Bhakti and the essential dependence of the subject

Every self-conscious metaphysics arrives at 0 = 2, or the fact that experience—the all-in-all—is an equilibrium between poles, subject and object. The essence of subject for Descartes is thinking—perception, observation, pristine and static awareness, open and clear, an Apollonian beholder. The essence of object is extension—the perceived, the observed, vivacity of presentation, an intelligible beheld.

But these essences are static. In reality, the subject is essentially dynamic—always in motion with craving and intentionality. So Vaishnavas enrich the concepts and make them more particular. Rather than a pure subject, there is a motivated one—one that is motivated at is essential ontological core by the fact that it is an externalization of some self-caused or svabhavic being that is prior to all beings and the source from which all finite being is derivative. This is an ontological dependence relation. But that is its objective structure. It is rendered phenomenologically as the quale of attraction.

For ISKCON and Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the subject has a particular nature that derives from the fact of its ontological dependence on necessary being. The subject–object relation is really made of dependence—and from this simple discovery much can be derived.

The relational nature of drive, and its high-point in the drive for Ultimate Beauty, determines the subject’s attitude towards Source and also the nature of the Source (for the subject). This brings us to the most interesting fact about ISKCON and Gaudiya Vaishnavism generally—the very epithets of God are derived from this desire-enriched take on the subject–object relation. If God is all and one, then God must bifurcate into the desiring subject (the contingent soul) and desired object (Source). And the chief Puranic hero-gods—Krishna and Rama—are handily available for this purpose. Krishna (an androgynous porn-caliber knock-out, a heartthrob boy for boy-lovers and a delicious girl for girl-lovers) is the best possible object. Rama is the best possible subject.

Krishna and Rama are object and subject, respectively. They function in this way even in the Mahamantra, where the relational fact (and deep phenomenal love) is the highest fact of all reality for any contingent sentient being. The Mahamantra, which (as nearly everyone knows) is:

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

And here is the official interpretation of what this all means, in a word-by-word analysis:

  1. Krishna means the all attractive person, God—the circumference of all being as presence for a subject. Krishna here is shorthand for “He who is All-Attractive,” or “He who is the Source of All Pleasure.”
  2. Rama means the supreme enjoyer, the center-point of subjectivity.
  3. Hare means Krishna’s pleasure energy, Srimati Radharani. Hare is also described as the cry of a child for his mother, indicating that is it the relation or copula uniting Krishna and Rama. Hare is thus desire.

Subject–desire–object. This is the fundamental structure of reality.

Note on the primacy of subject over object:

The fact that the mantra uses two hero-gods is sublimated into Krishna-primacy by creatively interpreting Rama to “really” refer to some secondary character inside the Krishna-centered cult. Some interpreters claim that the “Rama” in “Hare Rama” denotes Radharamana, the beloved of Radha (another name for Krishna). Others argue that “Rama” is a shortened form of Balarama, Krishna’s first expansion. (Cf. The relation of Shiva and Shakti, which presents the same idea. Shiva denotes the subject and is prior to Shakti, whom he emanates, even though she is dialectically his equal. This is a doctrinal mystery similar the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The subject-god Shiva and object-goddess Shakti are dialectically co-dependent and thus on a par, yet Shiva must trump Shakti in the order of being since he generates her. Shiva–Shakti and Krishna–Rama are thus both symmetrical and asymmetrical. And in both cases, it is the subject-pole that is given priority.)