Chakra Discussions

No Vraja-bhakti in Bhagavad-gita? -- A response to Danavir Goswami

by Babhru das

Posted October 30, 2003

[ Part I | Part II | Part III]

Tenth canto opportunism

This charge identifies Swami Tripurari with those who, although unqualified, speak only on the tenth canto of the Bhagavatam, ignoring the other nine cantos before it and the two that follow it. Such persons do not stress all that is involved in attaining the ideal of devotion discussed in the tenth canto. They do not stress the philosophical underpinning of Krishna lila, and thus they open the door for their listeners to misunderstand the Godhood of Krishna and take his lila cheaply.

In fact, Swami Tripurari's edition pays considerable attention to underscoring all that it means to be a devotee and just how high and distant the Vraja-lila is. He makes it very clear that the goal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is to attain admittance into Krishna's Vrindavana lila, yet at the same time he labors to emphasize all that this involves. An excerpt form Swami Tripurari's commentary to the last verse of chapter six illustrates this well:

The perfectly integrated person that Krishna has been teaching Arjuna about is his devotee. He is dutiful and responsible in all his actions. His actions are informed by higher knowledge, and he has realized the fruit of this detached action in the form of inner wisdom. His action is integrated with knowledge, and thus he is renounced even while acting. He is absorbed in meditation on God, and his heart swells with love for God and love for all beings. He has realized the cessation of material suffering, and he knows God as Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Arjuna is spellbound at what it means to be Krishna's devotee!

Throughout his edition, Swami Tripurari emphasizes the philosophy that underlies Krishna's supremacy. Indeed, it would be difficult not to, as this is the emphasis of the Gita itself. What we find in Swami Tripurari's edition is a tasteful balance between all that underlies Krishna's Vrindavana lila and just how high it is -- so high that it captivates Krishna's own mind and has the power to distract Him even when He is outwardly otherwise preoccupied.

Infidelity

This category seems redundant and should have been included under Maryada Vyatikrama.

Misinterpretation

Here Danavir Goswami states that because Bhagavad-gita As It Is accurately presents the "true conversation and meaning between Lord Krishna and His friend Arjuna, there is no need for a divergent interpretation." He states that the Gita "is forever meant to indicate what Krishna intended." Again, "the intended meaning is accurately communicated in Bhagavad-gita As It Is. New translations or commentaries disagreeing with the As It Is edition are faulty and misleading." Danavir Goswami wrongly concludes that Swami Tripurari's edition is divergent, as Swami Tripurari reaches exactly the same conclusion that Srila Prabhupada does -- selfless devotion to Krishna.

Danavir Goswami identifies Arjuna as the "recent link in disciplic succession." Thus he concludes that we have to understand Bhagavad-gita as Arjuna did. This he says is the "critical point" of this section. "Arjuna never said that the Bhagavad-gita was a treatise on Krishna's Vrindavana pastimes." Coincidentally, neither does Swami Tripurari say this. He does, however, say that Krishna at Kuruksetra sometimes thinks of the gopis and speaks covertly about his love for them and their love for him. If Krishna does not think about the measure of the Vraja bhaktas' love for Him when speaking the chatuh-sloki of the Gita, how can He be speaking only of raganuga bhakti as stated by Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura? What of the fact that Baladeva Vidyabhusana, his disciple, interprets this section differently? Is he, or better still, is Srila Prabhupada, who followed Sri Baladeva's commentary in his own commentary, guilty of misinterpreting?

In light of the fact that Swami Tripurari's Gita assigns "creative definitions with so-called deeper meanings to Krishna's words," Danavir Maharaja asks, "was Srila Prabhupada not able to understand those words in the deeper light of Krishna's Vraja-lila?" First of all, we do not find "creative definitions" that fall outside of Sanskrit grammar and alankara in Swami Tripurari's edition. Nor do any definitions fall outside of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy. It is because of this that we can rest assured that they are not merely the imagination of the author, as Danavir Goswami asserts.

Secondly, it is not necessary to speculate, as Danavir Goswami has, as to why Srila Prabhupada did not draw out these definitions. That he did not in no way proves that they do not exist. Swami Tripurari has demonstrated from the language and Gaudiya philosophy, with support from Gaudiya literature and historical consideration, that these definitions do exist. Let us remember that Krishna's Dwarka-lila is not disconnected from his Vrindavana-lila in that He fought outside of Vrindavana primarily in consideration of protecting its inhabitants. This is why Krishna left Vrindavana, lest after His killing Kamsa other demons might march into His village home and destroy it.

Rasabhasa

Danavir Maharaja's claim that Swami Tripurari's Gita commentary suffers from rasabhasa because it turns the battlefield of Kuruksetra into the rasa-lila is ironic. In fact, Swami Tripurari does nothing of the sort, but rather he has gone to great lengths to explain that the speaker of the Gita is Dvarakesa Parthasarathi Krishna and not Vrajendra-nandana Krishna. He has helped the reader understand such subtle differences in consideration of rasa tattva 8Bthe difference between Dhira-lalita Krishna and Dhira-prasanta Krishna, their sentiments and their lilas. He has also shown with scriptural references the extent to which these two forms/personalities of Krishna overlap and, by doing so, he has demonstrated the validity of the previous acharyas' claims that Krishna of Kuruksetra at times speaks covertly about his love for the inhabitants of Vrindavana.

An example of this overlap of Vraja and Dwarakesa Krishna, cited by Swami Tripurari in the introduction, can be found in Sanatana Goswami's Brihad-bhagavatamrita (BBT edition). There Rukmini admits, "Sometimes at night He says this and that in His sleep. Sometimes, in a most sweet voice, He utters names as if calling His cows. Sometimes he calls His girlfriends or some of the cowherd boys. And sometimes while asleep He acts as if He were placing His flute to His mouth and assumes His enchanting threefold-bending form." Someone might argue that this example is not valid because Krishna is asleep, at which time one can be transported mentally to a different place. Yet Satyabhama confirms that "Even while active and awake, He seems to have His mind on something else, as if dreaming. Indeed, we are His wives only in name; His young cowherd maidservants are in fact more dear to Him than we are." The commentary adds, "As Satyabhama and other queens witnessed, even in the middle of the day Krishna often acted as if His mind were in Vraja. He would call out to His cows, His friends, and His gopis, just as Rukmini testified He did in His sleep."

The subtitle of Swami Tripurari's book makes clear that the edition includes not only the feeling of the text (rasa vicara), but its philosophy (tattva vicara) as well. Thus the commentary looks at the text from both of these angles of vision. With regard to rasa vicara, the emphasis is appropriately sparse yet tasteful in comparison to the emphasis on tattva vicara, which makes up the greater balance of the book. Indeed, less than one dozen out of seven hundred of the Gita's verses are commented on with reference to Vraja-bhakti.

Although in support of his charge of rasabhasa Danavir Maharaja makes much of Prabhupada's insistence that a picture of Krishna in Vrindavana not be placed on the cover of the Gita, we do not find such a picture on the cover of Swami Tripurari's edition. Appropriately, we find a picture of Krishna and Arjuna on Arjuna's chariot. It is worth noting, however, that inside Bhagavad-gita As It Is the Gita's conclusion, man mana bhava mad bhaktah, has been pictorially rendered with a painting of Gopala Krishna of Vraja.

Mayavada

Here Danavir Goswami states that Swami Tripurari has cited the words of Mayavadis in order to support his idea that the Gita is about rasa-lila. He emphasizes that we do not need to go to Mayavadis to learn about Vraja-lila. What Swami Tripurari has done is stated in his introduction:

Also relevant to the present work is Adwaitin Madhusudana Saraswati's Gudhartha-dipika commentary on Bhagavad-gita, which Visvanatha Chakravarti cites numerous times. In the interest of substantiating the plausibility of the Gaudiya understanding of the Gita, I have cited Madhusudana Saraswati's commentary in places. As neo-Adwaitins may think the Gaudiya rendering forced in places, it will be useful for them to know that such a highly renowned scholar and guru of the Adwaita lineage is often supportive of the Gaudiya interpretations of the flow of Sri Gita's verse and its emphasis on devotion.

Thus Swami Tripurari makes it clear that he cites, as has a previous acharya, a Mayavadi whenever his commentary supports the Gita's emphasis on bhakti. This has nothing to do with Vraja-bhakti but everything to do with the fact that the Gaudiyas understand the Gita to place devotion over jnana. If even jnanis can be cited in support of this conclusion, all the better. From this it should also be clear that Swami Tripurari's edition appropriately engages in exposing the philosophical shortcomings of Mayavada philosophy. One may ask what place defeating Mayavadi philosophy has in a commentary that is all about Krishna's Vraja-lila. The answer is that that book is not merely about Krishna's Vraja-lila.

Gita Appreciation

I believe that if Danavir Maharaja had more carefully read the book he pretends to review, or had read it at all, it would be apparent to him that there is nothing that contradicts Krishna's ultimate instruction in Swami Tripurari's Gita edition. He might then share the appreciation of the stalwart ISKCON preachers who have read this presentation of Bhagavad-gita and expressed their support. These include Ganapati Maharaja, Giriraja Maharaja, Gunagrahi Maharaja, Hridayananda Maharaja, Indradyumna Maharaja, Jayadvaita Maharaja, Sachinandana Maharaja, and Ranchor das prabhu.

Hridayananda Maharaja wrote, for example, "I think you have done an excellent job of explaining [Visvanatha Chakravarti] Thakur's commentary on the Gita verse 10.9." Gunagrahi Maharaja said, "I am relishing your Gita very much. I see that you have been utilizing your time extremely well over the years and am eager to reap the nectar you have acquired." Ganapati Maharaja wrote, "I would like to sincerely commend and thank you for your work on Bhagavad-gita. No doubt Srila Prabhupada is smiling upon your endeavor. You have so masterfully highlighted Lord Krishna's 18th chapter finale as the incredible crescendo it really is."

Ranchor das had this to say: "I want to thank you for your edition of the Bhagavad-gita, which has been a superb guide and companion. . . . I found in every case your translations and commentaries were clear and illuminating, and along the way cleared up many of the points that had long puzzled me in Bhagavad-gita As It Is, in a way that was respectful to our Gurudeva and at the same time added to what he had written. I acquired my copy from Tamal Krishna Goswami, who lent it me just before his last trip to India. It now belongs, along with the rest of his library, to the library at the Oxford Centre for Vaishnava and Hindu Studies. In future I will always recommend your edition. I think it should become a standard companion to Srila Prabhupada's. And I hope the reprint comes soon so I can buy my own. I hope you write many more such books."

Concluding Words

I find it hard to understand why Danavir Goswami would so publicly denigrate a book whose only purpose is to glorify devotional service to Krishna. If he found a genuine mistake in the book and pointed it out constructively, it would be welcome. Instead, he has chosen to claim the whole book is mistaken with a handful of straw-man arguments. He then proceeds not only to question the author's motive but, worse, to assert that the motive is other than what the author has explained it to be. He has "revealed" the sinister motives of Tripurari Maharaja. While he claims that Tripurari Maharaja imagines what was on the mind of Krishna when he spoke the Gita, it is Danavir Goswami who imagines what was on the mind of Tripurari Maharaja.

It seems irresponsible for someone in his position to go to such lengths to vilify not only Tripurari Maharaja, but also, by implication, the acharyas whose lead he followed in offering his understanding of what Krishna said. It would be one thing to write a carefully reasoned critique based on a careful reading, but Danavir Maharaja has given no evidence in his review that he has read the book carefully, if at all. Rather, his purpose appears to be merely to denigrate Tripurari Maharaja's preaching efforts simply because they take a different form from his own. I think this is particularly troubling in light of all the years of service Tripurari Maharaja has rendered. We all know how much Srila Prabhupada appreciated his efforts in increasing book distribution in the 1970s. I have seen that his dedication to spreading Krishna consciousness has not flagged since those days but rather has grown more intense. His efforts have added to the regard society has for Lord Chaitanya's sankirtana movement. His books have been well received by the academic community, and devotees both inside and outside of ISKCON have found inspiration in his preaching, his character, and his dealings with others. And despite his changed circumstances with respect to ISKCON, he has also remained a supporter of Srila Prabhupada's preaching institution. I have heard him advise his followers who are connected with ISKCON centers to maintain their service connection with their temples, and I know that he has maintained friendly, cooperative relationships with many of ISKCON's leaders and with many members such as me.

Danavir Gosvami's article appears to take the low road, making it difficult to take the high road in return. Articles of this nature do not further the cause of unity in diversity. They do not serve to foster the love and trust that Srila Prabhupada expected his mission to be governed by. A concern I have had for many years is what appears to me to be a culture of Vaishnava-aparadha pervading the Krishna consciousness movement. I waited some time to submit this for publication, hoping that ISKCON's leadership would call on Danavir Maharaja to reconsider his remarks. If ISKCON allows such articles to be written by its gurus and leaders unchecked, the articles will be seen as representing their position, thus only serving to distance thoughtful members from participating in ISKCON. Is this pleasing to Srila Prabhupada?

[ Part I | Part II | Part III]