God has no enemies

5 04 2020
https://harekrishnarevolution.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/jagai-madhai-chastized.jpg

Lord Chaitanya threatening to castigate Jagai and Madhai with the Sudarshana Chakra

The Seventh Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam is widely loved by devotees of Krishna because it tells the story of how five year old Prahlada Maharaja is saved from his father’s wrath by Nrsimhadeva, Krishna’s half-man, half-lion avatar. More on this in a future essay, but here I would like to describe the first chapter of the canto which Srila Prabhupada in his translation entitled, “The Supreme Lord is Equal to Everyone”. The reasoning of this chapter goes that, since the material world is merely the external energy of the Lord, it is both different and non-different (achintya bheda abheda) from Him, or to put it my own overly-simplistic terms, you can’t run from God because you sort of are God, like your finger is you but not quite. In Krishna consciousness, you can’t be totally Other from God, you can’t eternally separate yourself from Him because you’re never independent from Him.

The opening question of the Canto continues the thinking concerning action from the previous Canto in which the Supreme Lord seems to take the side of Indra, the Lord of Heaven, in his fight against the demons. In response to this, the speaker of the the Srimad Bhagavatam, Śukadeva Gosvāmī, has to clarify that the Supreme Lord is not partial to anyone. He doesn’t really take anyone’s side. How could He have any enemies if He made everything and is everywhere? Within the Canto, Śukadeva Gosvāmī tells of another dialogue between Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira and the sage Narada, in which Narada states the following:

By devotional service one cannot achieve such intense absorption in thought of the Supreme Personality of Godhead as one can through enmity toward Him. That is my opinion.

The context of this statement is a conversation about Śiśupāla, one of Krishna’s relatives who becomes very envious of Krishna and ends up being slain by Krishna in the arena of the Rājasūya sacrifice. Narada describes how the goal of our material existence is absorption of our mind and faculties in Krishna, so one can do this either in love or in enmity. The observation is that intense love or intense hate is all-consuming (as anyone who has experienced either could attest.) What’s important here is not the emotion, but the intensity of the emotion.

Srila Prabhupada goes on to explain:

“Even if one commits the most abominable actions, if he engages in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated.” A devotee undoubtedly worships the Lord with rapt attention. Similarly, if an enemy (sudurācāraḥ) always thinks of Kṛṣṇa, he also becomes a purified devotee. The example given here concerns the grassworm that becomes beelike because of constantly thinking of the bee that forces it to enter a hole. By always thinking of the bee in fear, the grassworm starts to become a bee. This is a practical example. Lord Kṛṣṇa appears within this material world for two purposes — paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām: to protect the devotees and annihilate the demons. The sādhus and devotees certainly think of the Lord always, but duṣkṛtīs, the demons like Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla, also think of Kṛṣṇa in terms of killing Him. By thinking of Kṛṣṇa, both the demons and devotees attain liberation from the clutches of material māyā.

https://commentarymahabharat.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/jaya-vijaya.jpg

The story of Śiśupāla and Dantavakra is a bit complicated because they are really doormen of Vaikuntha named Jaya and Vijaya who were cursed by the four Kumaras, the original sons of Brahma who decided to remain celibate five year old boys rather than create progeny to fill the universe with living entities. The curse was that, since they had been rude to such exalted personalities and forbade them entry into Vaikuntha, Jaya and Vijaya would fall into the material world to suffer the cycle of birth and death. Lord Vishnu (Krishna) then appeared and mitigated the curse, stating that Jaya and Vijaya would be born and re-born three times in each yuga, but each time they would be killed by the Lord Himself in His various avatars. Śiśupāla and Dantavakra were the last birth of Jaya and Vijaya in Dvapara Yuga, and they were both killed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself in separate incidents. Srila Prabhupada explains:

Śiśupāla and Dantavakra were not ordinary demons, but were formerly personal associates of Lord Viṣṇu. They apparently fell to this material world, but actually they came to assist the Supreme Personality of Godhead by nourishing His pastimes within this world.

This leads me to one odd and perhaps very personal realization. I have pondered previously the reason why Krishna created the material world. One rather crass way to put it is that He wanted to fight. In the spiritual world, Krishna has no enemies, not even apparent enemies. Maybe that seemed a bit boring for Him. One metaphysical principle common to both East and West is: bonum est diffusivum sui. The Good diffuses or expands itself. In the Christian Trinity, the Father begets the Son and breathes forth the Holy Spirit. From there comes the creation of the spiritual world of the angels and then the visible world of man and the animals, etc. Krishna consciousness has a similar principle taken to an extreme degree: the number of expansions in the spiritual world, starting with Lord Balarama, is infinite, and that’s not even touching the material manifestation. The Lord assumes all sorts of moods and activities, from child, to friend, to lover, to lord and master, and so on. But what of enmity? Where can Krishna go to slay demons and chastise the wicked? He can only do this in the material world where living entities pretend to be God and thus independent of Him. Does the material world exist because He wants to play as if someone could actually oppose Him? If He plays in the spiritual world in various amorous and friendly aspects, what of martial and heroic aspects?

In krsna-lila, the most compelling example of this for me is baby Krishna’s slaying of the demon Putana. In the Tenth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, the evil king Kamsa keeps sending demons to Gokula Vrindavan to kill Krishna. Each time, of course, Krishna slays the demon, until He comes to Mathura to kill Kamsa himself. One of the first slain was the she-demon Putana who decided that, because Krishna might be too powerful to kill directly, she should disguise herself as a beautiful woman who would offer her breast to the nursing baby Krishna. Instead of the ruse working, the baby Krishna took her breast and sucked the life out of her. In place of punishment, however, the demon Putana achieved liberation. As Srila Prabhupada summarizes in his book, Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead:

After this, all the residents of Vraja cut the gigantic body of Pūtanā into pieces and piled it up with wood for burning. When all the limbs of Pūtanā’s body were burning, the smoke emanating from the fire created a good aroma of aguru. This aroma was due to her being killed by Kṛṣṇa. This means that the demon Pūtanā was washed of all her sinful activities and attained a celestial body. Here is an example of how the Supreme Personality of Godhead is all-good: Pūtanā came to kill Kṛṣṇa, but because He sucked her milk, she was immediately purified, and her dead body attained a transcendental quality. Her only business was to kill small children; she was only fond of blood. But in spite of being envious of Kṛṣṇa, she attained salvation because she gave her milk to Him to drink. So what can be said of those who are affectionate to Kṛṣṇa in the relationship of mother, who with great love and affection always serve Him, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the Supersoul of every living entity?

Due to the very nature of our material reality, and also due to the role that His opponents play in His pastimes, Krishna has no real enemies. Again we return to the Seventh Canto:

Iśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ hṛd-deśe ’rjuna tiṣṭhati: the Lord is equally situated in the core of everyone’s heart. Thus He cannot be envious of anyone or friendly to anyone; for Him everyone is the same. Although He is sometimes seen to punish someone, this is exactly like a father’s punishing his child for the child’s welfare. The Supreme Lord’s punishment is also a manifestation of the Lord’s equality. Therefore the Lord is described as praśāntaṁ sama-darśanam. Although the Lord has to execute His will properly, He is equipoised in all circumstances. He is equally disposed toward everyone.

There is a modern trope in Christian discourse that God sends no one to Hell for all eternity. Those in Hell send themselves there: they want to be there. Their enmity against God is frozen forever after death. Personally I think this is a cop-out. I admire Christians for saying stuff like that, it’s like Noah’s sons wanting to cover their father’s nakedness. It’s laudable on one level. A God who sends barely rational apes to the eternal flames with no hope of redemption is a monster, so we should find other explanations for something that looks bad. “They want to be there. The flames of Hell are just the heat of God’s love experienced by people who don’t want it.” Yes, I’ve heard all of these explanations before. It’s is a bait and switch in the economy of salvation that shifts from being punitive to being therapeutic. God doesn’t punish, He cures. It’s just that some people don’t want to be healed, and God has to respect that.

That’s a nice explanation but that’s not what the book says. It’s not really even what the commentaries on the book say (“the Magisterium”). God commands or allows (same difference) eternal damnation for the goats at His left hand, and it’s very much a sentence passed on them due to their lack of charity toward God and neighbor. The idea that God’s justice and His love are the same though experienced from two radically different angles is a bit ridiculous if one thinks about it a bit. Is Satan experiencing the same thing as the Virgin Mary, just with a different disposition? Is Satan not God’s enemy? Are those who align with Satan also not God’s enemies?

When it comes down to it, the problem of evil is quite silly. There is rape, murder, war, hatred, greed etc., but ultimately what comes from them? If those things didn’t exist, we would still die. We still have to experience pain even in the most wholesome and pious circumstances. Christian theology believes that this is the result of original sin, namely, mortality, darkness of the intellect, and malice of the will. We have to suffer because we were conceived in sin, so the reasoning goes. Yet we are still tormented by the idea of how a good God can allow people to suffer, even though they are still decaying and dying when they aren’t experiencing anything unusual. The problem of evil is tied to the bodily conception of life, or rather, false ego. We write boring tomes about how it’s not fair that the “innocent” suffer and die, even though we are always suffering and dying anyway. And somehow those who afflict suffering (which we are always experiencing) or even kill us (nascentes morimur) are our enemies? This seems rather ridiculous.

To take it to a “supernatural” plain, those who afflict the body (which is temporary and decaying) or deny service to God with this body (also weak and temporary) somehow can pose an eternal enmity toward the Person who created these bodies. So if I’m born in the wrong place, with the wrong parents, or I decide to curse God in my last second of life: that’s it, eternal Hell. Many would say that’s a caricature, fair enough. Everyone is given sufficient grace to save themselves, even if they are apparently still a heathen, they commit suicide, or are in any other seemingly hopeless situation. That’s sort of indicates that what you do in life actually doesn’t really matter in terms of salvation simply put: if anyone can be saved regardless of what it looks like, isn’t that just admitting that the material manifestation is just maya: an illusion, “not this”? Even the enemies of God end up His friends.

Yet if people still end up in Hell, in its most positive light, you’re admitting that God can’t heal everyone. The great feat of the Christian God is He makes an absolute Other who can be His vessel of wrath for all eternity. The gap between creature and Creator remains unbridgeable, whereas with Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His servants remain distinct yet united, with a material world below for those not quite ready to stop playing God. For me, it’s more honest to simply say that the damned in Christianity are recipient of God’s justice as a manifestation of His glory. If God had to give salvation to everybody, there would be no grace. And those who do not receive His grace are punished for all eternity. Perhaps God punishing those unworthy of His grace for all eternity is akin to Krishna slaying the demons as a demonstration of His martial pastimes? Perhaps not.

The journey of Jay and Vijay through the Yugas doesn’t end with the third Yuga. In the fourth Yuga, our own, Jay and Vijay come as well, but this time they are not slain. In Kali Yuga, Krishna comes in the 15th A.D. century as Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to teach the yuga dharma of the Iron Age: the chanting of the Holy Names of the Lord:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

In what is now West Bengal, Lord Chaitanaya and His disciples went from village to village preaching that one only need chant the Holy Names of the Lord to be delivered, and that anyone from any caste or any religion can be delivered by the power of the Holy Name of Krishna. Lord Nityananda, who in the spiritual world is Lord Balarama or the first emanation from Krishna, came again as the Lord’s elder brother. He wanted to show the Power of the Holy Name by preaching to the most fallen, and that is where our wayward doorkeepers from Vaikuntha enter the story again. Lord Nityananda was told of two brahmins, Jagai and Madhai, who had become drunkards, lechers, gamblers… every sin that a man could commit they had committed. These were of course the incarnations of Jaya and Vijaya in Kali Yuga. Lord Nityananda exhorted them to chant Hare Krishna so that they would be delivered from their sins. But even after Lord Nityananda’s begging, the two sinful men refused, and when the Lord persisted, they attacked Him by hitting him on the head with an earthen pot.

Having been informed of this disturbance, Sri Krishna Chaitanya rushed to the spot of the attack, and He was enraged by the sight of His wounded follower. Breaking the character of a wandering holy man, Lord Chaintanya manifested the Sudarshana Chakra, the sacred weapon of Vishnu, which He had used to sever Śiśupāla’s head from his body in the prior yuga. This time, however, the wounded Lord Nityananda threw Himself at Lord Chaitanya, and reminded Him that, in Kali Yuga, Lord Krishna comes not to slay the demons, but to save them. Lord Chaintanya then put away His weapon, and instead of slaying Jagai and Madhai, He makes them into His devotees.

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When I wasn’t in a very good place emotionally, I visited a devotee who had been initiated by Srila Prabhupada. He told me that Prabhupada had once visited his temple back when he was still on the Earth, and upon seeing their Deities of Gaura-Nitai, he reminded everyone that Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita tells Arjuna to surrender unto Him. Srila Prabhupada then stated that in this age, Kali Yuga, we are instructed not to surrender, but to take shelter of the lotus feet of Gaura-Nitai: Sri Krishna Chaitanya and Prabhu Nityananda. We are all divided; good and evil struggle within us. But Krishna is not here to slay us like the demons we can sometimes be. He is here to bring us home if only we call out to Him. Even if we do the most abominable acts, like Jagai and Madhai, Śiśupāla and Dantavakra, etc. we are still not His enemies. Because really, who can be the enemy of a cowherd boy chasing His cows through the forest, the notes from His flute floating through the dark night air?


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27 04 2020
Mario Fong

It’s funny, but growing up in a Latino Catholic household, a lot of the issues you deal with or talk about is stuff I’ve thought about too; but perhaps that is just an indication that these concerns apply to all people because it’s universal truth. I don’t want to start anything weird or whatever, I know I’m just an online guy, but following your blog over the past year or so has been really informative and kinda cathartic. 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)? Anyhoo, sorry to bother. Blessings.

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