We all know “harer nāma” verse by heart, that in this age of Kali there’s no other way but chanting of the Holy Name, but I must admit that it hasn’t been enough for me yet. I agree that in our tradition it is certainly true, and if one uses even an ounce of his brain he’d realize that alternatives are impossible to follow, but that still leaves some options open.
We accept this injunction on the strength of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s authority and can easily trace it up to Lord Caitanya but it seems the buck stops there. I don’t think other vaiṣṇava sampradāyas are convinced by our citations, for example, they don’t consider this statement authoritative enough. Why, I sometimes ask myself, and this creates doubts in my mind and possibly pollutes my heart.
I think the damage can be contained because as far as I am concerned chanting IS the only way, whatever else people can swear works is not even applicable to me. I can’t do yoga even like contortionist ladies in the nearby yoga club and they’d beat me even in concentration, and I certainly can’t study Vedanta or any other scriptures outside of Prabhupāda, so jñāna is out, too. I can’t even worship the deities so chanting is the only thing that is left. I have no doubt about that.
What I do seem to have is a theoretical possibility that there IS some other way that might work for someone else and I need to deal with that possibility even if only for the peace of my mind. It can be resolved in two ways – there is some other method so God bless them, or there isn’t and anyone claiming otherwise is a fraud.
Whatever the solution, it won’t directly affect my practice but it will change the way I relate to people and so affect me indirectly. Btw, I say “I” here but I believe this problem of relationships with others affecting our own hearts is quite common even if this particular question isn’t. Wishing people good luck sounds like a safe option but could be seen as a compromise with the siddhānta and thus lead to duplicity, while shooting them down as frauds might easily turn into a needless offense.
That’s why the safest way is to stay out of dealings with non-devotees altogether. Don’t ask, don’t care what they say and think, and so don’t force yourself to make difficult choices. Problem solved.
The can, however, has been open and needs to be dealt with. Let me start with something else, however – the worshipers of Lord Śiva.
We know he has got quite a big following and he rewards his sincere devotees, and for that he is known as Āśutoṣa. We know that he is practically as good as Viṣṇu and is beyond the reach of the material world, and he can even put up the word for his people so that they are granted liberation, so he seems like a respectable person to take shelter of. Should his followers be above criticism then? Should they be spared of disdain we have for māyāvāda?
The Caitanya Caritāmṛta purport (CC Madhya 18.115) I’ve been using for the last two days gives a clue. It refers to three verses from the story of the infamous Dakṣa’s sacrifice where curses where flying left and right. Dakṣa cursed Śiva and then one of Śiva’s close associates, Nandīśvara, stood up and cursed Dakṣa to get a face of a goat in return, and the rest of the brāhmaṇas who took Dakṣa’s side he condemned to a materialistic way of life – being enchanted with Vedic verses but using them only to beg for food and fill their bellies and not for any spiritual realization.
After brāhmaṇas were so cursed, Bhṛgu Muni retaliated by cursing followers of Lord Śiva to become pāṣaṇḍīs, too. It’s not clear who exactly he had in mind, though. The verse itself (SB 4.2.28) gives two criteria – those who take a vow to satisfy Lord Śiva and those who “follow such principles”. By “such principles” he meant the accusations thrown by Dakṣa – living in a cemetery, hanging out with ghosts, and not showering every day. I suspect that there are plenty of Śaivas who are actually very clean and respectable people so they should be spared.
On the second though, there’s nothing unclear about this verse – anyone who wants to serve Lord Śiva is cursed, no excuses. They WILL become pāṣaṇḍīs. The only confusion is when I don’t want to accept this simple reality – all Śaivas are cursed to become sat-śāstra-paripanthinaḥ — diverted from transcendental scriptural injunctions.
They have their Purāṇas, we think, we have ours. Ours are better but theirs are not bad either, it’s all Vedic literature and we should not reject any of it. And yet this story with Bhṛgu’s curse condemns Śaivas to become “diverted” from sat-śāstra and accept asat-sāstra instead, particularly māyāvāda, as Prabhupāda explains it in the purport. So either way they are condemned – whether they imitate Lord Śiva’s behavior or whether they follow the philosophy he propagated in his incarnation as Śaṅkara. Afaik, these days most of the Śaivas are ultimately monists even when they disagree with Śaṅkara on various philosophical points.
In another verse Bhṛgu Muni said Śaivas were already atheists because they (Nandīśvara) have blasphemed brāhmaṇas. It doesn’t particularly help in judging modern day Śaivas but it’s an important point to remember – never ever criticize brāhmaṇas, it’s a sign of atheism already.
Finally, Bhṛgu Muni said that speaking with contempt about Vedas is unacceptable, too. Nandīśvara called them flowery and sugary but Bhṛgu insisted on their eternal purity and called Nandīśvara a pāṣaṇḍī for the third time.
A question could arise why Nandīśvara got cursed for talking about flower language of the Vedas while we aren’t. Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna to rise above the Vedas because they deal with three guṇas of nature, and Lord Caitanya swore not to take interest in Vedic poetry. I think the answer is simple – Nandīśvara got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time while we aren’t, if we were caught babbling something about Vedas being not up to scratch in Bhṛgu’s presence we’d get cursed, too. Plus no Muni can override instructions of either Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya so as long as we stick to those we are safe. We do not condemn the language, we condemn those who misuse it to come to asat-śāstric conclusions, it’s not the same thing.
So that’s it for the possibility of Śaivas to achieve anything worthwhile, Śiva might be spotless himself but his followers are cursed to become atheists, arguing that it might not be their original goal is useless, a curse is a curse, it needs to play out. When Śiva observed all that he simply got up and left, visibly unhappy, but there was nothing he could do about it. People had said things they shouldn’t had and there was no taking these words back.
I’ll deal with possible alternatives to “there’s no other way” when I find at least some ideas, so far I’ve got nothing.
PS. When we aren’t satisfied with behavior or modern day brāhmaṇas we should remember they’ve been cursed to become materialistic, too. It’s not their fault per se.