Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Equality And Something Funny

With regards to my previous post about a conversation with a devotee, we did get around to discussing some form of Krishna-katha before it went sour (for me). I mentioned that I was slightly annoyed with how the conversation wasn't on 'equal' terms. As a matter of fact I'd say that an extremely large majority of devotees suffer from this problem whether or not they are conscious of it; talking down to people. This devotee somehow had the idea that he was "senior" (or superior) and that I was a "junior" devotee which gave him some rights to preach to me about chanting and also to give me some "tips".

I don't know why I did it, and it may have been my ego rearing it's ugly head again, but I decided to "play smart" with this devotee even though my question was genuine and I am really looking for the answer. In Sri Rupa Gosvami's BRS, it is mentioned that the Vaishnava should bow to the deities with one's left side facing Them. As anyone who has been to India would know, the "normal" way of bowing down is to bow down facing the 'object', and this Gaudiya tradition of bowing down with one's left side facing the 'object' is somewhat peculiar. I have my own ideas for why this is so but I would prefer an "authentic" confirmation from a knowledgeable Vaishnava.

So I decided to ask him this question; why is it written in Sri Rupa's book that we must bow down with our left side facing the Deities (or Guru) and why do we do it? A funny look came over his face (as if he was going to dismiss it again) and he did mention that this was a minor rule that is not that essentially important as some of the harder must-do rules. He then proceeded to give an example of how it is written in Sri Visvanatha's Sarartha-Darshini that in some kalpas Krishna travels to Mathura riding on Kaliya rather than on Garuda, and that it is foolish to question why this is so since this is obviously lila. I quickly responded, "Yes, but that is Krishna-lila. Here I am talking about devotee-lila, why is it enjoined that we must bow down with our left side facing the Deities?"

He had no choice but to admit his ignorance. I didn't know how to feel about that. On one hand I was smirking inside ("that'll teach him to think I'm a dumb junior when I can bring up tougher issues than that!") and I quickly realised that this was a violation of humility. I was guilty of the same thing which I viewed him as doing, acting superior over other people. We all have to deal with this tendency in ourselves, it seems so natural but it is also so very wrong and sometimes hard to recognise especially within ourselves. On the other hand I was genuinely disappointed that he didn't have an answer. Even though it is essentially a minor issue, I have often wondered about this curious left-side bowing practice and an authentic answer would be nice even though I did bring up that topic off the top of my head.

Trinad api sunicena
Taror iva sahisnuna
Amanina mana dena
Kirtaniyah sada harih

This verse is soooooooooooooo important.


  • At 13 November, 2006 05:58, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    1. On the one hand you should respect seniority, if the devotee is older in years (devotee-years and/or physical years), whether you know more than the older devotee or not, and on the other hand such a senior devotee must be honest and humble enough to admit that he may sometimes not have the answer to a question of a younger devotee.
    2. I havent read that about the left side facing the deities in BRS. Where is it written? Or were you just pulling the leg of that senior devotee?

  • At 13 November, 2006 09:33, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Gaurasundara- if you bow "straight" facing the deity, then your feet are pointing toward the Lord's vahana, ie. Garuda for Narayana, Nandi for Shiva. In the case of ISKCON, sometime's Prabhupada's murati is the one facing Radha-Krishna. At the very least they will be pointing to the other people coming to take darsan. I have seen Sri Vaishnavas bowing like this. I don't know about others.

    So, we keep Hari on the left and Garuda on the right. :-)

    I do have a quote somewhere, if you like I can find it. Radhe Radhe!

  • At 13 November, 2006 09:35, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Have seen Sri Vaishnava's bowing w/ Hari on the left, that is.

  • At 13 November, 2006 09:38, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    OK, Madhava posted it here:'t

    Some further rules are noted in the following verse (HBV 8.362):

    garudaM dakSine kRtvA kuryAt tat-pRSThato budhaH |
    avazyaM ca praNAmAMs trIn zaktaz ced adhikAdhikAn ||

    The wise, when offering obeisances, keep Garuda on their right side. One should always offer obeisances three times; if possible, the more, the better.

    In his Dig-darshini-tika, Srila Sanatana Goswami explains that keeping Garuda on the right side means always keeping the deity of the Lord on the left side. One should not offer obeisances while keeping the Lord on one's right, nor should he offer obeisances directly, as the feet would then point towards Garuda.

  • At 14 November, 2006 02:32, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…


    1 - Yes of course seniority must be respected, but at all costs? I humbly see a contradiction between your comments here and to my previous post to use an example of criticising/rejecting an erroneous guru or observing discrimination in sanga. So even though this devotee is "senior" (he is a temple brahmachari, not a guru/sannyasi) I will continue to greet him as normal and exchange polite greetings, but as far as any future spiritual discussions go I will simply bow to him from afar and avoid him. I cannot afford to associate with devotees who criticise others on superficial grounds as I am full of offenses myself.

    2 - Hmmmmm, I'm sure I read it somewhere. It could be in Prabhupada's NOD but I'm not sure. In any case the practice of bowing with the left-side facing is a definite difference from the mainstream "front-bowing".

  • At 14 November, 2006 02:36, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Anonymous, thanks very much for your explanations and quotes, now my doubts are cleared! This is a good explanation for why "front bowing" is wrong, as we do not wish to keep our feet in the direction of God's vahana (or guru as the case may be).

    I am so unfortunate, I have never had the association of Sri Vaishnavas except through the Internet.

    I suppose I could also still ask why the left side must face the Deities (why not the right?) but I fear there is no clear answer..?

  • At 14 November, 2006 14:45, Anonymous arvind said…

    Who gave you this beautiful name, if I may ask........ Gaurasundar

  • At 16 November, 2006 14:29, Blogger "Gaurasundara das" said…

    Arvind, I am unfortunate that it has not been given to me by guru, as I am still uninitiated. I have just taken that name as a pen-name.

    An influential Gaudiya guru suggested that, even though it is a pen-name, I should add 'das' at the end of it.

  • At 20 November, 2006 19:03, Anonymous arvind said…

    Fair enough. I was curious.


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