Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. In Bhagavad-gita 11.26, Arjuna uses “sudra putra” (son of a sudra) in reference to his enemy Karna. Arjuna heard previously (Bg. 4.13) that it is guna-karma (quality and work) that determines one’s caste and not simply birth, so why does he refer to Karna as sudra putra?

A. Bhagavad-Gita 11-26 refers to Karna as suta-putra not sudra-putra. Suta refers to the assistant of a ksatriya (warrior), in this case a chariot driver. Karna was a ksatriya by both birth and character, but he was called suta-putra because he was raised in the family of a chariot driver. Sutas are sometimes classified as sudras in the varnasrama system and although Karna was raised by a suta, Duryodhana recognized his chivalrous qualities and despite any stigma that might have been associated with Karna’s foster family gave him a respectable position in his royal court and army. Karna was indebted to Duryodhana for this and with a vow to kill Arjuna joined Duryodana in battle against the Pandavas.

Rules of war at the time would not allow a ksatriya to fight with a suta, indeed such a match was considered beneath the dignity of a member of the warrior class and thus Arjuna referred to Karna, an enemy sworn to kill him, in pejorative terms as suta-putra. But the mere fact that Arjuna referred to Karna in terms of his perceived birth does not indicate that he considered him only in light of his birth and not in light of his qualities. Indeed, it is clear from the Mahabharata that Arjuna understood him to be a formidable warrior despite his upbringing, and it was thought in the Kauravas camp that the only persons who might be able to kill Arjuna were Bhisma and Karna. Arjuna’s battles with these two great warriors are thrilling chapters in the Mahabharata, which in various places states that quality and work (guna-karma) are the basis for the varnasrama system, not birthright.

The varnasrama system deteriorates in Kali-yuga because brahmanas and ksatriyas maintain power and position based only on birth, not qualification. In the Mahabharata it is written:

na yonir napi samskaro na srutam na ca santatih karanani dvijatvasya vrttam eva tu karanam

Neither birth, ceremonies, learning, nor progeny are qualifications for acceptance among the twiceborn.

Only conduct is the basis for brahminical status. (Mahabharata Anusasana Parva 143)

Q. I find brahmanas to be cunning, selfish, and mean. Even in modern times the brahmanas in our village treat ordinary people very disrespectfully and use disgraceful tactics to live at the cost of the poor. Do you have any comments on this?

A. It is mentioned in scripture that one of the symptoms of the present age of quarrel and hypocrisy is the corruption of the brahmana class. The Padma Purana speaks about this in very harsh terms:

“In Kali-yuga all the varnas are degraded. The brahmanas are especially degraded being devoid of Vedic knowledge and sacrifice. Giving up the five sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas as well as brahminical behavior and consciousness, they engage in inferior activities. They collect charity to satisfy their unlimited appetite for sense enjoyment and are characterized by the qualities of lust and cruelty. Unholy in deed and thought, they take pleasure in malice and envy, and as professional thieves, they blaspheme the Vedas, drink liquor, and exploit women. They also accept sinful means of maintaining their lives and sometimes pose as sadhus by dressing in red cloth and wearing long hair and beards. In this way, the wretched so-called brahmanas of Kali-yuga accept a dharma that is lower than that of sudras.”

In Srimad-Bhagavatam it is described that at the onset of Kali-yuga the son of a brahmana inappropriately cursed a great king who was a selfless devotee. Thus the age began. We should try to serve God in the company of selfless devotees, regardless of what section of society they come from. We should not be intimidated by pseudo-brahmanas who have no respect for others and in the name of worship use the Deity in the temple as a business to get money so they can live comfortably and fill their stomachs. However, although pseudo-brahmanas predominate in this age, this does not mean that there aren’t actual brahmanas. They can be identified by their qualities, such as truthfulness, cleanliness, austerity, and, above all, devotion to God.

Q. Many vegetarians think themselves superior to others because they do not eat meat. I appreciate the advantages of a meatless diet, but what if being a vegetarian leads to pride? And why do some devotees believe that only a vegetarian can approach God?

A. The Gaudiya Vaisnava object to meat eating because they consider animal slaughter a merciless act. In the language of the Bhagavatam, it is said that suna, mercilessness or violence to the innocent, was prohibited by Raja Pariksit and that wherever this kind of activity takes place, Kali-yuga, the age of hypocrisy, flourishes. To the extent that one is involved in merciless acts, one will be checked from making significant spiritual progress. Devotees, however, have no license for pride whatsoever. If a devotee becomes proud of being a vegetarian, he is a fool, for being a genuine devotee involves much more than vegetarianism.

Q. I have recently returned to college after spending a number of years in the brahmacari asrama and am writing to ask you what guidelines to follow in regards to the kinds of music I can listen to. I know this may sound funny, but I am really not clear on how to understand this issue. Does hearing about “mundane” or “worldly” love bar one from understanding the divine love of Radha and Krishna?

A. If you are going to listen to nondevotional music at all, you should choose something that you find at least remotely compatible with your practice and or ideal. For example, music that causes you to be reflective and peaceful or lyrics that speak to you of your ideal. It is difficult to avoid hearing about mundane love in this world. However, because worldly love is a reflection of spiritual love, if a person who is under the guidance of guru and scripture thinks of it in this way, he or she may learn something about the nature of actual spiritual love.

Q. Devotees may be engaged in Krishna’s service externally but internally their mind may not be fixed on Krishna or his service. How is it possible for such devotees to be steady in vaidhi (regulated) bhakti when they cannot control their mind? How are they supposed to achieve nistha (steadiness) when their current status seems to block the very prospect of steadiness?

A. The key to advancing one’s practice from being unsteady (anistha) to steady (nistha) is association with advanced devotees. In this association material aspirations will gradually fade away and spiritual resolve will be strengthened. Nistha bhajana kriya (steady spiritual practice) comes after sraddha (initial faith), sadhu sanga (saintly association), anistha bhajana kriya (unsteady spiritual practice), and anartha nivrtti (giving up unnecessary things). In the stage of sadhu sanga, one finds the guru, who prescribes bhajana kriya (spiritual practice). When under the auspices of the guru we do our bhajana kriya with a do-or-die attitude, regardless of our state of mind, we will see that our interest in things that are superfluous to our spiritual progress are exposed for what they are. With this insight comes the strength to give up these anarthas, and as we do so, our practice becomes steady.

Q. I have full faith that Krishna is always in control, but how does one come to terms with the fact that during the history of the Islamic conquest of India, Muslim invaders were able to plunder Hindu temples and make a sacrilegious display of destroying the Deities that had been worshiped on the altar? If Krishna were in control why would he want this to happen?

A. The presence of God within the Deity is to a large extent dependent on the devotion of the servants of the Deity. It is the power of their love that causes God to descend in Deity form and accept worship. Thus the acarya who is representing the Lord presides over the ritual in which the Deity is established. The acarya actually has love of God, and on the strength of this love (constituted of God’s svarupa sakti), God agrees to be present in Deity form to accept worship from the acarya’s disciples.

Sometimes over generations a particular acarya’s lineage becomes devotionally weak, and to this extent the Deity appears to withdraw. In such instances we find that the Deity’s worship is neglected, the temple may be abandoned, or the temple worship turned into a business. However, sometimes even when the devotion of the Deity’s servants is strong we find that the Deity’s service is interrupted, or worse still, offenders destroy the Deity. In such instances God teaches us that while he is symbolically represented in his Deity form and fully present therein, his existence is not limited to this symbolic representation.

Deity worship (arcanam) is particularly important for neophyte devotees, arcayam eva haraye pujam yah sraddhayehate . . . sa bhaktah prakrtah smrtah. Arcanam involves entrance into the ritualistic world, which is an approximation of the spiritual reality and includes material elements within it. It is the realm in which God makes himself available in a form that devotees still living in material consciousness can approach, thus bridging the gap between them and himself. Such devotees have a conception of divinity that is tainted by material notions (prakrtah bhakta). Thus in rare instances, to help neophytes transcend their limited material notions about divinity, the Deity allows itself to be destroyed. At that time the devotion of neophytes, as well as their understanding of the philosophical underpinning of their practice, is tested in order that they might advance in their understanding and devotion. At that time the Deity, while appearing to be destroyed, withdraws into the hearts of his pure devotees, and when such devotees see fit, they again establish the Deity’s service. God’s ways are mysterious, as are those of his devotees in whose hearts he dwells. God is more substantially present in the hearts of his pure devotees than he is in his manifest Deity form (arca vigraha).

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