Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. In the Sanga “Rama and Raganuga Bhakti,” the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra in reverse order (Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare) was discussed. On the advice of a guru I chanted the mantra in “reverse” order, and after doing so for several rounds I had the unsettling revelation that I was deprecating the name of Krishna for the sake of the name of Rama, and because of this the bhakti flavor of the maha-mantra was significantly lessened for me. Can you comment on this?

A. My comment is that while chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra it would be best to think of the name Rama as a reference to Balarama, Krishna’s older brother, or as a reference to Sri Krishna himself, who is also known as Ramana. This is so because Rama-lila (Dasarathi Rama) and Krishna-lila are different in nature, and for the most part there is no sadhana aimed at participating eternally in both of them. Choose one or the other. Furthermore, if one’s sadhana is not specific in its focus it will not yield results as quickly as that sadhana that is focused on a particular spiritual ideal. If while chanting the maha-mantra we conceive of Dasarathi Rama and Vrajendranandana Krishna as two forms of God with no specific interest in entering the lila of either of them—no preference for either—our attainment will be Vaikuntha where Narayana is worshipped in awe and reverence. Considering the names Hari, Rama, and Krishna as general names of God with no preference for one over the other will result in Vaisnava liberation, but when conceived of as the followers of Sri Caitanya do, the maha-mantra offers the potential for something much greater than Vaisnava liberation. Mahaprabhu called this ideal the fifth goal of life—pancama purusartha, prema pumartho mahan—Krishna prema.

Of course for beginners it may be best to discourage discriminating between the names of Rama and Krishna so that neophyte devotees do not fall prey to thinking materially about one form of God being “better” than another. In tattva, all forms of God are God, but when we analyze them in consideration of rasa (sacred aesthetic rapture), as we should with regard to advanced spiritual practice in one’s personal bhajana, then we can say that one is better than another.

Q. I’ve been reading about the incarnations (avataras) of Visnu and also watched a movie on the subject. There seems to be some confusion about the ninth avatara of Visnu. Buddha is in some places described as the ninth avatara but in other places Buddha is not mentioned. Who is the ninth incarnation of Visnu?

A. There are different lists of avataras. The most reliable one is that found in the first canto, third chapter of Srimad-Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam lists Prthu Maharaja, a saktyavesa avatara, as the ninth incarnation. Gautama Buddha is often described as the ninth incarnation because he is listed ninth in the famous song by Jayadeva Goswami about the dasa avataras (ten incarnations). Ultimately the number of incarnations is not significant because in the final analysis they are uncountable, avatara hy asankhyeya. In every way they are beyond material calculation.

Q. All incarnations of God are supposed to be noted in scripture such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam, but can’t God come as an unscheduled incarnation if he so wills? Isn’t the Supreme Lord free to do anything, anywhere, at any time?

A. God can do whatever he wants to do, but he follows the scripture in order to encourage others to do the same.

Q. What is the significance of Krishna’s brother Baladeva carrying a plow? Is it ever used as a weapon? Does He ever use it “agriculturally?”

A. Baladeva bears the plow, which symbolizes his agricultural social status as well as the importance of the guru’s need to till the field of the heart of his student before planting the seed of bhakti therein. Baladeva is the original guru—Krishna in the form of his best servitor.

For the most part Baladeva does not carry his plow in Vraja, but rather a buffalo horn. Every morning he blows this horn signaling the time for the young cowherds to assemble and awaken Kanai Krishna. However, Sri Balarama did manifest his plow in Vraja during his yamunakarsana-lila (dragging the Yamuna) at the time that he returned from Dvaraka to deliver a message to the Vrajavasis. He is also referred to as “he who bears the plow” (Haladhara) in the Vraja-lila involving the slaying of Pralambasura. At that time, in spite of using this name to address Balarama, Sukadeva depicts him in very human terms, because he was momentarily frightened by Pralamba’s astonishing transformation from a cowherd into an asura, tvisadbhutam haladhara isad atrasat. Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami also mentions him with reference to his bearing the plow when he informs us that Nityananda Prabhu is directly Balarama, nityananda gosani saksat haladhara.

Q. How did Baladeva leave the planet? I’m not sure if I have read anything about the manner in which He went back to Vaikuntha realm.

A. Sri Baladeva’s Mula Sankarsana expansion, who performs pastimes in Mathura and Dvaraka, departed from this world in Dvaraka by producing an extraordinary white snake from his mouth—a manifestation of Sesa Naga—on which he rode away to Vaikuntha being possessed of superhuman power, ramas cadbhuta-vikramah. Otherwise, the original Balarama, the son of Rohini who appears in Vraja, never leaves Vrindavana, where he is sometimes manifest and sometimes not.

Q. Could you please explain the difference between chaya namabhasa (the shadow of the holy name) and pratibimba namabhasa (the reflection of the holy name)? I have heard that pratibimba namabhasa is dangerous. How is this so? How do we recognize each of them?

A. The terms pratibimba (reflection) and chaya (shadow) appear in Srila Rupa Goswami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu with regard to the reflection and shadow of bhava-bhakti, respectively. It is perhaps Thakura Bhaktivinoda who later used these same terms in relation to Krishna Nama. According to Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu and its principal commentators, pratibimba bhavabhasa can appear in those aspiring for liberation as opposed to engaging in bhakti for its own sake, which matures into prema-bhakti.

Chaya bhavabhasa, on the other hand, appears in those engaged in the culture of unalloyed devotion. Thus chaya bhavabhasa is favorable for devotees, whereas pratibimba bhavabhasa is not, nor does it apply to them. With regard to namabhasa the same applies. Cultivate the motive to engage in bhakti for its own sake and you will experience chaya namabhasa and pass through these progressive experiences into suddha nama and actual bhava and Krishna prema.

Q. Some devotees teach that the visistadvaita (qualified oneness) philosophy of Ramanujacharya is the same as the acintya-bhedabheda (inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference) philosophy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. My question is if the two philosophies are the same in tattva then where is the acintya (inconceivability) to be found in Sri Ramanuja’s philosophy. That philosophy clearly explains the relationship between the object and quality as the dehi and deha, but Gaudiyas seem to say there must be some inconceivability in this. Where is this inconceivability?

A. The philosophy of the Gaudiya sampradaya and that of the Ramanuja sampradaya are not the same. Ramanuja, for example, attributes internal distinction (svagatabheda) to Brahman, whereas the Gaudiyas do not. For Ramanuja, Brahman’s qualities (as he views them)—the jivas, and the world—are not the same as that which they qualify (Brahman). However, neither can these qualities exist outside of that which they qualify. Thus the two are not different from one another either. In Ramanuja’s view, a special relationship exists between Brahman, the jivas, and the world. He calls this relationship aprthak-siddhi, or inseparability. With this term Ramanuja seeks to logically explain the identity and difference of Brahman.

It appears that in reality Ramanuja finds it difficult to describe the relationship of identity and difference but accepts both of them. Indeed, according to Ramanuja himself (Sribhasya 2.2.12), aprthak-siddhi is not strictly a relation, although his followers such as Vedanta Desika sometimes speak of it as such. Thus through careful examination both scholars and acaryas of other sampradayas came to conclude that acceptance of Ramanuja’s term aprthak-siddhi really involves forgoing logic. In this regard, the Gaudiya acaryas have determined that this logical shortcoming of Sri Ramanuja’s metaphysic is resolved with the concept of acintya, or inconceivability with regard to the nature of ultimate reality and its being simultaneously one and different.

Thus the Gaudiyas feel that the metaphysic of acintya-bhedabheda tattva better explains the nature of ultimate reality, and that this explanation is an improvement on the efforts of Ramanuja and others. Ramanuja and others have struggled to come to grips with the fact that the concepts of either oneness or difference are inadequate to comprehensively explain the nature of the Absolute.

The Gaudiyas have concluded that Brahman is both one and different simultaneously, and that this is possible because the Absolute possesses inconceivable power (acintya-sakti). Others have developed terms such as anirvacaniya (Sankara), aprthak-siddhi (Ramanuja), svabhavika (Nimbarka), visesa (Madhva), and samavaya (Vallabha) to bring logic to bear on the oneness and difference of Brahman, when in reality the simultaneous oneness and difference of the absolute is acintya (inconceivable). Indeed, careful study of these other doctrines of Vedanta reveals that they implicitly acknowledge the acintya-sakti of the Absolute but are unable to identify it as such.

Therefore, the Gaudiyas lay claim to accepting the nature of the Absolute (and scripture) “as it is” with regard to its oneness and difference. In this way they have sought not to inordinately impose the limits of logic on the nature of being, but rather accept it for what it is and attribute its nature to the acintya-sakti, or the inconceivability of God.

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