Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. I recently finished reading your edition of Bhagavad-gita and found it wonderfully enlightening. I tried to study each verse very conscientiously to extract the utmost insight. The endeavor was very fruitful and it raised several questions. The following is one of them.

Verse 4 in chapter 17 reads: “The sattvic worship the gods; the rajasic worship demoniac spirits; others possessed of tamas worship nature spirits and ghosts.” This has me quite confused because we are told that men of less intelligence worship the demigods. Prabhupada, in his Bhagavad-gita purport to verse 12 of that chapter, calls them foolish, which is a characteristic of those in tama guna (ignorance). Can you explain further?

A. Gita 17.4 describes people whose natural tendency is to worship either the gods, demons, or ghosts. This tendency is determined by the influence of the gunas (modes of material nature).

Gita 4.12 and other such verses describe how those who worship the gods for material gain are foolish in comparison to those who pursue self-realization. They are not foolish in the same way that those in the mode of ignorance are foolish. Their tendency to worship the gods indicates a degree of knowledge characteristic of sattva guna (the mode of goodness), regardless of their desire. They are however on the lower end of the sattvic disposition.

Q. Mayavadis (impersonalists), such as the Saivites, worship Lord Siva and we sometimes consider Mayavadis also in the tama guna. I base this on the statement you once made that “Buddhists want to sleep eternally and Mayavadis want to sleep and know they are sleeping.” Sleep is described in Gita as being in the mode of ignorance.

A. Most Mayavadis are sattvic, not tamasic. They want to sleep in the sense that they want to retire or rest from fruitive activity and have no interest in eternal service. They understand the difference between the body and soul, whereas Buddhists do not accept that there is a soul.

Q. With regard to those in the mode of passion (raja guna), worshipping demons, in addition to being foolish, which would place them in tama guna, it also seems like the worst thing someone could do. For example, a Satan worshipper is normally thought to be more offensive than someone with little or no interest in spirituality. Other than worship of oneself what could be worse than worshipping demons?

A. Those who worship the demons are rajasic because they do not sense that there is a difference between the body and soul, knowledge of which is characteristic of the sattva guna. “Demons” here means beings such as raksasas and other such passionate gods like Yaksas, but it can also mean the worship of humans to whom divinity is inappropriately attributed.

Those who worship ghosts are in ignorance because ghosts are either imaginary or in a lower status than humans. So it should be understood that the sattvic worship the gods, the rajasic worship other humans or other powerful beings, and the tamasic worship ghosts and ancestors.

Sattvic worshipers advance religiously or spiritually. Rajasic worshipers advance in terms of material amenities or powers, and tamasic worshipers foster their imagination and become degraded. It should also be clear that different worshipers might worship the same deity, such as Siva or Durga, but from within different modes of nature.

Q. Regarding the reality of hell, I have heard conflicting information as to whether it is a tangible and certain reality or a didactic story meant to act as a deterrent from sinful behavior. Could you please clarify this?

A. Suffice to say that our everyday experience tells us that there are consequences for our actions, thus there are varied conditions of life, some heavenly and others hellish. Otherwise, Thakura Bhaktivinoda preached that the descriptions of hell in the Bhagavatam are intended to instill fear of God in the hearts of those who are not otherwise motivated to serve him.

Q. I read your explanation of bhavollasa rati in a recent Sanga and found it insightful. However, another preacher claiming to represent Srila Sridhara Maharaja referred to this Sanga in his website column and stated that the term bhavollasa-rati is the “code word for sahajiya.” Did Srila Sridhara Maharaja actually preach this, and if so, why have you used it?

A. I first read this term in the Bengali edition of Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu translated from Sanskrit with the commentary of Sri Jiva Goswami by Srila Sridhara Deva Goswami, which was published by his Matha. The term is found in Brs. 2.5.128, sancari syat samano va krishna-ratyah suhrd-rati adhika pusyamana ced bhavollasa itiryate, and it is discussed in Sri Jiva’s commentary. Srila Sridhara Maharaja never preached anything of the sort. Those claiming to represent him would do well to read his books and the publications of his Matha more closely.

Q. Relationships (rasas) with Krishna are classified as santa (neutrality), dasya (servitude), sakhya (friendship), vatsalya (parental affection), and madhurya (conjugal love). Do the scriptures say anything about the possibility of changing rasa or a so-called rasa upgrade from, say, dasya rasa to madhurya rasa? Is a rasa upgrade possible?

A. The nature of rasa is that it is so fulfilling that each devotee feels his rasa is the best. This is his subjective reality. Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami explains it like this: nija nija bhava sabe srestha kari’ mane nija-bhave kare krishna-sukha asvadane, “Each kind of devotee feels that his sentiment is the best, and thus in that sentiment he relishes great happiness with Krishna.”

It is only when we examine these sentiments from a neutral position (tatastha vicara) that we can conclude that one is more excellent than another. Because the nature of one’s rasa is such that it fully satisfies the soul and causes one to think that one’s particular loving sentiment is best, there is no question of changing it on one’s own part, nor on the part of Krishna. In consideration of this beautiful truth and the superexcellent nature of fully developed spiritual sentiments, your use of the words “rasa upgrade” is somewhat repugnant to me.

It should also be noted that dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and madhurya are the four prominent rasas of Vraja that Mahaprabhu came to distribute. None can function without the others, and thus they are interrelated and serve to bring out the best in one another.

Q. Does the term “prema-bhakti” only refer to the ecstatic love felt by souls eternally situated in madhurya-rasa or can souls in the other four rasas have prema-bhakti as well?

A. Prema-bhakti generally refers to perfect love of God in either aisvarya (reverential love) or madhurya (intimate love). This prema-bhakti involves the extreme intensification of bhava that results in the complete softening of the heart and overwhelming attachment for God. Because distinct bhavas in either reverence or intimacy develop from vaidhi-bhakti and raganuga-bhakti, respectively, prema is attained in both reverential and intimate love. Prema arising from vaidhi bhava is termed vaidha-bhavottha-prema-bhakti, and prema arising out of raganuga bhava is termed raganugya-bhavottha-prema-bhakti.

Q. There is a statement in the sastras that whoever looks upon Krishna, with his flute, dancing near the river Yamuna will never be able to forget him. Would Revati have done this also? Or will she remain eternally Balarama’s wife and never dance with Krishna?

A. This statement of the sastra simply means Krishna is all-attractive. Balarama is the aspect of Krishna that Revati is attracted to. She is the sakti of Lord Balarama.

Q. By Lord Caitanya’s mercy could a soul whose svarupa is a Visnu bhakta get a ‘higher’ God-taste and give up his attachment to Visnu in favor of devotion to Radha-Krishna?

A. Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mercy is that he collects those souls destined for Vraja bhakti and simultaneously, as the yuga-avatara, makes attainment of Vaikuntha easy for those who have an affinity for the kind of love that corresponds with Visnu bhakti.

Q. It seems clear to me that Visnu would be more than happy to see his devotees establish a deeper, spontaneous love for Radha-Krishna. Because is it really fair for Visnu devotees never to taste or enter into eternal rasa with Radha-Krishna?

A. No, it is not clear that Visnu would be happier by this. He is attached to his devotees, as are they to him. Sriman Mahaprabhu has said “Glorious is that devotee who cannot give up his Lord, and glorious is that Lord who cannot give up his devotee.” Furthermore, in the will of God there is no question of fair or unfair. He does as he likes, existing as he does by himself and for himself.

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