Found in Sanga, Sanga 2007.

Q. I am currently re-reading your commentary on Sri Jiva Goswami’s Tattva-sandarbha. I have always wanted to know the philosophical position of Gaudiya Vaisnavism regarding the love of Krishna for the jiva. Love is the center of Vaisnava theology, but it is rarely stated that Krishna loves the jiva before the jiva begins devotional service to develop love for Krishna. I guess I am contrasting this with the Christian doctrine that God passionately loves the soul of each person and longs to be united with them and acts in ways to bring the souls to him. Is Krishna’s love strictly reciprocal or, being God, is his love for us eternal and prior to our desire (which develops at a certain point in time) to love him? Does Krishna love us before we love him? Thank you so much for your books and all your service.

A. God’s love for all souls is different from Krishna’s love for his devotees. God oversees the world in his form known as Maha-Visnu. Out of love Maha-Visnu desires to become many. Thus he manifests the world (lokavat tu lila kaivalyam) and the jivas expand from homogeneous deep sleep into a heterogeneous life in the world. Then in the form of the Vedas, Maha-Visnu manifests his guidance for human society. Maha-Visnu is filled with compassion for all souls in the material world, and because he is a partial manifestation of Krishna, it can be said that Krishna is also filled with such compassion. Close to his heart he wears a kaustuba mani (lapis lazuli stone), which represents all jivas. So God does love us before we love him, before we are even conscious of him.

However, some souls choose to love God, while others do not. Among those who choose to love God, we also find a gradation of love. Some love God because he provides for them. Others love God in a more abstract sense by giving up material exploitation—that which is not love—in pursuit of salvation. Love of Krishna, however, is devoid of these two motivations. Furthermore, it is constituted solely of acts motivated by the desire to please him. This kind of love is called uttama-bhakti. It manifests in the form of a spiritual practice (sadhana-bhakti) as well as in perfection (bhava/prema-bhakti). When this love reaches the stage of prema, it has the power to completely captivate Krishna.

Q. I believe there is one God who has different names and forms. Some know him as Krishna, and others know him as Jehovah or Siva, and there’s nothing wrong with this. In my opinion sectarian problems are the result of God or gods being explained in terms of a different tradition’s frame of reference. Any comments?

A. It is true that there is one God who has many forms and names. However, people approach God for different reasons. Thus all forms of worship are not equal. The extent to which God is present in one’s worship is determined by the motive with which one worships God. Some people worship with a view to improve their material situation, some seek salvation, and some worship God dutifully because it is the right thing to do as mandated in scripture. While all of these motives bring reciprocation from God, none of them constitute the fullest expression of love and thus none of them connect one with the most complete expression of divinity—the heart of God.

Sri Caitanya teaches how to fall in love with God. In his approach there is no concern for material gain or salvation, nor is God merely served dutifully because it is the right thing to do. His method of worship is solely concerned with doing that which personally pleases God, as opposed to only following his laws as detailed in scripture. It is concerned with loving God such that the distance between worshiper and worshiped is bridged. His ideal is exemplified by the milkmaids of Sri Krishna’s pastoral lila. Sri Caitanya opined that in the religious history of the world, no better example of selfless divine love can be found. Under scrutiny it becomes apparent that his point is well reasoned.

While Sri Caitanya advocated this standard of love, his followers respect all genuine forms of worship. To whatever extent God is present in a particular sect or in the life of a practitioner, that sect and person should be respected. Indeed, how could a lover of God think otherwise?

Thus I believe that sectarian problems result more from a lack of real acquaintance with God than from anything else.

Q. An astrologer told me that on certain days of the week I should worship Surya, the sun god. What is the benefit of worshiping the sun god?

A. Generally people worship Surya for good health. However, you should be concerned not only with the health of your mortal frame but, more so, with the health of your soul. Therefore you should worship not merely the demigod Surya, but rather Surya-Narayana—the Supreme Light—and you should do so every day of the week. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explains that the actual life and soul of all living entities within this universe is the sun, and therefore the sun is venerable, surya atma atmatvenopasyam. The idea is that we should see the sun as representative of Narayana (God) and meditate on the sun as a metaphor for God, who is the Supreme Light that dispels the darkness of ignorance and nourishes the souls of all living beings.

Q. I read an article saying that NASA images from space showed that an ancient bridge once existed between India and Sri Lanka. According to one archeologist this bridge is 30 km long and could date back 1,750,000 years. Is this the bridge of Rama spoken of in the Hindu epic Ramayana?

A. The bridge of Rama built by Hanuman and his associates will be discovered by those courageous persons who choose to endeavor to conquer the evil in their own heart through unmotivated service to Godhead. This is a very different science than that of archeology. Rama’s bridge was built by his devotees, simple uneducated ones. They built it to unite Rama with Sita, a by-product of which involved the slaying of evil personified: Ravana. We should try to build a bridge within our hearts, a bridge to Sita. That is where Sri Rama resides.

Q. What is the Gaudiya Vaisnava equivalent of the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit?

A. Perhaps the closest parallel in Gaudiya Vaisnavism to the Christian notion of the Holy Spirit is Sri Krishna’s svarupa-sakti (internal energy). This sakti empowers his devotees, enabling them to conduct themselves in a state of grace, mahatmanas tu mam partha daivim prakrtim asritah.

Q. In Srila Prabhupada’s book Teachings of Lord Caitanya, it is said that the twelve months of the Vaisnava calendar correspond to twelve forms of Lord Visnu. There early October is known as the month of Damodara, however the book says that this Damodara form is actually a different manifestation than Krishna as a small child who has pastimes with his Mother Yasoda. This confuses me. Can you explain?

A. In Vaikuntha there are many Visnu forms, one of which is named Damodara. However, this four-armed form of God is different than Krishna, who is known as “he whose belly is bound by rope (dama-udara),” in remembrance of his lila in which his mother, Yasoda, tied her child up with the rope of her affection. Although the Vaisnava calendar months are named after twelve Visnu Deities, devotees of Krishna should remember his form as a small child bound by his mother during the Damodara month. They should also think of all Visnu forms as expansions of Krishna.

Q. I understand that Krishna has many expansions. What is the position of Laksmi devi, the eternal consort of Lord Visnu?

A. Sakti-tattva stems from Sri Radha and Visnu-tattva stems from Sri Krishna. Thus all of the personalities appearing as Bhagavan and his consorts are partial manifestations of Radha and Krishna. Laksmi is a partial manifestation of Radha, just as Narayana is a partial manifestation of Krishna. While Laksmi and Narayana are persons unto themselves, at the same time they are not independent of their source, Radha and Krishna.

Q. Srila Sridhara Maharaja wrote that a jiva could take the post of Siva, but acaryas have written that Sadasiva is a direct expansion of Visnu. Even Sanatana Goswami wrote that the second offense to the holy name is to consider the names of Siva and Visnu to be different. So can you explain how a jiva could take the post of Siva?

A. In the case you cited, Srila Sridhara Maharaja spoke of Siva in terms of the word meaning “liberation.” Thus the jiva can become siva or liberated.

Otherwise, the “post” of Siva referred to by Sanatana Goswami and other acaryas is not the position of Sadasiva, but rather a manifestation of Siva in this world known as the Raudra expansions. Thakura Bhaktivinoda explains this in his Kalyana-kalpa-taru thus, sivatva labhiya nara, brahma-samya tadantara asa kore’ sankaranugata: “If one attains the post of Siva, the only thing left to be attained is the ‘oneness’ of merging in the Brahman effulgence.”

Q. If the jiva situated in the marginal plane makes a choice to turn to God rather than choosing the material world, how is it decided which area of the spiritual world he goes to?

A. The Lord’s tatastha-sakti (marginal energy) is a partial manifestation of his svarupa-sakti, which is the source of all saktis. The jiva (individual soul) is a particle of tatastha-sakti. When the jiva gets a capital investment from the svarupa-sakti, it enters into a relationship with God that amounts to God manifesting his love (svarupa-sakti) in the heart of the jiva. The choice of the jiva to serve God and God’s approach to him are simultaneous, ye yatha mam prapadyante.

The nature of the relationship that follows is something that develops of its own accord. One particular relationship with God is not better than another in that all devotees serve in accordance with how God chooses to accept their service. When the jiva is purified through reaching out to God and the corresponding descent of God’s grace, the devotee’s spiritual bias fully manifests and takes him or her to a particular plane of love of God.

Q. The following verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam says that the Absolute Truth is nondual knowledge/consciousness (advaya-jnana tattva). It also tells us that the Absolute is threefold, namely Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Can you explain this in relation to the soul’s identification with Brahman?

vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvam yaj jnanam advayam brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate

“Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma, or Bhagavan.” (SB 1.2.11)

A. This important verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam is cited four times in Caitanya-caritamrta. In his Bhagavata-sandarbha, our Gaudiya tattvacarya, Sri Jiva Goswami, writes about it as follows:

“In the description of Srila Vyasa’s perception in spiritual trance of the Supreme (described in the Tattva-sandarbha), the individual living entities are clearly described as different from the Supreme. For this reason no one should claim that the jivas are identical with the Supreme, and no one can artificially add the phrase jiva iti ca sabdyate (and the Supreme is also known as jiva) to this verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam.”

Here Jiva Goswami explains that the jiva is not Brahman in all respects. Rather it is a particle of God’s energy (sakti), known as tatastha, or marginal energy. Tatastha-sakti is characterized by its ability to be influenced by its environment, thus it may come under the influence of God’s illusory energy (maya-sakti) and forget its spiritual nature altogether.

Brahman, on the other hand, is always supremely independent and never comes under the influence of illusion. This is confirmed in the first verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam. The jiva is identified with Brahman only in the sense that it is an eternal unit of consciousness. Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes that when its covering of ignorance is removed, the jiva can experience Brahma jnana and Brahmananda—knowledge of Brahman and the joy of Brahman. Still, mere removal of the jiva’s ignorance does not reveal the whole identity of the jiva. After all, its ignorance is a result of turning away from God and thus its enlightenment requires turning toward God (bhakti). Thus Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu told his disciple Sanatana Goswami that the natural condition of the jiva, its svarupa, is “Krishna dasa” and that service to Krishna is beyond even Brahmajnana and Brahmananda.

This is discussed in the following Bhagavata verse:

bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatah syad isad apetasya viparyayo ‘smrtih/
tan-mayayato budha abhajet tam bhaktyaikayesam guru-devatatma//

“Fear arises when a living entity misidentifies himself as the material body because of absorption in the external, illusory energy of the Lord. When the living entity thus turns away from the Supreme Lord, he also forgets his own constitutional position as a servant of the Lord. This bewildering, fearful condition is effected by the potency of illusion, called maya. Therefore, an intelligent person should engage unflinchingly in the unalloyed devotional service of the Lord, under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, whom he should accept as his worshipful deity and as his very life and soul.” (SB 11.2.37)

A practical example of the relationship between Bhagavan Sri Krishna and his sakti is the relationship between fire and heat. Fire and heat are one and different at the same time, heat being the energy, or sakti, of fire. Similarly, this is the nature of God/Krishna/nondual consciousness, who expresses himself in three phases: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Krishna is one and different from everything that exists (his saktis)—material nature, the living entities, and the demigods and goddesses.

Svetasvatara Upanisad confirms this, parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate svabhaviki jnana-bala-kriya ca: God acts by manifesting his unlimited, variegated energies. Bhagavad-gita puts it like this: “Everything rests upon Krishna, as pearls are strung on a thread.”

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