Q. In his statements Swami indicates that he doesn’t want to encourage dogmatic following of the scriptures or fundamentalism. Perhaps, out of all the wonderful aspects of the Swami’s style of preaching, I appreciate most his stress upon inner quality versus external appearances and substance being more important than formality. On the other hand, it seems to me that the Swami and devotees in general are fundamentalists when it comes to wearing so-called ‘devotional dress.’ Actually I think that a more accurate description of devotee clothes would be ‘traditional Bengali’ dress.
For a general presentation in the West I think overemphasis on Indian garb tends to be counterproductive. Also I have found that devotees in general consider devotional dress an essential part of their practice and at times may even discriminate (devotee versus nondevotee) based upon such external considerations. This insistence on wearing traditional Indian clothing while residing in Western countries has never made any sense to me. Is it not contradictory? Does it not smell of fundamentalism?
A. The devotional dress of our sampradaya follows the example of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the dress of Sri Navadwipa Dhama. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has labeled it anukula (favorable).While this dress can be altered in consideration of time, place, and circumstances for the sake of propaganda (as it has been in the past by acaryas like Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura), the closer it remains to identification with the lila of Mahaprabhu, the sweeter it is for those who think of it as such.
Overall, the purpose of devotional dress is twofold: it serves as a uniform to broadcast one’s creed to the public and it helps the neophyte to remember what he or she has committed to. It has value, but at the same time it is relative, not essential.
In the Western world today, devotional attire may alienate the general public, yet at the same time many interested in spirituality and pre-modern traditions find it appealing. In my opinion, the place for such dress in the West is largely with monastics. I think the general public can readily identify with the idea of a monk wearing robes. Indeed, such dress seems appropriate. I feel it is also appropriate for householders to wear devotional attire while engaging in devotional activities such as the seva puja of the Deity.
Therefore, I do not think that wearing devotional dress is necessarily a manifestation of religious fundamentalism, but that it can be if someone thinks that without such dress one cannot become Krishna conscious. At the same time, if we think that wearing devotional attire is only for fanatics, we may be fanatical ourselves. What is important is not the dress one wears, but rather one’s consciousness. If devotional dress helps one to attain Krishna consciousness, one should wear it. If one feels it is an impediment and serves to alienate others unnecessarily, one need not wear it.
Q. First of all, let me express my satisfaction and appreciation for all the insights you bring us through your Sanga. My question is in regard to the Bhagavatam verses 4.1.49-52. I came across the genealogy of the thirteen daughters of Daksa and their respective sons by Yamaraja. Srila Prabhupada gives a literal translation as though these verses aren’t about philosophy or any more complicated issues then the progeny of Daksa.
However, if we take this section in a metaphorical way we find the ontology of thirteen noble qualities. There we read that Sraddha (faith) gave birth to Subha (auspiciousness) after union with Dharma (religion) and that Santi (peace) gives birth to Sukha (bliss) and so on. Is this a valid interpretation of the text?
A. As much as it is true that the union of faith and religion give birth to auspiciousness, etc., this section of the Bhagavatam can be interpreted metaphorically. Indeed, such an interpretation makes this section of the text much more relevant.
With regard to metaphorical interpretations of the Bhagavatam in general, there is considerable room for this. However, one should be careful in interpreting the Bhagavatam in this way not to lose sight of the reality of the person of Krishna and his lila. Metaphorical interpretations can bring out different levels of meaning embedded in the text, but the deepest meaning of the text—its most esoteric reach—is the reality of Krishna lila and God’s romantic life in particular.
Q. I believe that the scriptural predictions promoted by the followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu stem mostly from the writings of Sanatana Goswami. It appears to me that almost all of these scriptural references are not confirmed as to where exactly these verses are found in the scriptures and the context in which the individual verses have been taken. Are you aware of any scholarly research on the collection of various Vedic predictions centered on Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance as the Yuga-avatara?
A. I am not aware of any academic research on this topic, but Gaudiya scholars agree that Sanatana Goswami was the first to write that he found a reference to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the pages of the Bhagavatam. Sanatana found the reference in a section of the Bhagavatam discussing the yuga-avataras and the two verses that follow it (SB 11.5.32-34):
krishna-varnam tvisakrishnam sangopangastra-parsadam/
yajnaih sankirtana-prayair yajanti hi su-medhasah//
“Intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of God who constantly sings the name of Krishna. Although his complexion is not blackish, he is Krishna himself who is accompanied by his servants, weapons, and confidential associates.”
Sanatana also found him in Bhakta Prahlada’s statement in the Bhagavatam concerning the Lord’s covert appearance in Kali-yuga:
dharmam maha-purusa pasi yuganuvrttam/
channah kalau yad abhavas tri-yugo’tha sa tvam//
“The Supreme Lord is called Tri-Yuga, or one who appears in only three yugas. However, in the age of Kali he sometimes appears in a concealed form.” (SB 7.9.38)
He also found Mahaprabhu in the Bhagavatam where it is mentioned that the Lord at times appears in golden color:
asan varnas trayo hy asya grhnatotnvyugam tanuh/
suklo raktas tatha pita idanim krmatam gatah//
“White, red, and yellow are three bodily colors which the Lord assumes respectively in three ages.” (SB 10.8.13)
Sanatana Goswami’s commentary on these verses is insightful to say the least. He was the most learned in Srimad-Bhagavatam of all the legendary Six Goswamis. It is likely that he also compiled the principal list of verses gathered from other scriptures that Gaudiya Vaisnavas consider to be forecasting the appearance of Sri Caitanya.
Many such verses are cited by Srila Prabhupada in his Caitanya-caritamrta commentary—verses from the Upanisads, Puranas, Atharva Veda, and so on. Some but not all of these verses may be questionable as to the context in which they appear, and others perhaps with regard to their absence in existing manuscripts of the texts they are said to be from. Understandably, this can be disconcerting for one who requires such evidence in order to support his faith, as well as to one of stronger faith, who, when calling on these verses while preaching to others, is challenged regarding their validity.
Still, some of these verses do serve as strong scriptural evidence. The above-mentioned verses from the Bhagavatam are particularly compelling. But how many of such verses does one need, and what will convince a person who does not want to be convinced? The spiritual reality of Mahaprabhu is the strongest possible evidence as to his divinity. This spirituality has been critically examined, and some of the conclusions reached even by those outside the Gaudiya tradition are heartening to his followers.
In my book Rasa: Love Relationships in Transcendence (http://swami.org/sanga/Books/pages/Rasa.html), I cited one example of this kind of critical analysis written by Christian theologian John Moffitt in his book Journey to Gorakhpur: An Encounter With Christ Beyond Christianity.
Moffitt concludes as follows: “If I were asked to choose one man in Indian religious history who best represents the pure spirit of devotional self-giving, I would choose the Vaisnavite saint Caitanya. Of all the saints in recorded history, East and West, he seems to me the supreme example of a soul carried away on a tide of ecstatic love of God. Though literally worshipped by thousands as Krishna himself, he led a simple and even austere life. His life in the holy town of Puri is the story of a man in a state of almost continuous spiritual intoxication. Illuminating discourses, deep contemplation, moods of loving communion with God, were daily occurrences.”
Devotees who love Mahaprabhu may see him in scriptural references that others cannot. Thus certain scholars and critics may feel that his devotees’ interpretations of these verses are unacceptable. If this is the case let those critics explain the spirituality of Mahaprabhu in another way. One may argue that Mahaprabhu is not Krishna or the yuga-avatar, but no open-minded religious person can deny the intense spirituality of Mahaprabhu and his intimate associates.
We must also remember that Mahaprabhu’s devotees consider him a concealed (channah) avatara of Krishna, that Mahaprabhu is Krishna disguising himself as his own devotee. And where have we ever seen such devotion as Mahaprabhu had for Krishna? Only in Radha herself. This is the spiritual logic of the sampradaya.
As a final word on predictions, chanting the holy name of Krishna has now spread to nearly every town and village, as Mahaprabhu himself predicted it would. Also over one hundred years ago Bhaktivinoda Thakura predicted that people from all over the world would come to worship Sri Caitanya at his birth site in Mayapura. This prediction, made when the birth site was almost inaccessible and Mayapura appeared to be little more than a jungle, has now come to pass as well.
Finding support for the reality of Mahaprabhu in scripture is either merely an academic exercise generously conducted for those in need of such support or an example of the very ecstasy that he himself came to distribute. Those who have this ecstasy see him everywhere. Pray that you will be so fortunate.