Janma karma ca me DIVYAM…

A few thoughts on the nature of this “divyam”.

In Shanti Parva 326.42-43 Krishna, talking to Narada about His nature, says that even though Narada can see Him it doesn’t mean that Krishna assumes a form. In fact, Krishna can dissolve it at any moment. What Narada sees as Krishna’s form has been created by Krishna’s own illusion and is unrelated to the elements of creation. He is not connected to the creation (sarva-bhuta-gunair-yuktam-NA).

Here we have to remind ourselves that all other forms we see in this world belong to the world and are controlled by the world. We have DNA of our parents, language of our mothers, education of our countries, moral values of our communities and so on. We do not own any of these, rather we are owned by them and they make our behavior very predictable. My next sentence will be in English, for example – I can’t help it, because that’s what the readers expect and I’m obliged to fulfill this expectation. Plus my keyboard is set to English, too, and so I couldn’t type in Swahili even if I wanted to.

What I mean to say is that we declare ownership over a small part of the universal body – on this planet, in this country, in this community, in this city, in this house, on top of this chair, and we claim that it’s “ME”, but the behavior of this “me” is controlled by the superior entities in the hierarchy, and this “me” also aims to fulfill desires of other “mes” in this world.

Or think of it in the language of elements – 98% of this “me” is made of water, which is drinking water available where I live. Some of it form the tap, some of it from the bottles. I breath air of where I live, too, and eat food that grows nearby. Even imported stuff comes from this planet and we don’t get Soma from the Moon in our supermarkets.

All these creations – names, bodies, places, countries, planets – they are products of maya or of material nature. Krishna’s form is not like that – He creates it by His own illusory potency, and this form is independent of creations of Maya and doesn’t have to work according to Maya’s laws.

It also means that it has to work according to its own laws – Krishna’s senses follow Krishna’s mind just like ours do, and Krishna’s body depends on Krishna’s prana, just like our body does. It’s up to Krishna whether to “descend” into this world or not, and how far down He would choose to come. This is related more to Lord Caitanya, however, because it’s Lord Caitanya who controls our ISKCON movement. He might decide to appear in person and become visible to the eyes of His selected devotees, or He might decide to descend only to the level of mind (and tell us what to do), or only to the level of intelligence (and tell us what’s right and what’s wrong), or to the level of sense perceptions (and manifest ecstatic emotions). Or He could decide to stay in our hearts and let us do the rest ourselves. Under His gentle supervision, of course.

Avatara means “cross down” – cross down from one level of “reality” to the next below, making it “more real” with each successive step, until the descending personality becomes a sense object perceptible by our senses – that’s our level of reality – “bhu”.

What is common to all these levels of Lord Caitanya’s descend is that they are not controlled by events of this world, their behavior and appearance cannot be dictated, though they can reciprocate with our material minds, senses, bodies etc. When we see Him it’s an exchange between His form and our eyes, for example.

Restoration of the only painting of Lord Caitanya by a contemporary artist (color enhanced by BBT and cropped by me)

This understanding naturally leads to us creating a litmus BS test – whenever someone speaks about KC and we can see how his ideas follow progressions and developments based on and dictated by the norms of this world we can be sure it’s not Lord Caitanya speaking. It might look attractive and persuasive, it may be very rational and very compelling, but Lord Caitanya’s presence is fundamentally different and follows a fundamentally different logic and rationality. You know it when you see it, as they famously said about “adult content”.

There are people who are better than us in one, two, three, or even in every aspect we can think of, but we can still sense if they are people “of this world”. Lord Caitanya isn’t, and that was also the impression left by Srila Prabhupada on many many others. “Not of this world”. Throughout history people noticed this feature in many many saints and sadhu’s, too.

So, if someone presents Krishna Consciousness we should expect nothing less as “not of this world” as well, and we should not settle for anything less either.

Vanity thought #215. Religious pluralism.

My local paper has been running this quiet debate about religious pluralism. A week ago there was an opinion piece by a Muslim guy who spoke about multiculturalism of the modern world and the types of religious pluralism that we should be aware of.

That’s two big words I’m not very comfortable with, to be honest, and in one sentence, too. I wish I knew what he was on about exactly but these are the concepts that everyone understands in his own way and still they are all correct at the same time, so I’m no exception if I offer my take on the matter.

The logic was more or less like this – we have different cultures around the world. Due to globalization, interconnectedness and free movement of the peoples these different cultures are learning to co-exist side by side.

Religions in the modern world are thought to be part of the national culture but the guy argues that they remain still independent. He points out that Islamic world has a wide variety of cultures, ideologies, political systems and cultures yet Islam itself remains relatively monolithic. The cultures and ideologies might depend on Islam but not the other way around, not to a degree the modern secularism lead us to believe.

I think he’s got a point here.

Anyway, he is more concerned with co-existence of religions and he analyzes various solutions. Pluralism can manifest in the followers as exclusive, inclusive and actually pluralistic.

We all sort of tolerate the existence of other religions but exclusivists quietly think that everybody else are going to hell, inclusivists think that they are dingo okay but true salvation still lies only in their own religion, and real pluralists think that all religions are equal. That’s the position he was trying to promote.

Most religions groups have moved on from exclusivism to inclusivism, at least outward tolerance of differing religions beliefs, but very very few people have reached the level of real pluralism. He rightly notes that it is a very difficult process to adjust to because it shakes the core religious convictions born of socio-religious conditioning form an early age. It might get easier for the future generations but at the moment nobody was ever taught that all religions are true and equal.

That observation is correct for me, too. I have a real trouble accepting that all religions are true and equal, that’s not how I’ve been brought up, but the guy really stakes the future of civilization on making this a common sense idea, like helping starving African children or democracy.

This week another pundit responded and he apparently has a problem with equality, too. First he has the problem with truth – all three Avraamic religions can’t all be simultaneously true. Either God is one, or He has a son and a spirit, either Mohammed is His latest prophet or not.

Religions are obviously not equal in how they are manifested, too. Some have significantly more followers, some have longer history, some appeal to the rich and some appeal to the poor, some demand more respect and some are dismissed as new age phenomena, like they did in Hungary recently. Some have moral values incompatible with modern civilization, like human sacrifices of the mayas.

Actually, there’s very little they agree upon unconditionally. Some deny God, like Buddhists, some make God very personal, like Catholics, some make God multiple manifestation of impersonal divinity, like Hindus.

What this guy proposes instead is equality of the practice, not equality of beliefs themselves. There are some moral principles, ethics that all religions subscribe to, and there are some methods of developing those that are not very different from one religion to another.

This guy brings in Dalai Lama with his book on the unity of all the religions, stressing the need to see things they have in common rather than fighting over the differences. He even quotes a verse from Mahabharata that I’ve never heard before – dharma unites people, adharma drives them away.

Then he admits being a fan of Ramakrishna, the guy who claimed to achieve perfection in practicing every religion he could lay his hands on. All the Deities in the world were eager to appear before Ramakrishna and unite with him in the bliss of devotion.

There’s even a claim that Sri Sri Banka Bihari in Vrindavan got of the altar and ran towards Ramakrishna and that’s why now they open the curtains for a very short time only.

Anyway, Ramakrishna proved that all religions of the world lead to the same goal and so all paths are equal. As far as I know he is the source of modern day pluralism. He, however, stressed bhakti as one unifying aspect of practice.

So, the second contributor to the debate refused to treat all religions as true and equal, but the best practices within them are. Ramakrishna never claimed that all religions he had mastered were equally true, he meant that bhakti works with all of them equally.

This is where I don’t really know what to say.

Is Ramakrishna some kind of religious authority? From my search through Prabhupada’s books Ramakrishna escaped being called a rascal and a cheater and we don’t have a definite word from Prabhupada how to deal with his theory. At one time, I remember Prabhupada avoided passing judgement on him and recommended to follow our path to be sure.

That’s a good point – if Ramakrishna was a real thing and a real acharya then how come no one has been able to follow his teachings and achieve similar success?

Then there’s a question of impersonalism. All his current followers are die hard impersonalists and just today sone “nonism” dude became a @fakekrishna follower on tweeter. We all come from nothing, we disappear into nothing, so we have to achieve happiness in between.

Why do they think there’s real happiness to be found between two nothings? Beats me.

Back to Ramakrishna and equality of all religions – I don’t buy it. Maybe he was a real paramahamsa and all the deities in the world were dying for his darshan, maybe he was really a messenger from the spiritual world to preach unity and equality in anticipation of globalization that came a hundred years later. Maybe he was all that but if he really thought that Sri Sri Banka Bihari came from the same source as Kali Maa I think I have all Prabupada given rights to call him a rascal and a cheat.

His teaching might have helped various religions to co-exist in the modern world but they co-exist on the shared premise that there’s no God anyway. That’s the common ground the secularists were able to put them together whether they like it or not.

Now we are forced to treat every deity equally for the sake of peace, now every deity has got equal rights, there’s no hierarchy between them anymore – they are all concoctions of the same human need to believe in higher powers or they are all permutations of the same non-differentiated Brahman.

Thanks to Ramakrishna we now have democracy among gods, too.

Why should I put up with this? Why is this approach becoming so popular? Why do I see Dalai Lama quotes in my tweetfeed, posted by devotees?

I accept that some people are very knowledgeable in their fields and so their opinions on those relevant subjects are worth quoting even if they are non-devotees, but why Dalai Lama of all people? As a religious authority he has nothing to compare to what Prabhupada taught us.

With all due respect, and I haven’t got much, I admit, I don’t see him as offering anything more than another quick fix for the problems of the material world. He doesn’t give a crap about trying to please Krishna, why should I care what he has to say? What can I learn from him I can’t learn in our parampara?

God is the witness I often try to find connections between various human endeavors and Krishna consciousness. I never found any in Dalai Lama quotes.

On the same note, I have another feed from devotees where I have noticed a slight pre-occupation with bringing peace and harmony to the world through compassion and better management. Nice try, but this is going to fail.

The only way to peace if everyone becomes Krishna conscious, otherwise it’s only a temporary cessation of hostilities.

There will be no peace until we all agree that we exist for Krishna’s pleasure and not for our own comfort.

There will be no peace in the material world and especially during Kali Yuga, why would anyone mislead people to believe it is possible? What kind of service to the humanity is this?

Is this what Prabhupada brought us Krishna consciousness for?

I believe is a gross misapplication of the best thing we could ever have in our material existence.

This rant is getting long and tedious and there’s no end in sight so I might just stop it right here.

I’ll have a fresh look at it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #71. The Source of Divinity.

Actually I’m talking about the Vedas, in a roundabout way it’s the Vedas that tell us who is and who isn’t God. All the acharyas in our sampradaya beginning with Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself made sure that our doctrine is proven by the shastras.

It doesn’t matter to me at all – I grew up in a different society, Vedas do not carry any particular importance to me, only because Srila Prabhupada told people they were important, so they must be. Intrinsically, without the value given to them by Prabhupada, they don’t mean much to a western person.

But rules are rules, we need to know that our teaching follows the Vedas strictly, because of our parampara and “as it is” philosophy.

So, where does the source of all divine knowledge lie?

In the Vedas, right, but what exactly does it mean? Vedas were written by people, people tend to make mistakes. People disagree with each other, too, and so there’s inevitable inconsistency as far as the entire collection is concerned. Even within our tradition we separate Vedas into shruti and smriti, we don’t say one is less important than the other but it’s exactly what we mean – shruti is “truer” than smriti. Maybe not for us, not for devotees, but if we want to present our case to a wider world we need some shruti references, like Upanishads.

That’s where I don’t think we realize the nature of the thing.

Veda is knowledge, vedas, as in four vedas, are books. They are not one and the same. Books present only some aspects of the knowledge, and it is a hard job figuring out exactly at what point books are considered divine and at what point they cease to be divine and become human.

We used to tell people that vedas is the manual that came with the universe and it’s very nice, but there’s a lot of gadgets and software out there that doesn’t come with manuals. People just never get round to writing them, men never bother to read them, they still work. It’s especially true of the Open Source community, they might right a short FAQ saying some obvious things but never find time to describe all the internal intricacies for the average Joe, they’d rather spend time on advancing their projects forward.

Same principle should apply to the Veda as well – some people know all about it but when it comes down to writing it down they consider the demand first, they’ve got better things to do with their lives. Thank God He sent us Srila Vyasadev to organize all the documentation, but it was a process, with priorities and deadlines and staff and teamwork etc etc.

So Vyasadev decided to write down the hymns first – you can’t make any mistakes chanting them, if people’s memories are getting weak that’s what should be written down first, for posterity.

Then there need to be a detailed explanation how to conduct the sacrifices, also important but you don’t really need precise language for that, do you?

You still need the language though, you need precise grammar to describe things and procedures, for example. Grammar needs to be organized and taught, too. Here comes Panini.

As work multiplies Vyasadeva delegated it to different disciples who set up their own schools working on their branches, and it goes on for ages, centuries, maybe thousands of years.

Then there’s a need for an explanation of what all these sacrifices mean, and here come the Upanishads, which translates as “sit down and listen”. We still accept them as shruti but I can’t get used to the idea that every time over hundreds and hundreds of years thousand of different gurus gave exactly the same explanations word for word, ie they came out at once, absolutely complete and without any need for later changes. Despite this doubt they are still eternal, though.

The meanings of the Upanishads have existed forever, but that is not the same thing as a collection of several hundred verses on several dozens of subjects. The Upanishads, the “books”, have been created at some point in time, just like software manuals. It doesn’t mean that before the manual there was no knowledge, it just wasn’t organized in a format of a generic manual.

When you create some piece of writing there always is a first draft, then it gets passed around, it gets edited, some ideas area added, others deleted entirely or transferred to new books. It’s the nature of the process. And when you write about the meaning of the entire universe some points need to be covered first, some explained later, some new points might come up as history progresses and you need replies to new questions. This is all completely natural, consider it as teaching – the knowledge exists, it’s kind of “eternal”, the lessons and lesson plans, however are not.

Still, as far as the authenticity of the teaching materials is concerned, Upanishads are kosher.

And then there’s history. Things that happened, lives that were lived, stories that have been told – they are all knowledge, they need to be learned, too, and that is our “smriti”. In retelling the stories there’s no way you get it exactly the same every time. It’s just impossible, and great stories like Mahabharata are so long that it took generations to compile them.

Yes, we believe that they have been retold exactly word for word but surely there must be a limit to this belief. The need to write them down appeared precisely because it was not possible to repeat them exactly, but, more importantly, it’s the meaning of the story that is important to us, not the exact wording.

Srimad Bhagavatam, for example, was not retold word for word before it got written down. It doesn’t even claim to be that. It’s a story withing a story within a story. The sages of Naimisharanya forest had their own questions, for example, they were not part of the original conversation and Suta Gosvami answered them considering the time, circumstances, background knowledge and personalities of the people asking those questions.

That doesn’t stop Bhagavatam from being the incarnation of the Lord Himself and we don’t go separating its verses into “divine – not divine”. That’s absurd.

And that finally brings me to the thought of the day – I grew up in a culture where we clearly separate man’s and God’s creations. Bible might have been initially inspired by God but men added a lot of their own stuff. Jesus was pure, but then people put their own agendas into gospels, and so we must discover the original, divine meanings and messages.

This approach cannot be applied to studying vedas. There’s no “original” message, there’s no divine “spark” from which they developed and there’s not God written vs men written parts there. There are no God written parts at all, apart of few recorded speeches here and there, like Bhagavad Gita. There are no man made additions that need to be stripped to show the divinity either, Vedas are all man made in that sense.

Bhagavatam becomes divine when topics of the Lord are discussed among the devotees. That is all that is needed. If there are no devotees, there’s no divinity, just a book. If there’s no book but there are devotees telling stories from memories, divinity is already present.

There is no magical, divine substance that can prove to anyone the existence of God. There were people who saw Krishna Himself and still had no idea. The perception, the proof of divinity comes from our own hearts, not from our eyes. It’s not in the books, it’s not in ancient manuscripts, it’s not buried in prehistoric caves, there are no crystal skulls, and even if there are – if our hearts are not pure we won’t see them as divine anyway.

And, of course, let’s not forget that Divinity is provided for our hearts’ pleasure by the Supreme Lord Himself, particularly by Lord Balarama and his expansions like Lord Nityananda and their external manifestations like our gurus and our books.

Books????

Full circle.