Sunday, July 6, 2008

Transitions: At the Threshold of a New Life

The fall of 2006, September 16th to be exact, I moved to northern India, to the village of Radhakund in the district of Mathura with my wife of seven years, Malatilata. Many friends have asked about the evolutions, and rather radical ones since a year or so, that have taken place. I've touched on bits and pieces at Vraja Journal, but an all-in-one write-up is in place. This is the first part.

Moving to India

Even if I had initially planned on working a bit longer in Finland to raise enough funds to live off the interests of a high-interest bank account, paving way for an easy early retirement in India, the push to move was too great. Not as great for me as it was for my wife, for whom the sole raison d'etre was our siksa-guru, Sanatana Das Babaji.

Truth be told, it wasn't for our diksha-guru, Sri Ananta Das Babaji, that we made this dramatic change in our lives, leaving the West behind and migrating to a rural area in a third-world country. Our connection with him had grown quite formal since our initial meeting and initiation in 2002 — it seemed that he either had no time, no energy, or otherwise no interest in offering detailed guidance in our lives. It was with Sanatana, an acquaintance since 2004, that we hoped to spend our days of worship and meditation with.

The building project

Sanatana insisted that the house project be pushed onward with full speed, despite our lack of funds. We ended up loaning from friends and from the bank, and even maxing out my credit card, to get together the final payment for the land by the end of November, and later in February to get the construction started.

Even with the promise that "Just keep working, the Lord will provide you with everything", we ended up with over 10K euro debts and a total dead-end as far as payback is concerned. I was a bit unhappy with the extent to which the baba was involved in planning and decision-making, imposing his opinion on trivial issues. These were the seeds my discontent with him, as this one thing was perhaps the greatest of hindrances to my efforts to practice.

Settling in

Having settled in, I lived pretty much the ideal life of sadhana I had imagined – except for the stress brought about by our very poor financial situation and the fact that I was the only one in position to do anything about it.

Most of our time outside our house was spent either in Sanatana's kutir or otherwise in kirtan performances where he was present. He was, for all practical purposes, the center of our lives. As we grew closer and closer, my wife, skilled as she was in different treatments, also treated him in diverse ways — a service that was to become an obsession.

Even if I wasn't wholly comfortable with the level of intimacy in their connection, I am rarely one to become jealous. It was more the impracticality of staying at his kutir until the late hours of night, treating him in diverse ways, and by this making my desired daily schedule an impossibility, that bothered me. Despite my repeated notes over their being inconsiderate towards me, "the burning need" she had for this activity overruled any considerations.

With the Bengalis

Having learned Bangla, I gained access to 90% more of the resident Bengali population. With this access came the sad realization that most people just wanted to become familiar with me to gain either directly or indirectly. I became more and more inclined for solitude, and this received encouragement from the baba as well — we shared a perspective on the current condition of the community.

We actually managed to become the center of the community's gossip. Everyone, with their polluted minds, project all kinds of fringe ideas on others, their thoughts and their doings. Two foreigners staying late night at a baba's kutir was certainly food for many talks. With this show unfolding, I grew still a bit more familiar — and disgusted — with the panchayat, the local council of big babas, many greedy and corrupt, and their dirty and petty politics. With this sorry game dragging on for some two years, I felt disgusted with the community altogether.

Falling out with Sanatana

In early 2007, I had begun growing a bit weary of Sanatana's all-knowingness. It wasn't only about how the gopis put on make-up right, but it was also about how you peel a potato or change a bulb. This trait, connected with the fact that there was occasional discord between his preaching and practice, had me looking for answers beyond his understanding. He was a bit in a compromized position in terms of the society, being the lead singer of the community and as such a visible political figure, and didn't always have the strength to put his own integrity first.

Even if collecting almsfood was the livelihood of choice for a full-on practitioner, it had remained a world closed from me owing to the baba. He was very particular about his eating, and observed numerous strictures found in certain old Puranas far beyond what the tradition had ever implemented. Almsfood, therefore, was considered undesirable. However, the fact that he himself had no problem receiving substantial ingredient donations from seths (wealthy businessmen), broke my faith in his integrity. His answer on "being practical" didn't really satisfy me at all.

I do not wish to write about my misgivings at length at this point. It wasn't as much about any single detail as it was about a substantial ego conflict, and for me also about preserving my own integrity.

Around the hill

It was around this time that I also grew weary of the late nights, engaged in supposedly necessary "preventative" treatment. Sitting in the kutir one night, I cracked open the dictionary at random for a word of advice. Griha-tyaga it said — and left me a bit speechless — "give up your family life", the book told me.

That night, walking homewards at a bit after 11 PM as usual, I saw my wife to the gate and moved on. "If I cannot do my practice properly in that house with you, then I have no need for coming to that house." I began walking around the sacred Govardhana hill, journeying in the solitary darkness of the night, rattling my beads, and taking a few hours of rest somewhere in the ruins of an old temple, on the banks of ponds, or just on a random chair by the side of the road.

In a few days, I met Balarama Das, one of the tyagis (renunciates) living around the hill. To him, spiritual practice was about blood, sweat and tears. It was about austerity, about pushing on until you no longer can, and then a little more. His daily vow was to circumambulate the 22 km route twice daily. Even if he wasn't as philosophically profound as I had hoped, there was a crisp quality of strictness, determination and renunciation in him that I enjoyed.

It was with Balarama that I learned how to collect almsfood, going from house to house with my begging bowl. For a month, we walked together, we begged together, we ate together and we walked some more... All that walking had a bit of a counterproductive effect on my meditational practice, but talking about this with Balarama was a hopeless cause, given that our minds were on such radically different wavelengths.

The final straw

One afternoon after some three weeks of collecting madhukari (almsfood), I showed up at Sanatana's kutir. He asked whether I had taken my meal yet, and I answered that yes I had — having collected alms at the neighboring town. This was an utter shock for him — that I had not informed him of this or sought for his permission and blessing. And it seems to have been a bit too much for his ego.

The comment he made, "Well let's see how long you last", confirmed to me that it was no longer about benevolence towards me, it was about him proving his opinion right and giving me a lesson. That night I told Malati, "Look, I will no longer come. That's it, and that's enough." And the next day I no longer went to meet him.

As I had spoken with Balarama about the situation with Sanatana at quite some extent, meeting with his stern disapproval, the word got out and people began talking about Sanatana and Malati having an affair. That obviously is not what I said, but with a bit of village magic, facts can evolve into fascinating dimensions. It was true that their attachment was way beyond anything acceptable for a renunciate, and it was true that all of her attention and considerations had shifted from me to the babaji, I had for all practical purposes become an instrument of her dream with her teacher.

More in fear of his reputation than with concern for me from all I gathered, he appeared at our doorstep in a few days to talk about what I was talking to others. I didn't really talk to anyone unless directly asked, but word spreads fast in small communities, and Bengali village radio seems to be particularly efficient both in terms of increased quantity and distorted quality of transmission.

"So what exactly is the problem?", he asked. As I had my opportunity, being directly asked, I laid out bare all the issues that bothered me. I remember having to insist in the middle of the conversation that he give in on having been wrong at least on some small issues — as otherwise any discussion would be wholly pointless. But he acted out the victim role, telling how hurt he was and how he now understood that I had never loved him... And added that I may not understand it now, but that my spiritual life would crumble down owing to the offenses I had committed against him.

Austerity baba

Following the conflict, I pretty much kept living as I had until then — walking around the hill, begging my food and so forth. We had to take a bit of distance from each other with Balarama, as the eyes of the community were falling upon us... So I walked alone. On Ekadasis (11th day of waxing and waning moon) we used to get up at midnight and walk around the hill twice at one stretch and spend the whole day and night fasting, even from water.

It was in early May that I, too, began the daily twice around the mountain austerity. It was pretty tough at times, but not undoable. Late may, however, I got a series of boils that first made the walking very painful and then totally incapacitated me with a 7 cm radius boil at the backside of my right knee. I had grown very weak from the scarce diet, the hard labor and the scorching sun.

The time I spent alone in my room, for almost a full month until I recovered, gave me much good time to reflect on my direction. Where I was headed, so much became evident to me, was not where I was supposed to be going. The heavy physically oriented performance practice wasn't cut out for me.

The free time gave me much time for reflection, introspection and study. I got back to reading Swami Sivananda's works, which I remembered as very informative and inspiring in ways I hadn't felt in our Gaudiya texts. Those very works were instrumental in my transition beyond Gaudiya Vaishnavism. They just made too much sense to be ignored, even if some of the Advaita-philosophy flew straight in the face of everything I had learned in the past.

Elements of the divorce

With Malati's consuming attachment towards Sanatana, it was inevitable that the two of us would be growing apart. It was only a matter of time. I had now become an offender to her guru, and was therefore considered bad company — even if it was never said in so many words. We already lived separately, even if owing purely to practical reasons as there was no room ready for me in the new house yet.

The final turning point came on June 9th, 2007, which was Malati's birthday. Seeing the birthday queen amidst cooking in the kitchen, I offered to help prepare something.

— No no, it's okay.
— We let me at least put together a mango lassi, okay?
— Well uh, you know, I can't really eat anything you prepare.
— Um... That's your idea, or baba told this to you?
— Baba told me.
— So you keep your cookings then. I cook mine and you cook yours. And get your money from those whose food you eat.

At this point it was obvious. There was no future together for us. After a few thorough conversations, we were at a good consensus over the need for each of us to walk our own paths, she with her babaji and I with my universe of unexplored mysteries.

I stood at the threshold of a new life. The old one had pretty much crumbled to pieces on all levels I could imagine. Marriage was ruined, house was not what it was meant to be, my business no longer generated income, we had over 10K euro of debts, teachers for whom I had given years of my life held little interest in me, and to top it off the village I lived at was too damn noisy. It was a time for change — but to what direction?


To be continued...

8 comments:

jijaji said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
"Gaurasundara das" said...

Ananda,

I'm really sorry to read all of these things. I have no words to tell you and can't think what to say. All I can say is that I'm sorry that you had to go through all of that, and more so without much tangible assistance from those of us who knew you for years at GD. Very sorry.

You know who am I said...

That obviously is not what I said, but with a bit of village magic, facts can evolve into fascinating dimensions. It was true that their attachment was way beyond anything acceptable for a renunciate, and it was true that all of her attention and considerations had shifted from me to the babaji, I had for all practical purposes become an instrument of her dream with her teacher.

More details invited! I can't believe what u're trying to imply is true!!! Sanatan Baba is a life long Brahmacari, Malati-DD in a situation of ISKCON taught Brahmacarya since age 2, how on earth can be the worst possible derivation of the quoted statement?

"You know who am I" said...

The dream would have been to serve the Baba...I believe, yes in acceptable ways. The dasya love doesn't evolve into lust I guess!!!

You know who am I said...

You said, "One afternoon after some three weeks of collecting madhukari (almsfood), I showed up at Sanatana's kutir. He asked whether I had taken my meal yet, and I answered that yes I had — having collected alms at the neighboring town. This was an utter shock for him — that I had not informed him of this or sought for his permission and blessing. And it seems to have been a bit too much for his ego."

Not for his ego but for your benefit it was. You were so sincere to him earlier that doing this without permission would definitely have been shocking for him. You yourself have mentioned right before:
"All that walking had a bit of a counterproductive effect on my meditational practice" And later in you Vraja journal: "No I'll eat my own cooked food"
And "Late may, however, I got a series of boils that first made the walking very painful and then totally incapacitated me with a 7 cm radius boil at the backside of my right knee. I had grown very weak from the scarce diet, the hard labor and the scorching sun." Got what Baba was "shocked about"? YOUR FUTURE!

"As I had my opportunity, being directly asked, I laid out bare all the issues that bothered me. I remember having to insist in the middle of the conversation that he give in on having been wrong at least on some small issues — as otherwise any discussion would be wholly pointless."
Did you remember what u used to teach: gurura vikriyA yadi kara kakhana, tathApi avajnA nAhi kara kadAcana. You could have been polite enough at this situation, knowing that there can be sanga-dozas affecting him when so many people were talking about him, (the effect of consciousness of so many coming in to trouble him...).

"— Well uh, you know, I can't really eat anything you prepare.
— Um... That's your idea, or baba told this to you?
— Baba told me.
"

Leaving out Guru's anugatya and involving with such degree of fault viewing...very clearly the way you present their case here (like the "affair") and the disrespect shown in even after Guru's coming to your doorstep, despite knowing he has always remained your well wisher since 3 years (and 15 days with a person are practically enough to test his integrity), breaking his trust & talking such about to a local babaji, knowing how wrong they may think of Malati's and Baba's relationship, and yourself knowing how pure it was,...do you think it was justified for you to be permitted to cook for Malati-DDji?

Well, u're getting what you deserve it seems! A "photon"-gati. Really, just match the characteristics of a photon to what u're trying to become. And alas, u're still some where, not "nowhere". LOL

You know who am I said...

"That obviously is not what I said, but with a bit of village magic, facts can evolve into fascinating dimensions. It was true that their attachment was way beyond anything acceptable for a renunciate,"

Well, u not being an Indian, do not know how popular are rumors out here. Declaring them as "true" is just trusting something that can't be true. Well, those steeped in bhajan, won't mind for a fall of reputation, but the reality goes hidden. Just see the rasika gaudiya scriptures for instance. How easily someone can be fooled if he doesn't know that it's all highest form of love that is being talked about and not lust (as it has been rasik-ally written).

Similarly, if a female disciple gets too much dedicated to Guru seva and simultaneously knows what is good for her Guru & what is not, then do you think the such pure mahatmas, who remain almost always absorbed in manjari-bhava consciousness would ever go like a mundane "love" affair?

Well, yes it'd have been an affair, but NOT what most Kaliyugi people would guess upon seeing. The "love" experienced there was (& is) in fact more out of anurAga to serve the Guru to get more of His kripa to serve more in higher lila.

The relationship remained of Guru-dAsya externally and Guru-manjari-dAsya internally, and continues till date!

Vishwajeet said...

You said, "It was true that their attachment was way beyond anything acceptable for a renunciate,"

OK had it been "way beyond anything acceptable for a renunciate" why would they still be doing the sadhana with a dedication far outstanding in the current devotee samaj over there? And with a nistha, I don't know if anyone easily gets to the extent? Wouldn't they become just "outsiders" like Jagadananda or the "ex-Babajis" of the place who just do bhajan for living?

And if she has to, why would she leave this "Indiana Jones" and move on to an affair with a 52 year old Babaji? :LOL:

Have you forgotten the realization of Malati-DDji when Radharani-ji appeared to her in dream and ordered her to always stay with the Guru manjari (mentioning the manjari name of Sanatan Baba)"? Was Malati-DDji doing anything contrary to this then?

I hope u have very well, guessed who am I now...perhaps your greatest supporter till you were in GV.

Ananda said...

Dear Vishvajeet.

I had hoped you would have understood from the many letters that have gone unanswered that I really do not wish to enter into dialog with you, it is far too stressful and involved for me, and it is also quite harmful for you in your current life situation with the komala-shraddha you have.

Now you wish to bring all of this to the public arena from your side. Please do understand that there is absolutely nothing you stand to gain from this. I am also not interested in writing extensive commentaries on the issues you bring up, knowing that my insights are something you are unable to understand and digest, and that the small details don't really concern anyone else.

Please take this in good spirit. I remain wishing all good for your endeavors on the path of bhakti, that is where you are at now, and that is where your immediate future lies.

With love.
Ananda

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