Sunday, December 1, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 15: The Greatest Welfare Work (2)

Continued from What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 14: The Greatest Welfare Work (1)

There are unlimited choices, actually -- unlimited varieties of service to Krsna that one may be inspired to perform in a heartfelt, sincere, prayerful and humble manner to earn the wonderful benefits of karma-clearing and spiritual health for oneself and others.  In the age we currently live in, called Kali-yuga, the most emphatically recommended seva, or service, is that of lovingly reciting, chanting, loudly singing or calling the transcendental and supremely purifying holy names of the Lord.  There are unlimited such names, which may be called individually or uttered in the form of different standard songs and mantras, but what is called the maha-mantra, or the Great Chant for Deliverance, is our famous Hare Krishna chant --

Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

(pronunciation: "Hare" -- huh-ray; "Krsna" -- Krishna; "Rama" -- rhymes with drama.)

Since the Lord is nondifferent from His names, hearing and/or chanting these names means literally being in His personal and unlimitedly purifying presence, so the more these names are heard and sung, the better for everyone involved.  Thus we try to chant, for our own benefit and that of everyone else, as much as we can.  And there are some devotees who consider some type of chanting of Krsna's names to be their favorite service or their calling in life -- whether it be public harinama sankirtana (singing the holy names out loud together with others in public places), temple or home kirtanas (doing the same but in the temple, at home, or in some other more private setting), making recordings of the singing of the holy names and offering them for sale, or simply chanting japa (an intensely prayerful session with Sri Sri Radha-Krsna in which a fixed minimum number of Their holy names [in the form of the maha-mantra] are chanted on beads daily).  The more loudly one chants, the more souls can hear it and be benefited, but all of these are bona fide ways of serving the holy names of the Lord.

Other awesome services that devotees may be inspired to perform include: 
  • Sharing the knowledge that has transformed their own lives with others by either distributing books and articles written by other devotees (and/or sharing and explaining the realizations they've gotten through reading those works), or writing their own. 
  • Using their creative talents in Krsna's service by drawing, painting, sewing, carving, or sculpting images of Him and His devotees (which will thereafter enlighten, inform and purify the minds of anyone who views them by teaching those souls about -- or reminding them of -- Sri Krsna or His wonderful servants), or by creating beautiful clothing and accessories for His arca-murti (the forms of the Deities worshiped in the temples).
  • Practicing the love-laden worship of the personal form of the Lord by offering those Deities all kinds of auspicious, nice and desirable things.
  • Purifying themselves and others by partaking of, and enabling others to partake of, the remnants of these offerings to the Deity -- called prasadam, or mercy, for their amazing spiritually transformative effects -- in the shape of delicious foods, fragrant flowers, sanctified water, etc. etc.  (The distribution of prasadam food enjoys particular popularity due to its ability to nourish those who consume it both spiritually and materially at the same time.)
  • Orchestrating, assisting in the production of, or performing at festivals, dramas, dances, and other cultural exhibits, which serve the purpose of charming and capturing the minds and imaginations of those who attend, wrapping their consciousness in Krsna and helping them make progress toward Him.
  • Keeping the Lord's temples (including their own homes and, for that matter, their bodies) sparkling clean and functioning as they should, so that the Lord's service can be carried on appropriately therein.
  • Offering their expertise in any field of service to Sri Krsna and the devotee community -- e.g. teaching, counseling, legal services, medical care, cooking, gardening or farming, animal husbandry, managing / administration, website development and maintenance, etc. -- either for free or in exchange for necessary income. 
As you can see, the options are truly unlimited.  Either as inspired by Paramatma / caitya-guru (Krsna in one's heart, a.k.a. one's conscience), or as advised by a trusted spiritual guide (guru) with whom it is possible to converse face-to-face, or by a combination of both (possibly along with other factors), each individual devotee can arrive at a conclusion regarding what his or her daily services ought to be, and then proceed to execute them with as much energy, sincerity, hope, humility, determination and enthusiasm as can possibly be mustered.  This process is known as bhakti-yoga, and when executed properly (especially under the caring guidance of a trustworthy personal guru who has made more progress than oneself in successfully achieving a life of devotion to Krsna, who will help make sure one stays on the right path and doesn't fall prey to any of the traps and temptations along the way), it leads in short order to the sort of genuine, overflowing, radiant happiness that will make the devotee's own life successful and be magnetically attractive to the suffering people of the world, who may even approach the devotee to find out what his or her secret is.  

In order to be really effective at helping others, one first of all must help oneself.  It's important to make sure that in one's zeal to help other suffering souls drowning in the material ocean, one doesn't capsize one's own spiritual boat in leaning out to help them in.  That will help no one.  First of all make sure you are executing spiritual life properly -- i.e. make sure it's working for you, yielding tangible results in the form of deep joy, peace, satisfaction, valuable realizations and character development -- and make sure your spiritual health and progress are stable, reliable, unshakable, and steady rather than the result of unsustainably, fanatically pushing yourself to achieve levels of perfection that are currently beyond your ability to maintain long-term.  Only then will you be able to provide help and advice to others that's effective, powerful and valuable.

Some devotees actually belong to a category called bhajananandi, which means their focus is primarily or exclusively on private worship of the Lord and on making spiritual progress themselves.  The alternative category of devotee is called gosthyanandi; these devotees feel joy when they see other souls finding success and happiness by coming to Krsna consciousness, so they endeavor to help that happen as much as possible.  Both types of devotees are glorious and dear to the Lord, but the latter category of devotee is more so.  As Srila Prabhupada explains in his wonderful purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.6.24, Sri Krsna states in Bhagavad-gita 18.69 that "there is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear" than one who engages in preaching Krsna consciousness.  This confirms that there is no method of doing good in the world that is greater than this. 

May we all engage in it according to our respective realizations, inspirations and capacities and thus please Sri Krsna, the Lord of all, and make our lives successful and ecstatic.

All glory to Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai's mission of maximum mercy, and to all the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 14: The Greatest Welfare Work (1)

So, in my last post I stated that the path to happiness is through service to others.  However, what is the best way to go about doing that?

First of all, the spirit with which you do any such thing (or anything at all) should be one of trying to please Krsna.  This, as described in Bhagavad-gita, transforms altruistic work from something materially pious, which may earn you a temporary reward in the heavenly planets of the material world, into something purely transcendental, which in short order will slice through all the bonds that keep you tied to this world of misery. 

How can that be?  Something done out of kindness and generosity for one's fellow beings is nice and pleasing to all, and a lifetime of such materially good acts does serve as fertile ground in which the seeds of spiritual life can sprout much more easily.  Nevertheless, kind, benevolent, well-meaning behaviors, if done in material consciousness (i.e. with nothing but material thoughts and goals), do not in and of themselves lead to freedom from this world, but keep one bound up in it... and as long as you and those you're helping remain here, there's always the chance for any or all of you to fall down into misery again.  The only way to make a deep and permanent, and therefore genuinely valuable (not just temporary/superficial/"band-aid") solution to your own and everyone else's problems is to act in spiritual consciousness, because that leads you to a future in the spiritual world (and shows everyone else the way there too), where there is no more birth and death and no more suffering.  As long as the core malady of the material world -- thinking of oneself as separate from Krsna and thinking that fulfillment may be found elsewhere than in serving Him -- remains unaddressed, the symptoms of frustration, mistakes, and suffering in various forms will keep surfacing; it cannot be otherwise.  The greatest welfare work is to become a spiritual doctor who can cure other souls of this basic malady that leads to all the other problems they are experiencing.  As an equation that begins with 1 + 1 = 3 may get everything else right but will still come out wrong, a correction in the foundation of everyone's thinking needs to be made before stability, peace and rightness can be brought about in people's lives and in the entire world.

It's kind of like that "give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime" saying.  Fixing the external problems in people's lives is nice, but it's not significant enough to help them permanently.  To help anyone permanently, you need to teach them how to find happiness for themselves -- how to have a truly healthy, happy and wholesome life.  With goodness and rightness flowing out from inside them, it's only a matter of time before every detail of their outer life falls into place and echoes the goodness they are filled with.  Just as mental joy and distress reverberate through the physical body and produce so many effects upon it, so spiritual health generates mental health, good behavior and good destiny, and hence all bad elements will disappear in one or two lifetimes for the very sincere spiritual practitioner. 

Second of all, if you really want to render the most valuable service to others, break free of excessive concern about whatever situations they happen to be in during the present snapshot in time.  In their next lifetimes, he who is a slave now may become a master, and a hard-driving master may become an ill-treated slave.  A starving man may become the most well-fed rich kid in town, and a king surrounded with every pleasure may become a dog in the street.  This world is compared to an ocean because nothing stays the same in it.  The waves are always rolling and tossing.  When riding on a crest we feel on top of the world, but then we may be slammed down into a trough of suffering.  Everyone is being treated impartially by the world; no one is favored over another.  Everyone is making their own destinies by their own choices, and all have the potential to suffer equally here, either in this lifetime or in some other.  We should be very sympathetic and sorry to see the miserable predicaments others are getting themselves into, but we should not be less sorry for the rich man than we are for the poor man.  After all, as mentioned in my last post -- rich people commit suicide too, so any particular material situation is NOT a source of happiness.  Happiness comes from something else, something entirely different.

So with this devoted, spiritual, big-picture-focused mentality firmly in place, then... what exactly should one go about doing?

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 13: Free Will (3) and the Source of Happiness

The most essential question before us, and the one that has the most bearing on whether we see this material world as designed perfectly or terribly flawed, is this:

How do we find happiness?

Do we find happiness by being the center of our own universe -- by always putting ourselves first and expecting everyone else to put us first too -- by having enough personal beauty, money and power so that our slightest whim will be instantly carried out by a horde of faithful servants -- by having new toys and gorgeous sex partners every day so that our minds will always be occupied and distracted from the dissatisfying shallowness of our pleasures?

They say it's lonely at the top.  Rich and famous people commit suicide too.  Just watch a spoiled child reject one lovely toy after another and then throw a tantrum.  Having all the "stuff" one could wish for is not the key to happiness.

The above are blatant, undiluted examples of what Hare Krishnas refer to as "trying to be the enjoyer" or "imitating God."  Although such a lifestyle is much-hyped in this world, envied and striven after, it is a dry well that contains no real happiness, just the glittery illusion thereof. 

All right, so in spite of the amount of time people waste chasing after it, money (and power) alone can't buy happiness.  Nothing will buy real happiness for you when you're selfish and shallow enough to put yourself and your own sense-enjoyment ahead of everyone and everything else.

Where does happiness come from, then?  How about mutually pleasurable relationships?

If they're based on exchanging sensually gratifying experiences with each other -- well, how great is it to be giving the thing to another person that didn't satisfy you when you gave it to yourself?  Sure, it's better because it's less selfish, but if you were truly selfless (not contaminated with the desire for your own personal sense-gratification at all) then you would want to be giving the other person whatever was truly the best, most fulfilling and satisfying thing.  And for that, you're gonna have to keep looking.  Most of the relationships that pass for "love" in this world are really "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" -- more like a business relationship.  If either party stops their back-scratching and starts pushing buttons instead, then fighting begins and the "love" is over.  Where is the reality, the permanence, or the deep satisfaction in that -- two selfish people agreeing to please one another as long as it feels good to both of them?

So for real happiness, you have to eschew sense-gratification and break entirely free of the paradigm that you should be seeking your own pleasure/happiness/satisfaction?

Now you're getting it!

What would a life like that even look like??

One word: SERVICE.  Unmotivated and uninterrupted. 

That's what will set you free.  That's what will give your heart wings.  Clearing all selfishness and expectation of reward out of your heart and simply trying your best to bring happiness to others.  Ironically enough, that's when your heart will open and the happiness will flood in. 

It's not that this is hidden knowledge.  Instructions on living life with less of a competitive, self-centered attitude and increasing your kind, generous-hearted qualities -- such as "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" -- could hardly be more well-known.  Many have heard of the "natural high" you get from acts of kindness.  Anyone who is attracted to these ideas has complete freedom to adopt them and achieve a life of solid, exhilarating joy.  And yet -- how many people take them up?  No matter how many times this message is put out there, you'll only find a few who take it seriously.  Most who hear it will say "Oh, what a beautiful idea!" and then go on with their habitual, more or less self-centered lives.

Look around you.  How many people do you know who have truly realized the truth of this and are living accordingly?  How many people do you see who get up each morning and spend the entire day trying with every thought, word and deed to be of service to others, with no ulterior motive of having their kindnesses reciprocated?

This world is a school of saints.  And only a few of those who've graduated stick around to be part of the faculty. 

For those who do graduate, none of the horrors of this world hold power any more.  The wellspring of their joy lies elsewhere, untouched by any mundane calamity.  The only ones upon whom material calamities have any effect are those who are still learning what life is all about. 

What is the scientific analysis of the reason for pain?  It's an alarm clock, an alert that something is wrong so that we'll sit up, pay attention and fix it.  The suffering experienced by everyone in this world serves the same purpose.  It's trying to tell us "You aren't spiritually healthy yet.  You still have more to learn!"  Everything that happens here carries the potential for profound lessons and realizations, or at least the opportunity to practice necessary life skills and build our patience and endurance muscles.  Once we've woken up to this fact, we can actually become grateful for every painful thing that happens to us because it is a teacher and we desperately want to learn.  Once we begin seeing the world in this way, we can develop childlike trust in the process and be freed to experience spontaneous joy at all times, no matter what is happening to us.  And in the end, after all our lifetimes of learning here are over, all the pain we've been through will seem unreal and unimportant.  We'll see that the sufferings we generated for ourselves by our choices in this world are completely over and done with, to be relegated to the past and put aside just like a nightmare, without any residual ill effects on us whatsoever; the progress we made could not possibly be more worth it; and we certainly would not want this world to be designed any other way, lest it fail to motivate us to get out of it and back to where we can really be happy!  Allowing us to remain stuck in this mesmerizing trap baited with never-really-satisfying sense-gratification would have been no favor, but a curse.  Nothing is truly helpful to us except that which helps us transcend this place and regain our birthright of indestructible spiritual bliss.

So, Krsna/the Lord never forces us to choose anything.  He always leaves the final choice between good and bad up to us.  (Again, if He didn't do that, we would be robots -- or slaves!)  But (without removing our chosen veils of illusion from us -- after all, we wanted to wear those veils; this world is the place He set aside for us to act out our fantasies in, and if He ripped away all illusion from us before we made it clear to Him through our choices and prayers that we wanted that illusion removed, then that would hamper our free will too, as we could no longer pursue our desire to "play pretend"!), He does His best to make clear to those of us in this material world (via the constant and widespread broadcasting of His messages) which is the better choice -- the thing that, while it may not be easy for us if we've developed contrary habits, will always be absolutely and thoroughly worth it.  All the choices available to us have consequences, but never eternal ones.  We are always and forever free to decide what we want.  And whenever we decide that we want Him -- He will be waiting for us with glad and eager open arms.

So what do you think?  Still want to criticize Him, or His design of this world?  :)  What more could we ask than for everything to be up to us to choose, with a loving and all-powerful Lord ready and willing to make our desires into reality?  We just have to be careful what we choose lest we get ourselves into a not-so-pleasant situation.  "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."  And if we feel like this is too much license for us, if we're afraid that we're fools who will hang ourselves with too much rope, then never fear.  Just listen to the still, small voice in your heart and it will never lead you wrong.  It's the Lord Himself in His Paramatma feature... traveling with you through thick and thin... just waiting for you to turn to Him, to take shelter of Him and ask His advice... to make Him your shepherd so that He can protect you and fulfill your needs and wants as only He knows how.

How adorable is He?!?!?!

Friday, May 31, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 12: Free Will (2) and Transmigration of the Soul

(Continued from What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 11: Free Will (1))

7.  Since you and I are living here in the material world right now, it's obvious that we were among the ones who did not decide to go back to Vaikuntha after spending a lifetime in the position of Brahma.  So where did we go next after leaving our deceased Brahma bodies?  I've seen it stated that the next form the soul enters in its travels through the material world is that of a great, wise and powerful sage.  I'm sure this would be because, Lord Brahma being highly advanced/elevated, wise and glorious, while on that level of consciousness we would not feel drawn to anything lower or more degraded.  After our sage-lifetime we would again have had the choice to go upward, back to Lord Brahma's planet and thence to the spiritual sky, or downward to the realm of the demigods -- powerful beings below Lord Brahma in the universal hierarchy.  From a demigod position, yet again we could choose by our actions whether to go back upward or to go further down.  Spiritual progress or sense-gratification?  Peace and self-discipline or passion, recklessness, chaos and suffering?  Which road to go down?  The choice has always been up to us.

SELECT YOUR DESTINATION


The entire material cosmos is a vast place full of many spherical universes, each of which contains several (upper/pious, middle, and lower/sinful) planetary systems filled with a total of 8,400,000 species of life in every state of consciousness, enjoyment and misery imaginable.  In the upper planets of the universe, the resident beings are beautiful, long-lived, and on the whole very broad-minded and dedicated to maintaining peace, order and good behavior throughout Creation.  In the lower planets, although there are also regions populated with beautiful and long-lived beings who have every opportunity to enjoy material life to the fullest, their motivations are more selfish, or at best, centered upon the welfare of their own families or species.  These two groups are respectively called the pious suras and impious asuras.  In the middle are located the earthly or "mortal" realms (so-called because our bodies are relatively quite short-lived here), wherein you can find human beings who partake of both pious and impious natures; on this planet we are at a crossroads where our options are multifarious. 

Our travels as spirit souls from one body to the next (called rebirth, reincarnation, or transmigration of the soul) are driven by our desires, and our choices and actions based on those desires.  The fact that what we mentally dwell on turns into actions and then, when those actions add up, they form our reality is well-known. All kinds of self-help, positive-thinking, and goal-setting gurus have been pointing this out for years, along with older, more sacred sources, like the Bible ("Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" -- Galatians 6:7).



The Vaisnava view is that this process does not stop with the death of these temporary bodies we're living in, but continues forever, because we are immortal souls who will always be having thoughts and desires and will always be acting on them.  Any external situations we ever find ourselves in -- the bodies we have, the families we're in, the things that happen to us, etc. -- are simply manifestations of the journey we're on: where we've been, and where we're at now.  And our choices in the present will determine where we're going next.  There is absolutely no limit to the variety of destinations available to us: 

  • We can choose to commit heinous sins and go to hell (though we'll only stay there for as long as it takes for us to be repaid justly for what we chose to do -- there's no eternal hell for a finite amount of sin in our tradition; though for those who are suffering in hell, it certainly seems eternal). 
  • We can choose to enter any species of plant or animal life in order to enjoy a certain flavor of sense-gratification or acquire some fantastic skills or abilities that we're hankering after.  (Since animals and vegetables are obedient to the laws of nature -- i.e., they always do just what they're supposed to do and are incapable of sin -- when we are in bodies like those we can only progress upward, towards more and more intelligent and advanced forms of animal life, until at last, we get back into a human body.  Getting into one of these forms is thus like stepping onto a very slow, and crowded, escalator.  It eats up a lot of time going up through all these varieties of plant and/or animal life, and your options are limited as long as you're there.)  
  • Of course, we can take another human birth if we desire to and if our actions meet the necessary criteria. 
  • We can choose to behave ourselves extremely well on the material platform -- always being considerate of others, dutiful, responsible, and generous, and doing a lot of good -- and get a super materially-enjoyable destination in our next life.  (I would expect it to be amongst the suras if we were believers in God, and amongst the asuras if we were atheistic/secular humanists.)  
  • When we finally get to the point of seeing the feverish irrationality and pointlessness (for immortal souls like ourselves who want constant happiness) of chasing after the temporary and fleeting sensual enjoyment on offer here, that's usually mixed with suffering and always with the danger of loss, we may begin to seek after the real purpose of life, the spiritual reality that will deeply and permanently satisfy us.  If in our vision of spiritual truth we stress the oneness of all beings but decline to believe in a personal God, we can strive after impersonal liberation, which I've already dealt with at length earlier in this series of posts.  Otherwise, we can engage in bhakti by doing whatever we do out of love for Krsna (or whichever form of the Lord we prefer), remaining in consciousness of Him at all times (or as much of the time as we possibly can), trying to completely absorb ourselves in Him, meditating on serving Him in a particular way, crying and praying with our whole hearts every day for that service -- and then, after doing this with enthusiasm, determination, humility, patience and sincerity for enough years, one day we'll feel His embrace and once again will be able to play with Him just like we did before entering this world.  Constant absorption in thoughts of Him and of service to Him naturally ensures that that will be our destination. 

So "if you can dream it, you can do it" is absolutely a true saying.  We are supposed to pick where we want to go next, learn what's necessary in order to achieve the life we want, and then go after it.  If we fail to seize mastery over ourselves -- if we relinquish our rightful control to the heedless clamor of our emotions, our hungry senses, and the circumstances that relentlessly batter away at us, and cry that we're helpless victims -- then the choice will be made for us.  Our next body will be given to us simply based on what form of life best matches our mentality and level of consciousness and behavior.  The same holds true if we do claim mastery over ourselves but do not believe in an afterlife and consequently behave as though this life is the only one we've got to worry about. 

To be continued...

Monday, April 29, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 11: Free Will (1)

One of the most common questions that people have in regard to religion is, "If God is all-powerful and all-good, how come He didn't make this world perfect?"  This is a valid question.  Here's the Hare Krishna backstory on this world and why we view it as a generally miserable place, yet one that's functioning exactly the way it's supposed to.

1.   As I've stated before, because of our true identity as spirit souls who are part and parcel of God/Krsna, (a) we're as eternal as He is, and (b) He can't help but love us and want us to be happy.

2.  Thus, whatever situation is perfectly calculated to make us supremely happy is, in fact, our natural state; it always has been and always will be.  The experience of anything other than happiness constitutes a sickness from which we need curing; a bad dream from which we need to be awakened.  Happiness is our birthright, and no one else can ever take it away from us, no matter what they do to us.  An omnipotent God would of course arrange things in such a way that He could enjoy to the maximum, and as His integral parts, it's natural for us to share in His happiness.  When we're "plugged in" to that consciousness, then come what may, nothing can ever get us down.

3.  To facilitate this maximum enjoyment for the Lord and all His spiritual parts and parcels, the unlimited varieties of flawless spiritual worlds -- all free from birth, disease, old age and death, and from mundane inebrieties like lust, anger, greed, envy, etc. -- exist as eternal, indescribably beautiful playgrounds in which the Lord's irresistibly sweet and relishable pastimes unfold, sweeping us along in a never-ending current of bliss.  Each of us has an eternal home, family, and set of friends in one of these spiritual realms; we are under no obligation to leave, and most of us never do.

4.  However, since the various forms of enjoyment on the menu in the spiritual worlds are but different expressions of pure love shared between the Lord and ourselves, and since love by definition has to be a voluntary thing (programming a computer or robot with a to-do list of tasks you want done for you, and seeing that the machine faithfully carries out your orders, does not result in your feeling loved by that machine, at least not if you're in your right mind!!), so the Lord gives each of us perfect freedom to choose what we want.  The vast majority of souls are wise enough to remain fixed in their original constitutional positions as blissful servants of the Lord in various relationships.  But those of us who find ourselves entangled in this material world have become so because at some point while living in the spiritual world, we began to dwell on what it would be like to be Krsna (or whichever form of the Lord we were serving) -- to be the most popular, the cynosure of all eyes, the one whom everyone else loves, adores, worships, and solicits the happiness of.  Or we might have conceived the desire to become the selfish enjoyer of some specific type of pleasure rather than the supplier of that pleasure to the Lord.  Somehow or other -- to some extent or other, we permitted ourselves to become infected with the unhealthy desire to take His place, to enjoy His position, rather than remain in the subordinate / supportive position that's natural and healthy for us, that allows us to feel happy, fulfilled and successful. 

5.  After we chose to allow this unhealthy desire to grow within us, we were no longer a good fit in the spiritual world, since no one else there would be inclined to humor our sick desire by serving us instead of the Supreme Lord.  Thus, in order for our desire to have any chance of being fulfilled, there was no choice but for us to come here, to the material world, which is the place where we're free to try our best to convince others to adore and worship us.  In fact, since as mentioned above the Lord really wants us to be happy, He provides each of us with the best possible arrangement in the material world to start out with: the opportunity to play the part of Brahma, which is as Supreme-God-like a position as we jiva souls are capable of. 

6.  After our experience of playing Brahma, we would have the chance to come back home to the spiritual world and never leave again ("Lesson learned, I can't find happiness that way!  I know better now!"), or to continue our sojourn in the material world, if we still felt desire to imitate the Supreme Lord. 

To be continued...

Sunday, March 31, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 10: The Nature of God (9)

So what can we say about this wonderful Supreme Person? Endless things. Since He's eternal and has all power, the list of His wondrous deeds is never-ending. Plus, He has the ability to separate out endless portions of Himself, who have different percentages of His transcendental qualities. Just as a few quick examples: when He appeared as Nara-Narayana Rsis, His renunciation was exhibited, and His transcendental knowledge could be seen in the form of Kapiladeva. When He appeared as Mohini-murti, His beauty was displayed. Then sometimes He invests His superhuman power to do a particular thing within a jiva soul, and such personalities are known as saktyavesa avataras. (This is different from the mere attainment of yogic siddhis by a jiva soul; it's far more magnificent, glorious and special. Any type of avatara must be certified as authentic by the scriptural prediction of His or Her appearance and the recognition by pure, saintly souls of certain specific unmistakable symptoms of the personal presence of the Lord. In the correct system, there is no room for cheating charlatans or impostors, who can't help anyone, to set themselves up as avataras and get worshiped.) King Prthu, for example, was invested with the Lord's ability to rule; the Lord's literary abilities were invested in Srila Vyasadeva. Each of these incarnations – of the Lord Himself or of His power – has His or Her own special set of wondrous transcendental activities that go on forever and ever, which just multiplies the already mind-boggling abundance of subject matter. In Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.26, the ceaseless appearance of the Lord in multifarious glorious incarnations to the different species of life in all the numberless material universes is likened to the endless flow of waterfalls. How then can His appearances and activities even be counted, much less described?

Still, in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, a condensed list of some of the most important incarnations of the Lord and a brief summary of His activities in each of these appearances is given. Then finally, at the end, it is said: ete camsa-kala pumsah krsnas tu bhagavan svayam – “All these others are His portions and portions of portions, but Sri Krsna is Bhagavan Himself.” So although the Lord has unlimited avataras exhibiting various levels of His opulences, His original and all-inclusive form, endowed with cent percent of all existing opulences, is Sri Gopal Krsna – the transcendentally charming prince of cowherds. In that original form He is the Rasaraja, or the fountainhead and enjoyer of all loving relationship moods and flavors. The well-known one of His being the master and others being His servants is also present in Him like it is in all forms of the Lord (i.e. there are some souls whose eternal constitutional position is to serve their Lord Gopal Krsna with reverence), but in addition to that, Sri Krsna exhibits more intimate relationships such as close informal friendship (as if between equals) with His incalculably fortunate cowherd-boy companions, the sweet and tender child-parent relationship between Him and those devotees who have a strongly protective mood toward Him, and conjugal relationships with those who have an intense romantic attraction toward Him. ALL the forms of the Lord are included within Him. He's the most complete and irresistibly attractive form of God.

But He also likes to take other forms according to the special tastes that various devotees of His yearn to enjoy. Some of His devotees appreciate the flavor of His pastimes as Lord Ramacandra most of all; some long to behold Him as peaceful four-armed Narayana, adorable Vamanadeva, or thrillingly ferocious Nrsimhadeva. Just like an actor who is the same person no matter what costume he may appear in, in each one of these eternal forms (which each have their own particular sets of associates, pastimes, and purifying holy names based thereupon), He is still the same HARI. And in each one of these unlimited varieties of forms, Lord Hari presides over a designated eternal, self-effulgent Vaikuntha planet within the spiritual sky, populated with all those never-endingly blissful spirit souls who find it their natural propensity to serve Him in that particular form of His. Goloka Vrndavana (where Sri Gopal Krsna resides) and Navadvipa-dhama (the realm of Lord Caitanya) are His topmost holy abodes, followed by Mathura-dhama, Dvaraka-dhama, and Ayodhya-dhama. Beneath these, all the other brilliant Vaikuntha planets spread out limitlessly.

The narrations of the names, pastimes and qualities of all the forms of the Lord and His devoted servants, besides being very interesting, are so purifying that in a very short time of hearing offenselessly, we will begin to experience our natural state of intoxicatingly sweet attraction to Him, and corresponding fearlessness of this world. Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.31.9 (the famous tava kathamrtam verse from the songs of the gopis) was translated by Srila Prabhupada as follows in Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 14.13:

“My Lord, the nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those who are always aggrieved in this material world. These narrations are transmitted by exalted personalities, and they eradicate all sinful reactions. Whoever hears these narrations attains all good fortune. These narrations are broadcast all over the world and are filled with spiritual power. Those who spread the message of Godhead are certainly the most munificent welfare workers.”

All glory to the Supreme Lord and His associates for enacting all these nectarean pastimes! All glory to the bhurida janah, those most munificent welfare workers who broadcast the topics of Lord Hari and His devotees! And all glory to the punya-sravana-kirtanah, the hearing and chanting of that purifying subject matter!

Param vijayate sri-krsna-sankirtanam! 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 9: The Nature of God (8) and the Path of Bhakti


Just as fire cannot be separated from its heat and light, so Krsna and His energies are in a sense nondifferent. Still, His energies spread outward from Him and conduct the business of all the universes on His behalf. In this way, Krsna is simultaneously all-pervading and separate from Creation, as He says in Srimad Bhagavad-gita chapter 9, text 4.

This verse and purport explain why, although the Lord is present everywhere, still – in particular for those of us who have not yet regained our original purity of love for Him – the chance to encounter Him in person is a very rare and special thing indeed. He is both immanent and transcendent; but until we link ourselves up with Him in loving relationship again, we will not experience His immanence, only His transcendence. This is our own choice. Although our relationship with Him is fundamental to our very being and can never really be forsaken, if in our past or present lives we have developed the desire to forsake it, He does His best to facilitate our freedom of choice by allowing us to be covered with a thick layer of illusion so that we are unable to perceive Him anymore and will thus feel free to act as though He doesn't exist. If after ignoring Him in this way for many lifetimes, we begin to show some interest in reviving our relationship with Him, He is very glad; but it usually takes quite some time before the coverings of illusion are all washed away and we begin to actually perceive Him again. Once we do, the sweetness we experience knows no bounds. The analogy of a patient recovering from jaundice is given, because a traditional cure for the condition was to administer sugar, but to a jaundice patient this sugar would taste bitter. After taking it for some time, the patient would begin to be able to taste its sweetness, and eventually the full sweetness of the sugar could be perceived. Similarly, the process of uncovering our natural love for Krsna (and simultaneously, synonymously detaching our minds from selfish sense pleasures) takes faith, patience, and dedication. He wants to see how sincere and determined we really are. But if we prove ourselves, we can become liberated, fearless and intoxicated with joy even while still living within our material bodies.

Here are three verses from the Srimad-Bhagavatam with translations and purports by HH Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami (a prominent disciple of Srila Prabhupada) that are very interesting and relevant to this subject: SB 11.2.41, SB 11.2.42, SB 11.2.43.

At the end of the first paragraph in the first of these three purports, it is briefly mentioned that we should see the personal form of Krsna everywhere. That is the most advanced stage of seeing Krsna everywhere. Instead of simply viewing the world with the consciousness that everything is connected to Krsna and therefore being reminded of Him at all times, feeling safe, secure and happy, and feeling eager to engage everything in His service, all of which is quite wonderful enough, in the most advanced stage we actually see His personal form everywhere. But the stage of being able to constantly see Lord Krsna's personal form takes persistence to reach, as Sri Narada experienced in this story from the Bhagavatam.

Krsna is sva-rat, completely independent. Since He's self-sufficient, not in need of begging anything from us, we have no power over Him (at least not at present!) and therefore can't expect Him to make Himself visible to us whenever we want. Even if we call out to Him for a long time with what feels to us like love, He may see some faults in our love that we are not yet able to detect, and if those faults are hurtful enough to fall in the category of “offenses,” He will most likely not feel any obligation to show up. What to speak of if we don't even try to call out to Him with humility and love! That is why it's such a rare and amazing thing to have the chance to meet God. Prince Dhruva, a disciple of Narada who also performed austerities in the forest as a young boy – but with a material goal in mind – said when Lord Visnu decided to appear before him that he felt like he'd been searching for some broken glass and had found instead a priceless jewel.

Of course, if we are really sincere and serious about cleaning off our material coverings and letting the brightness of our original love for Krsna shine, and if we therefore find a spiritual master who can help and guide us in discovering and clearing out of our heart any nasty elements that may still be mixed with our love for Krsna, then sooner or later we'll get to the stage where our love is so beautiful, flawless, holy, perfect, powerful and pure that even the Independent, Self-Satisfied Supreme Person, Lord Sri Krsna, will find it irresistible. The personified form of this type of love is Srimati Radharani, the hladini-sakti or bliss potency of Krsna. One pastime described in this regard concerns a certain occasion when Krsna tried to hide from Srimati Radharani and Her cowherd-damsel (gopi) girlfriends by assuming the form of Lord Narayana, who has four arms. When the gopis found that form of Lord Narayana, they prayed to Him to please help them find Their own beloved form of the Lord – beautiful two-handed Krsna. But all Srimati Radharani had to do was come near, and in the presence of the overwhelming strength of Her love for Krsna, He found Himself unable to remain hidden any more. His extra two arms disappeared and there He was, revealed to all the gopis as Their Krsna. Srimati Radharani is also known as Madana-mohana-mohini because although Krsna is so gorgeous and attractive that He bewilders and enchants Cupid himself (Madana), what to speak of the rest of the living entities in existence – this all-attractive Krsna is Himself bewildered and enchanted by Srimati Radharani. By humbly and offenselessly praying to Her for help in clearing our hearts of filthy matter, becoming pleasing to Krsna, and obtaining the opportunity to be engaged in His service (and any sincere prayer is wonderful, but one extremely helpful way of praying like this is chanting the maha-mantra – Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, which is composed entirely of the names of Radha and Krsna) – She, who is most soft-hearted and compassionate, will quickly be pleased to bestow Her mercy upon us, and if we continue carefully upon this path of bhakti, we will get to the stage where Sri Krsna will be so eager to accept anything we offer Him because of the love that we and our offerings are drenched with that He will even eat our banana peels, or ultimately (in an extreme example) He might start grabbing offerings forcefully before we have even officially begun offering them to Him!! :)

(Another wonderful telling of the story of Suklambara Brahmacari can be found one-third of the way down this page.)

To be continued...

Friday, February 22, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 8: The Nature of God (7)

So, God is a person. What kind of person is He? How can I describe? I will only be able to describe a small drop of His nature and qualities. Just as the sky extends unlimitedly but a sparrow can only fly to a certain height, similarly, God (Krsna) is unlimited and my powers of description are very small. Still, by His grace, I'll do whatever I can. However, it won't be possible to talk about Him without talking about us too, since we're part of Him.

There are many analogies to help our intelligence grasp the situation – the comparative position of Krsna and of ourselves. He's compared to the sun of which we individual living beings are the particles of radiant energy; to a tree of which we're the leaves and branches; or to the ocean of which we're the droplets. He's the source / root / basis of all that be; everything depends on Him for life and vitality; indeed, we're part and parcel of Him. We can never thrive while ignoring our eternal connection with Him and trying to live without Him any more than a leaf can when detached from its parent tree, or than a spark can continue to glow when separated from the fire from whence it came. And just as a drop of seawater can be analyzed to have the same composition as the entire body of seawater, so we can learn about Krsna by studying ourselves. There is no difference in quality, but only in quantity: He is the greatest and we jiva souls are the tiniest.

Thus, as we're sac-cid-ananda by nature (i.e., our spirit selves are inherently possessed of eternality, knowledge and bliss), so is He; He just has unlimitedly more knowledge and bliss than we have. Any qualities we find in ourselves can be found in Him, to a limitless degree. As I alluded to in a previous post, the personal form of the Lord is technically known as bhagavan. This word means “He who is endowed with all opulences.” Specifically, these opulences are of six kinds: beauty, knowledge, strength, fame, wealth, and renunciation. Each of us has some amount of each of these qualities; when we meet a person who has a lot of any of them – a super-gorgeous person, an astoundingly wise person, etc. – normally we feel at least some attraction to them; and Krsna is endowed with the totality of each of these qualities. For example, everyone everywhere talks about God at least sometimes, whether they believe in Him or not, so He is the one person who is all-famous. He has all the power (He kindly lends some to us so that we can fulfill our desires, but if He doesn't sanction our desires, then we'll find ourselves unable to do anything, because the power doesn't really belong to us, it belongs to Him). Since everything belongs to Him, He has all the wealth as well. He's the only one who truly knows everything; and not only does He have the most beautiful transcendental personal form you'll ever see, but also, all the beauty you see anywhere, in any object, is also attributable to Him by being His energy and a spark of His splendor. Et cetera.

Also, He's capable of every emotion we find in ourselves; and when He shows a particular emotion, it's overwhelmingly intense compared with our own exhibition of it. In His incarnation as Lord Ramacandra, for example, at one point He felt angry at the demigod in charge of the ocean, and when He glanced on the ocean with fiery eyes, the sea began to boil from the heat of His anger. Though we might feel furious, our anger could never boil the ocean! Therefore He's known as Asamaurdhva, which means that no one can ever be equal to or greater than Him in any category.

Sometimes people, in limited conditional awareness, judge anger to be unconditionally a negative, damaging force (which is usually true, in this world) and declare that God must be above such emotions. However, why would He experience some emotions and not others? Emotions are complex, often experienced as a multi-layered mix, and may be positive or negative in their effect depending on the particular situation. In this world of duality, some of them may indeed be considered “good” and some “bad”, but the spiritual realm is the absolute plane where all such material distinctions are irrelevant. The mode of goodness may be better than the modes of passion and ignorance, but since all of them have the potential to keep us tied to this world of birth and death, they are compared to gold shackles vs. iron ones. Which one would you rather be constrained with? Yeah, gold may be more beautiful, but wouldn't you rather just get out?! So ultimately there's not so much difference between anger and any other emotion, and any attempt to make an arbitrary distinction with regard to what God can experience reveals the influence of maya (illusion). Thus, if He's free of anger (free of material anger such as we conditioned souls experience in this world – which as a matter of fact He is!), He's also free of every other emotion we know. (He has the name Nirguna because He's not affected by material qualities). If we didn't believe that the conditioned emotions we experience here have spiritual counterparts, we'd get the idea that God is entirely free of feeling, which doesn't make Him sound at all lovable or personal. No. He – and the rest of us when we're purified from material influence – experience the full range of emotions, but they're purely spiritual rather than contaminated and mundane.

The reason the anger of God / Krsna (as well as of those who are unified with Him in feeling and purpose due to pure devotion) is transcendental to the embarrassing illusory conditioning most of us suffer under in this world is because it's true and righteous, taking in the whole situation and responding to it with appropriate feeling. Just as each cell in a body does its part individually and the result is a harmonious and healthy whole body, each of us has a job we're meant to do for the good of all (including ourselves). When we rebel and act independently, fulfilling selfish desires for sense gratification without considering the benefit or detriment of our actions to all Creation, we're acting like screwed-up cells, attacking the very body we belong to. Since Krsna sees the whole picture and knows perfectly well what needs to be done for everyone's happiness, when He loses His temper, His anger just destroys harmful elements, straightens everything out, and improves the situation for all. It is healthy, like a surgeon's knife. Because of who and what He is, it's impossible for Krsna to get angry at the wrong things. He can't possibly desire ill for us, who are part and parcel of Him, any more than we can be happy by serving anyone or anything other than Him. We're like the hand, and He's like the stomach. The duty of the hand is to put food in the stomach so that the stomach in turn can distribute that fuel all over the entire body, benefiting the whole organism, including the hand. If the hand rebels against this duty, artificially thinking itself separate from the stomach, and enviously says “Why shall I serve the stomach? Let me digest this food on my own,” can it ever be successful or happy by that endeavor? No, it will suffer along with the rest of the body. Similarly, we happen to be eternally and constitutionally in the position of offering service while Krsna is in the position of receiving it, but this transaction benefits us just as much because we're part of Him.

So, as nobody (as long as we're well) has to tell us to eat when we're hungry, similarly nobody has to tell pure souls to serve God. Just as young teenage boys and girls are automatically attracted to each other, so our attraction to serving the Lord is 100% natural. According to our scriptures, His primary name is Krsna: “the all-attractive one.” As small masses are attracted by the gravitational pull of large masses, so the Lord, Sum Total of All, is like a magnet to us. He's the all-attractive core of existence, in whom our existence is based and to whom our attention irresistibly returns. He is possessed of every quality you can imagine to the maximum degree, so whatever it is you like, you'll find a bottomless ocean of it in Him. And your very self being a part of His and unalterably designed to serve Him, your desire to fulfill this purpose of your existence can never be banished from you. If you so choose, that desire can be covered, disguised and misdirected toward other goals – temporary material objects in which smaller amounts of pleasure can be found, which do not permanently or ultimately satisfy you, like attractive bodies, minds, thoughts, or possessions, food, drink, or fun activities – but as you try one thing after the next you will always be unconsciously looking for Him – our Eternal Love, the Reservoir of All Pleasure.

As we jiva souls feel this way about Sri Krsna (whether we know it or not), so too do all His other separated constituent parts, such as His various personified energies, opulences, and powers. They all serve Him voluntarily, since they're naturally filled with love for Him, and they know His service to be their natural position and the thing that will bring happiness to themselves and all the rest of Existence.

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 7: The Nature of God (6)

By holding that bhakti (love and devotion for the Supreme) too is material, and is ultimately to be transcended like all other relationships, variety, visible phenomena, etc. that are the trappings of this temporary world of matter – and that the personal forms of the Lord (and in Christian terms, we're talking God the Father here, not His sons or servants!) are just made of matter in the material mode of goodness – the Mayavadis exhibit both a disbelief in God's omnipotence to appear in pure spiritual forms and enjoy pure spiritual relationships, and a woefully mundane idea of what we can refer to as “God” – because they don't believe in God after all, remember? They believe we're all God. Some of us may have attained enlightenment about the real situation and therefore be “transcendentally situated” and highly realized, and some may be more powerful than others due to yogic siddhis [miraculous powers achieved through intense discipline of mind and body], but since all of us have this potential, they say that the distinctions between these so-called incarnations of God and ourselves are temporary and that ultimately we're all God. So they have a pathetic and cheap, by Hare Krishna standards, idea of what passes as God. At best, this idea that God has a material body in the mode of goodness turns Him into a demigod [one of His deputies in the universal government], to whom such a description would apply. At worst, any human can spout “wisdom”, show off magic tricks, and be hailed as God in a Mayavadi-dominated culture.

And um... tell me WHO's affected by material consciousness again?! I've said this before, but to me it seems worth repeating: impersonalists patronize personalists for “anthropomorphizing God,” yet their own assumption that anything that has form, moves about and enjoys relationships is automatically something temporary and material just because that's all they've ever come in contact with here in this world seems to betray an awfully conditioned consciousness.

How can our concept of the Divine be considered complete without a personal aspect? Why should man's idea of the possibilities that exist include only a non-differentiated, non-variegated eternal reality – which implies that anything more complex would necessarily degrade with time? What a simplistic view! Why shouldn't God's Being include an eternal personal aspect as well? He wouldn't be the Complete Whole without that, nor would he be so complicated as to be inconceivable to our tiny human minds, and without being inconceivable – without containing every single permutation of possibility simultaneously and harmonizing all of them incomprehensibly into a single flawlessly beautiful and perfect whole, how could he merit the title of God?! A God that fits neatly into our small, limited minds that like everything to be simple and sensible is no God worth the name in my book! My idea of God is the source of endless wonders, more and more amazing the deeper you go!!!

The Mayavadis' idea of what the spiritual realm contains, and what life on that plane is like, is pretty blank. We (Hare Krishnas/Vaisnavas or other personalists) just fill that blank in. :D How much they miss by not being aware of the richness, the variety, the beauty, and the full depth of pleasure and satisfaction that are available within the purely transcendental spiritual realm! Their ideas are so dessicated, limited, deprived, and tragically unhealthy in comparison with the unlimited bliss-ocean of the Vaikuntha planets, where personal devotion to the Lord flourishes eternally in endless varieties and flavors.

To crown it all, in an intimate devotional relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, according to Vaisnava sources, the Lord is often more than happy to let His devotee boss Him around. One famous example is how Lord Krsna acted as His devotee Arjuna's chariot-driver, which is a very menial position. The Lord feels even more blissful around devotees who play the part of His parents, who fuss over Him, give Him instructions meant for His protection and well-being, and punish Him if they deem it necessary, than He does around those who adore Him with awe and reverence and are quick to carry out His orders. In romantic love, He enjoys being henpecked by bossy lovers who are huffy and particular (but who truly have nothing except His happiness cherished as the whole goal of their hearts). By enviously competing with God (“No, I don't believe in any Supreme Lord over me! I'd hate to be some underling, the 'eternal servant' of another – ugh! I prefer to believe that anyone who has ever been treated by others as 'God' in the past is really just an enlightened being on our own level, and that we've all got the potential to rise to that stage and 'be God' ourselves!”), Mayavadis deprive themselves of the delight of the most intimate relationship possible (which is what we're all longing for in our heart of hearts, whether we're in touch with that part of ourselves or not) – one of complete trust and vulnerability, one in which the Lord is our eternally loyal best friend, who knows us inside and out and would never let us down, who would fulfill all of our wildest dreams – the only one who is capable of making us happy to our maximum capacity and even beyond. And the irony is that if they would only soften their hearts and increase their respect towards Him, stop hurting Him by pretending that the version of “bhakti” they preach truly represents love or devotion to Him at all, or anything other than a tool or crutch they wish to make use of to leverage themselves up to the height at which they can take His place and then throw away their relationship with Him as “no longer needed”... if they would only become true lovers, friends, and supporters of our precious Lord... not only would their wildest dreams be fulfilled and their happiness assured, but also, since they'd earn His trust, eventually He'd be glad to let them boss Him around, because He really enjoys that in intimate relationships with those whom He trusts. Instead of depriving themselves of everything enjoyable in the name of their stubborn independence and competitive desire to become God, which at best they can achieve only on a level of equality with everyone else, if they surrender to the love of God and agree to trust and serve Him, far from accepting an eternally degraded or humiliating position, they will find themselves possessed of every delight, honored by all, and having the Omnipotent Lord, who can create and destroy worlds in the blink of an eye, wound around their little finger. How is that for power, good fortune, and enviable position?!

Can you see how Vaisnava philosophy is healthier than Mayavada? How it's optimistic, sweet, trusting, open and loving rather than pessimistic, guarded, burned by past bad experience? Now, which one should serve as the template for the most ideal and healthy religious culture? If you've had bad experiences yourself with relationships, you may say that Mayavada is better because it doesn't set anybody up for any shocking, painful disappointments. It allows you to escape and have your precious peace and “independence,” at least for a little while until you get bored. Better eliminate all suffering even at the cost of some spectacular highs, you say. But there you go: You're expecting something bad to happen. Why do that? Why not expect good? Without being capable of trusting and expecting good, we'll never be able to be vulnerable enough to have deep and satisfying relationships. “Impersonal” doesn't say “healthy and happy” to me, because if you didn't notice, we're persons. As such, how can we ever be satisfied by something non-personal? No matter what the price to be paid, we will always, irresistibly, go back again and again to the personal relationship, hoping and trying over and over to find that one in which we can be fully vulnerable, open and trusting, because as persons, nothing else can possibly ever fully satisfy us.

Solutions: Start with scriptures that present a detailed, balanced and lovable picture of a Personality of Godhead; then reinforce the positive conception by training children with love so that they'll grow up resonating with these messages about a kind, loving and trustworthy Lord rather than with some concept of God as an abusive jerk.

All right, I've spent a long time now arguing in favor of so-called “anthropomorphic” religious ideas – making the case that they're actually a healthier and better form of religion than impersonalism and that they'll be more beneficial and congenial to human society. But I imagine that those of you who've seen dangers ensue when the personal-God concept is abused, who've perhaps even been burned yourselves by the more judgmental and harsh forms of it, will still be feeling hesitant to agree. Thus, I will close with a Wikipedia quote revealing that India of old, the motherland of my own brand of personalism, was famed for ages as a sanctuary for those of all religious persuasions.

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_religion:

“Religious freedom and the right to worship freely were practices that had been appreciated and promoted by most ancient Indian dynasties. As a result, people fleeing religious persecution in other parts of the world including Christians, Jews, Bahá'í Faith and Zoroastrians fled to India as a place of refuge to enjoy religious freedom.

“Ancient Jews fleeing from persecution in their homeland 2,500 years ago settled in India and never faced anti-Semitism. … Many scholars and intellectuals believe that India's predominant religion, Hinduism, has long been most tolerant religion.

“The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader in exile said that religious tolerance of 'Aryabhoomi,' a reference to India found in Mahabharata, has been in existence in this country from thousands of years. 'Not only Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism which are the native religions but also Christianity and Islam have flourished here. Religious tolerance is inherent in Indian tradition,' the Dalai Lama said.

To be continued...

Friday, February 1, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 6: The Nature of God (5)


Plus, Mayavadis' idea of merging into the identity and self of God and becoming one with Him / Her / It would extinguish all opportunities for continuing with the sweet exchange of love with Him (or Her) that is bhakti. How can you have a relationship with yourself?! All you can do is exist. They try to say that that simple, eternal existence is blissful. But we say, just look at the nature of living beings. They are active. Rocks sit still because they are solid matter, with no soul inside. Trees and plants sit still because their consciousness is at an extremely low ebb, like they are sleeping. But look at any higher life-forms with more developed consciousness and what will you see? Activity. To be specific, service: all embodied living entities serve their own senses' demands, many serve their family members and friends and society, and in the highest consciousness of all within the material world, the individual will see the whole world and all the living creatures in it as his or her family and will try to be of service to everyone. Along with consciousness, the activity of service is symptomatic of life.

Yes, the “enlightenment” that impersonalists tout, involving freedom from attachment to matter and material activities, is possible; I might call it “brahma-bhuta” blissfulness. It means the understanding that you yourself are an immortal spark of spirit, and unlike the temporary and vulnerable material body, you cannot be killed under any circumstances. In this consciousness you have the utter peace and contentment of knowing that nothing can ever harm you and you yourself will always continue to live no matter what happens to your body. The stress of ordinary day-to-day living in the material world, involving the effort to keep one's body (and those of the other persons to whom one is attached) fed, clothed, warm, and dry, and one's mind and senses pleased, disappears. It no longer matters whether you do these things or not. You can choose to do them to keep body and soul together, but it's optional. You no longer are under the impression that you have to do these things in order to continue to exist. Thus, you are free to take it easy – to relax and feel the joy of life itself. Your natural love and enthusiasm can express themselves. By removing your identification from your vulnerable, easily-destroyed material body and the connections with others that came about because of your body, and identifying instead with your eternal, indestructible spirit self, you enjoy ultimate peace, contentment and security. Another feature of this “enlightenment” is that you know the same is true for all the other souls suffering from attachment and fear in this world, and you may very well have the urge to help your brothers and sisters understand the same delightful thing you've understood, and be free of suffering just like you are. You recognize that your self and all other life that exists, regardless of the body that life is contained within, are of one and the same substance, and thus distinctions of relative and foreigner, friend and enemy, are abolished.

So far, so good. This is a sublime and highly developed consciousness, rarely to be found in this often nasty and selfish world. And there is opportunity here for the natural propensity of the conscious self, namely the activity of serving. One can adopt a mission of compassion to bring this enlightenment to the suffering and bewildered souls of the world. But after all the enlightened souls leave their bodies – then what do they do?

Hare Krishna philosophy contends that their natural attributes of enjoying relationships and the activity of service are an innate part of all living souls, and these souls will therefore not be able to give up their desire for these things after leaving behind their material bodies. They may luxuriate in the absence of suffering for a little while as they float with other souls in the shining spiritual sky, just existing, not interacting with anyone (because the meditation on the strength of which they got there was simply “I am Brahman; I am transcendental to the material world; I am one with God,” and as I pointed out, oneness leaves no opportunities for relationship or interaction). But in order to be content with nothing more than mindless existence for eternity – eternally alive and conscious but eternally doing nothing – we would have to change our fundamental nature to something different from what it is, because right now, to anyone in their right mind, that prospect sounds HELLISH. Why do you think children can be punished by being put in time-out? Because relationships and activities are necessary to the child's happiness. Similarly, the Mayavadi idea of liberation is really like eternal time-out. Who would want that?! It's an extreme, dramatic, pendulum-swing reaction to the suffering of this world: “Better be checked out, eternally uninvolved, than stay here and suffer.” But as the pendulum swings back, they end up coming back to the material world anyway (according to Hare Krishna knowledge; Mayavadis don't expect to come back after they're “liberated”!) because it is just too boring for them up there in the Brahman effulgence (the famous “white light” that you may have heard about).

Suppose a Mayavadi countered me by asserting, “Children, along with the rest of us, are like that [i.e., dreading “time-out” or “just existing in full consciousness without any activity”] because of material conditioning; it's not our innate nature to dread that which is our original and rightful state!”

Well, some religious traditions glorify childlike nature, and say things like “except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The Mayavadi's claim would appear to criticize and devalue the spontaneous nature of children, to say it can all be chalked up to contamination, and to insist that we stubbornly and utterly erase all trace of our humanity in order to attain the goal! Can that be healthy, desirable, or even possible?! It sure sounds like an artificial attempt that's bound to either fail or end in misery!

What's more, how can you say it's better, purer, or more advanced to be like a vegetable?! Oh, sorry – a conscious vegetable! How is it not better to do glorious, noble, admirable, wonderful, and relishable actions in fully enlightened spiritual consciousness?! Why shouldn't that be held as the topmost state of being, the ideal goal for all?

To be continued...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What Do Hare Krishnas Believe? Part 5: The Nature of God (4)

Note: I've said this before, but I feel the need to say it again.  I recognize that it would be much better if my work cited more sources to prove my points.  I'd love to make this completely professional, but unfortunately, as the stay-at-home mommy of an active three-year-old boy, it's hard enough for me to get something posted once a month as it is.  I really hope that someday I'll be able to come back to these posts and add in the missing citations.  Thank you for your patience in the meantime.  :)

My younger brother recommended Karen Armstrong's A History of God to me a few months ago, so I checked it out from the library and read it. One point the author makes in her book is that anthropomorphic ideas about God are more dangerous than impersonal ideas. When you believe God is a person, you can say “He wants this, He doesn't want that, He hates such-and-such,” and without realizing it, you might be making a religion out of what are really your own (or your family's / society's / culture's) philosophies and phobias – often unfortunately leading to suffering for those who happen to be different from you. (Side note: atheists point to this very same fact to glorify atheism as seldom driving anyone to kill or persecute their neighbor for their beliefs. Doesn't this hint that impersonalism and atheism are nearly synonymous???)

Indeed, Srila Prabhupada has several times pointed out that what goes by the name of “religion” in this world is often nothing more than loyalty to the culture one was born into.

However, is it truly sound policy to throw something out entirely just because it's been misused? If we threw out everything that got misused, we'd be throwing out a heck of a lot of “babies” along with all that “bathwater.” Instead of just reacting to past bad experience by avoiding, rejecting, shunning and shutting out all hint of something that has the potential to be a good idea if done right, isn't it healthier and more balanced to first of all consider which is truly the most ideal option, and then support that?

In the exact same book by Karen Armstrong, the phenomenon of people not being satisfied with the impersonal conception of God and gravitating naturally / irresistibly toward the personal conception was also documented.

Page 83:

In both Buddhism and Hinduism there had been a surge of devotion to exalted beings, such as the Buddha himself or Hindu gods which had appeared in human form. This kind of personal devotion, known as bhakti, expressed what seems to be a perennial human yearning for humanized religion.”

Page 86:

The development of bhakti answered a deep-rooted popular need for some kind of personal relationship with the ultimate. Having established Brahman as utterly transcendent, there is a danger that it could become too rarefied and, like the ancient Sky God, fade from human consciousness. The evolution of the bodhisattva ideal in Buddhism and the avatars of Vishnu seem to represent another stage in religious development when people insist that the Absolute cannot be less than human.”

I love that phrase, “deep-rooted popular need.” I love that she chose the word “need.” When – as here acknowledged even by someone who seems strongly in favor of an impersonal conception of God – people in general take to bhakti like a fish to water, and find the need to add it in later whenever there's a religious tradition (like Buddhism) that doesn't originally feature it, how could the perfect religion – one that would both do no harm, only good, AND satisfy man's every positive / good / beneficial / healthy hankering, yearning or need – fail to include a conception of God as a lovable Person with whom we have the opportunity to enter into relationship? For many if not most people, I contend that religion would be missing something vital without that aspect.

In India, at least, impersonalists are aware of this point, and they actually respond to it by encouraging the popular devotion to personal forms of God; but, their philosophy is that this so-called “bhakti” is supposed to continue only up to the point at which it is no longer needed – namely, when the worshipper finally realizes that he and his beloved Lord are actually one and the same: that he himself, the soul who has been suffering in this miserable world and battered about by the laws of nature, is actually the Supreme Lord, and under the influence of illusion he had just been forgetting it.

Mmm-hmm. Ooookay. That's why we call them Mayavadis (maya = illusion, vadi = theorist): because their philosophy leads to the idea that material nature and illusion are stronger than God. What kind of God is that, who can be covered by illusion and forgetfulness, forced to take birth over and over in so many species of life, and made to suffer every sort of pain and indignity while in that condition, even to things like lying passed out in his own throw-up in a gutter as a drunken bum?!? “We are ALL God, we just don't know it! God is none other than us! We simply have to realize it!” Well, if there's no one higher or greater than us, and we've all got an equal chance of reaching the top, then how can you call that a belief in God at all?! “There is no God but ourselves.” Sounds like defiance to me. Can you see why we would say that their philosophy minimizes, belittles and offends the Supreme Lord? Sets up human beings as His (tiny, weak, and absurd) competitors, who want to deny His existence and become God in His place? Offensive upstarts!

To be continued...