Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Vaisnava Controversies

September 21st, 2003 | No Comments

Q. I read that raganuga-bhakti was distinct and superior to the practice of vaidhi-bhakti and that greed is the only price one has to pay to embark on the path of raganuga-bhakti. Furthermore, I read that greed (lobha) for raganuga-bhakti vanquishes all anarthas (unwanted habits) and that bhava arises simultaneously along with this greed. Does this sound correct to you?

A. In your question lobha is made to be synonymous with bhava; however, in reality lobha is the qualification for embarking on the path, and bhava is its goal. Furthermore, one must consider how lobha appears and thus vanquishes anarthas. How does one suddenly get greed for this kind of service and become free from greed for anything else?

The answer to these questions is that there is no shortcut to Vraja bhakti no matter how you frame it. Raga-bhakti is in one sense the express train to Vraja, but it is also the only train. It has more power to attract the Lord than vaidhi-bhakti does and in this sense it is better, but to think that one will just decide to tread the raga-marga and soon attain Vraja bhakti is lacking in understanding and tends to cheapen the whole thing.

Furthermore, those who tread the raga-marga in the sense that their ideal is Vraja bhakti must adhere to the vidhi (rules) of vaidhi-bhakti in order to strengthen their practice. Indeed, the practice for the most part is the same for both vaidhi-bhaktas and raganuga-bhaktas, while the motive is different.

Q. Is there a strict demarcation between raganuga-bhakti and vaidhi-bhakti? In bhakti sometimes there is intense reverence and sometimes there is intense intimacy. Is it possible that a devotee would want to feel both these sentiments toward Krishna?

A. Vaidhi-bhakti leads to reverential love and raga-bhakti leads to intimate love. The paths are distinct, as clearly explained in Rupa Goswami’s book Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. Furthermore, one who matures in raganuga-bhakti cannot acknowledge the majesty of Krishna.

There is, however, the possibility of engaging in vaidhi-bhakti with an element of spiritual greed (lobha), the result of which will be attainment of Dvaraka, where Sri Krishna appears as Yadava-kumara instead of Gopa-kumara. One can also worship Radha-Krishna in vaidhi-bhakti without spiritual greed and attain the outer petals of the lotus of Goloka where Radha-Krishna are wedded (svakiya). Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explains these different paths in his Ragavartma-candrika.

Q. Kaviraja Goswami mentions in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta that Caitanya Mahaprabhu reduced Vallabhacarya’s pride for his benefit. I am curious to know how the biography of Vallabhacarya records this instance. I think his followers would not take that statement very charitably. Caitanya-caritamrta also mentioned that Vallabhacarya took initiation from Gadadhara Pandita, yet we know that most followers of pusti-marga consider parental rasa to be the highest. How does one understand this?

A. The Vallabha sampradaya does not accept the accounts given in Caitanya-caritamrta regarding Vallabhacarya’s interactions with Sri Caitanya. Indeed, they consider Vallabhacarya to be “Mahaprabhu” and attribute to him well-known lilas of Sri Caitanya, such as his mystical interaction with wild animals during sankirtana in the jungle of Madhya Pradesa.

According to Caitanya-caritamrta, Vallabha was given initiation into the mystery of madhurya-rasa by Gadadhara Pandita at a time in Puri when Gadadhara was exhibiting the sentiments of Rukminidevi. Rupa Goswami considers Rukmini to be an expansion of Candravali gopi. It is interesting to note that the madhurya rasa of the Vallabha sampradaya today favors the devotion of Candravali. Vallabha’s son is even considered to be an incarnation of Candravali, and the Vallabha sampradaya does not emphasize the unique position of Radha.

Q. Where is tatastha-loka? Is it between the brahmajyoti and the viraja or somewhere else? Is the viraja composed of jiva souls or some other sakti category? Does sayujya mukti destroy the individual soul?

A. Viraja is a condition in which the modes of nature are not operative. Viraja means “without passion,” and by extension it includes the other two modes of nature. It is the primitive state of prakrti (material nature). Buddhists retire there. It is their nirvana, the cessation of suffering. In that condition, souls merge with the primitive state of material nature and become unidentifiable as individual units of consciousness.

Tatastha is the border between spirit and matter. It exists but you cannot put your finger on it any more than you can put your finger on the line that demarks water from land. Tatastha loka is merely a way of speaking about jiva-tattva. There is no actual tatastha loka in the sense of it being a place or planet. The jiva is neither here nor there, but rather largely a product of its environment. However, because it is a unit of consciousness, it is better suited to live in the spiritual world than in the material world. The transformation of the jiva souls from homogeneity to heterogeneity involves their arising from the deep sleep of susupti within Maha Visnu.

The brahmajyoti consists of particles of consciousness that are merged with the brahmajyoti and are thus unaware of their individuality. Sayujya mukti does not entail the destruction of the individuality of the jiva, even though this is largely the experience of the souls merged in Brahman—they experience no “other.”

Q. What and to whom was Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura referring with the term “prakrta sahajiya”?

A. Prakrta sahajiyas are a particular sect of pseudo-Vaisnavas who envision Radha and Krishna as the archetype for man and woman. Thus they try to imitate them and conclude on the basis of a complex theology that spiritual perfection can be achieved by such imitation, which may include sexual acts. Prakrta sahajiyas believe they can imitate Radha and Krishna in the flesh. That is the reason why the name prakrta (material) has been given to them by orthodox Gaudiya Vaisnavas, whereas they refer to their sect as Sahaja Vaisnavas. Sahaja means natural or easy. The ideal of this sect is monistic.

The great Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura used the term sahajiya to refer to all those whose practice of Vaisnavism was tinged with a material conception of life. He also used this term to refer to those who took cheaply the exalted ideal of rasananda, and the conjugal love of Radha-Krishna in particular, and, although lacking eligibility, attempted to enter the raga-marga by imitating the bhajana of advanced souls.

Q. I have read many of Srila Prabhupada’s books and find that he repeatedly says that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Godhead. In Bhagavad-gita, Krishna is talked about as such and it is stated in the Bhagavata Purana, krishnas tu bhagavan svayam: “Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

But in the Siva Purana I found a statement that mentions Lord Siva as “Isvara.” In that Purana Lord Siva explains that “I (Siva) have two forms: the manifest and the unmanifest. No one else has these two forms. Hence all else are non-Isvaras.” Later he says: “I am the Supreme Brahman.” Other Puranas also speak of their principal Deities as “the Supreme.” Can you please explain this?

A. This question has been addressed by Sri Jiva Goswami in his treatise Tattva-sandarbha. The Puranas were written with different people in mind. Some Puranas were written for those worshiping in the mode of ignorance, some for those worshiping in the mode of passion, and some for those worshiping in the mode of goodness. As such, each Purana extols the manifestation of Godhead that best suits those for whom the Purana was written, and even minimizes the position of higher manifestations of God described in other Puranas. The idea is to encourage people to worship by allowing them to conceive of their Deity as supreme. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Within the Puranas the virtues of the Bhagavata Purana, or Srimad-Bhagavatam, are repeatedly sung. No Purana enjoys Puranic praise to the same extent. It is the supreme and spotless Purana, dealing with only the highest ideal of transcendent life. Thus to be understood in context, all Puranic statements must be considered in light of the statements of the Bhagavata Purana. Furthermore, no lineage praises and embraces the Srimad-Bhagavatam more fully than the Gaudiya Vaisnavas.

Q. In a previous Sanga you pointed out that in Gaudiya Vaisnavism Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is considered the overseer (samasti guru) of the religion. If one believes Caitanya Mahaprabhu is God, the idea of his absolute omniscience over an entire religion is not a problem. But what about other acaryas who are not accepted as direct incarnations of God? For example, are Madhva, Vallabha, Ramanuja, and other great acaryas samasti gurus over their lineages?

A. Vallabhacarya is considered to be an incarnation of Krishna’s mouth, and in his writings Madhvacarya identifies himself as the third incarnation of Mukhya-prana, the Primal Breath. Ramanujacarya is considered to be an incarnation of Ananta Sesa. I believe that they are all considered samasti gurus for their lineages in the same way that we consider Sri Caitanya to be the samasti guru of our lineage. I do not know of any other acaryas who are thought of in this way.

Q. What could be more natural than reading someone’s books, finding inspiration, taking up spiritual practices, and feeling a close connection with the author? That this person (Srila Prabhupada) is no longer living doesn’t matter because his books are alive. You seem to have no problem accommodating change and say that this or that change is merely a “detail” in the bigger picture, yet with this detail (initiation from a departed guru) you seem to have no capacity to accommodate its complexity.

A. The problem with your analysis is that this particular author and guru (Srila Prabhupada) has emphasized throughout his books the necessity of taking initiation from a guru who is physically present. This unambiguous emphasis is not a detail but rather a principle that is at the heart of the system of guru-parampara, in which one guru follows another and the lineage is thus kept alive and vital.

Of course, anyone who reads the books of a guru and is inspired by him has a meaningful connection with him, but it becomes all the more meaningful when such a person follows his teachings and accepts initiation from one of his successors. To speak of loving a guru who has passed on and express this in the form of unwillingness to accept anyone other than him as one’s initiating guru is a sentiment not supported by the philosophy taught by all of the predecessor acaryas.

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