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
11th of November, 2006 - 17:50
Why Learn Bengali
7th of November, 2006 - 10:55
Tests of Tolerance
1st of November, 2006 - 13:27

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Why Learn Bengali
Posted: 7th of November, 2006 - 10:55
In my studies of Bengali language, I have eventually come to a point of near seamless communication with Bengalis, a point where I understand most of what is spoken and am able to express what I wish to without wobbling or excessive detours. Vocabulary, of course, has room for infinite addition and the usage of more complex sentence structures needs to be assimilated. So far so good, what has the gain been?

I'll start with a statement and follow with more nuanced reasoning. Every Gaudiya Vaisnava should know some Bengali. If they did, it would help them tremendously in their devotional lives. Now, does bhakti depend on the mastery of a particular language? Not as such, no more than it depends on having two eyes to see, and so forth. However the said facilities are rather helpful.

Now, the major gains thus far.

Knowing the script, you won't ever have to wait for me to translate the yearly Panjika again!
1. Increased facility for sadhu-sanga. With the exception of the very old generation of Bengalis who did their studies closer to the British Era and kept up the use of the language, Bengalis do not know English particularly well. Knowing their language lets you interact and integrate into the broader devotee community, observe their ways, learn their customs, hear their discussions and learn of what they advice. It also seems to endearen you to them a great deal, as observed again yesterday at an Adhivasa-kirtana at Pandit Advaita Das Babaji's samadhi, where it seems there was no end to people who wished to speak a bit with the Bangla-speaking videshi.

2. Ability to relish poetry. The Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition has a vast wealth of poetic heritage, thousands and thousands of songs have been written by medieval and more recent padakavis. Understanding each and every word, and being able to follow the akhors (poetic ornaments) added in by kirtaniyas, opens awide a door to relishing the songs' devotional emotion and gaining entrance into the world depicted therein; something one can only dream of without knowing the language.

3. Access to original works. Only so much jaya-jaya can be said for even the best of translations, and most of what's on the market falls a good deal short of the standard. Imagine not having to depend on the translatory interpretations of others and having the facility to check, at any time, what is actually being said in the work you read. Now, this obviously also applies for Sanskrit, which is a whole other horse to tame, but access to Bengali translations of Sanskrit works is also helpful.

4. Getting things done. While in Vraja knowledge of Hindi would be the asset to have, a lot of people also know Bengali, and even if they don't, they'll likely follow more of what you said in Bengali than in English. Also, at Radha-kunda roughly 10% of the population are Bengalis.

In the weeks and months to come, I will also be looking at compiling some helpful study materials — as much as an aspect of my own studies as for others. Theme-divided vocabularies specific to the context a Western Gaudiya Vaisnava will find himself or herself at, summaries of basic grammar, and so forth. If you are interested in participating, please let me know!

Please also read: Forum for Language Studies
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