Found in Sanga, Sanga 2001.

Q. According to Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy Srimad-Bhagavatam stands as the supermost unrivaled scripture. It appears that in other Puranas the ultimate reality has not been fully explained and in several places Vyasa has partially given sanction for meat-eaters, drunkards, and demigod worshippers. In Siva Purana, Lord Siva is depicted as the source of Lord Visnu but in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Visnu is said to be the source of Siva. Why all these contradictions that have created havoc in present day so-called Hinduism?

A. This topic is discussed in Sri Jiva Goswami’s Tattva-sandarbha. The Puranas were written in consideration of the threefold influence of the material modes of nature. Thus they encourage worship such that those influenced by the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance will all be enthused to participate. Accordingly, the glories of various gods and goddesses are described. These Puranas detail partial religious insights that appeal to different types of conditioning. Understanding them in context, however, requires reading the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad-Bhagavatam). Srimad-Bhagavatam is amala purana, the spotless Purana intended for those interested in life beyond the modes of nature. It is Vedanta at its best, artho yam brahma sutranam.

Not all scriptural statements are true. The scripture sometimes employs exaggeration to achieve its purpose. It must be studied systematically in consideration of context—tat tu samanvayat, and it must be studied under the guidance of a sadhu. Srimad-Bhagavatam is the hub around which the scripture can be understood in context.

Furthermore, scripture is ultimately provisional in nature, although this is evident only to spiritually advanced souls who can read between its lines. Ostensibly it is written so as to conceal its provisional nature with emphasis on its authority such that the general reader will be moved to regard it and come under its do’s and don’ts and thus live religiously. Leading a religious life, one gradually understands the scripture’s essential message, transcending its jurisdiction. But even at that point one is drawn to Srimad-Bhagavatam, as was Sukadeva Goswami. He was beyond scripture, nirgrantha, yet attracted to the lilas of Krishna, which are the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam and in which there is no exaggeration. The Bhagavatam implores us to hear Krishna-lila and enter the raga-marg.

anugrahaya bhaktanam
manusam deham asritah
bhajate tadrsih krida
yah srutva tat-paro bhavet

“Krishna manifests his eternal humanlike form and performs his pastimes to show mercy to the devotees. Having heard such pastimes, one must serve him.”

Here the word bhavet is in the imperative. One must serve Krishna after hearing his lilas because they are so attractive. Those with feeling can understand this.

To obtain a copy of Jiva Goswami’s Tattva-sandarbha, click here.

Q. My friends and I were discussing how we came to the material world. They questioned that if we are all pure, being part and parcel of Krishna, how would we even desire to be separate from our blissful experience?

A. Our material conditioning did not originate in the spiritual world. It is a result of beginningless karma. At the same time, we have an inherent spiritual prospect that exists in the spiritual world but is yet to be activated. The medium between our conditioned life and our spiritual prospect is Sri Guru. When he relates to us in terms of our spiritual prospect while simultaneously acknowledging our conditioning, he sometimes speaks about our spiritual prospect as if we have fallen from it.

Q. Sometimes it is described that the fallen jiva takes his first birth as Brahma and then degenerates. At other times, we hear that the progressive soul can go “back to Godhead” along with Brahma at the final annihilation. It seems there must be different types of Brahmas, one going up and one going down. Is this correct? Also, if we first become a Brahma, what is the process for entering the lower species?

A. Brahma is the first born (although unborn/aja) jiva at the beginning of each cycle of creation. His position represents the most subtle form of karmic influence or deviation. It is not that every jiva first takes birth as Brahma and then descends to lower species of life. As consciousness individualizes in adherence to the principle of karma from its merged condition of susupti within Maha-Visnu, the first individual to appear is the leader among those under the rule of karma—Brahma. Only in this sense does the jiva first become Brahma. From the conglomerate of jiva-sakti the first individual jiva to emerge is Brahma. Others take their place in creation with his help in accordance with the determination of karmic law. Those who move step-by-step in the direction of liberation attain the planet of Brahma and are liberated with him at the end of the karmic cycle. With the beginning of the new cycle the best of those who have remained within karmic rule appears as Brahma.

Having said this, it is worth noting that Srila Prabhupada and other acaryas have for the sake of simplicity in preaching sometimes explained that the jiva falls from its spiritual position at some point in time, appearing first as Brahma and then gradually falling to the lowest species.

Q. I am an impersonalist and I don’t understand why there is so much animosity in Gaudiya Vaisnavism toward my understanding of the Ultimate Truth as formless, pure consciousness; this is the only way I can presently conceive of God. But I also understand the need for me to have a relationship with a personal manifestation of God through bhakti. However, according Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sri Harinama Cintamani, it is an offense for anybody like myself with impersonalist tendencies to chant the Holy Name. Is it wrong therefore for me to chant? And if so, why?

A. The statements of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and others against impersonalists refer to those who, while embracing a formless conception of the Absolute, in effect vilify the eternal form of Godhead venerated by the devotional sects of Vedanta, the Vaisnavas.

Vaisnavism is a grace-based spiritual path in which bhakti is superior to knowledge, or bhakti itself is considered the highest form of knowledge. Those interested in suddha (pure) bhakti must uproot any impersonal tendencies in order to progress naturally toward their spiritual ideal. Impersonalists may have some spiritual standing of their own, but those interested in a doctrine of love rather than knowledge must understand the impersonalist doctrine and be careful to avoid it.

The difference between the bhakti Vedanta of the Gaudiyas and the impersonal Vedanta of Sankara is detailed in Jiva Goswami’s Tattva-sandarbha. This book would help you very much in understanding the differences.

I have also given an explanation of the eternal form and lila of Krishna in Aesthetic Vedanta, as well as in my other book Rasa: Love Relationships in Transcendence. These books will prove very helpful to you in terms of being able to conceive of an Absolute that has form and is at the same time all-pervading.

It is not wrong for you to chant, and the statements of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and others do not pertain to persons like yourself, but rather to those who are committed to impersonalism and deny the existence of the eternal form of the Lord. Their chanting does not bring any pleasure to Krishna because they are chanting to get something from Him rather than out of love for Him. Try to chant for the pleasure of Radha-Krishna and nothing else.

Q. Lord Krishna said in Bhagavad-gita that He descends on earth to establish religion when there is a rise in irreligiosity. On the other hand, it is said in Bhagavatam that when Lord Krishna disappeared from the earth, religion (dharma) disappeared with him. This seems to be a contradiction, and why is the effect of Kali-yuga strong enough to erode the foundations of dharma that were established by Lord Krishna when He appeared?

A. It is mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam that when Krishna returned to his abode (krsne svadhamopagate) he was accompanied by religion and knowledge (dharma-jnanadibhih saha). However, those who have lost their vision due to the ensuing Kali-yuga (kalau nasta drsam esa) can get light from the Bhagavata Purana (puranako ‘dhunoditah). Srimad-Bhagavatam is the book incarnation of Krishna, the essence of the literature dealing with the subject of Brahman (puranam brahma-sammitam). This book is the heart of Krishna and therefore after his departure he left his heart in the world and then came back to reclaim it as Sri Caitanya. Sri Caitanya is Krishna searching for Radha’s bhava. That bhava is the heart of Krishna found in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Those who take advantage of this book and its deepest understanding as revealed by Sri Caitanya will know prema-dharma, the end of all knowledge, and they will be able to step over ordinary dharma. Krishna left after establishing dharma, but he left room for his descent as Sri Caitanya as well. Kali-yuga has its time. Kali represents a residue of irreligiousity that requires expression. It is not the position of Krishna to do way with Kali-yuga altogether, but he does meet the brunt of its irreligiousity with widescale distribution of love of God in the form of Sri Caitanya.

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