Review: Bhakti Blossoms
Published on October 16th, 2017 | by Harmonist staff33
Bhakti Blossoms, a new anthology of contemporary Vaishnavi poetry edited by Krishna Kanta dasi, offers readers the opportunity to hear from a wide range of female practitioners—feminine and masculine, newcomers and lifelong sadhakas—from a number of Gaudiya groups. The book is intended to serve as a form of sanga, a gathering of spiritual practitioners that facilitates the development of faith. It is also intended to ameliorate the perceived quieting of the female perspective within Vaishnava literature that some practitioners experience as troubling.
While it’s true that within every religion—as within every mind identified with material nature—sexism divides the apparently devout, it’s also true that within every religion, saints unite even the sinners among us.
The feminine is by nature subservient, perceptive, patient, and intuitive. Rather than speaking as soon as she perceives a concept, she nurtures her perceptions and waits for the proper season to coax them to sprout from the fertile soil of her mind and bear fruit in the larger world. She is often quiet, and therefore often spoken for. She doesn’t readily publish herself, which could account, in part, for the perception that the feminine perspective is more difficult to trace out in literature as a whole, and in Vaishnava literature in particular, as Graham Schweig suggests in his forward to Bhakti Blossoms.
Not every woman identifies as primarily feminine at every moment, though most are treated as such and sometimes abused as a result, both within the walls of religious institutions and within the minds that build the walls. While our righteous, dharmic masculinity honors the feminine, our animalistic masculinity dominates and subsumes her. Books like Bhakti Blossoms aimed at broadcasting the feminine’s naturally quiet voice won’t release women and men from this prison of their mutual making, but they might allow both parties more comfort during their stay.
I hope, though, that this comfort doesn’t come at the cost of alienating men who identify with feminine consciousness. If we are to allow the feminine to speak with her full voice, then we must allow every voice she inhabits to speak. This includes men who know her to be an intrinsic part of their human experience. Though Bhakti Blossoms was conceptualized as an anthology of poetry written by Vaishnavis, perhaps it could have offered a more complete presentation of bhakti through the lens of the feminine by including poems written by male practitioners in feminine consciousness.
It’s also my hope that, in the name of comfort or for the purpose of preaching, philosophical inaccuracies need not be propounded. Bhakti Blossoms makes frequent reference to Srimati Radahrani and the gopis of Vrindavana as examples of leading Vaishnavis and female gurus. While this surface-level angle on our tradition’s theology might draw potential practitioners, it might rob uninformed readers of the opportunity to glimpse our theology’s real wealth, the deep veins of gold hidden below the Vrajavasis’ apparently female skin. For, as we know, Srimati Radharani and all those with whom she associates are neither male nor female; rather, they are sadhus—saints—whose wholly spiritual forms transcend material designations. Perhaps those looking for the guidance of female sadhus and guru figures within Gaudiya Vaishnavism could look to our sadhana siddhas, our saints who perfected their practice while embodied in female form. We have many examples, Srimati devi in sakya rasa and Ganga Mata Goswamini, to name a couple.
But fortunately, Bhakti Blossoms offers more than a microphone for the feminine voice. When spiritual practitioners gather in sanga, they unite for a purpose: to make progress toward their shared spiritual goal. If they perceive the need to amend matters that disturb the mind, such as sexism, then in service of their spiritual goal they address whatever is troubling them. We might call this horizontal growth, development within material nature that facilitates sadhana, or spiritual practice. Though horizontal growth is helpful, it is only useful in the context of sanga when it facilitates vertical development, upward progress toward a spiritual goal.
Certainly, sincere readers of Bhakti Blossoms will cultivate their faith as they serve the Vaishnavis by honoring the devotion in their offerings. It’s my hope, and doubtless the hope of the saintly Vaishnavis who have allowed us to glimpse their hearts of devotion, that readers will be led by their sincerity to seek guidance from the source of these poems: the sadhus whose bhakti is blossoming and bearing the fruit from which all practitioners are fed.
Our scriptures teach that this is the best way to make spiritual progress, and therefore the intended result of efforts at sanga like Bhakti Blossoms. Indeed, we serve every practitioner simultaneously when we seek guidance from our tradition’s sadhus, as they unite us all on the ground of siddhanta, conclusive knowledge, and teach us by their example that we are neither female nor male; rather, we are consciousness itself.
Sanga is intended for radical progress, progress from material to spiritual life. With this intention at heart, I hope that Bhakti Blossoms will be followed by more publications produced by Vaishnavis that seek to highlight practitioners, female and male, who exemplify our tradition’s siddhanta. Then, on the ground of truth, we can unite meaningfully in sanga—women and men, feminine and masculine—and rise up to meet ourselves and one another, perhaps for the first time, as we really are.
Dear Ananda Mayi Prabhu,
What an elaborate, well thought-out review! Your critical thinking and superior writing skills shine here.
I was surprised you took so much time to critique such a humble offering as if it were a piece of scripture. And I’m saddened that you spent the majority of time reviewing the book’s premise without a critique about the simple offerings of the 108 women who participated. After all, this is an anthology.
The book’s title Bhakti Blossoms says many things and as a poet I’m confident you can flesh that out. Particularly, I’m thinking about blossoms. A blossom is the beginning of a flowering. It’s delicate and easy to damage. In the book, I heard the hearts of the women and am concerned your words can hurt them. You didn’t give your Godsisters feedback on their offerings, instead you focused on what you don’t like about the premise. I was disheartened by this since all sparks of devotion ought to be fanned.
Many of the Vaishnavis who submitted a piece did so with fear. They have been in an institution that disempowers them, silences their voices, and prohibits them from certain services. You’re fortunate, living as you do within a mature sanga, not to experience how debilitating a negative, or restrictive, environment can be for those who need active seva to nurture their Bhakti path.
Your point about including the feminine wherever it appears is well-taken. It is often discussed in circles where I’ve heard, and participated in, conversations (for decades now) by thoughtful devotees like you. It’s also true that those who embody the feminine while in a male body will not be alienated because the editor chose to gather her sisters for the anthology. Presenting that as a possible concern seems out of place.
I take exception to the claim that it is apa-siddhantic and a surface-level angle of vision to see Srimati Radhika and the gopis as our gurus.
Here’s just one out of many references. Srila Sridhar Maharaja writes, “Swami Maharaja [Srila Prabhupada] has clearly written that his guru is Radharani, it is there. Krsna, Radharani will be pleased if you help me in this campaign. Is it not written there, e-punya koribe jabe radharani khusi habe dhruva ati boli toma tai. So he has admitted that his guru is Radharani. So we aspire after the service of Radharani, under the direction of Sri Rupa and other devotees, not committing any wrong.”
We don’t deny the position of guru in our lives and the importance of accepting and serving him or her, but we certainly don’t say that Srimati Radharani is not our guru! It is the very sadhus you encourage us to follow who point us to Radharani as the supreme guru, of even Krsna.
Also problematic is the statement that Srimati Radharani is neither male or female. Of course, I know what you mean, but Srimati Radharani is, nonetheless, the paradigmatic female. So what is the harm in pointing that out? It is a unique, sweet, even glorious, feature of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
As I read, I sometimes wondered who you were writing for. If not all, most of, the writers featured in Bhakti Blossoms have gurus whom they serve with devotion. So there is no issue here that they are missing the importance of guru in their lives. And most of them are serious Gaudiya sadhakas who know the fine points of theology you are concerned to protect.
What was the writing like? What did you feel when you heard from Vaishnavis you share a path with? What do you think about the publication – the first of its kind – that extends beyond contrived boundaries of sangas and welcomed contributors from everywhere? What a feminine thing to do and it took females to do it! Did you find any of the poems or essays edifying in the least? Was the book well designed and presented?
Besides that I would have enjoyed to hear your answers to these questions, in my mind, in this review, you may have missed an opportunity to glorify your sincere Godsisters.
I loved your ending call for unity in the last paragraph. Beautifully stated and heartfelt! Thank you.
Pranada: Thank you for your comments. I’ll do my best to address your concerns.
As you pointed out, the real gold in this book is the sincerity of the devotees who contributed their poems. Unfortunately, the poems are presented in a framework of counterfeit theology. If we dress a feminist up in a sari, can we call her a saint because of her outfit? Better to let her wear blue jeans and tell us how she really feels. The book would have served as a valuable contribution if it had been framed as it was honestly conceived—as a platform for women who have been abused in the institutional setting of our religion. Perhaps the book could have been introduced by an essay about the abuse that’s taken place. Coming from within the institution itself, that could have been quite interesting. Then, the poems, which are praiseworthy in their sincerity, could have stood within a solidly supportive structure, further edified by empathetic readers.
Unfortunately, the book is framed instead in a problematic approach to Gaudiya Vedanta. Though, as you point out, there are many instances in our scriptures and commentaries in which Srimati Radharani is described as a guru and identified as the paradigmatic female, it’s the backdrop on which these descriptions are painted that illuminates their truth. Generally, scriptures that glorify Srimati Radharani’s human-like qualities, such as her apparent gender, do so only after identifying her theological position. From the perspective of bhava, Srimati Radharani is a woman; however, without tattva, we will misunderstand bhava. Similarly, without Sri Caitanya, we will misunderstand Srimati Radharani.
What’s more, when we make statements about Srimati Radharani’s form, qualities, and pastimes in order to promote a material cause, however important, this constitutes an abuse of the siddhanta. Should we publish an anthology of poetry by black males, who are also marginalized, because Krsna is a black male? Leveraging Srimati Radharani’s apparent womanhood to counter sexism will not help women; rather, it will create misunderstandings that could inhibit their spiritual progress. In Encounters with Divinity, Srila Sridhara Maharaja cautions us about this potential pitfall:
“It will be difficult for women because a similar, perverted thing will try to occupy the position of the genuine. It is a more dangerous position. Apparently it may seem that it will be easy because those that lack privilege receive more grace. But we should be cautious in our analysis not to mistake the womanly nature of the mundane world for the womanhood of the spiritual domain” (p. 238, emphasis mine).
Even if we acknowledge the spiritual nature of Srimati Radharani’s female form by using terms like “divine feminine,” have we really acknowledged her divinity when we employ her female body for material gain? When we speak about her femininity to assuage the female ego, have we really spoken about her at all? The woman depicted on the backdrop of our feminist agenda is not the same woman appearing on the backdrop of siddhanta in the hearts of our saints.
Srila Prabhupada’s prayer referenced in your comment is arising out of bhava, grounded in tattva. When Srila Sridhara Maharaja implores us to follow him in seeking Srimati Radharani’s blessing as a guru, it seems safe to assume that he intends for us to follow Srila Prabhupada according to our eligibility. It is our work as disciples to trace out the tattva underlying his bhava by examining his life and his teachings, both of which exemplify the truth of Gaudiya Vedanta living in Sri Caitanya. By the grace of Sri Caitanya, we can pray to understand the theoretical truth about Radha-Krsna.
The book as a whole will be critiqued on these grounds, since this is the framework in which it’s presented. I hope, though, that the poems themselves will not be dismissed along with the book’s premise. They represent an important moment for Gaudiya practitioners, female and male, all over the world—a moment in which the silence of institutional abuse has been broken. Since abuse thrives only in silence, this is truly a victory. I hope that as women continue to speak, and as we continue to listen, we can work together to mend the edifice of our institution and make a shelter for all sincere sadhakas.
Thank you Ananda-mayi for a brilliant review as well as a thoughtful explanation of your review and its emphasis.
I wanted to mention here that Ananda-mayi is a monastic living and studying under the guidance of her guru. As co-editor of the Harmonist, I felt she was the most appropriate candidate to review such an anthology having an extensive background in literature, as well as being learned, a writer and editor. Her lifestyle is also exemplary as she sets an example for women who may feel inspired to lead a life of renunciation, which is often only viewed as suited for men. That said, she is also from a newer generation of devotees as well as growing up a few decades after many of the contributors to the “Bhakti Blossoms” project. I appreciate her fresh and vibrant as well as solidly sastric blend of perspective on gender and consciousness which gives new language and directive and which seems to deflate to some degree the outdated terms of “feminine” and “masculine”, a dichotomy which holds very little relevance in current discussions of gender and roles. Such terms are fading out of existence in the secular spectrum of discourse and as Ananda points out, never quite works when speaking in terms of tattva either.
I do however applaud all of the “Bhakti Blossom” contributors, who strive to express their personal journeys and who partake in such honest discussions in pursuit of truth.
While other commenters may applaud what they perceive to be a wonderful commentary, in decades of practicing and studying Vaisnava philosophies I have never heard anyone express an apsiddhantic viewpoint as the author of this article has: “For, as we know, Srimati Radharani and all those with whom she associates are neither male nor female; rather, they are sadhus—saints—whose wholly spiritual forms transcend material designations.”
Srimati Radharani is, I’m sorry to inform this blogger, very much female: the pure, absolute feminine personification of Krishna’s internal energy. She is not a “saint.”
Moreover, the underlying misogyny in this article is galling, an unfortunate display of the immaturity of the author.
In short, the mood, content, and purpose of this entire article is entirely dismissable, and worse, embarrassing: a shameful display of the author’s discomfort of other women’s individual expression, spiritual power and development, varied degrees of purity, and so on.
In typical form of this mood, the article’s author is using her own qualification as a woman to minimise and redress those who “dare” to form a collective–as women–and present a Vaisnavi anthology. If a man wrote an article like this, he would be accused of misogyny, but the author hides behind her female form to say what she perceives as her “right,” as a woman, to criticise, judge, and, unfortunately, totally misunderstand pretty much everything the book represents, contains, serves, and strives for.
To the author of this article: when you grow up and join the big people, let me know how that mood is working for you…
The teaching is that in order to become a gopi one must become a sadhu, not a woman. Krsna himself states this and his statement constitutes the genesis of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, the apex of the Bhagavatam and the beginning of Gaura mandala bhumi—saṁvṛścya tad vaḥ pratiyātu sādhunā. Sri Radha is both Deity and ideal of devotion, and it is her saintliness—sādhunā—as ideal of devotion that we are to emulate as it is manifest in Sri Caitanya. The more one follows Gaura Krsna—Krsna is his acarya-lila—the closer one comes to Radha.
Your comment here has been brought to my attention, and I must make sure you understand and that others reading your comment understand that the word sādhunā in this verse from the Rāsapañcādhyāyī (BhP 10.32.22) does not mean “sādhu” in the sense of “saint” or “sage”, nor does it indicate the feminine form of sādhu which is sādhvī. The word here is inflected in the instrumental case, meaning with “perfect (sādhu) actions.” I must say this, just in case there’s any confusion, the word sādhunā is NOT the feminine stem of sādhu.
Rādhā is indeed divine feminine, and the supreme divine feminine, as are her Gopikā companions. They are not sādhu OR sādhvī. I think I agree with you when you say being a woman or a man is not qualification in itself to become a Gopī. Neither does the editor of the aforementioned book nor do I in my Foreword to it. But you imply that one must be a male (sādhu) to become a Gopī, and you could leave a reader of your comment to believe that a woman cannot become a Gopī, which I don’t think you mean to say. One only has to be a human, regardless of gender, to enter into the depths of Krishna Bhakti process, obviously.
Sanatana Goswami takes the words sva-sadhu-krtyam in the second line of the verse to refer to the gopis “own saintly behavior.” Similarly he states that the word sadhuna in the last line can be taken to mean “by a saintly devotee,” implying that Krsna is suggesting that although he cannot reciprocate adequately, perhaps in the future some of his devotees will become followers of the gopis and serve them faithfully.Thus Krsna cannot repay the gopis saintly behavior and if he is to attempt to do so it will be by appearing as a saint and teaching others to follow their example of saintliness. And the overwhelming fact is that the teaching is that to become a gopi or a gopa one must become a sadhu, not a male but a saint. There is no getting around that.
Well, Swamiji, I have to say I’m glad I’m in a male body so that there is some hope for me to become a sādhu, as you insist is the case. I just feel sorry for our guru sisters and Vaishnavī devotees who will have to take birth as a male, thus delaying their ascent. (I am being funny here, of course.) And if this isn’t gender preference, limiting bhakti ultimately to males, then I don’t know what is! So you can’t mean this, right? Bhakti as we well know has no limits except the ones we place on it.
On the issue of the word sādhunā, it is in a neuter or masculine gender appositively modifying the Gopīs’ “Actions,” and NOT them! To modify them with the word sādhu, then the word would need to be inflected in the feminine. In short, they are NOT sādhus.
BTW, nice to be in touch here, albeit in this awkward cyberspace context.
Not funny and obviously not what I am saying. Both women and men can and need to become saintly to experience gopi-bhava—to transcend their gender identities. And a person is his or her actions. The gopis are indeed saintly and it is to their saintliness that Krsna acknowledges his indebtedness in this verse. The follow-through of this verse is that Krsna becomes a saint as Mahaprabhu. Doing so in an attempt to repay the gopis, he tries to become a gopi—to taste Radha-bhava—by engaging in the saintly pursuit of uttama bhakti.
There is an obvious connection between the second and fourth lines of the verse. In the second line the gopis’ saintliness is stated and how it is beyond compensation. And in the fourth line it is explained that if there is to be any compensation for it, this saintliness itself is that compensation.Thus Krsna becomes a saint as Mahaprabhu and shows the way to become a gopi, heralding the glory of the gopis love.
I’m reminded here of Ramachandra Puri, whose example teaches us that we will find fault in the faultless when envy colors our perceptions. Similarly, we can interpret written statements any number of ways to suit our purposes. By the outcome of our interpretations we can understand whom they serve.
“I’m glad I’m in a male body so that there is some hope for me to become a sādhu, as you insist is the case.”
Nowhere in his comments, nor in his teaching nor living example, does Swami say that one must be male to become a sadhu. Rather, echoing Caitanya Mahaprabhu, he says that one must become a sadhu to become a gopi or gopa. If women cannot attain the ideal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, why bother teaching them? As Swami offers both diksa and siksa to female disciples, it seems appropriate to assume he sees them as capable of attaining our goal.
I’m confused what the basis of the dispute is in these comments. Could you please explain why some comments here are saying Srimati Radharani isn’t a saint or sadhu?
Is this just a disagreement over the meaning of the word sadhu? That somehow the word sadhu only refers to males? Surely no one is arguing women can’t become sadhu’s, or gurus, or saints, or sannyasis?
My understanding of the word sadhu is someone who has renounced everything in pursuit of moksha.
The Bhagavatam verse (10.32.22) seems to me obviously referring to the gopis service, their renouncing everything in pursuit of serving Krishna. It is this depth of surrender Krishna claims he is unable to repay.
So how could we possibly think the gopis shouldn’t be considered sadhu? They are the personification of the perfection of that renunciation in pursuit of moksha (as understood by Gaudiya Vaishnavas).
I can’t understand how material gender has any relevance.
Precisely. While it is true that the feminine of “sadhu” is “sadhvi,” it is not true that Radha/Gadadhara Pandita is not saintly. The verse speaks about the saintly qualities and actions of the gopis. And again, a person is known by his or her guna and karma—qualities and actions. It is absurd to claim that the gopis are not saintly. Rupa Goswami is a saint and he is a gopi.
Is it possible to blur the lines between feminism and Gaudiya Vaisnavism?
Furthermore you say,
I find this statement misrepresentative of the article and the author’s subsequent comments.
Maharaja, the reviewer accused the contributors of the anthology of hiding behind “Vaisnavi” to promote feminism. My response was, the author is using her femaleness to slam other women, thinking “well I’m a woman, I can say this to them, a man couldn’t,” and accusing them of apsiddhantic content, wobbly theolgical concepts, and so on. She seems to hold herself in some regard as a serious student and studier of the philosophy. She may well be. But it’s unfortunate that her depth of love and maturity in bhakti haven’t caught up with her intellectual capacity.
Worse, she accuses the contributors/editors of feeling “marginalized” and expressing their resentment through poetry. Personally, I am livid that this reviewer has leapt to such a faulty, all-encompassing conclusion, and reveals more of her immaturity and lack of realisation and intelligence: spiritual intelligence. I most certainly do not and never have felt marginalised by anything or anyone, anywhere, at any time. Someone might teach this girl to choose her weapons of attack far, far more discreetly and cautiously…and even more importantly, correctly. Because she is very, very wrong, and her words are an insult to those who are far above her gender-obssessed rantings.
What is the point of such brutality? To be honest I find some of the content of a standard that shouldn’t even be printed! I’ve told Krishna Kanta that, and we have discussed it at length, and the conclusion is, that’s my intellect and qualification as a writer speaking–and it’s superficial, it’s not the point. It might be correct, but it’s not the whole. I’m a hard taskmaster when it comes to what is considered poetry; but that’s personal. It’s my own mood. I would question what some contributors even consider poetry to be, and we’d have an eternal argument 🙂 I find some of the content cliched, with words and phrases that show no real independent thought or originality, used repeatedly. But I am aware that to think that, and worse, to say it, is unfair and uselessly critical–and I do so here only to make a point: so what if it is? What is the benefit in speaking it? So what if, by the obstacle of the English language (which is often not their first language) some contributors rely on cliched expressions? So what’s my point in saying this?
The point is they’ve done it: it is brave, original, it rolls from the very basics of understanding and realisation and reaches sometimes into deep, pure places in authors. It’s a mix. But Krishna Kanta did it, she achieved it, she pulled it together, and no, it’s not perfect, but what book is? Are yours? Sivarama Swami says his aren’t. Mine aren’t. I’m sure Garuda will say his aren’t.
So to attack the content because it is written by a person who may not have realised yet what is available on a higher realm of either material or spiritual qualification is, I’m sorry to say, pretty much throwing someone under the bus of one’s own so-called superior “realisations” and conclusions. The book is an anthology: a collective. It’s that simple. And yes, in that collective there are some raging feminists: no doubt. And in their messy, noisy process of clearing their paths to higher thinking, yes, they’ll misuse and misinterpret and misunderstand a whole lot.
But do you think that perhaps there could be some appreciation for the fact that it was even done? Do you think that yes, it shows a portion of what Gaudiya Vaisnava women were like in the year 2017? Do you think that anyone who writes and is published should be perfect in realisation? Prabhupada didn’t. He said everyone should write their realisations: that’s a direct quote. So these women are writing their realisations. Yes, when something is public it’s open to comment. But like I’ve already written: those whose purity and bhakti is on a far, far lower level than their intellect will always only ever produce a comment that is lacking in so many ways, that is unsupportive of women, as a collective, and which exposes their own lackings.
As for “supporting women as a collective,” will you accuse me of feminism because I appreciate such efforts? The gopis do it. No one goes to Mother Yasoda and complains that Lalita devi is a feminist because she makes plans to insult, embarrass, and humiliate Krishna. No one accuses Srimati Radharani of feminism because her female friends rally around her when she criticises and rejects Krishna and accuses him of misdeeds. They are a group, a support group, a collective. They are our examples, our worshipable deities, our goal in life, our love, our all. Women should be there for and with each other. It’s how it’s meant to be. That their discussions might not all be of the most pristine levels of bhakti and philosophy is to be expected: they’re a collective, all of them at different levels. One who criticises that is, I’m afraid, far more unfortunate than the target of their words of self-assumed superiority and understanding…
This reviewer could easily have done something a whole lot different from what she’s done, but indeed, in her infant-like rush to be superior, she has failed to appreciate that this is a first of its kind in the history of Gaudiya Vaishnava works. It’s not a collection of poetry from the 12 Alvars (since only one of them was a woman!). It’s not an anthology compiled by personalities like Jahnava Mata and Sita Devi and Queen Kunti. No. It’s just us, Maharaja: us women of the Gaudiya line in 2017. And in that sense, it’s &^%$#* brilliant.
Maybe next time, this reviewer might be nicer if she had been asked to contribute….
I agree, but unfortunately that is not what the foreword leads one to believe. It sets one up to think that the book is comparable to much earlier literary contributions from very spiritually advanced male devotees. At least that is how it spoke to my ears and heart. Please note that I did not read or even see the book before the review came out.
Otherwise your criticisms of the review consistently wax into attacking the character, motive, perceived age, intelligence and so on of the author. So I try to ignore that.
The book is what you say it is in your words I have cited above, and I appreciate it very much in that light. At least one of my students contributed to it and I hope other Vaisnavis will gain inspiration from it, at least enough to understand that their voice is important.
Some of the words I’m reading in the above comments appear to me to be limiting the amazing and infinite reach of the “divine feminine.” I have written a decent amount on the divine feminine in several books and in various journal and encyclopedia articles, but let me just suggest to readers here that I believe it is my Foreword to which all of this discussion is ultimately directed. Whether I’m correct on this or not, I’d like to point out a simple example of how the feminine of this world is indeed connected to the divine feminine:
kīrtiḥ śrīr vāk ca nārīṇāṁ
smṛtir medhā dhṛtiḥ kṣamā
Of the feminine attributes
[and their presiding goddesses],
I am fame, beauty, speech,
constancy, and forbearance. (Bhagavad Gītā 10.34cd)
The phrase “feminine attributes” translates the word “women” with the genitive plural inflection, nārīṇām, meaning literally “of women.” Commentators are quick to point out that this verse is speaking of BOTH the feminine attributes of women in THIS world as well as their presiding goddesses who embody and personify each of these seven characteristics. So it would not be incorrect to see the supreme Goddess and her influence throughout this world in various ways, what to speak of the divine world–including gender. They are not completely and utterly distinct, separate, and utterly unrelated realms, as Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gītā clearly expresses in all his famous “I am” declarative statements, which affirm the amazing relationship between this world and the divine world. Sahajīyās take this too far, by identifying this world too much with the divine, and mokṣavādis go to the contrary extreme of saying that this world has absolutely nothing to do with the divine. Krishna Bhakti theology strikes this perfect balance between this world and the divine world and the relationship between them.
I find it quite disheartening to see “women” in the Vaihnsava lineage blaming other women for using Krishna Bhakti theology for some worldly gain or attention. I don’t see this happening at all in this volume. Please don’t be distracted by the fleeting politically correct and popular conceptions of the day that color your view of gender and its beautifully metonymic (the continuity of aspects of this world into the divine world) role in the extraordinary theology of Krishna Bhakti. Thus, a full theology of Krishna Bhakti takes into account the many layers of appreciation and interpretation of the sacred vision (including gender depictions) of Krishna as the divine masculine, as Rādhā as the divine feminine, and Mahāprabhu Gaurāṅga as the embodiment of the love between them (nevertheless in a masculine form shifting between masculine and feminine bhāvas, especially the mahābhāva of Rādhā). Why criticize the framing of this book which is INSPIRED by the gathering of loving Vraja Gopikās to celebrate and contemplate the divine? If such a beautiful image can inspire and precipitate the formation of this volume, bringing the voices of Vaishnavīs of this world together, why criticize this? And should African Vaishnavas draw some inspiration or encouragement from Krishna’s dark complexion in Krishna Bhakti sevā (which the proper understanding how Krishna’s black/dark complexion is a metonymic of dark complexions down here!), then why discourage this? After all, all divine imagery is to inspire us to engage in sevā to Krishna.
I have so much more I could say about this, but instead, I invite anyone to speak to me directly by telephone, as I find writing here on the web rather tedious and laborious. Please email me if you wish for further connecting at email@example.com.
Constructive criticism is useful. And if in the name of serving Krsna one promotes a racial or gender identification, that can indeed be problematic, when half of the spiritual equation involves deconstructing that identification.
“I find it quite disheartening to see ‘women’ in the Vaihnsava lineage blaming other women for using Krishna Bhakti theology for some worldly gain or attention.”
So do I, Garudaji. So do I. And it is this ugly mood of throwing other women under the bus that is far, far more damaging than what the reviewer is concerned about; it’s also been around longer, it’s more far reaching, and it brings with it its own baggage. It’s usually done by those who are “guru groupies,” whose lives are only about the guru, who are single, who perceive themselves to be some kind of female renunciate extraordinaire. It is true that austerity is the wealth of a brahmana, but for a woman, it will harden her heart.
I’m sorry to say that I see a hard heart underneath this reviewers mood, intent, words. It’s disappointing that after all these years, no one is teaching women in Gaudiya Vaisnavism how to actually support, teach, and help one another.
More than anything else, this entire article is heartbreaking…my heart actually sank as I read it, and I thought, “Are they learning nothing? Is this just going to keep going on?” The answer is, unfortunately, yes: “it” will always go on when “its” source is the ego, mind, or intellect.
And whether anyone wants to hear it or not, the relationships of all the women involved in this book–despite their faults–will last longer, develop more, mature more, acquire higher levels of realisation, and deepen in purity far more than anyone tripping around the universe spewing their superior intellect around the place. That much is guaranteed.
Unfortunately this is a gross misrepresentation/misunderstanding of what the review is about. The review finds merit in the book but also addresses the slippery slope or line between feminism (a valid social concern) and ego effacing Gaudiya Vedanta. Pujyapada Sridhara Deva Goswami’s words have been cited earlier in the author’s own comments. Let me cite them again, as I believe they speak to the heart of the concern raised in the review.
“It will be difficult for women because a similar, perverted thing will try to occupy the position of the genuine. It is a more dangerous position. Apparently it may seem that it will be easy because those that lack privilege receive more grace. But we should be cautious in our analysis not to mistake the womanly nature of the mundane world for the womanhood of the spiritual domain”
“Please don’t be distracted by the fleeting politically correct and popular conceptions of the day that color your view of gender and its beautifully metonymic (the continuity of aspects of this world into the divine world) role in the extraordinary theology of Krishna Bhakti.”
I believe that the author is explaining that the divine aspects of this world are not moving, as you suggest, from this world into the divine, but rather the other way around. And if we are living with both feet in this world, as most sadhakas are, it will be difficult to speak feelingly about this movement without making this error. It’s quite different for a devotee who has both feet there to explain to us how qualities of that world (the world of prema) are reflected here. That explanation isn’t meant to solidify our bhava of love for this world, but to inspire us to pursue the bhava of the world in which the devotee is living.
And let allow me to add the obvious, that when the gopis appear in this world, they appear as saints in sadhaka dehas, male or female.
Sorry, but that does not justify the statement made by the reviewer that “Srimati Radharani and all those with whom she associates are neither male nor female; rather, they are sadhus—saints…” She is not. She is the Supreme Feminine, purely female, absolutely and totally.
There seems to be more than disagreement here on a superficial level, but a deeply troubling misunderstanding of exactly what Krishna’s “internal pleasure potency” really is, what its characteristics are, and what is its nature, purpose, mood, form, and so on. It is not a discussion of gender, but Srimati Radharani is, in every way, absolutely and 1000% female.
Yes, I agree. There seems to be a troubling misunderstanding of exactly what Krsna’s svarupa-sakti is. I suggest that a closer look at Jiva Goswami’s Bhagavata-sandarbha will clear the misunderstanding up.
As I see it plainly, the editor is no more promoting gender identifications than āshramas which offer separate living facilities for women and men do! The original critique of the book states that it would have been more philosophically correct or serve our philosophy better if it had included the words of men. I believe there is already too much promotion of the male voice in Vaishnava circles, particularly in the modern period, as in earlier times, we have the glorious example of Gaṅgāmātā Gosvāminī, as well as several others in our dīkṣā lineage, as you well know. (Please not the feminine of Gosvāmin in her name, which does distinguish her gender from those male ācāryas).
As a PS to my earlier protracted comment, Prabhupāda states in a purport in the fourth canto of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa that married couples should be just like little Lakṣmī Nārāyanas. Again, here we have our own Guru connecting the divine with the worldly.
Actually the dominant voice is that of the gopis in their sadhaka dehas.
It’s pretty clear to me that Garuda was referring to devotees in Gaudiya Vaisnava groups, temples, communities around the world: we are dominated by the male voice. Men are gurus, men are the predominant managers, surely that’s clear enough. But the reviewer writes “it would have been more philosophically correct or serve our philosophy better if it had included the words of men.” Has she reviewed any articles written by men and said “it would have been more philosophically correct or serve our philosophy better if it had included the words of women.”? No? I didn’t think so…
I repeat: throwing women under the bus. Minimising their efforts. Criticising. See how it shows itself? She wants a book by women to include men.
And thus she has clearly, glaringly, missed the entire point. Her gender obsession is the issue I’m seeing: not the contributors.
Here is what the author actually wrote:
“If we are to allow the feminine to speak with her full voice, then we must allow every voice she inhabits to speak. This includes men who know her to be an intrinsic part of their human experience. Though Bhakti Blossoms was conceptualized as an anthology of poetry written by Vaishnavis, perhaps it could have offered a more complete presentation of bhakti through the lens of the feminine by including poems written by male practitioners in feminine consciousness.
” perhaps it could have offered a more complete presentation of bhakti through the lens of the feminine by including poems written by male practitioners in feminine consciousness.”
What would that look like? A male sadhak claiming to be in gopi bhav? Or does she mean a transgender sadhak?
Perhaps you’ll all excuse me at this point: anything further will lead to argument that can be healthy in small doses, but beyond this its just words. In person, it’s different…there’s appreciation for the person, body language, facial expressions, the sense of another’s energy. It works better.
Discussion and exchange is good, but when it gets to the stage of defensiveness, it’s over. I want to bow out before it does 🙂
Kanistha perspective: Radha is a woman
Madhyama perspective: Radha is a saint
Uttama perspective: Radha is a woman
First, the madhyama perspective was erased. Then on top of that, the lines between the kanistha and uttama perspective became very blurred, even though they are worlds apart.
In my experience as his disciple, Swami Tripurari repeatedly emphasizes in his lectures, articles, and books, the necessity for spiritual practitioners to be essence seekers – saragrahi vaisnavis and vaisnavas. That if one is spiritually advanced, man or woman, they should be given all facility to take sanyasa, become a guru, and make a literary contribution to the Gaudiya world. That if you had the chance to hear Krsna Katha from an Uttama Bhagavata, and decided against it because of some material designation – male or female, black or white, this institution or that, scholar or illiterate – then you are the loser. Indeed, Krsna Das Kaviraja goes as far as to say that if you had the chance to take up Krsna Consciousness, but passed on it, you would be better off dead.
But Swami Tripurari has always argued for the equal standing of Vaisnavis and Vaisnavas based on proper tattva. He is very fond of quoting this verse:
kibā vipra, kibā nyāsī, śūdra kene naya
yei kṛṣṇa-tattva-vettā, sei ‘guru’ haya
“Whether one is a brahmana, sanyasi, or Sudra, if they know the tattva about Krsna (and Radha), then they are my guru.”
(Cc, madhya, 8.128)
Understanding the spirit of this verse, Swami extends Mahaprabhu’s words to apply to women.
I feel I need to make another comment here because I feel Ananda-mayi the author of the review is being overly criticized. There was no malice or some ulterior motive on anyone’s part here at the Harmonist. The fact of the matter is that Krsna Kanta dasi, the publisher, approached me in a friendly manner inquiring if someone from the Harmonist might review the book. My initial response since we are but a few running the publication was to ask if she had a review ready that we could publish. She did not have one specifically for the Harmonist and asked if we had someone who could review it. I did have someone in mind but expressed to KK that Ananda was very busy with seva at the asrama where she lives. However, when I contacted Ananda, she was very obliging and replied that if there wasn’t a fixed timeline she would be honored to do it. I had a number of exchanges with Krsna Kanta as Ananda was very thoughtful in taking on the task and wanted some feedback and suggestions for possible angles for the review. In turn, Krsna Kanta was very cordial and accommodating and appreciative. Ananda was mailed a copy of the book. Some time after, Ananda submitted her review and we published it.
I felt impelled to state clearly the circumstances prior to publication because there seems to be some skewed perception of the intentions of the review. Words like misogyny, bashing, slamming, etc, have been hurled at the reviewer and appears to be an extreme reaction to what was written by a reviewer with the intention to offer an objective review.
The negative comments have been from personal contributors and/or those invested in the project personally who are not happy with the review. Disagreement is fine, but name calling and accusations are not. The reviewer has written very polite and reasonable responses to critical comments in an attempt to explain her position.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the anthology being expressed here in simple terms, is having a male scholar validate and express the premise of an anthology of poetry by Vaishnavis. Krsna Kanta mentioned to me this was not an academic publication and that literary proficiency was overlooked and amateur poets were encouraged to contribute in an effort to give Vaisnavis a much needed voice. One such contributor is actually a dear friend and god sister of the reviewer. The endeavor to provide such a platform is a noble one, one that the reviewer herself has applauded. She did however take exception to some of the points raised in the foreword and thus provided an explanation in her review.
Any book submitted to be reviewed for our publication is treated as objectively as possible as we do our best to provide thoughtful and constructive commentary. We subsequently also post any submitted comments to promote discourse and the opportunity for healthy debate.
I truly hope any further discussion on the topic will be free of personal accusations and thus promote constructive debate and understanding.
“I hope, though, that this comfort doesn’t come at the cost of alienating men who identify with feminine consciousness. If we are to allow the feminine to speak with her full voice, then we must allow every voice she inhabits to speak. This includes men who know her to be an intrinsic part of their human experience. Though Bhakti Blossoms was conceptualized as an anthology of poetry written by Vaishnavis, perhaps it could have offered a more complete presentation of bhakti through the lens of the feminine by including poems written by male practitioners in feminine consciousness”
Ananda-mayi, are you referring here to transwomen? That would be male transgendered sadhaks? That would be great but there are very few and we are marginalized and our poems would draw major criticism. If you are instead referring to male sadhaks identifying internally as gopis and writing poems about it, that would draw major criticism too.