Water pastimes

17 04 2021

When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu saw the exuberance of Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya and Rāmānanda Rāya, He smiled and spoke to Gopīnātha Ācārya. “Tell the Bhaṭṭācārya and Rāmānanda Rāya to stop their childish play because they are both learned scholars and very grave and great personalities.” Gopīnātha Ācārya replied, “I believe that one drop of the ocean of Your great mercy has swelled up upon them. “A drop from the ocean of Your mercy can drown great mountains like Sumeru and Mandara. Since these two gentlemen are little hills by comparison, it is no wonder that they are being drowned in the ocean of Your mercy. “

Logic is like a dry oil cake from which all the oil has been extracted. The Bhaṭṭācārya passed his life in eating such dry cakes, but now You have made him drink the nectar of transcendental pastimes. It is certainly Your great mercy upon him.” (CC Madya Ch. 14 83-87)

In this lifetime, I have been a bookworm, even if a reluctant one. Truth be told, none of my learning has been particularly disciplined or systematic. Maybe it’s because of boredom, or ADD, or some mental deficiency. I don’t care to memorize or master all of the jargon of any particular school of thought. That has probably doomed any serious study of, say, Kant or Aquinas. Honestly, when I delve into these systematic thinkers, I tend to break them down into the simplest terms I can fathom and run with it. In my defense, every time I get into conversations with specialists, all I encounter is needless complication of very simple premises. It’s akin to A.N. Whitehead stating that all philosophy is just footnotes to Plato. Typically systems of thought flow from a single pristine idea that its high priests try to chew over and over again. It is no wonder that I spent so many years as a Platonist.

In Lord Chaitanya’s pastime mentioned above, Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya in particular was a former scholar of Advaita Vedanta, the most popular school of impersonalist monism associated with mainstream Hinduism. For scholars of that school, Lord Chaitanya was wasting His time with all of these embarrassing public displays and their overarching sentimentalism. One might compare this to the opposition that Jesus faced during His ministry from the Pharisees and Sadducees who passed their time arguing about the minutiae of the Law. The discussions of their Vedic counterparts, however, were more convoluted and esoteric. Lord Chaitanya made multiple trips to Varanasi, the seat of Advaita Vedanta, to try to convince the populace there of the cult of bhakti with mixed success. In His confrontations with impersonalist monism, He did win over some prestigious scholars such as Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. Some of these converts were some of His most intimate disciples.

Here we see the former grave scholar fighting in the water like a child. The moving part about this pastime for me is how real love of God thaws the heart and turns us back into kids again. In Advaita Vedanta, only the path of jnana or knowledge can achieve liberation. In thoroughly and gravely studying the Vedic texts, one realizes that all is brahman and all distinctions that we encounter are illusion or maya. Even the idea of a personal God is maya. One is continuously trying to exorcise one’s shadow, trying to purge all inputs from the senses and mind. As we can see, this path can often be quite joyless, and Lord Chaitanya frees His disciples through teaching devotion to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the path of bhakti yoga, we learn that all of the stimulation of the senses and mind aren’t some sort of cruel cosmic joke, but are rather meant to be focused on their source and end: God Himself, or more specifically, the Divine Couple Radha-Krishna.

All complex philosophical and logical constructs (and Gaudiya theology has many of them) are meant ultimately to be reduced to simple loving relationships of devotional service. Learning these learned things for their own sake is likened to licking the outside of a jar of honey. Or maybe reading a lot about love but never actually experiencing it. Recall here that, in Vrindavan, Krishna’s most intimate home, no one even knows or considers Krishna to be God. The title of “God” is, in a sense, beneath Krishna: it’s not who He primarily is. The more we consider Krishna as Creator or Provider, the less intimate we feel towards Him, and the more distant we are from Him. Krishna wants you to splash with Him in the water, if that is truly what you want.

In some ways, I understand this, and in others, I don’t. Like I said, I’m an introverted book worm. My idea of a good time is sitting around talking to people about intellectual and cultural topics; in that way, I’m very far from Vrindavan. Or maybe I am just old, or have been old for a very long time. However, choices in life have kept me out of academia explicitly, so I have had to splash in many waters and eat my lunch at work while sitting in the dirt on a number of occasions. In other words, as much as I love to read books and write, my life choices make opportunities to do these things rather rare. On the other hand, through reading authors like Pierre Hadot, I have long ago concluded that you can’t just get the truth out of books. You have to do things, you have to feel things, and you have to get your hands physically dirty. There is thus something deeply satisfying and affirming for me in the tale of a former Vedantist playing in the water like a child. The scene confirms my own intuitions about the nature of life, both temporal and eternal. Though it’s hard for me to get out of my shell, I know that it’s something that I have to do, and I am working on it.

There is one more anecdote from this pastime that I would like to bring up briefly:

The first sporting took place between Advaita Ācārya and Nityānanda Prabhu, who threw water upon each other. Advaita Ācārya was defeated, and He later began to rebuke Nityānanda Prabhu, calling Him ill names.

I’ll try to discuss the intricacies of the Pancha Tattva in another entry, however, for now I will say it’s the Hare Krishna Trinity, except it’s a pentarchy: Sri Krishna Chaitanya, Prabhu Nityananda, Sri Advaita, Gadhadara, and Srivasa Pandit. Lord Nityananda is Lord Balarama in the spiritual world, the first emanation of Krishna in the form of His brother: the Supreme Personality of Godhead in servitor form. Advaita Acharya is the descent of Maha Vishnu into this yuga. Maha Vishnu rests of the Causal Ocean, glances at the maha-tattva (matter as pure potency), and from His sleeping body emerge infinite universes like microscopic bubbles.

They fought in the water like two overgrown children and called each other names. And you thought the Christian Incarnation was weird.



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