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.


“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...