The Expert Tightrope Dancer – 2012 Vyasapuja Offering to Srila Prabhupada
Dear Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept my humble obeisances at your lotus feet on the sacred occasion of your 116th Vyasa-puja. All glories to your divine self.
Every passing year is deepening my appreciation of your glories. This year found me contemplating on how your books manifest, as you put it, “your devotional ecstasies.”
Over the last few years, I have had the service as an editor of studying the books of our previous acharyas, especially Vishvantha Chakravarti Thakura and Baladeva Vidyabhushana. This study has benefitted me in many ways, and I will share for your pleasure the two most prominent benefits.
- The glory of our tradition: As I relish the disarmingly sweet and deep devotional revelations of Vishvantha Chakravarti Thakura in his Sarartha Darshini and the phenomenal Upanishadic erudition and penetrating polemics of Baladeva Vidyabhushana in his Govinda Bhashya, I feel so safely sheltered to be connected with spiritual giants of their caliber. You, Srila Prabhupada, have given me the extremely rare and precious fortune of linking with a time-honored succession of towering seers that extends all the way back to Krishna himself. Meditating on this fortune is thrilling and empowering.
- Your expert presentation of the tradition: Just as inspiring has been my enriched understanding of your expertise in presenting through your purports this glorious tradition to the whole world.
Most writing coaches and books urge the writer to always keep the audience in mind, and let that awareness shape and hone the writing accordingly. As I try to be a writer in your service and try to present Krishna’s message to my audience, I am profoundly stunned to think how you presented that same message with the whole world as your audience. And that you successfully addressed the whole world by simply speaking into your dictaphone in the early morning hours while the world slept is simply incredible.
Every writer who presents a tradition has to walk the tightrope between fidelity and sensitivity. If he bends on the side of fidelity too much, he risks falling into the chasm of irrelevance. His audience feels that his writings don’t add any value to their lives. Consequently, his books simply collect dust on library shelves.
If he bends on the side of sensitivity too much, he risks falling into the chasm of disconnection from the tradition. He is no longer properly representing his teachers. Consequently, his writings are devoid of the current of spiritual potency that Krishna sends through the tradition.
As I try to tread this tightrope in my writing, I am charmed to see how you not only carefully tread but expertly dance on that tightrope.
I will focus, for the sake of brevity, on only one aspect of your sensitivity: your integration of social commentary in your scriptural expositions. In our tradition you are the first acharya to give such a prominent place to social issues in scriptural commentaries. Your purports address a vast range of social concerns from karmically-penalizable practices like abortion to anti-devotional pseudo-scientific speculations like the theory of evolution. By thus integrating such issues that are not directly mentioned in the scriptures in your commentary on those very scriptures, you demonstrate your acute sensitivity. You know that your audience is burdened by misconceptions that are radically at variance from the original audience of the scriptures. Your purports demonstrate you vigorously at work unburdening them of those misconceptions. Your boldness in commenting on such issues can be seen by a quick comparison with, say, the writings of Vishvantha Chakravarti. He wrote his commentaries in Vrindavana at a time when he was also inspiring a recovery of that holy place from the fanatical iconoclasm and devastating vandalism of Muslim invaders like Aurangzeb. Yet he doesn’t mention one word about this destruction in his writings, although obviously it must have been weighing on his mind. He knew his audience – seekers who accept the basic principles of Vedic culture – and he wrote for them.
You received from your spiritual master a Bhakti Universalist vision. Your devotional ambitiousness was such that you saw people all over the world as potential devotees. Your ambition brought in its wake a formidable challenge: writing for an audience that was culturally, religiously and intellectually not entirely unfamiliar to basic Vedic principles. Naturally, out of your fathomless compassion, in your purports you went out of your way – way, way out of your way – to provide a Vedic perspective to your audience on issues that were occupying their minds. Your books have attracted and transformed thousands of people from all over the world. This undeniable fact is itself eloquent testimony to your expertise at sensitivity.
While exhibiting sensitivity, you don’t compromise on fidelity. Again, for the sake of brevity, I will focus on just one aspect of your fidelity: your persistent and insistent instructions on abhidheya, the process by which we develop our devotional connection with Krishna. Thanks to your emphasis on realistic abhidheya, you rarely go into rhapsodies about esoteric devotional sentiments. Instead, you painstakingly pinpoint all the obstacles that will keep us from getting to those sentiments: our sense gratificatory desires, our impersonalist notions, our sahajiyaic tendencies. Some devotees complain that there is not much esoteric Gaudiya rasa-tattva in your purports; they feel that devotional ecstasy is largely missing amidst the pages and pages of your extensive purports. What they don’t understand is what you perfectly understood: authentic devotional ecstasy comes not from those activities that give us ecstasy, but from those activities that give ecstasy to Krishna, who then blesses us with that ecstasy multiplied manifold.
Through your pages and pages of extensive purports, you ensure that we sadhakas make real – not ethereal – progress. If we don’t uproot the misconceptions that block our way to Krishna, our claims of advancement will be mostly phantasmagoric. Such hallucinatory advancement will never give any ecstasy to Krishna. Consequently, the ecstasy that we claim to have will quickly run out. And soon we will be run down by the forces of illusion.
Through your purports you are enabling us to make substantial – not sentimental – advancement. To the extent we approach those purports with the desire to purify our hearts, to that extent we will find them pointing out and purging out the impurities in our heart. And as we become pure, Krishna will reveal the jewels of exalted devotional insights that are present in your purports, but were concealed from our vision due to our non-devotional misconceptions.
On this day, I offer you my heartfelt gratitude for having so expertly – faithfully and sensitively – presented the glorious Vedic tradition. I pray that my appreciation of your purports keeps increasing and that I steadily progress on the path of purification so that one day my heart becomes ready to receive the gift of krishna-prema that you so much want to give. Also, I earnestly and fervently seek your blessings so that I can walk the tightrope as I do my small part in sharing the message of Krishna that you gave to the world and to me.
Thank you, Srila Prabhupada.
Aspiring to be the servant of your servants,
Chaitanya Charan das