While considering the proper stance regarding religious pluralism it’s impossible to ignore the question of impersonalism. We’ve been told to fight it from the very beginning but if we talk about co-existence of religions we need to modify out stance without compromising our own values at the same time.
What is exactly our issue with impersonalism? Why do we have to fight it so much?
In the beginning we just patiently listened to Prabhupada chastising impersonalists left and right. I bet, though, that no one had seen a real one at that time yet. Prabhupada was preparing us for debates with unknown, invisible enemies and, in a sense, we still haven’t found them yet.
What we found, however, is the traces of impersonalist philosophy all around us and the more advanced among us realized that WE are impersonalists ourselves, too.
The crux of the matter is the nature of the material world – is it false or is it real? Mayavadis, another word for impersonalists, claims that it is false. Prabhupada taught us that it is real.
Their perception of the world is, however, not much different than ours. They feel pain and pleasure just the same. What is all the fight about, then?
One way to explain it is that by claiming this world as false and only Brahman (in this blog I will use that word to describe the impersonal effulgence emanating from the body of Supreme Personality of Godhead) is real mayavadis deny the divinity of Krishna’s incarnations. They treat them as the same false material forms that we can see and experience everywhere. At best they are a bit closer to the Brahman than us but they do not have any existence beyond what is/was visible to us here.
They also deny any existence of God beyond this material world because, in their view, only Brahman really exists, there’s nothing else there.
Basically, they deny existence of Krishna and, naturally, devotees do not like that.
Another aspect of treating the world as false is that everybody becomes equal – equally false. All forms and shapes are products of an illusion, including that of Krishna in Dvaraka or Kurukshetra. While on the lower stages of spiritual development we see them as different and so we worship various gods but on higher stages we see every form, every body as equal, thus me and Krishna become the same. I am God and God is me, and everybody else, too.
Devotee, naturally, reject this attitude, but we live in a world full of other people and we have to co-exist, as I said. How?
Maybe we should realize the place of impersonalism in spiritual development even if we reject its conclusions.
Maybe we should isolate our conflict with impersonalism and keep it compartmentalized.
Maybe we should summon our anti-impersonalist arguments only when it’s appropriate.
Maybe we should realize that in terms of human development impersonalism is the greatest thing ever, that is the fact we should probably get used to.
Let’s start with this last one – the human race has inherent quest for knowledge of the world around us. We strive for knowledge and truth, we search of it everywhere and we try to separate what we believe is true from what we believe as false. We look for better things, better understanding, better insights, we look deeper in our history, farther in our universe and closer into our atoms.
We haven’t found God, but it’s not only us. Vedic scholars and philosophers came to the same conclusion – God does not exist in the observable world and all phenomena we have ever experienced in all our history have been the product of matter or illusion, but that has never stopped us in our quest.
We pushing further and further, to the time of the Big Bang and to the sparks of bosons flying at the speed of light. We want the truth and all our endeavors and achievements are measured by that yardstick – are we getting any closer? We push and push and push in every aspect of our lives, in literature, philosophy, science, social lives, we capitalize on every success and incorporate it into every other field.
We are moving forward, and that’s the only way we know and the only way that matters.
Now come devotees and they have figured it all out already. We take our understanding from them and treat it as a spiritual ABC.
From our position the search for truth can only reach the understanding that the truth cannot be found in this world of matter. The evolution of human thought cannot reach Krishna on its own and so it has a ceiling and that ceiling is impersonalism – the world is made of matter, it’s perishable and illusory, and beyond it we can perceive only Brahman.
So it’s not like these people are wasting their time, they ARE trying to find God, it’s just that God cannot be found, only his impersonal aspect is open to us at the end of our journey.
Should we blame people for staying on this path? It’s a legitimate path in every respect, as far as evolution is concerned. Once people reach that wall they will be given a chance to learn about the Personality of God that lies beyond the Brahman and at that point they can choose to serve Him or to simply bathe in the light emanating from His body.
We know it from the devotees but I’m not sure we made that choice ourselves yet. Unless we directly see God we are driven either by desire to enjoy the world or to reject it as illusory, real service begins after the liberation, when our hearts are completely pure of all material contamination, including rejecting this world as false, as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and other acharyas said. Until that moment we only experience the shadow of the service, shadow of the Holy Name.
What we do now as followers of Srila Prabhupada is extremely important, we will need the service we are doing now, however imperfect, to help us surrender to the Lord when our hearts will be pure. Maybe some of us will make a different choice, who knows, there’s free will after all.
Perhaps it’s this class of mayavadis we should avoid at all costs – people who made a clear choice, free from the influence of illusion, and chose enjoying their qualitative oneness with the Supreme Lord over rendering devotional service.
If some follower of Islam tells us that God has no personal characteristics we will simply dismiss him for the lack of knowledge, if a vedic philosopher dismisses the devotional service as only a temporary measure to achieve God like quality for himself we should really worry as most of us are nowhere near that level yet of knowledge yet.
We might beat them with quotes but it’s “I’ve been there, I tried both” attitude that is impossible to beat and that attitude could very easily contaminate our own consciousness. We better not hear about this option until we are firm in our devotion ourselves.
To sum it up – if an ordinary conditioned soul exhibits traits of impersonalism in his quest for truth we shouldn’t take it as an offense, it’s just normal pains of growing. We shouldn’t encourage it either but we should realize that everybody has to pass this stage during evolution of their consciousness. If a jnani on the threshold of liberation preaches the supremacy of being one with God it’s an entirely different matter and we should oppose it in every way we can. They should know better.
The difficulty lies in separating a sincere quest from the one subtly directed by hardcore impersonalists who made it their mission to deny existence of God.
There are, of course, hard core materialists who deny God, too, but only because they have no personal experience of Him. They just don’t yet realize they can’t reach Him following their methods. There are hard core materialists who deny God because they can’t stand being inferior to anyone, but that’s just material nature speaking, the greed, the lust, the pride etc. etc.
I think in these cases we should address the material contamination itself rather than its symptoms manifested as scientific arguments. I think we should work on purifying their hearts before we can start talking serious science with them.
As far as the current debate is concerned, the one I have been covering for the past couple of days – I’m still dancing around making a decision what stance to take. If I were to consider what to contribute to it in the public arena I still don’t know what to say. I hope tomorrow it will become clearer for me, now that I dealt with a couple of elephants in the room.