The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The Book n the Bookseller

Only occasionally I venture into spiritual area, the reason being my fear of stalwarts. Yes, spiritual stalwarts are nothing less than freestyle wrestlers. They know how to articulate their ideas even though such ideas are half formed and remotely connected to the layer of conviction. Like wrestlers they continue till the other side gets exhausted, not necessarily convinced. So, should it be called a trick of brainwashing?

A fortnight ago I had an occasion to meet a spiritual fellow, selling religious books on the beach of Pondicherry. I was in a mood to buy something from him and through it to open a conversation. There is nothing wrong in my view to talk to somebody stranger if one wants to assay one’s ideas through an independence source. I just browsed the books from his display. They were all beautifully bound, nicely typeset. The paper used for printing was not as dirty as the one chosen by the publishers of pulp fictions; they were respectably qualitative. Then it was the turn of the book-seller to recommend me a book. I actually bought the book recommended by him, one that was entitled, “Perfect Questions Perfect Answers: Conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and Bob Cohen, a Peace Corps worker in India” ISBN 0-89213-128-4. It was published in 1983 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Mumbai. And then I read it; it took me a week’s time to complete reading. Even I have started rereading. As I found the text is nothing if not lucid. Having read it wholly and understood to an extent, I thought I should scribble what I felt about the book.

My impression is twofold: interesting and off-putting. Let me start from the things where I feel there is much scope of rethinking of what I read and remembered. To a question of Bob Cohen whether rascals should pray Krishna or not, His Divine Grace Bhativedant says yes and goes on to say that even Krishna was a rascal who used to trouble Radharani accosting her on the road.  I was quite uncomfortable to read that, wondering all the way how such a world-renowned spiritual master could manage to say it. Then very soon thereafter he says: Rascaldom is not good, but when it is practised by Krishna that rascaldom is good because He is absolutely good. This, one has to understand. Well, I don’t think I got convinced.

Bob Cohen is a science teacher. According to His Divine Grace science teaching is, in fact, cheating. This is so because the teachers know only limited things and so anybody knowing limited things should not teach. If water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen then who gave those two gases? It is only Krishna. So teachers should teach that much in the science class. Prabhupada goes on to say: Because I take the version of the greatest scientist, I am the greatest scientist. I may be a fool personally, but because I take knowledge from the greatest scientist, I am the greatest scientist.

There are quite a few places I felt I should not read the book because it appeared so very off-putting. Yet I lingered on. Slowly I found some answers were interesting. An example of this can be his explanation of the oft-quoted sloka of Brihadaranyak Upanishad, Purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate. [पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते] A man begets children unlimitedly, but the man is still there. Of course, Prabhupada qualifies his example terming it a crude one. While reading this I was reminded of the computer example of copying and pasting while keeping the original file intact, say cntrl+c, cntrl+v! So, should we say the computer application fellows read this sloka and emulated it? There was another place he gave a witty example. When one takes marijuana and justifies it saying that he is taking it because lord Shiva takes it, he should be asked as to why he is not taking the poison like Lord Shiva did to save the world. This is called the limit of comparison as a means to explain issues. It is a different matter that the spiritual people themselves resort to comparison day in and day out to get an upper hand in arguments.

There is an interesting question that Bob Cohen asked His Divine Grace Prabhupada. It was about the latter’s susceptibility to disease and suffering. To put it in the words of Bob: I ask you very humbly, but do you feel diseases and sickness? To this Prabhupada replies that it is so because even after getting rid of karmic influence, some reactions sticks to a devotee just like a fan veers on even after it is switched off. And he goes on to say, he is not the best devotee because he is preaching and so he is not free from karmic influence. According to him, the best devotee does not preach but devotes himself twenty-four hours in Krishna consciousness. Obviously, the reply is weaker than the question and probably Prabhupada’s assistant one Shyamasundara gets a scent of it. So, very cleverly he puts words into the mouth of His Divine Grace Prabhupada: Once you said that sometimes you feel sickness or pain due to the sinful activities of your devotees. Can disease sometimes be due to that? And then Prabhupada gets back his wit. He goes on comparing with Krishna how he told Arjun: aham tvam sarbapapebhyo mokshyisyami ma suchah. [अहं त्वां सर्व पापेव्यो मोक्षयिस्हमी मा सुचः] It means I will deliver you from all sinful reactions. And then he says it was also his duty to save his devotees from sinful reactions. He is not Krishna so he is sure to suffer in the process of delivering his devotees of their sinful reactions.

While expanding the idea put into his mouth by his assistant Shyamsundara, Prabhupada cites one nice example: Big fire small fire. If you put some big thing in small fire, the fire itself may be extinguished. But in a big fire, whatever you put in it is all right. The big fire can consume anything. Quite clever of the duo: Prabhupada and Shyamasundara, isn’t it?

There was one more occasion I was amused to see through the argument articulated by Prabhupada. According to him everything in this material world belongs to Krishna because he is the supreme proprietor. He is the supreme enjoyer too. But the rich people who possess the wealth do not admit that and in the process commit sin of theft. So they are to be delivered from their sins by somehow prevailing on them and taking a part of their wealth. It is justified, in that the wealth so taken from them is utilized for Krishna consciousness or in other words the wealth is restored to its rightful owner Krishna who is the supreme proprietor! While reading this I was reminded of the famous statement of Proudhon, the French anarchist philosopher: Property is theft. Just to explain its inherent dilemma, if all properties are theft, how did the very first item of property originate? Was there some property even before the first property so that the first property could come into existence as a result of theft of the same property even before the first property existed.........?  

One good thing I found while going through the book is that Prabhupada does not stoop to a level where he has to be a bigot to prove his point. He even praises Jesus saying that he took upon himself the sins of the world and endured the pains of crucification. But at the same times says that it would be wrong to reduce this relationship to a level in which men would be doing sins all the while and Jesus stepping in to liberate them by suffering himself. This is a very reasonable approach to belief. Prabhupada is not seen to be lacking in tolerance in this book.

And what about the bookseller? As my wife elicited from him, the fellow was working in a shipping company and earning sumptuously before taking to the spiritual course. He was educated up to some plus-two level and once he had to leave his study and home because his parents used to fight incessantly because of poverty in the household. He is a Brahmin by caste and has only recently joined the group. He has not achieved anything spiritually so far, but trying hard in that line. That is quite an honest admission on his part, but I guess he has escaped the worldly things because the family started expecting too much from him which he could not fulfill. In any case it is escapism. Sanyas dharma is in a way escapism. Otherwise, the bubbling young soul in the bookseller is just an eligible bachelor! Seeing him one has to wonder if actually fate determines everything!
A N Nanda

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Blogger NS said...

Dear sir ,
“Sanyas dharma is in a way escapism.” You have rightly said .Even sadhus and sanyasins are pleading for same escaping from the worldly life. Fate determines every thing appears to be true finally. I read a news that in an road accident all members of a family died but a small baby escaped even without any wound. I cannot understand the mystery behind this. Is the child lucky or unlucky?. We can term it only in the name of fate.

The books of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada need heavy patience to its readers and a layman like me cannot understand the theories. But I understood from the post “The Book n the Bookseller” that a weak case may win with strong arguments.
Thank you sir for such stuffy post
------------ NS Tirupur

7:09 AM  
Blogger A_N_Nanda said...

Thank you NS for trying to make some sense out of the post. You've raised a question: whether the survivor is lucky or not? A spiritualist would explain it saying that it is God's wish, for it is God's wish that prevails ultimately. I would explain it saying that a life is always better than death. I would have termed it misfortune had the child been dead and the surviving parents were left to grieve on.

As to Prabhupada's book, I was just trying to read between the lines. This much I could.

10:32 AM  

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