Sunday, December 9, 2012

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 4: The Nature of God (3)

If you think about it – which is truly the more limiting definition of God? The idea that He cannot or does not have any spiritual body or form, just because we (His tiny parts and parcels covered with limited mundane impressions) can't conceive of how such an idea as God's having a form could be compatible with His being transcendental to the concrete objects of this mundane realm or being possessed of unlimited extension? Or the idea that He is endowed with unlimited spiritual multi-forms, capable of appearing anywhere and everywhere all over Existence in any shape or size at all times simultaneously, and interacting with His devotees according to whichever mood/flavor of service to Him they are enriched with? Which is the more positive concept? I ask you! Which is the more free, unlimited, glorious, powerful, and compatible with the idea of His being omnipotent?

The former idea means that He would be unable to have something that we do have – and value. Most of us value our bodies and the opportunities for enjoyment they afford us. The opportunities to look deep into the eyes of a loved one, hug a friend, smile, lend our hands to a worthy cause – we'd be missing out on a lot of satisfying interaction if we were just composed of some eternal and all-pervading white light. (Yes, we'd be missing out on a lot of suffering too, but imagine if the relishable activities could be had without the suffering.) There's a reason parents put their kids in “time out” when they misbehave: having to sit still is torturous. Our very nature is to be active; we relish and yearn for positive and productive engagement. In fact, we Vaisnavas consider the radical impersonalists' desire to annihilate their own individuality and merge into the “white light” of the Brahman effulgence to be a symptom of deep unhappiness. Unless one found one's relationships and other experiences as an individual person deeply frustrating, why would one ever want to commit “spiritual suicide” by annihilating that individuality?

And why should the master ever be poorer than the servants, or unable to have something good that they enjoy, in any category? No, no. He can never be deprived of anything worth having! On the contrary, His standard of enjoyment should be (and is) better than ours, since His enjoyment takes place on the transcendental spiritual platform and is composed of the exchange of nothing but pure love with His eternal devotees, whereas ours, as long as we remain conditioned, takes place in this temporary material world which is full of unlimited miseries, and is stained by ugly, selfish varieties of sickness like lust, anger and greed.

Impersonalists are right to understand that the contamination of mundane qualities cannot touch the Supreme Lord. However, since they fail to clearly understand the nature of the spiritual world and the full range of positive alternatives that are available there (in the shape of flawless, eternally happy spiritual forms, relationships and variety), they end up concluding that the spiritual world must be more or less just like this one with all the concrete, gross physical stuff removed. Since they have no knowledge of any place full of forms and variety other than the one we live in now, and since their experience with this world includes a lot of painful, disgusting crap, the two concepts unfortunately have become associated in their minds and hence they throw the baby out with the bathwater and decide that the spiritual realm must be a place of pure, abstract reality and formlessness. (For example, they might proclaim such truths as that “God is love”, but since “love” in this world is an abstract idea rather than a person, they might conclude that the same applies to God – not realizing that when you're on the spiritual plane, abstract and subtle concepts appear as visible and tangible persons and conscious objects.) This means that, whether they realize it or not, impersonalists' ideas of what the spiritual plane must be like are based on, and limited by, their experiences of living in this world. The funny part is that that's exactly what they accuse us personalists of!

I can totally see where they're coming from when they say that, because at first glance, it does appear as if personalists are the more childlike ones, claiming that the spiritual world is just more of the same stuff like what we see around us in this world, and they (impersonalists) are the ones who can look beyond and envision something different. But if you really get to know the Vaisnava tradition and explore it in depth, you'll see that we acknowledge the truth of the impersonalists' claims, then say “But there's more – go deeper!” We're aware of various layers and levels of truth within spiritual reality, which impersonalists cannot fathom until they become more childlike, humble and open-minded about what God might be, and what He might be capable of. We haven't invented or dreamed up these deeper spiritual truths; to propagate a work of imagination as the truth would be a despicable form of cheating. On the contrary, we take our information from trustworthy persons who have seen with their own eyes the truth of the descriptions in scriptures like the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Brahma-samhita. Humanity can't attain truly perfect knowledge in any way except through humbly receiving it from God Himself or from those pure souls who are in constant touch with Him.

Positive and definite force or presence is always more powerful than vague conceptions or negative lack thereof. The positive always wins out in the end. And the Vedic understanding of God is the most positive one ever. There is nothing vague or negative about Him. Aspects that are inconceivable to us, yes, there certainly may be – how could we expect otherwise? Our brains are pretty darn tiny within the endless entirety of Existence, and since the totality of Everything is contained within Him, He has to be a Personality in whom all kinds of opposites are resolved! But vague, illogical, or negative – no. Endless varieties of scriptures describe His personal qualities in minute detail and analyze them scientifically with examples to help us understand. The Vedic theological version holds up under deep and thorough scrutiny. And since we are His own parts and parcels, He naturally wishes for us nothing other than perfect health and happiness, so we experience His activities as greatly merciful. He'll conquer the world with His love, because our very nature is drawn to His sweetness, power, beauty, mercy and kindness, His unlimited pastimes and glorious qualities. 

To be continued... 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 3: The Nature of God (2)

The most immediate objection to Hare Krishnas' theological personalism from those influenced by impersonalism comes from their impression that when we say “God has a body,” we have to mean a material body like yours or mine. Some impersonalists or semi-impersonalists might verbally object; others might react with benign patronization of us – wishing us well on our path, no matter how weird or silly it might seem to them. Some might even respond (externally or internally) with “WHAT? HOW BLASPHEMOUS! GET OUT OF HERE! How dare you speak of the Supreme Almighty God in such a way?! How can anyone be so ignorant??” And this reaction of theirs would be absolutely appropriate, if anyone did say such a stupid thing as that God has a material body.  

But there are big differences between our bodies and God's. Ours are perceivable by our present material senses; His isn't – unless, that is, He chooses to make Himself visible and tangible to us, which He seldom wants to do except for those devotees who are 100% pure in heart, with no faults whatever. Ours are full of ignorance where His is full of all knowledge. Ours can give us pain whereas His is full of nothing but bliss. Ours are temporary – able to be killed, and certain to die in the end – whereas His is invincible and eternal.

When these points have been clarified, the next objection is “Well, how can anyone believe that the Unlimited has some kind of body – even a spiritual one? Doesn't a body necessarily impose limits on His extension – doesn't a form automatically make Him measurable and therefore finite?”

The answer is that this type of thinking, too, is based on our material conditioning (i.e., our having lived in this material world for so long and being accustomed to the way stuff works here). Here in this world, with material forms all around us, the idea that “form means something limited” is very correct, logical and reasonable. However, things work differently on the spiritual plane, and God's (Krsna's) body is pure spirit. The Vedic scriptures describe many wonderful things that He's able to do with His spiritual body, which would be completely impossible with a material body. For one thing, He can separate endless “portions” out of Himself (living personalities who are endowed with different percentages of His nature and qualities), or even multiply Himself into many equally powerful forms / copies of Himself, and yet His original form remains full and complete. A material form, if something is removed from it or if it's divided into many, becomes diminished – as Srila Prabhupada says, in the material world, 1 - 1 = 0; but the spiritual realm is the absolute plane, where 1 - 1 = 1. So this is one way of explaining how God's / Krsna's form can be unlimited: you can take from Him endlessly yet He remains as full and complete as before.

Then there are the many accounts of how Krsna's devotees failed in attempts to accurately measure His body, and found out instead that He was truly infinite, although He appeared before their eyes in what looked like a measurable form. Mother Yasoda (the foremost devotee who eternally serves Him in the mood of a mother) saw the entire universe within His mouth, including herself holding Him on her lap, which conjures up images of infinity. (Was there another, smaller universe in the mouth of that small form of the Lord that she saw inside His mouth? And were she and her divine son, and the universe they were enacting their pastimes in, also within the mouth of some unimaginably gigantic form of the Lord??? And so on and so forth.) Another time, Mother Yasoda kept trying and trying to tie Krsna up with ropes as a way of putting Him in “time out” for being naughty, but no matter how many long ropes she tied together, when she attempted to encircle His waist with them, they always came up two inches too short. How could any number of ropes be successful in encircling the unlimited Lord – even if He had taken the form of a small boy in order to give pleasure to His beloved Mother Yasoda? And I have heard a couple different versions of pastimes in which the Lord is put on one side of a balance scale, but no matter how many heavy material goods are piled on the other side, He can't be lifted off the ground; not until something else of incalculable spiritual value is placed on the other side can He finally be lifted. So in spite of having a form that looks like ours in many ways, and looks like it could be measurable, the fact is that the Absolute Lord and Sum Total of All can never actually be measured.

To be continued...