When devotees read some passages from teachings of Jesus Christ they often see him preaching pure bhakti, but when they talk to Christians themselves those impressions quickly disappear and so devotees think they understand Jesus better than his own followers. Why is that?
Let’s start with the basics. Generally we have to understand the relationships between three things – God, jiva souls, and the material energy. These three subjects have been extensively covered in the Vedic literature and the truth was largely established even before the appearance of Lord Chaitanya.
Impersonalism, which obscures the eternal relationships between jivas and the Lord, has been solidly defeated, thanks to the works of Madhvacharya. We also had Srimad Bhagavatam as a natural commentary on Vedanta Sutra so Lord Chaitanya had it relatively easy. When the time came to expand His mission He relied on none other than Lord Nityananda and Advaita Acharya, and He entrusted setting forth our complete siddhanta to six goswamis of Vrindavana who are eternal, incorruptible servants of Krishna.
Christ, on the other hand, had nothing. He was the first messenger of God so before him the world had only Greek philosophical speculators, and without personal intervention of God they had a natural ceiling to their efforts – impersonalism, the vague understanding of some eternal reality beyond our senses. So Jesus had no foundation and no scriptures to preach from. His disciples also were somewhat of a letdown.
Lord Chaitanya didn’t have to send His representatives to preach to mayavadis on their home turf in places like Benares, which would have been futile, He covered Bengal and Orissa instead, and established a completely new community in Vrindavana. Early Christians had no such luxury, they had to preach in the land of Greeks, they had no other place to go.
HG Prithu Prabhu did extensive research on early Christianity and came to a conclusion that deviations started with Paul but Christians themselves vehemently disagree. Regardless, when Christians went to preach to the lands still in awe of the classical Greek culture they chose to speak the language of their hosts and rely on their hosts’ philosophy. Perhaps in the beginning they thought of it as a necessary compromise but they couldn’t maintain their purity and by the time Christianity finally established itself and formulated a clear doctrine it was firmly impersonal in nature.
While Jesus most definitely was a a jiva soul Christians equated him with God and came up with the idea of Holy Trinity. This non-difference between the jiva and God the Father (and the Holy Spirit) is the first sign of impersonalism. One could say that this non-difference does not extend to ordinary humans but there are other misconceptions as well.
By insisting on resurrection of Jesus they completely screwed the second side of God-jiva-matter triangle – God-matter (there’s their mayavada tendency), and by insisting that Christians themselves are going to rise from their graves and ascend to heaven they destroyed any difference between jiva souls and their material bodies, too.
To further complicate things for themselves they treat their relationships with Jesus in a very impersonal way – he is a savior, a liberator, and once you got salvation he is of no practical use, up there, in heaven, it’s democracy all around and they expect to reunite with their families instead. While this vision has many parallels in various Hindu schools and especially in modern mayavada, in Gaudiya vaishnavism our relationships with our gurus are eternal and continue in the spiritual world. We never become equal to anybody there, we will always remain dasadasanudasa, not direct associates of Krishna.
This is a crucial point – there’s no devotion without accepting our eternally subservient position to other devotees of the Lord, and without devotion we end up with impersonalism – denying those relationships, and we deny the nourishment of our souls, too.
Whatever bhakti was there in the teachings of Christ, it eventually got corrupted by accepting and enforcing these impersonal aspects of official Christian doctrine. This severely obstructed the flow of devotion, and without devotion people couldn’t get any real spiritual taste. With the idea that their bodies will be taken to heaven they naturally assumed that taking good care of them was the right thing to do and they discovered that sense gratification feels good, too.
This is how materialism was born in the West – through the lack of spiritual nourishment and through the lack of knowledge of the difference between the soul and the body.
When I went to school materialism was taught as self-evident while religious experiences as extraneous and unreal, a matter of belief. I think I will bear this particular “cross” until the end of my life. However, contrary to what I was taught when growing up, the spiritual side of life was actually real for hundreds and thousands of years even in the West. I was taught Newton’s mechanics but not that vast majority of his writings were on the nature of God. I was taught Darwinism but not that Darwin was a deeply religious man.
Meanwhile, over in India, the sweetness of the Holy Name was as self-evident as non-existence of God to me. I still can’t believe it but for the self realized soul, and we had thousands of those in our tradition, the reality is spiritual and material perception is illusory. They perceived the reality with their spiritual senses and paid no attention to their material ones.
I’m still on the stage where I have no idea if Krishna actually exists or not, I have no direct experience of Him, either in the form of Paramatma or the guru, I have only material perception of their external forms. I always assumed that it’s the norm but, as it turns out, it’s the result of Christianity’s failure to introduce real spiritual life in the society I was born into. Materialism that I was taught at school wasn’t born by itself, it is the product of frustration with impersonalism that penetrated Christian religion.
Come to think of it – no one is born a materialist, the Lord usually makes sure that every society has some kind of religious knowledge. They turn materialistic only because of the decline of their religion, and religions wither because they fail to cultivate devotional service, and that happens because of the spread of impersonalism in one way or another.
This is why we have to be very careful to avoid any tinge of mayavada in our lives, it is offensive to the Lord and it deprives us of spiritual connection to Him and, ultimately, leads to gross materialism. Christians learned it the hard way, we shouldn’t repeat their mistakes.