Found in Sanga, Sanga 2001.


February 27th, 2001 | No Comments

Q. How is it possible to attain realization of the Absolute by following a particular method? Isn´t God realized in a more perfect and complete way if one is free from all limited ideas, and when the mind is void of all accumulated knowledge from the past?

A. The Upanisads inform that both words and mind are not capable of capturing the Absolute. However, the logic that specific descriptions of God are a limitation on the Absolute is not perfect. Indeed, such descriptions may give us a clearer picture than we might arrive at otherwise. Taken in this way, we understand the Upanisads to be saying that God is not indescribable (iksater na sabdat). Rather, there is not enough we can say about the Absolute! The more we hear about God the better equipped we will be to understand him.

While divine revelation must be free from sectarianism and thus represent the greatest generality, it must also possess the greatest wealth of positive content. Doing away with distinctive features of the Absolute we find ourselves, not at the zenith of divine truth, but at the lowest common denominator, the bare minimum of religious content, Brahman at best, if not nihilism leading to atheism. Rather than making the indifferent foundation of religion found in all sects the highest conception of divinity, the perfect religion is the one that contains within it all other religious conceptions – a complete religious synthesis. This is the Krishna conception of Godhead.

Descriptions of the form of Krishna are intended to dismantle our mental constructs, freeing us from all limited ideas. Thus he is appropriately described as being possessed of contradictory qualities and engaged in unbelievable lilas. Careful study of the descriptions of Krishna reveal an Absolute that is inconceivable to the mind, one in which all contradictions are resolved in a plane where they can simultaneously exist.

This plane is beyond the mind. When we meditate on this plane, on Krishna, we go beyond the mind and enter the land of all possibilities. All accumulated knowledge from the past is turned upside down. The sun appears closer than the moon. Descriptions of Krishna are incomplete inasmuch as one can never fully describe him, yet at the same time they do not limit one who contemplates them from realizing the Absolute. Indeed, they take one to the very heart of divinity.

Incidentally, when the theistic mind suffers from lack of logic to dispell arguments such as the one you have just posed, and one’s sadhana suffers along with it, this is evidence that one is not yet eligible for raganuga-sadhana. Such a sadhaka has not even become free from the need for logic and scriptural mandates (natra sastram na yuktin ca) to fuel his or her bhajana, much less being possessed of a passionate desire for following in the wake of Krishna’s dearest devotees’ love. Furthermore, the so-called spiritual greed (lobha) that is incapable of generating such logic in the face of opposition is very weak at best. It needs strong support from vaidhi-bhakti if it is to ever blossom into actual lobha, qualifying one for raganuga-sadhana proper.

Q. You say ‘the Upanisads inform that both words and mind are not capable of capturing the Absolute.’ So what is the use of trying to describe the Absolute?

A. This is what the Upanisads do. They describe the Absolute. Such is the nature of revelation. As I already explained, although the mind and words are incapable of capturing the Absolute, this is so becasue not enough can be said about it. This implies that much can be said, and that which can be said is useful. Were this not the case the scripture itself would be suicidal.

Q. How can any description give us a clearer picture, if the Absolute cannot be conceived or described?

A. As I explained, the Absolute can be described. It is described in the scripture, however not exhaustively. One could just as well ask, how can one arrive at an understanding of the Absolute without hearing about it?

Q. Isn´t it the opposite, that the less we hear about the Absolute, the more open one becomes for actually experiencing the Absolute? Because in one´s consciousness there will be no limitations imposed on the Absolute, thus the mind is totally open.

A. Unfortunately, we hear about all kinds of things all the time, and thus our minds are hardly ‘open.’ Thus, the more we hear about God, the more our mind becomes open to God and the idea of going beyond the limitation of thought. However, such hearing must be submissive and in relation to one who knows God, a realized soul. Otherwise, hearing about the Absolute from anywhere and everywhere may lead to agnosticism.

Q. Why ascribe either positive or negative qualities to the Absolute Reality? Is not the Absolute both positive and negative at the same time and thereby beyond both? Your conception of Brahman or Bhagavan seems limited, but the actual Absolute is not the same as those conceptions, it is beyond that.

A. If you cannot say more about the Absolute as those great souls exhibiting spiritual qualities have said in describing God as Brahman and Bhagavan, etc., than this certainly appears to be a limitation on your part. If you insist that saying anything about the Absolute limits God and one’s capacity to realize God, then it would be best to bow out of this discussion altogether. Personally, I do not find it more profound, enlightening, or useful to hear that descriptions of God as Brahman or Bhagavan are limiting and that God is indescribeably beyond both.

Q. I wouldn´t limit the Absolute with any words, but let the experience speak for itself. When you start describing reality it immediately becomes a part of the area of the known, whereas the Absolute actually is unknown, and can never be captured by imagination.

A. Once you have the experience will you not try to describe it? And if so, will that not be useful? Moreover, you are already describing reality, albeit negatively, by saying what it is not.

Q. Which acarya of bhakti marga do you think has most accurately interpreted the shrutis and puranas, and what appropriate or relevant litreture is available in this regard. It is extremely difficult for a beginer, though very keen to co-relate the various doctrines of different acharyas to have one good birds eye view.They all appear to be looking at the same thing from their indivdual point of view, yet all claim akvakyata inaccordence their individual interpretation.

A. All acaryas on the bhakti marga have accurately interpreted the sastra in accordance with their particular spiritual taste and direct perception of reality. Their commentaries are revealed knowledge. Although they describe the Absolute differently, they all agree that bhakti and Visnu are eternal. I prefer the writings of Sri Jiva Goswami, whose interpretation has never been formally challenged. In his Sat-sandarbha treatise he has honored Ramanuja, Madhva, Sridhara Swami, and other venerable Vaisnavas from different sects, and he has drawn support from them in positing his own particular interpretation.

Some of Jiva Goswami’s writings are available in English and a number of his followers in the Gaudiya Vedanta tradition have brought out authentic works that represent his and Sri Caitanya’s insight. My edition of Sri Jiva Goswami’s Tattva-sandarbha, Sacred India’s Philosophy of Ecstasy would be a good introduction to his work.

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. Sacred? Profane? Isn’t it all the Self?

A. At the highest level of God realization it could be said that there is nothing sacred or profane. Sacred and profane are relative considerations. However, we can not live in the highest reality merely by intellectualizing about it. In order to realize God we must distinguish between sacred and profane on this plane with the help of saints and sacred literature, and under such guidance we must take up spiritual practice. We must accept that which is favorable to our spiritual progress as sacred and reject that which is not, considering it (in your words) profane.

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 RamaKrishna, 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. My question has to do with the eternal position of the jiva. If each of us has an eternal spiritual relationship that is fixed, why is the Gaudiya conception almost exclusively concerned with Madhura rasa? If each jiva has a particlar relationship that they think is the highest, what about all of those who have a different eternal relationship from Madhura rasa?

A. According to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the jiva’s love for Krishna is dormant in the soul. However, it cannot be activated without the connection with Sri Guru. Other Gaudiya Vaisnavas differ on this point. They say that the svarupa of the jiva is not dormant. They say that it is planted in the jiva in a seed form at the time of initiation.

I think that under scrutiny they are saying the same thing, although it sounds otherwise at first. At any rate, we follow Bhaktivinoda Thakura as represented by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. In this lineage we are taught that the svarupa is dormant and it awakens through association. ‘Madhurya rati’ is stressed because this is the farthest reach of spiritual attainment that Mahaprabhu came to give. It is the essence of Vrindavana, where all the other rasas participate in facilitating madhurya directly or indirectly.

If we preach the glory of Radha-Govinda’s union, in due course we will find our own place in relation to it. In our group most devotees awaken attraction to either manjari bhava, or the love of Subala, Krishna’s bosom buddy, who assists him in his conjugal affairs as well as cowherding.

Q. One can say that qualitatively we are the same as God, but quantitatively we are different. That seems quite logical at first glance, but what does ‘quantity’ mean on that plane? Is that not merely quality again?

A. Under scrutiny we are quantitatively and qualitatively different from God. However, because we are a particle of one of his saktis, we are simultaneously one with him. His saktis have their ground in him with no independent existence.

Leave a Reply

* Name, Email, and Comment are Required

Subscribe without commenting