Vanity thought #203. Incarnating.

I was reading Gaura Ganodesha Dipika recently, which could be found on Nitaaiveda, and I was surprised how casually Kavi Karnapura deals with incarnations there.

There’s no ontological explanation offered to understand what he really meant when he said this gopa appeared as this and that demigod appeared as that. Maybe one day I will find something definitive on the subject but until that day I’m free to speculate as much as I want. What fun!

Basically, we are dealing with stuff like this, for example:

51. The person who appeared in Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes as Jagadananda Pandita was actually an incarnation of Shrimati Satyabhama-devi. What devotee can say otherwise?

Kavi Karnapura has complied the book from writings of senior devotees and testimonies of devotees in Orissa, Bengal and Mathura, too.

He started working on Gaura Ganodesha Dipika about twenty years after the disappearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu when many of Lord’s associates were still present and memories were still fresh. Now no one is in the position to argue, of course.

The question still remains – with no references given in the book and no exact sources for each disclosed identity, how can we trust these revelations completely? Not speaking for anyone else here – how can I be sure that none of these statements is based, in fact, on a rumor that was going around some fifty years earlier and which no one cared to refute at that time?

From biographies of Lord Chaitanya it appears people were eager to say all kinds of things in those days. I mean there are plenty of cases in Chaitanya Bhagavat, for example, when people were openly speculating on identities of the Lord and His associates.

What about Srimati Laksmipriya who is described as Laksmidevi but Lord Chaitanya Himself said she was a dancer from Indra’s court?

I don’t know who was right and who was wrong. Kavi Karnapura? Lord Chaitanya? Lochana Das Thakura? It appears one of them must have been wrong.

That is an awkward question to ask and I’d rather avoid tackling it head on.

I’d rather propose that we might see incompatible answers because we haven’t formulated the question properly. I mean let’s look at the meaning and possible mechanics of incarnating first.

There are plenty of cases in Gaura Ganodesha Dipika of two persons incarnating in the same body. Advaita Acharya’s son Achyutananda was the incarnation of both Kartikkeya and Achyta Gopi, for example. Haridas Thakur was incarnation of Richika Muni, Prahlada Maharaj, and, according to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Lord Brahma. Ramananda Raya is declared an incarnation of three persons – Lalita, Arjunya, and Arjuna, and just a few verses earlier Arjuna, the cowherd boy from Vrindavana, was mentioned, too.

Apparently that same Vrindavana Arjuna also appeared as Sri Parameshvara, while Lalita is said to have incarnated as Gadadhara Pandit.

It sounds like a royal mess rather than definitive list, but only we we approach it from “you go as this person and you go as that person” perspective, which is the most natural for us. Maybe it’s this approach that is incorrect, not the results.

From the very beginning of Krishna consciousness movement everybody is told that we are spirit souls that migrate from one body to another, that the soul travels between planets and between species of life. That in this life I might be a man but previously I might have been a woman, or will become a woman next. Maybe I have lived in India once already, maybe I will earn the privilege of being born there soon. It’s all about me going places, isn’t it?

Well, what if it really isn’t?

What if this whole material world is a giant amusement park? What if we are just moving from one ride to another? The difference between this model and our usual perception is enormous – carnival rides go in their circles regardless of whether we made to get on in time or we missed.

It’s not me who becomes a man in this life – just like with rides, this man’s body is going through its paces regardless of whether I’m present or not.

Sure the body needs a soul to live, that’s our definition of life, but carnival rides also won’t go if there’s no one aboard and it still doesn’t matter who exactly is on and some percentage of seats is allowed to go empty.

What I’m trying to say is that this body of mine would continue to go on regardless of me, the spirit soul’s presence. There are plenty of other souls around to take my place, theoretically speaking, if I leave someone could easily fill my tiny shoes in no time. I’m sure the universe is not going to stop.

Think of it this way – Krishna might grant liberation to any number of souls at any time, would their absence screw the course of the world? If their presence was so essential to the workings of their bodies, the universe is surely going to be screwed. If, however, any soul would do, the universe would go on without a glitch.

So, perhaps Lord Chaitanya’s pastimes were going on regardless of who was incarnating in whom. Maybe some of His eternal associates appeared in one body at one time and in another body later, they were just trying to experience different pastimes and different flavors of association with the Lord. Maybe there was even a queue there:

– Can I be Haridas Thakur, please?
– Sorry, occupied.
– Can we share? Just for one day? Please?
– Oh, okay, squeeze in, feel yourself at home.

Of course it doesn’t happen normally. Normally we are strapped to this one particular body for the duration of its life. In Sanmodana Bhashyam Bhaktivinoda Thakur said “strapped to the wheel of material existence”, which sounds like a more fitting description. Liberated souls are free to insert themselves in any particular place and at any particular time and in no particular order.

To us Lord’s pastimes appear as progressing from past to future, for them it’s just a collection of episodes, being subject to the influence of time is just a temporary inconvenience that is more than offset by the opportunity to associate with the Lord.

Back to the ordinary souls, though – there’s no “me” that transmigrates from one body to another. The soul does not take anything with itself when it reincarnates. Surely it might carry the memories of the previous rides but those memories have no connection with the current ride whatsoever. If we don’t see ourselves as souls we shouldn’t expect old memories to suddenly shine through, should we?

We understand that gross bodies inherit stuff like DNA from the parents and when a soul incarnates in a particular body it accepts what is given. Why should we assume that subtle elements like mind and intelligence follow completely different rules, as if we take them with us and carry them everywhere, from one body to another. When they appear connected to a particular gross body they might inherit something from somewhere but surely they haven’t been sneaked in by the soul itself in a fanny pouch.

What if, due to some special circumstances, one soul leaves the body and another takes its place? The mind, the intelligence, the memory – everything that we can see and experience remains the same, keeps going by the same material laws, predictably responds to the same material stimuli and so on.

At this point I want to stress that I’m a firm believer that the soul is not a doer of anything. It just sits there and watches. It can’t change a single damn thing about its material existence.

At this point I dare to state that everything, absolutely everything we can see and experience and feel about another person is just a combination of material elements, gross and subtle, and each particular combination has its own history and explanation how it came about.

Once a devotee played a devil’s advocate with Prabhupada and, defending scientists, said that they believe some things happen by accident. No way, Prabhupada replied, they just don’t see the connection, that’s why they say it’s a chance, they just try to cover their ignorance. Nothing in the universe happens by chance.

Maybe there are difference statements elsewhere and I’m just cherry picking here but this is good enough for me at the moment. When new information comes to my attention I’m willing to reconsider my position.

For now it boils down to this – I’m just a soul that has been given a chance to participate in this body’s chanting of the Holy Names. I didn’t start it, I’m not doing anything myself, I don’t even know who I am, I just sit there and listen and the body chants.

Maybe it’s a punishment, maybe it’s a promotion, maybe next time I’ll be given a chance to stay in a far more Krishna conscious body, you know, living a life of a genuine vaishnava.

Whatever happens, I hope that the chanting phase lasts long enough to affect my heart.


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