What does sahajiya mean today? I was just listening to a class and the speaker said that there are some traditional sahajiyas still present, meaning those who believe proper sex leads to attaining real rasa. Okay, but in another part of the same class they talked about attaining this same real rasa through immersing into emotions evoked by discussing rasa pastimes. The speaker posed questions like “How would it make YOU feel?” when describing gopis first meeting with Krishna, for example, and he elicited audience responses. It’s a typical tactic, btw, not just a one off occurrence in this type of classes.
It’s at this point that I fail to see principal difference between engaging in touching and kissing, which is a big part of the same lila, and imagining how it would feel in one’s mind. One is gross sex and the other is subtle, so what’s the difference? It’s not like people can see Krishna in their minds during these re-enactments, they imagine a person imbued with their ordinary perceptions of how men should behave and they just call him “Krishna”. How’s that not ascribing spiritual qualities to mundane objects and emotions, which is also a definition of sahajiya?
The argument could be that these devotees are not encouraged to imagine how kissing and touching feels but I don’t think this breaking up of the pastime is valid. How the gopis feel when the see Krishna is intrinsically connected to how they touch Him. The feeling, moreover, is contained within the touch and the touch is contained within the look they cast upon Him. Both are parts of the same rasa, just expressed differently. It’s like, pardon me for the gross example, avowing to abstain from sex but going step by step through foreplay, except in one’s mind.
Traditional sahajiyas get this unity of looks and touches and they come to actual sex by starting from the discussion of feelings first – just like the devotees are encouraged to do here, except they are expected to stop their imagination when it reaches a certain point, which is not yet defined. I can see how they could allow imagining how touching Krishna’s feet feels, and maybe even touching His hand, but probably not the kiss. The exact red line is to be determined, and then possibly moved as practitioners reach a new level of maturity. I also believe traditional sahajiyas took several hundred years to get to actual sex as embodiment of rasa-lila. I also don’t see how it could end up any differently either – as long as “rasa” expressed through material mind is nourishing the practitioner. At some point they would put this direct experience above any sastric injunctions, too. And we should remember that traditional sahajiyas do not see their rasa-lila sex as mundane either, they see, feel, and are absolutely convinced that it’s the epitome of spiritual reality. They do not see their bodies, they look beyond them, they see Krishna and the gopis instead. I’m sure it also makes them very happy and there is nothing in this world that can convince them otherwise. I said “in this world” because, as our acharyas explained, they have no access to actual spiritual rasa which is also the only object that can defeat their misconception.
This is where this sahajiya discussion makes a full circle, inexplicably – by indulging in material things and feelings people go all the way away from spiritual reality but in the end they try to look beyond matter and see the same spirit they have been running away from. Does it make it into an actual circle? It’s not supposed to, but there is an arch bending towards this meeting point from the spiritual world, too – Radha and Krishna come to this world to be human, not to be spiritual. For some reasons I’m not going to discuss here, They feel that expressing themselves through what looks like ordinary matter gives Them a better thrill than hanging out in Goloka only. The point is that rasa IS best expressed through material bodies for Them. The counterpoint is that we are not Them and even if we might be gopis in the spiritual world, none of us is Krishna. In this way the circle can never be complete, it just comes to someone getting closer and closer to imitating Krishna, but it will never be the same thing. This deserves a separate article, really, so let’s get back to the topic at hand.
There is an argument that by discussing Krishna’s amorous pastimes our own lust will be extinguished but I first would love to see an explanation, preferably backed by experience, of how it works. Otherwise lust can be extinguished by chanting Hare Krishna, too, and Srila Prabhupada was absolutely convinced of that. Somehow we manage to screw it – because we are not chanting it right, obviously. I think the same should apply to rasa-katha as well – first we need to learn how to do it right, not just dive headfirst without having a clue how it works and what we are actually doing.
Another, closely related subject, is that the same speakers often collate restrictive village life that tied gopis to their husbands with conservative devotees in ISCKON and compare gopis breaking away from those social norms with ISKCON progressives who want no restrictions on women leading kirtans, giving classes, accepting disciples, getting education, having careers etc etc.
To this my objection is that no matter what gopis felt inside and discussed among each other they never failed to follow these rules in public. Starting a campaign to change these rules was unthinkable, too. I mean is this what these devotees would do as soon as they get to Goloka? Start changing everything to fit with their ideas of what is correct behavior? Do they see imperfections in Vrindavan? Are they also going to tell Brahma to redesign people’s eyes just because gopis complained about it?
Connection to the earlier discussion on sahajiya is this – why do they assume that their upheaval against conservative views is purely spiritual in nature and not just some mundane emotion caused by following mundane news and mundane examples of mundane activism? Aren’t they assigning spiritual rasa to objects of this world again?