A couple of days ago I expressed some doubts about “spiritual” nature of the Pañca Tattva. Obviously, its members are not material but there’s a difference between their advent and advent of Kṛṣṇa’s associates five thousand years ago.
We assume that Kṛṣṇa’s Vṛndāvana pastimes were a temporary manifestation of spiritual Goloka, that Kṛṣṇa and all His devotees were never a part of this world, they never exchanged their true spiritual forms for bodies made of material elements. Exchange is probably not the best word here but you know what I mean.
This understanding might not be entirely correct because in Earthly Vṛndāvana there were visits by various demons who were clearly not in their spiritual bodies but wearing material forms just like the rest of us. These demons do not exist in Goloka, it is said that there’s only fear of them and Kṛṣṇa’s defeating those fears, ie these pastimes exist solely as an interaction between Kṛṣṇa and His devotees, no real demons harmed in the process.
Still, I don’t think we are ready to accept that bodies of Vṛndāvana residents in Kṛṣṇa’s time were made of material elements, an inferior energy. While that topic might be in contention, bodies of many of Lord Caitanya’s associates had no chance of being made of superior, purely spiritual energy at all.
There’s no clarity whether these devotees exist as such in the spiritual world, too – they all have their own identities in Kṛṣṇa līlā and those identities can’t be exchanged for new ones. OTOH, temporarily accepting material bodies to take part in Lord Gaurāṇga’s pastimes does not contradict anything we know.
I don’t think Śrīla Prabhupāda was ever very clear about this, what we do know about the exact nature and mechanics of Navadvīpa dhāma comes to us from the works of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. I haven’t read them and I have no intention to do so in a foreseeable future. People who interpret his books have caused enough trouble for our society as it is, I don’t want to risk joining their ranks.
Let’s say it’s somehow possible for Kṛṣṇa’s and Lord Caitanya’s associates to freely “travel” between two dhāmas in the spiritual world and assume different identities there. It might work in some different, less contradictory way, I don’t know.
What we do know is that down here many of those associates appeared OUTSIDE the dhāma. This has not happened in Vṛndāvana pastimes, afaik. Being born outside Lord’s dhāma is a kind of a big deal.
Kṛṣṇa tells Uddhava in the Eleventh Canto (SB 11.21.8):
Among places, those bereft of the spotted antelope, those devoid of devotion to the brāhmaṇas, those possessing spotted antelopes but bereft of respectable men, provinces like Kīkaṭa and places where cleanliness and purificatory rites are neglected, where meat-eaters are prominent or where the earth is barren, are all considered to be contaminated lands.
In Bengal, Gauḍa deśa, the land where Ganges flows and where Navadvīpa is located, is considered pure. Why would Lord’s associates choose to be born where there are no such benedictions? Advaita Ācārya didn’t have many nice words to say about spirituality in those days, not to mention that Bengal was ruled by cow-eating Muslims.
The answer is, of course, that simply by their birth Lord’s devotees purify both the land and its inhabitants. That is a perfectly acceptable explanation, of course, but it doesn’t change the fact that being born in a wrong place is a kind of a curse.
Consider Palestinian children, for example. They have been born into a society that has never known peace in their lifetimes. Or, better yet, consider Eastern Ukraine. It used to be a place like any other in post-Soviet space but then suddenly, just in a couple of months, it has gone into a full civil war mode.
Anyone born there shares its karma. This also means that there are no innocents there. All those people are children of their land, students of their history, adepts of their culture. They cannot disassociate themselves from it and the culture cannot exist without people practicing it.
By a twist of politics, suddenly they found themselves at odds with their central government and also at odds with their life long neighbors and co-citizens. Even if they don’t personally take guns, the war has come to them.
How can we assume that place of birth has no significance? Even devotees get contaminated by their surroundings (to a degree a devotee can become contaminated at all). A few days ago there was an article on Dandavats about a devotee who went missing in Eastern Ukraine and the authors plugged in a clearly political video pointing finger at one particular side in the conflict. We are supposed to be above that, and Russian leader even issued a statement calling for devotees not to take sides that was also published on Dandavats, but, apparently not everyone got the memo.
This article, the one with the political video, has been pulled, which is a good thing, but then I thought that maybe ISKCON leader’s plea wasn’t heeded because he was Russian. Should we consider devotees’ nationality these days, too?
That was a rhetorical question – of course we shouldn’t, but that is in theory. In practice, however, we might consider material conditioning of our devotees and avoid controversial subjects when necessary.
A couple of years ago one of the sides in one of our never ending conflicts was compared to Taliban. In their defense, that side tried to explain that Taliban might not be all bad, that they are the victims of Western propaganda. This thought was never actually expressed but it looked that way to the opponents.
Taliban is not an ethnicity, it’s an Islamic fundamentalist movement, but it’s tied to Afghanistan, meaning those people are also slaves of their geography. They can’t help it, it’s all they have ever known, and they don’t think of themselves as evil incarnate. Do they deserve the rap they get? They don’t think so. There’s the law of karma to sort it out but as devotees we can make our own judgments based on our scriptures and philosophy.
If we examine it this way, outside of the political box thinking, we might find that Taliban deserves our support rather than condemnation. They are deeply religious and they are ready to die to protect their religious principles and their way of life, which is also religion based.
Islam might not be perfect but our only gripe with Muslims is cow eating. Taliban are not big on cows, they eat goats instead, and they might even have some kind of purifying rituals for their goat slaughter. That sounds very Vedic like, nothing that we must object as a matter of principle.
They might kill civilians from time to time but not as many as occupying Western powers, that argument is too hypocritical to consider seriously, and we, unlike the westerners, should consider crimes against religious principles as a possible justification for their brutality.
Their anti-feminism obviously doesn’t count.
Anyway, my point today is that our place of birth matters. In some cases it matters a lot, in some cases not so much, but it affects everyone. Śrīla Haridās Ṭhākura missed on a lot of Lord Caitanya’s and other devotees’ association due to taking his birth in a Muslim family, so it affects even the purest of the purest.
For Lord Caitanya’s associates there were no spiritual affects, of course, but there must be spiritual effects for us. Our progress depends on our external service and our external service depends on our external conditioning.
I have another idea how it might manifest in our lives but I’ll save it for tomorrow.