Review of “The Agni and the Ecstasy: Collected Essays of Steven J. Rosen (Satyaraja Dasa),” Foreword by Radhanath Swami

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(Arktos, 2012, 308 pages)
(Review by Dr. Marguerite Regan and Rev. David Carter*)

The Agni and the Ecstasy by Steven Rosen is written with the warmth and humanity of someone who’s been to the brink and back. Sometimes, a person inquires into life’s ultimate secrets, survives the vision intact, and is transformed. Still, if the person is not compelled to share the revelation or is prevented circumstantially, then few, if any, will benefit. Then there are writers endowed with passion and talent for the craft who lack enlightening insights into the mystery and goal of life, and their writing sometimes amounts to much ado about nothing. But in Steven Rosen, readers find the happy confluence of art and craft—the expression of knowledge into the mystery and a prose style best characterized as sturdy and strong, playful and reverent, breezy but deep.
A collection of essays and articles written over the last twenty years, The Agni and the Ecstasy both tackles riddles that have vexed humans for millennia and offers new insights to empower the reader. There is a lot to draw from, as Rosen has published more than thirty volumes, in addition to numerous articles and essays, dealing mostly with Eastern spirituality and related topics, but venturing also into broader questions of human mortality, ethical behavior, and the search for real and lasting happiness. He has even authored a short novel inspired by and, in ways, updating the nineteenth-century spiritual classic Jaiva Dharma by Thakur Bhaktivinode. In every case, Rosen’s focus is consistent: how does one first imagine and then achieve an enduring happiness that, instead of being underwritten by the misery and oppression of others, promotes universal happiness and well being? The “skillful means” developed by spiritual luminaries past and present for achieving personal fulfillment and becoming an agent for universal uplift are introduced, contextualized, and elaborated upon.
In today’s troubled world, are we not desperately in need of locating and adopting such “skillful means?” Ours is a world committed to unsustainable lifestyles, devoted to consumerism and technological progress, and blinded to the dangers that arise from such progress—namely the binding of humanity’s most vulnerable members to poverty and the taxing of the ecosystem beyond its natural ability to recover. More and more, thoughtful observers are haunted by the potential for catastrophic, systemic collapse. A new conceptual framework that sees interdependence and interconnectedness is needed to counteract the extremism, fanaticism, fragmentation, and crisis-oriented reactions that characterize our world, especially in a time when perpetual violence looms over the face of the earth. The Agni and the Ecstasy is part of the solution.
Everyone is seeking happiness. But, like a rudderless ship at sea, an unguided mind will flounder and fail. In Part One, the essay “Verses of Surrender” delineates the means by which one can achieve authentic peace and serenity in a world seemingly on the brink of disaster. The text shows how, through application of spiritual technologies, one’s consciousness can shift from awareness of perpetual vulnerability to awareness of insurmountable strength in union with God. In another essay “The Science of Love,” Rosen convincingly presents the art of achieving spiritual perfection as a delectable enterprise guided by understandable and reliable laws of science. Arguing that love of God is the soul’s fundamental longing, Rosen references many of the preeminent exponents of his religious tradition. He demonstrates here and throughout the book that transforming one’s consciousness is truly the first step in changing the world.
Rosen makes Vaishnava philosophy—its proof texts and practices—clear and inviting. The confusing host of higher beings depicted in and venerated by practitioners of the Vedic culture are compared and contrasted with their polymorphic, unitary source, which then becomes recognizable as another appearance of the one God celebrated in the familiar texts of the Abrahamic tradition. This book also includes compelling reads that compare and contrast modern versus ancient systems of sacred science. Overall, one comes away from this work with a better and deeper appreciation of the transcendent unity of all religion, East and West, ancient and contemporary.
In this book, the Table of Contents speaks for itself, and thus, reproducing that Contents page, we conclude the review of this magnificent book:
Part I: Vaishnava Philosophy and Scripture

What Exactly is “Vedic”?

Is God a Verb, or Something More?

Defining the Divine, East and West: Conceptions of God in the Bhagavad Gita

What Exactly is a Guru?

A Brief Introduction to Bhakti

The Science of Love

Truth, by Any Other Name

The Importance of the Sri Isopanisad

Truth in a Nutshell: Four Special Verses in Both the Srimad Bhagavatam and the Bhagavad Gita

Verses of Surrender: The Charama-shlokas of the Vaishnava Tradition

“Sour Grapes” and the Vine of Vedic Knowledge: Does Krishna Consciousness Promote a Pessimistic Worldview?

On Death and Dying: A Vedic Perspective

Part II: Vaishnava Practice

The Agni and the Ecstasy: My Initiation into Krishna Consciousness

The Journey and the Signposts that Make it Doable, or, Krishna Consciousness: A Road Well Travelled

They Aim to Please: Dimensions of Service on the Path of Bhakti-yoga

Renunciation: A Little Redefining is in Order

Least But Not Last: A Few Words on Humility

Balancing Faith and Works: To Whom is God’s Grace Given?

Writing for Krishna: An Interview with Satyaraja Dasa

Ayurveda and the Science of Spiritual Relationships

The New Carnivores

The Yoga of Eating

“Does Asana Really Equal Yoga?!”: A Vaishnava Perspective

Hatha-yoga and the Bhagavad Gita

Book Review: The Embankment of Separation

A Fight to Remember: ISKCON Russia and the Politics of Persecution

Engaged Vaishnavism: Are Devotees concerned with Making the World a Better Place?

Sri Chaitanya’s Garden of Devotion

Part III: Gods and Goddesses

Of Idols and Deities: Coming to Grips with a Misunderstood Form of Worship

Deconstructing Hari: The Creation of the Universe and the Origins of Disciplic Succession

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” or, What’s with All the Arms?

Krishna’s Birth: Is Krishna “Born” in the Same Way That We Are Born?

“Partial Arts”: Krishna and the Killing of Demons

Krishna: Lord of Paradox

Sri Radha: The Feminine Divine

The Truth of Lord Jagannath: A Personal Meditation

Neither Here Nor There: Exploring Borders with Lord Narasimhadeva

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: The Father of Modern Kirtan

Part IV: Saints, Sages and Demigods

Demigods, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and Universal Religious Categories: A New Look at Krishna and the Many Divinities Who Surround Him

When Shiva Became a Diva: The Story of an All-Too-Misunderstood Divinity

Narada Muni: The Father of Bhakti-yoga

Blind Visionaries: The Twin Lives of Bilvamangala Thakur and Surdas

Princes, Pandits, and Proverbs: The Sayings of Chanakya Pandita

Great Vaishnava Women

Rain of Mercy: The Exemplary Life of Bhakti Tirtha Swami

Srinivasa, Narottama, Syamananda, and . . . Gary?

Review of The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami

“You Gotta Help Me, Satch!”: The Transformation of Richard Dixon

Part V: Mantras and Music

“Hare Krishna”: The Scriptural Basis for the Greatest of All Mantras

The Shortcut Home: How Chanting Hare Krishna Effects Self-realization

Kirtan Yoga: Nurturing the Sounds of the Soul

Hip-Hop Hinduism: The Spiritual Journey of MC Yogi

The Yoga of Kirtan: An Interview with Steven J. Rosen

Part VI: Science

Soulful Science

Quantum Brahman: The Missing Force of the Universe

Lord Matsya and Superstring Theory: A Fishy Story with No Strings Attached

The Bad Brains Behind Mad Cow Disease

Quantum Brahman: The Missing Force of the Universe


Part VII: The Transcendent Unity of Religions

Harmonic Conversion: A Note on the Nature of True Religion and the Importance of Non-Sectarianism

The Joy of No Sects

What the Hell is Hell, Anyway?

The Four Noble Truths

Diet for Transcendence: An Interview with Steven J. Rosen

The Scent Of Happiness: A Lesson in Pleasure Seeking
__

[Ordering information here: http://www.arktos.com/steven-j-rosen-the-agni-and-the-ecstasy.html]

*Dr. Marguerite Regan, Associate Professor of English, School of the Arts and Humanities, Newman University, Wichita, KS; Reverend David Carter, Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Wichita, Wichita, KS.

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