Vanity thought #1726. In memoriam

For some reason it’s not often that I see something inspiring on Dandavats. There are plenty of inspirational articles there, this cannot be denied, but I often fail to resonate with them. Sometimes it’s the sheer volume of information that makes me skip reading this or that and I postpone it for another day. The entire “Daily Meditation” series is a case in point – you either read them every day or wait until you have time to go through them all. I hope they won’t disappear from the Internet.

These recollections of Śrīla Prabhupāda pastimes are priceless and there must be something like a hundred posts in the series already, I read maybe the first thirty. I also have another ninety e-mails in my mail box with another series of posts about Prabhupāda, they arrive almost every day and I can barely keep this ever growing number under a hundred. I also have two more books about Prabhupāda on my must read list and I would also like to read Līlāmṛta again. And that is just about Prabhupāda, not counting all other books in our ever growing library, which all comes on top of reading Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books as part of our daily sādhana.

Maybe this explains why I’m not so excited about a dozen or so posts that pop up on Dandavats every day. Each one of them deserves special consideration, each one of them is beneficial for the development of our devotion, but I just haven’t got the time. This past week, however a couple of posts stood out. One is the minutes of annual GBC meeting.

A lot of it is a trivial stuff – who was appointed to do what, what ministries do we have, what resolve we must show, what programs GBC supports this year, zonal assignments, candidates for sannyāsa and so on. They saved the best for the last, however. There’s a section on Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī and a section on Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī’s book “Women: Masters or Mothers”. One is a good news and one is bad.

Earlier GBC sent emissaries to talk to Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī about his Krishna West program (no diacritics in Krishna here because it goes kinda against his philosophy of making things easier for westerners). People on Samparadaya Sun have nothing but condemnation for his preaching, which I see rather as a badge of honor. Not a proof that his preaching method is legitimate but that his efforts are noticeable and provoke rage in our enemies. Pretty much like Prabhupāda relished fighting de-programming lawsuits in the US in the seventies because to him it was proof that we ARE making change in people’s lives. Of course, devotees on Sampradaya Sun are not our enemies per se but they do love to criticize those who preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness and they do love to tell us how wrong we are.

Personally, I don’t understand Krishna West very well, I’ve seen the website but I don’t know what it looks like in practice, whether it works, and what kind of devotees it produces. I don’t understand why it has to be called a separate thing because wearing karmī clothes and slightly longer hair for preaching has been around since Prabhupāda’s time. There are pros an cons to this, some would wear a very visible tilaka while others will leave only a faint mark so as not to scare people away. I don’t see Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī proposing anything new here.

The meeting he had with representatives of GBC was not about substance of his program, which I see as proof that there are no principal objections to it, but about two sticky points – his criticism of GBC and his personal behavior as a sannyāsī. GBC is right to be concerned about sowing seeds of animosity between GBC and Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī’s followers and Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī was right to promise that he would stop doing it. GBC is still our ultimate authority and it’s still our collective representative of Śrīla Prabhupāda. This undisputed position, however, gives us a reason to grouch and grumble before finally admitting that they are right and we are ought to follow them. Nothing was mentioned in GBC minutes about Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī’s personal behavior and whether he agreed to modify his lifestyle. It’s not healthy when people put up pictures of him being close with women even if nothing untoward happened, it’s not a good example for the rest of us.

That was the good news – Hṛdayānanda Dāsā Gosvāmī wasn’t excommunicated, his preaching programs wasn’t ordered to stop, and the brewing conflict has been largely resolved, I don’t think either of the sides will escalate it in the future. The bad news is that “Women: Masters or Mothers” has been banned. Maybe GBC will produce another paper justifying its decision but for now they just said that it reflects personal views o Bhakit Vikāśa Svāmī and propagates practices illegal in many countries, and it leads to conflict between ISKCON devotees.

I haven’t read the book but only an infamous NA GBC letter with a list of objections (extensively covered in this series of posts). All those objections were against views indisputably supported by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, I didn’t see anything personal from Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī there but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t add his own perspectives at all. What is clear is that not all of ISKCON concurs with those views at the present moment so it shouldn’t purport to speak for our whole society. From this POV I can see how GBC might think it’s better to ban it altogether. This doesn’t answer the question why GBC and parts of ISKCON are uncomfortable with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s statements on these topics, however. I also don’t see how banning the book will help bridge the divide between those who support and object to it. This isn’t the most reconciliatory message GBC could have sent to Bhakti Vikāśa Svāmī, his disciples, and those who agree with him on this. There were two sections in GBC meetings about reconciliation with those who either left ISKCON or no longer involved with it but then they end with telling our active members to cease and desist. It looks like a clash between their desired PR image and the reality of their actions and attitudes.

As our ultimate authority they have the right to this dissonance as well. What can I say? I know the book is right, I’m not the one selling it, I do sympathize with those who do, but I have no choice but to accept the ruling and hope that it will all turn out alright. It’s just a book of quotes from Prabhupāda anyway, it doesn’t tell anything new and it doesn’t fill any gaps in knowledge, and GBC has nothing substantial to add on the matter either. It’s just politics, it’s unavoidable and GBC, as a managing authority, is almost entitled to practicing it.

What we should all remember here is that the only real value in our lives is the mercy that comes down to us from Śrīla Prabhupāda and through his disciples. Material nature will add twists and turns to this mercy and it will make us fight one another but none of that should be taken seriously. He said, she said – it’s all only foam on the surface of the ocean of mercy, it will always be there, and it’s actually my main point today – the video dedicated to departed disciples of Śrīla Prabupāda that appeared on Dandavats as well:

Right now I’m not in the mood to properly address what is shown there, but I don’t think it needs any commentary either, it’s pretty much self-evident.

Vanity thought #1725. God learns about his own powers

The “Story of God with Morgan Freeman” is coming to an end and the last episode in the series is about the power of miracles. Clearly a topic that could not have been avoided in Judaeo-Christian view of religion. They need God’s physical presence in their lives and miracles provide it, otherwise it’s just “I believe that..” or “I have faith that..” Surely God reveals Himself to them according to their worship, which is a universal principle independent of their denominations, but with their sinful lives He is not going to reveal much, hence the need to complement their realizations with “miracles”.

Freeman starts with a personal story of a recovering from a disease and then jumps to a story of New York window washer who survived a fall from the top of 47 story building. Both could be considered miracles by people looking for those but otherwise the window washer was simply left puzzled by what happened and decided to move on with his life without finding all the answers. He visibly tried to explain it as a miracle and as God’s intervention but he didn’t look convinced, and then there was a question of his brother who died in the same fall and wasn’t saved by God. “Why me and not him?” is a tough question to answer for simple window washer so he just moved on without confusing himself any further.

In Freeman’s own case he concluded with “some say God saved me”, which isn’t much. What he astutely observed, however, is that believers need miracles as a proof of God, which I say is a proof that they do not have any actual realization of the Supreme, thanks to their degraded lifestyles. Otherwise Christianity has plenty to offer to its followers, people KNOW that Christ is real, they just can’t hang on to it and lose it with every bite of animal flesh or a sip of wine.

This was obvious from Freeman’s next visit, which was to a celebration of Passover with a Jewish family, and featured a rare female rabbi to provide explanations. Jewish diet, as any other cuisine in the region, isn’t heavily dependent on meat. I’ve heard that people might be genuinely surprised when someone adopts vegetarianism and can’t understand how it could be possible but when pointed out that most of their everyday dishes are already meat free they suddenly realize that it is actually true. There’s a lot of vegetables, bread, cheese, and chickpeas, all smothered in healthy olive oil, and meat is actually a treat, not a staple food.

I can’t say what they were eating at that dinner for sure, I bet vegetarians could have survived it, but they all clearly drank wine, except for children, of course. Wine featured prominently as part of the ritual, too. The point of this Passover dinner was to go through the story of Jews being saved from Egyptians and commemorate it with consuming relevant foods. The “Passover” itself refers to Jews smearing thresholds of their homes with blood as a sign to the angel of death who brought plague to the Egyptians to pass over houses of God’s chosen people. There were lots of other miracles as well, Moses parting the sea and then closing it after Jews have passed through etc etc. What I liked about this ritual is that Jews remember not only their own role in the story but also the role of Egyptians, God’s “other children”, who got all sacrificed to clear the way for Israel to rise.

What’s the spiritual significance of the story? I don’t know, intoxicated mind cannot perceive God in any way, and at one point someone said there that Bible stories are not literal but only the ideas to learn lessons from. Actually, it was the rabbi herself. I understand how to this female posing as a priest and enjoying a glass of wine Bible might appear only as a collection of myths, God isn’t going to actually reveal Himself to such a person.

Then there was a short talk with Vatican priest about miracles in Catholic church. All we learned from it was that the Church investigates these miracles very seriously, sometimes spending decades to confirm them. The most obvious question of whether Catholic criteria would satisfy scientists and doctors and whether there are other, non-miraculous explanations wasn’t even raised. Most of it revolves around people getting healed after praying to departed personalities. Two healings and such a person is considered for sainthood. In contrast with Jewish female rabbi the priest said that belief in Christ performing miracles, such as walking on water, is central to understanding Christianity. To Catholics those were not metaphors, not myths, not ideas, those were actual miracles.

On the science side of things we were presented with trivial facts about probabilities. Any combination of six cards coming in a particular succession has one in fourteen billion chance, meaning any draw of six cards is a “miracle”. He could have added that after a succession of, say, six tails, the chance of the next coin flip being a tail again is still one in two. It’s counter-intuitive, sure, but it doesn’t say anything about miracles.

Then the producers gently bent the narrative towards Eastern concept of karma and inter-connectedness of everything. They started with Romans who augmented their prayers to Gods for wins in gambling on horses with outright cheating. Once again – realization of God does not go well with gambling, whatever miracles happen their they won’t be proof of anything, no matter how much they pray for them.

Next we jumped to Daoist fortune teller and in their philosophy there are no miracles, just connections we can’t see. They do leave room for free will and divine interventions, however.

Then we had a story of a Christian dude who got cured from incurable cancer. Interestingly, it’s not the prayers that cured him but rather, as a result of community prayers, the God actually spoke to him and told him now it was the time to go to the hospital where chemotherapy miraculously dissolved all his cancer tissue, and his tumors were the size of apples, as he said himself. From the video they looked like the size of watermelons, though. I’d say it was clearly a miracle, a divine intervention (in the form of Supersoul, most likely), but the actual healing itself was unusual only from the POV of modern medicine. I mean it was as connected to God as any other process we observe, it’s just that most of the time, due to our upbringing, we do not see the universe as acting according to the will of God and imagine other driving forces instead. We think that if medicine can explain it then it’s not God whereas it’s God’s will all the way and nothing else.

To cement this point Freeman went to Gaya to talk to a Buddhist monk (of western extraction). The thrust of that conversation was that miracles are nothing, with proper training of the mind anybody can do them (or be born as a bird if he really wants to fly), and we’d rather should focus on God who resides within our hearts. Find a connection to this God and you can perform miracles, but that’s not what the world needs – healing, reconciliation etc. Levitating with your butt three inches off the ground might be a miracle but it’s stupid and it doesn’t help anyone.

Funny thing, when transcribing the video for subtitles people working on it produced this: “So then if you’re being inspired by your inner god, Buddha, Christ, you know, Christian or whatever”, but the monk actually said “Krishna, whatever”.

That was one and only mention of Kṛṣṇa, nice that they eventually did it, but they have also completely missed it, just like lots of topics discussed in this show missed the point and presented over-simplified materialistic or māyāvāda interpretations instead.

Vanity thought #1724. God learns about evil

The problem of evil is one of those Christian hangups that can confuse anybody. First they posit that evil exists and then go on speculating about its source and why God allows it and all that follows. Untangling this knot becomes nearly impossible because they force us to use their framework to explain it to them. I mean it’s pretty much like atheists demanding physical proof of God when God is beyond physical perception by definition. They will have no proof of God as long as they remain atheists. Similarly, Christians can’t solve their problem of evil as long as they stay Christians (in the current understanding of their philosophy).

The fifth episode of The Story of God with Morgan Freeman begins with meeting “evil personified”, a prisoner who raped more than two dozen women and murdered three of them, not to mention other “minor” crimes like burglary and robbery. He is serving life sentence, of which thirty years have already passed, IIRC.

Freeman gets a sitdown with him in the company of a psychologist who studies criminal brains for a living. As I said in the beginning, Christians believe that evil is a thing but when Freeman talked to this man evil seemed to be absent. The man confessed to all his crimes and when Freeman asked him why he did it he simply said he felt an irresistible impulse, plus other things fell into place so committing his crimes was practically unavoidable. When Freeman asked him if he wanted to be released he, as a matter-of-factly, replied that if he was released back into the society he would most likely commit more crimes because he is not like other people.

That’s where the psychiatrist agreed with him – this man is a certified sociopath even in the company of other sociopaths. His brain is physically different from other people. They’ve mentioned 99th percentile, whatever that means.

The discussion then shifted to the possibility of identifying such people early on, when they are still children, to better accommodate their growth and prevent them from committing crimes they seem to be wired to do. This was the point when Freeman should have questioned the existence of evil as a phenomenon. That, statistically speaking, it’s just a physical deviation from the norm. He wisely surmised that there’s a bit evil in all of us but didn’t go much further.

The Egyptian leg of his tour wasn’t very informative, though bright colors of Egyptian murals were amazing. The mural itself demonstrated how a person was judged for his good and bad deeds after his death. No biggy. A quip about heavy heart stopping one from a lift-off to heaven was witty but that’s about it.

The story of Zoroastrians wasn’t particularly enlightening either but what I liked about it is how they openly talked about influence of Zoroastrianism on early Judaism. We don’t normally hear that concept of evil, devil, Satan, etc was brought into Abrahamic religions from Zoroastrians, so that was a revelation.

What we didn’t hear is that Zoroastrianism is Hinduism gone wrong, that it has clear Vedic origins. It’s just that Zarathustra picked up a different side in the battle of [demi]gods and turned it into an existential good vs evil war. Maybe it was existential to him, as he broke the ranks with Vedic orthodoxy and naturally needed to justify his decision, but in the big scheme of things battles between demigods or even between suras and asuras are inconsequential and God is impartial to both of them. It’s uncanny how a minor squabble in Vedic pantheon led to modern absolutism of us vs them and language like “axis of evil”.

Another interesting thing about Zoroastrians is their motto – “Good thought, good words, good deeds”, in precisely that sequence. They, unlike atheists, understand that physical phenomena come from subtle reality and not the other way around. First we desire, then we think, then we talk, then we make things happen. If your mind is corrupted or out of control then nothing good will come out of it.

Indian leg of the tour was disappointing again because all they did was visit an exorcist temple. There’s one piśāca who got saved by the grace of Lord Śiva and who was ordered to protect people from other evil spirits in the vicinity. It all makes Hinduism look like some kind of idolatry because no one talked about underlying philosophy. Evil there was attributed to spirits of ancestors who needed to be pacified as a solution.

Come to think about it, there’s no such thing as “evil” in our philosophy. There are evil things and evil spirits, sure, but not “evil” as a category. All the phenomena in this world are manifested by three gunas and “evil” simply shows predominance of ignorance. Likewise, ignorance of the reality is the source of all “evil”, which becomes simply an unforeseen consequence. To the perpetrator it’s the same sense gratification as usual and, blinded by desires, he does not realize that it might create rather unpleasant reactions for his victims and for himself in the future.

Any spiritual progress begins with rising above concepts of good and evil and seeing them as perturbations of the material energy. They always follow one another and most of the time “evil” is a matter of perspective. Kin Jong-un, for example, is evil to the West but North Koreans do not see him that way at all. There are cultures in Asia where Rāvaṇa was as much a hero of Rāmāyaṇa as Lord Rāma himself. Lanka absolutely prospered under his rule and to its citizen there was nothing evil about that. People who get trapped into this dual mentality are not spiritualists, according to our philosophy, but it’s different in Christianity.

Freeman talked to a guy who grew up as a Neo-Nazi skinhead who hurt a lot of people during his “career” but when he got married and fathered a son it all changed. First he had an inner transformation and later his lifestyle and appearance followed. He removed all his facial tattoos, for example. To Christians it looks like a transformation from good to evil under the power of God but it’s just a change in predominating gunas and it was his karma all the way. He discovered that being with a woman and raising a child was a better quality sense enjoyment, that’s all. The underlying dharmic nature of his choice played its role, too, but it was still a selfish move and Christian God was there to justify it. I mean people taking up their varnasrama duties is not much of a spiritual progress.

All in all, I think Freeman has got it – evil is a part of our nature, can’t live with it, can’t live without it, but liberation as a solution hasn’t downed on him yet, let along taking up service to the Supreme, which is transcendental to all these illusory tribulations.

Vanity thought #1723. God learns about what he had done

For some reason “Creation” episode is not on National Geographic site but you can still “explore” it’s content. I don’t know if anyone bothers to click on all the sliding tabs that appear there but there are links to full sized articles on each particular topic which sometimes contain more information than was presented in the show itself. “Creation Myths From Around the World”, for example, includes Chinese version that wasn’t mentioned by Morgan Freeman himself. Maybe I should also “explore” each episode but there’s enough material in the videos as it is.

Morgan Freeman begins the episode by dropping some wisdom that we need to know creation stories in order to understand ourselves. Well, he precluded that by saying that we won’t understand who Morgan Freeman is unless we understand Mississippi, his birthplace. It’s natural for him as an actor to assume that everyone wants to understand him but I, honestly, couldn’t care less.

Christian story of Genesis is a well known one but Freeman found a twist – Adam could have been buried underneath Golgotha so that JC’s blood could trickle down and sanctify his body. It seems Christians here want to have their cake and eat it, too, because they didn’t offer any reasonable explanation why Eden would be in Jerusalem and not in Eden itself, which they believe is somewhere in Mesopotamia.

Freeman then got onto his favorite horse of trying to prove that religion is a matter of evolution. He wanted confirmation that believe in God was related to the birth of farming. His trip to one of the oldest discovered settlements, in Turkey, was fruitless, however. The entire segment looked like a giant speculation and trying to see things that might simply not be there.

He put the question interestingly – did religion give rise to communities (and farming) or did farming give rise to religion?It’s not easy to decide which but the question itself is wrong because it takes religion out of hands of God and makes it a product of evolution. It might be helpful in evolution of human species, if it brought us farming, but still it’s a product of evolution, not God.

Islamic story of creation appeared as the most reasonable one – comparing to what we know from our literature. First there was smoke that later formed into the Earth, which was later populated. It would probably make sense from scientific POV as well. We could say that they are talking about Lord’s glance agitating pradhāna which could be described as smoke, if they wish. Still, where did this smoke come from? That remained unasked.

Christian Genesis, btw, is right that everything began with the word. They are talking about Aum, of course, but then it veers off into six days of creation, God needing rest, the story with the snake and the apple and so on, and it all happened five thousand years ago.

Then we had a couple of stories from less developed cultures – Australian aboriginals and American Maya. They can be augmented by the Chinese story of creation that is in the “explore” section of the episode but not in the video itself. All these stories might be interesting as folklore, and there might be some truth behind them, too, but they are clearly talking about local creation, the birth of these particular tribes. I expected better of Chinese but this might be the fault of National Geographic researchers.

They did a terrible job with Hindu creation, for example – because we know how it really happened from our scriptures while the woman they talked to in Varanasi either had no clue or didn’t tell them anything. She gave the age of the universe at 8.6 billion years while first look at wikipedia gives some 150 trillion intstead (51st year of Lord Brahmā).

The website mentions Puruṣa sūkta from Ṛg veda and I wish I listened carefully to its story when I had a chance but I’m pretty sure that we, vaiṣṇavas, have a very different take on what actually described there. In any case, Puruṣa Sūkta is not the story of the primary creation because gods were already there ready to conduct a sacrifice.

Lady from Varanasi did tell Freeman a story of Ganges but she again missed the most important part – that it entered the universe after Lord Vāmana pierced its covering with his toe. In her story Ganges were already flowing through Brahmāloka and then was released down to Earth where she landed on Śiva’s head. Lord Śiva accepted her only because its waters washed the feet of Lord Viṣṇu as Vāmana and this part remained untold. Maybe in māyāvādī circles these facts are not mentioned at all and so we cannot blame the poor woman, but her blunder with the age of the universe is unforgivable, it seems she was woefully unprepared.

Freeman was visibly taken the worship of Ganges, however, and he admitted at the end of the episode that Hindu idea of creation was appealing to him, even if he didn’t get full information about it. He liked that in the beginning there were no gods at all, there was neither existence nor non-existence, as he quoted from Ṛg veda, but most of all he liked that creation is beyond human understanding so we just have to accept it and move on with our duties.

On the science front we were presented with a short discussion on Big Bang with a Catholic scientist in Vatican. I quite like Catholics for their adherence to the tradition but they no longer take Genesis story literally, they believe in evolution, and so there are Christians out there who appear to be more Catholic than the Pope. We call them fundamentalists and it’s hard to take them seriously but they are just stuck between the rock and the hard place – the Bible and modern science. They try to make them compatible even when they are clearly miles apart. Catholics try to make them compatible, too, but they all try to achieve it on the level of sensual perception and it will never work. We can’t see things as they are with our senses, we see according to our conditioning and our karma, but it’s a big topic for another day.

Vanity thought #1722. God learns about himself

In the third episode of “The story of God with Morgan Freeman” the actor, who played God himself on a couple of occasions, sets out to discover who God really is. For some reason National Geographic channel requires a subscription to view this episode online but it can be “explored” here.

Freeman starts with a visit to a jazz club (or was it Blues?) and says that the way people play music there can be called a religious experience. This might score him some brownies with people who care about jazz (or blues) but otherwise it’s a pretty tall claim that springs out of “whatever I like is good and godly” rather than any serious search for God.

From there he jumps to a māyāvādī den that is Varanasi and gets brainwashed into a version of Hinduism that we see as atheistic and that we made our mission to fight. The woman who acted as Freeman’s guide convinced him that there’s no personal God in Hinduism and there’s no monotheism there. Hello, what about us? What about all the vaiṣṇavas in India who reject the notion that Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu magically appear out of impersonal Brahman? So this poor “god” just went out and increased his ignorance.

They didn’t mention Viṣṇu or Kṛṣṇa in any way and thus implied that they are no different from millions of other Hindu gods. Most of those gods, except Śiva and Durga, are jīva tattva, the same as we are, just happen to be in a position of higher authority in universal order. This inability to differentiate between gods of the material world and God the Vaikuṇṭhas was displayed in this episode again and again in connection to other religions traditions.

As a good atheist would do, Freeman then went to England, to the Stonehenge, calling it the first evidence of people worshiping the Sun as the main god and thus a precursor to monotheism. England’s climate wasn’t very kind so people had to rely on Sun to control the weather and that elevated Sun god above any others. He then talks to a couple of guys doing a research into buried parts of Stonehenge but it leads nowhere. The point still remains – Freeman fully buys into atheistic theory that people invented Gods as they evolved from monkeys and had to deal with their challenges.

Freeman then jets off to Egypt to hear about a pharaoh who declared himself to be the one and only God, God of the Sun as well, and how his cult unraveled very quickly after his death. What did Freeman learn from this story I don’t know, he jumped over to Moses who founded what Freeman thinks was the first true monotheistic religion.

This obsession with monotheism isn’t particularly healthy. Whether there’s one God to rule them all is not the problem, the fact that there are millions of other, lesser gods who are responsible for everyday minutia of our lives remains. They can’t be forgotten or disrespected and there’s nothing wrong with people worshiping them per se. It’s not very smart, as we learn from Bhagavad Gītā, but it is the reality – for vast majority of human population worshiping those “lesser” gods is the only religion they know. Freeman himself, with his atheistic worldview, doesn’t deserve even that so why does he go chasing the Supreme Lord of everything and everyone?

We can answer that in Kali yuga proper worship of demigods is impossible and so benefits from doing so are utterly insignificant. Comparing to pure bhakti they were insignificant in better ages but now it’s really near zero. Instead of wasting time on this one should appeal to the Supreme Lord directly and so that’s the kind of religion that the Lord gave to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Speaking of Judaism, there was a certain point in Jewish history when God told Abraham that worshiping all other gods from now on was unnecessary, as we learn from the scholar interviewed for this episode. Later on Jewish God has become really jealous and in Christianity and Islam worshiping others has become punishable by death. God would murder these deviants himself by millions, if we take stories in the Bible literally.

This is why Christians don’t take Egyptian gods seriously, or Stonehenge, or Hinduism, or any number of religious beliefs they’ve discovered in all parts of the world. This is also why they are completely disconnected from nature, seeing themselves as controllers rather than servants of those who actually control it. That’s where our atheism comes from.

Islam is somewhat different in this regard because, just like us, Muslims simply overlook intermediary deities and go straight to the source itself, which is Allah for them. They know they don’t control the world, Allah does, and in that way they are somewhat spiritually superior to Christians.

What is most interesting about Islam, however, is that God has become essentially non-different from His name, specifically from the call to prayer. I think this is what Muslims practically discovered for themselves and it’s proof that saṅkīrtana IS the yuga dharma for this age regardless of any particular religion. The conversation with imam in that episode was the best and most truthful part, in my view.

Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t end there and Freeman goes to Navajo country to witness a religious ritual of a girl being promoted to womanhood. Whatever superior force that participates in such rituals is not God but Freeman somehow misses it, unable to see the difference.

And then there’s a story of a doctor doing brain scans of people having supposedly religious experiences. Finding God inside your brain, as they called it. I don’t even want to comment on that stinking pile of ignorance. Freeman buys into that premise like an atheist would – that God is simply a product of our brain activity. The only good thing about that part was when the doctor admitted that when he scanned the brain of an atheist he found that the atheist was unable to activate certain parts of the brain to the degree that religious people did.

I mean they are measuring nonsense. All they can see is who is trying harder to concentrate on God rather than actual God’s presence or existence.

The final part of the episode was in some American megachurch and it was fairly inspirational – up to ten thousand people attended spirit raising service, sang about God, declared their faith in Him etc etc. It was still about “belief through faith”, though, not actual God realization. They just get carried away with whatever they choose to believe in today. God woke me up on time, God cleared traffic for me, God saved me a parking spot, God healed me etc etc. It’s all about me me me and the best version of me there can be, which is, incidentally, how Freeman summarized this episode. He literally said “The god in me is who I really am, at my core. The god in me is the best version of me.” What a delusion.

So, in the beginning of the episode this “god” poked his nose into Hinduism and was told he has no nose. At the end of the episode he concluded that he himself really is God, he just have to become good at it. What hope is left there for these people?

Vanity thought #1721. God learns about apocalypse.

Apocalypse is a big issue for Christians so it’s understandable why a show about God would cover the topic of the end of the world as well. It’s one of those Abrahamic hangups westerners have. There might be another episode about existence of Satan as well while I can’t figure out how to explain this “satan” phenomenon without sounding absurd.

Actually, the subject of apocalypse in the second episode of “The story of God with Morgan Freeman” was introduced rather nicely – when Freeman observed that people have been bitching about world going to dogs since forever. In his mind it was linked to the topic of apocalypse but it must be said that all our recorded history happened when Kali yuga was in full swing already so the world DOES deteriorate with each successive generation. Some of these complaints from elders might be subjective but some definitely have a solid ground under them. Just look how Christianity lost to atheism in just a hundred years.

I mean even Freeman himself should have noticed that things have, indeed, been changing lately at a very accelerated pace. Marriage between men is not only a thing now but questioning it has become publicly condemned. The latest controversy is about men using women’s bathrooms if they feel like women today. I’m not going to write a separate post about it so I’ll just say a few words now.

The war over public bathrooms is raging on and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history – transgender people should be able to use the restroom they want, not the restroom assigned according to genders on their birth certificate. I understand it as a gesture of acceptance of their transformation into a person of a different gsex but I understand the concerns of the opposition as well. I mean do transgender people have certificates themselves? What’s stopping any transvestite from walking into women’s room and claiming a right to use it? I don’t know how much privacy is there in public restrooms in question but if we are talking about things like showers and changing rooms then they might end up displaying their still male genitals to women and/or children. I mean we still have gender separation in restrooms for a reason and most women would freak out if a man took a shower next to them. The progressives tell us to get used to it because the world is “evolving”. Evolving back to cats and dogs more like it. Some parts of our bodies are meant to be private, that sense of shame is one of the things that separates us from animals. As devotees we reject communal baths and changing rooms even when they are gender separated, I mean that when taking a bath one should not display his private parts to anyone, even himself.

I might not be well-informed on this issue of public restrooms, maybe they do have a provision to separate transgenders from transvestites and generic perverts, but if all you need to walk into a women’s bathroom is a desire and a dress then it sounds like a legitimate objection.

Back to apocalypse – I’ve learned that Jews are waiting for the advent of a Messiah, too, albeit their Messiah is going to be human, not God. There won’t be an apocalypse per se but this Messiah is going to rebuild the Temple, the central house of Hebrew worship destroyed shortly after Christ. Any attempt to rebuild this temple right now would be as bad as the apocalypse but the prophecy is that the Messiah is going to bring peace with the neighbors first, which is not going to happen in our lifetimes. I hope when the Jews do get the ability to demolish mosques and churches that stand in the way of their temple rebuilding efforts they’ll remember that they need to get both Christians and Muslims on board first.

I’m not sure there’s apocalypse in Islam but ISIS thinks there is going to be the last stand in some god forgotten village in Syria and, according to their interpretation of scripture, it’s coming very soon, in a matter of years rather than decades or centuries. Might very well turn true if international community finally gets on their case. In today’s news Russians declared that they’ve killed a third of combined ISIS and Al Nusra forces in Syria since they started their bombing campaign a few months ago. Over in Iraq government forces started an assault on Faluja and if that goes well Mosul will surely to follow. It all goes according to ISIS plan so far and I hope their last battle in Dabiq will end up like countless apocalypse predictions by doomsday cults in Christianity, ie nothing happens.

On the science side Freeman visited some researcher who studies pain. They give mild electric shocks to volunteers and measure their responses. What they found out is that people tolerate pain much better if they know exactly when it comes, eg at the end of the countdown. If the shock comes at any arbitrary time their bodies react to it stronger. This, in Freeman’s view, could be an explanation of “our” fascination with the apocalypse (we are not part of that group).

We can offer another explanation – people hope that apocalypse would bring them salvation so it’s a natural desire for liberation from suffering. A conditioned soul has two responses to everything that happens in the material world – like and dislike. Likes lead us to creating karma and dislikes make us strive from liberation from karma. Christians in the west are very much for sensual enjoyment – good food, good wine, warm families, which accounts for their “like” reactions to the world, and their express their dislikes by condemning atheists and expecting the apocalypse. Sometimes they accept some arbitrary date and pin all their hopes on it but nothing ever happens.

On the Indian leg of his tour Freeman did talk to Hindus about apocalypse and they told him that the world goes in circles for eternity. He also went to see a Buddhist llama and got the same answer there as well. While with Buddhists, he tried meditation, too, which was about letting go of the past, stopping worrying about the future, and concentrating in the moment. He says he liked it but maybe he was simply being polite.

The llama he chosen was relatively young, only about thirty years old, and, while Freeman was impressed with his humility, I thought he had unhealthy interest in the goings on of the material civilization. Due to his isolation he knows very little about what it actually is and to me he appeared curious in this “Morgan Freeman” person. To me this kind of curiosity looked un-Buddhist but what do I know. In places like Thailand computer malls are filled with Buddhist monks buying software and computer games, I presume. There’s also porn on offer but I hope they stay clear of it.

In Kṛṣṇa consciousness we learn how to live in the world without getting entangled in it but Buddhists do not have provisions for it, afaik. I don’t understand why this llama learned English, for example. Maybe his is a “political” post where he has to communicate with outsiders but I don’t see necessity of English for spiritual pursuits where his community provides all knowledge that he would ever need.

Personally, I would have chosen a bit more mature Buddhist teacher, one who has lived the world and outgrown it, or one who has never been exposed whatsoever. Good that Freeman didn’t go meet Dalai Lama who travels the world but doesn’t get “one with everything” pizza jokes. That kind of engagement is neither here nor there. He doesn’t know how people live and what they love in life, and he has no time for proper meditation either.

All in all, it was another western man filtering foreign cultures through his own lens. He wanted Buddhists to speak in terms familiar to him and he wanted science to explain people’s interest in apocalypse. I appreciate his interest but he still behaves like a frog in a well in a sense that he still measures everything by his own yardstick. That’s not a way to actually learn something new and change oneself in the process.

Vanity thought #1720. God learns about death

National Geographic recently put out a six part series called “The story of God with Morgan Freeman”. It’s a good choice of a presenter because Morgan Freeman played God as an actor a couple of times already so here he is basically learning more about himself.

I haven’t watched the whole show yet but it looks promising, especially the episode called “Who is God”, I hope I won’t be disappointed. The first episode is about death, another interesting topic, so let’s see what Morgan Freeman learned about it. Thanks to the folks at National Geographic full episodes can be viewed online and there’s an interesting “explore” section as well. The first episode is here.

Morgan Freeman is an old man and he projects and image of a wise person. At the same time he is keen to learn new things and shows a great deal of respect to whoever he speaks with. He doesn’t laugh at sometimes silly ideas but rather strives to see values and roots of people’s beliefs. To learn about death he went around the world asking experts in different cultures about how they deal with death, or dealt with death when these cultures were still alive.

He visited Egypt, Jerusalem, Varanasi, and Mexico, as well as New York for the modern science take on the issue as well. Needless to say, science deals with death very differently, but even there Freeman managed to find something promising for us as devotees. In fact, he starts with interviewing a man who documents cases of near death experience, who once nearly drowned himself, spending more than fifteen minutes under water.

That man is absolutely convinced that death is not the end of all and that our consciousness can function when our brains do not. Normally, science would insist that near death experiences are caused by misfiring neurons or something, but not this man. His description of the white light welcoming him is something one must see for himself. The man is clearly not concerned with what others think of his story, he knows that it is true. He also says that the brief moment when the white light communicated with him felt like the most intimate, most meaningful relationship in his life ever. Was he getting a glimpse of the Supersoul? Sounds like it. Are these visions similar across different people and cultures? Pretty close, but I bet we all would describe them in terms familiar to us, translate it into language of our religion. Would we, as devotees, see a four armed form of Viṣṇu? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe all we would see is the brilliance of His toenails and that’s all. It would look like multiple lights described by this man and if we don’t get to see anything else even we, as devotees, would be confused.

The main take for me from that story is that man’s personal conviction. It’s his actual realization and it can’t be swayed by arguments and “proofs”. Having experienced that relationship he is not going to take doubters seriously anyway. He has a website that is called Dharma Talks, btw.

I don’t know much about afterlife in Ancient Egypt or in Aztec empire but a trip to Varanasi should have produced something familiar and it did. Freeman met with some impersonalist sannyāsī and got the tourist version of reincarnation. It wasn’t wrong but it wasn’t particularly insightful either. Compared to Christian heaven Hinduism didn’t promise much – just mokṣa, liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The question about what happens after that was left hanging with just one mysterious reference to “nature of God”.

What I disliked about that part is that one crematorium in Varanasi was presented as if it’s the only way of achieving mokṣa for the billion of Hindus, which does make it sound like superstition rather than a serious religious path. Freeman wasn’t allowed into the crematorium itself but we got to see people carrying lots of dead bodies through the streets. It looked only marginally better than Aztec’s human sacrifices – people were just shoved and hurried through a system without a pause to think it through. Aztecs, of course, took living people and sacrificed them to Gods, but it was the same kind of mindless machinery in Varanasi where they take any dead body, run with it through the streets, burn it in already prepared fire, and process the next candidate for liberation. I even think they start processing the next one while the first one is still in the system, and they also appear to process them in parallel for maximum efficiency.

I’m not going to doubt the power of that holy place but there’s so much more to Hinduism quest for mokṣa than that. Yoga, tapasya, deity worship, worship of ancestors, not to mention our Gauḍiyā fifth goal of life – premā.

The way Hinduism was treated there makes me doubt that coverage of Mexican, Aztec, of Ancient Egyptian cultures was sufficiently insightful. It appears they do not have the concept of liberation and their living and dead are always in relationships with each other. In any case, death wasn’t something final in any of those religions, just a change that needs to be dealt with.

Coverage of Christianity was somewhat disappointing, too. The only death that matters to them is that of Christ. The documentary took us right into what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus himself, or what is built on top of it, and we got to see actual Jewish “cemetery” of that time right next to it. Freeman said that energy there was unmistakable and that’s another interesting point that goes against modern science. People feel it while science says it doesn’t exist. That doesn’t work for believers, of course. In fact, we shouldn’t call them “believers” at all because they describe their experiences here, not their beliefs. To them these experiences are real no matter what atheists say. We know that atheists can’t feel this “energy” and we know why so we don’t particularly care about their arguments and opinions – see the man I talked about earlier.

What I found odd about Christianity there was that they share this same holy place with Jews and Muslims and yet they keep claiming that salvation can be achieved only through acceptance of Christ. Morgan Freeman didn’t catch them on that but it’s probably for the better – it kept the conversation respectful.

Finally, back in New York, Freeman showed us a prototype of conserved intelligence, a robot programmed to behave like an actual person. It’s programmed to like the same things, speak in the same way etc etc. It would be able to do it when the actual person dies and so that would kind of preserve that person for eternity. They think it would be some sort of a breakthrough, that they’d upload their entire personalities on the internet and continue living through these artificial minds. Silly people. It’s just a tad more advanced than having a picture taken. I mean a picture serves the same purpose, a video is a step above that, a hologram is a step even further, and having a doll to repeat the same sentences is just more of the same thing.

That’s how Morgan Freeman concluded his presentation there – that we will live through memories. That might happen or it might not, depending on how popular we are, but this “answer” still doesn’t accept that there’s no such thing as death for the spirit soul and we will continue living as we are, just in different conditions – another body, heaven, liberation, whatever.

Vanity thought #1719. Flat Earth argument gone flat

Mayesvara Prabhu put out the second part of an argument in favor of the Flat Earth and I think it deserves consideration. Why, though?

In the big scheme of things the shape of the Earth is irrelevant to our mission. We’ve been pushing it for fifty years now and the best of those years were the ones when we were blissfully unaware the problem existed. Flat, round, donut shaped – people need to chant the holy name anyway and it’s the chanting and genuine care for people’s spiritual well-being that made our society successful. Lord Caitanya didn’t puzzle Himself over the shape of the Earth and neither should we.

On the other hand, ever since Śrīla Prabhupāda decided to build a Temple of Vedic Planetarium in Māyāpura the matter was always on our minds. We had been postponing solving it because building that massive temple requires a lot more than proper model of the cosmos. There’s a space reserved there for this model to hang from the ceiling, whatever it is – means our astronomers still have time to decide whether the Earth would be a ball in space of an island in the ocean.

As the temple goes up, and rather quickly, postponing starts to look more like procrastination. If we were to choose today it would be a political rather than scientific decision, sadly. We still have time, though, and work of devotees like Mayesvara is becoming extremely valuable day by day. I must admit, his argument is pretty persuasive. In this latest installment, however it looks flat, pardon the pun.

This new article is long but short on substance, in my view. It could have been condensed to a couple of paragraphs augmented by quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda conversations and it doesn’t offer any new perspectives or clues to flat vs round debate. We’ve seen it all before in the links Mayesvara helpfully provides himself.

The part about NASA faking Earth photos could have been excluded altogether – it’s not a plot hatched by governments of dozens of countries participating in space program. Mayesvara might believe that it is but the scale of this conspiracy makes it impossible. The Earth does look like a globe from space and there WERE people looking at it from spaceships. Let’s leave Moon landings for now, but rockets do go into space and place satellites there and it all works because the Earth is round, not flat.

References to some secret expedition by Admiral Byrd do not help Mayesvara’s case either. It’s basically one book that has no credibility. Admiral Byrd was a famous explorer who was the first to flew to the North Pole (though some say he didn’t actually reach it), and who then led a massive, multi-ship expeditions to Antarctica. The alleged secret trip to North Pole where he observed “indeterminable land extent beyond” happened, according to the author of the book, right when Admiral was on the other side of the Earth preparing for “Operation Highjump” which involved dozens of ships and airplanes and about four thousand people. He could not have sneaked out, led another expedition to the Pole on the other side, and came back without anyone noticing his absence. Maybe there are good arguments that it indeed happened and that he indeed observed a mass of land beyond the North Pole (there’s obviously a mass of land, Antarctica, stretching beyond the South Pole already) but I’m not aware of any and Mayesvara Prabhu doesn’t offer any clues.

Anyway, the Flat Earth theory is based on Bhāgavatam and therefore it must be true but we have no good arguments against experiences of NASA or traveling around the world, to the Poles and beyond, so far. Saying that it’s all a conspiracy is not a solution, but let’s suppose it is. That would mean that people at NASA know the correct shape of the Earth, as well as people at space programs all around the world. As well as people who actually fly over the North Pole between Asia and North America -see Polar Route. Where is the evidence of their knowledge, however? How could they keep people flying from Dubai to San Francisco from taking pictures with their cellphones and then posting them on the internet? It’s silly and sticking to this argument doesn’t do Mayesvara Prabhu any favors.

There must another solution to this problem but it would wait for another day.

What Mayesvara Prabhu nails in his article is our involvement in this debate vis-à-vis Śrīla Prabhupāda. His opponent insists that any disagreement with Prabhupāda’s quotes about Earth as a globe is a deceitful herecy while Mayesvara Prabhu shows the dynamics of this issue and gives us a much better understanding of what Śrīla Prabhupāda really wanted.

Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t know whether the Earth was flat or round and when pressed by his disciples he referred them, which means all of us, too, to the description in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Bhāgavatam speaks of Bhū-Maṅdala, of course, with islands in the ocean rather than balls in space, or balls floating in the ocean, as depicted in one of videos referred in Mayesvara’s post.

At one point Śrīla Prabhupāda told his disciples to put ads in the newspapers, looking for a qualified Vedic astronomer, who would be able to clear this issue for us. That search yielded some results but it certainly hasn’t settled Flat vs Round debate for good and it didn’t explain why the Earth looks round to modern science.

There was absolutely no question of Prabhupāda rejecting research in this area or advocating Flat Earth model, in fact he WANTED his disciples to pursue it until it was resolved. We still haven’t been able to do it, however. There was a moment there when Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī felt that he was asking too many questions and disturbed Śrīla Prabhupāda but Prabhupāda insisted that it was not the case. This inability to provide a clear answer bothered him and cost him at least one night of translation work but at no point he wanted this questioning to stop and he delegated this service to his disciples. If we undertake it now to the best of our abilities we won’t become heretics either.

Of course in the grand scheme of things it’s not terribly important but I don’t want to look at the model of the universe that will be put on display at TOVP and think “it’s politics, the universe does not look like it’s presented here, we know it, we know that we have no clue how it looks actually, but we hide it from our visitors for preaching purposes”. In my view that would be terrible. At the end of the day it might be acceptable as a temporary solution, though. It’s all in Lord’s hands and it will all work out according to His plan. Our job is to try our best and leave results up to providence.

Vanity thought #1718. Family matters 12.

This might very well be family matters series finale. There’s just one document left to address and it should be over. It’s called “A Response to Our Critics” but it isn’t about ISKCON reaction but rather a testament of how larger tattvavāda community reacted to this internet activism.

First they offer a brief history of their website, duly acknowledging that to many followers of Madhvācārya the very idea of placing their literature into public domain was against their core principle that only qualified people should be allowed to read it. They also say that they didn’t have any guidance from senior devotees. This generally means only one thing – their community didn’t support them, their seniors didn’t give them blessings, and so all they ever produced could not be anything but unnecessary disturbance. After commenting on the content of their site I think that this conclusion is supported by facts, too.

They had plenty of clues along the way to drop their project but they persisted. If they were meaning to induce people to worship Kṛṣṇa (or Viṣṇu) that could have been seen as testing of their resolve but since a lot of what is publicly available on their site is vaiṣṇva aparadha based on unsubstantiated accusations their entire work deserves condemnation and the fact that the site is frozen in time and nothing works there anymore is proof that the Lord does not look at it gladly.

They say their site attracts hundreds of complimentary messages every year but it doesn’t mean anything – you start criticizing someone on the internet and lots of people will immediately be attracted by the stink you raise, that’s the nature of the internet, nothing to be proud of. The flood of those complimentary messages has stopped ages ago anyway.

Next they declare what looks like the real drive behind their effort – to denigrate and distance themselves from ISKCON. Their basic understanding of our relationship with Madhvācārya is totally wrong, however. They somehow think that we in ISKCON follow Madhva’s tradition, share his doctrine and hold the same philosophical positions. We are clearly not tattvavādīs, however, that should be obvious right away.

The fact that Madhvācārya holds a prominent place in our disciplic succession and we even call ourselves Brahmā-Madhva-Gauḍiyā samparadāya it doesn’t mean that we have to agree on everything with OTHER followers of Madhvācārya. We take the essence from his teachings, which is supremacy of Lord Viṣṇu and devotional service to him, and are not very interested in discussing things like philosophy because speculations, mental or philosophical, is a domain of men and 99% of the time are a contamination of bhakti by jñāna.

Placing unalloyed devotion at the top of our value system we see our apparent differences from tattvavāda as insignificant and as caused by perturbations of material guṇas. These internet activists, however, take them seriously, which is understandable. If one does not have bhakti in his heart then mental speculations appear as supreme. We judge their value by whether they produce devotion but these activists see nothing but the value of speculations themselves. They become so blinded by their intellectual efforts that they don’t restrain themselves from committing vaiṣṇava aparadha which further deprives their hearts of bhakti and further cements the value of mental arguments.

So they say things like “ISKCON can hardly claim status as a serious school of thought”. We don’t even make such claims, at least not in their definition of “serious”. Any thought that does not lead one to selfless surrender is not serious in our definition but for them “serious” means conforming with their made up standards of philosophical proof. Apparently, they borrowed these standards from advaitins, seeing how successfully they worked for followers of Śaṅkarācārya, and then modified them to make themselves look like victors. They also see their superiority at the expense of all other vaisṇava traditions and reject the verse from Padma Purāṇa about four legitimate vaiṣṇava sampradāyas. This last point once again shows that devotion means nothing to them. They refuse to recognize it, they refuse to value it, their hearts are made of stone, which is a natural consequence of contamination by jñāna.

In the next paragraph, however, they notice that their traditional approach no longer works when they admit that they have lots of followers of Madhvācārya who moved over to ISKCON. They attribute it not to the appeal of genuine surrender but to lack of philosophical understanding on the part of their [hapless] followers. Rather than realize that people are tired of dry, self-serving philosophy and want bhakti to flow in their hearts instead they recommend even heavier emphasis on arguments and redirecting their mental guns towards ISKCON. This is not going to end well – they behave like internet trolls looking for enemies rather than the truth. The more they argue against us the less attractive their position becomes. It’s a good thing that they stopped some fifteen years ago, saved by the Lord within their hearts and by heaps of accumulated benefits from being vaiṣṇavas, no doubt.

Then they move on to the things they find unacceptable – the story of Gaurāṅga appearing to Madhvācārya in a dream, the debate between Lord Caitanya and tattvavādīs in Udupi etc. I’ve already covered those and have nothing more to add. Then there’s something about a false claim made by ISKCON, something about attributing a statement to a person who denied ever making it, but it’s impossible to check because their links do not work anymore. And that is basically it. Then they move on to their fellow tattvavādīs who they openly mock.

They are talking about several letters by senior tattvavāda scholars denouncing this website’s attacks on ISKCON. They say that these people might not have read their “position paper” or might not have understand English well enough to understand it. I’ve been commenting on that paper for two weeks now, it’s not nearly as convincing as its writers think, and these elders are surely familiar with Madhvācārya’s position on the topics covered in there, but it’s a typical fault of dry speculators – they think they are the only ones who know the truth and the rest are ignorant fools who need to be dismissed.

Their argument that falsity must be exposed is too generic to be taken seriously. They say that ISKCON’s teachings are false and that their own elders do not know the truth – it’s entirely up to their discretion who to designate as their enemies, they use this argument as a blank excuse to attack anyone.

They conclude their paper with a plea for support in their endeavor. Now, fifteen years on, it’s clear that it didn’t go anywhere and is lying there in the recesses of the internet as another failure. I hope the authors of this site themselves have cast away this offensive mentality and regained the rightful position in a FAMILY of vaisṇavas. Whatever their issues with ISKCON, there are far bigger enemies of devotion to Hari in the world.

Vanity thought #1717. Family matters 11

Getting back with the regular program – what tattvavādīs boldly called “A review of Bhagavad Gita As It Is“. Before clicking on that link I must warn you – it’s the nastiest piece of writing on so far. I remember seeing something even more offensive there but I haven’t got to that page yet. This, so far, takes the cake in offending Śrīla Prabhupāda department, so read at your own risk.

They call it a “review” but it’s nothing of the sort. They just throw general insults our way, discuss one śloka, accuse Prabhupāda of failing high school education (as if it’s in any way relevant to vaiṣṇava siddhānta), and draw a verdict. Some of these accusation seem to be valid but clearly overblown out of proportion while others appear totally groundless. Let’s go through this “review” step by step.

They start by hurling an insult that I’m not going to repeat here and then accuse Prabhupāda of not following a dicsiplic succession quoted in the introduction to Bhagavad Gītā As It Is itself. Somehow they exclude ALL ācāryas in between Madhva and Prabhupāda as if they didn’t exist and Prabhupāda was not obliged to follow them. There’s a big problem with this approach – no disciple would ever disagree with his guru and then quote his spiritual master’s predecessors to support his deviation. Whatever Madhvācārya might have said in his purports on Bhagavad Gītā we would always follow our Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇava ācāryas first.

Another problem is that we are NOT tattvavādīs, we follow the philosophy of acintya bhedābheda tattva, and so it is unreasonable to judge Prabhupāda faithfulness to the tradition by comparing his purports to those of tattvavādīs. Also, if they have a problem with Madhva appearing in our line of disciplic succession it’s not a question to Prabhupāda, our paramparā has been cited this way for hundreds of years before him.

Let’s look at the example of “great divergence and opposition” – the only example they give in this “review”. It concerns BG 11.47, and not even the whole verse but interpretation of one single word there: tvat anyena — besides you. You can count it as two words, the point still stands. When Kṛṣṇa revealed to Arjuna His universal form He said that “no one besides you” has ever seen it. I’m looking at three other translations and they all say the same thing, just in different words: “Other that you no one else has seen It”, “never before seen by any other than thyself”, “no one has seen before except you”. I don’t think looking for more translations is going to yield any different result – Sanskrit appears to be understood unanimously here. What is tattvavādī’s problem? This is how they quote Madhva there:

“He, the Lord, is called Vishva, for being of complete attributes,”
says the Padma. By `tvadanyena na dR^ishhTapUrvaM’ is
indicated the fact that you (Arjuna) alone, in the body of Indra,
had seen it before. By `tvadanyena’, people lower than you are
indicated. That they did not see as you saw, thus only.

“The vishva-rUpa was first seen by the Chaturmukha-Brahma;
a hundredth of that by Rudra, and a hundredth of that by the
deities; as had been seen by Indra previously, so too was seen by
Arjuna; other than he, according to worth, was seen a hundredth,
and so forth,” says the Brahmanda.

It’s more or less the same translation as given on this page

Three other commentators on that page translate it straightforwardly as “no one else has seen it”, sometimes adding “on Earth”. Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, who is a higher authority for us as Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇvas than Madhvācārya says the following: “Being pleased with you, I have shown this form to you (tava) alone, and not to anyone else, since it has not been seen previously by anyone.” How can Prabhupāda be accused of not following ācāryas here?

The problem is that it’s only Madhva who gives a different interpretation and so it’s HIS view that needs to be reconciled with others rather than implying that all other vaiṣṇava ācāryas are blind men ignorant of the truth. From Madhva’s point of view it’s easy – he gives a quote from Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa where it says that Brahmā, Rudra, and Indra had seen universal form of the Lord before so there’s the need to reconcile Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa with words of Kṛṣṇa. The solution offered is that Arjuna was once in the body of Indra and so he had seen this form before while others, who are below him, hadn’t.

This isn’t the most obvious explanation but I’m not going to argue with Madhvācārya. Another idea is that the form mentioned in Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa wasn’t exactly the same as shown to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gītā. Śrīla Prabhupāda comments that in “someone’s” opinion the universal form was previously shown to Duryodhana:

    Someone has commented that this form was shown to Duryodhana also when Kṛṣṇa went to Duryodhana to negotiate for peace. Unfortunately, Duryodhana did not accept the peace offer, but at that time Kṛṣṇa manifested some of His universal forms. But those forms are different from this one shown to Arjuna. It is clearly said that no one had ever seen this form before.

However these various accounts are reconciled it doesn’t seem important in the overall scheme of things. It’s really a very minor matter and has no effect on our philosophy. Tattvavādīs called it “great divergence and opposition to the traditional understanding” and “an irreconcilable difference in this matter between Madhva and Prabhupada”. They are being silly. Both ācāryas admit to contradicting evidence and both somehow deal with it. Was Śrīla Prabhupāda even aware of Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa quote? Not very likely. It’s not likely he read Madhva’s commentary on Gītā either – we are Gauḍiyās, we read our Gauḍiyā books, not tattvavādī literature.

Then there’s a weird accusation that Prabhupāda didn’t know high school astronomy. In one of the purports he said that there are “fifty varieties of wind blowing in space” but that was about the number of Maruts, the gods of wind. Their number varies from twenty seven to sixty so Prabhupāda wasn’t wrong. If modern astronomy says something else it’s not our concern. Why tattvavādīs quote high school science to us at all is incomprehensible to me.

Then they say something about the Sun and Moon and reflected lights. It’s all in the same verse, BG 10.21. This argument is equally immaterial, not to mention it looks outright wrong. The verse says “among the luminaries I am the Sun”, which implies that Sun is not the only self-illuminated object. Polar Star, known to us as Dhruva Loka, is self-luminous, too, for example. Since they don’t give any quotes in support of their view I’m not inclined to investigate this matter any further at this point.

And thus ends their “review” of Bhagavad Gītā As It is. That’s all there’s to it, really. They have failed to find any differences in philosophy whatsoever, perhaps because there aren’t any, and in the process they offended not only Śrīla Prabhupāda but summarily dismissed all other vaiṣṇava ācāryas who expressed slightly different views in their commentaries. To me it as says only one thing – no one should ever take this presentation of tattvavāda seriously.