Deification of Lord Caitanya

“Do you mean to say that Lord Caitanya was an ordinary saint and we elevated Him to the status of God ourselves?” No. I mean He was Krishna, devotees figured this out very early on, but then they started ascribing Him various ideas that reflected THEIR understanding of what God is and what God should do. In other words, instead of accepting Him as He is we make Him into what we think He should be. We deify Him into OUR image of God.

Come to think of it, we don’t have any other choice. Everything we perceive in the world is a reflection of our own consciousness. We ALWAYS ascribe our own ideas to all and any information coming to us from the outside. We ALWAYS color it in our own colors. We can’t perceive the world as it is, and so our perception of Lord Caitanya is no exception. Same happened when Krishna entered the fighting arena in Mathura, too – everybody saw Him according to their own capacity – as a yogi, as a king, as a charming prince, as a ferocious fighter and so on.

When Lord Caitanya first revealed His divinity everyone was blown away, it was the time of discovery and everyday devotees learned something new about Him. Caitanya Bhagavata is full of these descriptions and I will not repeat them here. When devotees got used to the idea and when the Lord took sannyasa and left Mayapur, however, things started to change. When Bengali devotees came to see the Lord in Puri it was like good old times but outside of that everyone was learning about the Lord from somebody else, not by directly observing Him.

In Puri no one knew who He was and first announcement came when He was carried over to the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. Sarvabhauma didn’t take is seriously at first but later he came around to accepting the idea – and that was due to prolonged personal association. Everyone else accepted it on Sarvabhauma’s authority, and it’s at this step that people start imposing their own ideas of what God is. Lord Caitanya didn’t do Navadvipa style reveal there. He didn’t do twenty one hour prakasas or any of those wonderful things. He didn’t do private kirtans where people were left wondering what had just happened to them either. Rather kirtans became a spectator sport during Ratha Yatras, and the performers were visiting Bengali devotees. At no point did Lord Caitanya behaved as God in Jagannatha Prui so there was simply no point of reference for devotees there – “You know what God is? Well, Caitanya Mahaprabhu is God. He doesn’t behave like it but you better believe it.”

There are plenty of examples of devotees misconceptions about Mahaprabhu in Caitanya Caritamrita. How about that devotee who drank water that washed His feet? Elsewhere it’s a perfectly appropriate thing to do, but Lord Caitanya wasn’t that kind of God. He was the kind of God who is very close to His devotees and displays of reverence, like drinking footwater, did not belong there. So, appropriately, that devotee was sent out of the assembly to revere Lord Caitanya from the distance, as it should be with reverence. The episode with Chota Haridasa I discussed in the previous post, and the gist of it was that devotees, including very senior ones, have decided that Lord Caitanya should forgive him. Why did they think so? I can think of a few reasons.

First, they might have thought that it’s not a big deal. In the same way some of our devotees think that watching a movie or eating chocolate is no big deal. “Relax”, they say, “don’t be a fanatic.” Immediate objection to this is that they might not know what they are doing to their spiritual lives. Lord Caitanya, for example, demanded Mother Saci to follow ekadasi, which shouldn’t be a big deal for God’s own mother, one would think. This reason displays incomplete understanding of tattva.

Another reason could be that devotees thought that God is very forgiving and if He acted in momentarily anger then it will subside, God will cool off and come around. This was actually mentioned in CC – it was an advice given to Chota Haridas to just wait a little and Lord Caitanya would rescind the ban. There are a couple of problems with this line of thinking, and the main one is that one assumes he knows God’s temperament and nature. Well, Lord Caitanya wasn’t like that and the assumption was wrong. He was not that kind of God, again.

Third reason, perhaps the most serious one, would have relied on “mahavadanyaya” feature of Lord Caitanya Himself. It wasn’t about generic God but about Lord Caitanya personally. It wasn’t declared by the Lord but it was devotees who have figured it out – the term is attributed to Rupa Goswami, if I’m not mistaken, and Lord Caitanya still goes by this epithet, five hundred years later, but the scope of this generosity of spirit is determined solely by us ourselves. I think it’s more serious because it’s enduring and so we can still make exactly the same mistakes again, as if we have learned nothing. What if He is not as mahavadanyaya as we think? Or not in the same way we think. WE deified Him into being that, remember?

Chota Haridas story follows by a story of a young son of a single mother. It’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about as well – Damodara Pundit thought that associating with this boy was not appropriate for Lord Caitanya and told the Lord about it directly. He gave an apparently valid reason but the underlying logic was the same – we know how you should behave, according to our conception of you, and you are not living up to our expectations, so you should change your behavior. Lord Caitanya listened, thought about it for a day, and then sent Damodara Pandit to enforce laws of dharma on devotees in Bengal, far away from Jagannatha Puri. He thought it was necessary there so that devotees didn’t develop any svatantriya attitude, which is translated as “independence”.

In that story we can add a little speculation that Damodara Pundit did not appreciate the spiritual value of Lord Caitanya’s association with that boy. Where Damodara Pundit saw a possible compromise in sannyasi’s behavior, because boy’s mother was young and attractive and endearing yourself to someone’s child is a sure way to their heart as well, or, as they say today, into woman’s pants, and we can say that they could have been talking about spiritual matters and Damodara Pundit projected his own ideas on their conversations. Not so, according to one verse in CC where Lord Caitanya inquired the boy about latest news, ie latest gossip, not about the latest verse he memorized from Bhagavad Gita. Damodara Pundit was right – the talks were mundane, and this might be a big revelation to us as well.

We have grown up with the rule to avoid gramya katha and the last person we expect to engage in it is Lord Caitanya. And yet the Lord didn’t see anything particularly wrong with it. Neither as a sannyasi, neither as incarnation of Krishna, neither as an exemplary devotee for everyone else to follow. How to make sense of it? Well, for starters – all these conceptions of Lord Caitanya are our own. He Himself did not commit to strictly following any of these roles, except sannyasa, of course, but even on that one there was some leeway, as evidenced by his reaction to criticism of His eating habits coming from Amogha, Sarvabhauma’s son-in-law. On that occasion Lord Caitanya admitted that He shouldn’t have eaten so much. That episode, btw, is another example of how people had their own expectations of how Mahaprabhu should have behaved, as well as an example of not everybody accepting His divinity.

Speaking of divinity – at that time there was no concept of Panca Tattva yet, which has become fundamental to our understanding of the Lord now. The concept was first expressed by Krishnadasa Kaviraja many years later, and it didn’t take root in Bengali community until maybe fifty years after Lord Caitanya’s departure. It was first introduced during Kheturi festival and dates on that are unclear. This means that during that same time – when Lord Caitanya stayed in Puri, devotees had very different conceptions of Lord Nityananda and Advaita Acharya (also Vishnu-tattva). Now we hope that our current conception is correct, and there is no reason to doubt Krishnadasa Kaviraja on this, but we should remember that it’s not a matter of revelation on the Lord’s part, and our current conception might be different from how Krishnadasa Kaviraja saw it, too – on the strength of Lord Caitanya indulging in gramya katha and not thinking much about it. Krishnadasa Kaviraja was well aware of it, otherwise he wouldn’t have worded that CC verse this way, but for us it’s currently unthinkable – we expect Lord Caitanya to be fully absorbed in pastimes of Radha Krishna, and leaving His place only to visit the temple and Haridasa Thakura afterwards.

So my argument repeats itself – Lord Caitanya didn’t behave like God. We accept that, but then we say that we know how He behaved Himself as God playing a part of the servant, to which I reply – sometimes He didn’t behave like that either. We deified Him for our own convenience instead of trying to find out His true nature. In His true nature all these things are reconciled but it’s difficult for us so we go for an easy explanation instead. And there is a bonus point that we get to think ourselves to be great devotees who know Lord Caitanya’s heart.

Krishnadasa Kaviraja wasn’t so sure about himself, as evidenced by these two verses concluding “young boy” pastime (CC Antya.3):

Text 47: The pastimes of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu are deeper than millions of seas and oceans. Therefore no one can understand what He does or why He does it.
Text 48: I do not know the deep meaning of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s activities. As far as possible I shall try to explain them externally.

And for the curious, the “news” verse is translated as:

Text 9: One day when the boy came to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the Lord very affectionately inquired from him about all kinds of news.

Bengali word is vārtā — news.

Final point – if we substitute Lord Caitanya with our own version of Him, deifying Him into something He was not, what are the chances of us finding Him now? We are looking for a different personality, not for the Lord “as he is”. How can we connect?

Revisiting Chota Haridas

I assume everyone knows the story and our canonical interpretation of it. We’ve heard it in our lectures and there is Caitanya Caritamrita where Srila Prabhupada gives various explanations, including a seven point summary lessons from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. However, there is another side to this story that is interesting to explore. It doesn’t contradict anything said before, as far as I can see, and it could be an interesting addition to what we already know. The point is that sometimes we take these stories and put them into our situations, which then colors our conclusions, but the same stories can remain equally true in a different context and if our conclusions don’t match then it’s on us and rethinking is probably required.

The quest to truly know the story then becomes determining the exact context first, and then distilling the very essence of the story so that we can apply it to our lives correctly, without being swayed by our situation and without dragging extraneous things from the past that don’t really belong. Plus there are multiple aspects to each story as well and the same process should be applied to them, too. So let’s look at what interesting things we can extract from this one.

Facts of the matter were that one day Lord Caitanya was having lunch at Bhagavat Acarya’s house and asked about rice. He was told that it was Chota Haridas who brought this rice from Madhavi Devi’s house. Mahaprabhu didn’t say anything and continued eating, and only when he returned to His place that He told Govinda that He doesn’t want to see Chota Haridas again. When pressed for an explanation He said that He didn’t want to associate with those who have private conversations with women.

It was up to the devotees then to investigate what happened and connect the dots between Chota Haridas asking Madhavi Devi for rice and Lord Caitanya’s words. Maybe they did it right, maybe their investigation was incomplete. Srila Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami was pretty confident in Caitanya Caritamrita that this was what happened but Narayana Maharaj and even Srila Prabhupada on several occasions, notably in Teachings of Lord Caitanya, offered another version where Chota Haridas was eager to meet with a young servant girl in the house of Madhavi Devi, and this obviously goes way beyond begging for rice from an eighty year old woman. Everybody would understand that, but sexual connotations in regards to Madhavi Devi? It’s hard to imagine. Nevertheless, at the time Krishnadas Kaviraj was writing it down he either didn’t hear about it or didn’t think it was solid enough to commit to paper. The point is that we don’t really know what happened. We can only guess that it was during that episode of begging rice. Even Caitanya Caritamrita does not commit itself to stating it with full confidence.

The discussions about Lord Caitanya’s decision went on for several days and nobody could understand why He was so serious about it. Devotees came to see Him several times, they sent high profile negotiators, too, but Lord Caitanya wouldn’t budge and He wouldn’t offer any other explanations beyond what He told the devotees already. His final argument was that “I’m not in control of my mind and my mind does not want to associate with Chota Haridasa”. It sounds like a rhetorical device of shifting responsibility from oneself to something else but what if it wasn’t? What if it sounds like an excuse to us but Lord Caitanya was quite serious?

There have been many other occasions when Lord Caitanya restricted His association based on how He felt about it. He always offered explanations, sure, but the deciding factor always was that it didn’t feel right. When Srivas Pandit sneaked in a brahmacari to a nightly kirtan Lord Caitanya didn’t even know someone was there but He felt that something was not right. He felt it first, explanation came later. On another occasion He refused to see a devotee and no one knew why until Lord Caitanya said that this devotee was listening to Yoga Vasistha. This devotee wasn’t an impersonalist and Lord Caitanya reversed His decision in a very short time but the fact of enjoying Yoga Vasistha spoiled His mood nevertheless. When Advaita Acarya was preaching impersonalism there was no ban, however.

It is now, after five hundred years have passed, we see these episodes as a matter of tattva, as a matter of infallible logical arguments – if someone has done that then the consequence must be this, and the consequence must be enforced, but why? Why not see it as a matter of rasa – Lord Caitanya didn’t feel right about something and sometimes He offered a reasonable explanation for His feelings and sometimes He didn’t. Apart from Chota Haridasa story, Lord Caitanya also refused to see Kala Krishnadasa even as Lord Nityananda Himself was advocating on his behalf. Even to Lord Nityananda the rationale for the ban didn’t make sense, so why should we elevate it to the status of tattva, to the status of “it must be this way”?

The simple answer could be – because it makes sense to us and because we don’t want to rely on our feelings when conducting our affairs, especially when managing ISKCON. This is another aspect, however, and I get to it shortly. First, however, if we take it as a matter of tattva, then if someone in ISKCON was preaching impersonal ideas what should be the consequence? Same as Advaita Acarya’s case? And what would be consequence for the members of the audience? Heavier than the punishment of the preacher? This tattva based approach wouldn’t work, we would have to be selective, and this goes against the very principle of tattva and objectivity.

More importantly, Lord Caitanya wasn’t managing a society. Sometimes He would give advice and all the devotees would make it into a rule, like in case of associating with mayavadis, but in case of Chota Haridasa Lord Caitanya spoke only for Himself. He didn’t tell anyone what THEY should do about him. He didn’t warn them that if they keep his company there would be consequences for them. It was rather the opposite – Lord Caitanya warned the devotees what would happen if THEY try to force HIM to behave they wanted. He told them that if they force Chota Haridasa’s company on Him then He would leave and go somewhere where He could practice His bhajan in peace.

Do you get this point? Rather than trying to institutionalize some rule Lord Caitanya’s reaction was to avoid following the rule imposed by the institution. Okay, not a formal institution but devotee sanga, which was speaking in unison about the need for Lord Caitanya to accept Chota Haridasa back. And His given reason was “My mind doesn’t feel right about it,” as I mentioned.

This aspect doesn’t mean that privately associating with women is alright. Worrying about this means worrying about institutional rules on the level of tattva. My point is that regardless of what the correct tattva was, Lord Caitanya went with “rasa” consideration first. If someone disrupts the flow of devotion then it must be rejected. One cannot allow his bhajan to be disrupted for the sake of institutionalized rules. In this case it’s not the rule about female association but the rule that one must accept collective decision and follow it that was rejected. Both aspects coexisted in Lord Caitanya’s behavior in that story.

The only possible contradiction I see is in one of the lessons cited by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati – the one about standards for the “heads of institutions propagating the Caitanya cult”, as Srila Prabhupada puts it in the purport. It does sound like some rules need to be enforced institutionally, doesn’t it? But the reading is ambiguous – it could equally be about standards expected FROM our leaders, not standards imposed by leaders on everybody else. The sentence continues with the comma: “, and for all actual devotees.” This, again, reads as a standard expected from the devotees rather than a standard imposed on the devotees by the leaders. To put it simply – it doesn’t mean that anyone not living up to this standard should be institutionally punished. This is a very important distinction – standards expected from the leaders (and from rank and file devotees), and standards enforced by the institution.

One other thing – Srila Prabhupada writes that Chota Haridasa returned to Puri in his spiritual body and continued singing for Lord Caitanya’s pleasure, which is shown in the picture at the top. The exact words, however, were “gandarhva dehe – in the body of a gandharva”. This is how it stands in word-for-word translation of CC Antya.2.149. Gandharva body would suit the whole narrative better. Lord Caitanya spoke of Chota Haridas as accepting the result of his activities – sva-karma-phala-bhuk (from CC. Antya.2.163), and singing for Lord Caitanya as a gandarva, for whom female company is allowed, sounds like a nice resolution to the problem of duplicity highlighted by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, as Chota Haridas otherwise behaved like a renunciate.

Maybe Chota Haridas was in a spiritual body, I’m not going to argue against Srila Prabhupada (“In a spiritual body resembling that of a Gandharva”), but his name is not mentioned among Lord Caitanya’s associates from Krishna lila in Gaura Ganoddesa Dipika. A similar argument is used against counting Kala Krishnadasa among Lord Caitanya’s eternal associates in the debate about jiva falldown. If he was in a gandharva body it would also explain why other devotees could sometimes hear his singing – gandharvas live within this universe while fully spiritual bodies are not a part of this world at all.

Lastly, when Chota Haridasa got into this new body, his singing became totally acceptable and Lord Caitanya personally called for him to be brought back. Except it was too late and he committed suicide already, and Lord Caitanya behaved as if it was news to Him. He said that suicide was a proper atonement, too, which we don’t mean to apply to us, as evidenced by Srila Prabhupada’s discussions about it involving Vishujana Swami.

All in all, it’s very hard to line up all the ducks together properly in this story. Something somewhere always doesn’t fit and something always sounds inconclusive, if we are being truly honest about it.

Lord Caitanya Invented Democracy

Disclaimer: One might require some background information to get on the same page first. You can scroll down to the very last paragraph for directions where to find it. Please keep this in mind if you find something hard to process in this article.

I’m fully aware of Srila Prabhupada’s demonization of democracy and I’m not going to argue that he was wrong. There is another angle to it, however, which should enrich our understanding (at least it did for me) and it accommodates Srila Prabhupada’s condemnation of democracy as well.

Any social structure follows people’s religion. In ages when Vedic sacrifices or temple worship were the main dharmas they were naturally accompanied by corresponding social structures. Yajnas and temples were not cheap and so those who had the means to pay for it were at the top, together with those who knew how to utilize these assets, which means kings and “brahmanas” in Vedic speak or “clergy” in western languages. They performed the worship, they got the benefits, and they distributed these benefits down the hierarchical pyramids. Apart from graciously accepting these benefits streaming from the top, other people’s roles in performing these dharmas was also very well defined and this means there were qualifications to be attained, which means there was training, which means there were rules to follow, which means there were social structures controlling the society, and these structures were hierarchical.

To illustrate further, in Satya yuga, the age of meditation, there were no varnas and in Kali yuga there is no varnashrama to speak of either, which brings me to the main point – harinama sankirtana, yuga dharma for this age, does not need kings and brahmanas. Everyone can chant simply by himself, there are no rules and regulations to chanting and no price attached to it either. “Price” means somebody has to give you the money and so you become dependent. Not so with sankirtana – you really don’t need anybody else to succeed.

What it means in practice is that people have discovered that various goodies associated with following dharma in the categories of artha and kama can come to them without reliance on kings and clergy. In addition, since kings and clergy were engaged in dharmas which lost their efficacy, it became pretty obvious that the old system stopped working and no benefits trickled down from the top either. In the end, hierarchical social structures became redundant and people started valuing individual achievements instead, which gave us democracy and elections.

One could object that developement of democracy, invention of constitutions, and, of course, elections were all happenings in the west while Lord Caitanya appeared in India, which is still not a place one would think of when searching for examples of successful democracies. Rather the opposite – and that’s what Srila Prabhupada noticed as well – democracy only made things worse there.

This objection works only if we constrain Lord Caitanya to a particular time and place and strip Him of His universality. What do I mean by that? We don’t deny His universality, we are just waiting until His movement spreads all over the universe! Well, this understanding of universality does not satisfy me. I’d rather argue that Lord Caitanya was universal from the very beginning and He doesn’t have to come to possessing it in due course of time.

Moreover, I’m against dividing universe geographically where something has to spread from one physical location to another. Vedic universe spreads from ego to intelligence to mind to senses to sense objects. Each of these elements has a corresponding planetary system, ours being Bhuloka, of course. When we talk about changes observed in our geographical locations in a classical, western way, it’s like thinking that flowers on a tree spread from to another rather rather than growing out of their respective locations on twigs and branches. Even better example if we think that flowers spread from one to another in a garden rather than growing out of their own roots, but universe is compared to an inverted tree so let’s go with that.

What I mean to say is that Lord Caitanya introduced harinama sankirtana not “in India” but at the top level of the universal tree. It was fundamental shift in how the entire Vedic universe worked, and then “flowers” started appearing out of this common root even though they appeared to us as being in disconnected geographical locations, so sometimes we had to carry them from one country to another where they haven’t appeared yet.

In the West these flowers were in the form of people sitting at home and thinking about God, and thoughts are also a form of sound, just as chanting in the mind. With Lord Caitanya’s blessings, suddenly these thoughts started to produce tangible results. People who were thinking about God in the Middle Ages, too, but they didn’t have these blessing and so produced nothing notable. During Renaissance, however, these same people became capable of expressing themselves in all kinds of marvelous ways – writing, painting, sculpture, music, and, of course, science, and all these fruits have suddenly become abundant. It suddenly started working – just around the time of Lord Caitanya’s appearance in India.

Stepping back a little – we are not connected to people directly, we are connected through the Supersoul – every sankirtana devotee knows that. If you want people to buy your books you have convince Krishna first, and then they will buy them. Same happened with harinama sankirtana as universal dharma – when Lord Caitanya, as yuga avatara, inaugurated it people accepted it all over the world as being dictated from within their hearts as well. Just as the decision to buy a book comes from within the heart – I’m not inventing anything new here.

So it’s in this sense that Lord Caitanya “invented” democracy. In a sense that he made individual practice of religion possible, and from dharma comes artha and kama, and people realized that old ways need to be replaced to reflect this new reality, as I already explained.

Now back to Srila Prabhupada’s “demoncrazy” observation – it surely looked that way in India where democracy was a foreign import rather than a home grown realization. It surely looks that way in the West, too, but that’s because any religion is open to abuse. It wasn’t meant that way but, after a few hundred years of practicing anything can become corrupted – just look at the state of Lord Caitanya’s own movement at the time of Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

I could discuss the exact ways of this corruption in some detail but I don’t want to waste time on this. I’ll just point out that underlying power behind democracy – individual achievements in practice of religion – are used to rebuilt hierarchical structures which are known to fail. That’s what elections are for, after all – to rebuild hierarchies and force people to obey “the law”. How’s it even supposed to work? It’s a mismatch from the get go.

Another interesting point is “Srila Prabhupada brought Lord Caitanya’s movement to the West” – is my presentation here contradicts this? I don’t think so. I’d rather say that Srila Prabhupada gave the final impetus to people who were already on the precipice of “fructifying”. Conversely, those who were not ready through the process of development and evolution within their own cultures couldn’t accept Srila Prabhupada’s message. Hippies got it, yuppies couldn’t (if anyone remembers what “yuppie” means) . In other words, we don’t have to look at Srila Prabhupada as bringing something from the outside, from India to America, but as someone who lightened up people from the inside, from hippies to happies, as they used to say.

One could object “but he brought Hare Krishna mantra from India!” To this I would answer that this misses the main point – he brought pure chanting of the holy name, the mantra itself was just the container and Srila Prabhupada didn’t even insist on people chanting Hare Krishna specifically. Today we can give people the same mantra but because we don’t have the purity it does not have the same effect. We think that this horizontal transmission, from one place to another, is the key, but, as I said – no, it’s not, the key is bringing changes to people’s consciousness and it happens from the inside of their hearts, just like the mercy of Lord Caitanya – it illuminates one from the inside. External triggers, like books or devotees, matter only when they carry the same internal transformation, and they don’t always work. When Lord Caitanya illuminates one’s consciousness from the inside, however, then even a simple “Hare Krishna” greeting can trigger all kinds of powerful emotions.

To sum it up – please don’t constrain Lord Caitanya to empirically observed events of this world. He appeared in India five hundred years ago – true, but that’s not all. Not all at all.

If you click “Lord Caitanya” tag on this blog top two posts discuss this different understanding of what “Lord Caitanya” means in some detail. It’s not a recent thought in my mind and I here I built on that previous understanding.

Hidden corners of the Earth

Let’s start with typing on the computer – as I am doing it letters appear one after another, building up words from left to right. That’s how typing was designed from the start. Each letter adds one more character, each letter does it equally, they are all on the same level and none of them are more important than others.. There is even a category of fonts called “monospace” where each letter takes the same width on the line, doesn’t matter whether it’s a thin “i” or a fat “w”. This is how it was worked originally and assigning each letter its optimum width was a later improvement.

This design is very Anglo-centric, however. Devanagari and related family of scripts conceive of forming words very differently. Basically, only consonants matter and only consonants deserve to be placed on the line. Vowels do not deserve the same privilege. Vowels are meant to modify the meaning of consonants and if they do not do so, like the default vowel “a”, they are not even written down. Others, like “i”, “u”, “e” etc, are attached to and written around consonants. They do not have a standing of their own. Okay, not always – every vowel has its own free standing form and sometimes you see them in the text, but not very often. It happens when they have no consonants to be attached to, like in the beginning of a sentence, in which case they are not considered as attached to the first consonant. No sir, vowels have to follow consonants, they cannot come ahead of their consonant “masters”.

This treatment of language and vowels specifically comes from a different concept of space. I mean physical space here. Western thought has developed from ancient Greeks’ understanding of space as being uniform and continuous. Continuous means that there are no gaps in space and each “gap” is, theoretically, filled with an infinite number of points. There are mathematical theories demonstrating that, comparatively speaking, there are as many of these points between the start and the end of one inch line as there are outside of this inch. It’s not like for each point inside one inch line there are two or more points outside. This leads to a very interesting discussion of how the entire space can be contained within an infinitely small box – because all the points on the outside can be copied into the inside, just put them there more densely, but it’s beyond the scope of this article.

Uniform means that one meter here is the same as one meter there. This has been challenged by Einstein’s relativity where distances can shorten, but Greeks didn’t know about that, science didn’t know about that until a hundred years ago, and it hasn’t tricked into public consciousness either. Advanced math might be there but we still think of the world as being a continuous and uniform space. Therefore westerners developed democracy – it’s just extending this concept of space to human society. Everybody is equal, just like letters on this line, and everybody, just as every letter, has the potential to start a new sentence and become “first”, and also capitalized.

Vedic space is not like that at all. They rather go from people to things – in the west the things (atoms, inches, and kilograms etc) are equal and so should be people, but Vedic sages see that people are organized hierarchically and so should be things, including meters and pounds. “Hierarchically” means like a tree (which is also a “thing”, btw), and hierarchically doesn’t simply mean first, second, third, but that each node can have many children and these child nodes can start their own branches. People have children, too – that’s how the world works, and so that’s how matter is arranged as well. I speak of this as “ancient Vedic sages thought” rather than as it was revealed but it’s only for convenience, don’t hold it against me. How about this – “Vedic sages saw the society and dull matter as organized in the same way”, and let’s leave the question of how they come to this vision out of this discussion.

Anyway, the point is that if matter is organized hierarchically like that then it means it’s neither uniform nor continuous. Rather there is a discrete number of nodes – parents, siblings, and children, and there is no “space” in between, pretty much like in quantum mechanics where continuous placement or continuous state change of quantum particles is impossible. When we place something “in space” it means we are talking about the parent node and in this space we can find all the siblings available under that node. That parent node has its own parent and its own siblings, and it will be in its parent space which is categorically different from the space below, where we are now. What I mean to say is that our physical space is not all-encompassing and it has its own parent and its own siblings and in that space, higher than our empirical reality, there are no meters and miles.

This is easy to understand on the example of dreams. Dreams create new spaces where we live like in a waking reality but meters of this world do not measure distances in our dreams – they are qualitiatively different form of reality. There ARE distances in dreams but flying up there doesn’t mean equivalent movement of our bodies down here.

On a tree model a dream is like a branch attached to a trunk of our body. When we measure things along the trunk, a branch is a spot a few centimetres wide and a few centimetres long, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the length of the branch itself. Similarly, our dreams are attached to a few pounds of our brains but it doesn’t tell us anything about the breadth and length of our dream experience.

Here I can finally introduce the main point of this article – our physical space can have its own branches as well. In popular literature they are called “portals”. Like there is this old wardrobe in the house, you go inside and there is entire world of Narnia there, but from the outside it’s just an old wardrobe. Crucial objection here is that Narnia is a work of fiction and we never seen such portals in real life. As devotees we can agree on dreams and upper planetary systems as being some kind of multidimensional reality imperceptible to our senses, but we never think of our Earth being organized in the same way. We’ve never seen empirical reality behave like that.

Fine, we’ve never seen it, but why? I would argue it’s precisely because we think it’s impossible. We created this theory of uniform and continuous space, which I mentally refer as “flat”, btw, and so the world appears to us according to this conception. We have become conditioned to perceive it like that. We have these shores on our eyes. We control our senses never to request access to hierarchical space and so access is never given. Pretty much lie if you don’t know what a “lassion” is you will never recognize it – you must have a concept before you can perceive the thing, otherwise you will interpret it as something else. We purged “portals” from our consciousness and we never see them, never perceive them even when they are theoretically there.

I don’t want to discuss how we can develop such concepts and how we can start perceiving these “portals” – it’s something for those interested in karma, I’m only mildly curious, but what it does explain is all kinds of weird things and numbers from shastra.

We can’t comprehend a quadrillion of Ugrasena’s bodyguards, for example, only because we try to fit them into our space where they have to stand next to each other and so our allotted square mileage can accommodate only so many of them. Hierarchical space, on the other hand, means that there is a branch called “bodyguards” and this branch has a quadrillion children. It’s attached to our physical space through a portal the size of a “guards house”. Once you enter there you can see the space inside where there are barracks upon barracks, there are access roads, there are armories etc etc. When you come back out there is a building called “living quarters” next to the “guard hourse” and it’s also a portal with quadrillions of houses, wives, and babies inside.

Or take the case of Narada observing 16,108 Krishna’s palaces in Dvaraka – each palace is its own space and, as siblings, they are not connected to each other so each queen thinks she has Krishna all to herself. They are only connected through their parent portal. There are many many more examples like this. Everything in Vrindavana works like this. Putana had a twelve mile long body lying outside of Nanda Maharaja’s house and it won’t fit on our maps of Vrindavana but it becomes easy if we have a portal called “Nanda Maharaja’s backyard and orchards” next to a portal called “cowshed” where there are 900,000 calves plus their mothers and all the bulls. Or was it 900 million calves? You get the point.

Puranas similarly describe our Bharata Vasra as being divided into nine “khandas” which are inaccessible to each other, only through a portal located in Himalayas. Okay, it doesn’t say “portal located in Himalayas” but that’s what is being described – all the entrances are in the Himalayas and each land goes from Himalayas to the sea.

To sum it up – subdivisions of physical space exist even on our Bhu-mandala, there are “portals” into spaces which are as physical as ours, and this idea of space branching out is not applicable only to the higher planets in the universe or other states of being like dreams.