Found in Sanga, Sanga 2001.


February 27th, 2001 | No Comments

Q. Are there any miracles attributed to Swami Prabhupada? I mean the kind that defy current scientific laws.

A. I am not aware of any miracles that he performed of this nature. However, our lineage questions the spirituality of this type of miracle. All of the mystic siddhis are considered subtle material powers. Although great devotees of Krishna may exhibit them from time to time, they do so in the course of loving Krishna. Awakening this love of Krishna in the hearts of illusioned souls is true spiritual power. Otherwise we are not concerned with gaining power, rather acknowledging he who is all-powerful, Krishna.

Q. Do you consider the upcoming solar eclise (August 11th 1999) as having any spiritual significance, particularly in that it departs the planet from the Bay of Bengal (i.e., the birthplace of Gauranga). I’ve heard it said that it is inauspicious to observe an eclipse—could you elaborate on that?

A. I do not attribute much spiritual significance to it. As for the inauspicious nature of eclipses in general, according to the Hindu tradition, Rahu is a malefic planet. When it covers the sun or moon, which are auspicious planets, this is considered to be inauspicious, representing darker forces temporarily overcoming those of light in the heavens. Rahu is the shadow of the moon, to whom person is attributed. Thus Hindus do not look at the eclipse. They stay inside during its observance and wash everything after it passes. The temple Deities are also put to rest during the eclipse.

Q. We would like to learn about the various rasas, but are having great difficult finding a source. Would you please illuminate the rasas for us or guide us to a reasonably available source?

A. This information is available in Rupa Goswami’s Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu, Pascima-vibhaga (Western Division of the Nectar Ocean of Rasa) in terms of the five primary rasas, and Uttara-vibhaga in terms of the twelve secondary rasas. Earlier chapters discuss the ingredients of rasa. As summary study of this book has been published by my spiritual master, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, entitled Nectar of Devotion.

Q. Is Krishna consciousness different from what we expect of a religion in the West in that while we in the West consider spiritual experience to be available to us after death do Krishna devotees expect to attain to spiritual situation even while they live, and do they, and if they do why aren’t any of them talking about it?

A. I believe that other religious traditions of the West also speak of experiential spiritual life in which spiritual experience is in the here and now. All traditions are two sided, religious and experiential.

The status of being liberated while still within the body is called jivanmukti. This stage is attainable within the tradition of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. While for monists this stage involves prarabdha-karma, for devotees it does not. Prarabdha-karma is that karma already bearing fruit. Monists on the jnana-marga (path of knowledge) maintain that the prarabdha-karma in the form of this body is not done away with at the stage of jivanmukti. Gaudiya Vaisnavas understand jivanmukti to be that stage in which God takes over the body of his devotee for his own purpose, thus eradicating or distributing his prarabdha-karma. In the case of distributing it, his good karma goes to his relatives and friends, his bad karma to those inimical to him.

Devotees of Krishna who are followers of the Six Goswamis should strive for and hope to attain jivanmukti. However, this is rare. Otherwise many devotees remember Krishna at death and attain a liberated status thereby.

Q. When Arjuna broke down on the battlefield, were his enemies mocking him? What was Duryodhana and all of Pandavas’ enemies doing the whole time while Krishna was preaching the Gita?

A. Krishna spoke the Gita in about 45 minutes. According to the text, both sides were readying for battle. Arjuna, with Krishna as his charioteer, had surveyed the battlefield in preparation for battle. Conch horns had been sounded. Once Krishna began instructing Arjuna in Bg 2.11, other parties were not privy to the intimate conversation of Krishna and Arjuna, while they could understand that something was up. Many saw him throw down his bow and arrows, for after the Gita was spoken and Arjuna picked them up, Mahabharata informs that the Pandavas were heartened seeing this and cheered.

Arjuna’s enemies were not mocking him, although Krishna warned earlier that should he desist they would. After Krishna spoke the Gita, the battle was delayed further by Yudhisthira, who before fighting approached Bhisma, touched his feet, and asked his blessings. So there was considerable foreplay before the battle actually commenced and both parties were involved in such. Arjuna’s discussion with Krishna is one example of this, one that while catching everyone’s attention, its details were not known to all parties.

Q. Since the departure of Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada hardly any spiritual master has accepted the title “Prabhupada.” I have heard the word means, “one at whose feet all masters sit.” I was considering that there must be some deeper inner meaning to the word. At what point may one accept the title Prabhupada and when is it proper for one to refer to their guru as “Prabhupada”? I find it difficult to understand why stalwart Vaisnavas like Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami Maharaja are not referred to as “Prabhupada.” Do you have some insight on this?

A. In the title Prabhupada, the word “prabhu” means master. The master it speaks of is God. The second half of the title, “pada,” means feet. Thus Prabhupada indicates one who is at the feet of God, a surrendered soul. Such a person is qualified to help others on the spiritual path. Thus anyone who is so surrendered can be addressed as Prabhupada. Another common address for the guru is Visnupada, which is synonymous with Prabhupada.

In the Gaudiya Saraswata sampradaya stemming from Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada, out of deference to the founder of this branch, most of his disciple/successors have chosen not to be addressed as Prabhupada, the title by which they affectionately remember their beloved master. Their choice in this matter is more one of sentiment than philosophy. If there is any philosophical consideration involved in their choice, it lies in their own humble perception of themselves as less than perfect souls, who are simple following in the footsteps of their own Prabhupada in terms of their serving in the capacity of Sri Guru.

My own divine preceptor, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, is the exception to the above unspoken policy of the disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada. When his young western disciples first heard Akincana Krishnadasa Babaji sing “Jay Prabhupada, Jay Prabhupada” in kirtana at the Sri Caitanya Saraswata Matha of Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Maharaja, they were charmed. This occasion was the appearance (avirbhava) observance of Sridhara Maharaja, attended by my Guru Maharaja and his disciples. Babaji Maharaja was of course chanting in glorification of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada. Afterwards when my Guru Maharaja was asked affectionately by his disciples if they could glorify him by addressing him as such and singing this name, he allowed them to do so and the title stuck.

Q. Is it harmful to one’s spiritual development to have more than one spiritual teacher in the following circumstances: two teachers are in the same spiritual tradition, but they are not godbrothers and neither one of them is the student of the other. Possibly they are like spiritual cousins. A student feels benefit from hearing from both of them. From the student’s perspective, their differences seem more institutional than philosophical. Due to long distances, the student is not in a position to associate in person with either, or to join any institution they may head, but only seeks their guidance through books, the internet, etc. What should the student do? Is it OK to hear from both teachers?

A. If you find in your heart that you are benefiting spiritually from this, then you already know the answer. At the same time, it is wise to seek external confirmation as you have done. Remember this: formalities aside, the most important guru is the one who helps you the most.

Q. I would like to begin spiritual studies. What do you suggest as a first text?

A. I have written very short introductory book entitled Joy of Self. This would be a good book to read to see if the particular tradition that I am representing is one you would like to pursue further. You can purchase it from the site. If you find it heartening, I can suggest other literature, both books I have authored and those of others in the Gaudiya lineage.

Q. Could you explain the real meaning of the word Vaisnava?

A. Vaisnava means “Relating, belonging, consecrated, or devoted to Visnu.” Thus it is appropriate for one who is a devotee of Visnu/Krishna to be called a Vaisnava.

Q. My question is, if the soul is, as you say “asleep” [when in illusion], then who or what is doing the thinking, willing and feeling and making the conscious choices?

A. The soul in its sleep is not fully aware of the extent to which it exists nor as to other aspects of its own nature. Under the influence of material nature (illusion) it makes choices, ones it would not make were it not under this influence. Just as one under the influence of intoxication is said to be someone other than himself, so the illusioned soul is not the true self, the awakened self.

There are three does and simultaneous nondoers in the equation of our material life: God, material nature, and the soul. God is a doer, for nothing moves without God’s sanction. Yet God is not the doer in the sense that God is not responsible for that which takes place, being a self satisfied doer, he moves not out of need and thus without karmic implication. Material nature is a doer, for all of the working of nature and our bodies are but her movements. Yet material nature is a nondoer as well, for material nature is inert and unconscious. The soul is a doer by the force of desire. When it desires something material under the illusion that it is in need, God sanctions material nature to move in relation to that desire for its fulfillment. Yet the soul is a nondoer as well, because when it desires in relation to material nature, it is material nature that acts. These issues are discussed briefly in the third and more elaborately in the fifth chapter of Bhagavad-Gita.

Q. I made a terrible, mistake several years ago, which hurt someone badly. This person is no longer around to make amends to. Is there any way to make spiritual amends? Any way to become pure?

A. The sacred literature tells us that chanting the name of Krishna is the most powerful remedial measure. It can purify one of more evils than one can commit. Otherwise, the attitude of repentance is itself purifying.

Q. Regarding abortion: In your response to anonymous, you say that both the soul incoming and the one aborting are implicated in reaping and initiating karmic reaction.

Do you consider the “one aborting” to be the pregnant woman? What about the man who got her pregnant? Isn’t he initiating karmic reaction as well, or is he just an innocent bystander?

A. Yes the man is also involved and hardly an innocent bystander. Include the doctor in all of this as well.

Q. I would like to know about everything about life.

A. Know enough to love God. More than this is troublesome.

Q. In regard to abortion, do Hindus consider the soul to be present in the fetus – if the baby is unwanted isn’t adoption a more “spiritual” alternative, or is abortion justified (or is it ever even mentioned) in any sacred writings? Is negative karma intensified for the woman who commits the abortion, or is it the soul who WAS GOING TO BE BORN, suffering HIS negative karma when his new physical form is “killed” after 3 months of conception?

A. Hindus consider that the soul enters the womb at the time of conception. Thus it does not condone abortion. However, modern times being what they are call for a thoughtful evaluation of circumstances. Adoption is a viable alternative, but education in spiritual values is the solution. Regarding the karma involved, both the soul incoming and the one aborting are implicated in reaping karmic reaction (fruit) and initiating karmic reaction (seed) respectively.

Q. I read somewhere that Hinduism is silent on homosexuality/bisexuality, and therefore tolerant of it (but that it condemns abortion). The religion presupposes that ALL relationships are karmic, and that since God is in all, and God is in love, should it matter who you choose to love? Could it be that a soul (which has no gender of its own), which was born in a series of female incarnations, but then is born into a male body, still retains its past physical desires of attraction to men? And if that soul chose to find a loyal, “passionate/sacred” (as you describe) same-sex union (without doubt, carrying on from a previous karmic relationship) and then SUBLIMATE the erotic sexual feelings into spiritual love, just as is advised for the hetereosexual spiritual aspirant, would there be anything wrong with it?

A. I don’t think Hinduism is silent on same sex relationships. Yes, all relationships are a product of karma, but that does not make them all good, as there is good and bad karma, and all karma is a product of illusion. In illusion, the soul really does not choose its material partner, as it is asleep. Material relationships are based on the influence of the mind and senses, nothing more. Certainly those who in female bodies are sexually attracted to women and those in male bodies who are similarly attracted to men have retained karmic impressions (samskaras) from their previous lives. The women were most likely men, and the men most likely women previously. However, all sexual attraction, again, is a product of illusion. Thus it must be transcended.

If one in a same sex karmic relationship chose to sublimate his or her love, and in the context of that relationship pursue spiritual life, this would be progressive. However, if you read Aesthetic Vedanta, you will see that it is not advocating even same-sex sexual relationships in this world, rather the erotic life of the Absolute itself. It is the love life of Radha-Krishna that becomes the preoccupation of the spiritual aspirant on this path, leaving material passion whether same sex or otherwise far behind. The beauty of Aesthetic Vedanta is that it recognizes that the erotic urge has its origins in the Absolute, thus making for a transcendental reality that is all consuming and intimate, taking the practitioner beyond reverential love of Godhead.

Q. Do the Vedas say anything about a human being existing on many different planets all at the same time? Am I participating in some relationship with God right now, on Vaikuntha (or wherever) and just don’t realize it due to my material contamination. How can I understand my true identity and relationship with him?

A. The Vedas speak of human life on different material planets, yet often these descriptions appear to be speaking of subtle life forms that would be imperceptible by empiric research. Regarding your own spiritual identity, this is to be awakened through the grace of the Guru and corresponding spiritual practice. This identity is at best dormant at present.

Q. I would like to ask you what you would say to women who object to the statements of sacred books that characterize women as being weak, having hearts like foxes, etc.

A. The sacred texts speak to the soul in the dress of a spiritual practitioner. Because of the cultural context in which these literatures manifested (a patriarchal society), as have their commentators, they appear to be addressing themselves to men. When women are sometimes mentioned in derogatory terms, the literature is warning the spiritual practitioner about those who otherwise might be their ally, but due to spiritual pursuit are potential enemies. Misery loves company. Thus when one develops interest in spiritual life, sometimes he or she must pray, “God, save me from my friends.”

Were the books written in a matriarchal society, they might very well characterize men as they sometimes does women. Our practical experience is that when one becomes interested in spiritual life, be they man or woman, the men and women in their lives often oppose their interest, and like sly foxes they attempt to steal away one’s life for their own interest. Of course this is not always the case, and the sacred texts are also clear on this. Man and woman together may strengthen one another for the spiritual task, if both parties are seriously interested in spiritual pursuit.

We have to catch the spirit of the sacred books and their commentators such that we can differentiate between that which is absolute and that which is relative. Scripture is divided into different sections. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has described them as artha-pada and paramartha-pada. That which deals with the reality of the phenomenal world, and that which deals with the realm of transcendence respectively. Knowledge pertaining to this world, even when it is derived from scripture, is subject to human analysis and logical scrutiny, and thus it is cast in a relative light. This includes, history, geography, psychology, medicine, sociology, and so on.

This is not to say that the scriptures’ discussion of these topics are not full of penetrating insights and more often than not true in many circumstances, rather that there is, under the guidance of an acarya, room to reconsider them in terms of time and circumstances including modern findings. Overriding this, however, is the fact that however we interpret these topics as they are dealt with in scripture, it does not alter the conclusion of the text. Regarding paramartha-pada, this knowledge pertaining to the realm of transcendence is to be accepted, venerated, and not made subordinate to human reasoning. It is to be approached through service and surrender.

Q. If I were a devotee and you were my Guru Maharaja, would it hurt you if I took drugs or ate meat? Would you feel it?

A. It would hurt you. So if I cared for you, it would also hurt me.

Q. Why is there suffering?

A. In the grand scheme of things, suffering serves as negative impetus for the non-liberated to move in the direction of liberation. Otherwise we perceive suffering when we act against our own interest, misconstruing ourselves (units of consciousness) to be matter (mind and body). Why do we do this in spite of so much practical experience and good advice? There is no good reason for it, rather it arises out of poor reasoning.

Q. I like Aesthetic Vedanta very much. I have an old art book from India with many traditional paintings depicting the Gita Govinda. Some of the paintings in this book seem much more “erotic” than what you describe. Does the Gita Govinda present a different Rasa-lila from what you present in Aesthetic Vedanta? Have you left anything out?

A. Jayadeva Goswami’s famous Gita Govinda relates the Vasanta (spring time) rasa-lila. This is different from the rasa-lila of autumn found in the Bhagavatam. While the saradiya purnima (autumn) rasa-lila admits newcomers, the Vasanta-rasa-lila involves only eternal associates of Radha Krishna. This Vasanta-rasa-lila is referred to in Caitanya-caritamrta. It is during this lila that Krishna assumed four arms and appeared before the gopis who were searching for him as Narayana (God). At that time, the gopis paid respects to him and asked if he had seen Krishna.

Q. Could you please talk about Kundalini Sakti in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. I came across other Vaisnava writings in which awakening of Kundalini was essential for spiritual progress. In fact it has been said that it is as a result of awakening of Kundalini that one’s Love for God awakens. Moreover that spiritual progress and the ultimate goal of life are not possible unless Kundalini is awakened. It has also been said that chakras correspond to different lokas. Could you please talk about it.

A. Kundalini sakti is not spiritual in and of itself. Thus it can be awakened by something other than God’s grace. It is also awakened in the course of spiritual progress. In Gaudiya Vaisnavism, God consciousness is a result of the spiritual hladini (joy) and samvit (cognitive) sakti dawning in the heart (shuddha sattva visesatma prema suryamsu samyabak Brs. 1.3.1). These shaktis belong to Krishna’s own internal sakti, his nature. When they are shared with the soul, that soul can function in Krishna lila. As for the cakras corresponding with the planets, this is perhaps ah cosmic viewpoint (adhidaivika), but there are quite a few more plants than there are cakras. I am not familiar with the Vaisnava writings you refer to.

Q. What is Gaudiya Vaisnava view on people who are recognized as saints within Hinduism in general, such as Sri Rama Krishna Paramahansa. It has been said that in the course of his life he practiced many different paths and that he reached God’s vision through all of them. It was then that he proclaimed “Truth is one, sages call it by many names.” In the course of his life he also practiced Vaisnava sadhana and spoke beautiful words of Sri Caitanya.

A. Hinduism is vast and there are adepts within each of its disciplines. Gaudiya Vaisnavism has its own criteria for sainthood. By its standards saints of other traditions may not be so, but they are indeed saints within their own discipline. Regarding Rama Krishna, just what discipline he followed it difficult to sort out. There is the tantric mystic RK, and then there is Vivekananda’s conception of RK as a Vedantist. Vivekananda was only 22 when RK died. He was educated in British schools: he was not trained in sacred literature; he did not read Sanskrit. RK was illiterate and also untrained in the sacred literature. The actual historical record shows that RK was a mystic with some power and a skewed idea of bhakti. The RK Mission of Vivekananda denies this, claiming that RK was really a learned Advaita Vedantist.

As for RK practicing the sadhana of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and his claim that all truths lead to the same goal, there are some problems with this. For example, he claimed to have experienced the mahabhava of Sri Radha. However, according to the tradition, that would require that he develop sthayi-bhava in srngara-rasa (see the first chapter of Aesthetic Vedanta). The nature of the sthayi-bhava is that it can not be changed, but RK claims to have developed it and then left it. Furthermore while claiming to have attained it, he did not follow the sadhana required to do so. As this is a misrepresentation of the tradition, it creates doubts in Gaudiya Vaisnavas as to just what RK was all about.

Q. Is it advisable for partners in a marriage to have gurus from two different Vaisnava lineages? For example, one partner from the Gaudiya lineage the other from the Sri sampradaya of Ramanuja. Is it acceptable for a husband and a wife to have different gurus in general, and what are the chances of success spiritually and otherwise?

A. Association should be svajatiya, like-minded, for the best results. Marriage may or may not work when partners have different gurus. If the couple respect one another’s ideals and are in a religious mode of practice, the marriage can be successful to some extent. However, if spiritual practice intensifies and develops from religious life into experiential spiritual life, the couple will have much less in common. Each will hunger for company that is svajatiya to help them intensify their practice. Within the Gaudiya lineage, the notion of svajatiya extends to include the diverse spiritual emotions for Krishna that arise in the purified heart. Thus those who develop a taste for vatsalya-bhava (parental love of God) will not associate intimately with those who aspire for madhurya-bhava (conjugal love of God).

Q. You mentioned before that you are thinking of writing an adaptation of the Bhagavad-gita. Why is there little mention of Aesthetic Vedanta’s ‘sacred passionate love’ in Krishna’s most famous Gita?

A. In the Gita, Krishna is not in the mood of passionate love. Still there are hints of it in the Gita. I have cited the 10th, 12th, and 18th chapters of the Gita in the last chapter of Aesthetic Vedanta, pointing to hints of passionate love. The 9th chapter also indirectly refers to it. We cannot expect the full face of sacred passionate love to appear in Bhagavad-Gita because at the time it was spoken Krishna of Vraja had already left the world, leaving his expansion (Vasudeva Krishna) to complete his lila.

Q. I have been reading Sanatana Goswami’s 16th century Brhad-bhagavatamrta. You have referred to this book on a number of occasions in your books. It is an amazing work, breathtaking. Its origin, however, is a little unclear to me. It seems Sanatana Goswami is saying that it was revealed to him, but then he seems to speak of it as an actual historical event dating back to the time of the Bhagavata Purana itself. Did it exist in some form before Sanatana Goswami?

A. It did not exist in any form, puranic or otherwise, before Sanatana Goswami wrote it. The idea found within the text that it was spoken by Pariksit to his mother Uttara, etc. can be taken as a realization of the author, or a literary device. I take it both ways, as Sanatana Goswami is a siddha and a literary genius. As for insistence on its being a revelation and thus a real historical event, we can concur with this in the spirit of “Whatever appears in the mind of a siddha is reality.”

Q. It seems like Brhad-bhagavatamrta is a very important book in the Gaudiya line. I don’t think the full range and scope of the Gaudiya ontology has ever been made more clear and compelling to me before. Is someone planning a contemporary definitive edition in English? If not, perhaps you should consider doing it. Certainly among the Western Gaudiyas, you are the most qualified candidate to do it justice. Would it be accurate to say that the Bhagavatamrta is the distilled essence of the Bhagavata Purana?

A. It is the first book of the Six Goswamis, a seminal work of the Gaudiya tradition. Yes, it is the distilled essence of the Bhagavata Purana in very readable format. Sanatana Goswami himself wrote his own commentary on the book. This lends further to the idea that the book itself, while conforming with the conclusions of the sacred literature, was his own revelation. Thus the need for his commentary. As for a contemporary edition, I don’t know of anyone who is working on one. It does need to be brought out, and whoever does it will make a major contribution to English speaking members of the Gaudiya tradition and spiritual thinkers in general.

Q. Do you think that chanting Krishna’s name in the streets is a good way to promote the tradition?

A. Relatively speaking, not at this time in the West.

Q. I heard that you were raising miniature cows from India at your ashram. How could I get one?

A. They are beautiful, and they make excellent pets. In many ways they are the life of Audarya. We have bulls and cows available now at varying prices depending on their age and color.

Q. What is the difference between meditation on Krishna-lila and mental contemplation?

A. Mind is possessed of an enjoying spirit in its marriage with the senses. Together they exploit the world. Mental contemplation of Krishna lila, although perhaps a starting point, can involve projecting the spirit of exploitation into the lila. This in turn produces a distorted notion of the nature of that lila. Nonetheless we must start somewhere. Thus nama smaranam or contemplating the sacred name of Krishna in japa is recommended, as is and more so group chanting (sankirtana) of Krishna’s sacred name. This gives rise to a purified heart and mind possessed of a serving spirit with which to meditate upon Krishna-lila. Meditation requires a pure heart of dedication, not one of exploitation. One cannot chant the name of Krishna and be carried away in an enjoying spirit unless one is distracted by musical accompaniment and melody. In that case, put down the instruments and just chant. Try it.

Q. As I understand Eastern spirituality, enlightenment is not about going anywhere. Pema Chodron was recently quoted in Utne Reader as having said, “Anyone who thinks enlightenment is about going somewhere doesn’t understand spiritual life.” To me this is right on, “be here now.” I loved the book, however, in your tradition you seem to advocate going somewhere—to Krishna’s land. This does not seem to resonate with being attentive to the present. Am I missing something?

A. The here and now is Krishna’s land. We, however, think it is ours. Lifting the veil of illusion (maya) is about relinquishing our sense of false proprietorship. If place corresponds with consciousness, changing our consciousness is about going somewhere else, somewhere we have never been, right here, now.

Q. I was wondering about the eroticism in much of the Krishna art. Much of this was painted by nonpractitioners. Do you think that this art, being influenced by nonspiritual thinking, is sometimes misleading and inappropriate? With art, as opposed to the written word, there is no explanation, and one’s mundane imagination can easily take over.

A. I worked with some artists from Rajasthan who were not initiated spiritual practitioners, yet their appreciation of the spiritual nature of Krishna lila was apparent. As for the Mogul period, those who painted for the Mogul rulers, as well as the rulers themselves, certainly had higher moral standards than our society does today. Thus, what might appear distasteful and potentially misleading to us may not have brought the same thoughts to their minds. The problem may lie more with ourselves than the artists.

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