Q. Do you have any information on the mother of Sukadeva Goswami and how Sukadeva Goswami came to speak Srimad-Bhagavatam?
A. In the Brahma-vaivarta Purana it is written that Vyasadeva married Vatika, the daughter of Jabali, and that they performed penances together for many years. They conceived a child, and because the child was self-realized even before birth, he remained in the womb of his mother for an exceptionally long time to avoid entering the world and potentially becoming influenced by the power of the illusory energy of Visnu (Visnu-maya). When he received assurance from Krishna that he would not be distracted, he took birth and was named Sukadeva. Later he became attracted to the poetry describing Krishna lila and understood that this attraction could not be the influence of Visnu-maya. He then studied Srimad Bhagavatam carefully under the guidance of Vyasa. It is said that he spoke the Bhagavata to Raja Pariksit at the young age of sixteen. Imagine a sixteen-year-old boy instructing an emperor! Truth may come from unexpected quarters. It has a life of its own and often transcends formalities.
Q. What are the symptoms of an advanced devotee?
A. Advanced devotees who have graduated from sadhana-bhakti and attained bhava sometimes exhibit three sattvika-bhavas (ecstatic symptoms) to a small degree: tears, horripilation, and stammering. When Mahaprabhu prayed for bhava-bhakti in his Siksastakam, he mentioned these three symptoms. However, the experience of bhava is very deep and those who have attained it tend to conceal these symptoms. Love is a private affair. In this regard, Thakura Bhaktivinoda cites Mahaprabhu’s instructions to Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis. Mahaprabhu told them to conceal their affection for him while continuing to attend to worldly affairs, just as a wife involved in paramour love conceals her love, giving extra attention to her household duties. Indeed, Narada instructed Gopa Kumara in Brhad Bhagavatamrta that even one who has attained prema, wherein all eight sattvika-bhavas manifest with greater intensity, should endeavor to conceal these symptoms. At the same time Sri Rupa Goswami has explained that others who have not attained bhava are apt to imitate these symptoms. Furthermore, sometimes by the grace of Bhaktidevi these symptoms appear for a short time in sincere devotees who have not yet attained bhava.
Therefore, if we are to recognize an advanced devotee, we must look beyond these external symptoms to the inner character of a devotee. Sri Rupa mentions nine character traits we that should be present in advanced devotees: fortitude (ksantih), not wasting time (avyartha-kalatvam), detachment (viraktih), absence of longing for material respect (mana-sanyata), confidence in Krishna’s mercy (asa-bandhah), eagerness (samutkantha), constant attraction to chanting Krishna nama (nama-gane sada rucih), attachment to discussing the qualities of Krishna (asaktis tad-gunakhyane), and attraction to places where Krishna performed his pastimes (pritis tad-vasati-sthale). These are symptoms of an advanced devotee.
Q. According to some schools of Buddhism there are twelve stages of consciousness. How do these stages relate to Vaisnava philosophy?
A. There are many Buddhist sects with varying details concerning enlightenment. I am not a student of Buddhism; therefore, I am not familiar with all of these details. However, Buddhism does not understand consciousness in the same way that Vedantins do. Whereas for Buddhists consciousness is not an ontological reality distinct from matter, Vaisnavas (and Vedantins in general) see consciousness as categorically different from matter. Thus Buddhism is more of a spiritual materialism, if you will. Furthermore, Buddhism is atheistic and Vaisnavism is theistic. So the stages of enlightenment you are concerned with do not necessarily correspond with those on the bhakti-marga.
Q. I am the father of a disabled child and this has caused me much sadness and depression. Is my situation a punishment for some misdeed that I did in my last life?
A. Certainly your situation is a result of your karma, but it is difficult to sort out exactly what happened in your past to warrant this result. It is by no means certain that your child’s condition is a punishment for something bad that you did in your previous life. Try not to respond to it with depression. All problems are in actuality opportunities for service. Try to think of your child’s condition in this light and change your perspective. You have a beautiful child from whom you have something to learn.
Q. When I married I found myself overcome by lust. Bhagavad-gita says that lust is the enemy of true spirituality, so how do I keep my mind on spiritual life and still show love for my wife?
A. For those desiring a relationship, sexual desire should be satisfied and ultimately transcended through marriage and the love that marriage fosters by providing ample opportunity for sacrifice. See your marriage as an opportunity to grow through sacrifice, and in this spirit chant Krishna nama. Love of one’s partner fosters sacrifice, and sacrifice combined with chanting Krishna nama fosters love of Krishna. As one develops spiritually, love of Krishna (prema) replaces lust.
Q. What is the relationship between “the self” and all that is happening in the world?
A. According to Bhagavad-gita, all action is performed by the modes of material nature, although one does not realize it. The self is merely the witness to the movements of material nature. Although the self animates material nature, it becomes overwhelmed by material nature’s influence and thinks itself to be the doer of acts that are in actuality performed by material nature. For example, sometimes when people turn on the television it takes over their consciousness; similarly, the self animates material nature by the force of desire and then material nature consumes the self in an illusory world of misidentification.
Q. I read your article called “Play of Violence”. I found it very helpful in understanding the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad-gita and I plan on reading it again.
A. I am glad that you found the article helpful. The eleventh chapter is perhaps most significant for Vaisnavas because it emphasizes the supremacy of Krishna’s two-armed form. This is quite interesting, given that ostensibly it is about his universal form and thus a favorite chapter for impersonalists. Just see how Sri Krishnacandra can satisfy opposing parties with the same teaching!
When we read the Gita, we should try to get to know its speaker personally, to love and appreciate his qualities. Yes, he is time and time destroys all, but he exists beyond time as well, in a land free from death and overflowing with affection.
Q. The late George Harrison (the ex-Beatle) did much to promote Gaudiya Vaisnavism. He was the first to feature the Hare Krishna mantra on an international hit recording (My Sweet Lord) and was also the first to produce an entire record album of Gaudiya Vaisnava devotional music (The Radha-Krishna Temple, Apple Records 1970) on a major label. He donated to have the Krishna Book published and wrote the introduction. He bought the devotees a beautiful estate outside London to use as their headquarters in England and in general he helped devotees in many ways and served Srila Prabhupada with affection.
My question is why did he never get initiated? Some devotees say that Srila Prabhupada told George that he was already advanced and did not need to get initiated or that he could do more service to Krishna as an uninitiated devotee. Is it possible that because George Harrison had done so much to make the world Krishna conscious he was a special person who did not need to be initiated to achieve spiritual perfection?
A. George Harrison was a special person, and his popularity at the time enabled him to successfully use the media to broadcast the Hare Krishna maha-mantra worldwide. Although it may be a nice sentiment to think that George was beyond the necessity of initiation, this sentiment does not concur with scriptural conclusions. Nor have I ever heard that Srila Prabhupada said that George or anyone else did not require initiation to attain perfection in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Indeed, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu told Sanatana Goswami that the systematic process of cultivating pure bhakti requires that one must accept and take initiation from a bona fide spiritual master.
However, not every person who chants the name of Krishna or promotes chanting is ready or qualified to be initiated. Srila Prabhupada did not think George was ready, and history demonstrates that he was correct. Although George had deep appreciation for Gaudiya Vaisnavism and practiced it to some extent, he also dabbled in a number of spiritual traditions besides Gaudiya Vaisnavism. In particular the teachings of Paramahamsa Yogananda had a strong influence on him. Although George had some faith in Krishna bhakti, it seems that for the most part he remained on the platform of jnata-sukrti, just below the threshold of actual sraddha, as evidenced by his eclectic orientation to spirituality. Note, however, that I did not know him personally and I make this assessment based on the information at my disposal.
Still, it is clear that from the beginning George was inspired to take Srila Prabhupada’s message of chanting seriously and to render some very valuable service to him. So in the least, George did advance in bhakti, even without initiation. Even so, one’s record of service does not override the need to take initiation from a bona fide spiritual master. Even Krishna himself took initiation, as did Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Being incarnations of God, they did not need initiation but accepted it nonetheless to set an example for others.
The goal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is for each individual to become Krishna conscious, not necessarily to make the entire world Krishna conscious. According to Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, one must be Krishna conscious to actually change the hearts of others—krishna sakti vina nahe tara pravartana. George Harrison broadcast the Hare Krishna mantra on the advice of Srila Prabhupada. It was Srila Prabhupada who actually changed people’s hearts by engaging them in the service of Krishna. Many heard the mantra and are still hearing it through George’s music, but only those who establish a connection with a bona fide spiritual master will reap the full benefit of their hearing. So for you the challenge is to become Krishna conscious, to establish a temple in your own heart. The formal and substantial beginning of this effort is to take shelter of a bona fide guru and to eventually receive initiation from him or her.