Yoga-maya and the Bible

27 09 2020

I have wanted to write about the topic of Yoga-maya for some time. While I don’t feel adequate to the task, I’ve gotten to the point of needing to write my thoughts down now or not at all. The question at the center of this reflection is: What is the ultimate meaning of conscious action? And also: Does God need to stop “being God” to fully be God? And perhaps: Why does anything outside of God exist at all, and how?

As I stated previously, the unexpected star for me of the Tenth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam is the various expansions of shakti-tattva. These are the many manifestations of Krishna’s hladini shakti: His pleasure potency. The questions we are dealing with here is: How does God enjoy? How does God, in a sense, play? And how do we factor into this? The fact that we seek pleasure or happiness is the result of our being products of God’s inclination to enjoy. The problem is that we seek to enjoy for ourselves, but we cannot because we are incomplete without Him. That we are made of pleasure and seek it, yet are frustrated in our search for it, is the reason that our desires both reflect the inner life of God as well as distort it.

The Tenth Canto, the story of the pastimes of Lord Krishna, teaches that the key to love is forgetting. When we fall in love, we forget a lot of things, including things about the beloved. We forget that they are mortal and will die, we forget about possible inadequacies, and we see everything about them with rose-colored glasses. I keep writing “God” here, but that is a title like “sir” or “mister”. God has a proper name, and it’s Krishna. Krishna’s loved ones in the Tenth Canto and elsewhere don’t want to think of Krishna as God. Even when His divinity is presented to them unavoidably, they quickly shake it off to avoid spoiling their relationship with their Krishna. This happened with His mother Yasoda when she saw the entire material manifestation, all living beings, planets, and stars, in baby Krishna’s mouth. It also happened every time He slew a demon in Vrindavan, and most tellingly with the gopis who could not suffer being apart from Krishna for one second, not because He is God, but because they were madly in love with Him as tends to happen with young girls.,width-672,resizemode-4,imgsize-543097/news/politics-and-nation/controversy-over-depiction-of-lord-jagannath-delays-issue-of-commemorative-coins-on-occasion-of-nabakalebara.jpg
Jagannath, Baladeva, Subhadra

“Yoga” means “connection”, and “maya” means, “illusion”. Yoga-maya then is an illusion that binds. In order for the living entity to connect to God, she must forget that she is apart from God. The other complexity is that Yoga-maya is an actual person, and that is (among others) Subhadra, Krishna’s sister, who manifests in her many-armed form at the birth of Krishna to tell Kamsa, their uncle, that Krishna is safe and that Kamsa cannot kill him. She ends up the wife of Arjuna and grandmother of Pariksit, the hearer of the Srimad Bhagavatam. In relation to the action itself, she is the one who “covers” the various people in Krishna’s life with a veil of apparent ignorance and at times consternation. When Krishna is in danger when being attacked by demons in Vrindavan, Yoga-maya causes all of Krishna’s relations and friends to panic. She is the reason that His cowherd friends challenge Krishna to wrestling matches and demand that they be carried on His shoulders should they win. Yoga-maya makes Arjuna forget dharma before the Battle of Kuruksetra, leading to Krishna speaking the Bhagavad Gita.

Yoga-maya pushes the action forward, but she also fosters the experience of various moods within the Lord’s abode. Lord Krishna teases His principle wife, Rukmini, telling Her how much of an unworthy country bumpkin He is and how she should just divorce Him. Even though She is actually Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, She breaks down crying not realizing it was a joke. Krishna’s intention was to get a rise out of Her since She was otherwise a perfect and subservient wife. As with the gopis, Krishna wants to experience all of the “negative” emotions as well, such as loss, jealousy, envy, and so on. Even in the spiritual world, these moods foster love and attachment. Just as hunger is the best sauce, so loss and tears are the best condiment to pleasure and joy.

Yoga-maya makes it so that certain personalities seem to have doubts or fears, and it may even look as if they sin, but it is no more imputed to them than if they were on a movie set. It’s all part of Krishna’s internal potency, His internal life, so to speak. That doesn’t mean that the law of karma doesn’t operate outside of this “inner life”. This is where you and I are, in the Kingdom of Maha-maya, or the Great Illusion. It is here that the law of karma makes us to go up and down the Great Chain of Material Being. Here if you do something like Krishna’s rasa-lila, you go to jail, both spiritually and perhaps even civilly. That’s because being under the influence of the three modes of material nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance) means that you are trying to do things to please your own senses and not those of the Supreme Lord. So when reading the sacred texts, one has to keep in mind that our actions only bear a slight resemblance to those of the personalities who make up the cast of Krishna’s eternal pastimes. In themselves, the actions are neutral, it’s their intention and end that are important. To aim all one’s activities and senses at giving pleasure to Krishna is the essence of bhakti-yoga or devotional service.

I have come to Krishna consciousness not just because of the coherency it has in itself, but also because it explains other schools of thought better than they can explain themselves. I speak here particularly of Christianity. I would contend that the idea of Yoga-maya is a missing piece that can explain events in the Bible that have long perplexed me. For example, why does God harden Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus? Why does God permit Isaac to bless Jacob instead of Esau in an act of deception? What causes Jacob to wrestle with God and somehow win? Why are otherwise beloved personalities such as King David and St. Peter allowed to fall into sin? And so on. Theologians will say that God permits things to happen but that He doesn’t cause them to happen. Fair enough, but in a real sense, I would argue that God manipulates these actions for a certain end. At times, He even seems to cover people’s eyes or make them ignorant to bring about a certain mood or result.

Something similar to Yoga-maya plays a role in Jesus’ ministry and death. According to the orthodoxy that was solidified at the Council of Nicaea, Jesus is true God and true Man, creator of the universe as well as a mortal born of a woman. Christ’s divinity is thus veiled in His humanity during His time on Earth. For instance, Jesus said when asked about the end of the world, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” (Matthew 24:36). Similarly, the entire Passion narrative is one of Christ’s divinity being “veiled” by the ignorance of His humanity. He asked that the chalice of suffering be taken away from Him (Mark 14:36), only to seem to have His divinity eclipsed altogether on the Cross [“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)] While orthodox Christian interpretations have attempted to defend the Divinity of Christ and state that He suffers only in His human nature (a severe suffering to be sure because He is the Perfect Man), there is still a “veiling” of divinity, a voluntary ignorance that is assumed in Jesus’ work of salvation. As Jesus is sinless, and is not suffering out of a karmic reaction (to use the Vedic term), the only explanation is that there is a sort of Yoga-maya at work in His preaching and suffering.
Noli me tangere

Let’s now reflect on Easter morning. Here I see that the mood of the female disciples especially echoes the mood of Vrindavan. The general confusion of the day makes one wonder who kept faith and who didn’t, and whether that even mattered. Mary Magdalene remained at the tomb while the other women with her went away, and when the risen Jesus appeared to her, she failed to recognize Him. Was this just due to her grief, or was something more involved here? I think as well of the passages in the Gospel where Jesus seemed to disappear from view of those trying to stone Him (John 8:59), or when He was taken to a precipice but somehow parted the crowd and walked away (Luke 4:30). In the case of Mary Magdalene, she confused the Risen Lord for the gardener, and asked, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him,” (John 20:17). She only realized it was Jesus once He said her name.

A similar but prolonged episode took place in the Gospel of Luke with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As a reminder, two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus after the Resurrection, and discussing what had taken place that morning. They were then joined by a stranger who proceeded to explain to them the necessity of the Messiah suffering, dying, and rising from the dead as foretold in the Scriptures. It was only when the stranger broke bread that they recognized Him as the Risen Jesus. When the Lord again disappeared from their sight, they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32) This is also the mood of forgetfulness similar to krsna-lila, a “deception” that reveals a greater truth.

A student of Vedic scriptures might notice here that Jesus exhibited powers that rishis are said to exhibit, namely the ability to appear and disappear, and to hide their real appearance. One can argue that this was the case with Jesus, but if we are to at least concede that Jesus is an empowered representative of God (saktyavesa-avatara), we can draw out the similarities between His appearance and that of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Jesus is the guru of His followers in the New Testament: He is the worshipable Deity of those who put their trust in Him. The mood of surrender is thus absolute, to the point of forgetting who He is in one sense. St. Mary Magdalene, for example, arguably continued to have faith that Jesus would rise after three days, but His being the Messiah didn’t matter when faced with the empty tomb. She just wanted to know where He was so that she could continue serving Him. The strangers on the road learned to love the man who instructed them, without realizing He was Jesus. And Jesus even has to upbraid His parents for worrying about Him when He was a child lost in the Temple: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Sometimes knowing who someone is gets in the way of one’s relationship. A little illusion is necessary.

Can we take this principle further up the hierarchy, perhaps to Godhead itself? I have been following recently arguments over universal salvation in Christianity and whether God can choose salvation for some and eternal damnation for others. Then there is the issue of anthropomorphizing God which has been a significant exegetical concern. What does it mean that God repents at having created humanity? (Genesis 6:6) What is the nature of God’s wrath? Why does He say, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated?” (Malachi 1:2-3) The Fathers and Doctors of the Church sought to interpret these passages in a manner becoming of God’s dignity, and yet we have controversies of certain theologians accusing other Christians of representing God as a monster or a child throwing a cosmic tantrum.

Whether or not these emotions are worthy of God, what I will focus on here is if the Christian God has His own version of Yoga-maya, an illusion within His internal potency. The best way to approach this topic is to reflect on the controversy over predestination. Can one speak of ignorance in God when it comes to predilection? Is God when selecting who He chooses to reign with Him for all eternity veiled in ignorance at some point? How else would salvation from an omnipotent God be fair if some level of indeterminacy isn’t involved, of God’s right hand not knowing what His left hand is doing?

Honestly, I am not sure I buy this argument, but I feel the need to present it. The Christian God qua God is like Vedic brahman, a force with a complete lack of qualities other than negative ones ( it can’t die, it can’t not know everything, it can’t be measured, etc.) It’s only in Jesus, True God and True Man, that God reveals His actual self, and even then, it’s a question of if this is of God as God or of the God-Man Jesus (if such a distinction is even possible). Perhaps it is the same idea as the Vedic sac-cid-ananda virgaha: the eternal Form of the Lord full of knowledge and bliss. God’s “disembodied” emotions as indicated in the Psalms and the Prophets have to be seen through the lens of the Word Incarnate: they are thus humanized ipso facto. Perhaps then the eclipse of Jesus’ divinity on the Cross is an echo of a primordial eclipse of God’s powers from all eternity, when God creates free souls who can either accept or reject Him without His determining the outcome.

As for eternal damnation and predestination, I will first clarify that I am firmly an apostate in this topic as I believe in the transmigration of souls. We have an actual body and identity, but it isn’t this one: we achieve it after many lifetimes when we finally call upon the Name of the Lord and strip off our false ego completely. But if I were to take one step back into Christianity, I would say all talk of eternal Hell is an exaggeration. It is more a ruse to get souls in line, but more importantly, it is an indication of how hard it is to shake off maya (maha-maya or the Great Illusion). “Enter through the narrow gate,” “many are called, but few are chosen,” etc. Christian universalism is wrong not because God actually throws people in Hell for all eternity, but because in the threat of damnation, God is trying to indicate to us how stubborn and lost we really are. We are already in Hell with varying degrees of torment. Whether we get out is not a question of God’s mercy, it’s a question of US as individuals.

The Tenth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam ends with a somewhat racy episode of Krishna playing in the water with His queens. Specifically, they were using a type of syringe to squirt water at each other. The narrator Sukadeva Goswami states:

Under the drenched clothing of the queens, their thighs and breasts would become visible. The flowers tied in their large braids would scatter as they sprayed water on their consort, and on the plea of trying to take away His syringe, they would embrace Him. By His touch their lusty feelings would increase, causing their faces to beam with smiles. Thus Lord Kṛṣṇa’s queens shone with resplendent beauty.

Lord Kṛṣṇa’s flower garland would become smeared with kuṅkuma from their breasts, and His abundant locks of hair would become disheveled as a result of His absorption in the game. As the Lord repeatedly sprayed His young consorts and they sprayed Him in turn, He enjoyed Himself like the king of elephants enjoying in the company of his bevy of she-elephants.

Thus ends the summary of the pastimes of Lord Krishna. This final episode shows how our most lurid desires have a place in God, even though we can barely entertain them here. Everything comes from something. The emotions we struggle to control in our mortal lives such as frustration, anger, sadness, and loathing have their direct fulfillment in the spiritual world. That which was not assumed was not redeemed according to the Christians… same difference perhaps. The lesson of the Loving Illusion is that God is both splendid and unpredictable.



One response

4 10 2020

wonderful post .. quite along the lines that I thoughtfully entertain … To make a long story short I lost my love of Christ at a certain traumatic period in my life and when I was lead to Krsna. well “ lo and behold“ there was Christ in a much more glorious light… I must for my own sanity stop trying to convert the world to Krsna Consciousness … and learn to be simply a channel for his ‘Divine Love’.. as we say in Krsna name “ everything is of Krsna’s Arrangment and is proceeding just as planned… one one can make the world turn any faster than it is ordained to turn..Haribol ❤️🙏

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