Sai Baba Magick and Puttaparthi Mountains
31st of March, 2008 - 12:33
A few days back, as our route took us to Bangalore, we also spent a few days in Puttaparthi, the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba, the famous Hindu teacher, considered by his followers to be an avatar.
Taoist-Maoist Indiana Jones
31st of March, 2008 - 12:29
The gurubhai seers of Radhakund have now realized that I have become a Tantric and a Buddhist Sannyasi, and concluded that my fame deserves to be spread...
Theravada 4 Eva
27th of March, 2008 - 13:41
To adopt a new conceptual framework, to revise the old, or neither, or both? Thoughts in principle on evolutions, revolutions and renunciations, on current emphases and future possibilities.
Shankara, Bhagavata-purana and Advaita-vedanta
25th of March, 2008 - 4:08
The first installment in exploring earlier themes of Vedas, Advaita, Buddha, Brahmanas and so forth in some further detail.
Anger Danger
24th of March, 2008 - 16:14
With my recent writings on the evolution of my views on Hinduism, featuring a departure that to many is irreconcilable and to some also unforgivable, expressions of anger have again become a theme of some contemplation to me.
Question to Readers
23rd of March, 2008 - 5:30
I don't really have a very clear picture of the demographics of the current Vraja Journal readership. Here's a question to the readers.
Gods Forsaken, Paradise Lost
22nd of March, 2008 - 19:44
Being a Buddhist means I no longer believe in god. Right? Well, let's be a bit more nuanced here.
Buddha, Vedas and the Brahmana culture
21st of March, 2008 - 13:30
Buddhism earned the nastika (atheist or infidel) label owing to the Buddha's rejection of Vedas. However, rejecting the Vedas isn't as black and white an issue as one might assume. This is a look at the Vedas the Buddha knew of.
From the Sahajiya Watcher
20th of March, 2008 - 13:03
A gem from recent feedback from Harry Krishna, a self-appointed sahajiya watcher.
Exclusive Devotion
18th of March, 2008 - 10:45
I wish to write a few words on the "exclusive devotion" theme of an earlier entry to clarify my views on bhakti.
Exit Madhava
16th of March, 2008 - 10:41
Yesterday, Advaitadas commented on my exit in his blog. These are some reflections on his message.
Style Revision
16th of March, 2008 - 5:52
Following the change of spirit, the form of the journal has undergone a due transfiguration.
Vraja Journal - Disclaimer
15th of March, 2008 - 15:57
What's the future of Vraja Journal? It'll continue, albeit in a somewhat different spirit. Please read this disclaimer before reading any further.
Dharma Reloaded
14th of March, 2008 - 18:37
Many readers of this journal have been wondering about the evolutions in my slant on things and my spiritual direction in general. Time has come to address matters in definite terms.
Vilasa Kunja Status
12th of March, 2008 - 16:13
I'm aware Vilasa Kunja and the rest of the sites (except for Vraja Journal) are down. Here's the latest on that.
Asubha: Meeting Corpses and Death
9th of March, 2008 - 16:51
Walking around the ghats of Varanasi, death is a common sight. The large piles of firewood tell their story of the volume of corpses daily burnt.
Our Shared Journey
4th of March, 2008 - 15:03
There was an earlier blog on misleading, commenting on the feedback of someone who came forward in a rather pointed manner about it. This is something, slightly retouched, I wrote to a friend who asked whether I truly felt I had misled someone.
Delhi to Varanasi
1st of March, 2008 - 13:25
Reaching New Delhi, booking train tickets, killing a few extra hours, observing the ominous Buddha-presence, moving towards Varanasi...

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Sai Baba Magick and Puttaparthi Mountains
Posted: 31st of March, 2008 - 12:33
A few days back, as our route took us to Bangalore, we also spent a few days in Puttaparthi, the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba, the famous Hindu teacher, considered by his followers to be an avatar. And not just an avatar of this or that (e.g. Vishnu), "an avatar for whole universe", as a friendly gentleman there elucidated.

The whole of the Puttaparthi ashram, Prashanti Niketan or "The Abode of Highest Peace", is centered around devotion for Sai Baba. "Sai Ram", echoes the often heard all purpose greeting. While the main temple also hosts some chanting programs, the whole of the day's routine clearly reaches its climax for the devotees with Sai Baba's darshan, accompanied by dramas, musical performances and the such prepared for his pleasure.

His teachings, and the whole of his movement, are tailored into well-digestable, broad-appeal Hinduism with a good selection of noble values. There is a sense of popular syncretism in the iconography and some other nuances of the movement, but the general flavor is very distinctly Hindu. People may want to call it something else, but really, if something walks on two webbed feet and quacks, we can just call it a duck rather than an all-purpose amphibian entity.

Much is said about the Baba's miracles. (The Wikipedia entry features an impressive array of claimed miracles from levitation to matter transformation and vanishing in thin air.) In the few darshans I participated in, I didn't get to experience anything out of the ordinary on any conscious level. Whether there was something on a level I am not cognizant of, I couldn't say.

However, I'll say this: The way the place was being run was totally surreal. Stuff worked like an Ambassador from the 1950's. Everything was organized beyond anything I would have ever expected to meet in India, all the way up to a three-story Sai Baba shopping mall featuring products for below-average prices. If he can effect a change like this on a broader scale in India, I'll gladly consider him first class savior grade material.

Some Thai monks have supposedly said that the Baba would be a deva descended from the Brahma-worlds. This is, again, beyond me to judge. Be that as it may, the whole of three days I stayed in the peaceful environment of the ashram were a pleasant stay. I got a favorable overall impression, I wasn't exhorted for money, nor did I have to face any kind of cultish behavior that might have been characteristic of a group so tightly centered around a charismatic leader.

The Mountains

The mountains painting the scenic canvas of the Puttaparthi environment drew me like a magnet from the first sight. I have a thing with mountains, please don't ask me to try to explain! On the last full day of my stay in Puttaparthi, I took a few hours to walk a few kilometers to the foot of the hills, and climbed three quarter way up the highest peak in the vicinity.

Mountains are powerful. Even without any specific history of particular holiness, they are powerful, ancient, and full of symbols of wisdom for a perceptive contemplative. These wise old mountains, hills that the baba of Puttaparthi no doubt roamed across in his tender years of childhood, provided a revitalizing experience on many levels. (I had lived the past year and a half in the flatter than flat Uttar Pradesh.)

The Vedantic theory divides the being into five sheets. Annamaya-kosa, the body produced with food, got a decent exercise with the trek. Pranamaya-kosa, the body of vital airs, was rejuvenated and re-energized in the rich mountain air. Manomaya-kosa, the body of emotions, was delighted with the pristine scenery. Vijnanamaya-kosa, the body of intellect, was stimulated and enlightened with the mountain symbols, the teachings the mountain had kept in store for me since ancient days. Anandamaya-kosa, the causal body or the bliss body, is a level beyond my direct perception I assume to have been effected as well, but even without, four out of five isn't a bad score.

Achala is one of the many Sanskrit words for a mountain — as in "Arunachala", a sacred mountain I visited in Tiruvannamalai, to be featured in a bit — meaning "immovable". These vast masses of solid rock, unmoved by the forces of nature, bearing torrents of rain and parching sunshine millennium after millennium, are witnesses to countless generations of humans, and indeed a multitude of civilizations risen and fallen. Mountains, our masters from antiquity, stand as a wordless testimony of the trifling and temporary nature of our human existence. Standing ever still, they remind us of the unmoving, emancipated and eternal reality beyond the streams of time.
Taoist-Maoist Indiana Jones
Posted: 31st of March, 2008 - 12:29
The gurubhai seers of Radhakund have now realized that I have become a Tantric and a Buddhist Sannyasi, and concluded that my fame deserves to be spread. What they don't know is I've also become a Taoist and a Maoist, and apparently also the cool and sexy Indiana Jones of spirituality — if the following gem of a commentary I received a few days back is anything to go by. Its playful narration and the penetrating insights did keep me entertained for the better part of the day that followed — thank you, anonymous. (Or, Shmendrik the Magician, as it was signed!)

The protagonist has no existence -- no identity -- no purpose -- without the antagonist(s). Seems to me that you enjoy like anything raising the eyebrows of the highbrows, shocking, mocking and causing a fit with your wit. Well aren't you the glib young rebel?!?

There was a lunatic comedian in the early 60's named Lenny Bruce. He was the first to use four letter words in his live acts and discuss topics that were more than just controversial at the time -- they were downright verboten. He was often arrested, thrown out of clubs and cities and vilified for being so crude. As the 60's progressed the moral standards began to relax and more and more comedians were coming forth with even dirtier routines and language. Suddenly Lenny Bruce ran out of steam. He was the victim of loosened morals and attitudes and the new environment took all the wind out of his sails. He became depressed, stopped performing and eventually died of a heroin overdose in some fleabag hotel in Manhattan.

And so my young, romantic, adventurous, individualist, rebellious, intellectual, narcissistic friend —- I'm sure you will continue using the World Wide Web as your stage to perform to the delight of many -- and most of all -- yourself.

In conclusion — no ? you're not unique ? you're just loud and verbose.


By the way -- I run a translating service and we specialize in translating Bullshit into English. If I may I'd like to translate something I read recently that you wrote. Here's the English version:

"Hey everybody — look at me — listen to me — me me me — especially you females out there -- check out my photos and see how sexy I am. I'm like a spiritual Indiana Jones -- and read what I write — aren't I amazingly intelligent? Wouldn't you like me to be your guru/lover? Of course you would. I'm not going to rest until I know for sure that all men envy me and all women worship me. I know I make a good show of this whole adventurous, world-traveled, romantic seeker of truth and wisdom —- but all I'm really after is attention. I can't get enough of it. I'll do anything for attention. I can't help it. I'm a show-off. I really wanted to be a rock star but I have no talent so I'll take what I can get and use whatever I've got to get it. So please everybody -- don't stop talking about me. I love this World Wide Web. It's like my own private World Wide Stage to perform on and to display my proud peacock feathers. "

Ordinarily we charge a dollar a word but I'll let you have this translation for free. No charge. It's my offering to you for being so entertaining and so super cool. You are just so ? so ?. so ?. adorable. Oooh - I could just eat you up. Yummy.
Theravada 4 Eva
Posted: 27th of March, 2008 - 13:41
A person finding a sense of security in latching himself to an external conceptual framework may be inclined to a think that I have renounced the old Vaisnava-branded mind-frame and am seeking solace in a new Theravada-branded mind-frame. That would be overly simplistic. My brain tends to be more nuanced and twisted, no doubt to the joy of the many trying to resolve and classify my ramblings.

I am not seeking to accommodate myself to any given external concept structure, a formal doctrine I would assimilate in toto without chewing what I swallow. Doing it would be an easy evasion of responsibility; take it as it is, and if things go unexpected, blame it. Blame others, blame everyone but yourself, because you just followed. Or rather, made an uninformed and malprocessed decision to follow.

My current mode is a very pragmatic one. What works, that works, and that is worthy of imbibing. Unslanted observation and evaluation of reality is the only feasible and reliable avenue I have come across so far, a method where I observe and evaluate on all levels within my reach and choose a direction accordingly, subsequently also bearing personally and solely the responsibility for my choices.

"Did I hear you say you assume possible objectivity?" Well, not exactly. A human being is of course an inherently subjective entity. Yet still, should we become skilled in distancing ourselves from the ongoing mental commentary, we would be getting much closer to actual reality. The benefits are immense and encompass countless levels, and as such a bit beyond today's blog that has a different focus.

I wouldn't opt for becoming a Theravada fundamentalist. I do see the Theravadan way as a sublime and developed model of philosophical doctrine, as well as a very functional methodology of lifestyle and meditation, and as such have come to see it as worthy of following. Nevertheless, a "just because it is so" approach is indigestible for me. This view, uncharacteristic of a formalized religion, actually finds support in the Buddha's own teachings (see e.g. Kalama-sutta):

"Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are in doubt. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm and to suffering' — then you should abandon them."

Observe the fruits of diverse methods and teachings, conclude their worth for you on their own merits. That is, regardless of the brand label. I am writing this text at Tiruvannamalai, sitting in the ashram of Ramana Maharshi, the giant of Advaita-vedanta from half a century back. I have found his works very worthy, the crispness and lucidity of his perception admirable — and see no reason to abstain from the same owing to technicalities. To quote Ramana on a related theme (Talks 189):

Mr. Lacombe: Is Maharshi's teaching the same as Sankara's?
Ramana Maharshi: Maharshi's teaching is only an expression of his own experience and realisation. Others find that it tallies with Sri Sankara's. ... A realised person will use his own language. Silence is the best language.

Two standard epithets used for the Buddha's teachings on Dharma are sanditthiko, ehipassiko. Sanditthiko means that, which is self-evident; immediately apparent; visible here and now. Ehipassiko means that, which exhorts one to come and see. Bhagavad-gita (9.2) similarly speaks of the dharma as pratyaksa-avagama — that which is forthcoming to direct perception. My future builds on methods and concepts that are forthcoming to direct experience as yielding a worthy result.

With this are my priorities, in embracing methods and concepts I can practically perceive in benevolent action, yielding substantial and noble internal and external results. There is of course the issue of immediate and delayed consequence, but an acute observer will usually be able to notice at least some promising symptoms telling of the right direction. I find it equally hard to keep practicing methods from which good doesn't seem to be substantially developing either on a personal level or in the broader community of practitioners.

What are my base objectives? The following list of five would do for objectives currently being worked on. There are perhaps loftier goals the wise know of and have embraced, but the following is a base, the building of which I see as a necessity regardless of the specific spiritual path one may choose to follow. Even if the items below are primarily robed in language and systematism present in Buddhist scriptures, they are universal and also reflect some of my core values from before my introduction to Buddhism.

1. There is a need to wholly weed out greed, anger and delusion from the mind, and cultivate their opposites, namely generosity, kindness and wisdom.
2. There is a need to develop infinite compassion, loving kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
3. There is a need to transcend the conceptualizing mind and obtain unslanted clarity or plain awareness.
4. There is a need to learn to still the mind and bring it to perfect, single-pointed meditational focus.
5. There is a need to, equipped with plain awareness and high focus, explore the nature of the conditional factors to eradicate ignorance.

Should anyone be well-equipped with the above requisites, I tend to think he'd be well set for any undertaking of spiritual substantiality. The methods of Theravada Buddhism for accomplishing the above are the most tangible and functional I have come across so far — and I have amended my practices accordingly. A hungry man needs an apple to eat, not promises of a heavenly tree with nectarine fruits far off in the worlds of utopia.

Beyond that, whether it's Theravada aka Vibhajjavada, Sarvastivada, Pudgalavada, Sammitiya, or whatever else, I really can't say I am in a position to judge their respective worths by analyzing the subtleties of their Abhidharma-theories that set them apart, and apparently at odds with each other, according to the scholastics anyway. When I attain the samadhi-level that gives me subatomic-level-penetrating perception, I'll no doubt be revisiting all of that with keen interest. In the meantime, I'll keep toddling along and working on the stuff that needs immediate attention.

In plain English, I haven't tattooed "Theravada 4 Eva" on my forehead. If I ever do, please someone come and scalp me for my own good.
Shankara, Bhagavata-purana and Advaita-vedanta
Posted: 25th of March, 2008 - 4:08
Lest some consider that some of the conclusions in the Buddha, Vedas and the Brahmana culture blog were undue, let me shed a bit light on the background of the issue. The entry touched briefly on six themes of substantial interest:

1. Dating of the Vedas and Vedic literature.
2. Reasons for Shankara's not commenting on the Bhagavata.
3. The anachronistic prediction of the Buddha.
4. The subsequent scriptural downplaying of the Veda.
5. The corruption of the brahmana race.
6. Influence from Buddhism and Jainism.

Let's take a look at the above one by one — but still with a great deal of brevity, as I don't exactly have the spare time to indulge in writing doctoral dissertation level expositions just now. This entry will address the first two of the six points on the list, the second one at some length owing to related themes that merit exploring.

Dating of the Vedas and Vedic literature

The estimates I presented for a timeline shouldn't be too unconventional in the world of contemporary scholarship. The issue of dating the diverse works of the Hindu canon is essentially a matter of scholarship versus pious belief. For people who wish to explore this further, I'm certain they'll find many good insights for example by starting a thread at the Caitanya Symposium discussion forum led by Neal Delmonico (Nitai Das), a man of great academic skill and valor, and a follower of Caitanya Vaisnavism as well.

Shankara, Bhagavata and Advaita-vedanta

This was mentioned in passing. Adi Shankara, the grand daddy of Advaita Vedanta, lived between 788-820 CE. His philosophy has been a source of much discomfort for the personalist Vaishnava traditions that followed. Even Sri Chaitanya, who was himself a sannyasi of the Shankara order (though you couldn't strictly call him a dasanami-sannyasi as he never took the title), is reputed to have said that study of Shankara's commentary on the Brahma-sutras would lead to wholesale destruction (CC 2.6.169) — even if many suspect that a great deal of content has been unduly attributed to him (S.K. De et al, don't have the reference at hand) by the biographer.

The classical Advaita doctrine considers Isvara, or the personal god, to be the best you can glimpse of the Monistic Absolute when looking from behind the veil of maya. (Read more.) While I personally find the model quite insightful and stimulating, those campaigning for the ultimate supremacy of a personal deity are a bit sour over it. This has led to the insertion of a passage into the Padma-purana — this ever-fluid and voluminous work that supposedly nowadays even contains a verse or two from Rupa Goswami's writings — declaring, māyāvādam asac chāstraṁ pracchannaṁ bauddham ucyate: "Mayavada is untrue to the scripture, said to be a covered form of Buddhism." In the verses that follow, Shiva tells Devi of his intentions to incarnate as a brahmana in the age of Kali to teach the doctrine of maya with an aim to delude the populace. Some later commentators add that Shankara presented a transitional philosophy with an aim to build a bridge between Buddhism and Vedas.

Now, Shankara and his followers were among the most outstanding and broadly read scholars of their times. The absence of apologetic writings in itself is quite telling of the supposed antiquity of such passages. The earliest reference I know of is from the 15th century, from Jiva Goswami's Paramatma-sandarbha. (His prelude to the passage introduces mayavada as Pasanda-sastras, or atheistic literature). While people sometimes display stupendous skills for devising different potential rationales as to why things aren't as fishy as they seem, quite often they are in fact just as fishy as they seem.

The idea of Shankara's respecting the Bhagavata by abstaining from commentary is also a concept introduced by Jiva Goswami in his Tattva-sandarbha (23). The more obvious answer to his abstaining from commenting on the title is in its being a work unknown at his time, either unwritten or unpopularized. Contemporary scholarship dates the work to 9th-10th century.

While Advaita-vedanta and Bhagavata are on the table, it isn't out of place to note the strong Advaitic leanings of the text. Sridhar Svami's commentary, the first commentary on the Bhagavata and much praised by Sri Chaitanya, was later downplayed by Jiva as being only partially acceptable. In his view (Tattva-sandarbha 27), some portions do not conform to strict Vaisnava philosophy and have been inserted only to attract those with Advaita-leanings to the greatness of the Lord.

To contrast this, Chaitanya is told (CC 3.7.112ff) to have expressed his displeasure over Vallabha's statement of his finding some of Sridhara's statements unacceptable. Vallabha's exact objection is in Sridhara's philosophical inconsistency — sei vyākhyā karena yāhāṅ yei paḍe āni': "Howsoever he reads in any given place, accordingly he comments." In Chaitanya's cutting yet light remark, "I count among prostitutes the one who doesn't accept the Svami." (The word svami also means "husband".)

The critique attributed to Vallabha is, however, quite telling of the crux of the problem. The Bhagavata is indeed chock-full of Advaitic ideology, and just reading and commenting on the verses without a slanted overall premise will inevitably lead to a commentary with a strong Advaita admixture. This may not be obvious to readers who have been exposed only to the BBT version of the text, but is quite evident in the original and in other translations such as the Gita Press version. When you translate j?āna-mātraṁ paraṁ brahma (BhP. 3.33.26) as "the Supreme Personality of Godhead alone is complete transcendental knowledge", and taṁ brahma-nirvāṇa-samādhim āśritaṁ (BhP. 4.6.39) as "He was absorbed in trance", dṛḍhā ratir brahmaṇi nirguṇe (BhP. 4.22.21) as "steadfast attachment for the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental, beyond the modes of material nature", the flavor of the text changes considerably.

The fact that hard-core Advaitins such as Ramana Maharshi have extolled the Bhagavata-purana as one of the works people ought to be studying is quite telling of the actual contents and spirit of the work. The work itself describes its themes (12.13.12) in its concluding chapter:

sarva-vedānta-sāraṁ yad brahmātmaikatva-lakṣaṇam |
vastv advitīyaṁ tan-niṣṭhaṁ kaivalyaika-prayojanam ||

"It is the essence of all Vedanta, characterized by the unity of brahman and atman, is fixed in the nondual substance, and has kaivalya as its sole objective."

Reading the above should have every straight Vaishnava running away at a high velocity. Not so for Jiva, however, who in his Priti-sandarbha exegesis features kaivalya as kevalaḥ śuddhaḥ tasya bhāvaḥ kaivalyam, "unmixed and pure emotion for Him is kaivalya". Truth be told, I have often been decidedly uncomfortable with his exegeses that seem to be, despite the ingeniousness, often quite wishful and not meriting the conviction they seem to be carrying. Matters of wishful exegesis are no doubt one among the factors that had me grow weary of Gaudiya orthodoxy.

I should add that I personally enjoy reading the Bhagavata a great deal. All those sages, wandering north towards the end of their life, sitting in meditation, letting the internal elements merge with the external elements, forsaking the non-self and fusing into the non-dual reality, are just so cool and awesome it makes me scream. You should have been a fly on the ceiling when I revisited the text last December, spent long hours and days reading the narrations and philosophy with rapt attention.

The rest of the six themes will be covered in future installments. 'twas quite plentiful for a day.
Anger Danger
Posted: 24th of March, 2008 - 16:14
With my recent writings on the evolution of my views on Hinduism, featuring a departure that to many is irreconcilable and to some also unforgivable, expressions of anger have again become a theme of some contemplation to me.

A classical illustration from the Hindu side of the equation is found in Bhagavata-purana (4.4.17), featuring the story of Sati, Shiva's wife, who is grievously offended by her father's harsh words of her husband.

"Blocking one's ears, one should go away if one is powerless,
Where a master, lord of dharma, is blasphemed by the unrestrained men,
But the able should cut out the vilifying blasphemer's tongue by force,
And then indeed give up his own life, this is the righteous duty."

I needn't say how passages like this can fuel religious violence and cause immense damage in the hands of immature believers. In fact, just today I received a threatening comment on my blog entry on Buddha, Vedas and Brahmanas from a person who considers himself a Hindu patriot. After a series of denigrating comments about me, the message concluded as follows:

"I just want to remind you that you are in India, and I would also advise you to think twice prior to keying in any trash on Hinduism. I, like millions of my brothers of faith and blood in Bharata, are Hindu patriots to the core, and not many would tolerate your egotistical but ridiculous balderdash. So, by all means "evolve" and embrace Bauddha dharma - it is a great path for one to follow. However, you are no Sanskritist or pandita, and therefore keep your preposterous, recently developed "academic" garbage on our Dharma confined within the dark inner chambers of your messed-up being. Speak more than behoves someone on your sloppy terrain and I may have to notify some contacts in the RSS, VHP or some other nationalist outfit to teach you a lesson, and one that you won't forget for sure. You have been warned, Loponen Finnish boy."

Allowing anger to gain foothold in the heart is spiritually very unwholesome, for anger is the root of all that is destructive in the world. I have commented on this from a more wholesome Vaishnava perspective in an earlier blog entry (Dealing with indignations) from last summer, and we should hope that people could at least reach the level of civilized indignation if the urge of anger cannot be tamed.

To contrast this with something, I wish to share a passage from the Brahma-jala-sutta Digdha-nikaya that was a beautiful and soothing read, featuring attitudes closer to my heart. Attitudes I've fostered for long, and — perhaps as a bit of a surprise — found them featured at length in the Buddha's teachings. No doubt the highly evolved attitudes encouraged in the Buddhist teaching have featured as a substantial factor in my spiritual shift.

The background story reads as follows:

Once Buddha and some five hundred bhikkhus traveled down the road from Rajagaha to Nalinda. In their wake walked mendicant Suppiya and a disciple of his, Brahmadatta, the first constant in his disparaging speech of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, and the latter constant in his praise of the same. The Buddha, hearing of the situation as they retired for the night at Ambalatthika-vihara, taught the bhikkhus as follows.

"Bhikkhus! If others should malign the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, you must not feel resentment, nor displeasure, nor anger on that account. Bhikkhus! If you feel angry or displeased when others malign the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, it will only be harmful to you (because then you will not be able to practise the dhamma).

"Bhikkhus! If you feel angry or displeased when others malign the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, will you be able to discriminate their good speech from bad? "No, indeed, Venerable Sir!" said the bhikkhus. If others malign me or the Dhamma, or the Sangha, you should explain to them what is false as false, saying 'It is not so. It is not true. It is, indeed, not thus with us. Such fault is not to be found among us.'

"Bhikkhus! If others should praise the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, you should not, feel pleased, or delighted, or elated on that account. Bhikkhus! If you feel pleased, or delighted, or elated, when others praise me, or the Dhamma, or the Sangha, it will only be harmful to you. Bhikkhus! If others praise me, or the Dhamma, or the Sangha, you should admit what is true as true, saying 'It is so. It is true. It is, indeed, thus with us. In fact, it is to be found among us.'"

Contemplate on the diverse approaches and their results, find within you the most enlightened course of action among the options available. I have come to find much joy and wisdom in the last option.
Question to Readers
Posted: 23rd of March, 2008 - 5:30
I don't really have a very clear picture of the demographics of the current Vraja Journal readership. Obviously a great many are — or were — practitioners or observers of traditional Gaudiya Vaisnavism on one level or another.

The Buddhist ethics I embrace don't allow for pushing or proselytizing of teachings. When there is an expressed interest, it is appropriate to speak or to write. These issues become a bit more complicated online. Hence this blog entry and a question to the readers on what's welcome.

There is obviously a class of people who would like to see me shut up and dig myself six feet under. For them, I have written the disclaimer and encouraged them to cease from reading this journal.

As this is a free journal and I have no agenda for writing to an external purpose, I have no reason to keep my writings unslanted by my inner views. My current mood regarding the journal is keeping it as a natural continuation of its history, featuring reflections on issues relevant to an audience that on one level or another relates to Gaudiya Vaisnavism, content that will be of interest to practicing Gaudiya Vaisnavas (assuming broad-mindedness and ability to handle contrasting and unconventional views) and outsiders exploring the GV tradition.

I wouldn't want to write directly on Buddhist teachings, independent of the above context, unless there was a specific interest among the readers for the same. Then, let's hear the vox populi:

Please share your thoughts on the future direction of the journal: What kind of content is welcome, what should be avoided? What would be of interest, what would you pass by without reading?

Please use the link below this post to send feedback. You can also do it anonymously if you wish. If there's a great deal of division in the feedback I receive, labeling content under different identifiable headings is also an option (as you presently see with the ad posts): "Straight GV ", "GV Revisited", "General Hinduism", "Buddhism" and so on.
Gods Forsaken, Paradise Lost
Posted: 22nd of March, 2008 - 19:44
Being a Buddhist means I no longer believe in god. Right? Well, let's be a bit more nuanced here.

Buddhism doesn't deny the existence of a diversity of gods. In fact, some accounts portray even a broader array of levels of existence than we find in the classical Puranic models. You have the hot and the cold hells, you have the realms of the ghosts, you have the Tavatimsa heavens with Sakra, also known as Devanam Indra or the king of the gods, in charge. You have the Yama-worlds, the Tusita-worlds, the Brahma-worlds, and the immaterial worlds. (Refer to The 31 Planes of Existence by Suvanno Mahathera for some further details on Buddhist cosmology.) I do live in the same mythic universe with my old Hindu bretheren, albeit in a slightly modified and expanded form: I have gained extra dimesions.

Over the millennia, Buddhism has been amicably accommodating of other pantheons. For example, many Hindu and Bon deities have been painlessly absorbed into Tibetan Buddhism, and none other than Vishnu has taken the place of the patron deity of the ancient Theravada tradition of Sri Lanka. Since many of the god-conceptions are remarkably similar, it wouldn't be sensible to only accept a certain culture's depictions of the gods. After all, these beings are quite beyond the ordinary human description ability, so a certain level of artistic freedom must be allowed. The deities are regarded as protectors of the dharma of the ancient path leading to final emancipation, and as such included in the merit sharing prayers following great dharmic undertakings.

Buddhism doesn't however admit to the existence of any supreme or original deity on whom all of creation or existence would depend. It does recognize some devatas laying claim to such, Maha Brahma or the greatest of the many Brahmas being a famous example, and regards such claims as a form of delusion born of ignorance. This of course implies that, to not make Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad Gita, culpable of the same (assuming we take the work as his direct words), we must turn to more Advaitic interpretations of the text, of which there are of course many.

Nay, let's have the origin of the worlds from the most ancient of our sruti sources — straight from the roots:

"Then was not non-existence nor existence: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water? Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day's and night's divider. That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever. Darkness there was at first concealed in darkness this. All was indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit. Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit. Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent.

Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it? There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder. Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation? The devas are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being? He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not." - (Rig Veda 10.129.1-7)

The above, so it seems to me anyway, is in spirit more proximate to the Buddhist doctrine of Pratitya-samutpada or Dependent Arising with the mass of the universe vaguely anthropomorphized than it is to the later Hindu creation mythos featuring a personal deity pulling the strings. In general, the Upanishadic versions of creation are worth a study for people who haven't familiarized themselves with anything beyond the Puranic version.

As for concerns over atheism, even astika philosophical systems such as Sankhya managed to feature the unfolding of the elements, the turning of the Prakriti, without a need for a personal original creator god to run the errands. Of course, this early non-theistic Sankhya was preached by the infamous imposter Kapila, not the real incarnation of Vishnu who was a straight theist. (Many scholars suspect that the true Kapila's presentation may have been slanted by underlying personal motives.)

On a personal level, have I forsaken my gods? Have those whom I worshiped and meditated on for years vanished into nothingness? No, they certainly haven't — even if admittedly I'm still in the midst of inner transitions with many pieces yet to fall to their proper places, revisiting, revising and recontextualizing elements from my past practices and understandings.

Radha, the goddess of Hladini, Karunamayi, this embodiment of compassion, was the primary object of my worship for a good many years. I sought my level best to cultivate the internal spirit-body, a ray of her being, and I sought a deep union of hearts with her. This cultivation with all of its internal responses is unlikely to vanish from my consciousness even with the shifted focus. The powerful energetic connection once forged is a support I gladly and gratefully maintain, even if partaking in her cosmic drama of emotions with Krishna was a bit much for me to handle.

As for Krishna, I honestly don't know what to make of him, and I never really did. It was the fair lady besides him that drew my attention. Owing to his well-documented history of crooked behavior and the establishment of the ethics of "love me when I kick you", I have little interest in investing much in him, even if I've kept my avenues unclogged and given an open invitation to get in touch anytime, should we have unfinished business.

I believe these two, along with the rest of the personal divine manifestations out there, share of a level of consciousness far greater than their sectarian worshipers do, and as such are supportive of the spirit of my quest for final enlightenment, rather than peeved by my revised priorities from desires from their personal adoration to a withdrawal of desires supportive of the attainment of final beatitude beyond worlds of names and forms.

Looking at deities beyond their humane manifestations in terms of energies, principles, symbols and so forth is a whole other elaborate theme, rather beyond the scope of today's text.
Buddha, Vedas and the Brahmana culture
Posted: 21st of March, 2008 - 13:30
Having been a long-time follower of a tradition deriving from the Vedic heritage, one may wonder what all has fallen behind with my embracing the Buddhist way. After all, the Buddha is reputed to have rejected the Vedas, a move that earned his tradition the "nastika" label (atheist or infidel), as opposed to the six astika darshanas or orthodox philosophical systems, of which Vedanta is one.

To get a clearer picture of what the rejection of the Vedas means, we ought to take a good look at what the Vedas were at the Buddha's time, around 400 BCE. In this, the pious belief that everything was written some 5000 years ago has to subside as a theory unattested to by any substantiated evidence, giving way to defendable historical and linguistic scolarship. Since this isn't intended to be a scholarly paper, I am not extensively referencing the statements — a quick online search on any of the titles will bring you good amounts of information on studies on the dating of the texts mentioned.

While the literary tradition of the Vedas seems to have began around the 2nd century BCE, the oral heritage reaches farther into antiquity with Rig Veda being the earliest at around 1500 BCE, the rest of the hymn and ritual texts forming and growing over the millennium that was to follow. Then, the sacrificial culture embraced by the brahmanas was well established and predominant at the Buddha's time, and as much is confirmed in the vast body of Buddhist literature.

What about the Upanishads? Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka, and possibly a few other of the old Upanishads, existed by the time of the Buddha, dating to the Vedic Brahmana period (9th-8th century BCE). And bear in mind that the Upanishads were the "secret doctrine" back in the days. Readers familiar with these two works know much of the philosophy to be rather deeply involved with the symbolism of the sacrificial procedures, and as such not easily accessible or understandable to the general populace — the bulk of whom were, according to many, restricted from the study of the sruti in any case. Texts such as Gopala-tapani, with distinct Vaisnava traits, came in at a much later date (13th to 14th century CE).

A look at Vedanta-sutra, the first good shot at systematizing and reconciling the often ambiguous or conflicting statements scattered across the Upanishads, reveals it as obviously post-dating the Buddha — in fact, Samudaya-adhikaranam and Nabhava-adhikaranam specifically discuss refutation of some Buddhist doctrines. Mahabharata is assumed to have reached its final form in the 4th century CE, and the famous Bhagavad Gita it contains is held to be post-Buddhistic.

As for the Puranas, they began to grow in the Gupta period (320-500 CE) with texts such as Bhagavata-purana coming in a later (generally dated to 9th-10th century CE), and Brahma-vaivarta even a few centuries further down the line. This raises the interesting issue of whether Shankara really didn't comment on the Bhagavata just because this misleader-avatar of Shiva secretly respected it, or whether he didn't comment on this advaita-classic just because it didn't yet exist. The post-humous — by one and a half millennium — prediction of Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu is also a theme deserving more attention in a different context.

Then, it is easily understood that the bulk of what we know as Hinduism today wasn't explicitly included in the Buddha's rejection of the Vedas. Had he lived a millennium later and been a bit more diplomatic in his rhetoric, we might well find the "Buddha-sampradaya" included under the broad umbrella of today's Hinduism. What else are statements like "the less intelligent who are attached to the flowery words of the Vedas" (BG 2.42), "cross beyond the three mundane gunas of the Vedas" (BG 2.45) and "those blinded by desires worship the gods" (BG 7.20) but downplaying the defunct and spiritually hollow sacrificial culture?

In the Pali canon, the Buddha's teachings written down from memorized heritage in the 1st century BCE, we find some remarks shedding light on the Brahmana tradition and the sacrificial culture of the times. Among the explicit objects of critique found in the suttas are the brutal sacrifical culture, the corrupt moral nature of the brahmanas, and the birth-based caste divisions with their unenlightened and often racist values.

The Brahmana-dhammika-sutta of Sutta-nipata, for example, discusses the contrast between the ancient, pious brahmanas and the subsequent corruption, owing largely to greed, that led to elaborate and ever-growing sacrifices. The text (28) notes that in the ancient days diseases were but three — desire, hunger and death — but with the slaughter of cattle in sacrifices the diseases multiplied to ninety-eight, and so cried the gods and the forefathers, seeing the injustice inflicted on innocent animals.

Following the subsiding of the sacrificial culture, and with the introduction of many noble values (no doubt partially owing to the growing influence of Buddhism and Jainism), Hinduism has grown to be much more than the Vedas the Buddha once rejected. I'll refrain here from commenting on how far it (or any one of its branches) is reconcilable with Buddhism (or any one of its branches), but there certainly is a great deal of shared ground on which peaceful and mutually fruitful co-existence can prosper.

I'll conclude with a quote someone sent me today, a passage from Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta's introduction to the 1st canto of his rendition of the Bhagavata-purana:

Lord Buddha directly denied the authority of the Vedas, and he established his own religion. Only for this reason, the Buddhist religion was not accepted by the strict followers of the Vedas. But those who are so-called followers of the Vedas are more harmful than the Buddhists. The Buddhists have the courage to deny the Vedas directly, but the so-called followers of the Vedas have no courage to deny the Vedas, although indirectly they disobey all the injunctions of the Vedas.

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