Found in Sanga, Sanga 2002.

Q. The Hindu sect known as Arya Samaj makes the most compelling case against the Puranas I have ever encountered. They say the Puranas could not have been written by Vyasa but rather were the devious concoction of the popes of various sects to keep people under control. And they take particular disgust in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, saying that the amorous pastimes of Krishna presented there are more evidence of the corruption of the pure monotheistic Vedic religion.

A. The Arya Samaj was one of the movements founded during the late 1800s that attempted to modernize Hinduism. The Samaj attempted to answer the Orientalists (Christian missionary scholars) who had trashed Hinduism and its scripture in India. Ironically, in attempting to defend Hinduism, the Samaj compromised and presented a Christianized form of Hinduism. While accepting the statesman and preacher Krishna of the Gita, they rejected the playboy Krishna of Vraja, whom they could not understand themselves, much less explain to Christian missionaries. Thus they utterly hated the Bhagavatam. Even Bhaktivinoda Thakura said that he was initially prejudiced by a negative impression of the Bhagavatam, but upon his own investigation this negative impression was transformed into love for the text. It is his love for the Bhagavatam that has prevailed to this day an—through his successors—given literary and spiritual credence to the text in both religious and academic quarters of the 21st century.

Q. Arya Samaj scholars demonstrate how each Purana is propaganda for a particular deity and how in each a different deity is declared supreme.

They also show how the stories of creation found in various Puranas thoroughly contradict each other. They say that the Puranas were written by unscrupulous people whose aim was to suppress people. They claim that only the Vedas and Upanishads are of Vyasa and all the rest is mumbo-jumbo. They also declare all avataras as concoctions and say that the Vedas mention nothing of avataras or that God has or ever takes form.

A. The arguments of the Arya Samaj against the Puranas are more or less academic. All the great acharyas—Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Sri Caitanya, etc. have accepted the Puranas. The Sruti itself embraces the Puranas, calling them the fifth Veda. So to deny the spirituality of the Puranas is to deny the Upanisads which endorse them.

If we take an academic approach to analyzing the Puranas, we must do the same in relation to the Upanisads. One could easily make an academic case against the idea that Vyasa authored all of the Upanisads. These kinds of arguments, while worth considering on some level, are divorced from the spirit that the Upanisads and Puranas convey to sympathetic readers.

For example, the followers of Sri Caitanya consider the Srimad-Bhagavatam to be the most perfect scriptural text. While one can argue over the date of its authorship and where it was written, all of this does not add up to much when millions of devotees continue to draw spiritual inspiration from it century after century. These devotees have in the past and continue today to exemplify transcendent consciousness as a result of embracing the Bhagavatam’s precepts. Devotee scholars have offered us a literary legacy in support of the Bhagavatam, and in doing so they have demonstrated its relationship with the Upanisads. Even academia, while questioning the notion that one person named Vyasa wrote the Bhagavata, acknowledges its greatness in terms of literature and spiritual import.

A word about Vyasa may be in order. Vyasa did not write all of the scripture. He compiled and edited it, as the title Vyasa suggests, and there may be more than one Vyasa. Parasara was also known as Vyasa. It is conceivable that others over time have written “scripture” and attributed their work to Vyasa. This might not always be a questionable act, but rather one of integrity. Why? Because such authors would have felt that they themselves did not write the book, but that Bhagavan Vyasa inspired them to write what they did, that it was Vyasa who actually wrote the book through them. It is possible.

The apparent contradictions found in the Puranas do not prove that they are the work of different authors, or that unscrupulous persons whose aim was to suppress people wrote them. Is that what happens when people read the Puranas? This is not my experience. Different Puranas glorify different deities because they were written for persons who were primarily influenced by different gunas. This and much of the above is explained in great detail by our Gaudiya acarya Sri Jiva Goswami in his Tattva-sandarbha (read the Pramana-khanda of my edition).

(Tattva-sandarbha can be found here.)

Different creation stories are merely different ways of explaining esoteric truths through analogy. Indeed we find at least two such stories in the Bhagavad-gita: at the beginning of chapters 14 and 15—the glance of God and the Banyan tree, respectively.

The Upanishads are full of descriptions of the beautiful, transcendental form of God:

Chandogya Upanisad 8.12.3 states, svena rupenabhinispadyate sa uttamah purusah: “In his own form he remains as the supreme person.”

Katha Upanisad 1.3.11 states, purusan na param kincit sa kastha parama gatih: “There is nothing superior to the supreme person, who is the ultimate destination.”

Gopala-tapani Upanisad states, narakrti para-brahma karana-manusah: “For his own purpose the supreme truth appears in a humanlike form.”

Mundaka Upanisad 3.2.3 states, yam evaisa vrnute tena labhyas tasyaisa atma vivrnute tanum svam: “He (God) is obtained only by one to whom he himself chooses to reveal himself. To such a person he manifests his own form (tanum svam).”

Dhyana-bindu Upanisad states, nirdosa-purna-guna-vigraha atma-tantro niscetanatmaka-sarira-gunais ca hinah/ ananda-matra-mukha-pada-saroruhadih: “[The Lord’s] personal form possesses complete and faultless transcendental qualities. Indeed, the form of the completely independent Lord is free from all lifeless bodily characteristics. His lotus face and lotus feet consist simply of pure ecstasy.”

The Vasudeva Upanisad states, sad-rupam advayam brahma madhyady-anta-vivarjitam/ sva-prabham sac-cid-anandam bhaktya janati cavyayam: “[The Lord’s] transcendental form is devoid of duality or of middle, beginning, or end. It is self-effulgent, eternal, and full of knowledge and bliss. Only through bhakti can one understand that form to be infallible.”

And Rg Veda 1.22.20 states ,om tad visnoh paramam padam: “The lotus feet of Visnu are the supreme destination.”

What about Gitopanisad? Does it not speak of avataras? Does chapter four not extol the virtues of the form of God and underscore its transcendental nature? I can supply many more citations from the Upanishads and Vedas on this subject. Indeed, we followers of the Bhagavata Purana can support our entire thesis from gayatri mantra alone, what to speak of the Vedas and

Upanisads that are expansions of pranava omkara and gayatri. This in itself should cause one to reconsider the hasty decision to reject the Bhagavatam, considering its precepts to be divorced from those of the Sruti.

The Bhagavatam’s profound and at the same time charming portrayal of God as the transcendental Cupid has been embraced by many modern thinkers far more than the Bhagavatam has been rejected by them and looked at from the Arya Samaj angle of vision. In short, the arguments of Arya Samaj have gone nowhere compared to those of Thakura Bhaktivinoda, which have gained and continue to gain acceptance all over the world.

Q. Don’t scholars accept the Vedas as authoritative over the Puranas and where does it say that the Puranas are the fifth Veda?

A. Scholars hardly accept the Vedas as absolute pramana (evidence) either.

Chandogya Upanishad 7.1.4 states that the Puranas and Mahabharata are to be known as the fifth Veda. And in Brihad Aranyaka Upanisad the Puranas have been equated with the Four Vedas: evam va are sya mahato bhutasya nihsvasitam etad yad rg-veda yajur-veda sama vedo ‘tharvangirasa itihasah puranam, “The four Vedas, Itihasas, and Puranas have been breathed forth by that Great Being.” (Br. Aranyaka Up. 2.4.10)

In our view the Vedas are the tree, the Bhagavata the ripened fruit. Everything is in the Veda in potential. The Puranas bring out the fruit of the scriptural tree. The differences we find in the Puranas are there because of the three gunas (the audience), and, of course, interpolation. What we find in relation to the Bhagavata in particular is significant. It is represented by a living, vital spiritual lineage. Even scholars readily acknowledge the theological superiority of the Bhagavata over the other Puranas. The superiority of the sattvic Puranas over the others is obvious to any objective reader, and the superiority of the Bhagavata over all Puranas is also obvious. It is proclaimed throughout the Puranas themselves as well. Its saintly followers also speak loudly by their example to anyone listening. The sastra is a passive agent and the sadhu an active agent of divinity.

Go from the armchair to reality. What is your own experience? You have some experience from your service and chanting. Indeed, this is what really cements us. When you chant and tears come, these tears are not like those that come from material emotions. When these tears come, they wash away material desire. Is this not spiritual? Is this not what the Veda is talking about? How could we get it by following the Bhagavata if it were not the fifth Veda and more?

Chant and know. Love is no doubt a mystery—one that eludes reason—but in love there are no secrets. Who loves, knows. Know this: the Veda instructs us, nayam atma pravacanena labhyo na medhaya na bahuna srutena: “The truth can only be known by one to whom the truth chooses to reveal itself, not by intellect, nor study of scripture.” Bhakti—love—this is the message of the Bhagavata. Who can deny that by love all is revealed? This conclusion can only be reached by exercising the full measure of one’s intellect, but how difficult it is for the intellect to bow down to the soul and God.

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5 Responses

  • Indian Vedic contribution is a reservoir of Vibrant Information and Harmonious Creativity. May the Womb of Nature Embrace all with Tranquil Blessings from this day forward. Let this attract one’s attention affecting them Positively. It is a Sanctuary of the Self , a Creative Venue which serves as an Enduring Expression of Lightness, where a peaceful Atmosphere with Sunlight Flows and serene atmosphere prevail.

    In the storm of life we struggle through myriads of stimuli of pressure, stress, and muti-problems that seek for a solution and answer. We are so suppressed by the routine of this every life style that most of us seem helpless. However, if we look closely to ancient techniques we shall discover the magnificent way to understand and realize the ones around us and mostly ourselves. If only we could stop for a moment and allow this to happen. May all beings be happy (Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu)

    The ancient Hindu philosophy of keepiing mind and body for the well being, has entered the managerial, medical and judicial domain of the world. Today it has found its place as an alternative to the theory of modern management and also as a means to bring back the right path of peace and prosperity for the human beings. Let me bow to Indian Maharishi Veda Vysa with folded hands who helped in removing the impurities of the mind through his writings on Vedas, impurities of speech through his writings on puranas, and impurities of body through his writings on other sacred texts.

    The Holy Gita is the essence of the Vedas, Upanishads. It is a universal scripture applicable to people of all temperaments and for all times. It is a book with sublime thoughts and practical instructions on Yoga, Devotion, Vedanta and Action. It is profound in thought and sublime in heights of vision. It brings peace and solace to souls that are afflicted by the three fires of mortal existence, namely, afflictions caused by one’s own body (disease etc), those caused by beings around one ( e.g. wild animals, snakes etc.), and those caused by the gods (natural disasters, earth-quakes, floods etc).

    Mind can be one’s friend or enemy. Mind is the cause for both bondage and liberation. The word mind is derived from man to think and the word man derived from manu (Sanskrit word for man).

    “The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.”

  • excelent refutal to the arya samaj’s attempts to discredit one of the greatest shastra’s ever written(bhagavatam).i pray that one day the arya samaj will sit down and read the bhagawatam as it is and not through the lenses of an “educated” sect like they do today

  • You are the most idiotic people! believing in stupid puranas written for uneducated masses. Stop misleading people. Shrimad bhagwatam is no shastra but a book full of imaginary stories with no knowledge. They do not represent Vedic Hindu Dharma. Those who will believe in such spurious books like puranas and bhagwatam will burn in hell.

  • Well, we will be in good company with Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Sri Caitanya, and many other ecstatics. And we won’t be bothered by insults such as yours.

  • The rasa-lila is considered by many to be the greatest story ever told. It has been recorded in the sacred literature of India, retold by poets, depicted by artists, sung about and celebrated in music, philosophized about, and meditated upon for thousands of years. It is one of the cultural and spiritual gems of the civilized world. Had it not been for the rasa-lila of Radha and Krishna, the rich religious tradition of Hinduism might have been effaced from the world during the Muslim domination of India. Although the Muslims cared little for Hinduism, they could not ignore the love story of Radha and Krishna. The Moguls in particular commissioned their artisans to depict it in art, and the Muslims were thus stopped short in their conquest by the force of mystical beauty and love.1 Enduring, charming, and profoundly mystical, the love story of Radha and Krishna is capable of conquering kingdoms, even one as fortified as the mythical empire of our mind. This is so because it speaks deeply to the soul, yet in a language most suited to our sensual and mental preoccupations.

    There is a fine line between myth and reality. A myth can be a falsehood, or it may be the truth expressed allegorically. Indeed, at least since the time of Carl Jung it has become popular to find meaning in myth. Yet even the best myth is only an allegorical reality. It is not itself a true story.

    What is the true story? For most of us, our reality is the world of our mind, informed by data gathered through our senses. This may be our reality, but how real is it? It certainly does not endure. Our instruments of perception, our senses, are imperfect to begin with, and thus the world of our mind informed by them may be more false than real. Hot, cold, happy, sad, good, and bad are mental notions relative to our sense perception. The same day is cold for one and hot for another, good for one, bad for another. We view the world though the glasses of our mental and sensual experience, yet ultimately these get in the way of truly experiencing. Vedanta tells us that which we presently perceive to be reality is more akin to myth, a falsehood, while we ourselves, the experiencers, are units of reality—souls. The material world may be real, but our perception of it is false, so false that it causes us to loose sight of our souls. The sense of the loss of our souls that dominates our culture thus serves to underscore the mythical nature of our perception of reality arising out of misdirected sensual and mental preoccupations. As for the true story, the myth that leads us to our soul leads us to reality. Indeed, that so called myth may not be a myth at all, whereas our mental and sensual perception of so called reality may be mythical. It is not altogether false, rather an allegory for the Absolute, a reflection of reality.

    If we examine it closely, we will find that the reflection of reality informs us indirectly about the ultimate reality. The religious “myth” of the rasa-lila represents ultimate reality. It is an ultimate reality, however, that also confirms the value of humanity, especially its sensual and emotional aspects, for it informs us both that our sensuality has its origins in the Absolute, and that the Absolute’s expression of loving emotion is best facilitated within humanity. In the rasa-lila, God Krishna enters humanity to celebrate his sensuality, thus confirming the sense in all of us that our drive for the erotic is not something to be abolished. It is to be redirected away from the world and toward the Absolute, appearing in its human-like expression of Krishna—Radha and Krishna. In the rasa-lila we discover divine humanism, where divinity validates the essence of humanity, and humanity speaks to us about that which divinity must embody in its fullest expression.

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