Found in Sanga, Sanga 2004.

Taking Shelter of Krishna

December 15th, 2004 | No Comments

Q. In the Sanga called “Jesus and the Raga-Marga” you asked, “What spiritual practice (sadhana) has been established in the Catholic Church that teaches how to shed one’s material conception of self and enter into the raga-marga? I must respectfully reply that various epistles teach the invocation of the holy name of Jesus, and in the 10th century our blessed mother gave the rosary to the Church with instructions to meditate on Jesus while reciting its principal prayers. There is also historical evidence that Jesus nama japa was practiced as early as the 5th century and that in the 3rd century prayers were recited by counting stones. In his latest encyclical on the rosary, Pope John Paul calls the faithful to seek the face of Christ when meditating on these mysteries!

A. Thank you for explaining something about the spiritual practices of the Catholic Church. Almost all religions recommend reciting the name of God. Mahaprabhu Sri Caitanya wrote, namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-saktih: the holy name can render all benedictions on living beings, thus the Lord can be easily approached through any of his millions of names.

However, you seem to have misunderstood my Sanga on how the raga-marga of Gaudiya Vaisnavism differs from Christianity. Christianity is about self-sacrifice epitomized by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The raga-marga of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is about self-forgetfulness epitomized by the love shared between the residents of Vrindavana and Krishna. Gaudiya Vaisnavism considers self-forgetfulness to be a further development of self-sacrifice. In Vrindavana, even Krishna forgets himself (his Godhood) in order to interact with the residents in intimate moods of love. In this sense the raga-marga is simply about love and is not about worshipping God.

Q. In the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krishna says that the wise do not lament for the living or for the dead. How does one not lament and still possess compassion for the suffering of others? Isn’t compassion a form of lamentation?

A. The lamentation that the Gita considers to be ignorance arises from thinking of ourselves as the material bodies that we appear in by the force of karma. Knowledge of the soul, on the other hand, includes appropriate compassion for the plight of others, both materially and spiritually. Indifference to the lamentation caused by the loss of a loved one or to any other form of suffering is a material emotion, not a spiritual one. Indifference to suffering has no power to remedy the plight of oneself or others, whereas knowledge of the soul and the compassion it fosters can bring about a comprehensive solution to all suffering.

Q. I am always thinking of my son, which leads me to pray to Krishna for his welfare and protection. However, I heard that a devotee should not pray to Krishna for material favors. Is it wrong to pray to Krishna to protect my child?

A. Considering your son a devotee, it is not wrong to pray to Krishna to protect him. Generally devotees do not pray for material favors, but its better to pray to Krishna regardless of what your desire is than to pray to someone else. Srimad-Bhagavatam says: akamah sarva-kamo va moksa-kama udara-dhih tivrena bhakti-yogena yajeta purusam param: “One who has spiritual intelligence will worship the Supreme Person whether one is without material desire, full of material desire, or desires liberation.” (SB 2.3.10)

When we approach Krishna for a favor, our good fortune lies in the fact that we are developing the tendency to take shelter of him.

Q. You have written that spiritual life is about change, but changing from sinner to saint is almost impossible for most people. What is the secret to substantial change for the better?

A. Change is at the heart of genuine spirituality but substantial change for the better is no easy task. Therefore we are advised to take help. There is great power in God’s name. One can experience substantial change through the grace of the holy name of Krishna. As wonderful as Krishna is, so too is his name, in which he has invested all of his sakti (energy). Chanting Krishna nama can change anyone’s heart. If we sincerely hear about nama dharma from someone whose heart is pure, such hearing will have a powerful effect. Attentive and prayerful repetition of Krishna’s sacred name even has the power to melt stone, to make a rock cry. Our heart is like stone. It is petrified. Chant Krishna’s name with the ideal of serving him eternally and it will melt and bring tears to your eyes. Thus your life will change dramatically for the better. Have faith in this. I speak to you from my own experience.

Q. What is the personality of the soul and how do we realize it?

A. Mahaprabhu Sri Caitanyadeva told Sanatana Goswami, jivera svarupa haya krsnera nitya dasa: the svarupa, or nature, of the soul is that it is the eternal servant of Krishna. Our material personality is a creation of the mind in conjunction with the impulses relayed to it through the senses in touch with sense objects. When we identify with and serve the mind and senses, an emotional world of happiness and distress is created, and by the force of karma we are forced to live in that world. Even if one foolishly thinks that one is happy in the world of karma, the force of time will not allow one to stay in any place or situation for very long.

On the other hand, our spiritual personality is constituted of ecstatic spiritual emotions, as is the entire spiritual world. Just as one’s material personality arises from serving the mind and senses, similarly one’s spiritual personality arises from serving Krishna. When we serve Krishna by focusing our mind and senses on him through spiritual practice, the emotional potential of the soul to transcend the mental world of temporary material emotions and live in the world of eternal spiritual emotions is realized.

Q. I understand the importance of the association of devotees. However, I sometimes prefer to chant in solitude in order to focus more on the vibration of the holy name. Is this because of my impersonalist tendencies or is it a matter of my conditioning? If so, is it better to work against the conditioned state or go with it?

A. You should try to serve with and in consideration of your nature and not against it in the name of surrender. This is called gauna-vrtti bhakti, and it is recommended in Sri Brahma-samhita as well as throughout our bhakti sastras. This will in a natural way gradually bring you to mukhya-vrtti bhakti, or full-fledged devotion. Furthermore, your leaning toward solitude is not “impersonalism.” This term should not be abused. Impersonalism is not about being personable within humanity. The term refers to the desire for impersonal liberation (sayujya mukti) and a leaning toward the jnana-marga.

Devotees who like to spend time chanting in solitude are not suffering from the desire for sayujya mukti, nor are they more jnanis than bhaktas. Indeed, many advanced devotees spend the better part of their lives in solitude chanting the holy name. We should not imitate them, but the time we do spend chanting japa is often best spent in solitude where concentration is best facilitated. Of course, if we find ourselves sleeping in solitude instead of chanting, that is another thing. In that case we should spend more time in Krishna kirtana. Japa is dhyana (meditation), either the dhyana of nama or mantra. One need but read the sixth chapter of Sri Gita to understand how one should conduct oneself during dhyana and then apply this to the context of bhakti sadhana.

Sadhu-sanga is essential, but the necessity for this does not mandate that we spend all of our waking hours in the company of other devotees, and that without regard for the level of their attainment. The secret of sadhu-sanga, as explained by Thakura Bhaktivinoda, is that if we associate more with nondevotees than devotees, we will regress. If we associate equally with devotees and nondevotees, we will neither regress nor make much progress. However, if we associate more with devotees than nondevotees, we will make progress. Furthermore, the association of advanced devotees is the most desirable, and if we chant in their company, we can quickly overcome all obstacles and attain love of Krishna.

Q. Intellectuals seem to place jnana (knowledge) above devotion while admitting the validity of both, while Vaisnavism seems to hold to the opposite idea. Is the ultimate transcendent state such that this bifurcation can remain? Is the understanding of the “transcendental unity of religions” simply an intellectual perspective?

A. Bhaktas understand devotion (bhakti) to be the highest knowledge (jnana), whereas jnanis understand devotion to be a means to attain the highest knowledge. This is a subtle but important difference. Both notions have their place in transcendence, but bhaktas realize both knowledge and devotion in transcendence, while jnanis realize only knowledge. So if both are good, why give one up? I could go on, but it should be obvious which side of the discussion that I am on. This is, of course, a debate that has been going on since time immemorial. Ultimately individuals must resolve this question for themselves. Listen carefully to both sides and follow your heart (hint), not your head. Still I feel that the bhaktas are winning the debate overall. Though jnanis often classify bhaktas as “less intelligent” it is hard to imagine anyone being more intelligent than Sri Ramanuja, Sri Madhvacarya, or Sri Caitanya to name a few bhaktas. Still the majority of us are probably so, but one’s degree of intelligence is dictated by his karma, so how much of a role can intelligence play in realizing God? According to Bhagavad-gita sincerity plays a greater role in spiritual realization than does intelligence, na hi kalyana-krt kascid durgatim tata gacchati. And so the discussion goes on. As for the transcendental unity of religions, I think religions are already united in the broadest sense. All religious people are worshipping God according to their particular faith. Differences lie in the measure of one’s faith and one’s corresponding realization as to the nature of God. I think it is unrealistic to hope for more than this.

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