A New Gaudiya Genre

Nitaisundara Das - June 13, 2011 5:08 am

I have thought for some time that a very useful addition to Gaudiya literature, both for devotees and interacting with the public, would be more psychological literature, although that is not really a sufficient label, but anyway...


I know none of this is a novel idea, but nonetheless I would like to share my thoughts and hopefully spark a lengthy discussion!


Buddhism has many many texts in every bookstore delving into psychology and general life lessons, but I do not think these insights are in any way unique to Buddhism, and where they are lacking within GVism is only in terms of having not been as spelled out and spread around. That is to say, the essential principles that bring forth the specific insights are all there within GVism, waiting to be spelled out and applied in a wide array of circumstances. The books of our acaryas have not really done this extensively. While there are many deep and meaningful insights in these realms, they tend to be merely a passing sentence here or there, making it the reader's responsibility to pick it out and see it's depth. Just like a commentary on the Upanisads or other sastra takes terse, often essential, statements and elaborates on them, I think there is a big place for further levels of elaboration. Just as we sometimes see acaryas have commentaries of commentaries.


I think these kind of books would really be like an extensive analysis of and resource for traversing anartha nivrti. They are not so much to establish the tenets of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, but to take those tenets that pertain more directly to our character and it's improvement and go within them and dissect them, apply them to our everyday circumstances, etc. An example of a more Gaudiya book like this would be to take some of the points made in the anartha nivrti section of Madhurya Kadambini and really flesh them out. "Why when one first takes to the path do they become overzealous and think they have already 'arrived'? How might that issue be reinforced by modern cultural factors? Are there some safeguards one can try to put in place to minimize this tendency as well as the blow that comes when one realizes it was only fleeting comfort?" etc etc etc. I hope that kind of conveys where I am going. And even with those examples you can see the discussion could be very Gaudiya, or it could be generalized to spiritual practice in general, or even material life.


99% of devotees are within anistha-bhajana-kriya. Our daily experience is one of trudging through the mud waters of spiritual practice filled with material ambitions, with little or no taste and sometimes, imagined taste. Some days it is easy and pleasurable, some days it is quite different, but everyday we are making countless decisions that reflect our values, our self-perception, our understanding of sastra, and so on. While scripture and sadhana of course provide all the necessary tools to gain all necessary insights and perfect ourselves, sometimes I feel like a more specific tool may be more efficient. In this context, I do not even see it as pursuing psychological growth independent of spiritual growth, rather it is a helping hand to see how spiritual growth manifests in various spheres of our lives, giving us numerous places where we can access the path according to our needs at a given time. "Oh, when presented with this situation, I may want to behave like x because I am aware of my tendency to assert myself in the guise of service, and know that it goes against the very meaning of service." (<not a very good example)


Aside from helping devotees, this kind of writing could potentially usher in a whole new way of interacting and being seen by the world. GM's books are totally respectable, but they are also generally appreciated by specific swath of intellectual or philosophical people; whereas, someone like Eckart Tolle (I don't really know his stuff, but have a slight sense of it) is accessible to a wider range while at the same time (I think) maintaining a certain respectability. That somewhat broader audience is who I am thinking could be attracted to this kind of Gaudiya text (some of which may not be very overtly Gaudiya at all).


I am very interested to hear others' thoughts. Thanks for wading through my first written exploration of these ideas. :)

Gauravani Dasa - June 13, 2011 10:28 am

Nitai, I really like your idea (and the Dabrowski/TPD thread, wow!) and I'd like to hear it developed more.


Personally, in my everyday life I try to identify what particular guna I am being influenced by at the moment and make adjustments accordingly. I'll also try to determine what gunas the people around me are under and choose how to interact (or avoid) them. It seems like part of your proposal could be geared toward identifying how the modes manifest at various levels including personal, social, etc. I'm reminded of how GM describes the yugas being a measurement of quality rather than a quantitive measure of time--what techniques can we use team determine the quality of our actions/environment in relation to bhakti?


Also, GM's emphasis on "giving" and his statement that "vaisnavism is a feeling" could be explored deeply in terms of its societal implications. I've recently thought a lot about this as I interviewed for several for-profit jobs outside the nonprofit/educational field. Environments that do not foster at least some sense of altruism do have a different "feeling." Reflecting on this continues to give me greater appreciation for GM's mood and GV in general and has forced me to re-evaluate my some of my motivations (hello, minor TPD event!).


Not sure if thise was the kind of feedback you're looking for :) but I like your idea and would like to hear others' feedback.

Nitaisundara Das - June 14, 2011 5:25 am

Thanks Gauravani. Yes, any kind of feedback. I am happy to hear anyone's thoughts. I think you got the gist of it. And the gunas would definitely be a way to approach it.


As an aside, it hit me today that I am becoming my father (ah!). I think this is quite similar to things that he wanted to do. I was reminded because of your mention of the gunas. My father wrote one book "The Nectar of Discrimination." Although I never read much of it, I know much of it was about identifying the gunas. He also had a strong interest in psychology and interfacing different psychological ideas (most strongly, the ideas of Erich Fromm) with GVism. I guess the father really *is* reborn as the son... I just pray that I will remain safely under the shelter of GM if and when I pursue any of these ideas.

Krsna Caitanya Das - June 14, 2011 4:21 pm

Here are some thoughts that came to my mind after reading the above posts. I think that a book about the bhakti-lata-bija as covered in the 19th ch of CC madhya lila would be nice, covering meeting a guru, getting the seed, watering, weeding, fencing, and then the growth of the creeper and it finally bearing fruit in Goloka, then the fruit falling to the ground and the devotee tasting it. I don't know, maybe someone has already done it.


I also think a book having a contemporary look at the four ashramas might be of some value. I noticed a scholarly article in passing yesterday that compared Erikson's life stages with the asramas. It would be nice to explore how one could make the most of each stage of life.


This also brings to mind the idea of varna. I certainly do not mean to try and bring back some sort of Vedic varnasrama. But I do think there is some value in someone being well situated in one's occupation. I remember years ago running across some career counseling research that showed the benefits of a person in the right job for his or her nature. I think that a book that combined the idea of karma-yoga with varna and contemporary research on careers, occupations, personality, etc. would be nice. I think there could be some scope for both varna and asrama being very relevant concepts that could aid people in making advancement through work.


Anyway, I think the idea of integrating psychology and/or sociology with GV could yield some very interesting and useful results.

Tadiya Dasi - June 14, 2011 5:30 pm

I think it's a great idea, Nitaisundara!


I would love to read such books, and I am sure that I am not the only one who would benefit from such books. As you said, the buddhists have already done this in a very user-friendly way and the self-help sections of bookstores are full of psychological literature from their perspective. I think there are even therapists who use buddhist type of counseling in their clinical practice... I've also seen a book about Sufism written from a view point of a Jungian psychologist. So, different traditions are offering their contributions. Why not Gaudiya vaisnavism, too? I am confident that the tradition of Gaudiya vaisnavism indeed would have much to offer to people in this literary genre.


I think Gaudiya vaisnavism could offer interesting insight into the nature of relationships, for example. The relationship with Sri Guru in a sadhaka's life could be interesting topic to explore for instance. Basically, anything that would help sadhakas better situate themselves on the path, be more balanced as persons and better navigate their relationships in this world, be they with other devotees or with their family, in the workplace and so on.


Gaudiya vaisnavism is a very high philosophy with beautiful and poetic ideals and so much of the literature is describing the higher stages of the path and the nature of perfected devotees...which is, of course, wonderful but can sometimes leave the beginner sadhaka wondering what to do with their particular material issues/situation. I love how Gurudeva sometimes talks about bhakti being the answer as to how to live in this world...How human beings are the only species in this world who are confused about eating, sleeping, mating & defending themselves while the animals have got all of this figured out. Idea being that in bhakti, all of that is harmonized.


However, we do see and know it for ourselves that plenty of devotees are confused about how to live in this world, even with the basics stuff of eating, sleeping, mating, defending etc. We also know that, in the end, bhakti herself IS the panacea for our problems and confusion. But bhakti is not a quick fix and it can be a bitter pill to swallow.


But any literature that could be of use to devotees "in the meanwhile" while they are on the lower stages of the path would be most welcome in my humble (and, really, not so humble) opinion.

Audarya-lila Dasa - June 14, 2011 8:54 pm

Maybe I"m missing the point a bit - but my first thought was how ideas from our teachings that address the common issues of humanity would do well to interface the tradition with contemporary society. Many of the Buddhist books don't use the terminology of their tradition but rather address issues like anger or relationships with the essential teachings. I believe that has been a very powerful way to interface with the general population which shows the insights of the tradition without the baggage of the traditoinal language or the need to identify with the tradition per se. I could definitely see how books of that nature - insight into how to live peacefully, happily, free of anger, resentment, stress etc would be big sellers to the general popluation and could bridge the gap for many so that they would be more inclined to look at books that speak directly to practicioners and are the source of the insights and inspiration of the writings. Our writings tend to be bogged down with scriptural citations and traditional ways within our lineage of conveying knowledge. I could defiinitely see the benefit of books that package essential teachings without the rigor or need to cite references. Those types of books would flow a lot more easily and be much more accessable to the general public.

Madhavendra Puri Dasa - June 14, 2011 9:49 pm

I don't know if this is going to be an off topic (because you are talking about psychological or sociological approach), but I miss books written by devotees, describing their experience in the context of every day life (diaries, lessons from the path, etc). Satsvarupa Maharaja was a precursor of this kind of genre, but it seems that the idea didn't catch. I find this kind of literature much more appealing to me then purely abstractive writing. And the second thing missing fom the modern Gaudiya literary world is a Gaudiya Vaisnava fiction. Or is it just me?

Nitaisundara Das - June 15, 2011 12:52 am

Thank you everyone for your thoughts. Tadiya, I think you really got my idea and everyone else brings up good points too.


Audarya, I think there is room for the whole gamut. The kind of books your talking about are, as you say, for the general public. And I agree, they need to drop the extensive citations, internal references, etc. These would put Gvism on the map for common thinking people and people who want to improve themselves. It is more indirect way giving Mahaprabhu to people, but I really think it is an essential component of a modern tradition that wants to be seen with any respect, or even known by common people. Some devotees here and there have made attempts along these lines, but not so successfully from what I have seen. There tends to be an underlying sense of "preaching ploy" in many of these kind of GV-interface-with-the-world books. So that is one side of what I was thinking about here. The other side is kind of in between those books and the gaudiya books that we actually see coming out. Resources for people who are committed to the path. But even then I think there is a lot of room for introducing other formats and not sticking to the assertion-then-citation system. Eventually though, one would hope that even titles for the general public did not have to be silent about their root in GVism, just like a book based in Buddhism may very well be able to use that connection as a selling point.


Madhavendra, I think you have a good point. I think it can be hard to do this kind of self-expose writing in a good way. A guru doing it does not seem to be ideal, but neither do we want to read the thoughts of someone who is not firmly rooted in siddhanta and has some spiritual insight. We do see Bhaktivinoda and to a lesser extent, Sridhara Maharaja, writing about their pasts very candidly, and it is very sweet. I just think it takes a special person and skill to be able to do that. Regarding fiction, GM and others here have talked about that quite a bit. Vrindaranya may still be planning something, I am not sure. Siddhartha was given as the classic example of a philosophical novel that has had a huge impact. So I personally think that would also be a great addition, if done well.


I guess the real necessity is devotees with the ability to execute these wide array of writings in the right way. For some reason they have not seemed to naturally manifest thus far...

Guru-nistha Das - June 16, 2011 5:05 am

This is a wonderful thread.

I think our tradition is extremely lacking in good "non-traditional" writing. I would absolutely love to see good Gaudiya fiction, short stories, poetry, and so on.

There were so many writers, artists, and poets in Mahaprabhu's associates and also so many of Prabhupada's early disciples were like that. It would be great to bring that back as expressed through our 21st century sensibilities.

Prema-bhakti - June 22, 2011 11:59 am
I don't know if this is going to be an off topic (because you are talking about psychological or sociological approach), but I miss books written by devotees, describing their experience in the context of every day life (diaries, lessons from the path, etc). Satsvarupa Maharaja was a precursor of this kind of genre, but it seems that the idea didn't catch. I find this kind of literature much more appealing to me then purely abstractive writing. And the second thing missing fom the modern Gaudiya literary world is a Gaudiya Vaisnava fiction. Or is it just me?


Thanks for mentioning Satsvarupa Maharaja. Yes, he has been a trail blazer in this genre. His writings have helped me hone my practical understanding of bhakti and how to apply it in my life.

Prema-bhakti - June 22, 2011 12:01 pm

I think we could start out with more editorials on the Harmonist. : )

Prema-bhakti - June 22, 2011 3:19 pm
Satsvarupa Maharaja was a precursor of this kind of genre, but it seems that the idea didn't catch.


From what I experienced there was quite a bit of controversy involved with Satsvarupa Maharaja's writing. throughout the late 80's and onward. He would reference secular book as well as books by Christian mystics and Buddhist monks. It was frowned upon. Some books like Entering the Life of Prayer were banned and seen as sympathetic to Christianity. Looking at it today, it seems ridiculous at least to me. Also he was a guru and GBC and it was deemed inappropriate by many leaders for a person in that position to reveal imperfections. As far as lay people as authors, I doubt they would not be published by the BBT or gain readership in ISKCON. That seems to be reserved for leaders and senior Prabhupada disciples. Definately was like that in the past.


This leads to me to the question of whether it is in fact appropriate for gurus and sannyasis to write introspective literature revealing their shortcomings. Is it even appropriate for exemplars in the mission to do the same? Neophytes tend to be like flies and have weak faith as well as justifying their own shortcomings when they see them in others who are seemingly more advanced. Any thoughts?

Madan Gopal Das - June 22, 2011 3:38 pm

I personally find it kind of annoying to read introspective writings of people who are "senior" to me. For that matter, maybe I find it annoying to read anybody's writings in that genre. I guess I have this conflict from my own experience writing introspective writing like journals and the like, that when introspection becomes available for public consumption, it takes on a different quality. It can SO easily become not introspective work, self-therapy, contemplation, and turn into a tool to influence how others think, or the mind considers what other people will think and then the depth of penetration into oneself is shallowed. Also, I don't like the potential of others internal thoughts replacing one's own or the necessity to have one's own introspection.

I would rather learn philosophy, lila, etc. from others and then my introspection, my self-development will be influenced by that. Introspection is magical because it is not touched by anyone else. It is all yours. It is the place where you sort through and pick out the influences of everything and everyone else and have your own place to play. You and the ista-devata...


These thoughts of mine don't in my mind negate the value of contemporary literature by practitioners that help peers as well as non-practitioners apply essential teachings of the path to their lives. I'm just not a fan of the spelled out "here's how its going in my life" tactic.

Madhavendra Puri Dasa - June 22, 2011 8:09 pm
This leads to me to the question of whether it is in fact appropriate for gurus and sannyasis to write introspective literature revealing their shortcomings. Is it even appropriate for exemplars in the mission to do the same? Neophytes tend to be like flies and have weak faith as well as justifying their own shortcomings when they see them in others who are seemingly more advanced. Any thoughts?


Well, I know what you are saying, but on the other hand the "flies" devotees will find something to frown upon no matter what, and the people who respect someone will take the nectar, get inspired even in spite of imperfections (or maybe because of them, think about it).

For me personally SDG writings were very inspiring. Sometimes I found it too repetitive but nonetheless it helped me to draw my heart closer to GV, in times when I couldn't read straight philosophy or lilas, when I was finding it too dry and too removed from my experience. Introspective writing gives me some frame of reference, I can connect to, while reading for example about the mystical experience of Goswamis or Lord Chaitanya might be at times alien to my present state (not that I am proud of it).


Personally I would welcome such literature wholeheartedly. I write myself, but it's in Polish so I can not share it with most of you.

Shyamananda Das - June 24, 2011 4:18 am

One idea Nitai and me got while discussing this was to investigate how different philosophies and worldviews color our understanding of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Things we unknowingly take with us into our spiritual practice, for example post-modernism. Could that (post-modernism) be confused with perennialism perhaps?


Swami writes in the sanga tited "Love beyond measure": "While science may improve our lives quantitatively, it does little to improve the intrinsic quality of our lives to make us better people. Although we may not realize it, most of us are strongly conditioned by this mentality of measurement. Indeed, even spiritual practitioners exhibit it when trying to conceive of ultimate reality."


Also, the competitive mentality easily comes along. I remember being irritated with devotees who chanted during the morning lecture in the ashram, thinking it's inappropriate. Later I realized I was mad because they got to chant more rounds than me. Sorry for sharing that, Madan.

Bijaya Kumara Das - June 24, 2011 5:58 pm

Nice topic. As Guru Maharaja said, the environment is friendly and helping those see the GV perspective in their words would be very helpful. That is what I like so much about Guru Maharaja considering the audience (student) situation and crafting his response to them.


Every one I talk to that has heard Guru Maharaja speak usually expresses something towards this understanding. They feel he spoke directly to them.