Q. I have been very fortunate to receive one of the advance copies of your Bhagavad-gita and have been enjoying it and appreciate your perspective. One could not help but notice on two occasions thus far into the book your viewpoint and/or the viewpoint of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura concerning literalism within the scriptures. For example, you stated that the size of the atma (soul) as described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam is not to be taken literally. If it pleases you, tell me why it is not to be taken literally? Is it not that if Vyasadeva made such a statement it is then indeed a fact? Similarly, if Vedic literatures state that the moon is farther away from the earth than the sun, where is the need to question? The only alternative is modern science, which is based on the research of fallible beings and is questionable to say the least.
A. The answer to your question is that we must study the scripture under the guidance of a realized soul. Scripture is the passive agent of divinity, and the sadhu and guru are active agents who bring the true meaning of scripture to light. Simply taking everything in scripture literally will cause as many problems for some as taking everything metaphorically does for others. The balance lies in hearing from realized devotees in the present.
You cited the example of the scriptural statement (not found in Srimad-Bhagavatam) that the soul is one ten-thousandth the size of the tip of a hair. Why can’t this statement be taken literally? Because the scripture also states that the soul is immeasurable (aprameyasya) and with modern instrumentation it may be possible to measure one ten-thousandth the tip of a hair.
The individual soul is atomic whereas God is all-pervasive. God is infinite and the individual soul is infinitesimal. Thus in scripture the individual soul is compared with very small things. In Svetasvatara Upanisad (5.8) the soul is compared to the the size of one’s thumb because it dwells in the heart, which in humans is approximately the size of the human thumb. Here the sruti is speaking metaphorically, because actually the soul is atomic in size. Therefore, the same sruti goes on to say the soul is the sizeof the point of a goad, and in the following verse (Svet. U. 5.9) the soul is compared to a fraction of the tip of a hair. These comparisons are meant to indicate that the individual soul is atomic rather than all-pervasive. While the jiva soul is atomic, at the same time it has the power to pervade the entire body through its inherent knowledge/sentience.
It is immeasurable, yet it has a definite size because it is not all-pervading like God. Where in the body does it reside? Scripture says in the region of the heart. Here scripture is speaking to humans and it says that the soul resides in the vital region of the body—the heart. What about those species that do not have hearts? The soul in these bodies resides in the vital region of these species, that which when destroyed causes the soul to depart. It is the source of vitality within the body.
Another example of metaphorical speech in scripture is the descriptionof the Paramatma appearing in the human heart the size of one’s thumb. Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu has explained in his Govinda bhasya that this is a figurative description for the sake of conceptualization during meditation. Because meditation is possible for humans, the human heart has been mentioned. Vedanta-sutra says, hridi apeksayas tu manusya adhikaratvat: “The size of the thumb is in reference to the human heart, because humans are qualified to meditate on God in their heart and thus imagine him to be limited to that size.”
Sometimes there is exaggeration in scripture, metaphorical speech, etc. However, it should be made clear that exaggeration does not occur in descriptions of Krishna lila, which is governed by acintya sakti (inconceivable energy). Although much of Krishna lila serves as a metaphor through which we are taught a philosophical conclusion, Krishna lila itself is a reality—the highest reality. Otherwise, poetic license is sometimes invoked throughout the Bhagavatam, which is an explanation of the Absolute through poetry (rasa sastra).
Q. How does one know a bona fide spiritual master? And where does one begin to look?
A. The guru reveals himself to the disciple when he brings him to the “teachable moment.” First look for the guru within yourself with honesty and integrity and assess your inner necessity for spiritual guidance. Without Sri Guru we are adrift at sea with no rudder. When you feel this way, you will know what to do. From within your heart, Krishna will guide you to a fitting representative.
Q. I’ve heard lectures of a certain Vaishnava bhakta that are simply wonderful. He preaches raganuga bhakti but as per information available on his website, he doesn’t belong to any lineage or disciplic succession. So is it really important to belong to a lineage to know and love Krishna?
A. In our lineage we do not give much credence to those who have no lineage, no guru. Krishna himself in the Bhagavad-gita mentions the system of Guru-Parampara as the means by which he establishes Krishna consciousness in the world. Our Krishna consciousness is not so much validated by what we can say or the number of people we can bring under our stamp, but rather by how well we serve those in our line who have come before us. Without Guru and Vaisnava seva there is no Krishna consciousness, no raganuga. The term raganuga speaks not only of raga (spiritual love and attachment), but more so anuga—following. Raganuga bhakti is about following and serving those who have raga for Krishna. Certainly everyone learns about Krishna from someone. If we do not even mention this person, acknowledging our eternal debt to him or her, we lack basic gratitude. How then can we have anuraga for Radha Govinda?
Q. Is the Sanskrit language spoken in the spiritual world or only on the higher planets by demigods? And what about the Tamil language? It is said that it was taught by Lord Siva and has nothing to do with Sanskrit.
A. Sanskrit is considered to be the language of the gods, deva nagari, but it is not inherently spiritual. In the spiritual world the language is love. Selflessness is the basis of communion there, which is not limited by language. However, the human-like lilas of Krishna and Mahaprabhu, while fully spiritual, employ Sanskrit and Bengali. And as far as I know the Tamil language is derived from Sanskrit.
Q. How do ghosts communicate in the subtle body?
A. Ghosts exist in the mental realm and communicate through the mind.
Q. Are minerals conscious in any sense? Do they have a soul?
A. Minerals are alive. Sometimes yogis and Buddhists take birth as minerals and gems and in doing so feel no suffering.
Q. In my opinion, the love and lila concepts are very difficult to combine. The elements of chance, lightness, frivolity, and inconsequence that appear inseparable from the lila idea are not compatible with the vision of God as eternal love. Please, help me to understand this.
A. While Krishna lila involves eternal love, Krishna himself embodies the very act of love in transcendence and thus includes the elements you mention.
Q. In a previous Sanga you said: “For the most part, uttama-adhikari Vaisnavas are those who have entered Krishna-lila and their level of penetration with regard to dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and madhurya prema determines their position within the general category of uttama-adhikari. For example, the uttama-uttama-adhikari is one absorbed in gopi prema, whereas the kanistha-uttama is one absorbed in dasya prema.”
Can you please provide scriptural evidence for this as I am having difficulty understanding this point. My understanding is that one’s svarupa is fixed and one may start realizing it in the stage of asakti which is madhyama-uttama. If one is doing sadhana in the stage of asakti desiring to attain gopi bhava, why should he be absorbed in dasya prema when he comes to the stage of uttama-kanistha? Or did I misunderstand something?
A. In the particular understanding of what an uttama-adhikari is that I cited, one becomes an uttama-adhikari when he or she enters Krishna lila in vastu siddhi. All others are madhyama or kanistha adhikaris. Such an uttama-adhikari’s relationship with Krishna determines his standing as a kanistha-uttama, madhyam-uttama, or uttama-uttama.
Other interpretations of the three stages of kanistha, madhyama, and uttama include within the uttama-adhikari stage those who have attained something less than vastu siddhi, and thus they speak of a progression through stages of advancement within the category of uttama-adhikari, whereas the interpretation I cited does not. In such explanations one becomes kanistha-uttama in the stages of ruci and asakti, madhyama-uttama in the stage of bhava, and an uttama-uttama in the stage of prema.
It should not be misconstrued that one cultivating madhurya rati as a madhyama-adhikari must then cultivate dasya rati as he enters the stage of uttama-adhikari before ultimately attaining madhurya rasa as a fully developed uttama-adhikari.
Q. Some Buddhists and Advaitins say self-realization isolates one from karma because of the realization that “I am not the doer.” Still they believe someone must get the negative karma that is generated. In this case, what happens to the karma they isolate themselves from?
A. The idea that the self is not the doer is correct. When one realizes this through knowledge, he or she ceases to identify with the fruits of action. Such a self-realized person on the path of knowledge continuesto reap prarabdha (manifest) karma, but does not react causing further karmic implications. Death for such a self-realized soul is the termination of prarabdha karma, opening the doors to liberation.
Q. Prabhupada’s statements on illicit sex and chastity are very hard sometimes. Now that I am practicing Krishna consciousness, the question I have is if a woman did not get the proper education from family and society, and lost her chastity due to this situation, can she still properly serve her future husband?
A. You can serve your husband properly by being a good example of a Krishna conscious devotee, and he can also serve you well by doing the same. Focus your attention on this. In his books Srila Prabhupada often writes about an ideal Vedic situation. However, in practical reality he dealt dynamically with circumstances which were less than ideal from the Vedic perspective, always encouraging men and women to become Krishna conscious and making them feel that this lofty ideal that transcends Vedic culture was within reach.