Hare Krishna Catechism #1

14 09 2021

Someone asked me what is meant when we say “localized Paramatma” or that the Supreme Personality of Godhead sits in the heart of every spirit-soul. So here is my attempt to explain this:

In the Catholic liturgy, God the Father is addressed as fons et origo: the fountain and origin of Godhead. For us, this is Krishna in Goloka Vrindavan. In comparative religion, there is the idea of the deus otiosus: “otium” in Latin meaning “leisure.” It has the connotation of “laziness,” but far less derogatory. Krishna in Vrindavan is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as expressed in the notable verse (uttama-sloka) in the first canto of Srimad Bhagavatam:

ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ
kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam

(All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead.)

Krishna in His original form however cares about nothing other than Srimati Radharani, the rest of the gopis, His cowherd friends, His family, His cows, and the inhabitants of Vrindavan, almost in that order. Krishna isn’t the “creator God,” He doesn’t get His “hands dirty” that way. In that sense, a fountain on a hilltop is a good way to look at it. Krishna is fountain and origin at the very top, and everything flows down from Him, descending to the rest of the spiritual world and into the material world. Here, a very strict boundary has to be indicated. In Vaikuntha, everything is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss (sac-cid-ananada vigraha). Even a stone in a street in the lowest part of Vaikuntha is conscious and enjoys its eternal role as a stone. Nothing in Vaikuntha is “material” in our sense. Even grass which the gopis step on in Goloka Vrindavan considers itself most fortunate to be under the feet of the gopis (cf. SB 11.12.11)

Properly speaking, in the Abrahmic conception, one isn’t even in “creation” proper yet. While Krishna is expanding Himself into all of these other Vaikuntha forms, one has to get to the “lower border” of Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Shiva and the Viraja River (Causal Ocean) before one gets into “creation” proper as we commonly refer to it.

Here we’re going to encounter the three Vishnus or expansions of Krishna when we talk about the material manifestation. The first Vishnu is Karanadakshayi Vishnu (the Vishnu who lies down in the Causal Ocean), also known as Maha Vishnu. While lying down, Maha Vishnu glances at the Maha-tattva, a “shadow of pure consciousness” or, in perhaps inaccurate Latin Scholastic terms, the realm of pure potency, where false ego (ahamkara) is formed. False ego is the building block of the material manifestation: the Lord’s external energy. The external potency is dumb matter (think rocks,) whereas His internal energy is everything you find in Vaikuntha (the spiritual world). We as incarnated spirits are “marginal energy”: because we have false ego, because we think we are “independent” of the Supreme Lord, refusing our eternal identity as servants of Krishna, we could “go either way.” We are eternal spirits bound by our identity with dead, temporary matter. Many of us think this is all there is.

Maha-Vishnu’s glance at the Maha-tattva begins the process by which He falls asleep and out of every one of His pores universes pour out like little bubbles. So another difference with Abrahmic religion is that there is not just one universe, but millions, perhaps way more than that. And yet the Supreme Lord enters into every one of those universes as well, lying in an ocean that occupies the bottom each universe, the Garbha Ocean, and there He becomes Garbhodaksayi Vishnu. It’s out this reclining Vishnu that Brahma emerges from a lotus in His navel. This is how the universe you see around you is made. So Maha-Vishnu is inter-universal, while Garbhodaksayi Vishnu is the catalyst for the creation and annihilation of each universe.

But that’s not the end. The Supreme Lord then enters into every single soul and atom of the universe. This is where we get “localized Paramatma”. The Lord is larger than the largest, and smaller than the smallest. Thus, the Supreme Lord is in the heart of every spirit soul, and even each atom. If this were not the case, they would simply not be. He lies in the Ocean of Milk within the material world, so His other name is Ksirodakasayi Vishnu. In the beginning of the Tenth Canto, the demigods go to Ksirodakasayi Vishnu to come down and incarnate Himself as Krishna.

“Paramatma” is translated as “Super-soul,” or perhaps another way to think of it is the Soul of the soul. Just as the soul enlivens the body, Paramatma does something similar in the soul. There is the analogy in the Upanishads of two birds sitting on a branch: one bird enjoys while the other watches. The Supreme Lord is thus a witness to our actions: He doesn’t interfere and indeed He even aids and abets us in all of our endeavors in fulfillment of our desires. As I like to think, even in the worst Vedic hell, the Supreme Lord still sits in your heart. Unlike in Abrahmic faiths, anything you do can’t separate you from God. Only your thinking that you are separate from God, totally independent and not His subordinate or servant, is what separates you from God. Nothing else.

Thus the yogi, especially in the Golden Age or Satya Yuga, goes into meditation for thousands of years focused on the localized Super-soul sitting in his heart. Indeed, this is the yuga-dharma of that age. People lived for thousands of years and just meditated on the Supreme Lord sitting in their hearts. The aim was ultimately to meditate so deeply on the localized Paramatma that one entered samadhi and left material existence entirely. There are many instances in shastra where people meditated in this manner, forcing the life force from the base of their spine up to the top of their head and just dissolving. In absolute terms, there is very little keeping us here. Yet here we are.

There is an old Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit that is said throughout the liturgy that characterizes Paramatma best for me:

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, comes and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.

I guess the one lesson for me in thinking of the Paramatma is that the Supreme Lord is everywhere, and He guides us in so many ways. Yet all we want to see is matter because that’s what we think we are. The chanting of the Mahamantra, according to one senior devotee, is like the scalpel we use to surgically cut ourselves out of our illusory bond to the material world, our own false ego. “O Energy of Krishna, Krishna, employ me in your service,” as Srila Prabhupada explained to be the meaning of the Mahamantra. We can’t meditate on localized Paramatma for a million years, but we can chant. As they say, it’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Durtal – III

6 09 2021

Weathering the Storm

Sure I prayed, but not for safety. Whatever happens happens. I know better to ask God to alter His plans unless it’s very serious. Well, this might be serious. It started tranquilly enough. It was calm, the pressure dropped, it got a bit cooler. Then quiet and ominous. The first gust came, I anxiously looked at the news from the south, and saw what was coming: roofs coming off, rain slamming horizontally, trees swaying until they break. Water rising. By the time the sun was going down, the trees were moving in their Shiva dance of destruction. It would start and then stop again. The Internet went out, then the power. Just when you thought maybe the worst was over, then it would return: like incoming traffic, first distant, then growing to a pitch, the trees creaking. The biggest tree in the yard broke in two, and landed harmlessly on the other side of the yard, taking out the fence. By one in the morning, it still wasn’t over, but by then, I was tired of listening. Either something was going to happen, or it wouldn’t. The whistle of branches became fainter and the destructive gusts more spaced in time. At some point, I fell asleep…

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