Thursday, June 19, 2008

My insight ventures

Posted 11th of February, 2008 @ Vraja Journal.

With the occasional reference to yogic or Advaitin scriptures, or Buddhist suttas for that matter, some have been wondering about my explorations of knowledge outside the classical Vaisnava canon. Let's have a brief gloss on the why and the what to give everyone a better picture of what things are all about.

As the very opening words, I'd like to be clear in emphasizing that people with individual mentalities will have individual applications and requirements, and as such one shouldn't construe this post as my advocating the study of any particular discipline or genre of literature. One ought to have the good sense to be able to evaluate one's own necessities and study accordingly, just as different kinds of individuals will at different times prefer different kinds of diets to suit their particular conditions.

In particular, some have wondered why I have not extensively brought forth or emphasized the highest teachings of manjari-bhava, as presented for example by the tradition here at Radhakund. Does it mean I feel they are no longer relevant? Does it mean anything? What does it mean? What is the meaning of meaning? Let's see what means what and how things are tied together.

There are, essentially, two approaches to the lila in practice. One is the method more inclined towards meditative visualization, the other more of an "automatic" way depending on the descent of the lila through grace. In the first, the vision of the lila is gradually refined until the full manifestation is entered into, and in the second the full manifestation descends of its own accord owing to grace and citta-suddhi acquired over time. People with different temperaments are inclined for different approaches; both are valid.

Contrasting the two, it may be argued that the latter is "easier" owing to the more resigned, dependent and devotional approach — even though none should think the first would ever come to fruition without sufficient devotional assets either. In Sri Vaishnavism, I recall having heard, they recognize two distinct devotional paths, the first of which is the path of surrender, and the second the path of bhakti-yoga; a model more literally yogic in nature in its meditative practice. You can read of such approaches for example in the very interesting 14th chapter of the 11th canto of the Bhagavata where, towards the end of the chapter, Krishna advices Uddhava on the method of contemplation on his divine form.

My interests in the former, and experiments over the years with the same, have led me to a fair understanding of the degree to which my mind is still untrained in terms of concentration, and of course to a subsequent realization of the need for remedying the same by appropriate methods. Since our "own" textual tradition doesn't deal with such themes very elaborately at all, but rather give hints and passing references to themes more elaborately dealt with in external sources, one taking interest in the such will be naturally inclined to study the sources. And I would be inclined to assume that a part of the reason why such themes aren't elaborately explored is that it has been assumed the audience is already familiar with the same.

Let's take a glance at, as an example, Baladeva's notes in his Vedanta-bhashya (4.1 - sixth adhikarana):
AsInaH sambhavAt - "Sitting, for then it is possible." BV: One should adopt an asana (yogic sitting posture), and then meditate on the Lord. Why is that? The sutra explains, "sambhavAt" (for then it is possible). When one is reclining, standing up, or walking, the mind is liable to be distracted and then meditation is not possible. In Svetasvatara Upanisad (1.3) it is said: te dhyAna-yogAnugatA apazyan - "Sitting in a yoga posture, and rapt in meditation, the sages gazed at the Supreme Personality of Godhead." In this way they who desire to meditate on the Lord are described. Therefore one should adopt the asana posture. Otherwise meditation is not possible.

dhyAnAc ca - "Also because of meditation." BV: Meditation is defined as thinking of one thing only and not thinking of anything else. This kind of thinking is not possible when one is reclining or in any posture but the yoga-asana. Therefore one should sit in the yoga-asana.
Baladeva repeats the same in his comments to sutras 9 and 10 for the emphasis. Proper posture and breath control are also recurring themes in the Bhagavata, featured as methods for controlling the mind, prerequisites for meditation. Having taken interest in the such, one then rather naturally becomes inclined to study the said methods in further detail.

This is the scenario giving rise to my interests in studying works such as Yoga-sutra and Hatha-yoga-pradipika. The late Swami Sivananda mentioned earlier was a prolific author who produced helpful and rather pragmatic glosses on many themes of yoga, meditation and sadhana. (There are shared methods across the vast landscape of Indic tradition. Hardly anything is unique on its own — there are only unique combinations.) Hence my initial interest in his works. Now, if he happens to make a remark I consider particularly wise and insightful, I see no reason why I should abstain from repeating the same.

We have developed, especially I believe among the Western Gaudiya Vaisnava audience, a strange sort of an allergy and a fair sense of aversion towards traditions separate from our own. Perhaps this owes a great deal to the attitudes implanted by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, with whose group many of us were once affiliated with. In his works, everybody got their fair share of blast and blame. There were the sahajiyas, there were the mayavadi rascals, the impostors and the show-bottle yogis. There were the rascal scientists, and a whole horde of diverse demons out there, just waiting to have an opportunity to denigrate the sankirtan movement of salvation we were out to propagate.

To contrast this with different attitudes, I visited the ashram of Murari Baba (a prominent disciple of Tinkadi Goswami) at Kesighat a while back, and noticed a sizable portrait of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa right above the temple door. I made a passing remark of its presence to a babaji in whose company I was — without really commenting one way or another — and he noted, "He's a sadhaka-purusha. There's no problem in having his picture there."

Similarly, especially among the Bengalis, one will note how people have a great sense of respect towards their "national heros" such as Vivekananda, Lokanath Brahmacari and Aurobindo. Now, no Gaudiya Vaisnava would agree with any one of them in full detail on matters of sadhana and sadhya, but the absence of disparaging attitude is noteworthy. There really is no need to smash and trash everybody with the minutest difference. This is the kanistha-attitude where in essence one seeks to solidify his own faith, or the faith of a group, through denigrating the perceived opponents. A more evolved individual will be able to partake of and rejoice in everyone's wisdom.

And what's with those Buddhist suttas? Well, the Buddhist tradition has developed very refined and extensively documented methods of meditation. There are many parallels there with Patanjali's concepts in the Yoga-sutra, and there are also many unique insights and elaborations. Having discovered the same, I see no pressing reason to blind myself from its existence and potential benefits. And again, if the Buddha — who seems by all accounts to have been a very wise and perceptive individual — has made notes that are beneficial across the board, regardless of one's particular tradition, it does not make sense to abstain from repeating the same just because they don't have the company label on them.

That, then, is a brief gloss into my explorations that hopefully demystifies the matter a bit. I really am not inclined to start tagging my blogs with "warning - content from external sources". If people want to read just the plain doctrine, they are better off just reading the source texts. I am more concerned with the application, the practicalities, the possibilities and the realities of what everything translates into in real life. It's about walking a path and getting somewhere after all, not just about deciphering theorems.

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