Culture, Sadhana and Inner Transformation
23rd of November, 2006 - 3:25
A friend recently inquired about religion and cultural taints, the universality of Gauranga's path and related topics. The following are some thoughts I jotted together to gloss the themes involved:

• Religion and sadhana
• Culture and identity transformation
• Preaching and conversion
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Culture, Sadhana and Inner Transformation
Posted: 23rd of November, 2006 - 3:25
A friend inquired (read) about religion and cultural taints, the universality of Gauranga's path and related topics. The following are some thoughts I jotted together to gloss the themes involved.

Religion and sadhana

There is a good deal of difference between the two that deserves to be understood. While religion, or dharma as we often know it, tends to be relatively static in nature, consisting of day-to-day religious practices that integrate as a part of one's lifestyle and generally stabilize into a single, permanent ongoing situation, sadhana is progressive: it moves and evolves, it calls for changes when adopted.

While many flavors of religiosity can undoubtedly be derived from Gauranga Mahaprabhu's gift, whenever the core concept of ongoing sadhana is neglected, the fullness, the full richness of our tradition, is compromized. "Full sadhana", the daily practice of the accomplished saints of the past, is something that calls for extensive commitment and compromizes the status quo of any extant lifestyle in any culture or society, Western or Indian all the same.

That is not to say there wouldn't be any merit in partial or adjusted engagement. The sadhanas we are exposed to, when learned and employed under proper guidance, yield tremendous power even if taken in minute quantities with faith. However, the nature of the path is such that it leads you onward and forward, into further commitment and closer to "full engagement". Full engagement is a point of wholesome, selfless commitment of all one's acts and thoughts in Hari's service and contemplation. Progress towards the ideal inherently features the need for personal change; the shift of emphasis from self-centered to service-centered implies a change in both attitudes and activities.

Culture and identity transformation

The final ideal of Gauranga's religion is the attainment of pristine love and perfect service for God. This perfection – as our God-concept is profoundly specific and personal – takes place in a particular scenario. Krishna, the charming youngster roaming about the pastures of Vraja, drawing the gopis' near with the ballad of his flute – the source of the Great Vishnu and all avatars, the carefree causer of all creation – revels in a realm that, its divine splendor and wonders aside, corresponds in its basic aspects to a particular period of our earthly history.

The object of our sadhana is to partake of services in that divine realm in the identity of a companion of his, as a a follower of the milk-maids of Vraja. The core of all sadhanas is the assimilation of this identity within one's heart, the contemplation of feelings and services flowing thereof within the core of one's being. As such, a natural attraction for cultural particulars will arise in the sadhaka – within and without he yearns to see the same, he longs for the god's world and delights in all things serving as reminders thereof. As such, the cultural stamp in our tradition is as deep as it is inherent, and that indeed features as a part of its beauty.

Then, despite the core practices of Gauranga's religion being universal in application – chanting of God's names, and so forth – they soon, and naturally, awaken particular cultural attractions within the practitioner, for they awaken his charm for the highest divine abode in the sweet form of the cowherd village of Vraja.

Preaching and conversion

It is then evident from what's been said that Gaudiya Vaisnavism at its core is a deeply mystical path. It has not to do with proselytizing and conversions as the word religion might perhaps suggest; it has to do with profound personal growth and transformation. So being, transformations are effected from person to person, from saints to aspirants, as a matter of natural flow of good-will in reciprocation to clarity of wishes and tender nature. The core of our practice and feeling can only be bestowed to a cultivated heart.

As for the process of cultivation and preparation for the ultimate, evidently initial introductions to the practice of bhakti are called for. As noted, offering variants of Gauranga's religion adjusted for the masses is an ongoing process and far from having found established and well-working avenues. This is evident from the fact that even among those of us of Western birth or dwelling who have come and directly acquainted ourselves with the highest ideals, a sense of wholesome community is lacking – in part in want of committed leadership with a vision, in part in want of receptivity for the same.

Concluding a piece of writing that was perhaps inconclusive – even if it shed some light on the reasons for being inconclusive! – I personally feel that if Gauranga's path were transmutated into a "universal" form where none would feel a threshold for embarking on it, it would have lost a great deal of its essence and its charm. That said, I do not feel that universalizing as a matter of working for the welfare of the peoples is a negative undertaking as such, as long as the relation to the roots – roots, from which the elixir of prayojana flows – is not severed. The successful symbiosis or respectful co-existence of universalized and classical forms of practice is then a whole other horse to tame.
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