This first installation of an interview with Rasaraja dasa, better known as Rob Fish, was actually created for something entirely different. This past fall semester, I was taking an Anthropology of Religion class. I had to interview someone from a different spiritual/religious background than me and ask them questions about their views; mainly focusing on such things as the organization, their beliefs, as well as main rituals. I asked Rob if he would be interested in doing this interview with me, but unfortunately both of our schedules did not allow it at the time, but he said he would fill it out anyways. I got the email this morning and felt it was very enlightening and painted a good background for the future interview I was wanting to have with Rob, so I decided to post this anyways....
CYH: Rob Fish is the singer of the hardcore punk band, 108. He has also been in such influental bands as Ressurection and The Judas Factor. After a decade hiatus, 108 has returned back into Rob's life and into all of us who admire the band. 108 was influental in the process of Krishna Consciousness within the hardcore community in the early to mid 90s, and continues to be viewed as a premier band in spiritually conscious bands.
CYH: Please state your given name as well as your spiritual name.
RF: Birth name Robert J. Fish and spiritual name Rasaraja dasa.
CYH: What was your spiritual life like growing up as a child, and when did it start transitioning into what it became later in life?
My father was Jewish and my mother was Roman Catholic. Although I received communion and confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church I was never interested from a theological perspective and by the time of confirmation was rather opposed to the social and institutional aspects of religion. Growing up I was very adverse to the religious experiences I was given access to. I found it to be something born and driven by fear, oppression and a desire for self righteousness. The undeniable sense of self righteousness and judgment on others was very unsettling for me. I knew of my faults, my demons, and they were undeniable in my life.
My interest in India. Although, in many ways, my delving into the group was helpful in terms of distracting or explaining to a degree my early childhood traumas ultimately my discomfort with religious institutions, intellectual rejection of faith and my ability to begin to confront my traumas led me away from the group. So my initial experiences with Gaudiya Theology was a mixed bag for me. was primarily driven due to childhood trauma associated with sexual abuse and clinical depression and understanding/explaining those experiences in the context of karma. Although I have always been intellectually an atheist, or agnostic, from an emotional perspective I found myself leaning towards theism due to my attraction to the stories of Radha and Krishna which first led me to the Hare Krishna group, or , from the ages of 15 to 25. During that time my feelings towards social and institutional aspects of religion remained negative but I did spend time living in an ashram and later overseeing a temple which was the first ever outside of
Still my attraction towards the stories of Radha and Krishna led me to delve deeper into the theological roots of the Hare Krishna movement. From there I came to be at odds with the Hare Krishna movement due to my perception that their take on Gaudiya Vaisnavism was in many ways diametrically opposed to the Gaudiya Vaisnava theology and was more of a hindu ized Born Again Christian group dressed in saffron robes.
During the next few years I read many translations of core Gaudiya Vaisnava literature such as Sri-Sri Siksastakam, Raga Vartma Candrika, Madhurya-kadambini, Prema Bhakti Candrika, Sri Stavavali, Sri Sri Radha Rasa Sudhanidhi and Sri Vilapa
Kusumanjali and during my trips to Vridavan, India I spent most of my time visiting and investigating more orthodox Gaudiya Vaisnava groups which led me to the mahant of Radha Kunda, Srila Ananta dasa Maharaja, who resided at Radha Kunda which is undoubtedly considered the most important and holiest of places for Gaudiya Vaisnavas.
After a year of study, corresponding with Srila Ananta dasa Babaji Maharaja, I took harinama and diksa initiation from him and was then given instruction specific to my siddha pranali.
CYH: Are there any specific spiritual/religious groups that you associated with during your life?
RF: ISKCON (1988 – 1997)
CYH: Are you still apart of any of those groups? If so, how do you feel you have grown from it? If not, what made you leave?
RF: No I am not. Like I said above although, in many ways, my delving into the group was helpful in terms of distracting or explaining to a degree my early childhood traumas ultimately my discomfort with religious institutions, intellectual rejection of faith and my ability to begin to confront my traumas led me away from the group.
CYH: Are there any specific conversion rituals apart of your current or former religious group?
RF: The former group, ISKCON, has twoconversion rituals. The first, Harinama, is when one vows to no longer have sex, unless for procreation, tonot partake in any intoxication, abstain from eating any meat, fish, chicken eggs and other infavorable foods and not to gamble. The participant also vows to chant 16 rounds, which consists of 108 beads each round, of the mantra. Later the initaite would recieve brahman initiation, or diksa, which allows one to conduct worship of dieties and requires a meditation discipline at different points of the day. Personally I never took brahman initiaon (diksa) in ISKCON because of my lack of faith.
CYH: Were there any daily rituals performed by your group? If so, what was the most important one out of all of them?
Initially everyone chants harinama (i.e. Hare Krsna maha mantra) on beads. When one receives diksa the daily sadhana, or spiritual practice, looks like the following. Each day one chants the following diksa mantras:
Sri Navadvip Mantra-Smarana
Sri Guru Mantra and
Sri Mahaprabhu Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Nityananda Prabhu Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Advaita Prabhu Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Mantra and Gayatri
Sri SrIvasa Pandita Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Vrndavana Mantra-Smarana
Sri Guru Manjari Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Krsna Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Radha Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Lalita Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Ananga Manjari Mantra and Gayatri
Sri Rupa Manjari Mantra and Gayatri
All mantras are counted on the fingers 10 times with the exception of Gauranga, Krishna and Radha Mantra's and Gayatri which are chanted on diksa mantra beads 108 times.
You also chant 4 rounds of the Panca-Tattva mantra on japa mala (Sri Gauranga Sri-Advaitacandra Gadadhara Srivasadi Gaura-bhakta-vrnda) and rounds of the Hare Krsna Maha Mantra (minimum of 4 rounds but it is considered best to chant as much as possible with a lakh, or 64 rounds, considered minimum for one advancing in the stages or sadhana.
One also may received a Giridhari, or a stone deity of Krishna from Govardhana Hill (Vrindavana, India). The daily routine starts with Puja. Midway through puja is when one may chant Diksa/Gayatri mantras. One may then do my yogapitha-seva and a simple offering to Giridhari.
Disciples of my Baba practice yogapitha seva in two phases, Navadvip-lila and Radha-Krishna-lila . The meditation is integrated with ones siddha-pranali, which means the channel of siddha-svarupas which is the Vraja-counterpart of ones guru-parampara. When one receives siddha-pranali the guru will instruct the disciple in the Vraja-identities of each of the gurus in the parampara, along with the guru's identity as well as the disciple's identity, revealed to the guru in a divine vision.
The details, or ekadaaa-bhava and the amount of details will vary from tradition to tradition. We receive nama (name), varna (complexion), vastravayasa (age), svabhava (nature), seva (service), kunja (bower) and nivasa (residence). The disciple is instructed on the matter of smarana, commonly beginning with the practice of yogapitha-smarana.
This connects the disciple into an eternal allegiance of servanthood in the spiritual realm, and it is through this channel of associates of Sri Radha-Krishna that the sadhaka then renders his service. Additionally, there may be details on one's names of different relatives such as father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law and husband, and other such relevant information.
The details of sadhana may vary from one lineage to another, but this is the general outline. The roots of these methods of sadhana go back to the associates of Mahaprabhu. Particularly procedures are found in the books of Gopal Guru Gosvami and Dhyanacandra Gosvami. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti encouraged the method of dual
(Gaura/Radha-Krishna) upasana and Narottama dasa Thakura envisioned himself engaged in yogapitha-seva in his songs.
Manjari-seva is discussed in the books of the Gosvamis as well, particularly the works of Sri Raghunatha Gosvami such as Vilapa Kusumanjali which gets very specific about the various services rendered throughout the day. Also Govinda-lilamrta of Gosvami is an excellent example of an early asta-kaliya-lila meditation.
The self-esteem is gradually established through the practice of mantramayi-upasana, or yogapitha-seva. Step by step, it will help the practitioner to become firmly established in his eternal spiritual identity in ecstatic love of God. There is also a great deal of value in simple identification itself. What I believe I am is almost as important as what I do, and the latter will follow on the former if it is strong enough.
CYH: What was this group's and/or your own personal view of death?
RF: Physical death is inevitable. Spiritually one is considered eternal.