irreversible. We might think twice before telling our women what to do because we know what women did in the past, what they are capable of now is dictated not by the demigod set examples of yore but by what they do on the asuric planets, which might as well be fighting, leading and decision making. We don’t know what modern day females are best suited for, we should carefully study them first. That’s an innate paternalist in me speaking.

Now we are still in the transitional period from traditional suric or future asuric societies so we have a mix of both in every individual and therefore it’s twice as difficult to manage them but it’s the skill we need to acquire. Actually the skill is in figuring out how to engage them in Krishna’s service as they already exist rather than in changing their nature. That change will happen on its own and it might not turn out as we normally expect – a replica of a genuine vedic society, but as long as it’s pleasing to Krishna and everyone is happy it will be as good as any Golden Age before.