18 Mar 2010

On Maithunananda and the Ubhaybharati Episode -- by Alok Pandey

I am no expert either in Sanskrit or in spiritual experience and I also understand that each one is free to interpret in his own way, but my question is how can these shallow interpretations and meanings be authenticated and given as part of the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo. Once these are out, nothing can be done about it. It is crass falsehood, for by the Collected Works is meant only Sri Aurobindo's writings. If we once open the door to these subjective interpretations (or misinterpretations), then why not also supply some kind of a Savitri-dictionary as part of the Collected Works for terms such as the hippogriff and gold hawk and many such spiritual symbols that cannot be understood by the human intellect and for which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have not given any clear meanings? How can somebody claim to define the meaning of a word that relates to the realm of spiritual experience with so much certainty? Even if only ten percent of it is the author's interpretation, is it right to do so under the name of the CWSA? Why not honestly admit that Sri Aurobindo said nothing about it and leave people to find out for themselves the meaning rather than condition them in a particular direction? Whatever may maithunananda have meant, the meaning of “spontaneous erotic delight” will evoke in the mind of the general reader (and even in one who has recently acquainted himself with the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo) that sexual pleasure can be experienced without the act and that it is some great spiritual experience.


On Maithunananda and the Ubhaybharati Episode

Shankara after conquering Ubhayabharati, made her living body his asan of meditation; that is the symbol of the Yogi and the wonderful twofold Maya of the Eternal. He has conquered her & put her beneath him, but it is still upon her that his asan is based even when he is unconscious of Her and in union with the Eternal. If this were not so, then the whole of phenomena would cease the moment a man becomes a Buddha and enters into Nirvana; for He & the Eternal are One.

Sri Aurobindo (CWSA, Volume 17, Isha Upanishad, p 167)

In the passage cited above, Sri Aurobindo reveals to us another facet of the Ubhayabharati episode.[1] I have not encountered it anywhere. Apart from other things, this reveals that a Yogi can know things without experiencing them personally. It is noted by him as part of the Guru-Student dialogue, the one that PH used for forwarding his hypothesis on Sri Aurobindo's marriage. This piece of writing is full of beautiful and uplifting passages, including some exquisite passages on the beauty of human love. Yet what we find constantly through PH's book is that he has a penchant for picking up just the passage that would give a wrong twist to the meaning, place it out of context and hold it as documentary proof. He has done this any number of times throughout the book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo and has done it through the years in his other books as well. This is what makes his motivations suspect. Take for instance this passage on the love of a man and a woman from Sri Aurobindo's early writings. After revealing the various kinds of love, the teacher in Sri Aurobindo’s commentary says:

Whence then comes that love which is greater than life and stronger than death, which survives the loss of beauty and the loss of charm, which defies the utmost pain & scorn the object of love can deal out to it, which often pours out from a great & high intellect on one infinitely below it? What again is that love of woman which nothing can surpass, which lives on neglect and thrives on scorn & cruelty, whose flames rise higher than the red tongues of the funeral pyre, which follows you into heaven or draws you out of hell? Say not that this love does not exist and that all here is based on appetite, vanity, interest or selfish pleasure, that Rama & Sita, Ruru & Savitri are but dreams & imaginations. Human nature conscious of its divinity throws back the libel in scorn, and poetry blesses & history confirms its verdict. That Love is nothing but the Self recognizing the Self dimly or clearly and therefore seeking to realise oneness & the bliss of oneness.

Sri Aurobindo (CWSA, Volume 17, Isha Upanishad, p 139)

And this man precisely says what Sri Aurobindo says “say not”! What is worse is that he points his finger towards Sri Aurobindo and, throwing back his own words against Him, says it. Does one still doubt his motivations?

When Heehs is thus caught, he gives the flimsy reason that he did it to entice the Western academia. Does he really think so poorly of the West? If I were a born Westerner, I would feel humiliated by such a statement, for it means that I love only that which is coarse and degrading, that truth for me is simply an appearance without any deeper substance in it, and that there is no truth but only well-packaged untruth. And if there are really people who enjoy such vulgarity and whose thoughts are as shallow as the book, are they worth enticing? But I refuse to believe PH's gospel that the West knows nothing better than this crude physical intellect. In fact, there is the danger that while a small section may be excited to read such a presentation, the really open and psychically gifted may turn away from spirituality. That would indeed be a great loss. Instead of genuine seekers, we shall have the company of an unintelligent, unfeeling “intelligentsia” that has learnt the art of verbal jugglery, but is hollow to the core. Rubbish, the man is simply lying and these fellows cannot see it! On the contrary, they provide him with the moral and spiritual justification by quoting Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s words on each one’s right to follow his own path, etc, etc. It is this persistent justification of one's mistakes that has perhaps led to this progressive blindness. Honour and nobility demand that one admits where one has gone wrong or at least lend oneself to be questioned rather than acting as if one is above everything. The issue could have been very easily solved and I think it can still be without all these hassles, but it seems that one prefers to complicate things by refusing to admit and listen to views that may challenge the establishment. If anything, it is here that one must allow freedom rather than misuse it for abusing and denigrating spiritual truths. It is here that one needs to exercise reason and discuss rationally instead of misapplying it for criticising the Master. It is an absolute inversion of values. One disallows faith and ridicules it where it is most needed and one disallows reason where it is necessary. One talks of freedom where it is most dangerous and one curtails free and frank and open discussion where it will help! Things are simply not in their place and that constitutes the real difficulty of this whole episode.

But coming to the Western world, it is a great mistake to think that the West is interested only in an intellectual approach and that too of the physical mind. That may be true of a certain type of mindset that one finds everywhere (perhaps more in the West than in India) but the West has its psychic impulse and is even thirsty for it. How do you account for so many spiritual movements, — not just fake ones but genuine, though partial systems such as the Rajayoga of Radhaswamis and Brahmakumaris, or the Bhaktiyoga of Prabhupada, the Kriya yoga of Yogananda and so on. Are these countless disciples in these movements devoid of scientists and academics or are they simply a bunch of unthinking fools? Quite the contrary! I have personally known, even in Sri Aurobindo's movement, many such psychically gifted people. Some of them distrust their psychic possibility precisely because people like PH instantly label it as religion, and that scares them away. But if instead they knew that there is something called love for the Divine, that it is valid and even a shortcut in Yoga, we would have many more hearts and souls coming over. But we present Sri Aurobindo as some kind of a super-intellectual who argued his case rationally, and that’s all. Not that one has to do anything to attract anybody to Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga, but this is just a counter to PH and his followers who trivialise the psychic impulse in the West and even curb it by calling it religion!

And what is this new passage I saw the other day in circulation saying that the modern age is notoriously intolerant of heroes and saints. Should we then simply accept its intolerance, welcome it with open arms and say, “O rational animals, you are the children of the future and we hold you in high esteem, we welcome you into all that is sacred and sublime so that you may litter it with your scraps of logic and throw your waste-bin worth of ideas upon the beautiful face of mother Earth. And we shall forgive and forget it for that is our highest dharma. Strength, sacrifice, devotion, gratitude, wisdom, truth, all must be subordinated to this one human virtue,—a misplaced kindness! Even you trample truth under your feet, even if you fill the sacred yajna vedi with the smoke and dust of your noxious fumes emanating from your arrogant breath, we shall welcome it since ‘All is God’, God the merciful, God the great, God the beautiful. Nay, we shall even learn from you what religion and spirituality is since we are novices and know not these truths that you alone can teach us. We, the misguided, worshipped the Mother in our hearts and loved Her from the depths of our soul and were fools until you came, our new future, the heros, the great revealers of truths we knew not. Now we have learnt, thanks for your new gospel that objectivity is the highest truth and that love, peace and light are all merely subjective fancies, since they cannot be objectively verified. Now we have also learnt that the greatest truth lies neither in spirituality nor in philosophy nor in poetry, which are but dreams and imaginations, but in science and its hard blade that dissects all things. Faith is but a dogma and all who go and bow down at the samadhis of seers and saints need to be educated and made rational and secular, poor unthinking creatures that they are. And yes, we have learnt also that the Avatars are a sham after all, believed only by some ignorant minds. We must be educated by his holiness, hail PH, so that we can be less blind. Thank you sir, but we don’t need all that nonsense. We know because we can see. You don't know because you refuse to see, and that is what makes the difference.”

If this be in vogue, is this enough reason that we must have it here in the Ashram as well? People outside the Ashram drink and smoke and do so many things in the name of freedom. Should this be done here as well? Others pump drugs into their bellies as one fills petrol in a car, should we do it here as well? They practise Freudian psychoanalysis as 'one of the paths'. Should we practice that here too? They run to the law and police for everything. Should we do the same? They teach in schools that the Aryans invaded India and drove away the natives. Should we teach the same here as well (I am not sure if this is not already happening here given our complacency). There are drugs and Osamas and the mafia and what not. So should one accept that here as well in the name of freedom and secularism?

Besides, has not all this problem come up simply because such things have been encouraged, entertained and even supported for too long? Even in this episode, now people are crying foul over the court cases, but why did they come about and why do they get prolonged? If only PH was asked 'politely' to step out of the place of work and relocated elsewhere, there would have been no such commotion. But instead he continues to be supported. Therefore the problem got multiplied. Even now there is no attempt to call all concerned together or even the slightest understanding of their pain which is not for any selfish reasons but for the love of Sri Aurobindo and his Ashram. The result of this attitude is for all to see.

Have we really learnt the lesson? Or do we want to wait for another episode which will again cause confusion? Take, for instance, our man who would go down in the history of spirituality since his writing would be associated, though negatively, with the work of Sri Aurobindo. I am referring to the glossary to the Record of Yoga being published as part of the CWSA. Is the glossary written by Sri Aurobindo? How then can it be part of it? Did he always give mental meanings to the experiences documented in the Record? What Raman has written about Sri Aurobindo's marriage is so beautiful and in such detail, bringing out the inherent limitation of giving a mental definition to spiritual experiences such as maithunananda – my heartiest appreciation for his article on it. Why, even a simple term such as 'love' can be terribly mixed up and misunderstood when we use it from the point of view of the spiritual experience vis-à-vis our human understanding of the term.

Coming to maithuananda, there is an interesting piece in Rajiv Malhotra’s book Invading the Sacred which mentions that the term has already been misinterpreted by Wendy Doniger as sexual bliss (a cruder way of saying “spontaneous erotic delight”). According to Rajiv, maithuna, like intercourse, applies to any kind of interchange, not only physical but also social. In its deepest sense, it applies to the union of the Soul with the Senses and their experience, a kind of spiritualisation of the very senses, if one may say so. The word itself derives from the Sanskrit root mith meaning the union of opposites. It also means the coming together of the false and the true, a meaning that may have led to its derivative meaning of perverse pleasure. In fact, it lends itself to many shades of meaning. The suffix ananda in that case would be the ananda that is experienced when two seemingly opposite forces or fields come together and unite in their truth and not as now in their distorted appearance. These opposite forces can be Shiva and Shakti, Soul and Nature, God and World, Spirit and Matter, the Spiritual and the Physical. It would also mean that the falsehood covering and distorting something has been removed or transformed and the original bliss that stands behind each and every movement of the lower nature stands unveiled in its purity. That would explain the whole series,— maithunanada, kamananda, tivrananda, vishayananda, raudrananda. It would imply a great mastery to be able to penetrate the densest appearance and feel directly, through the transmutation of the inner senses, the essential ananda or rasa behind all things.

I am no expert either in Sanskrit or in spiritual experience and I also understand that each one is free to interpret in his own way, but my question is how can these shallow interpretations and meanings be authenticated and given as part of the Collected Works of Sri Aurobindo. Once these are out, nothing can be done about it. It is crass falsehood, for by the Collected Works is meant only Sri Aurobindo's writings. If we once open the door to these subjective interpretations (or misinterpretations), then why not also supply some kind of a Savitri-dictionary as part of the Collected Works for terms such as the hippogriff and gold hawk and many such spiritual symbols that cannot be understood by the human intellect and for which Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have not given any clear meanings? How can somebody claim to define the meaning of a word that relates to the realm of spiritual experience with so much certainty? Even if only ten percent of it is the author's interpretation, is it right to do so under the name of the CWSA? Why not honestly admit that Sri Aurobindo said nothing about it and leave people to find out for themselves the meaning rather than condition them in a particular direction? Whatever may maithunananda have meant, the meaning of “spontaneous erotic delight” will evoke in the mind of the general reader (and even in one who has recently acquainted himself with the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo) that sexual pleasure can be experienced without the act and that it is some great spiritual experience. Next, it will become “another path” in the name of Sri Aurobindo, the bold Tantra of modern times (it is already happening). Not that it will not happen otherwise, but why provide justification for it and create confusion by publishing things from Sri Aurobindo’s own institution? Besides, one may ask what are the editor's qualifications to prepare a glossary? Besides, is anybody now qualified to do so? Is he a Sanskrit expert or a deeply spiritual man who has had the same experiences? If not, is it not better to keep one's meritorious scholarship in its rightful place? To let the scholar take over things spiritual is the first step towards the great decline that India suffered in the past. The only way to understand the things of the Spirit is by experiencing them. There is no other way, yes, despite all the freedom to circle around. They are best left as they are. One can discuss the philosophy, speak about the fundamental necessities of the path, but to use one's mind to interpret spiritual experience is a most dangerous exercise and we are indulging in it openly and unabashedly, and what is worse, “officially”. What else does publishing the glossary of terms used in the Record mean? Is it not unnecessary inviting trouble?

Well, but what is the use? This is yet another piece of paper which will be thrown aside as yet another opinion, as if truth is the monopoly of only a few official scholars. One has to leave it at that. Personally, I do not see what else can be done. If people do not want to listen but wish to wait for blows from outside, then so be it. Equanimity and endurance is all one can practise and offer one's pain and anguish to Her, and pray that may we all see the Light and grow in spirit.

May the heart of man learn gratitude and acknowledge Her Grace. May falsehood and ill-will and hostility to Truth and Light be driven out completely from our collective atmosphere. May Her Beauty and Love prevail and compel the blind to see and the deaf
to hear!


Alok Pandey

11 March 2010

Permanent link:

http://www.mirroroftomorrow.org/blog/_archives/2010/3/5/4472557.html#1299029


Endnotes:

[1] Sourced from Wikipedia:

Mandana Miśra (c. 8th century CE) was a Hindu philosopher, who wrote on the Mīmāmsā and Advaita systems of thought.

Mandana Miśra lived in the ancient Indian town of Mithila (Bihar) during the time of Adi Sankara. He is known to be a student of a Mimansa scholar Kumarila Bhatta. Being a follower of the Karma Mimamsa school, he was a ritualist and performed all of the ritualistic duties prescribed by the Vedas. In certain Hindu traditions, Mandana Miśra is considered to be an incarnation of Brahma.

A legend describes how Mandana Miśra is said to have first met Adi Sankara. It was customary in the time of Sankara and Mandana for learned people to debate the relative merits and demerits of the different systems of Hindu philosophy. Sankara, an exponent of Advaita philosophy sought out Kumarila Bhatta, who was the leading exponent of the Purva Mimansa Philosophy. However, at that time, Kumarila Bhatta was slowly immolating himself as a penance for his sins. After reading some of Sankara's work and realizing the depth of his knowledge, he directed Sankara to his greatest disciple, Mandana Miśra, who was leading a householder's life (Grihastha), to debate the merits of their respective schools of thought. While trying to find the house of Mandana, Sankara asked for directions and was told the following:

"You will find a home at whose gates there are a number of caged parrots discussing abstract topics like — 'Do the Vedas have self-validity or do they depend on some external authority for their validity? Are karmas capable of yielding their fruits directly, or do they require the intervention of God to do so? Is the world eternal, or is it a mere appearance?' Where you find the caged parrots discussing such abstruse philosophical problems, you will know that you have reached Mandana’s place."

Sankara found Mandana, but the first meeting between them was not pleasant. According to Vedic ritualistic rules it is inauspicious to see an ascetic on certain days and Mandana was angered to see an ascetic on the death anniversary of his father, which was such a day. Mandana initially hurled insults at Sankara, who calmly replied to every insult with word play. The people in Mandana's house soon realized Sankara's brilliance and advised Mandana to offer his respect. Finally, after a verbal duel, Mandana agreed to debate with Sankara.

Mandana and Sankara agreed that Mandana’s wife Ubhaya Bharathi, who was considered to be an incarnation of the goddess Saraswati in the folklore of Mithila, would be the arbiter for the debate, and that the vanquished would become a disciple of the victor and accept his school of thought. The debate spanned many days and ranged across many different subjects within the Vedas, and the arguments of both competitors were compelling and forceful. Sankara finally emerged victorious. But Maṇḍana's wife, who was the judge, would not accept an ascetic as having complete knowledge since he did not have any knowledge about kama shastras (rules about marital life). Sankara was then given a month to research certain aspects of sex-love sciences and then resume the debate.

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