Found in Sanga, Sanga 2005.

Tatha Srnu: Pay Attention

January 30th, 2005 | No Comments

Q. What does tattva-viveka mean?

A. Tattva-viveka means deliberation (viveka) on truth (tattva). This exercise is necessary for devotees. They should study the philosophical canvas on which the art of Krishna lila is drawn with a view to fuel their practice with the appropriate conceptual orientation to their ideal. The attempt to realize the truth can be aided considerably by theoretical knowledge of the same. Therefore devotees should participate in meaningful philosophical discussion of Gaudiya Vedanta in proportion to their capacity to do so. Not all devotees will excel in studying and discussing philosophy. Some have a propensity for this more than others. Still, all can participate on some level and benefit. Asking questions is as important as giving answers.

Q. I would like to advance spiritually but it seems that I just don’t have the interest or mental capacity to discuss Gaudiya Vedanta. What should I do?

A. Don’t be intellectually lazy when it comes to spiritual life. Your intelligence belongs to Krishna. Give it to him. One of the biggest problems in the Gaudiya community today is sentiment for Srila Prabhupada that is not grounded in or tempered by proper understanding of scripture. Prabhupada himself liked to quote Rabindranath Tagore who said, “Religion without philosophy is sentiment.”

Religious sentiment ungrounded by philosophy leads to religious fanaticism. Our religion divides us and our philosophy unites us. When properly united by philosophy, our religious differences (sentiments/bhava) are ornaments. When the differences are not grounded in tattva, there will be no bhava, only anarthas (false values). Indeed, in the opinion of Thakura Bhaktivinoda, distortion of tattva is itself an anartha. Furthermore, Bhagavan Sri Krishna says:

adhyesyate ca ya imam dharmyam samvadam avayoh jnana-yajnena tenaham istah syam iti me matih

“It is my conviction that whoever studies this sacred dialogue of ours worships me by the sacrifice of intellect.”

Thus for beginners some study of philosophy must be there. Of course, if you just sing the Gita in glorification of Krishna without knowing the meaning of its verses, Krishna will deliver you, but who will have the conviction to sing the Gita unless he or she has some understanding of its meaning?

Q. Shouldn’t we understand that we are not the body before we try to understand higher topics like Gaura and Krishna lila?

A. Yes, you have to understand that you are not your body in order to understand Gaura and Krishna-lila. But what are you doing to understand that you are not your body? If you do the spiritual practices recommended in our tradition, then that understanding will come quickly and interest in these higher topics will manifest in proportion to your realization of the difference between your self and your body. These topics are not too high for a serious sadhaka, so be serious about spiritual practice and be happy that you have the opportunity to discuss these things.

Q. Doesn’t sastra teach the evils of industrialization?

A. In sastra it is mentioned that once Arjuna saved the demon Maya Danava from a forest fire (Agni). Maya Danava then offered Arjuna the benediction of yantra-vijnana (science of machines), but Krishna told him that this science was for Kali-yuga and thus he should refuse it. However, Krishna himself did exploit Maya Danava’s yantra-vijnana by having him build the Pandavas’ palace. So it seems that industrialization is a symptom of Kali-yuga that can also be used in Krishna’s service. The trick is to become attached to Krishna seva and not modern technology. This is called yukta-vairagya, or balanced renunciation.

Q. In your commentary on Bhagavad-gita 4.6 the last line reads, “Another meaning of the word maya is mercy.” Can you provide some insight or some scriptural reference to this definition?

A. This is a good question, especially for preaching in circles where others are familiar with the teachings of the Gita, but not the Vaisnava conception. Srila Prabhupada repeatedly makes this point (maya also means mercy) without documenting it. The Goswamis also make this point, and I believe that Sri Jiva Goswami documents it with a particular Sanskrit dictionary definition. In my Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary, “ma” means to measure, apportion, grant, to help anyone to anything, or of course negation as in “not that.” This dictionary also defines maya as art, wisdom, and supernatural power. Otherwise, in Vaisnava theology we have the dual conception of yogamaya and mahamaya. While mahamaya usually denotes a negative illusion tantamount to ignorance, yogamaya denotes an illusion that facilitates the highest knowledge—transcendental love.

Raja vidya (the king of knowledge) of the 9th chapter of the Gita is pure bhakti, the art of love. So yogamaya is associated with knowledge and mahamaya is associated with ignorance. Thus it is clear that maya means both wisdom and illusion. We need to go another step to come to mercy, although even mahamaya is associated with compassion, a kind of “tough love” if you will. Here is something from Srila Prabhupada commenting on Bg 4.6: “The word maya, or atma-maya, refers to the Lord’s causeless mercy, according to the Visva-kosa dictionary. Thus Krishna appears by his mercy to fulfill his own desire and to uplift others.” I think it is safe to say that when Srila Prabhupada says that the Visva-kosa dictionary defines maya or atma-maya as causeless mercy he is saying that this particular dictionary defines the word maya as mercy. But if it defines only atma-maya as mercy, no harm. That is how I have written about it in my commentary on Bhagavad-gita.

Q. How important is good health to the practice of bhakti?

A. Good health is helpful but more important is having the proper conceptual orientation to devotional life and a clear sense of the value of spiritual practice. Our most revered Thakura Bhaktivinoda once cursed good health because he reasoned that in good health there was more opportunity to forget Krishna. This is very instructive, but not something for neophytes to imitate.

Q. Self-analysis seems a lofty idea that is impossible in practice because we just cannot see ourselves as well as others do. Don’t we need the help of others in order to know ourselves?

A. It’s true that to know ourselves we need the help of others. Not just any “others” but specifically “others” who understand scripture and the science of bhakti, especially those more spiritually advanced than we are. Even Krishna, to better understand himself, desired to see himself from Radha’s perspective. Thus he appeared as Sri Caitanya who is Radha-Krishna combined.

Q. I heard that there was preaching even in the Brahmajyoti. Any comments?

A. Srila Sridhara Maharaja once said, without elaborating, that there may be preaching even in the Brahmajyoti. Such souls have entered the land of no return but from there, forward progress may theoretically be possible. This is because Sri Krishna can do anything and the compassion of his devotees is limitless. Thus the jivanmukta in pursuit of sayujya-mukti may not be entirely lost to its devotional prospect.

Q. Can you explain something about the Gaudiya Vaisnava understanding of the verse krishna varnam tvisakrishna from Srimad-Bhagavatam?

A. There is much to be discussed here. Gaudiya Vaisnavas understand this verse to be a prediction of the advent of Krishna as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Thus this verse holds a very important place in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. In this verse because the final vowel in tvisa is long, this phrase (tvisakrishna) can be read as either krishna or akrishna (tvis akrishna or tvisa krishna). The two readings give opposite meanings: “black” or “not black” or “Krishna” or “not Krishna.” Either one is grammatically correct. Gaudiya Vaisnavas tend to understand it as tvisakrishna (not black and thus fair or golden) and therefore as a reference to Sri Caitanya, whose complexion is golden. But we can also go with both readings and admit to its ambiguity in a way that serves to underscore the fact that the verse speaks loudly about Sri Caitanyadeva. It refers to someone who is Krishna, but who is at the same time is not Krishna. This is Sri Krishna Caitanya, who is Krishna appearing as a devotee of himself. Thus in this sense he is not Krishna.

Before citing this verse in chapter three of Caitanya-caritamrta’s Adi-lila, Kaviraja Goswami cites the Bhagavatam verse that precedes it. In that verse the second two lines are significant: nana tantra vidhanena kalav api yatha srnu, “Pay attention (Raja Nimi), as I (Karabhajana Muni) speak about that Kali-yuga dharma based on the regulations found in the tantras.”

Two things here are noteworthy. First the words nana tantra vidhanena indicates that this avatara is worshipped by regulations drawn principally from the tantras, agamas, pancaratras, and so on, which is the case for nama dharma as taught by Sri Caitanyadeva.

Secondly, the Muni tells the Raja to listen carefully—pay attention—(tatha srnu), which the King is already doing as the sage Karabhajana is in the midst of describing to him the yugavataras. The sage Karabhajana does not specifically ask the King to pay attention at any point in the discussion until he begins to speak about the Kali-yuga avatara. Why?

Because the Kali-yuga avatara is most difficult to understand in that he is a hidden avatara who is Krishna and not Krishna at the same time (tvisakrishna). Only those who take the Bhagavatam’s advice to pay special attention to this verse will be able to unlock the mystery of this transcendental riddle about Krishna who is not Krishna. That is, they will be able to understand that in Kali-yuga Krishna appears as his own devotee in order to propagate the yuga dharma (sankirtana).

The last line of this verse reads, yajnaih sankirtana-prayair yajanti hi sumedhasah: those who know what is meant when we say, “Krishna who is not Krishna,” are to be understood as spiritually insightful (sumedasah). They will worship the Kali-yuga avatara through sankirtana, the chanting of his holy name. In this way the verse krishna varnam tvisakrishna from Srimad-Bhagavatam tells us that the Kali-yuga avatara is Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

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