Wanting The Other To Be

CatAndDogI was particularly impressed by Jivamukti Yoga co-founder Sharon Gannon’s recent Focus of the Month essay, Bhakti Trumps All, in which she made a point of saying that animal rights activism, Jivamukti’s de-facto calling card, is subordinate to devotion to God. She unequivocally states that veganism, environmentalism, and other forms of social activism are not ends unto themselves but, from the standpoint of yoga, are meant to be an expression of something higher, namely, the desire to act in a way that’s pleasing to Krishna.

A topic beyond the scope of Sharon’s essay was the subtle but significant distinction between the concept of God and the concept of Krishna. As my friend and teacher, Dhanurdhara Swami, puts it, “The concept of Krishna is when God is fully revealed in love. Sometimes we say Krishna is God being himself, when God is relaxed.”

This immediately implies that God is a person; people relax whereas places and things do not. The concept of Krishna is also synonymous with the concept of the Absolute Truth. But the phrase “Absolute Truth” doesn’t conjure up the idea of a person as readily as a name. Yet, the Absolute Truth is understood in the bhakti tradition to indicate Krishna, the all-inclusive Supreme Person.

During an online discussion about the Jivamukti FOM, a colleague asked me why the Absolute Truth had to be personified. Since deference to scripture is one of the tenets of Jivamukti Yoga, I offered an explanation based on Vedic yoga wisdom texts, which I re-present here:

By definition, the Absolute Truth is perfect and complete. All emanations from the Absolute Truth – such as us, our bodies, the earth, the universe – have this same attribute of self-contained completeness and yet remain parts of the sum total of reality. (Isopanisad, invocation). The Complete Whole or Absolute Reality must contain everything both within and beyond our experience. Therefore, the quality of person-ness must also be present in the Absolute Reality. Without it, the Absolute would be incomplete.

The Absolute Truth is trans-rational but not illogical: you cannot give what you do not have. Everything emanates from the Absolute Truth (Bhagavad Gita 10.8). “Everything” includes us. And we are purusa –s; conscious persons as opposed to prakrti; matter (sankhya philosophy and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). Therefore we derive our person-ness from the person-ness of the Absolute Truth. Or, to put it another way, our own experience of being a person demonstrates that our source must also be a person. Otherwise we cannot account for our own experience of being a person.

Patanjali explicitly indicates that Isvara, the Lord, is purusa-visesa: a categorically different kind of person from all other persons (Patanjali uses the term ‘Isvara’ in the orthodox sense of meaning the Supreme Being). And he assigns qualities to Isvara (YSP I.24-29). Qualities, such as the quality of being the ultimate shelter for all other beings (sri krsna saranam braja; also Bhagavad Gita 18.66 and Katha Upanishad 2.2.13) are symptomatic of person-ness.

The personal feature of the Absolute Reality is sac-cit-ānanda-vigraha (Brahma Samhita. 5.1). The Absolute Truth has three features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan (Bhagavat Purana 1.2.11). Realization of the impersonal Brahman feature of the Absolute Truth is realization of the sat feature, or the aspect of eternality. Realization of the localized Paramātmā feature is realization of the sat and cit features, the aspects of eternity and knowledge. But realization of the personal feature, Bhagavan, is realization of all the transcendental features—sat, cit and ānanda, bliss. Vigraha means “form”, as in arca-vigraha (the deity form worshiped on an altar). Thus the Complete Whole has a formless feature, a localized feature, and a transcendental form.

Why is the personal feature that includes a form, qualities, names, activities, and relationships the highest realization of the Absolute Truth? Because “God is fully revealed in love” and the personal feature makes love possible. Bhakti requires three elements: the lover, the beloved, and love itself. We often hear that we should become love itself. But love for who? Love is a shared experience; without a lover and a beloved, love has no meaning or substance. In order for love to be real the lover and the beloved must be eternal because eternality is the indication of reality (Bhagavad Gita 2.16).

Therefore the orthodox schools of Bhakti Yoga reject the impersonal conception of aparabhakti and parabhakti (just as they reject the idea of lower and higher Brahman) in favor of sadhana bhakti – the practice of devotion to God according to regulative principles – leading to raganuga bhakti – spontaneous love of God in the form that facilitates the most intimate relationship of love.

In a relationship of transcendental love there is oneness in quality – both the individual soul and the Absolute Truth are spiritual in nature – and a oneness of purpose – to share the experience of love – but there is a quantitative difference between the individual purusa who is part of the Absolute Truth and the complete Absolute Truth himself (Bhagavad Gita verses 2.12- 2.30 describe the attributes of the individual jiva or pusura and Krishna establishes his unique identity as Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in numerous other verses, beginning with 4.5-9).

Love is only possible with a person. Therefore one who follows the path of bhakti is engaged in a relationship of love with a person who is other than one’s self. As Saint Augustine put it, “Love means wanting the other to be.”

One Comment

  1. Posted March 23, 2014 at 9:15 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Reblogged this on And Now … YOGA and commented:
    Love is only possible with a person. Therefore one who follows the path of bhakti is engaged in a relationship of love with a person who is other than one’s self. As Saint Augustine put it, “Love means wanting the other to be.”

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