Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. In the Sanga called “From Black and White to Shades of Gray,” Swami Tripurari is using his own words/realization to explain that the teachings of Krishna consciousness are not simply a matter of black and white and that we must come to appreciate that there are many shades of gray in understanding Krishna lila and philosophy. I don’t follow this; where in the teachings does it say that?

A. I believe that I made it clear in that Sanga that a black and white understanding of lila and philosophy belongs to the kanistha adhikari (neophyte devotee). Classically the kanistha knows the lila but not the philosophy that underlies it. A more advanced kanistha knows the philosophy underlying the lila but cannot deal with apparent contradictions between two acarya’s opinions. These devotees also may be unable to recognize the same philosophy when it is spoken in a different vocabulary.

As the neophyte devotee makes advancement toward the object of his love, he becomes more fixed in devotion yet flexible philosophically owing to the very nature of his venerable object. He begins to understand that Krishna may reveal himself in one way to one devotee and another way to another devotee. To use the analogy of the Goswamis, Krishna appears to the devotee as a multifaceted precious jewel. In the realm of philosophy, a verse that previously meant only one thing to the devotee now might have several meanings and applications. Thus in modern terms, a black and white conception progresses to an understanding that the philosophy has many shades. A devotee then acknowledges that there are different angles of vision even within the same sampradaya. Ultimately, in perfection, devotees will see Krishna with different vision as well. Some will see him with eyes of conjugal love (madhurya), others with parental affection (vatsalya), friendship (sakhya), servitorship (dasya), and so on.

Q. I have a question in regard to sabda pramana (scriptural evidence) and the role scientific evidence plays in our pursuit of truth. Please correct me where necessary. My understanding is that we accept evidence other than scripture, such as pratyaksa (sense perception) and anumana (reasoning), only if they are supported by sabda.

It appears to me that accepting scientific evidence over scripture puts us in a precarious philosophical situation because by doing so we endorse the scientific method of establishing fact. This in turn makes it difficult to then reject scientific discoveries that oppose scriptural conclusions. All things considered, how do you suggest we understand scientific conclusions while maintaining loyalty to scripture and Sri Gurudeva?

A. Perfect knowledge is just that, perfect. We ourselves are steeped in imperfection even while perpetually in pursuit of perfect knowledge. In our present state of imperfection, our instruments of perception and power of reasoning are imperfect. Thus if we are to be successful in our pursuit of perfect knowledge, we must find a means to attain perfect knowledge that is superior to that of sense perception and reasoning. What is that method? That method is to venerate the state of perfect knowledge such that it might reveal itself to us. This is called bhakti.

Other than perfect knowledge, there is also imperfect knowledge that can be attained by less than perfect means. Imperfect knowledge is so because it does not have the capacity to make us perfectly happy. The methodology of modern science produces such knowledge. Modern science is further flawed in that it sometimes proceeds on the basis of information that, while often compelling, is nonetheless incomplete, involving theories that are yet to be proven true by its own methodology.

However, modern science can conclusively prove some things about how material nature works. Although it is true that God can change the laws of nature as he likes, this power is usually reserved for his manifest lila. Thus for the most part we can rely upon well-established conclusions of modern science, such as the fact that two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen produces water.

It is even possible that we can learn more about our own scriptural conclusions with the help of modern science. For instance, it may happen that modern science establishes a truth that according to our limited realization and understanding of sastra is not correct. However, upon closer examination we may find that our understanding of what scripture says is incomplete or mistaken. In such instances, empiric evidence can assist us in coming to the truth. Truth is truth. If something is true as proven by material science, we would expect sastra to agree with it.

Q. Generally when people talk about gayatri mantra it seems to me that they are speaking only about the first line. Can you explain the meaning of gayatri and why Gaudiya Vaisnavas chant seven lines of gayatri while others chant only one line?

A. There are a number of gayatri mantras, such as guru gayatri, Gaura gayatri, Krishna gayatri, Radha gayatri, etc. They all follow the prototype of the Brahma gayatri, which you have referred to as the first line because you received it first followed by other mantras and their corresponding gayatris at the time of your mantra diksa (initiation).

The Brahma gayatri is also known by other names, such as Surya gayatri, because different worshipers chant this gayatri with different religious conceptions. However, Sri Jiva Goswami has explained this Brahma gayatri in his Tattva-sandarbha and again in his Paramatma-sandarbha, and in doing so he has demonstrated that it petitions the Supreme Brahman and his primary sakti. He stresses that the gayatri mantra does not petition other lesser gods or goddesses as some people believe. Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja has also written an illuminating commentary on this mantra demonstrating this same point as well as Brahma gayatri’s emphasis on Radha dasyam.

In the Gaudiya lineage, all devotees receive various mantras and corresponding gayatris from their initiating gurus. Among them the guru gayatri, Gaura gayatri, Krishna (Kama) gayatri, Radha gayatri, Nityananda gayatri, and Gadadhara gayatri are common. For the most part, these mantras and gayatris come from the Pancaratra literature, as do the procedures for worshiping the Vaisnava Deities. It is this branch of scripture that Hari bhakti-vilasa draws from when discussing these topics.

The principal mantra for the Gaudiya lineage, other than the Hare Krishna maha-mantra (a nama mantra), is the 18-syllable Krishna or Gopala mantra. Its corresponding gayatri is the Krishna or Kama gayatri. Other than the Pancaratra literature, the Krishna mantra is explained in Gopal-tapani Upanisad, a commentary on which I have just completed and is soon to be published.

Editors note: Sridhara Deva Goswami’s explanation of the Brahma gayatri mantra can be found online here.

Q. Sridhara Deva Gosvami wrote that souls emanate from the brahmajyoti when the equilibrium is somehow disturbed. What does this mean and why are souls put into illusion and kept there for so long?

A. When material nature is unmanifest, so too are the baddha jivas (conditioned souls). Both the jivas and material nature rest within Maha Visnu. In this condition (susupti), the baddha jivas’ desires are not manifest and thus they sleep in a homogeneous or undifferentiated condition. From this condition they move toward a heterogeneous condition, as Maha Visnu desires to become many, facilitating the baddha jivas’ desires and honoring the principle of beginningless karma. We sometimes call this creation.

Sastra teaches that Maha Visnu engages in srsti lila (the play of creation), which involves the baddha jiva and material nature. We cannot reason why God plays as he does. Indeed, play need not be rational at all. Still we can try to understand it, at least in terms of how it all works. It may be best to think of the srsti lila as divine play in which God acts as the savior, for not only does he become many and manifest the material world, he also enters within it that the many might meet their maker.

Q. I read that a person can be liberated by even once chanting the name of Krishna but I cannot understand how is it possible for a person to be liberated if he is not completely pure. Does this refer to Vaisnava liberation or impersonal liberation?

A. The holy name of Krishna has the power to purify one completely, even if chanted only once. A mere shadow of his name (namabhasa) has the power to afford liberation. Thus it is possible to attain Vaisnava liberation in Vaikuntha if one chants namabhasa at the time of death and is not yet pure oneself. However, one cannot directly enter the abode of Krishna (Vrajaloka) in this way. Thus the prema of Vraja is beyond liberation, and even the desire for liberation itself is an impediment to attaining it. Krishna prema is attainable by following in the footsteps of the inhabitants of Vraja.

Q. Is liberation made possible by our efforts or by the will of God?

A. Ultimately it is dependent upon the will of God. If he chooses to grant it, it can be attained, otherwise not. Still he wants us to want to attain it, and thus his devotees canvass on his behalf and teach the means by which we can let him know that we are so interested. We must apply ourselves in spiritual practice as if our deliverance depends on our practice while knowing that ultimately it depends on his sweet will. Indeed, the spiritual practices of the sadhaka come from God, and thus they too are a manifestation of his mercy.

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