Sample from the Winter 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with David L. Haberman, Ph.D.

Dr. David Haberman is an expert in Indic studies, and he credits Sri Gurudev as being one of the inspirations for his fascination with India. Even though Dr. Haberman has taught every major world religion in some context, he spent a great deal of time in India and the religion that captured his interest the most was Hinduism. He has researched the aesthetic devotional tradition of India extensively and devotional love as a way of directly encountering the rasa in human experience.

To logically establish the path of rasa was the endeavor of seekers and thinkers in 16th century India, in what became the intellectual, cultural and spiritual center of the Vraja region. Sri Rupa Gosvami, a direct disciple of Sri Chaitanya, believed that emotionally experienced bhakti-prema-rasa was knowable and communicable and he set out this path in his famous work, the Bhaktirasamrtasindhu. Dr. Haberman has provided the definitive translation of this text in English. In this interview, he discusses the themes of the bhakti rasa path that he has explored in depth in several of his books.


Integral Yoga Magazine: What is the Vedantic view of the role of emotions?

David Haberman: In the Vedantic traditions, one of the main contentious issues is whether the world is real or unreal. The ascetic tradition tends to say the world is a-sat, unreal. Shankara’s Advaita philosophy says that which connects us to the world is not to be trusted. Emotions are connectors. In this context, emotions are distrusted and sometimes even demonized. The spiritual goal here is to suppress emotions and the fluctuations in the heart-mind. Chitta (mind) can be translated as heart, so fluctuations of the chitta also refer to the emotions.

The Bhakti-Vedantic texts recognize the world as sat, as real. The Bhagavad Gita is a central text that asserts this. The Gita says that the world is real and it is a dimension of divinity. If the world is fully divine, then emotions that connect us with that world are very valuable in our spiritual life. Emotions are really, really powerful. Rather than renouncing them, imagine using them to help us to connect with Brahman. In this view, emotions are highly valuable in the ultimate love affair with God.

IYM: Is there a way to resolve these conflicting views of emotions?

DH: All religious traditions agree that emotions left in their ordinary state are problematic. We can understand spiritual practice as a way to deal with the tumultuous nature of egoistic desire. In the bhakti tradition, one’s sadhana is to utilize emotions and desire in powerful ways and find their true object—the divine Beloved. Desire is part of our ultimate nature. But, the ultimate purpose of desire is to connect us to God. When we use desire for egoistic purposes, it gets us in trouble. How do we use those emotions in a way that is going to create positive connections? We can purify our desires in many ways. In the bhakti tradition, the devotees don’t want to lose desire entirely; they want to purify it so it can connect them with divine. Kama, or desire, is not problematic as long as it is directed to its true object; so in this approach, kama becomes divinized. In the ascetic tradition, one works to purify desire of its egoistic components through practices like tapasya. Desire gets tempered in the fire of asceticism; the egoistic dimension gets burned up.

IYM: And, what about resolving the conflicting views of the world as real or unreal?

DH: This gets wonderfully worked out in the aesthetic tradition of rasa theory. However, this view requires a different sense of self. Within Vedantic Hinduism there are three views of self. The first identifies a self as ahamkara, the egoistic self. This egoistic self is problematic in all the Vedantic traditions. The second view of self is as atman, the undifferentiated self that is not different from Brahman. In Shankara’s system, that’s our ultimate identity. The Vedantic example used to talk about the relationship between atman and Brahman is a drop of water losing its identity when it goes into the ocean.

The problem for the bhakti theologians is that then there is no possibility of relationship or shared experience. They say they don’t want to become sugar, they want to taste sugar. In order to taste sugar, there must be a distinction between the sugar and the tongue tasting it, yet the spiritual challenge is to recognize this difference all the while knowing the tongue is the same as the sugar. This is the core of the Bhakti-Vedantic traditions: keeping the vision of the simultaneity of the differentiated and the undifferentiated: bhedaa-bheda, difference-no difference.

With this understanding we come to a third view of self. It is emphasized in the Bhakti- Vedantic traditions and figures in the rasa theory. The self is called jiva, or the individual soul. It knows it is not different from Brahman but, for the sake of the divine love affair, there is differentiation. In this view, if we utilize the example of the drop of water and the ocean, I envision the drop of water hovering just above surface of ocean. It is eagerly yearning for the ocean but, if it plunges in, it will longer feels the yearning. This is about a divine love affair where passion is made sacred. Now we are talking about a relationship. That is what sambandha means; it refers to the relationship that is possible in which there is a lover and a beloved. One’s identity, in this case, is that of being a lover of God.

IYM: How do our emotions figure into this relationship?…

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.