Q. You mentioned that aspiration for moksa (liberation) is incorrect. How can this be so?
A. One of the marginal characteristics (tatastha laksana) of prema bhakti is freedom from the desire for liberation. Sri Rupa Goswamin says it thus: anyabhilasita sunyam jnana karmadi anavrtam. The idea is that prema bhakti is pure loving service for which the devotees seek no reward other than the continued opportunity to serve Krishna.
About such devotees Srimad-Bhagavatam says, svargapavarga-narakesu api tulyartha-darsinah (SB 6.17.28). For them, heaven, hell, or liberation are all the same. If service sends them to hell they readily go there.
When Narada was asked by Krishna to bring the dust from the feet of his devotees to cure his headache, Narada found no devotees willing to give the dust of their feet to put on Krishna’s head, knowing that this would send them to hell. However, when he asked the gopis for the dust of their feet for this purpose they readily gave it. The Bhagavata also states:
salokya-sarsti-samipya- sarupyaikatvam apy uta diyamanam na grhnanti vina mat-sevanam janah (SB 3.29.13)
“Pure devotees always reject the five kinds of liberation, which include living in the spiritual Vaikuntha planets, possessing the same opulences as those possessed by the Supreme Lord, having the same bodily features as the Lord’s, associating with the Lord, and merging into the body of the Lord. The pure devotees do not accept these benedictions without the service of the Lord.”
Similarly, Sri Caitanya says, mama janmani janmani isvare bhavatad bhaktir ahaituki tvayi, “I do not care if I have to take birth again and again as long as I can engage in bhagavata bhakti.”
It should be understood that liberation is a byproduct of the culture of prema bhakti. Srimad Bhagavad-gita says, mad bhaktim labhate param. Here para bhakti is referred to as a post-liberated condition. So mukti is included within prema bhakti, but the desire for liberation gets in the way of cultivating prema bhakti. This notion is perhaps unique to Gaudiya Vaisnavism and thus distinguishes it from many other lineages.
Q. I have been reading about the blissful experience of one who has attained Brahman realization, mukti, or another such neutral spiritual state such as the Buddhist nirvana. When a person has attained mukti, or some other neutral state that is blissful, what compels him/her to seek a more blissful state? In the case of a Vaisnava I assume some knowledge of a higher state of being would be compelling (as explained in Brhad Bhagavatamrta), but I am especially concerned for those who have no higher awareness and are not compelled to seek a higher state of consciousness. Can you also detail the impetus for a Vaisnava toward a positive spirituality following liberation?
A. The impetus for a Vaisnava to progress beyond Brahman realization is his desire to serve Krishna, for which there is no opportunity in sayujya mukti. Thus we maintain that the prakrti nirvana of Buddhism and Brahma nirvana of Hindu monists (as understood in Advaita Vedanta) are undesirable. One who seeks either of these goals cultivates a disposition that is antagonistic to pure bhakti. One who attains either of them has little if any hope of ever participating in Krishna’s unmanifest lila. Through the mercy and strong preaching of a powerful Vaisnava such persons can be saved from this calamity while they are still in the stage of spiritual practice, up to and including the stage of monistic Hinduism’s jivanmukta and Buddhism’s boddhisattva.
Q. Do spiritual beings have volition? Can individual volition exist outside of material nature? Are some spiritual beings part of material nature?
A. Every soul has volition. Being a spark of the fire of Godhead, each soul or unit of consciousness has a minute degree of volition because God is possessed of volition. He is the supreme will, which would not be so if there were not manifestations of lesser degrees of volition. It is this volition that activates material nature. Once material nature is activated, the movement of souls who are conditioned by her influence is actually only material nature’s motion. When the soul becomes liberated from material conditioning, it can express itself in eternity in relation to God, or it can sit quietly forever. In the jnana marga, souls aspire for eternal rest; whereas in the bhakti marga souls aspire for an active relationship with God within his eternal lila.
As far as I know, realized Buddhists would be closest to your idea of spiritual beings that are part of material nature. But according to Vedanta, strictly speaking the answer to this question is “no.”
Q. Didn’t Prabhupada teach us to preach strongly to the mayavadis (impersonalists)?
A. Preaching strongly to the mayavadis was of course the mood of Srila Prabhupada, and for good reason. One cannot become a genuine devotee of Krishna without getting this misconception out of one’s head. The jiva and Brahman are not one in all respects. However, I personally do not think that a confrontational approach will be as effective at this time. Better to find common ground and then manifest the sweetness of Krishna bhakti on that ground of Brahman, allowing people to see for themselves how its dynamic, progressive, and positive sense of immortality compares to the negative, static theology of mayavada. Showing the better way is superior to merely telling others about it, or merely telling them what is wrong with their own path. So be a good example of one who is self-situated and more, and others will naturally be attracted to Krishna bhakti through your example. This is my advice, but let the fruits of your efforts be the judge of the merits of your approach. In all of this it is your own spiritual advancement that is the primary concern. Look for the fruits.
Q. I read Bhagavad-gita: As It Is and I am wondering if there is any symbolic meaning to the picture printed on the cover of the book. In that picture Arjuna is riding the chariot driven by Krishna on the battlefield. I have been told that this picture represents the chariot of the body and that in the picture the horses represent the sense organs, the reins the senses, Arjuna the confused mind, and Krishna the intellect. The idea is that when there is an integration of the mind and intellect then only will one progress.
A. The picture of Krishna driving the chariot of Arjuna symbolizes the significance of “Krishna,” the expression of Godhead who readily subordinates himself to his devotee’s love. He becomes the chariot driver of Arjuna and is thus conquered by his devotee’s love to the extent that his Godhood is suppressed. Reverential worship is thus transcended by intimacy in the highest spiritual love. Simply by contemplating this charming truth in which God himself is conquered by his devotee’s love, one can attain perfection. That form of God that admits to the supremacy of love by fully surrendering to it himself is the Supreme form of the Godhead. This form speaks of the highest truth.
Other lesser meanings can also be drawn from the picture. The Upanisads describe the material body as a chariot. The horses of this chariot are the senses, and the reins are the mind. The driver is the intellect and the passenger is the soul. Applying this metaphor to the picture, Krishna could be considered to represent spiritual intelligence (buddhi-yogam) by which the soul/passenger can take control of the reins of the mind and the horse-like senses and ride the chariot of the body to spiritual victory.
Althought the first explantion is best and sweetest, representing the bhava of the picture, the latter explanation should not be discounted. It represents essential tattva of the Gita. While we should have a theoretical understanding of the ideal of bhava, we should embrace the tattva of the Gita in order to attain that bhava. When we embrace the truth of the difference between the body and soul, acknowledge the relentless nature of the mind and senses and our helplessness in their grasp, and understand our need for divine intervention in order to rise above our present embarassing predicament, we will be in a good position to further attain genuine spiritual emotion and conquer Krishna by the power of prema.