«PRAVRTTI AND NIVRTTI» | Talk with Sripad Bhakti Chaytanya Bharati Swami, Morning class on 26th of January 2019 at the Bhakti Yoga Institute of West London.
PRAVRTTI AND NIVRTTI
Sripad Bhakti Chaytanya Bharati Swami, January 26, 2019, London
LISTENER: Maharaj, could you explain these terms, these concepts – pravrtti and nivrtti – which are different practical procedures described in the Vedas. I’m not sure whether these things might mean different things or different concepts. Could you speak something on?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Oh, I’m not really an expert in this. Nivrtti means doing something, acting without using something, without using anything. Pravrtti means acting while using something. In the Vedas both are considered as appropriate. You may advance to your goal by rejecting what is not necessary on your way and you can advance to your goal by using what is appropriate, what is necessary for your goal. Both ways do not contradict each other. But, as we say, there’s a golden middle… right?
LISTENER: Golden mean.
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Oh yes, the golden mean. We call it the golden middle (in Russian culture). So, the golden means is to accept what you need and simultaneously reject what is not necessary because when you reject everything there’s a big chance you might reject what you need. Or, if you accept everything there’s a big chance that you overload yourself with unnecessary things. In both cases, you will slow down your movement. But when you reject the unnecessary and accept the necessary you make your journey easier, and this is the shortest way. In the Bhagavatam, pravrtti is explained like the path of satisfaction or the path of saturation, when you take more and more and more, and finally you understand that you don’t want anything else.
LISTENER: Like karma kanda?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Yes. You enjoy it and then understand that, after trying all these types of enjoyment, aggravation comes and you realize that it doesn’t bring you any happiness, and you easily reject it.
LISTENER: In a sense, we can say that bhakti is like a form of pravrtti…
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Yes, it’s like… we call it…
LISTENER: Yukta vairagya.
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Yes, yukta vairagya, a conscious approach to what you need and what you don’t need; a conscious approach to what you’re going to reject. Suppose the goal of your journey is some point A. Things depend on how long you go to walk/drive/get there. It depends on what you need. You know, when you go to a tourist shop they have varieties of back bags for a one-day travel, two days, three days, seven days, etc. Depending on how many days you go and where you go, to the mountains or the desert, whatever, the volume is different: for seven days you need a very big bag, 95 L volume; if it’s a twenty-five day walk it’s 22. Our affectionate guides, our gurus tell us, in a particular case: you are in such a position that your journey is going to be that long and you need to have this and this, and that. Like, when Rupa and Sanatana first wrote a letter to Mahaprabhu saying they were not attracted to anything in this world anymore and wanted to join Him right away, Mahaprabhu said: no, wait, you have to finish something, you cannot reject everything now, and when time comes I’ll inform you in a proper way. So, they needed some more time to be prepared to vairagya, some more things had to be arranged; they needed to wait until the Shah declared war to Maharaj of the southern country of Mahaparudra and collected his army, and so on; some more things were to be done. But in some cases Mahaprabhu said: walk away, go, you’re free now. For a particular journey we need to know what we really need for our journey and what we don’t. To drive a car you need to buy petrol. To walk far you need a bag pack. If you walk in a populated area you don’t need anything except your credit card, don’t need to carry things on you but if you walk in the forest or mountains you need to take some food, water, a sleeping bag, maybe, some more things… who knows, it depends on the area. In our situation, basically we’re more or less the same; we’re just in the beginning of our journey. Sriguru sometimes tells: go and stay in the temple, reject everything. According to our understanding of the current position he may say: take care of your family; the instruction might be to take care of the family, not leave your job. It depends, you know. So this is called yukta vairagya, neither pravrtti nor nivrtti — take the necessary and reject the unnecessary.
Does anyone want to be engaged in a fold fighting? Or challenge the teachings of the Vaishnava?
LISTENER: Can we realize our current position? How to realize it?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: You cannot do that yourself. It’s not possible. Like it’s not possible to draw yourself up, by your hair, out of the abyss; someone must help you. You might have a nice map but to use it you need to know your location. You might know where to go but you don’t know where you are. Only the one who can adjust the map with your current location can help you. If you read the book and do your research theoretically that means you’re just exploring the map and don’t look at the locality. So, there must be someone who can recognize your current position, who can see that the river is that line/curve on the map or that hill is relevant to that circle on the map signifying that hill, and then he can tell: here you are, in this position; and you have to move further there.
This is how we say what are your goal and your location on the map. Or, if you don’t take up studying Vaishnava Scriptures, you do all by yourself, looking at the surroundings, you see the river, the hill, etc., but you don’t know where to go. You need to coincide, harmonize the map and your practical skills. So, our sadhana, our practical skills are in the Vaishnava society; it’s our daily activities, it’s our position in actual locality. Vaishnava Scriptures show us the map and the goals. They tell us: the actual goal is prema bhakti, the Love, but you’re here, in the position of kama, or lust. And there’re also some signs on the way, like directions. If you’re moving towards the goal you see the road sign, like when you go from London to Gatwick there’re some towns and villages on the way, and looking at the sign you can understand whether you’re going in the right or wrong way. Our spiritual guides also give us hints, some signs on the way, road signs that are, for example, when you feel happiness serving your fellow vaishnava it’s an actual road sign to prema bhakti. But when somehow you like the position when the devotees serve you then you seemingly move to the different direction, so you have to change. Vaishnavas give us some indications but to see these indications is your dharma, your duty. No one will see it for you.
This is why Sridhar Maharaj always makes a stress upon the importance of self-reflection. Reflect on yourself: am I moving in the right or wrong direction? How to reflect on yourself? To know the signs, the road indications by reading and studying a vaishnava book, or rather revelations because they might be not in a book form, like lectures or talks of our spiritual guides. By listening attentively, meditating on their revelations we can understand whether we go in the right or wrong direction. Of course, they give us non-relevant, for our present position, indications like rati, bhava, sneha, which is important but only when we reach the relevant position, not now.
Mahaprabhu explains that the feeling of the gopi which is called… I’m afraid I forgot the word… It’s a very complicated emotion, when externally you show disagreement with someone who sexually harasses you but internally you’re very glad. Mahaprabhu explains this complex feeling which includes seven emotions. You cannot find the correct/exact translation in Western languages for it but in Sanskrit and Bengali there is one. And it’s very interesting but doesn’t refer to us in any way. We can take the way of the sahadja vaishnava philosophy and start exploring this irrelevant, for our position, thing but it won’t help us and, on the contrary, will drive us away from our journey. That is, what we call, the causeless mercy of the Vaishnava. He knows exactly what is relevant for us at our present position – what we should take and what reject. So, when we hear an exalted talk we may just pay our respect and close the ears.
Any other challenges or disagreement?
LISTENER: … to follow the steps… is it a mood or a feeling one should develop… [not audible]
BHARATI MAHARAJ: One thing is to follow the instruction. And there’s such a conception as following the steps which is not following the instructions and definitely not imitating; it’s something else. When you have a certain emotion, a certain feeling, that feeling is the further step towards the goal or in the opposite way, which we do not discuss now. So, when you have a new emotion you have to reflect whether this emotion is right or not. If this emotion indicates that you’re following the right way then you keep it, just remember it, or take it with you as something valuable, put it in your treasure chest: now I know that this is right, maybe I’ll not have the same emotion for the next million of lifetimes but I know this one is right, and I’ll keep it. And then you go further towards the goal or you lose your way, doesn’t matter. Then you have some new feeling and if you contemplate/meditate on it, remembering that once something similar was read: once I read Bhaktivinod Thakur’s prayer and I saw this, I didn’t understand what it was about but that exalted Vaishnava expressed his feelings not in vain, it was substantial though at that time I didn’t realize what it was, I didn’t understand, I just repeated his words but now something awoke inside me and it is similar to what he expressed, maybe ten or million years ago, somehow corresponds with me, and I’ll take it again – this is another golden coin in my treasure box. This means following the footsteps. We can go astray, lose the way, and then come back onto it, and make another step to realize: oh, this is something new and I’ll sing it without understanding the right meaning, repeating after Narottam Das Thakur… So, in this way we follow the footsteps. It is not exactly following the instructions, which is most important, but following the instructions and following the steps is not the same. We must understand that these are two different conceptions.
Any other challenges? Or cunning questions?
LISTENER: So, between these footsteps, there’re whole lifetimes?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Yes. There’s no time frame. It may happen at a click, like with Katvanga Maharaj who heard Narada Muni’s advice and just realized it. Due to his help to demigods he was offered a very long time stay in the heavenly spheres but he rejected everything. Or it may take very many lifetimes, with sorrows and sufferings, gains and losses. We know the story, from the Srimad Bhagavatam, of the alligator who caught the elephant by the leg. Normally, the elephant is stronger but in the water he was weaker and was hoping, for thousand years, to use his strength and philosophy, and he fought and fought for many years until he surrendered to the Lord, and the Lord saved the elephant. So, there’s no time frame.
LISTENER: … the foolish person is he who hopes to cope himself…
BHARATI MAHARAJ: The foolish thing is what we think… Krishna says, tatastha shakti or atma, chit shakti, which we are, is higher/superior to maya shakti. Actually, we are the spiritual potency, as we’re called in the ISKCON books. We are spiritual potencies and are superior to maya, to the objective world. The foolish thing to think: we’re superior because we’re stronger. No, that’s not true. We’re superior in the sense that we’re ksetragya and maya is ksetra but that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily stronger. Say, you have a very powerful SUV car, a really strong one, and you go into the marsh, no matter how strong your car is you’ll be stuck. Your car might be superior and stronger but you cannot move if you go into the sand. So, similarly, this djiva soul is stuck in maya and without the help of a more superior force which is Paramatma we cannot get rid of maya because even the instrument we use to get rid of it is also an illusion. We can get rid of illusion by reason, by intelligence but actually intelligence is a part of illusion as well. Here we are. This is how we’re stuck in here.
Without listening to Bhagavata’s words we cannot get out by ourselves from that grand deception.
LISTENER: Bhagavata, the book or the Person?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Anyway, by Bhagavata revelation. Revelation by Bhagavan means Bhagavata. This revelation might come personally or through instructions, heard or written.
LISTENER: Hearing the revelations of Bhagavata, does it somehow help to get your own revelation? Or realization?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Sure, but you can get it only if you do sadhana, make your own efforts, on the daily basis. We don’t really count on revelations as they are; we don’t just sit back waiting for revelations; we have to do something. Of course, no one is going to restrict Krishna, He can give revelation to anyone, even if one doesn’t make any effort. As Srila Sridhar Maharaj says, we don’t count on this much. We should make efforts to show Krishna, the source of revelations that we care. Because if you sit and wait for revelations to come – yes, they might come – but you show that it’s not urgent for you, not very important, not a case of emergency. And when you act, although making mistakes, you show that you’re really desperate, that you need it. When you have emergence and you call 911 and tell them: hello, maybe you can come, well, I need you so you might come. Another one will call and cry out: please, come at once; he/she is showing that this is the case of emergency. Who the emergency service will come to first? Big chance is that to the second one who showed emotions.
LISTENER: So we have to wait with tension until this emergency appears?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Vaishnavas of our line say: I’ve reached the final point, there’s nothing further; there’s no further existence for me although, Krishna, you say that the djiva soul is eternal, and after reaching that point I realized that is not true, Krishna, because there’s no life for me anymore, no existence without You showing up for me. This is the sign of real desperation, on the edge of existence and non-existence; the djiva soil is not eternal because the next moment I’ll cease to be, our gurus tell Krishna.
LISTENER: The other day you were talking of giving up the future. In the case you described right now they don’t have to give up the future just because there’s no such a thing for them.
BHARATI MAHARAJ: We must understand that the devotees are always in this state of consciousness which is, in Sanskrit, called bhava, the state of consciousness when you’re always on the edge, like To be or not to be, this is the question. They’re always in the state of asking. Actually, they’re the form of the question ‘to be or not to be’. You take a piece of sugar and this is the form of sweetness. And Radha is the form of devotion. Any conception has its form of visualization. Similarly, the question To be or not to be? is the form of a devotee/vaishnava. For them, not seeing the Lord is darkness.
We ‘know’ we have the ‘bright future ahead’ but it’s complete darkness there, and Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 10 (or 11?), says: Don’t worry, when darkness devours you I’ll appear and enlighten you with the light of knowledge. That means: I’ll appear and you’ll see Me. Not because He is so kind but because if you stop to exist there will be no place for Him to dwell: So, don’t think I’m so kind, there’s for My own benefit not to lose your ‘proof of address’. [LOL]
LISTENER: So, it is not the thing you can attain by sadhana.
BHARATI MAHARAJ: It’s sadhana plus His mercy. It also can be attained just by His mercy but we don’t much count on this.
LISTENER: I’m not sure… revelation might be the right or wrong word here but without something coming from above we have no inspiration to continue the way.
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Yes, just by following rules and regulations we won’t last long. As Srigurudev says, we need some nourishment from the upper side. Yes, we need it. Otherwise, we lose prana; we lose electricity. In fact, in the Greek philosophy, it is called electricity; when goddess Electra appeared she gave life to the beings. Electricity is similar to prana. For some time, we can get prana from the battery but it doesn’t last long, no matter whether it’s a small or big battery it comes to the end, gets empty.
LISTENER: Like a charger for a mobile phone?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Right. This goddess Electra, for materialists she is Durga. They charge themselves from Durga because she opens prospective to become reach, healthy, whatever. And for the vaishnava, Electra is like Srimati Radharani who gives us nourishment through Sriguru. Nityananda Prabhu, Sriguru, through a Senior Vaishnava, we get this electricity, prana. As we address Sriguru: if You do not give me prana I’ll stop to exist. So, every day we ask Him to recharge us.
You know, I think everyone encounters the experience when he/she leaves the vaishnava society, for some time, is able to follow rules and regulations. It’s not difficult to chant, read, or put tilak, etc., but in some time, you find yourself unable for that. No matter how strong you are your batteries will get empty. We are not able to follow that path alone.
LISTENER: … I don’t know if you remember one place from Sridhar Maharaj, just a brief mention which I haven’t seen anywhere else… that bhakti develops in two ways, and I think he uses the terms sadhana […] but sadhana doesn’t always mean success.
BHARATI MAHARAJ: Perfect, nothing to add. Sadhana is not to make yourself powerful or skillful in any way but show to the upper side: look, I’m here, I’m trying. Sadhana means to move. If you don’t move they won’t recognize you. You know, the serpent’s or lizard’s eye is designed in such a way that these creatures do not notice anything not moving; only when something starts moving they can notice it and catch or run away if it’s dangerous. Any reptile eye is designed like that, even our eyes. If you stop moving your eyes and the object stops moving then you won’t be able to see. Try to concentrate on something not moving and things will disappear, and this is the process of meditation actually. In hatha and ashtanga yoga, when you concentrate on your nose point of the forehead cress cross, breathe deep and hold your breath for some time, after a while you won’t see anything but the point you’ve concentrated on. So, to be noticed you have to make movements, otherwise they won’t see you. This is called sadhana: I’m trying, I run here and there. But don’t run fast because when you’re fast… the radar doesn’t work. Do you remember the French movie Taxi; the police wanted to spot the taxi driven by a fast guy and they took the position to catch him but the guy ran so fast that the radar couldn’t catch his car, and they just like ‘what was it?’ So, run in yukta vairagya ‘style’ – not too fast and not too slow.
Okay, I think all questions are covered. There’s nothing to say for the time.
LISTENER: But we can sing, Maharaj.
ANOTHER LISTENER: […] (The question is about pratistha, kama, and kamini)
BHARATI MAHARAJ: When we say that pratistha is most difficult we mean that kama and kamini might be stopped by physical withdrawal of yourself from the objects of your attraction. Say, you can lock yourself in a monastery not to see the objects you lust for, and do some physical work. But pratistha means self-establishment, the desire to establish yourself in this reality. Even if you put yourself into complete darkness switching off all lights and cut yourself from the objects of attraction still you’ll have the desire for self-establishment because, in some time, you will have the power of material energy and wish to become the leader of some followers. Yes, you’ll have that shakti; goddess Shakti will promise to become your wife and you’ll become a powerful tapa/austerity man; and when you come out — when you do your coming out – you’ll find many followers.
LISTENER: If pratistha is like the sense of ‘who I am’, your identity, how can you give up that sense of identity without some higher add?
BHARATI MAHARAJ: ‘What I have’ is what others falsely think of you. Pratistha is ‘who I am’, you’re right, and you can easily throw away ‘what I have’, physically, but you cannot throw away your identity – that’s not easy.
Do you remember the story, from the Bhagavatam, of the Prachetas, sons of Daksha? They got that shakti from tapa in the ocean and got out onto the shore, and saw the trees that covered the whole area, and they burned to ashes the tree with their power, and made their way to – where? – to the king, and asked him – what? – to give them wives to marry… [LOL] and that’s the end of all austerities. After getting married you gain some fat; in the beginning you are skinny. [ … ]
Transcript by Elizabeth D.