Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Bhava Police, Revisited: I'm sensing a head-game

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"Bhavas in Bhakti" by Sri Swami Sivananda is a very helpful guide to the various bhavas or moods that one can experience in their relationship with God.

However, my issue with it, as some may already be aware based on a couple of my previous posts, has to do with the typical red-flagging that occurs whenever one of the bhavas, madhurya, is handled. 

The irony is that one section of Sivananda's article on bhavas is even prefaced with the following statement:
"There are five kinds of Bhava in Bhakti. They are Shanta, Dasya, Sakhya, Vatsalya and madhurya Bhavas. These Bhavas or feelings are natural to human beings and so these are easy to practice. Practice whichever Bhava suits your temperament."
Okay, so basically bhavas are natural, personality-driven things.  Nothing high or mighty about them requiring special secret knowledge or spending years in a monastery somewhere in the Himalayas, right?

So then the article goes into detail about the various bhavas:
"In Shanta Bhava, the devotee is Shanta or peaceful. He does not jump and dance. He is not highly emotional. His heart is filled with love and joy. Bhishma was a Shanta Bhakta.

Sri Hanuman was a Dasya Bhakta. He had Dasya Bhava, servant attitude. He served Lord Rama whole-heartedly. He pleased his Master in all possible ways. He found joy and bliss in the service of his Master.

In Sakhya Bhava, God is a friend of the devotee. Arjuna had this Bhava towards Lord Krishna. The devotee moves with the Lord on equal terms. Arjuna and Krishna used to sit, eat, talk and walk together as intimate friends.

In Vatsalya Bhava, the devotee looks upon God as his child. Yasoda had this Bhava with Lord Krishna. There is no fear in this Bhava, because God is your pet child. The devotee serves, feeds, and looks upon God as a mother does in the case of her child."
So far so good, right?  Now watch what happens when we get to madhurya bhava, which starts out calmly enough:
"The last is Madhurya Bhava or Kanta Bhava. This is the highest form of Bhakti. The devotee regards the Lord as his Lover. This was the relation between Radha and Krishna. This is Atma-Samarpana. The lover and the beloved become one. The devotee and God feel one with each other and still maintain a separateness in order to enjoy the bliss of the play of love between them. This is oneness in separation and separation in oneness. Lord Gauranga, Jayadeva, Mira and Andal had this Bhava."
Here's where the article's laid-back preface -- you know, the statement that says these Bhavas or feelings are natural to human beings, are easy to practice, and are based upon temperament -- is completely contradicted:
"A Caution: Madhurya Bhava is absolutely different from conjugality of earthly experience. One should not be mistaken for the other. Earthly conjugality is purely selfish and is undertaken only because it gives pleasure to one's own self."
Okay, let's stop there for just a minute.  First of all, since when is earthly conjugality only "purely selfish" and "undertaken only because it gives pleasure to oneself"?  Nice work making what is an otherwise mutually loving relationship look like one of the worst sins on earth.

Continuing on...
"But in love for God it is because it gives pleasure to God and not for the sake of the devotee. Divine love is not selfish. It is born of sattva. But earthly lust is born of rajas and attachment to bodies. Earthly conjugality is the outcome of egoisitc self-regarding egoistic feeling, while divine communion is the outcome of other-regarding feeling devoid of egoism."
And where was all this concern about the devotee also experiencing such pleasures as love, joy, and bliss in the other bhavas, above?  Why are those pleasures okay in the other bhavas, but not this one?

Obviously someone has a problem with conjugal types of relationships in general.  If a religious system is going to compare a human being's relationship with the Divine in romantic terms to begin with, that system has to take all that comes with such a relationship.

Now, maybe the ascetic hermits hiding in the mountains aren't aware of this, but, in a conjugal relationship, both parties are going to experience pleasure.  Just as in the other bhavas mentioned in the article, the individual, inevitably, is going to encounter joy and bliss in madhurya bhava, and that should be no more discouraged in madhurya than in any other bhava.  There are just as many opportunities for selfishness in the other bhavas as there are in madhurya, yet not a peep is made about that being a concern.  How strange.

Moving right along ...
"Strong selfishness is the root of worldly passion; divine love is the product of loss of egoism. This is the greatest difference between lust (kama) and divine love (prema). The two are related as darkness is related to light."
Again, "strong selfishness" isn't only to be found in the conjugal context, so why all the warnings about it are limited to just this one is beyond me.

As far as lust and divine love being related as darkness is to light, that can be read a couple of ways.  Either he's saying that there's no relationship between the two at all, or that there's an interplay between them.  I see it as the latter -- you can't have shadows (i.e., darkness) without a light shining somewhere.  Secondly -- and this is one of the benefits of not allowing only one religion to have a monopoly on the things of God -- the Christian scriptures indicate that God created both darkness and light, and that in Him there is no darkness at all

Another very important point is that some teachings say that lust is very much a part of madhurya.  The gopis themselves were said to have experienced it:
SB 7.1.31: "My dear King Yudhiṣṭhira, the gopīs by their lusty desires, Kamsa by his fear, Sisupala and other kings by envy, the Yadus by their familial relationship with Krishna, you Pandavas by your great affection for Krishna, and we, the general devotees, by our devotional service, have obtained the mercy of Krishna."
In a different part of the same source, lust is basically given the green-light:
SB 7.1.26: "Therefore by enmity or by devotional service, by fear, by affection or by lusty desire — by all of these or any one of them — if a conditioned soul somehow or other concentrates his mind upon the Lord, the result is the same, for the Lord, because of His blissful position, is never affected by enmity or friendship." 
Not to mention other statements made by the "experts" on the subject (see Vindication: I love how the Lord works!).  And I would not be the least bit surprised if lust were very much a part of the writings of such devotees as the article mentioned previously, above.  Read some of the poems by Mira or Andal (especially Andal) and tell me if there is not even the slightest  possibility of some form of lust factoring into their relationship at least to some degree.

On to the next:
"No development of earthly affection, however perfect it may be, can lead one to supreme joy of divine communion. Lust lurks in the heart due to the passion that burns in the core of things. Divine love is unknown to the man of the world, however religious he may be. The secret of divine love cannot be understood, and should not be tried to be understood, so long as man is only a man and woman only a woman. The austere transformation of the human into the divine is the beginning of true love for God."
This part makes it seem as though earthly affection and lust are immovable obstacles blocking our relationship to God.  Yet, again, this same individual started this section of the article off by saying:
"These Bhavas or feelings are natural to human beings and so these are easy to practice. Practice whichever Bhava suits your temperament."
That statement presumably includes the madurya bhava!  Yet suddenly all that is "natural to human beings", all that's "easy to practice", all that pertains to one's own "temperament" -- which would include the aforementioned "earthly affection and lust" -- are now a roadblock in this bhava only.

Now, obviously, Divine love is going to be God's area of expertise, being that He's ... y'know ... Divine and all.  Given that He is divine, any flaws on the human side of the relationship will, in due time, be addressed by Him.  Since we are talking about God Almighty here, if "lust" or "selfishness" or any other human character-flaw were to become problematic for Him (which apparently it won't, according to SB 7.1.26, above), it's well within His power to fix it.  Divine love fixes things.  We are His handiwork, and I doubt there's any religion out there that doesn't see one of God's roles as being improving us humans.  He finishes what He starts.

I personally don't think it's Lord Krishna who is freaked out over the perceived perils of madhurya bhava.  I think it's other people, who are one of a few things:
  • They may be simply afraid of it, or ...
  • They may have mishandled conjugal issues themselves somehow and therefore just assume no one else could do better, or ...
  • Because this bhava has been elevated above the others (for what reason I have no clue), they're just plain jealous and therefore want to ensure that those who may be experiencing this bhava don't fully rest in it.
All the writings that I have seen by the poet-saints who were  known to have had this bhava sound anything but uptight -- or secretive -- concerning their obviously romantic feelings towards God.  Those who seem not to have this bhava are the ones that insist that, as conjugally-oriented as this bhava is said to be, it's not really that way.  Those who wrote under the influence of their madhurya sentiments express it in ways that are strikingly similar to my experience of it.  Who am I going to believe?  Which assessment of France would you believe more -- a textbook written by those who have never actually been there, or the travel-journals of those who have been there? 

In closing, I have to say that I suspect something of a head-game going on with how madhurya is dogmatized upon.  It's said it's like the feelings one would have for one's lover, then it gets turned around by the insistence that we shouldn't have those feelings.

Look -- either it was meant to be that way or it wasn't.  If something wasn't meant to be understood in a conjugal sense, it should never have been couched in conjugal terms!  And if it wasn't meant for human consumption, then it should never have been served to humans for their consumption via human filters of perception!

If there were, originally, any concern about folks viewing God as Lover in a way that they would humanly understand, then I would think that the whole tradition of rasa lila, madhurya bhava, and all that comes with it would never have seen the light of day.  Whether Lord Krishna's romantic pastimes with the gopis was made up later or was something that actually took place, neither He nor those who wrote about them seemed the least bit worried that conjugal love between God and humankind might do what it do in the hearts of those so inclined!