Found in Sanga, Sanga 2007.

Q. You wrote that ex-Beatle George Harrison was never quite ready for initiation. However, the following excerpt from a letter written by Srila Prabhupada in 1970 seems to say something different. Srila Prabhupada wrote, “I think George does not require to become my formal disciple because he is already more than my disciple. He has sympathy for my movement and I have all blessings for him.” How do you reconcile what Srila Prabhupada wrote here with what you wrote in the following Sanga regarding George not being ready for initiation?

See also:
George Harrison and Initiation

A. In that Sanga I made my understanding clear and the excerpt you cited does not change it at all. My point is that George Harrison was a great friend of Srila Prabhupada’s movement, but he was not a great devotee; and that any sentiment for George that contradicts scripture will not help one advance in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. The Gaudiya ideal is pure bhakti, and scripture tells us that the cultivation of this ideal requires initiation by a bona fide spiritual master and single-minded devotion to Sri Krishna (vyavasayatmika-buddhih). While George had sympathy for Srila Prabhupada’s movement, he also had other spiritual interests as well, particularly the teachings of Paramahamsa Yogananda.

In encouraging people toward the cultivation of pure bhakti, Srila Prabhupada was often very generous with them, as was the case in the excerpt you cited. Another example of his generosity was when he wrote a letter saying that I was the “incarnation of book distribution.” Taking this statement literally could mean that I am an avatara of some type, but this is not my opinion. My opinion is that statements like these (and there are many of them) are examples of Srila Prabhupada’s generous encouragement.

Q. You wrote that George dabbled in a number of spiritual traditions and that such an eclectic approach to spirituality was in effect a hindrance to advancement in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. However, some devotees told me that Yogananda attained Goloka–the abode of Krishna. If this were the case why would involvement with his path be a hindrance to advancement in Krishna consciousness?

A. Those who claim that Paramahamsa Yogananda attained Goloka have not understood the difference between Yogananda’s path (sadhana) and its goal (sadhya) and that of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. For example, scripture says that the yuga-dharma of Kali-yuga (the dark age) is nama-sankirtana, the chanting of the holy name of Krishna. However, according to Yogananda’s guru, the age we are living in is not Kali-yuga, thus the practice of nama-sankirtana was not stressed by the Yogi.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu differs with this opinion. He taught that we are presently in Kali-yuga and that nama-sankirtana is undoubtedly the path of self-realization for this age. Thus Mahaprabhu and all of his associates, as well as all of his followers through the centuries, have emphatically stressed the chanting of the holy name of Krishna. Indeed, the following verse from Brhan-naradiya Purana is cited three times in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, the authorized biography of Mahaprabhu. In this verse the words harer nama (the holy name) and nasty eva (no other means) are repeated three times for emphasis:

harer nama harer nama harer nameva kevalam. kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha (BNP 3.8.126)

“In this age of Kali there is no other means, no other means, no other means of self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of Lord Hari.”

This simple example illustrates my point well. Yogananda, like many transcendentalists, had high regard for Krishna, but attaining love of Krishna (Krishna-prema) is something else entirely. According to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the sadhana to attain Krishna-prema is nama-sankirtana.

Q. I received initiation (diksa) from Ammachi. Her followers believe she is an avatara who has realized oneness with Brahman (jivanmukta). Some Vaisnavas however, label her a “bogus guru” because she identifies herself with God and encourages her followers to do the same.

Though Ammachi initiated me, somehow or other I have become deeply attracted to Gaudiya Vaisnavism and feel more aligned with Gaudiya sadhana than I do with the sadhana that she gave me centered on Devi bhajans. When I expressed my feelings about this to one of the Swamis under Ammachi, he said that my attraction to Vaisnavism was simply a trick of the mind, and that I should stick with the sadhana given to me by my diksa guru.

I have been struggling with this dilemma for many years so I humbly plead for your guidance regarding this matter. My question is can I abandon the sadhana given to me by my guru in favor of following the Gaudiya path?

A. Let me assure you that to the extent that Ammachi is a realized soul she will only wish you well in your pursuit of the goal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Her disciples, on the other hand, may see your interest in Krishna-bhakti from their own materially conditioned perspective.

My advice is to follow your heart and at the same time respect Ammachi for all that she has done for you. To label her as bogus is a bit harsh. She is a mystic influenced by jnana and sattviki-bhakti. She differs from our tradition in that we are involved in the cultivation of suddha-bhakti, in which we engage in bhakti for its own sake rather than for the sake of liberation (mukti).

Incidentally, I have a student who was previously initiated by Ammachi. She is practicing Gaudiya Vaisnavism and advancing in spiritual life without any impediment.

Q. I read an article claiming that Patanjali, the author of the Yoga-sutras, was in actuality a Vaisnava. The article is centered on an analysis of the three or four places in his Yoga-sutras where Patanajali mentions Isvara (God). What is your opinion?

A. Patanjali’s yoga is one of the six darsanas, or philosophies, of Hinduism. In his school, the Sanskrit word yoga (union) refers to a condition where the mind is controlled through mediation with the aim of attaining super-consciousness and merging into the Infinite.

Vaisnavas, on the other hand, are Vedantins, or followers of the Vedanta darsana. Vaisnavas practice bhakti to Visnu/Krishna, with the aim of attaining eternal love for him. The sadhana emphasized by most Vaisnavas is Deity worship (arcana) and chanting the holy name of God (kirtana).

The assertion that Patanjali was a Vaisnava runs contrary to the position that Vaisnava acaryas have taken regarding his overall philosophy. I am aware that there are a few statements in Patanaji’s Sutras that can be construed to support the idea that he was a theist. It is also clear that he was a student of Vyasa; however, all Vedantins, including Sankaracarya, understand Patanjali’s yoga philosophy to be different from that of Vedanta, particularly for its lack of reliance on the Upanisads. However, just as Vedantins reject the conclusions of Sankhya philosophy yet embrace aspects of it, similarly Vedantins, while rejecting the conclusions of yoga philosophy, embrace aspects of it as well. Indeed, despite rejection of Patanjali’s yoga siddhanta, we find praise among Vedantins for its practical teachings on renunciation and its eight-limbed discipline. Baladeva Vidyabhusana, the famous Gaudiya acarya who commented on the Vedanta-sutra, takes this position, as does Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has written a book about a yogic approach to bhakti, entitled Prema-pradipa. Their point is that the limbs of astanga yoga are useful inasmuch as they serve to foster bhakti.

To say that mixing yoga practice with bhakti might be helpful for some people is more of an acknowledgement of the practical effects of yoga, in regard to controlling the mind in particular, than it is an endorsement of its overall techniques. Indeed, yoga technique alone cannot conquer the mind to the extent that bhakti can, and yoga can also be a distraction when the powers it fosters become manifest and promote an expanded sense of self-reliance, as opposed to the Vaisnava ideal of saranagati, or self-surrender.

Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja says it like this: “The Gaudiya Vaisnavas discard any artificial things. God is with the heart and that is the important part. We are to appeal to the heart and have transaction with the heart, and not that by manipulation of the natural forces we shall gain some mystic power and try to exert that on God. Is that a form of worship? For one who has a heart, the hearty transaction is the most natural. And that is service. Satisfaction is for the Lord so what is the value of trying to gain some power from elsewhere and by dint of that, to try to encroach upon him? What is the result of doing yoga? It will give some power but what effect can that power have on him? None. We are not to try to exert our energy upon him, but the opposite is necessary. We are to consider that we are the most fallen of the fallen and the meanest of the mean. ‘I want your grace. Please accept me as a slave, as your meanest servant.’ This is the way to approach the higher. Not that we are to gather some power and by dint of that power jump on the superior entity, for that is not the process of getting him, of receiving his favor.”

Ancient Hindu society considered the practice of yoga to be primarily a spiritual discipline, but in today’s world yoga is practiced mostly for health reasons. It is important to maintain one’s mental and physical health, and yoga is certainly a pure (sattvic) approach to this that works well in modern times. Unfortunately, regardless of efforts to the contrary, good health eventually fades away, thus both Patanjali and the Vedantins teach that the ultimate goal of life is spiritual realization. However, anyone who has read Patanjali’s Sutras knows that in modern society the actual practice of his mystic yoga process with its emphasis on brahmacarya (celibacy), aparigraha (absence of possessions), and tapas (austerities) is almost impossible. On the other hand, the practice of bhakti as delineated by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is simple and sublime and can be performed by anyone, at any place, and at any time. In this age, according to Brhan-naradiya Purana, “there is no other means of self-realization than chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of the Lord.”


One Response

  • Ananda Gopal


    Wow, these Q&A’s fill certain gaps in my understanding so well, including the contextual perspective about Kali-yuga and sadhana. I was in the midst of reading Autobiography of a Yogi when I began bhakti sadhana and it was the section where Yogananda’s guru told him that without bhakti spiritual endeavors are fruitless. This caused me to dive in more deeply and forgo my then budding interest in kriya yoga. I am still interested in understanding if and/or how the Astral and Causal planes described in Yogananda’s book are part of the material realms and not of the spiritual realms. That would be a pretty huge distinction.

    namo’stu te

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