Found in Sanga, Sanga 2000.

Q. Did you vote in the U.S. Presidential election? Should the Vaisnava community have a political voice?

A. I did not vote. As a general rule sannyasis, vanaprasthas , and brahmacaris should not be involved in anything other than spiritual practice. Grhastas (married couples), however, can be involved in politics and even run for office. Thakura Bhaktivinoda set an example in this regard.

Prabhupada did want the Vaisnava community to form a political voice, one that represented its values. It seems to me that for such a political voice to be successful at this time, it would have to advocate values less specific to the Vaisnava religious tradition that are nonetheless part of a broader Vaisnava worldview. In doing so, the community would have to join forces with others who hold similar values, those who, while not embracing the more specific religious values of the Vaisnava tradition, show respect for them.

There are many obstacles in the way of establishing varnasrama dharma, but the very essence of adherence to varnasrama is responsible and dutiful action. One should do what is right regardless of the apparent consequences. We should know that doing what is right is pleasing to God, and that the extent to which God is pleased determines the extent to which one’s actions in this world are perfect. Thus, it may be possible for Vaisnavas to be involved in social activism and speak out against the many overt forms of exploitation so rampant in today’s society and to do this in ways that do not compromise one’s spiritual convictions, but strengthen them.

Short of forming a Vaisnava political voice, devotees are free to vote for any person they feel represents their values. As Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader said, we should not vote our fears, but our hopes and dreams.

Q. Both religion and rationality seem valid and important. Yet if faith is independent of reason, how can I reconcile them?

A. Divine faith is independent of reason. It is a result of God’s grace and it involves experience, as opposed to belief, which exists in the intellectual realm. Divine faith can be supported in its budding stages by reason. It can also be suppressed by it. Good logic leads to a disposition that attracts divine faith to descend, and faith picks up where logic leaves off. The shortcoming of logic in terms of its being a suitable vehicle for reaching conclusive truth is obvious. For every argument there is a counter argument. Logic is inconclusive. If we are to arrive at conclusive truth we must find another vehicle. Faith is that vehicle—divine faith.

Religion (faith) and rationality are both valid means of knowing. However, reason results in inconclusive knowing even within its own realm unless guided by faith. When guided by faith, reason leads to the certainty that enables one to engage in steady spiritual practice which allows one to know conclusively. In our daily life we should test the metal of our faith in God with the fire of reason. If it starts to melt, we should withdraw to spiritual practice and saintly association—the company of men and women of faith. If it is strengthened through the fire of reason, this faith is no longer tender (komala), and such firm faith will fuel our spiritual practice, and more, it will grant us entrance into spiritual life and enable us to fuel the practice of others.

What then becomes of reason? The faithful shall reason not about God, but how to serve him best at any given moment. The general nature of faith is also discussed in Bhagavad-gita. What follows is from my upcoming translation and commentary, Bhagavad-gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy.

“The Lord of Sri said: The faith of embodied souls that is born of their materially acquired nature is of three types: sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic. Now hear about this.” (Bg. 17.2)

Commentary:

The color of one’s faith is directly related to its cause. If the cause of one’s faith is saintly association and deliberation on the import of scripture, it is enlightened faith, pure sattva. Such enlightened faith is in turn the cause of one’s spiritual progress, and more so, the measure of one’s attainment. We live in a world of doubt, yet our highest prospect lies in entering the land of faith, all doubt removed. Faith in general is of the nature of the material influence of sattva. Whatever one has faith in, that faith itself is a manifestation of sattva. Thus the sense of its being virtuous is universal. It is the conviction behind sustained effort.

However, that in which a person places his faith is determined by the influence of his acquired nature. A person’s nature acquired at birth (svabhava-ja) is a product of his past karma. This nature is constituted of a combination of the three gunas, in which one of these three predominates. The predominating influence of sattva, rajas, or tamas determines the object of one’s faith and thus colors that which is in and of itself sattvic with shades of rajas and tamas. The primary cause of one’s faith is one’s acquired nature. The material or secondary cause is the mind, to which Krishna next turns Arjuna’s attention.

“One’s faith corresponds with one’s mind, O descendent of Bharata. A person is made of his faith. One is whatever his faith is.” (Bg. 17.3)

Commentary:

The mind is indicated here by the word sattva. It is of the nature of illumination. Mind is a transformation of the principle of egotism (ahamkara) influenced by the sattva guna. Here Krishna says that one’s faith corresponds with one’s mind. Because the mind is a transformation of sattva, faith is intrinsically sattvic. However, every individual’s mind reflects his heart’s condition under the influence of the three gunas. Thus one’s nature reflected in the mind produces a particular quality of faith, be it sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic.

Changing one’s materially acquired nature is possible by deliberating on the import of the scripture and subsequently worshipping God. By this, one acquires wisdom. This causes pure sattva to dominate and bring about the illumination necessary for the culture of enlightened life. Otherwise, the dominant guna’s influence on the mind determines one’s faith. This is the position of those whose faith causes them to worship but who do not take the time to deliberate on the import of the scripture. The quality of their particular faith is revealed through the object of their veneration.

Q. Why is it we cannot connect to our sampradaya exclusively through a purvaacharya like Srila Prabhupada?

A. The word “parampara” literally means “one after another.” If there is no successor after the guru departs, there is no parampara. This parampara system is integral to what Krishna calls “the imperishable science of yoga,” yogam avyayam. Thus the system itself is imperishable. Therefore you should identify it and connect with it.

Q. Why is vraja prema made so accessible to the materialistic people of today yet this highest thing was not available to the more spiritually advanced people of past ages?

A. The answer to your question is the significance of the most munificent descent of Godhead—Sri Caitanya. If the highest thing is given to the least qualified, this is magnanimity to the extreme, and this is Sri Caitnayadeva.

Q. In Srimad-Bhagavatam Krishna says that one must worship Govardhan Hill or else be bitten by the envious serpents living there. Is this a jealous God speaking?

A. He is saying that those who are envious of him (God) will not fare well. Krishna is not jealous, but he likes to see the jealousy of Radha.

Q. Ritual can trap our attention and demand a very high price, i.e., morbidity. And morbidity can inflict the heaviest liens and mortgages on our awareness. How does Gaudiya Vaisnavism deal with this problem?

A. One has to understand from the start that ritual is not the goal. It is the window to spontaneity. One should learn to cook by following a cook book, using measuring spoons, etc. But good cooks have a feeling for what they are doing. They don’t follow a book—they just cook.

Here is a poem I wrote on ritual from Aesthetic Vedanta: The Sacred Path of Passionate Love.

O rite and ritual
the light to reality,
What is your heart?
the river runs freely
I bathe with regularity;
the bell rings, all rise,
for whom doth thou toll?
then rhyme and rhythm,
the drum beats and
we are driven to dance
and song in abandon,
what merry have you made,
and why do I ask on?
O rite and ritual
your performance habitual,
when will we part—
the door between reality
to see your heart of spontaneity.

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