Found in Sanga, Sanga 2006.

Q. How do Gaudiya Vaisnavas view the philosophies of Ramanuja and Madhvacarya?

A. Gaudiya Vaisnavas believe that the metaphysical worldviews of Ramanuja and Madhavacarya are different ways of talking about the same thing, different angles of vision. We honor both Ramanujacarya and Madhvacarya on the strength of their Vaisnava conclusions and personal character. In his Tattva-sandarbha, Sri Jiva Goswami refers to these two saints as elder Vaisnavas.

Q. In the Ramanuja and Madhva traditions, their bhasyas (commentaries) on the Vedanta-sutra are given primary importance, but the Gaudiya tradition does not give the same stress to its commentary on the sutras (Govinda-bhasya). Rather the Gaudiyas emphasize the Srimad Bhagavatam. Is there a particular reason for this?

A. The reason that Gaudiya Vaisnavas don’t put more stress on Govinda-bhasya is that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu considered Srimad Bhagavatam to be the perfect commentary on Vedanta-sutra, one written by Vyasa, the author of both texts. His opinion is confirmed in Garuda Purana, wherein it is said that Srimad Bhagavatam explains the meaning of Vedanta-sutra, among other things. Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana has also mentioned this in his Govinda-bhasya.

Srimad Bhagavatam and Vedanta-sutra begin similarly with the message janmadyasya yatah, “The Supreme (Brahman/ God) is the source of everything,” and both end with emphasis on kirtana, or deliverance by sound, anavrtih sabdat/nama-sankirtanam yasya sarva-papa pranasanam. While the essential teachings of Vedanta-sutra and Srimad Bhagavatam are the same, the Bhagavatam was written to make those teachings accessible to a wider audience and to speak directly about the efficacy of bhakti.

Another reason for the Gaudiya Vaisnavas emphasis on Srimad-Bhagavatam is that the Govinda-bhasya of Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana differs slightly from Sri Jiva Goswami’s emphasis on the acintya-sakti of Bhagavan. The Govinda-bhasya follows more closely Madhva’s concept of visesa (distinction) when reconciling the oneness and difference of the Absolute. Sri Baladeva himself was influenced by both the Madhva and Gaudiya sampradayas.

Q. There are verses in the Vedic scriptures that say Siva and Visnu are one; however, in Vaisnava literature Lord Siva has been explained away as a demigod. Can you clarify?

A. Sadasiva is a transformation of Visnu, and the two should thus be regarded equally. Vaisnava scripture is clear on this point. Indeed, Sri Krishna nama takes offense if one does not show such regard to Siva, who appears in Gaura-lila as Advaita Acarya. However, there is also a demigod manifestation of Siva, whereas Visnu has no such manifestation. Thus in some places Siva will be described as a demigod.

Siva also worships Krishna. In Srimad Bhagavatam he is thus considered a great Vaisnava, vaisnavanam yatah sambhu. Because Krishna reveres Vaisnavas and teaches us to revere them more than even himself, perhaps it is best for those who have an affinity for Siva to think of him in this light. Always look to the Bhagavatam for conclusive knowledge on such issues.

Q. Srimad Bhagavatam predicted that Visnu would appear as Buddha, but this incarnation appears to be different than Gauttama Buddha who lived about 500 BCE and is venerated by modern Buddhists. Can you explain something about this?

A. The Buddha mentioned in the Bhagavatam does appear to be someone other than Gauttama. However, Buddhism acknowledges that Siddhartha Gauttama, the person considered to be the founder of modern Buddhism, was not the only Buddha, as many such beings have existed. Classical Buddhist doctrine teaches that anyone who attains enlightenment is a Buddha and that Gauttama Buddha is but one in a lineage of Buddhas. According to tradition, his predecessor was Dipankara Buddha and his successor will be named Maitreya. Perhaps the Buddha mentioned in the Bhagavatam is the original or adi Buddha, a being with divine status beyond that of being merely an enlightened soul. Satyaraja dasa/Steven Rosen has published a book on this subject entitled From Nothingness to Personhood, which you may find helpful.

Q. In one part of the Bhagavatam, the pastimes of the great devotee Prahlada are celebrated, but in another section it says that he was transformed into a calf that supplied the demons with intoxicating beverages such as liquor and beer. Can you help me understand this apparent contradiction?

A. The Bhagavad-gita says that of asuras (demons) Krishna is Prahlada. This means that if Krishna is to supply the demoniac with their necessities, he may do so through Prahlada, the son of a great demon. However, this does not mean that Prahlada becomes impure through this act, any more than Krishna becomes impure by fulfilling the desires of the demoniac. Incidentally, this section of the Bhagavata, while literally true on one level, is nonetheless full of allegory.

Q. I was told that santa-rasa is not exhibited in Krishna’s Vrindavana pastimes; however, Srila Prabhupada says in a purport that Krishna’s cows are in santa-rasa. How should I understand this?

A. Santa rasa is present in Vrindavana to some extent. After all, Sri Vrajendranandana Krishna is Rasaraja, and thus he tastes all rasas. Sri Jiva Goswami writes in his commentary on Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu that santa rasa reaches its perfection when reposed in Krishna, presumably Rasaraja Krishna. It is mentioned in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 4.8.85 that Krishna tasted santa rasa while lifting Govardhana Hill. Acaryas, however, differ on their perception of the creatures and apparently inanimate objects of Vraja. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, for example, envisions the cows in vastsalya rasa and Govardhana Hill in sakhya rasa.

Q. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Vyasadeva, the son of Parasara Muni and Satyavati, is mentioned as seventeenth incarnation of Lord, and Ramacandra is mentioned as the eighteenth incarnation. It is an indisputable fact, however, that Ramacandra appeared much earlier than Vyasadeva, even much earlier than Parasara Muni or Satyavati, so why is Vyasa mentioned before Ramacandra in the Bhagavata?

A. Everything written in the Bhagavata does not follow a chronological order. Sri Sanatana Goswami has made this point in his Vaisnava Tosani Bhagavata commentary, particularly with regard to the sequence of the chapters. Goswamiji has explained that Sri Suka spoke the Bhagavata out of ecstasy as inspiration came to him, rather than with the lila’s chronology in mind. Most of the chapters are in order, of course, but there is some irregularity, which is clear from spiritual logic and other accounts of the lila, such as those found in the Padma Purana. So we can also look at the list of incarnations you mention with the same eye. Yes, Sri Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa appeared after Sri Ramacandra, although both of them are eternal.

Q. What color is Gaura-Narayana? Is he also golden just like Caitanya Mahaprabhu? In other words, is the Kali yuga avatara always golden in every Kali yuga or is he only golden in the particular Kali yuga when Caitanya Mahaprabhu appears and black in all the other Kali yugas?

A. Scripture says different things about this topic. For example, Laghu-bhagavatamrta says, “In Satya yuga the incarnation is said to be white in color and named Hari. In the Treta, Dvapara, and Kali yugas the incarnations are red, blue (syama), and black (krishna), respectively.”

In this verse Sri Rupa Goswami seems to acknowledge that the Lord appears in every Kali yuga and that the yuga avatara of Kali yuga is black in color. However, Sri Jiva Goswami writes in his Sarva-samvadini, “The Godhead, Lord Hari, does not personally appear in the Kali yuga. Because he only appears in the Satya, Treta, and Dvapara yugas, and not in the Kali yuga, the scriptures call him Triyuga (he who appears in three yugas). Similarly, one of the names of Visnu mentioned in the Visnu-sahasra-nama is Triyuga, indicating that there is no yuga avatara in Kali yuga.
However, in Bhagavad-gita Sri Krishna says that he descends in every yuga to establish dharma, sambhavami yuge yuge, indicating the function of the yuga avatara.

Srimad Bhagavatam 7.9.38 acknowledges that the Lord is Triyuga but speaks of a covert avatara in Kali yuga, channa avatara. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.5.35 mentions either a black or golden avatara with emphasis on the idea that he is golden. In this verse the word tvisakrnsa, which is used to describe the Kali yuga avatara, can mean either black or golden, although our Gaudiya acaryas have rendered it golden. In Srimad Bhagavatam 10.8.13, the word pita (yellow) is used in the past tense indicating that in previous Kali yugas the yuga avatara was golden. None of these Bhagavatam verses give any indication that the Kali yuga avatara it speaks of does not appear in every Kali yuga.

Locana dasa writes in his Caitanya Mangala, “Some people say Lord Gaura is a yuga avatara. In truth he is the origin of all avataras. In other Kali yugas, the avatara is Lord Narayana. That avatara has a name of two syllables. That name is Krishna. The scriptures say that avatara has a complexion like a parrot’s wing (yellow). Some commentators also explain that his color is dark like a sapphire.”

According to Caitanya-caritamrta, Sri Krishna appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu at a time that corresponded with the time for the descent of the Kali yuga avatara and thus he performed the function of the yuga avatara while simultaneously fulfilling his own purpose. He combined the yuga dharma with the distribution of prema. Some devotees saw him as Narayana (Gaura-Narayana), and they worshiped him accordingly, as the husband of Visnupriya and not with a view to attain Vraja prema. They worshipped him to attain love for him in dasya bhakti. This sadhana has a sadhya in which Gaura-Narayana is the object of love. Thus Gaura-Narayana is eternal, and aside from the conflicting scriptural citations above, he seems like the most suitable person to perform the function of the yuga avatara in Kali yuga.

Therefore, some acaryas have concluded that he is the yuga avatara of every Kali yuga. In the words of Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja, he is the avatara of Gaura-Krishna, who is the avatari. When asked why devotees sometimes refer to Mahaprabhu as Gaura-Narayana he replied, “Generally [he is called] Gaura-Narayana because of [being the] yuga-avatara. In every Kali yuga one avatara comes to preach Krishna nama sankirtana.” When Srila Sridhara Maharaja says “one avatara,” he is referring to the conception of Gaura-Narayana, whose complexion is golden. The conclusion to draw from all of this is that the yuga avatara of Kali yuga is very mysterious.

See also:
From Bhagavad-Gita to the Bhagavatam

Srimad Bhagavatam: Studying with the Heart
Srimad Bhagavatam: The Heart of Krishna

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