Found in Sanga, Sanga 2001.

Q. What does it mean that Krishna consciousness is nonsectarian?

A. In one sense we are sectarian, part of a particular sect, the worshippers of Krishna. Krishna is the ideal of the Caitanya sampradaya, Gaudiya sampradaya and Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his teachings are all-harmonizing. Why? Because it is about Krishna. And who is Krishna? Rather than thinking of him as a particular deity in the Hindu pantheon, we should think of Krishna as the very heart of divinity, the heart of the Absolute. The heart has the capacity to harmonize all things. When we love someone, their faults become ornaments. Love has this wonderful accommodating capacity. And the Krishna conception of Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the supreme, sublime, all-accommodating doctrine of love.

There are other doctrines of love, no doubt. There is Christ’s doctrine of love and sacrifice. Sacrifice is the foundation out of which love arises. There is the love of Vaikuntha, awe and reverence. If we look at Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s conception of divine love in which Krishna is the ideal, if we look at it objectively, we see that here love goes as high as it possibly can. When the Absolute is conceived of as Krishna, the fullest expression of divine love is possible. Krishna and Vraja are all-harmonizing, where all things are possible. The gopis’ love is the supreme example of this.

The Christian idea of divine love omits the parakiya concept. In fact, when the Christians came originally to India they raised this as the red flag by which Vaisnavism should be seen as something irreligious. In time they did come to understand that Vaisnavism was the closest thing to their “real religion” but when they first came to Krishna of Vraja and the love of the gopis, they thought, “Oh, now we have immorality, now the whole thing goes to hell.” So strong was their emphasis on this, that even the Hindu leaders of the time were influenced. Some of them wrote books about Krishna in which the Vraja lila was left out, or it was suggested that these were later additions to the scripture. These Hindus liked the Krishna of Kuruksetra, of Bhagavad-gita. He was a statesman and a speaker of the Upanisads, very dignified. But the Krishna of Vraja, they found that hard to understand.

But Caitanya Mahaprabhu explained Krishna properly and by his own example as a spotless sannyasi brought dignity to the Krishna conception of Godhead. So when we think of Krishna consciousness being non-sectarian we have to stop and think what the concept of Krishna means. If we think of Krishna as the heart of the absolute, then it becomes clear. The heart has the power to harmonize all things. So in one sense, all religious conceptions are contained within Krishna consciousness, within Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

If Krishna is the heart of the absolute, then what is the heart of Krishna? We say Srimad Bhagavatam is the heart of Krishna, sadyo hrdy avarudhyate ‘tra, krtibhih susrusubhis tat-ksanat (Bhag: 1.2). The Bhagavatam says that for one who simply desires to hear Srimad Bhagavatam, Krishna becomes arrested in their heart. What is the subject of Srimad Bhagavatam? If by simply desiring to hear it, Krishna becomes imprisoned within your heart, he cannot get out, then what must that be?

The Gaudiya Vaisnavas reason thus; the Srimad Bhagavatam is the heart of Krishna and Krishna’s heart belongs to Radha. Therefore Srimad Bhagavatam must be all about Radha—Radha Bhagavatam it is also called. Although we cannot find the name of Radha in Srimad Bhagavatam, the Gaudiya Vaisnavas find her name in every sloka, in every line.

While speaking about this kind of ideal in Srimad Bhagavatam, Gaudiya Vaisnava’s highest ideal—radha dasyam, Vraja bhakti—so many other types of religious conceptions are also mentioned. Just as in the Bhagavad-gita a comparative study of religion is given. All the scriptures work in this way. The Srimad Bhagavatam says, janmady asya yato ‘nvayad itaratas (Bhag: 1.1), “directly and indirectly.” So directly and indirectly the Bhagavat is speaking about the Absolute Truth. In one sense it means, indirectly speaking about the Absolute Truth by speaking about other religious conceptions that do not reach the zenith of the Absolute, that do not reach the heart of divinity.

It speaks about them and thereby, indirectly, about the highest ideal by way of showing contrast, by making a comparison. So we hear in Bhagavatam and in the Bhagavad-gita as well about different religious conceptions; karma yoga, jnana yoga, dhyana yoga. It is not that all of these are being advocated for anyone to pick and choose. But it is speaking about these things only to show, by way of contrast, what is bhakti and what is the superiority of bhakti.

So in our Gaudiya sampradaya, when we speak of Krishna we are speaking about the heart of the Absolute and in the heart all things can be harmonized. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, ye yatha mam prapadyante, tams tathaiva bhajamy aham, mama vartmanuvartante, manusyah partha sarvasah (Bg: 4.11): “As they approach me I reciprocate accordingly. Everyone is following my path because there is no other path.” In this way, Gaudiya Vaisnavism is nonsectarian.

After a long discussion in the second chapter of Caitanya-caritamrta, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami tries to establish two things: 1) that Krishna is the Supreme Godhead and 2) that Caitanya Mahaprabhu is that same Krishna. But after making his whole argument he says in the end, “But, if you want to say that Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Maha Visnu, then that is also true. We accept that it is possible. If you want to say he is Vamana, Narasingha, that is also true.” But, adds Krishnadasa Kaviraja, “That may be true—but it’s not very flattering.”

The Gaudiya Vaisnavas flatter Krishna more than anyone else, and as we all know “flattery will get you everywhere.” The Gaudiyas say such nice things about Krishna. People think it is perhaps exaggeration, even other Vaisnava sampradayas. But we reason differently. Those who say such nice things about Krishna, with such force, that Krishna is the Supreme above even Narayana, why do they say that? Because they have such love for Krishna. And who knows Krishna the most? Whoever loves Krishna the most, must know Krishna the most. So if we want to know about Krishna, we have to come to the Gaudiya Vaisnavas.

Gaudiya Vaisnavas are all-accommodating. They come from the Vraja, Vrindavan, where the very concept of the place is all-accomodating. So we have to be fully tolerant and learn to accommodate all types of religious ideals, seeing them as various heights along the great mountain of truth from which people have gazed and spoken, as noble steps on the ladder to the highest ideal of Krishna consciousness.

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