Low Level Hack

Two weeks ago Jagadananda had a blog post arguing that “Sahajiyaism goes together with Radha-Krishna prema like butter with rice” – in his own words. I feel this needs to be addressed in some way.

Now, “low lever hack” is not my categorization of Jagadananda Prabhu himself, it’s actually a compliment to the strength of his argument. In popular computer talk we have a concept of “zero day exploit”, which refers to finding a vulnerability in the software that was missed by its very creators. In relation to our books it would be like finding a mistake by Srila Prabhupada that has been there all along, we have developed a wrong understanding of something because of it, and to fix it we need to do the unthinkable – edit his books for *his* mistakes.

If you think this never happens, meaning there are “no zero day mistakes” in Prabhupada’s books – occasionally they have been found. The most famous (and probably most controversial one) is confusing ragatmika and raganuga in the Nectar of Devotion. I’m not going to untangle it here, but the claim is that if we think of Nanda Maharaj and others as “raganugas” instead of “ragatmikas” then we will never become qualified to follow “raganuga bhakti”, which is what people say limits spiritual development of ISKCON devotees.

Back to Jagadananda, by “low lever hack” I mean he exposed a vulnerability on the level of our most fundamental pramanas – Sridhara Swami’s commentary on Bhagavatam. Typically, we would refer to Srila Prabhupada’s purports as conclusive evidence for us, but Prabhupada got only as far as the 13th Chapter of the Tenth Canto while Jagadananda discusses one line in one of the concluding verses of Chapter 33, the last one in “rasa pancadhyayi”.

In Krishna book Srila Prabhupada doesn’t mention anything about this line, so we are out of our most authoritative pramanas. BBT purport doesn’t mention anything either, so that’s a second level pramana that is out. Okay, Bhanu Swami translated commentaries by Sanatana and Jiva Goswamis and by Srila Visvanatha, but even if they do not explain the same line in the same way they don’t rule out Jagadananda’s explanation of Sridhara Swami either. Lord Caitanya told us to treat Sridhara Swami as the original commentator and every vaishnava acharya deferred to him ever since, meaning their own commentaries must be seen as an addition to Sridhara Swami’s, not alternatives to him.

Okay, maybe we can look into Sridhara Swami’s Sanskrit and see if Jagadananda’s explanation is possible, maybe we don’t need to actually understand it, maybe that passage simply doesn’t exist. Where do we get Sridhara Swami’s Sanskrit? From Grantha Mandir where it was uploaded by Jagadananda! That’s what I call a “low level hack” – it’s impossible to defend from unless we go even lower, which means get our own sources and translate them ourselves, which is beyond my capacity.

It’s not all bad, however. Sridhara Swami’s commentary in Devanagari can be found on Archive site, one would just have to flip through endless pages to get to the right verse and right commentary, but what if this line is missing from some earlier editions and was inserted there by sahajiyas themselves? How can we possibly defend against that? We’d need to go even earlier in history.

Alternatively, there is a translation of this verse and Sridhara Swami’s commentary by one “Gaurapada das”. I don’t know anything about him, except that he wrote super-excellent translation of the first three chapters of the Tenth Canto, surpassing even BBT standards of publication. Maybe the quality of his translation itself is not that high, I wouldn’t know. Personally, I was a little put off by his occasional rants against mayavada which I thought were uncalled for in discussing the Tenth Canto. More worrying is that he didn’t stay with his original publisher, Touchstone Media, and wanted to produce the rest without the same level of editorial oversight, so the volume that deals with Chapter 33 does not get the same endorsement as Volume 1. I don’t know his side of the story so let’s leave it at that and get to the actual point – the line itself.

In BBT translation it’s:

siṣeva ātmany avaruddha-saurataḥ

with the point of interest being this “ātmany avaruddha-saurataḥ

BBT word for word is:

ātmani — within Himself; avaruddha — reserved; saurataḥ — conjugal feelings;

In BBT translation it’s rendered as “the Lord was not internally affected by any mundane sex desire.”

Jagadananda gives two alternatives, one by Satyanarayan Babaji and one by himself:

while keeping the procreative potency contained within Himself.


has captured the amorous energy within Himself

Jagadananda then gives Babaji’s commentary on this verse when it appears in Priti Sandarbha:

“The word saurata is derived from surata, “sexual union,” i.e., that which is connected to sexual union, i.e., sexual enjoyment. Śrīdhara Svāmī has glossed the word as semen.

There are a group of people who interpret the meaning of śiṣeva ātmani avaruddha-saurata to mean that Kṛṣṇa enjoyed sex with gopīs (saurata) while not discharging semen (śiṣeva) but holding (avaruddha) it within Himself (ātmani). They practice coition with their partner while not discharging semen. This they aver will make a man god-realized. Not discharging the semen but raising it up to head will make one’s consciousness to be one with brahman or make the dormant love in the heart be awakened. According to them this is called rāgānugā-bhakti.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī refutes such an explanation and interprets the verse that is in harmony with the subject under discussion, the prema.”

Now you should finally see what the point of interest is – Krishna practiced sexual plays with the gopis but retained His semen. Huh? Bhaktividyapurna Swami wants his sannyasa back! Well, actually I want his sannyasa back, but that’s not the point, the point is that Jagadananda wants to use this interpretation as confirming sahajiya ideas about the point where material sexual agitation can cross into genuine Krishna prema.

I don’t want to actually argue for or against that and I won’t argue if I somehow misformulated Jagadananda’s point, I’m only interested in Sridhara Swami’s commentary and in what other acharyas had to say about the same phrase.

Gaurapada’s word for word:

“avaruddha—is confined; saurataù—He whose sexuality;”

and he gives three alternative translations:

“whose sexual enjoyment is confined to the soul”

“whose amorous feelings are restricted to His own kind of women”

“He confined sexual enjoyment within Himself”

The second one says “His own kind of women” and Gaurapada justifies it by citing an occasion where our acharyas explained “atman” as direct reference to gopis. He thought it would be permissible here, too. In word for word he has it :”ātmani—in Himself (or in the soul, or toward His own kind);” with a footnote explaining why it can mean gopis.

In translation of Sridhara Swami’s commentary he has:

“A descriptive term is expressive of triumph over lust: His semen is kept in Himself (ātmany avaruddha-saurataḥ = ātmany evāvaruddhaḥ saurataś carama-dhātur na tu skhalito yasya).”

Then Vallabhacharya:

“After that, Kṛṣṇa confined sexual enjoyment in Himself (ātmany avaruddha-saurataḥ = tad-anantaram ātmany eva avaruddhaṁ saurataṁ yasya tathā jātaḥ). He did not place His love in those women, otherwise He would have become a father.”

Then Srinatha Pandit:

“Kṛṣṇa kept the pleasure of sex within Himself (ātmany avaruddha-saurataṁ surata-sukhaṁ grāmya-dharmo yena). The sense is He blocked this: Sex is love. Sex between Him, Īśvara, and those women, who are Īśvarīs, would be improper. The writer of a master treatise on Rasa stated: anaucityād ṛte nānyad rasa-bhaṅgasya kāraṇam, “The cause of the disruption of Rasa is no other than inappropriateness” (Dhvany-āloka 3.14 vṛtti). But if Īśvara and an Īśvarī are married to one another, then there is nothing wrong in kissing and other aspects of the romance.”

This is an interesting turn – Krishna didn’t want to ruin rasa by resorting to actual sex. This makes sense, too, and it’s a rasa, not mechanics based explanation so an extra point for that.

Then there’s Visvanatha Cakravarti’s commentary on the same line and it’s a bit long but it doesn’t talk about semen:

“With ātmany avaruddha-saurataḥ, he says: At that time, the Lord’s mind was only focused on those love games: “He by whom everything related to sex is kept in the mind and put in place therein”
(= ātmani manasi avaruddhāḥ avaruddhya sthāpitāḥ sauratāḥ surata-sambandhino yena saḥ). Everything’ includes bhāva (feeling) (first development of rati), hāva (allurement) (rati is more apparent), bibboka (disregard for a desired thing), kila-kiñcita (hysterical delight), and other alaṅkāras of śṛṅgāra-rasa, vāmya (contrary mood), autsukya (eagerness), harṣa (joy) and other emotions, stambha (being stunned), sveda (perspiration), vaivarṇya (change of bodily color) and other sāttvika-bhāvas, as well as gazing, touching, embracing and other anubhāvas. The word saurata is used in that general sense in this verse:

evaṁ saurata-saṁlāpair bhagavān jagad-īśvaraḥ |
sva-rato ramayā reme nara-lokaṁ viḍambayan ||

“With such conversations related to sexual enjoyment, the Lord, the controller of the universe and a delighter in the self, had fun with Lakṣmī (Rukmiṇī) while imitating the ways of humans.” (10.60.58)

In this text, the word saṁlāpa was placed next to saurata with the intent to express a particularity, whereas in the verse under discussion no particular aspect of saurata is meant, and so everything
about it applies.”

Bhanu Swami’s translation is not very different so I won’t cite it here. I’ll give his translation of Sanatana Goswami’s commentary on this line instead:

“He has accepted (avaruddha) all acts of love or the most intense pastimes (surata), since he has appeared as avatāra for this purpose. He gave enjoyment to the gopīs without indifference, and with inner determination (ātmani). He experienced everything personally with great attachment, by accepting them within himself. Or he experienced the highest bliss by ignoring his feature as ātmārāma.”

This last sentence beginning with “Or..” is a signature Sanatana Goswami – he’d quite regularly introduce completely opposite explanations of the same words and we are left wondering how it could all fit together. At least that’s how Bhanu Swami translates it. There is no equivalent in Gaurapada’s translation, but Gaurapada ends the commentary on the whole verse with:

“The rest was explained by Śrīdhara Svāmī”

which is one more demonstration that all other acharyas only add to Sridhara Swami’s commentary, which everybody is supposed to know and accept. But that doesn’t mean there could be no disagreements with Sridhara Swami either. See how Bhanu Swami translates Jiva Goswami’s commentary on the same line:

“In what condition did he serve them? His mind (ātmani) was firmly fixed (avaruddha) in all emotions and gestures suitable for amorous contact with the gopīs (saurataḥ). This means he could not give them up. Since a particular bhāva is not mentioned, all bhāvas are indicated.

evaṁ saurata-saṁlāpair bhagavān jagad-īśvaraḥ
sva-rato ramayā reme nara-lokaṁ viḍambayan

And so, the self-satisfied Supreme Lord of the universe enjoyed with the goddess of fortune, engaging her in lovers’ talks and thus imitating the ways of human society. (SB 10.60.58)

However, in this example there is particularization with the mention of saṁlāpaiḥ (with conversations). The cause of his mental fixation of loving affairs is given. There were many women with anurāga. The cause was anurāga in prema within Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs. It was not the material lust of material people because his desires are pure (satya-kāmaḥ). Parāśara and Vaiśampāyana have said

evaṁ sa kṛṣṇo gopīnāṁ cakravālair alaṅkṛtaḥ
śāradīṣu sacandāsu niśāsu mumude sukhī

Thus Kṛṣṇa, ornamented with circles of gopīs, enjoyed happily in the moon lit nights of the autumn season.

In his commentary Śrīdhara Svāmī explains that avaruddha-saurataḥ means “without the influence of material sex desire.” Thus he has given another, not commonly accepted, explanation of this phrase.”

Gaurapada’s translation is a bit longer, with Sanskrit prose quoted, too, but in the end he makes the same point – Sridhara Swami’s explanation is unusual.

Now look at Gaurapada’s translation of Baladeva Vidyabhusana’s of the full commentary on the whole verse:

“With high regard, He took advantage (siṣeve = ādareṇa upacaritavān) of all those moonlit nights.” His desires and His gestures expressive of lust are transcendental (satya-kāmaḥ = satyaḥ svarūpa-vat pāramārthikaḥ kāmo vāñchā smara-vilāsaś ca yasya saḥ). After His lovemaking, the girls made love on Him (anuratābalā-gaṇaḥ= anu tad-ramaṇānantaraṁ rato ramaṇa-kṛd abalā-gaṇo yatra saḥ). The secret meaning is not obvious, in conformity with the maxim: dvy-arthaiḥ padaiḥ piśunayec ca rahasya-vastu, “One should conceal a secret meaning with double-meaning words.” The dual sense is the girls were always enamored of Him. Other occurrences should be looked into that way.”

What is this “lovemaking” and “girls made love on Him”? And the information that “one should conceal a secret meaning with double-meaning words” is not helpful either. How can we possibly figure out what happened there exactly after reading a commentary like this? It’s impossible, which is precisely the point – it’s a matter of realization, not parsing the language.

So, can Jagadananda legitimately extract a meaning supportive of sahajiya ideas? Sure, in the light of Baladeva Vidyabhusana’s commentary everything is possible because double meanings could be everywhere and you’ll never know which was actually intended. Would it be correct? We’ll never know until we have appropriate realizations, and until then everything is a fair game.

Personally, after reading through all of the above I choose to stick with Srinatha Pandit’s explanation – actually having sex with the gopis would go against their rasa. Sex is for wives, which I take he means “anyone you have sex with is your wife”, and gopis didn’t want to take that position in relation to Krishna. Maybe it’s not a classical explanation of gopis’ rasa but the titillation of gopis laying the red line “you can’t do that to me” takes it on a whole different level where it’s felt more acute and maybe even sweeter as it gives Krishna no chance to walk away and no chance to have sex either. Sex is for Vaikuntha, or in this case Dwaraka. Gopis were not going to raise Krishna’s children, too – not their rasa. All in all, I think this would be a more productive way to reflect on this story – if one ever feels inclined to do so.


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

Real Bhajana Rahasya for Our Age

Just before Radhashtami Bhakti Vikasa Swami gave a series of talks called “There are no gopis in ISKCON”. I didn’t mean these in my previous post, but in the second installment he recalled “gopi bhava club” incident from Hari Sauri’s Transcendental Diary. The end of Prabupada’s argument there was “preaching will stop” and it seems very conclusive, but I don’t think it would work on “gopi-bhava” devotees themselves.

For them preaching is an external activity, external reason for Lord Caitanya’s appearance, while they are interested in the internal reason, which we all accept as being higher. They would also argue that external behavior, ie preaching, is automatically manifested from the internal one. I’m sure you’ve heard it many many times practically everywhere – preaching should come from the heart. If you heart is not pure then it’s not preaching, people can sense it, and it has no value. Aindra argued like that, for example. It’s very common and it’s common sense, too. I don’t think I have an objection to it either.

So how is “preaching will stop” argument is going to stop “gopi-bhava” proponents? They would also say that by preaching we actually mean accumulating money, followers, and temples, not actual preaching. They might also argue that it was super important during ISKCON expansion in Srila Prabhupada’s time so preaching had relatively higher value back then. They would also mention “boil the milk” instruction and another instruction not to open any more temples but only restaurants given to Tamal Krishna Goswami. This makes sense, too – everybody who was ready to surrender themselves had already joined and the rest needed only kirtans and prasadam, but mostly prasadam – because eating is the only activity that never stops.

Does Srila Prabhupada’s “preaching will stop” argument sounds as conclusive now? I hope it still does, but for a different reason – it is not as external as gopi-bhava devotees think. When done properly it is absolutely internal with absolutely no connection to events of this world. It is a pure manifestation of those same internal emotions cherished by gopi-bhava devotees, and it is nothing else. Whatever they mention – experience of Radharani’s love, experience of separation, experience of Lord Caitanya experiencing these things – it’s all there, on the street. You want bhramara-gita – it’s there, nobody can be as mad as a book distributor. You want kapalika yogi talk from CC? It’s there on the streets, too. A book distributor sees all kinds of forms as weirdly connected to Krishna, even the most abominable – because nothing can touch him, no substance of this world is able of polluting him, and so every connection to the Lord, however small, shines forth like a million of Suns.

Of course this level of realization takes years to attain but it won’t come from discussing gopi-bhava, it comes from being out there on the streets and actually learning how Lord Caitanya’s mercy works. For real, not from the books.

In other words, when Srila Prabhupada warned us “preaching will stop” he didn’t mean the external activity of making new devotees but the actual flow of Lord Caitanya’s mercy. Fools think it can be found anywhere else but in sankirtana, and only ignorants think that this mercy doesn’t flow when talking to meat-eaters. They think that unless you talk about gopi-bhava it doesn’t flow, but it does! And it doesn’t appear externally – it’s not in the words, so if you record and transcribe the conversation you won’t see it. Actual gopi-bhava is a lot more subtle than that and it is perceived by the heart even as a person mumbles something about money in his wallet. Only a real “bhavuka” devotee can see how, despite his mumbling and lame excuses, this person is totally on the hook already and his arguments are like gopis’ arguments when they were standing neck deep in cold waters of Yamuna and telling Krishna they don’t want to come out and they don’t want Him to see them naked.

Out in the streets you can actually see and feel how this pastime plays out, and this is how we are expected to realize its meaning and its rasa. But if people think “it’s only external” and think they can extract this rasa by talking – they are only fooling themselves. You would actually have to go out, find a potential gopi in the not so mature stage of development of her prema, show her Krishna, and watch how she struggles being torn between obligations to this world and these mind blowing books that simply can’t be resisted even if they say completely outrageous things on the surface. “On the surface”… – at this point only gopis’ heads were above the surface and their minds were telling them one thing but their hearts, deep within prema filled waters of Yamuna, were saying another. The hearts wanted to come out and the minds were trying to stop it.

Just go out in the streets and actually experience this pastime in real life, and don’t pay attention to people who call this “external”. It isn’t. And Srila Prabhupada was absolutely right – if preaching stops our actual spiritual progress stops, too, and it can’t be revived by reading those CC and SB chapters or tons of other books going into minute details. Even those subtle shades of rasa can be found on the streets, if you are worried about missing out.

Or we can challenge external-internal dichotomy itself. If someone says the pinnacle of siddhanta is separation experienced by Radharani in Vrindavan, or as it was experienced by Lord Caitanya in Gambhira, we can answer that no, there is something higher than that – the same experience as manifested through otherwise most separated parts of the Absolute Truth – specs of His material energy. That would, logically, be the pinnacle of acintya bheda-abheda tattva – the farther you go away from Krishna the closer it feels. Or the more insignificant you become the greater the rasa.

So let the fools deride us for being only external devotees who talk to people about trivial things like they are not the bodies. What do they know? Certainly not the actual rasa.

And, of course, we could be telling people about reincarnation and know nothing about rasa, too – if we think it’s only about getting a donation or about book scores or about **doing** our service – all kinds of external reasons and explanations. We actually have to learn how to find these gopis in the streets, eternally connected to Krishna underneath their external appearances. We can’t theorize or only imagine it either, we actually have to see, and this vision is given by Lord’s mercy. There are ways to attain it but, ultimately, **He** has to give it.

This is not a theory.

Srila Prabhupada’s Disappearance

We almost midway between Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day of 2020 and of 2021, so what am I talking about? There is a paradox of sorts there – on his disappearance days we make special efforts to remember him and so we come closer, he actually “appears” in our consciousness, while in the middle of the year he kind of “disappears”. But that’s not what this article is about.

What I want to reflect on here is largely an Indian thing, though it manifests among western devotees, too, in somewhat different ways. When I say it’s an “Indian” thing it doesn’t mean all Indians are affected in the same way – there are simply too many Indian devotees to fit under any particular umbrella. I’m talking about a particular slice I see in particular communities and I hope it doesn’t spread to other Indian devotees elsewhere. These affected sangas are significant and non-trivial, and therefore I feel the problem deserves to be addressed.

It’s “Indian” because they see Srila Prabhupada as one of them. Krishna is their God, not Prabhupada’s God. Bhagavatam is their purana, not Prabhupada’s purana. Lord Caitanya is their saint, not Prabhupada’s. Okay, Gaudiya Vaishnavas consider Lord Caitanya to be Krishna Himself, but for most Indians He was only a saint and if Gaydiyas make claims otherwise they accept them as “okay okay, whatever…” Indians are followers of “sanatana dharma”, as they love to proclaim, not followers of Prabhupada.

In other words, Srila Prabhupada is not as essential to them as to western devotees who had no idea of any of those things before Prabhupada came and informed them. Indians put Prabhupada in context of their religion and culture, but for western devotees Prabhupada himself created context from scratch and they put Indian culture into this context created by Prabhupada.

See how their visions are fundamentally different, how they are practically mirrors. It doesn’t matter for the moment which vision is correct and which isn’t, just that they are completely at odds.

Typical reconciliation is that Srila Prabhupada gave us the true, correct, and pure culture while today’s Indians live in some kind of degraded forms of it. Indians can accept this argument, too – no one would argue that onions are bona fide, for example, or that common Indian perceptions of God are not tinged with mayavada. Nevertheless, approaching Prabhupada from these two different angles cannot be reconciled completely and sooner or later the differences will come up to the surface.

Typical example of that is disagreements over some aspects of the siddhanta. For western devotees whatever Srila Prabhupada said is accepted as final truth and everybody else’s opinions to the contrary are rejected, but for Indian devotees allegiance to previous acharyas are never to be dropped. If previous acharyas said something than it must be accommodated, and, if necessary, Prabhupada’s opinion put aside. Note how I said “opinion” – not truth, but only an opinion. Sometimes it can be elevated to “personal realization”, but still not to the level of “truth”.

Srila Prabhupada might have spoken strongly on demigod worship but Indian vernacular doesn’t even have “demigods” in the vocabulary, so Prabhupada’s statements need interpretation. Maybe he didn’t mean it, or maybe he meant it only for westerners, or maybe he meant it only to certain types of demigod worship. At the end of the day, Indians are bound by their karma to respect the worship done by their ancestors and by their acharyas, they can’t give it up just because Srila Prabhupada said something somewhere.

This is understandable, but it’s still not what I meant by “disappearance” in the title. I mean something far more radical – Srila Prabhupada, as he was known to his western disciples, was not a person of Indian origin, not even of Gaydiya Vaishnava origin. His appearance in the west was a total surprise even for Srila Prabhupada himself. He had no idea it would turn this way. He himself couldn’t attribute his success to anything “Indian”, it had full potency by itself. The only connection he could trace was to the orders of his spiritual master. This is what he said again and again – my guru ordered me to print books, I did it, and this is what happened. He didn’t say that his mother taught him how to cook and so everybody loved his prasadam, and that’s how his first ISKCON temple survived. He didn’t claim proficiency in singing or playing mridanga. By Aindra’s standards he wouldn’t be allowed to play karatals on his 24hour kirtan party. Okay, he dedicated Krishna Book to his father, but that was one off. All the other times he gave credit only to following his guru’s order. Not even to his guru as a full personality – only to following one specific order.

The point is that Srila Prabhupada’s success was unique and it had a life of its own. It didn’t depend on anything else and it couldn’t be described in any other terms – it was a substance by itself, a category by itself. I will repeat – I think when Srila Prabhupada arrived in the US he himself had no idea what it would be like, it was a total surprise.

When it came Srila Prabhupada embraced it exactly like that – like it had a potency of its own and it had to be served, not controlled. This “success” dictated how Srila Prabhupada had to to things, not the other way around. I use the word “success” as only a label, it had to be felt to be described, as I said. I think the word “success” conveys the undeniable aspect of it – everybody knows what “success” is, everybody knows how good it feels, and nobody can deny it. But what you or I experienced as “success” is not the same thing as what was experienced by Srila Prabhupada and his followers.

Srila Prabhupada gave some explanations, the root of which is that it was a mercy of Lord Caitanya – based on the statement in CC that preaching can become successful only if Lord Caitanya puts His potency in it. On other occasions he attributed it to the power of the holy name, which he saw as absolute. This is the point where I can finally start talking about disappearance – we don’t see the power of Hare Krishna mantra as absolute anymore. An example – one devotee complained about being overwhelmed by sexual desires and Srila Prabhupada’s answer was to simply chant. In his explanation the power of Hare Krishna would drive away all lust from disciple’s heart. In Prabhupada’s experience he saw that happening all around him – hippies were chanting Hare Krishna and forgetting drugs and girlfriends. He saw it worked. We don’t. We offer all kinds of other solutions instead, like “watch your diet” or “stop watching porn”. No one today would say that simply chanting Hare Krishna mantra will solve your lust problem in a minute but Srila Prabhupada meant it exactly like that – chant loudly and lust will be gone immediately.

This is what has disappeared – the power of the holy name, and I would argue that its disappearance is linked to disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. It worked in his presence, we have many anecdotes documenting how minds and hearts immediately became pure in his presence, it was undeniable. Now the name is still with us but without Prabhupada its power is not manifested to the same degree. What I mean to say is that it’s Srila Prabhupada who has disappeared, not the Hare Krishna mantra.

Hare Krishna mantra is not tied to Srila Prabhupada exclusively, we all know that, but Srila Prabhupada gave it a particular potency. Sooo many devotees felt it directly. The annotation to the first Hare Krishna mantra record spoke about it with absolute clarity as if it was obvious to everyone. It was repeated from devotee to devotee, it was all-pervading understanding back then. Now it’s absent and no one talks that way with any conviction.

For me, however, it’s the preaching aspect of that same potency of Srila Prabhupada that disappeared first. Maybe because I can’t recall any miracles associated with Hare Krishna mantra but I was fortunate enough to see mind blowing preaching in action. It had a life on its own and, listening to many remembrances of that era, I don’t know anyone who did not notice it. They usually say only a few words (“millions of books were distributed”) and move on but actually seeing these millions of books going away to meet their eager readers was something else. At the time it was spoken exactly like this – books were going away on their own. They were not sold, not distributed, not given – they were going away on their own, and the entire purpose of sankirtana, as it was called back then, was to find that sweet spot in space and time where, by Lord Caitanya’s mercy, books would get a life of their own and practically distribute themselves against all odds and against all objections. The power was irresistible.

This is what has become absent and, to me, it indicates disappearance of Srila Prabhupada. Of course books were not the only vehicle of this mercy. One time I clearly felt it was when one of Prabhupada’s early disciples was describing San Francisco Ratha Yatra. Not the first one in 1967 but the one a few years later where Srila Prabhpada started the address with “My dear frustrated youth of America” (not exact words, but that’s how some remember it). To me it was the same kind of potency, the same “rasa”, so to speak, as the one I remember from my own life. It still lives in the hearts of at least some of Prabhupada’s followers, but that particular disciple has left his body already. Others remember it but prefer to talk about something else, like today’s politics. There is a lot to be said about why and how and who but let’s not talk about it now.

This disappearance is “mostly Indian” problem because this aspect of Srila Prabhupada’s success was never known there in the first place. They don’t have reference points for it, except may be construction of Juhu and Mayapur temples, which is not a lot in context of the entire Indian history and gets easily overflown by memories and histories of other events. Those other events are no less significant, like self-manifested deity of Radha Ramana, for example, but they are not “Prabhupada”.

For the past twenty something years Indian devotees distributed many more millions of books, and yet I never hear them speaking of book distribution with the same “rasa”. It’s just absent and book distribution means something else to them. Likewise, TOVP is a massive project, far bigger than Juhu, but TOVP presentations do not carry the same “rasa” for me. They rely on other things to “prove” themselves – like everybody should do seva, or everybody should make donations, or everybody should bathe Srila Prabhupada with sacred waters etc, and because of this conviction one should… When Prabhupada was present the proposition itself, whatever it was, had a power of its own, it was self-evident, not reliant on one’s appreciation of “seva” or “donations” or “sacred rivers”. These are aspects of Indian culture and they were totally absent when Prabhupada came to the west. He didn’t have to rely on them at all – his preaching was self-evident and no one know what “seva” even was.

This is a principal point, actually – people didn’t know what seva was and that it should have been offered – they offered service because Prabhupada was there and they felt they should do something in appreciation. Today it’s “you know that seva is important, and therefore you should go and offer it to Prabhupada.”

That’s why I’m saying that Srila Prabhpada has disappeared even though he is arguably at the most remembered stage in ISKCON’s recent history. His name and his pictures are everywhere, but not the actual memory of his presence.

Many of our senior devotees worry about it, they just express it differently. To me this disappearance is not very important – because Srila Prabhpada is present eternally, it’s only us who moved to a different location and, if we so desire, we can move into the place of his presence again.

What I really wanted to say but wrapped it in the disappearance topic is that Srila Prabhupada’s “success” was an entity of its own and even Srila Prabhupada was its servant, that even he wasn’t in control of it. To me this is the biggest manifestation of Lord Caitanya’s mercy and in decades since I haven’t found any substitutes that come even close. And I really mean “any substitutes” – not even if someone starts chanting three lakhs a day or cry incessantly or go into trance every time they see an image of Lord Jagannatha. I would even say that some big name ISKCON gurus of Indian origin have never seen it, simply because they weren’t there when it was manifested, they were in India, but that is a whole other can of worms.

I remember one of these big gurus wanted to visit the zone where preaching was booming but his request was rejected because “his mood would spoil everything”. Today this sounds ridiculous and great many devotees, each of them great in their own ways, would reject this argument out of hand but I, after deliberating on it for some time, would still argue that it was the right thing to do and that Srila Prabhupada’s preaching mood, his preaching rasa, should have been rightfully protected and that once that protection was withdrawn it simply disappeared – scroll to the top to see an explanation how and why.

On Maharaja Yadu and the need for strong body and sensual power

To supplement this quote “The soldiers in this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement must always possess physical strength, enthusiasm and sensual power” (SB 8.2.30p) related to Gajendra lila.

Maharaja Yadu, the founder of Yadava dynasty in which Krishna himself appeared, gives us a valuable lesson in this regard. His father, Yayati, “triggered” his wife once and got cursed to become old for that. He begged for mercy and was allowed to exchange his invalidity for someone else’s youth and thus have his wife back. First he approached Yadu but was flatly refused and on this basis Yadu’s behavior can be classified as adharma – refusing his own father, but it’s not as simple as that.

Yadu refused an adharmic order of his secondary father but carried out the desire of the Lord, who is the primary father. Why adharmic order? That’s actually interesting.

I, and I assume many others, thought that Yayati exchanging invalidity for youth meant that Yayati’s old body became young, but a couple of commentators on Bhagavatam take it to mean that “Yayati the soul” entered the body of a young person – it was a body swap, not a change of one body. So, when Yadu considered this offer, he saw it as his young body having sex with the body of his own mother! EWWW! Never mind it was his father’s soul inside – it’s still clearly adharmic, especially if we consider that body comes with thoughts and desires and so with the ability to feel sexual arousal in contact with certain other bodies/ideas. Since we can’t actually see the soul, it was son having sex with his mother and there is no other way to perceive it externally.

Back to Yadu, his main reasoning was that invalidity is a big obstacle in performance of one’s bhajana and therefore it should be rejected. One could say that pure devotion is transcendental but that’s not how Yadu saw himself. He knew that for his bhajana – for his sadhana, really, he needed a young body capable of expressing and purifying his desires and that an old body was of no use to him.

He didn’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend that he was so advanced and free from desires. He didn’t care that his reputation might take a hit the way early ISKCON devotees were ashamed of getting married, especially if they had already taken sannyasa.

Come to think of it, this kind of sannyasa is a social obligation and it dictates how one should behave according to expectations and desires of others. Yadu, on the other hand, thought – to hell with others, my first obligation is to the Lord and if the Lord wants me to purify my materialistic proclivities then so be it. This desire of the Lord is more important than anything else and I don’t care if it makes me appear weak or disobedient or anything. If the Lord wants me to appear fallen then so be it, too. I’m not going to ignore the Lord and listen to my friends and family instead.

In this way Yadu took an unconventional and unexpected path to perfection, but because it was Lord’s desire and he accepted it the Lord eventually appeared in Yadu’s dynasty and – not a little thing – manifested His full sweetness while doing so. This sweetness is impossible in the dynasties of those who live strictly by the rules – He tried as Lord Ramacandra of the Surya dynasty and maryada-purusottama – the perfectly behaved human being, but it just didn’t work.

This is related to the nature of sweetness – it comes from being very close and forgiving. It appears when absolutely everything is accepted and so there is a complete unity between two persons. Completeness of this unity is not in thinking and desiring exactly the same but in eagerly embracing any and all different desires as one’s own. In simple words – whatever you do, I will not judge you for that and I will back you up all the way, we are in this together. It’s the foundation of unconditional surrender – devotees surrender to the Lord and the Lord surrenders to the desires of His devotees.

This sweetness – madhurya – permeates every other rasa in Vraja, they are all just variations of it. In this world, however, it exists only as a brief period of infatuation at the beginning of a relationship but today people are raised to ignore it and overpower it and behave in a self-interested way instead – because no one can be trusted and one might make serious mistakes affecting the rest of his life and because it saves one from heartbreaks and disappointments and so on. Therefore I don’t want to make any comparisons between madhurya and whatever is available in this world.

My point is that Yadu felt the need to deal with his material desires and the Lord fully supported him every step of the way – you want a wife? Get married, have children, rule the kingdom – get it out of your system so that these unfulfilled desires don’t bother you in your old age. This sounds like pravritti marga, which is not generally welcome in our sampradaya, but neither the Lord nor His devotees are conditioned by these considerations. Whatever works – in their relationship – is perfect and should not be judged or intruded upon. They are happy together and that’s all that matters. If we have some other ideas how they should interact we should keep them to ourselves.

There is a lot to say about Moon dynasty in this regard – the story of Moon god’s adultery plays a prominent part in how it developed. One could say it’s all built on illicit relationship, it’s an integral part of what makes it “Moon” as opposed to “Sun”. Sun is the manifestation of sat-shakti of the Lord, the shakti or righteousness and propriety while Moon is the manifestation of ananda – of whatever feels right. Therefore real ananda – madhurya – is impossible in the realm of sat and sat is impossible in the realm of ananda – think parakiya rasa as an example. Krishna just does not want to be married to Radha because it dampens their actual relationship, it takes the edge out of it – it must be illicit to be enjoyed fully.

Elsewhere this dichotomy manifests as right-hand and left-hand paths in Vedic society. We traditionally follow the right-hand path, especially in our behavioral norms, but our goal is totally left-hand, where Srimati Radharani stands. But we can’t get there without right-hand mercy of Lord Nityananda so both must be there. It’s hard to navigate these waters and even harder to describe a straight and narrow path towards our goal. I suspect it doesn’t even exist and there must be a point where a devotee says “good-bye my morning bath” as in that famous verse. If one is unable to make this step he will never enter the realm of rasa, we have been warned about that, too.