Found in Sanga, Sanga 2001.

Q. We have countless teachings from the Vedas but how does one apply these to our Western day to day life?

A. While much of the religious and cultural teachings of the Vedas may seem inapplicable in modern society, the essence of the Vedas, Vedanta, is not so. The essence of Vedanta is bhakti, and it is easy to engage in bhakti by hearing and chanting about Krishna.

It is not practical to engage in activities that we know from our own intelligence and previous experience are not in our interest, yet we do this regularly by the force of our minds and senses. Vedanta teaches us that it is practical to strive to control the mind and senses, and it offers practical means for achieving this.

It teaches that we are consciousness, and that all manifestations of matter come to life only through association with consciousness. While consciousness animates matter, the totality of matter also has the potential to take over the life of a unit of consciousness. Consciousness bewildered by matter cannot find itself.

Although it lives everywhere and always, its identification with a particular manifestation of matter’s psychic and physical dimensions (body/mind) cause it to think in terms of the limitations of that particular manifestation. We think that birds can live in the sky and fish in the depths of the ocean. However, these are not their fullest potential, but rather the limitations imposed upon units of consciousness identified with wings and fins.

As humans we sense that we could do all of the things we see other creatures do and more. Thus we strive to fly in the sky, dive to the depths of the ocean, and experience all of life. Vedanta speaks to humans society and tells the modern world ‘OM.’ Yes! you can do anything! It confirms the deepest sense within us that surfaces in human life, and then it proceeds to tell us how to experience this freedom.

The sense that freedom is within the realm of possibility indirectly sheds light on the fact of our present bondage. This bondage is rooted in or identification with the body and mind and its extensions in all that we call ‘mine.’ Our present identity is based on our attachments. We are wife because of our attachments to our husband, a mother because of our attachment to children, etc. These fleeting identities tell us little about our self. When the naked truth regarding these attachments is revealed, the possibility of finding our authentic self is at hand, and the possibility of truly loving is within reach.

Q. Is worship of Mohini in the Gaudiya lineage?

A. We worship all Visnu Murtis. However, Sri Caitanya and Nityananda Prabhu are our particular Deities of worship and thereby Radha Krishna and Krishna Balarama. In the Gaudiya lineage of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura (Bhaktivinoda parivara), more than worshipping any Visnu forms, we stress the venerable object of Krishna, who is the most complete form of Visnu (God). The object of Krishna’s worship is Radha. However, it is not good to think of worship in terms of its being relevant to our material status as men or women. Worship is an exercise of the soul.

Q. What is your opinion of widows remarrying? It seems odd to me that the Vedic culture which claims that women always need to be protected, would not allow women without sons old enough to look after them to get remarried.

A. Isolating a social norm form an ancient culture and trying to make sense out of it in terms of modern sensibilities is problematic. I am confident that there were numerous elements in place in Vedic culture that enabled the prohibition against women remarrying to work and make sense, but I am not an expert on Vedic social customs. As far as I know, in ancient times the family unit was stronger and widowed women were protected by family members and encouraged to pursue spiritual life while other members of the greater family helped to care for a widow’s children.

However, today we see an abuse of this principle in modern India, where widows are victims of grave social injustice even in Vrindavana. Apparently this principle was also abused during the time of Sri Caitanya, who criticized the socioreligious policy that enjoined widows to follow ekadasi, while other women were absolved from this austerity. While Prabhupada spoke in favor of the original principle, he did not enforce it in his mission. He did allow women to remarry, but he encouraged both men and women not to remarry. Personally, I have no objection to a widow remarrying if this brings greater balance to her life and thereby help her to focus more on spiritual pursuit.

Q. How are we to understand Prabhupada’s purport to Bhagavatam, 8.8.9 which indicates that women like to be violated?

A. Sometimes saints make remarks regarding social and psychological issues relative to the information they received on a particular subject. These statements are not absolute.

Q. Why are there few or no female gurus in the Gaudiya sampradaya recently, especially in Iskcon and the Gaudiya Matha?

A. If a woman were eminently qualified, I think she would be recognized in either of these missions. However, many male gurus in these missions are less than eminently qualified . Perhaps this is one reason why you find an element of sexism there.

Q. I have a young daughter and I want her to grow up to be the best devotee she can be and not feel limited because she’s a woman. Should I worry about her imbibing sexist concepts from Prabhupada’s books?

A. I wouldn’t worry about your daughter reading Prabhupada’s books. She should be guided to focus on what is essential. Prabhupada mentions many things with regard to ancient culture, but in his practical example he adjusted his application of the scripture’s essential teachings in consideration of modern times. This was the undeniable spirit of his preaching. His books extol the virtues of ancient Vedic culture, which he said had a policy of not allowing women to study the scripture. However, in his own mission he encouraged his female disciples to study his books and preach from them, rather than restricting women from Vedic studies.

Q. What are the means by which one can eliminate the ego? If for example I am insulted, what is the difference between egoism and maintaining one’s dignity?

A. Our ego is our sense of identity arising from association with matter. When we associate with matter we think of ourselves in terms of its limitations. However, because we are consciousness and not matter we also sense that the fullness of life involves mastery over matter. Spiritual discipline is the true means to gain this mastery, and it involves transcending the material sense of identity, our ego, altogether. In the Krishna bhakti tradition our discipline involves the cultivation of our actual identity, a byproduct of which is transcendence of our material ego. When we chant the name of Krishna, we do so with the aim of being engaged in his service, identifying our self as a servant of God, rather than as a slave to our mind and senses. While the mind and senses may dictate an agenda for us, we must consider whether following that agenda is in the interest of serving God.

This ongoing determination and the struggle to identify with God’s service over the demands of the mind and senses is the heart of spiritual practice for beginners. When we accept that which is favorable for Krishna’s service and reject that which is unfavorable disregarding what the mind and senses dictate is favorable or unfavorable, we tread the first step of saranagati (surrender). This saranagati is the stage on which the drama of Krishna lila is performed. Our role in that transcendental drama constitutes our real identity, and when we realize this identity over time our material ego will be retired as if it were nothing more than a dream. To live and breath in pursuit of this is to live a life of self dignity. Otherwise in a general sense we should try not to react to personal insults and succumb to the level of those who insult us. This is the dignified position to take.

Q. How can we avoid committing offenses against the Holy Name?

A. The principle means of overcoming offense to the Holy Name of Krishna is paying attention while chanting the Holy Name. You must listen carefully and stop the mind form its habitual wandering. Our ability to pay attention is generally relative to the degree of our understanding as to what the chanting is all about. Thus repeatedly hearing the teachings of our lineage from advanced devotees is essential. This and incessant chanting will bring success.

Q. Mahaprabhu gave a unique thing, manjari bhava and he gave a way of attaining it, siddha pranali followed by intense meditation on the guru given svarupa. Why do you object to this?

A. We have no objection to this. We agree. The question is at what point the guru reveals one’s svarupa. Nistha involves an ista devata. Ruci follows this kind of bhajan kriya. Ruci forms the basis of one’s svarupa. The guru sees his disciple’s ruci and helps him to realize his svarupa by teaching him how to cultivate that ruci. When asakti develops, one actually glimpses his svarupa and then enters into bhava bhakti where the bhava that constitutes one’s svarupa is further cultivated., Bhava bhakti, although a distinct division of bhakti is nonetheless comprised of elements found in both sadhana bhakti and prema bhakti. Practice continues and bhava is ray of the sun of prema. No doubt one must contemplate in his sadhana that which he will attain in prema, but sadhana is not relative only to anistha bhajana kriya.

Some of my Godbrothers received siddha pranali from Lalita Prasada Thakura, while other of his disciples who had been serving him for much longer had not. Why? Bhaktivinoda Thakura details a gradual development of bhakti in his Jaiva Dharma. At what point in the book does the principle character, Vijay Kumara, receive siddha pranali? It is at the end of the book. What stage of development is he in at that time? When did his lobhamayi-sraddha awaken, and at what stage of the intensification of his lobha was he given siddha pranali? One may be a kanista adhikari on the raga marg whose lobhamayi sraddha is komala (tender) and subject to alteration. It may not be advisable to give siddha pranali to this kind of devotee.

Q. Isn’t it true that because Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur never received siddha pranali diksa and could not give it to his disciples, he therefore developed another method?

A. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura followed the instructions of Gaura Kishore das babaji, “You will realize your svarupa in the syllables of the Hare Krishna mantra.” How do you know what he received or did not receive from Gaura Kishore dasa babaji?

Q. Well, I have faith in the Gaudiya Mahajans like Narottama das and Bhaktivinoda who followed the tradition and not some newly developed method?

A. And I have faith in those who awakened faith in my heart, from whom we both learned about Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Narottama das Thakura.

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