Rathi Krishna dasa June 30th, 2007
Waves of Devotion
By Dhanurdhara Swami
Since The Nectar of Devotion is already the commentary1 of a self-realized soul, what is the need to comment on it at all? Srila Prabhupada himself said that his books were written not by him, but by Krsna. Thus aren’t they already perfect?
The Vedas emanate directly from the Supreme Lord’s breathing. Still, they are understood with the help of a teacher: acaryavan puruso veda. Like the Vedas, Srila Prabhupada’s books are transcendental sound vibration (sabda brahman). Thus the same principle holds for them: they become more accessible through the aid of a teacher.
Commenting on Srila Prabhupada’s books is not unprecedented in ISKCON. A simple example is our daily Srimad-Bhagavatam class, which Srila Prabhupada himself instituted. Again, the principle of acaryavan puruso veda is at work: learning from erudite Vaisnavas deepens our comprehension and appreciation of Srila Prabhupada’s books.
I’d like to briefly share my personal experience of how essential it is to learn Srila Prabhupada’s books from a teacher.
Every year, from 1986 to 1997, I would teach a five-month course on Bhagavad-gita. This rigorous course required that I was capable of analyzing each verse in context of the various themes and sub-themes within and between each chapter. Obviously, this required a more thorough knowledge of the book than I had at the time. Even after studying on my own for many years, I would have never been able to teach this course without having attended His Grace Bhurijana Prabhu’s “Bhagavad-gita Overview” course three times. Throughout my devotional life my understanding of the Bhagavad-gita has been continuously enriched by courses and lectures on Bhagavad-gita by devotees more learned than myself.
I thus remain indebted to my teachers for helping me come closer to my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, by making his vani—the instructions in his books—clearer to me.
Everything is in Srila Prabhupada’s books, which are complete in and of themselves. A sincere and qualified follower can realize the full import of Vedic knowledge by serving Srila Prabhupada and reading his books. However, due to our own deficiencies in devotion and scholarship, we sometimes have difficulty understanding them deeply. Sometimes we even lose enthusiasm to read them.
A teacher who has realization of the subject can help us. What does it mean to “realize the subject?”
“Personal realization does not mean that one should, out of vanity, attempt to show one’s own learning by trying to surpass the previous acarya. He must have full confidence in the previous acarya, and at the same time he must realize the subject matter so nicely that he can present it for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner. The original purpose of the text must be maintained. No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience. This is called realization.”
(Srimad Bhagavatam 1.4.1, purport)
Devotees who have studied Srila Prabhupada’s books more deeply than we have can help us increase our understanding and appreciation of them. In fact, it is the duty of the disciple to become conversant in the teachings of his spiritual master and to present them to others in a way which increases their interest in following them.
Waves of Devotion is one such attempt.
To properly convey the import of Srila Prabhupada’s words, transcribers and editors must themselves be quite learned in the intricacies of Vaisnava philosophy. When Srila Prabhupada began writing The Nectar of Devotion over twenty-five years ago, in many cases they were not. Consequently, mistakes were sometimes made.
Teaching The Nectar of Devotion and writing Waves of Devotion sometimes required that I research the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu to clarify the original statements of Srila Prabhupada.
Again, this is not unprecedented. The first edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is was comprehensively re-edited. Transcriptional and editorial errors were corrected, and therefore, the text was drawn closer to the original statements of Srila Prabhupada.
For example, in the first edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is (10.29), the word pitrloka (pronounced: “pit-tree-low-kuh”) was translated as “the planet of the trees.” Even an elementary student of Krsna consciousness can understand that pitrloka is a Sanskrit word, not an English one, and refers to the planet (loka) of the ancestors (“pit-trees”)—not to “the planet of the trees.”
Of course, this is a fairly crude mistake, but if we compare the final edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is to the one originally produced, we will find many intricacies of Srila Prabhupada’s writing missed by inexperienced transcribers or editors.
There are similar problems in the transcription and editing of The Nectar of Devotion, especially since the book is longer and more complex. Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu has 2,129 verses—almost three times as many as Bhagavad-gita—which often describe complex philosophical points and subtle nuances in rasa.
In clarifying Bhagavad-gita, devotees had access to most of Srila Prabhupada’s original manuscripts and the transcriptions of his original dictation. In commenting on The Nectar of Devotion, I had no such advantages. To the best of my knowledge, the tapes and transcriptions no longer exist. However, I feel that my access to the original texts and commentaries of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu allowed me, in some instances, to bring the text of The Nectar of Devotion closer to Srila Prabhupada’s original statements.
For example, in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.6.46), Uddhava says, “My dear Krsna, I have taken things which You have used and enjoyed, such as garlands of flowers, saintly articles, garments, and ornaments. . . .” (NOD, p. 74)
The phrase “saintly articles” should be “scented oils.” The Sanskrit word used here is gandha—“scents.” The phonetic similarity between “saintly articles” and “scented oils” makes it obvious that the original transcriber did not hear Srila Prabhupada properly.
Another example, from the Thirty-Eighth Chapter of The Nectar of Devotion: “As far as the feverish condition of the body is concerned, Uddhava once told Narada, ‘My dear great sage, the lotus flower that is a friend of the sun may be a cause of distress for us, the fire in the ocean may cause us some burning sensation, and Indivara, the friend of a demon, may distress us in various ways—we do not mind. But the most regrettable factor is that all of them remind us of Krsna, and this is giving us too much distress!’”
The statement, “Indivara, the friend of a demon,” should read, “Indivara, the friend of the moon.” I surmise that Srila Prabhupada’s accent may have led the transcribers to hear Srila Prabhupada’s “friend of the moon” as “friend of demon”!2
These two examples are clearly transcriptional errors. Still, even if all of Srila Prabhupada’s words were heard and transcribed perfectly, he was expressing complex philosophical concepts in a second language (English), and therefore required experienced editors conversant with the subject matter. To the extent this was lacking, clarity was lost.
Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu uses meticulous Sanskrit terminology, essential for understanding its intricacies. Being conversant with neither the Sanskrit terms nor the concepts they represented, Srila Prabhupada’s editors were sometimes unable to effectively emend The Nectar of Devotion for consistency in terminology. As a result, one may find it difficult to grasp some of the complex points that Srila Prabhupada presented.
There are many cases of this. One example concerns an ecstatic symptom (vyabhicari-bhava) called nirveda. In The Nectar of Devotion, nirveda is sometimes translated as “self-disparagement,” sometimes as “disappointment,” sometimes “depression,” “hopelessness,” “despair,” “lamentation,” etc. All these synonyms correctly convey the meaning of nirveda, but they also correctly convey the meaning of other vyabhicari-bhavas (visada—“depression,” Soka—“lamentation”). Thus when we read, “This is an instance of lamentation in ecstatic love,” exactly what does that mean? Is it an instance of nirveda, or visada, or Soka?
Waves of Devotion therefore tries to give relevant comments, when necessary, to help the reader understand many of the more difficult passages of The Nectar of Devotion.
The Nectar of Devotion is not a translation of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu: it is a summary study. Srila Prabhupada’s main intention in writing The Nectar of Devotion was not primarily to produce an edition for academicians and Sanskrit scholars. His intention was practical: to provide his disciples an essential understanding of the practices and ideals of Krsna consciousness, and introduce the Western world to the beauty of our devotional concepts.
He himself tells us: “The Nectar of Devotion is specifically presented for persons who are now engaged in the Krsna consciousness movement.” (NOD, p. xvii)
Comparing The Nectar of Devotion to the verses of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu makes it evident that Srila Prabhupada gave his dictations while systematically consulting the original text and commentaries, as was his standard in translating other prominent Vaisnava scriptures. However, as The Nectar of Devotion is a summary study, he did not use his standard format of Sanskrit script, Roman transliteration, Sanskrit/English word-for-word, English translation, and commentary for each text.
By writing in this way, Srila Prabhupada could sometimes take the liberty to greatly expand the original text when he felt that his audience needed a more relevant explanation.3 He could also drastically summarize sections he felt were not so relevant to his audience.4 In translated sections in the last division of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu he would sometimes even omit tens of verses at a stretch.
To study Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu in detail, one requires a complete translation of the texts and commentaries. Srila Prabhupada’s widely acclaimed Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Caitanya-caritamrta attest to his qualification for this task. If Srila Prabhupada had stayed with us longer, he may have given us a complete translation of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu—just as he gave us Caitanya-caritamrta even after previously publishing its summary study, Teachings of Lord Caitanya and, similarly, as he gave us the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam even after previously publishing its summary study, Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Srila Prabhupada said that Lord Caitanya could have spread Krsna consciousness all over the world but that He left something for us to do. Srila Prabhupada also told us that he had built the framework for spreading Krsna consciousness, but we, his followers, should fill in the details. We hope in the future one of Srila Prabhupada’s followers will translate and present the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu in a standard verse-by-verse translation. Meanwhile, Waves of Devotion attempts to take up a part of this service that he left for us.
With some exceptions, Srila Prabhupada at least briefly summarized every verse in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. Consequently, I was able to solidly base
the present book on his authoritative statements. Therefore we have entitled the book Waves of Devotion.
Waves are born from the ocean, heighten the ocean, and then merge within it. Similarly, the explanations in Waves of Devotion are born from statements in The Nectar of Devotion. They further explain Srila Prabhupada’s statements and therefore expand them. Finally, after hearing these explanations one will find the very same points in Srila Prabhupada’s own statements. Waves of Devotion will then merge within the ocean of The Nectar of Devotion.
Waves are not just born from the ocean, their very existence depends upon its support. Similarly, every comment in Waves of Devotion is authorized by and depends upon a corresponding statement from Srila Prabhupada’s The Nectar of Devotion.
I am neither a Sanskrit scholar nor an accomplished writer, and therefore, I am somewhat inadequate in some of the key skills for writing a commentary on the The Nectar of Devotion. I am therefore indebted to several devotees who assisted me in completing Waves of Devotion.
I first became inspired to deepen my study of The Nectar of Devotion by attending courses on this subject given by His Holiness Tamal Krsna Maharaja, His Holiness Giriraja Swami, and His Grace Bhurijana Prabhu at the VIHE.5 Each embarked on very comprehensive studies of the book, supplemented with the many verses of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu that Srila Prabhupada translated and commented upon in his Caitanya-caritamrta. By hearing from them and by discussing The Nectar of Devotion with them, I gained many new insights into the text.
To help me to further understand some of the more difficult sections of The Nectar of Devotion, I would often consult Srila Jiva Gosvami and Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s commentaries on Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. My access to these limitlessly valuable works was made possible by the scholarship of Sriman Navadvipa Prabhu. To ensure the accuracy of Waves of Devotion, Navadvipa kindly checked my analysis against the original commentaries, point by point. By incorporating his suggestions, I felt my presentation had become more thorough.
To assist me in writing Waves of Devotion I needed a devotee with fixed devotional practices, talent as a writer, and the ability to understand the subtleties of this philosophy. I found such a devotee in one of my students, Vraja Kishor dasa. On my request, he eagerly took up the task of editing.
Initially, Waves of Devotion was in the form of chapter summaries, prepared for my Nectar of Devotion Overview class in the VIHE’s Gaura Purnima semester of January 1992. These summaries were later extensively redrafted to the point of a more complete book, at which point Vraja Kishor helped to develop the preliminary manuscript. This included rewriting key sections of the book after suggesting points that could be developed, creating the helpful diagrams, doing substantial editing, organizing the text, and adding the Appendixes and Sanskrit Glossary.
Finally, Kaisori-devi dasi, the editor of Gita-nagari Press, volunteered her services to give the book a comprehensive final editing.
Several others made substantial contributions toward the completion of this book.
I am grateful to Sripada B.V. Narayana Maharaja. In the early 1990s, when I first embarked on this project, he kindly gave his valuable time to answer many questions on the later sections of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu.
I am thankful for the help of my dear friend Steven Rosen (Satyaraja dasa), editor of The Journal of Vaisnava Studies and author of many books on Vaisnava spirituality and related subjects. He is to be credited with going over the text and making several important suggestions to improve it. He also wrote the book’s Foreword, which gives the reader an important historical perspective on the compilation of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu and its later commentaries—a perspective that also includes an explanation of the relevance of Waves of Devotion.
Brajajana dasa also carefully went over the final manuscript. His input was invaluable and very much appreciated.
Several of my students worked hard in various ways to assist me in producing Waves of Devotion. I am indebted to Kunja Kisori-devi dasi, an administrator at Johns Hopkins University, who agreed to oversee the book’s production; Jal Keli dasa, who did the layout and designed the book’s beautiful cover; Rathi Krsna dasa, who coordinated the printing and assisted with the book’s production; and Narottama dasa, who comprehensively proofread the text.
I sincerely thank the many other devotees who have contributed their services to the production of this book, and I pray that all who have assisted in this attempt to propagate the teachings of Srila Rupa Gosvami and Srila Prabhupada fully receive their blessings to understand The Nectar of Devotion.
After completing Waves of Devotion I considered whether or not an index was required. I decided it would be redundant since Waves of Devotion carefully follows The Nectar of Devotion, which already has a comprehensive index. Any subject researched in The Nectar of Devotion can easily be found in the corresponding chapter of Waves of Devotion. In addition, Waves of Devotion contains a comprehensive glossary where all of the Sanskrit terms in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu are found in alphabetical and contextual order with brief definitions.
Before beginning Waves of Devotion, the readers are reminded that this book is meant to complement The Nectar of Devotion. Therefore, to fully appreciate its contents, it should be read alongside The Nectar of Devotion.
It should also be noted that Waves Of Devotion is consciously formatted to parallel the unique order devised by Srila Rupa Gosvami to categorize his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. Using a metaphor that compares the content of his work to a great ocean with four distinct sides, Srila Rupa Gosvami conveniently arranges each of the four main subjects of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu into four distinct sections named after the Eastern, Southern, Western, and Northern Divisions of this ocean. In the same way, as each side of an ocean has several waves, the diverse categories that reside within each division of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu are classified by numerically-assigned subsidiary classes called "Waves."
Since the aim of Waves Of Devotion is to facilitate a clearer understanding of The Nectar of Devotion, it became evident that the study of this work within the natural divisions of Srila Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu would be quite useful. However, to assist the reader in the correlation of this companion text to Srila Prabhupada’s summary study, each Wave of this book has also been clearly divided into its corresponding chapters in The Nectar of Devotion.
Finally, because Srila Prabhupada’s preface to The Nectar of Devotion is a wholly original composition and does not specifically correspond with any of the original text within Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Waves of Devotion initiates its study with a separate analysis of this essay. The introduction to The Nectar of Devotion, however, carefully paraphrases the first sixteen verses of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. Therefore, our analysis of the introduction can be found in the Eastern Division, First Wave, of Waves of Devotion—the same location in which these topics are discussed within Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu.
Srila Prabhupada appeared to fulfill the prediction of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, that a revolution of Krsna consciousness would be spread all over the world. To assist his mission, he distributed an ocean of Krsna consciousness (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu). Waves of Devotion is simply an attempt to assist Srila Prabhupada by helping his followers (especially) to dive deeper into that ocean.
1. What is a “commentary”? Nyayakosa defines: tikyate pravisyate jnayate vanaya iti tika—A commentary is that by which we understand a subject clearly.
2. Indivara is not the name of a person, it is a type of blue lotus flower. The original Sanskrit for this text found in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, 3.2.118, is indivaram vidhu-suhrt. The Indivara lotus is a friend of the moon because it is night-blooming.
3. His elaborate description of the yogic-siddhis and their comparison to modern science are an examples of this (see NOD, pp. 11–12).
4. An example is his brief summary of Srila Rupa Gosvami’s three verses describing the practices of raganuga-sadhana-bhakti, which are elaborately commented on, and which Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has even developed into a small book (see NOD, p. 126).
5. The VIHE is an acronym for the Vaisnava Institute of Higher Education, a foundation designed to hold regular seminars in Vrindavan, India, on Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy and culture.