Q. Are the gods and goddesses actually expansions of Sri Sri Laksmi and Narayana?
A. In the material world, the gods and goddesses known as devas are partial manifestations of Laksmi and Narayana, who are themselves expansions of Radha and Krishna, respectively. The devas are divine in the sense that they are empowered by Narayana and his consort Laksmi. The individual souls who achieve posts as devas are very pious devotees. This, however, is not the case for Siva and Devi, who are manifestations of divinity in a class of their own. Siva is a transformation of Visnu. This transformation has been compared to milk becoming yogurt. Siva’s consort, Devi, is an expansion of Laksmi, who is herself an expansion of Radha.
Bhagavad-gita says that men of small knowledge worship the devas and receive fruits that are limited and temporary. It also says that those who worship demigods go to the abodes of the demigods, while those who worship Krishna reach his supreme abode (Bg. 7.23 and 9.25).
Q. I am reading your translation and commentary of Bhagavad-gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy. I consider it a wonderful addition to Srila Prabhupada’s translation and commentary on the Gita.
However, I cannot relate very well to your translation of sri bhagavan uvaca. Prabhupada translates this as “Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” Why do you translate this as “the Lord of Sri,” who is Laksmi, the Goddess of Fortune?
A. Srila Prabhupada’s translation implies that the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita is the Lord of Sri in as much as the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the full sense of the term is he who is blessed (sri) by Radha’s love. “Sri” in my translation means Radha, who is the svayam sakti of whom Laksmi is a partial representation. Thus we have: “the Lord of Radha said.” The Lord of Radha is the Supreme Personality of Godhead (svayam bhagavan).
If the voice of the Gita is ultimately that of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Radha’s influence over him must find its way into the text. I have labored to demonstrate where and to what extent this takes place in the Gita in light of the theology of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. In doing so, I have tried to show, following the lead of our Gaudiya acaryas, that the message of the Gita leads us to Vrindavana. In light of this emphasis, I have translated sri bhagavan uvaca as “the Lord of Sri said.”
Q. Thank you for the opportunity to ask questions. Is there a difference between yogamaya and mahamaya, and why did baby Yogamaya take the form of Devi when she was to be killed by Kamsa?
A. Just as electrical energy can serve to heat or cool, similarly yogamaya and mahamaya are ultimately one energy (sakti) functioning in different ways. Mahamaya serves to subject the soul to gross ignorance, which allows the soul to forget God, and yogamaya serves to subject the soul to divine ignorance, which enables it to take part in the Lord’s pastimes.
Krishna’s younger sister (anuja) is a manifestation of this sakti. Thus in relation to Kamsa she took the form of Devi, who is not overtly friendly to the demoniac. Yogamaya is generally represented in the Vraja-lila of Krishna as the elderly Paurnamasi, and sometimes Vrnda devi is also considered a partial representation of yogamaya there. Overall, yogamaya presides over the samvit sakti (cognitive potency) in the Vraja lila, and on account of this influence, the cognitive potency appears absent in the lila, making for a kind of divine ignorance.
Q. I have begun reading your edition of Bhagavad-gita. It’s wonderful, as I knew it would be. I came across a footnote that I have a question about. When describing Kali you say she is “the personification of evil who presides over the present age—Kali-yuga.” I wasn’t aware of this aspect of Mother Kali—that she personifies evil. My understanding has been that she is an aspect of the Divine Mother who was born out of the third eye of Mother Durga to kill demonic forces that none of the other gods could defeat. I was also under the impression that her purpose is one of love (maybe you could call it the ultimate “tough love”) and that she slaughters the false ego and enables one to find one’s true nature so that one may find complete love of God. Please elaborate on your knowledge of Kali Ma.
A. Kali spelled with a long ‘a’ and Kali with a short ‘a’ are different Sanskrit words indicating different persons. Kali with a long ‘a’ is the Goddess wife of Siva, who, as you say, is often worshipped with a view to dissolve one’s material ego. Kali spelled with a short ‘a’ is the personification of the age of quarrel (Kali-yuga). Duryodhana of Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita fame is considered to be a partial incarnation of Kali, the personification of this degraded age, not Goddess Kali.
Q. Can a follower of the sankhya-yoga philosophy be a bhakta? In my understanding the sankhya yogi sees everything as Brahman and strives to move beyond maya and this material creation. However, the bhaktas worship Sri Krishna, who is Brahman personified, and therefore is still “contaminated” with maya. Undoubtedly, as Sri Krishna says, it is only by bhakti that one can reach him; however, I want to know how these two paths can be resolved, i.e., how one can perceive everything as Brahman, being the doer, witness, and everything, and yet still be a devotee of Sri Krishna.
A. In the Gita, Sri Krishna says that those who think that the paths of selfless action (niskama-karma-yoga) and knowledge (sankhya-yoga) are different are not wise (sankhya-yogau prthag balah pravadanti na panditah). The term sankhya-yoga in this context refers to contemplation associated with renunciation. This path is not different from that of selfless action inasmuch as the two paths lead to the same result (ekam sankhyam ca yogam ca).
Krishna’s advocacy of niskama-karma-yoga over sankhya-yoga is in one sense in consideration of eligibility. Those eligible for niskama-karma-yoga are not yet eligible for sankhya-yoga. However, when their niskama-karma-yoga is mature, it begets self-knowledge, qualifying them for a life of contemplation and renunciation. Thus Krishna emphasizes niskama-karma-yoga over sankhya-yoga.
At the same time, careful study of the Gita reveals that Krishna’s stress on selfless action over contemplation has another purpose as well. He wants Arjuna to take to the path of devotion, bhakti-yoga. Thus he emphasizes not merely selfless action, but selfless action in which the fruits of one’s action are dedicated to God (bhagavad-arpita-niskama-karma-yoga), a rudimentary form of bhakti.
The fruits of selfless action and contemplative life are also by-products of bhakti. Thus if one is graced with faith in bhakti and treads this path, one will derive all that one can from the paths of selfless action and knowledge—purification of the heart and liberation. Moreover, such a bhakti yogi will also reap the fruit of love of God and live eternally in the lila of Bhagavan.
God engaged in lila is not, as some philosophers misconstrue, an example of Brahman contaminated by maya. According to the Gita there is nothing higher than Krishna (mattah parataram nanyat). It is not that he is a lesser expression of Brahman. Krishna himself says in the Gita that Brahman is subordinate to him (brahmano hi pratisthaham). Brahman is ruled by him (anadi mat param brahma), not the other way around.
The devotees worship the param brahma, which Arjuna declares Krishna to be. In doing so, they easily pass beyond maya. Krishna himself emphatically states this: mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te. Thus the devotees transcend maya and more. Again, all that is attainable through sankhya-yoga is attainable through bhakti-yoga, but all that is attainable through bhakti-yoga is not attainable through sankhya-yoga. Thus Krishna stresses selfless action aimed at the satisfaction of God over sankhya-yoga because this kind of selfless action (bhagavad-arpita-niskama-karma-yoga) leads naturally to bhakti proper.
For further clarification I suggest that you read my commentary on the Gita as well as that of my Gurudeva, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Both commentaries are expositions on devotional Vedanta, which is distinct from the Advaita Vedanta of Sankara.
Q. I have just read the article by Swami B. V. Tripurari called With the Help of the Asuras on the Sanga website. In the article Swami says, “Each of the demons represents anarthas within the hearts of the sadhakas, which must be eliminated if the sadhakas are to advance to bhava and ultimately prema-bhakti.”
This reminded me of a story I read on another website. In the story, the Pandavas are in exile and it is Krishna’s turn to guard. Worried that Krishna will be attacked by demons, Arjuna asks him about them. Krishna replied, “Arjuna, I have never created demons and evil spirits. The demons you are talking about are just a reflection of the evil qualities within mankind such as hatred, anger, and jealousy. The evil qualities of man are the real demons troubling him today. Man is under the mistaken notion that demons exist and that they are responsible for his suffering. This is all nothing but imagination and psychological fear.”
Both your article and the other suggest that demons are symbolic. Is this correct, are demons just symbolic representations of personal problems and hang-ups?
A. In the highest vision there are no demons other than those residing within us. The superlative devotee sees everyone other than himself as being properly engaged in God’s service.
The Gita does mention two types of beings, the divine and demoniac. But the important lesson from the text is not how to recognize a demon, but rather how to be divine oneself. This requires knowing how not to be as well, thus the discussion of demoniac qualities.
Regarding Krishna-lila, in a drama there must be some villains, but internally they are not so. Again, in the highest vision, we think everyone is a devotee—except for us.