Found in Sanga, Sanga 2000.

Q. What is the Vaisnava understanding of Satya Sai Baba of Putraparthi? Some say he is an incarnation of Siva, others that he is a great yogi. His followers say he is Bhagavan.

A. Vaisnavas do not accept Sathya Sai Baba as Bhagavan (God), so they differ with his devotees and perhaps with Sai Baba himself on this. Because the Vaisnavas are concerned with Bhagavan and always hearing and chanting about him, they should know best who is Bhagavan and who is not. All Vaisnavas accept that Krishna is the purna avatara, the most complete manifestation of God to appear in the world.

Even those Vaisnavas who conceive of Krishna as an incarnation of Visnu accept Krishna as the most complete incarnation of God. Being absorbed in thoughts of Visnu/Krishna, should Bhagavan descend in one of his incarnations, his devotees would be the first to recognize him. There is no doubt that Krishna is God, but Vaisnavas doubt that Sai Baba is Krishna for good reason. He may be an accomplished yogi.

Many years ago a man from India came to the America and claimed to be Krishna. When challenged by some Vaisnavas to demonstrate that he was Krnsa by revealing his universal form (virata rupa) as Krishna did for his devotee Arjuna in Bhagavad-gita, the man replied to them that first, like Arjuna, they needed to become his devotees. These devotees then came to me and related their experience.

I commented that the question of their devotion to Krishna was not the issue. This was apparent in that they were always hearing and chanting about Krishna. These are the symptoms of devotion to Krishna as mentioned by Krishna himself in the Gita. The real issue was whether or not the man was Krishna. Needless to say the man could not demonstrate that he pervaded the entire universe.

Q. Can you explain the stage of anartha-nivritti? Is it a stage one attains when one loses the desire for sinful life?

A. Devotional practice is either unsteady (anistha), or steady (nistha). It is unsteady because unwanted things get in its way. Concern for removing these unwanted things is what is referred to as anartha nivritti in the course of devotional practice. There are anarthas (unwanted things) that block our path arising from offenses (apraradha), good karma (sukritartha), bad karma (duskritartha), and from things that come as a secondary result of devotional practice and are potentially distracting.

All of these anarthas are not removed when one attains the stage of anartha nivritti. Anarthas remain until one attains prema (love of God). For example, the subtle effects of Vaisnava aparadha (offending a devotee) may remain even in the stage of bhava bhakti (devotion in ecstasy) and inhibit one’s attainment of prema.

Q. Could it be said that a devotee is in the beginning stage of anartha nivritti when he follows strictly the four regulative principles?

A. One is successful in anartha-nivritti when one’s principle bad habits (his gross lust and greed) are retired. They are retired when the desire that fuels them no longer lingers in the heart. Having passed through this and various mental states of vacillation and inaccurate assessment of his own position, the devotee becomes accomplished in anartha nivritti and his devotional practice becomes steady.

Q. I have also heard that the madhyam adhikari stage begins at anartha nivritti. Is this correct?

A. The madhyama adhikari (intermediate devotee) has attained the stage of nistha (steadiness) above anartha nivritti. Whereas anartha nivritti is concerned with the removal of negativity in devotional practice, nistha involves positivity manifested as uninterrupted engagement in devotional practice. Anartha nivritti deals with overcoming various states of mind, and nistha assumes fixation of intelligence has been attained. They are like two sides of a mountain peak, one going up (anartha nivritti) the other going down (nistha) into the valley of love of God.

Although subtle influences of lust and greed may still be visible in one who has attained nistha, like the scent of camphor in an empty camphor box, these trace elements do not impede his devotion. They are like the movement of an electric fan after the plug has been pulled.

Q. And how does all this relate to a madhyam initiating disciples? What about a kanistha adhikari initiating disciples? Is it acceptable in certain cases?

A. Other than these stages themselves, madhyama in general is marked by discrimination. To whatever extent one is involved in the necessary discrimination for making spiritual progress, he or she is under the madhyama influence. So there may be a kanistha (neophyte) who is sincerely desiring to progress, a madhyam kanistha, and one who is successful in this regard, an uttama (superlative) kanistha. Then one becomes a kanistha madhyama and so on.

The guru should come from the higher stages of madhyama or better. Many kanisthas do give initiation. The value of this type of initiation is not as great as initiation received from advanced devotees.

Q. What do you think of the controversy concerning the omniscience of Prabhupada?

A. Sridhara Maharaja was of the opinion that the guru need not be omniscient. In this regard, he cited the Brahma vimohana lila (bewilderment of Brahma), in which the original guru of our lineage was, in his opinion, proven not to be omniscient. Prabhupada also stated that he was not omniscient.

Q. What does self realization mean? What is the difference between self-realization, brahman realization and the realization of Krishna? How does bhakti yoga function for reaching self-realization? What is the process of jnana?

A. Self realization is that condition in which one realizes the extent to which he or she exists and all fear thus subsides. We fear because we do not know the extent to which we exist, much less the purpose of our existence. Our identification with matter in all of its mutable manifestations is troubling. In this condition, we live with the threat of non-existence and our life consists of trying to overcome this threat. We struggle because we have identified with something that will not endure.

Self-realization marks the end of this struggle, and it opens the door to unlimited possibilities in the plane of non-dual consciousness. We exist in all conditions. We can be cognizant of this reality and thus end all suffering. Having done so, we can realize our potential to love. Our purpose is to love. In order to do so we must exist and be cognizant of the extent to which we exist.

Brahman or self-realization prefaces God realization. Both of these can be attained through bhakti yoga, the yoga of devotion. Bhakti yoga primarily consists of hearing and chanting about God. As the practitioner becomes absorbed in this hearing and chanting his heart becomes purified to the extent that he can successfully meditate on God’s name, form, qualities and pastimes constantly.

The purified heart is free from the ignorance of material desire, under the influence of which we mistakenly think temporary material manifestations to be relevant to our search for enduring, joyful life. In the purified heart brahma jnana awakens and one gains access to para bhakti (devotion proper). Passing through the doorway of brahma jnana one enters the land of dedication and ultimately finds his highest prospect in love of God, be it in awe and reverence or sweet intimacy.

Jnana yoga is the yoga of introspection. When it is mixed with bhakti it leads to self realization and love of God in awe and reverence.

Q. I do not understand why we are on earth. Is it a game of God? What does God want to show us and why is it neccesary for him to do this lila. I’m very confused.

A. The world is the creation (sristi) lila of God (Maha Visnu), who becomes many out of joy. Because he is the master of material nature the many expanding from him come in touch with material nature. They, unlike God, are small and thus prone to be overwhelmed by material nature’s influence. Like him, they have will, and in connection with material nature they can exercise this will. This is problematic. Thus, along with the world comes the Vedas. By living in accordance with the Vedas the many can meet their maker. God himself also comes among the many as the avatara (incarnation) to help all souls in their struggle.

I sympathize with you in your plight to understand the contrast between the suffering of the world and the goodness of God. All theologies must deal with this issue. Some theists will be satisfied with one answer and others with another. For some all of the explanations fall short.

We will not know God nor end our suffering by intellect alone, but by faith and spiritual practice in which we should use the full measure of our intellect and renounce the folly of sense enjoyment.

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