Vanity thought #1576. And so it is Christmas

I just realized that it’s one of John Lennon’s songs, not the elevator musak they play around this time of year. Either way, Christmas is impossible to avoid and so are Christians. I don’t know of a good strategy that works on them, I know lots that don’t. Perhaps reflecting on our experiences with them we can come to a better understanding of what Christianity is and how can we penetrate its defensive shields.

Off the bat, there’s a famous assertion by Śrīla Prabhupāda that Christ is a corrupted version of “Son of Kṛṣṇa”, which is often taken by devotees to mean that Christ and Kṛṣṇa are the same. I don’t know any Christian who has ever been impressed by this argument so it’s not for them, for others it’s mildly amusing and the result depends on whether they like this kind of outrageous ideas or become deeply suspicious of anyone advancing them.

The fact that Prabhpāda was most likely right doesn’t matter, the idea is outrageous by modern standards and modern knowledge of Christianity. We can also site supporting arguments about Christ being in India, none of them are accepted by Christians either. At best they’d note it as something to check back with their pastor and we can be sure they’ll hear nothing good about us there.

We can impress people with our knowledge of Christianity until we run into a proper authority, if we think that we somehow can defeat thousands years of Christian science and convince them they are all wrong we are delusional. It won’t happen if only for a reason that people won’t give up their long held beliefs regardless of the evidence, and even our “evidence” is shaky.

I know of a devotee who learned all the Ten Commandments by heart, which is very unusual even for the practicing Christians, and he used it to impress upon others that when he says Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness is compatible he is speaking as a Christian authority. It works on some, until they get in touch with real Christian authorities, and then they feel cheated and their trust abused. There’s just no good way to make Christianity and Kṛṣṇa consciousness work on this level.

There’s a devotee, won’t mention his name because he is still around, a prominent member of ISKCON, who spend years if not decades researching reincarnation and vegetarianism in early Christianity and other ancient cultures. It was all very impressive and I myself was totally convinced, until he went to debate his findings with real Christian scholars. They shredded his theory to pieces. I don’t think he deserved this and their arguments were spurious but that’s what happened. You just can’t fight with pigs and not get dirtied.

If “Christian scholars” were any intelligent they would have accepted the message of Lord Caitanya a long time ago or at least had given up meat eating. Their intelligence, however, is good for reading books but useless for controlling mind and senses. All they do is selfishly justify themselves, there’s no true spiritual inquiry there whatsoever. There probably are some scholars who would be receptive to our philosophy and still stay with Christ but they are not the ones called to put those impudent Hare Kṛṣṇas in place. You can’t win against the people they bring forward for this particular task.

Say we mention Jesus’ time in India. There’s a legend that after ascension he went to Kashmir and died there, this time for good, and there’s even a tomb. It’s a nice story but most likely a total fraud invented by western “travelers”. Any Christian with a mobile phone can debunk it in seconds. The story is plausible but only until you hear the other side version of it. The truth doesn’t matter here, it’s what people know, what they think and how they react. It might work on some but then their reaction later on when they discover the “real” facts about it in their churches is unpredictable, probably extremely negative, and they’ll tell everyone they know about it, too.

We can also site apocryphal gospels as proof of this or that but the key word here is apocryphal – they are not accepted by the Church, if we rely on them then all we do is dupe people into believing conspiracy theories. Doesn’t matter whether they contain truth or not, it’s a political battle for hearts and minds and if we take on the Church head on we will probably lose. Politics and accompanying duplicity should have no place in real saṅkīrtana, it’s a crutch for those who can’t and a staple for those who won’t give up their material attachments.

Duplicity is one of the anarthas, we can’t keep it. If we see a not very sophisticated opponent and bring an argument that we know doesn’t work on anyone with actual knowledge then what it is if not duplicity?

Hmm, if only it was that easy, because a real saṅkīrtana devotee doesn’t care for such mundane norms and won’t hesitate to lie if it helps the person to penetrate layers of illusion coving his soul, like his mind and his intelligence. What these layers think about the lie is immaterial, they are just matter acting under the guṇas and orders of the Lord, we have no quarrel and form no relationships with them. To succeed in this endeavor has to see the soul, though, not material forms grown around it. A real saṅkīrtana devotee can pull it off but imitators will be severely punished.

Speaking of material energy – we must acknowledge that the entire western civilization is a result of JC’s preaching, a testament to his spiritual weight and power. This can be explained in many ways, let’s say that uncompromising logic of science is possible only because scientists, who were all Christians then, wouldn’t allow any compromises in their search for truth. The pathos of an ideal scientist is that of an absolutely honest person – a religious principle, the last one still surviving in this age.

This means that when we rely on comforts provided by the civilization we must acknowledge the role of JC in starting it and millions of people who followed him and in the course of their search created so many wonderful things. We can’t say that we don’t care about JC because we are Hare Kṛṣṇas. How about hot water in the middle of the winter? Why can’t we be grateful about that?

What I’m driving at is that we should not artificially distance ourselves from Christianity and juxtapose it with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and then try to prove that Christ and Kṛṣṇa are the same. People can smell this duplicity even without realizing it, there’s something just off about this attitude, it won’t work.

I think the ideal option is to take a straw in our mouths and humbly beg Christians to improve in their own faith. Kṛṣṇa consciousness would be a real upgrade there but we need humility first and we need to see Christians for who they are, which isn’t easy either. I think I’ll write more about it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #667. Krishna as God

Following from yesterday – does Krishna qualify to be called God in conversations with Christians and other “infidels”?

I mean we’ve been taught about qualities of Bhagavan right from the start – the six opulences and all. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada describes Krishna as the Supreme Absolute Truth in the purport to SB 1.1.1, the verse that famously starts with on namo bhagavate vasudevaya, so what’s there to argue about it?

In one word – Krishna.

He is not Vasudeva, at home, in Vrindavana, He is known as song of Mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja. He becomes Vasudeva when He leaves the land of Vraja and goes to Mathura. In another sense, Vasudeva is an expansion of Balarama, who Himself is an expansion of Krishna, so we are talking about a different person here with different personality.

Does Krishna possess the ultimate strength? Not really, He can barely carry Nanda Maharaja’s slippers. He can also be bound with ropes fairly easily by Mother Yashoda. She had a little trouble with tying him up but that was because the rope was always too short, not because Krishna was very strong and she couldn’t restrain Him.

When Krishna plays with His friends they sometimes beat Him and He has to carry them on His back. Sometimes He displays supernatural strength, like when lifting Govardhana, but no one takes Him seriously. His friends even volunteered to hold it so He can take a rest. When He kills demons or knocks down huge trees no one understands how a little boy could have done that.

Does Krishna possess ultimate knowledge? Not really, He knows all about tending calves and charming ladies but when He leaves Vrindavana He has to study in gurukula just like everybody else.

Does Krishna possess ultimate wealth? Nah, He’s just a cowherd boy, He’s got some jewelry, earrings and anklets but that’s not real wealth.

Does Krishna possess ultimate fame? Not really, when He went to beg Brahmanas for some food they didn’t know who He was. He was surely the life and soul of everyone in Vraja but that doesn’t say much. He got really famous only after He left, became Vasudeva, and killed Kamsa.

Does Krishna posses ultimate beauty? Hmm, beauty is the matter of taste. Krishna is supremely attractive but that’s not the same thing. When He comes home in the evening, sweaty and all covered in dust, we are not talking about beauty anymore.

Does Krishna grant liberation? Not really. He certainly can, and He is known as Mukunda, but His best devotees never ask for it and never get it. Imagine yourself in Six Goswami’s shoes for a moment. Sleeping one hour a day, surviving on one unsalted chapati and morsel of rice, and you’d scream for liberation. Neither Krishna nor His devotees are concerned with it, however.

Krishna is the source of all opulences but He never displays them, and if He does it breaks all the mood. Mother Yashoda didn’t know what to think when she saw the universe in His mouth, His friends didn’t know what to think when they couldn’t hold Govardhan but He could. He can liberate all His devotees in a moment but He doesn’t do that because devotees like to serve Him in material world, that’s the only way they can preach.

All these opulences and powers carry no weight in Vrindavan, Krishna better hide them and hide them very well.

So, do we worship God then? I’m afraid not, not in the Christian sense, and not even in the sense of Bhagavan.

What Krishna has on those concepts is rasa. No one has better and deeper relationships with His devotees than Krishna, and reversely, no devotee can find better and richer rasa anywhere but in relationships with Krishna.

Devotees don’t care for all the external manifestations of Godhead – power, fame, opulence, beauty, renunciation, whatever. They care only about pleasing Him as friends, parents or girlfriends.

When talking with “infidels” we can’t say such things but we ourselves should never forget them. We want to be Krishna’s servants not because He is God with all accompanying powers but because we want rasa and we want to give it Him.

As followers of Srila Rupa Goswami we go even further – we serve those who please Krishna better than us. Our own rasa “sucks” so we make sure that gopis, who are best in the whole world, can please Krishna in full. Our own rasa, our own enjoyment can wait.

This is taking it too far, though, on the material platform we can’t even imagine how it feels in real life.

Vanity thought #497. And so this is Christmas

Christmas is an interesting phenomenon. There’s no denying its transformative power, if you look beyond commercialism there’s no denying that it brings people closer together and makes them want to be better men. Christmas spirit is a real thing, the joy of giving and caring and all that, but is it really real and where does this spirit come from? This is where it gets complicated.

Is the secret of Christmas in its religious roots? Not likely, the exchange of presents and taking care of the less fortunate ones is a tradition of Santa Claus, and Santa Claus is believed to be based on Saint Nicolas, a compassionate fellow who lived somewhere in Turkey and slipped some money in children’s stockings left out for drying. He was a religious man but his gesture has nothing to do with religion – you don’t have to believe in God to feel empathy with other human beings. Soviets had their own version and their festivities were absolutely secular.

Most people partaking in Christmas spirit nowadays don’t believe in God either and don’t need Him to have their Christmas fun.

What about Christians? They celebrate the birthday of Christ, a genuine religious occasion, that must be the source of their inspiration. Okay, but Christ wasn’t born on Christmas, there are no clues to the actual date in the gospels and it’s too cold in Israel at this time of the year for shepherds to stay with their sheep in the pastures overnight, which was the reason the barn was available in the story.

So the date itself has no spiritual significance. This is different from our Ekadashis because those are cosmic events – fasting between two certain time points brings certain spiritual benefits. On the other hand I feel that our other festivals don’t have any connection with an actual calendar, too.

Maybe the connection is there, in Kali Yuga we shouldn’t trust our under-developed feelings in matters such as this, but the fact is that we can create a festival out of nothing any time we want, have a massive kirtan and distribute lots of prasadam, and everyone would feel that.

Is it what’s happening with Christmas, too? Lots of people getting together and creating atmosphere of a holiday?

If they have no particular spiritual reason, then how is it different from us? How is it different from our Janmashtami or Vyasa puja? Are those real holidays with their own spiritual powers, like Ekadashi, or are they just excuses for us to have a big party?

I mean what would happen if we move Janmashtami or Gaura Purnima by one or two days? Anyone would notice? I think not.

What I mean to say is that Gaura Purnima happens when we celebrate it, not when a certain number of days have passed since the last festival.

I’m not very comfortable with this conclusion, I hope there’s a better explanation but it’s eluding me.

PS The main difference is that our festivals, unlike modern Christmas, are meant for the pleasure of the Lord. That fully justifies them. What can justify a secular Christmas I don’t know.