They say it’s a “who”, not a “what”, but how do we know? We have no direct experience of “it”, only faith. More importantly, how does “it” affect us? If we experience “it” as a thing, not a person, then what does it matter who He is in real life on Goloka?
Over there they have very deep, detailed knowledge of His personality but down here He doesn’t exist – He is not of this world, has nothing to do with it, He manifests Himself indirectly.
It would be nice if we could establish our personal relationships with Him while still in the conditioned state but, as a general rule, it doesn’t happen. All we can experience here is His potencies acting through the inferior energy, matter.
This is our direct experience, this is what we really know about Him, and it matters to us more than our faith or our imagination. Of course we can live by our hopes and prepare to dismiss our expectations if or when we get to meet Kṛṣṇa in the future. We are not likely to be disappointed anyway, we’ll just have to ditch our current images of what Kṛṣṇa might look or feel like. Still, hopes or not, but in our present life most of the time we act on what we experience directly. Our visions and dreams of Kṛṣṇa are also part of this current empiric experience.
We also have orders of our guru and we can act on those regardless of whether we understand them or not. In that case we would forgo our direct experience, what our intelligence tells us, and act transcendentally. That, however, doesn’t happen very often. somehow or other we have corrupted the guru system and demand accountability, meaning guru’s orders must make sense from our material perspective. and if they don’t we are more likely to censor such orders than to execute them solely on faith.
Gurus have taken notice of this practice and they have started censoring themselves, too. They probably spend as much time rationalizing their orders as we do scrutinizing them.
This is not how paramparā is supposed to work but we counter it with a perfectly valid argument that our gurus are not transcendental, they speculate about what their disciples should do as much as anyone else, they don’t convey Kṛṣṇa’s direct orders and they know it.
So far, Śrīla Prabhupāda acts as our fall-back, we just do whatever he said and assume that doing it would give us Kṛṣṇa’s blessings, too. Prabhupāda is assumed as infallible and his words as eternal but there are limits to their application we are not yet ready to confront.
Ācāryas teach others by their own example, they have the authority to implement new rules and practices or modify old ones, that much we all agree on, but the other side of “ācārya” phenomenon is that it’s temporary, their innovations and modifications are by their nature tied up to a set of particular circumstances, they are not eternal in the way our philosophy is.
Sanātana Gosvāmī compiled Hari Bhakti Vilāsa, for example, it was revolutionary at the time but now we don’t even bother reading it – times have changed. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī set a new standard of vaiṣṇāva ācāra, new sādhana for devotees to follow, overriding some of Hari Bhakti Vilāsa rules, and we accepted these changes as authoritative. Śrīla Prabhupāda changed some of those rules even further and we accept that it was done to suit time, place, and circumstances.
I don’t want to discuss examples – the way we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra in whole rather than splitting it in two parts in our kīrtans, or the way we chant premādhvani, or the order we put pictures of our predecessor ācāryas on our altars, or the permission to chant only sixteen rounds per day.
It all worked very well when Prabhupāda was present and it’s totally understandable that in his absence our new generation of gurus didn’t dare to mess with anything and strictly following Prabhupāda in every respect was considered a virtue.
Time are a-changing, however, and they are changing faster than at any time in history. We need new rules, we can’t keep what was considered innovations in Prabhupāda’s time frozen in history for all eternity. Ironically, that would be against our philosophy – the only thing that should never ever change.
The demand is there, the supply is there, too, if we consider Kṛṣṇa West or Bhakti Fests as valid examples of next generation ācāryas trying new formulas. Is any of it legitimate, however?
It’s one thing to acknowledge the necessity of change, it’s quite another to accept any particular example as being sanctioned by Kṛṣṇa Himself, as should be the case with ācāryas.
Most of our gurus modestly think that they can’t claim the right to innovate, that they don’t have some magic iPhones that they can use to contact Kṛṣṇa and get His approval. I think it’s only fair of them to acknowledge that all they do and think is rather rational, ie has very reasonable explanations based on their material knowledge and experience, and anyone else can double check it if they wanted to.
Their inspiration is transcendental but it still manifests through dull matter and according to material laws. We, as their followers and disciples, second guess their reasoning as a matter of habit now. If it checks out we accept it, if it doesn’t we speak of deviations and some of us dare to openly reject their guru, too, and no one says a word about it.
That’s the thing – material logic and rationality rules.
So, who or what is that Kṛṣṇa thing anyway?
We don’t experience Him on a spiritual level, we don’t see His direct representatives, our gurus, as transcendental either, what is left there for us?
That’s why I say that for us Kṛṣṇa might as well be “it” and not a person – it would all depend on our current stage of perception of the Absolute Truth, of which Kṛṣṇa is only a part.
Well, that is an apocryphal thing to say but it’s true – Kṛṣṇa IS the Absolute Truth but He is also distinctly different from some aspects of it. He is the source and the origin but He is not equal to the whole of it, not in the way we are taught to relate to Him.
I mean we are told that eventually we get to serve Him in five of the primary rasas but those relationships are not possible with God as He manifests in relation to the material world, dasya would be the higher rasa possible here, and even then it’s not the same dāsya as practiced in Vṛṇdāvana.
Down here our closest friend and the closest person to us is the Supersoul, up in the spiritual world we’ll never get to be so close to Kṛṣṇa.
What I mean to say is that we always, always relate to the Absolute Truth but we do so in relatively inferior modes. Some have their concept of God to whom they pray, others meet Absolute Truth as their death, yet there are others who see the Absolute in alcohol or drugs, others see it in sex. Some see it as impersonal Brahman, some see it as Paramātmā. Some see it as deity, some see it as a book, some see it as a Holy Name. Some see it as their family, some see it as their country, some see it as inviolable laws, some see it as morals.
There’s nothing in our lives but the Absolute Truth but we don’t get to relate to it as Kṛṣṇa at all.
So, what does Kṛṣṇa mean to us?
Hmm, I spent so many words trying to establish the legitimacy of the question that there’s no space left to speculate about the answer.
There’s also a hanging question about what to do with our gurus – how can we see them as Kṛṣṇa’s representatives when they do not have a genuine, transcendental connection to Him and act as ordinary people?
I’m not ready to answer that yet, but, as they say, forming the right question is half the job done, so I’ve got that going for me today, unless I realize that these questions are stupid, too.
Need to give it a second thought.