Pranada Comtois was kind enough to send me a copy of her book Wise Love: Bhakti and the Search for the Soul of Consciousness. I wanted to do her book justice and set aside some uninterrupted reading time, so while visiting family in Cornwall, south-west England, I read up to chapter 1. I liked the narration of Vyasa in his ashram and was happy to finally put a name to his wife: Vyataki. Let’s hear it for the woman who was the wife of Vyasadeva and the mother of Shuka.
Since the author – with the surname of Comtois (probably pronounced com-toys by my American cousins who love hard vowels) no doubt had some French or Belgian ancestry, I thought it fitting that I read the rest of her book on a train journey to Belgium.
For those unfamiliar with European geography I should explain that we now have a speedy train line running direct and non-stop from London to Brussels in Belgium. The train moves effortlessly under the English Channel, the waters separating England from France, through a tunnel 26 miles long. My initial journey was two hours to Brussels and then another two hours to Marlois. (That’s Marl-wa, and not Mar-loys)
Watford, Hertfordshire, train station to London Euston
From the start I’m appreciating Pranada’s use of language. Its contemporary and accessible, although some of the terminology is derived from what I would describe as ‘the new spirituality/yoga world’ and although I move in these circles a little, I’m still unfamiliar with such terms as ‘Divine Other’ and the repeated use of the word ‘heart.’ But this is a book for a specific audience, and I’m sure if I were the target market I would read on. Certainly the chapter structure – at 3 or 4 pages per chapter – makes for easy page-turning, giving the reader a sense of achievement. Very Dan Brown.
Chapter Two is Being, Knowing, Loving and is, I think, a remarkably concise and clear summation of the concept of sat, chit, ananda and their corresponding objects of contemplation. By drawing a connection between the three aspects in the individual self, the Divine and the planes of realisation, she has produced something which is of directly of use to any communicator of Bhakti Vedanta (there, I’m already getting into this terminology). So far, I’m beginning to like her attention to logical and systematic thought – a sequence of ideas, each of which progresses in logic admissibility to the next. It’s important for the contemporary reader.
I’m a little surprised at her immediate plunge into Bhakti without any of the preliminary appeals to authority such as introducing the fallibility of sense perception, the reason why the Vedas are accepted as a trustworthy source of information and so on, but again, she seems to have a clear image of the reader before her as she writes and, after all, Bhakti is in the book’s title.
She is very persuasive. If I was not already convinced of Krishna I think this book would be enough to bring me to bhakti.
A real question: what is she going to do with all the readers who want her guidance? This book is powerful.
Eurostar London to Brussels
Somehow I loved Chapter 5 and that surprised me because it’s hardly three pages long. “Turn away from your mys and locate your big I.” Love it.
Chapter 6 – extended analogy of a tree’s reflection on water. An old analogy but written with freshness.
Chapter 7/8 – this chapter destroyed some old myths and I liked the illustration of crimes catching up in a future life. Loved the ‘grooves in a vinyl record’ on page 74.
I think what I’m liking in Pranada’s writing is the ‘connecting tissue,’ the explanatory text in between the analogies we public speakers on Bhakti Vedanta all commonly use.
“The mind-body machinery is not self-contained therefore we are dependent for food, water, air, shelter and community on others. We are forced to take from sources outside ourselves.” Simple but well-explained section.
Chapter 9 – ‘Horizontal and Vertical Development’ – oh, what a helpful turn of phrase.
Chapter 10 – Nice distinction between ‘faith’ and ‘belief.’
Brussels, Belgium to Marlois, Belgium
Chapter 12 – Good explanation of duality and non-duality, but it is an oversimplification to present Ramanuja as a dualist, however helpful it might be. On page 144 the text reads ‘In the sixteenth century, the prevailing belief of India dictated that salvation was available only to those born in high families.’ But Ramanuja had already put this idea to rest. There was already a substantial bhakti movement in the 11th century. Although as Gaudiyas we like to date the bhakti revelation from the time of Chaitanya, it was already in motion and geographically extensive by this time.
I really liked the chapters on the personal qualities that develop along with bhakti, and that as we develop them we develop our bhakti and vice versa. I think this is very attractive to a reader who’s looking for tangible, personal ‘benefits’ along with ‘spiritual love’ – they can become a much better, more loved person in this world too. Very attractive.
‘Waterfall of Moonbeams’ as a phrase was a little too much for me – but I can imagine who it was written for, so well done Pranada.
Chapter 34 and 35 – I liked for their beautiful descriptions of ‘reality the beautiful.’ Even those who had not seen an image of Sri Krishna would be attracted by this. In 35 is a very good appeal to reason using the story of a German drama.
Oh dear: I can only imagine the expression on page 219 escaped the author and her editors. The Supreme Person takes on a humanlike shape by his own desires. Um, no, he doesn’t and saying it, I feel, risks undoing all the good work that has been done thus far. Most readers are casually impersonal and this book is to bring them to the line of theism. The human image is theomorphic – in the likeness of God – not that God takes on a humanlike shape. The author knows this, and I know what she is trying to say here (I think) but because denial of Krishna’s form is rampant, there should not be one sentence that is ambivalent. Sorry!
A very well written work that I would like to see as a primer for all coming into the world of bhakti. Pranada painstakingly and persuasively sets out the logical sequence of ideas leading to bhakti and does so in a language that is accessible and contemporary. The philosophy of ‘Bhakti Vedanta’ is explained in pithy, easy to read but never patronising chapters. It is a book for every intelligent newcomer to bhakti. As Pranada is a female writer in an often male author world, it is particularly heartening for me to know that many women will find in her presentation just what they need to begin their practise of bhakti.