My guest today on CHITHEADS is Dhanurdhara Swami, a Vaishnavite monk who splits his time each year between New York City and india. I was so grateful that Dhanurdhara Swami was able to make time for this interview amidst a busy schedule preparing to return to India; it was so enriching to sit down at the Bhakti Center in NYC with him to talk about the Bhakti tradition, mantra meditation and the difference between personal and impersonal ideas of God, among other interesting topics.
Our conversation was so rich. Here are some highlights:
We first discussed the meaning behind Kirtan, or devotional chanting. Dhanurdhara Swami described it as a form of meditation that is intended to clear the mind of static. It is a strategy of mental discipline that is intended to calm the fluctuations of the mind that obstruct your vision of the Truth. The mind is malleable, and therefore we can mold it the way that we want. Meditation is a tool to make the mind more sattvic - clear, unclouded and content.
Dhanurdhara Swami went deep into the spiritual process of Bhakti. You meditate on mantra, and this facilitates your meditation. And because the mantra is the sonic form of the divine, it is not just a prop. The object of meditation can actually reciprocate or respond through practice. If you accompany your meditation with proper music, through Kirtan, then you invoke the love and devotion toward the object of meditation. This, in turn, increases your absorption, which is the goal of yogic practice, according to ancient texts.
Kirtan is a form of meditation that is especially appropriate for the everyday person in a city, who is generally not disciplined in practice. Kirtan helps the practitioner achieve a very high level of meditaiton.
We then got into his personal history, which extends back to 1970 with the Hare Krishnas and Abhay Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Dhanurdhara Swami describes his transition into the life of a sunyassin, but what I found especially fascinating was his kidnapping. Apparently, it was legal to kidnap your kids if they were under the "trance" of what appeared to the parents to be a "dangerous cult." I was struck by how much Dhanurdhara Swami's story here is analogous to the coming out process of so many LGBT youth. We all have heard of the naive parents who think they can "convert" their children back to heterosexuality, in an analagous way that Dhanurdhara Swami's parents thought they could change his spiritual vision.
Dhanurdhara Swami had interesting things to say about relgion. "Religion is dharma, it’s not about a particular faith. It is simply the nature of the soul to love god."
Our conversation moved into a discussion of personal and impersonal notions of God. I asked him how a Bhakta responds to this question, and he had a lot of interesting things to say. His response was that, if God is limitless, how can we place the limitation that God could not appear in a personal form? Furthermore, how could that personality not be limitless? It is an interesting view that I first encountered when reading The Journey Home by Rhadanath Swami.
There were so many more nuggets of wisdom in our discussion that I encourage you to explore by listening to the podcast.
Dhanurdhara Swami is the author of three books. Japa Meditations: Contemplations on Entering the Holy Name is a short text that consists of the philosophy of mantra japa as well as interviews with other practitioners about their religious experiences with mantra. Waves of Devotion is a commentary on Nectar of Devotion, an ancient text on how to cultivate bhakti (or love expressed through dedication or devotion). The third book, Greetings from Vrindavan, is an autobiographical work centered around the title city of Vrindavan, the birthplace of Krishna. Being the birthplace of Krishna, Vrindavan is therefore an extremely sacred place for the Bhakti tradition.