Deus sub ratione Deitatis

26 07 2020
I love the frolicking Krishna' - The Hindu

In summer, I sleep badly. I have come to expect this from the humid swampy nights. In the last decade or so, summer has been both a time of rest and exhaustion, of trying to keep up with the time clock and suffering through periods of languid repose. There are long days and short nights, fits of furious activity and weeks when less gets done than expected. In this subtropical heat, I have to catch up on a lot of neglected reading. Time for this slips through my fingers quite easily. It is in this heavy air, amidst the buzzing of insects and continuous discomfort due to the climate, that I have to contemplate the higher things. It’s not ideal.

In my express sightseeing tour through the Srimad Bhagavatam, it is precisely at this time that I have come to the most significant stop in the whole scripture, and that is the description of the rasa-lila: Krishna’s dancing with the cowherd maidens of Vraja in the luminous autumn nights. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the socially inappropriate dancing of Krishna with the wives and daughters of Vrindavan is the highest manifestation of the love of God, and of God’s nature itself. Though it may be inappropriate for a relative neophyte to comment on the mystery of the rasa-lila, I am a man in middle age so I don’t think it will be any more appropriate later in life. As I have said elsewhere, I am probably about as wise as I will get in this lifetime.

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A note on time

18 07 2020
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To say that Vedic time is “cyclical” is simplistic. It’s more an issue of wheels within millions of other wheels. For one thing, it simply isn’t the eternal return. Certain things do happen over and over again, and the yuga cycles do repeat with variations. However, there isn’t just *one universe*: there are literally numberless universes that come out of the body of Mahavishnu. So yes, someone may very well be typing this exact same thing somewhere out there in the material manifestation (probably not this universe), just as Krishna’s rasa-lila pastimes are occurring somewhere (but eternally in Goloka Vrindavan), Caesar may be crossing the Rubicon (not necessarily the same Caesar), and most problematically, Jesus is being crucified elsewhere…

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Hog of God

12 07 2020
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Gaura Purnima 2020

Part of me will never get used to the idea of mangala aarti. It’s not the idea of the service itself: getting up at 4 am to greet the Deities in the temple by singing and dancing before them. I am an early riser, and always have been. It’s the drums (mridangas), cymbals (kartals), and the loud noise that are strange to me. It’s a shock to the system to start banging these instruments in the darkness. I like my mornings calm, and this hour long service is the opposite of calm.

Eastern Orthodox monastic Matins is more what I am used to, and that service is mostly a dull and very hushed recitation of prayers, with some chants interspersed. It is quite a monotonous affair, day in and day out. In seminary, the only times we had Matins was for Christmas and Holy Week (Tenebrae), and the assigned time for these services isn’t four a.m. Most days, we had Prime at 6 am, followed by a a period of silent meditation and Low Mass most days. So my mornings were by and large quite quiet and contemplative.

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Again, on the Catholic 19th century

4 07 2020

It’s a bit strange that I continue to write on Catholic themes, considering my actual beliefs at this point. But I swim in a very Catholic milieu, and I still deal with the ghost of previous beliefs. So anything I state here should probably be taken with a grain of salt by actual believers, if not disregarded entirely. I don’t feel particularly bound by the rules of the contemporary Magisterial discourse for obvious reasons. I am merely commenting on the consistency and inner logic of various ideas from the perspective of a struggling God-conscious person. It’s an outsider-looking-in dynamic, but not so much from the the outside.

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On persecution

20 06 2020
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A reader left the following comment on my last post:

What would your approach to the problem of persecution be? At some point, even in Krishna consciousness, one would assume that persecution of the faithful would still be an issue (granted, this could be my ignorance of the matter showing). Recognizing that material “reality” is not the end-all-be-all, and that it’s rather an elaborate game, gets you so far; but in the end, wouldn’t you still counsel steadfastness and longsuffering in the face of worldly aggression. Is it a case of counselling the same action (as a Christian, that is) but with different motivations, or is there an entirely different principle at work?

The modern Krishna consciousness began in persecution, namely, under the Muslim occupation of Bengal in early modernity. The Golden Avatar of Krishna, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, had to negotiate around Muslim rule to spread His movement to chant the Holy Names of Krishna. At one point, persecution broke out, and Lord Chaitanya led a movement of civil disobedience and dialogue with the Muslim rule of Bengal, the Kazi, convincing him that the sankirtan movement was not a threat to Muslim rule. Lord Chaitanya’s Kingdom, in other words, was not of this world. Instead of being crucified, Lord Chaitanya and His disciples were allowed continue their spreading of the the public chanting of the Holy Names.

In modern times in the West, Hare Krishnas have also faced persecution. In the Soviet bloc before the fall of the Iron Curtain, this persecution involved jail and other penalties. Krishna consciousness in the capitalist West was often perceived as a cult, and deprogrammers would kidnap devotees using the excuse that they were brainwashed. In some cases, devotees would feign being “cured,” even up to the point of dressing normally and eating meat, only to escape back to the Krishna consciousness movement. In sastra (the Scriptures), it is permissible to deceive if the end is beneficial to Krishna consciousness. So there isn’t really a conundrum similar to the trials of persecuted Christians in Endo’s novel.

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Silence

15 06 2020

I reviewed Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence years ago, but I only recently saw the film adaptation (I don’t watch many movies these days). My main issue with these types of novels / films, namely one’s the treat issues of tortured religious conscience in a modern context, is that I am acutely aware of the rift between ancient and modern religiosity. Perhaps this is a matter of written records, but the radical subjectivity of this literature is more an indication of absence than a heightened sense of presence. I don’ t believe for a minute that modern people “get God” more than their predecessors. If anything, we are greatly more self-absorbed to the point of thinking every difficulty is some sort of existential crisis.

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A God who waits

14 05 2020

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A possible advantage of Dharmic religion over Christianity is not having an idea of an eternal Hell. Getting deeper into Gaudiya Vaishnavism, however, this supposed advantage becomes a bit complicated. I will start in the Sixth Canto:

[Nārada Muni had described that there is a bila, or hole, from which, having entered, one does not return. The Haryaśvas understood the meaning of this allegory.] Hardly once has a person who has entered the lower planetary system called Pātāla been seen to return. Similarly, if one enters the Vaikuṇṭha-dhāma [pratyag-dhāma], he does not return to this material world. If there is such a place, from which, having gone, one does not return to the miserable material condition of life, what is the use of jumping like monkeys in the temporary material world and not seeing or understanding that place? What will be the profit? Read the rest of this entry »





Progress

11 05 2020

My entire adult life has been a refutation of the liberal idea of progress. (By liberal, I mean the intellectual principles coming out of the Enlightenment.) That’s a bit exaggerated, but I’m running with it. The first real historic milestone in my life was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain: this brought about the unenthusiastic prosperous years of the 1990’s. These were my teenage years, and also the time I was most “politically active”. Having put that aside, I was welcomed into adulthood by 9/11, which took place around the age I would have graduated college (had I not dropped out). That was the first indication that rumors of the the End of History were greatly overblown. Read the rest of this entry »





Notes on John Paul II

9 05 2020

The whole difficulty is that in this Age of Kali there is no sattva-guṇa and no clearance of the heart, and therefore people are making the mistake of identifying with their bodies. Even the big philosophers and scientists with whom we deal are practically all under the impression that they are their bodies. The other day we were discussing a prominent philosopher, Thomas Huxley, who was proud of being an Englishman. This means that he was in the bodily conception of life. Everywhere we find this same misunderstanding. As soon as one is in the bodily conception of life, one is nothing but an animal like a cat or a dog (sa eva go-kharaḥ). Thus the most dangerous of the dirty things within our hearts is this misidentification of the body as the self. Under the influence of this misunderstanding, one thinks, “I am this body. I am an Englishman. I am an Indian. I am an American. I am Hindu. I am Muslim.” This misconception is the strongest impediment, and it must be removed.

Srimad Bhagavatam, Purport to Canto 8

The above text reminded me that I have wanted to write a long and extensive blog post about Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II was Pope for the first quarter century of my life, and under his pontificate, I became super-devout, apostatized twice, became a seminarian, got “excommunicated,” reconciled with the Church, was tonsured a monk, etc. In other words, it was rather eventful for me. When he died in Easter Week 2005  I was a novice monk. That day, I was actually at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels taking a road trip with a friend of the monastery. I got to stare down Cardinal Mahoney when I saw him walking toward me. He must have wondered what some Orthodox monk was doing there and why he looked unhappy to see him. Read the rest of this entry »





A question

3 05 2020

Someone asked in the comments:

If anything, I’d just like to ask you a question (which you might have addressed in earlier entries, so sorry for redundancy): do you think Christianity necessarily leads to our secular age? In your engagement and critique of Christianity, you’ve always traced the “crisis” of the Catholic Church and Western spirituality to its roots, i.e., the materialism and laxity of today are almost the system developing naturally. Do you think that needs to be the case, or is there a way to avoid those pitfalls of Christianity while retaining the “core” (whatever that is)?

I stated recently that I don’t believe in smoking guns. Nothing leads inevitably to anything else. You’re not breaking into the mind of God and stealing its secrets. On the other hand, one can question the radical break between religion and secularism as it manifests itself in the life of the common person. At least at a very superficial level, we still have a god, we still have magic, and we still deal with forces we don’t understand. It’s just different is all. One reason why I gave up writing for a time other than just being really, really busy, was that my attempt to merge folk Catholicism and Neoplatonism hit a dead end at the beginning of last decade. I ran out of things to say, started some projects and jettisoned those as well, etc. Only recently have I developed the intellectual and moral clarity to say something again. I am not sure how long this will last. Read the rest of this entry »