Haridasa Thakur and the critique of Abrahamic religion

3 05 2021

Having been born into Roman Catholicism, and having practiced it quite fervently as an adult, the question always looms as to what the role of Christianity is in Krishna consciousness. More ecumenical types want to make it seem that “it’s all good”: bhakti is bhakti, God is one and devotion to Him is also one. Others, however, refuse to be that conciliatory considering the Christian turning of a blind eye towards meat eating and other vices. In fact, my summary of Srila Prabhupada’s attitude on this matter is that he thought that Christianity was very close to Vaishnavism, except for the meat eating and his claims that Christians didn’t know the name of God. He was quite animate about these objections at times.

Yet if we look closely, Christianity was dealt with in Hare Krishna scripture. Well, not directly, but through the assessment of Islam particular in the writings describing gaura-lila: the life of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. We have to remember that many of the major protagonists at this time had to deal directly with Muslims, up to learning their scriptures, perhaps even in Arabic itself. If we consider Islam as an outgrowth of Christianity, but perhaps with a slightly more impersonalist flavor, the early Gaudiya Vaishnavas were well-acquainted with it. One major figure was even an ex-Muslim, the namacharya Srila Haridasa Thakur.

Read the rest of this entry »




Pancha Tattva

30 04 2021

This post will be one in which I write down my understanding of something hoping that I am mostly right. The Pancha Tattva is what one could call the “Hare Krishna Trinity,” except it’s a pentarchy.

śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanya prabhu-nityānanda,śrī-advaita gadādhara śrīvāsādi-gaura-bhakta-vṛnda

To break this mantra down into the five elements:

Sri Krishna Chaitanya: The Golden Avatar of Krishna, a combined incarnation of Krishna and Srimati Radharani, taking on Srimati Radharani’s golden complexion.

Lord Nityananda: The incarnation of Lord Balarama, an avadhuta, He just really wants you to chant the Holy Names of the Lord.

Advaita Acharya: The incarnation of Maha Vishnu and Lord Shiva embracing, or the expansion of Krishna directly responsible for the material manifestation. His prayers are key to calling Krishna’s mercy down into this Kali Yuga.

Gadhadara Pandit: Also an incarnation of Srimati Radharani (confusing, I know), basically here to see how the whole “combined incarnation” of Lord Chaitanya goes and make sure things don’t get out of hand. He represents more the internal mission of Lord Chaitanya in this age.

Srivasa Thakura: An incarnation of Narada Muni. The captain or leader of the devotees. He represents more the external mission of Lord Chaitanya.

Read the rest of this entry »




Enthusiasm

23 04 2021

Suddenly, a woman from Orissa, unable to see Lord Jagannātha because of the crowd, climbed the column of Garuḍa, placing her foot on Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s shoulder. When he saw this, Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s personal servant, Govinda, hastily got her down from her position. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, however, chastised him for this. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said to Govinda, “O ādi-vasyā [uncivilized man], do not forbid this woman to climb the Garuḍa-stambha. Let her see Lord Jagannātha to her satisfaction.” When the woman came to her senses, however, she quickly climbed back down to the ground and, seeing Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, immediately begged at His lotus feet for forgiveness. Seeing the woman’s eagerness, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “Lord Jagannātha has not bestowed so much eagerness upon Me. “She has fully absorbed her body, mind and life in Lord Jagannātha. Therefore she was unaware that she was putting her foot on My shoulder. “Alas! How fortunate this woman is! I pray at her feet that she favor Me with her great eagerness to see Lord Jagannātha.” (CC Antya 14: 24-30)

As I have stated previously, I try to break down complex concepts into the simplest terms that I can understand. In that regard, I once stated to a devotee that the mood of the gopis is akin to the mood of screaming enthusiastic girls at pop or rock concerts back in the day. They think day and night about Krishna, their whole life is about getting a glimpse of Krishna, being in His presence, and finally being with Him by themselves in secret. Even during the rasa-lila, the height of all existence and the dance around which all else dances, each gopi felt like she was dancing with Krishna as if she was the only one there when in actuality He had multiplied Himself numerous times to be with each one. That’s like the young woman (and young man nowadays, perhaps) who thinks that the pop star is singing directly to her in a stadium full of other screaming fans.

Read the rest of this entry »




Everybody loves Rama

21 04 2021
https://arturovasquez.files.wordpress.com/2021/04/a41e2-rama2.jpg

If there is one difficult thing about reading Vedic scripture as a modern Western person (aside from all of the many-headed cosmic snakes and superhero powers), it’s how differently we have come to perceive protagonists in a story. In the Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam in particular, Lord Ramachandra and Krishna are pure unadulterated heroes, or at the very least, they have a cartoonish and irresistible charm. Their enemies are only their enemies for the sake of the story, but everyone else seems to love them. Lord Rama in particular is the Perfect Man who can do no wrong. He doesn’t even sigh a hint of displeasure at being banished to the forest or when He has to banish Sita, nor does He ever lament His hardship. His family, on the other hand, blame themselves for not collapsing dead on the spot from witnessing Lord Rama’s misfortune. Krishna, on the other hand, tries to misbehave as a child and as a youth, but people still love Him anyway. They even love Him because of His misbehavior. In both cases, we are faced with an inexplicable charm and attraction. Something I think we very modern people can’t really imagine at this point.

Read the rest of this entry »




Let’s talk about sex…

20 04 2021
https://thepranams.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Srila-Ramananda-raya-faint-660x400.jpg

While Pradyumna Miśra remained seated there, Rāmānanda Rāya took the two girls to a solitary place. With his own hand, Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya massaged their bodies with oil and bathed them with water. Indeed, Rāmānanda Rāya cleansed their entire bodies with his own hand. Although he dressed the two young girls and decorated their bodies with his own hand, he remained unchanged. Such is the mind of Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya. While touching the young girls, he was like a person touching wood or stone, for his body and mind were unaffected. Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya used to act in that way because he thought of himself in his original position as a maidservant of the gopīs. Thus although externally he appeared to be a man, internally, in his original spiritual position, he considered himself a maidservant and considered the two girls gopīs. The greatness of the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is exceedingly difficult to understand. Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya is unique among them all, for he showed how one can extend his ecstatic love to the extreme limit. (CC Antya 5: 16-21)

Now, I’ve seen a lot of things, read a lot of stories, and heard a lot of anecdotes, but the one above takes the cake for the weirdest one where carnal matters are concerned. The context is that Srila Ramananda Raya was teaching these girls how to perform a drama that he composed for the pleasure of Lord Jagannath. He didn’t just pick any girls, but the most beautiful ones he could find, talented devis dasis with the greatest amount of charm and natural beauty. The modern dirty mind, like mine honestly, would assume that maybe he simply didn’t like women in that way. But that’s not the implication here. Modern gender theorists would have a field day with the history of early Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Ramananda Raya didn’t just think himself a gopi, some state that he WAS a gopi in human male drag, specifically, the gopi Lalita, the chief assistant to Srimati Radharani in the celestial Vrindavan. And he wasn’t the only one: many of the Six Goswamis were really sakhis, or assistants to the gopis in the spiritual world who are themselves young girls. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, a seventeenth century Gaudiya Vaishnava saint, is said to have transformed back into a nine year old girl in order to escape government troops who were chasing him, only to transform again into an adult male once the danger had passed.

Read the rest of this entry »




On true and false renunciation

19 04 2021

After hearing the prayer of Dabira Khāsa and Sākara Mallika, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “My dear Dabira Khāsa, you two brothers are My old servants. “My dear Sākara Mallika, from this day your names will be changed to Śrīla Rūpa and Śrīla Sanātana. Now please abandon your humility, for My heart is breaking to see you so humble. “You have written several letters showing your humility. I can understand your behavior from those letters. “By your letters, I could understand your heart. Therefore, in order to teach you, I sent you one verse, which reads as follows. “ ‘If a woman is attached to a man other than her husband, she will appear very busy in carrying out her household affairs, but within her heart she is always relishing feelings of association with her paramour.’ (CC Madhya 1: 207-211)

“You should not make yourself a showbottle devotee and become a false renunciant. For the time being, enjoy the material world in a befitting way and do not become attached to it.” Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu continued, “Within your heart you should keep yourself very faithful, but externally you may behave like an ordinary man. Thus Kṛṣṇa will soon be very pleased and deliver you from the clutches of māyā. (CC Madhya 16: 238-239)

The word markaṭa-vairāgya, indicating false renunciation, is very important in this verse. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, in commenting on this word, points out that monkeys make an external show of renunciation by not accepting clothing and by living naked in the forest. In this way they consider themselves renunciants, but actually they are very busy enjoying sense gratification with dozens of female monkeys. Such renunciation is called markaṭa vairāgya — the renunciation of a monkey. One cannot be really renounced until one actually becomes disgusted with material activity and sees it as a stumbling block to spiritual advancement. Renunciation should not be phalgu, temporary, but should exist throughout one’s life. Temporary renunciation, or monkey renunciation, is like the renunciation one feels at a cremation ground. When a man takes a dead body to the crematorium, he sometimes thinks, “This is the final end of the body. Why am I working so hard day and night?” Such sentiments naturally arise in the mind of any man who goes to a crematorial ghāṭa. However, as soon as he returns from the cremation grounds, he again engages in material activity for sense enjoyment. This is called śmaśāna-vairāgya, or markaṭa-vairāgya. (CC Madhya 16: 238 purport)

As a young man, I renounced the world twice. The first time was quite grave and seemed definitive, the second was a continuation of the first, a quick “do-over”. When I went off to renounce the world to do religious stuff, I really didn’t think I would come back. There was precedent: I had grown up poor and I had wanted to be a priest when I was a young man. I thought I was following my desire the whole time of my renunciation. It’s taken me years to figure out that this was not the case.

Read the rest of this entry »




“I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”

8 04 2021
https://arturovasquez.files.wordpress.com/2021/04/d2088-the-ecstatic-virgin-anna-katharina-emmerich-celestial-images.jpg

The body of the Lord was just like a field of sugarcane into which the mad elephants of ecstasy entered. There was a fight amongst the elephants, and in the process the entire field of sugarcane was destroyed. Thus transcendental madness was awakened in the body of the Lord, and He experienced despondency in mind and body. In this ecstatic condition, He began to speak as follows.

“ ‘O My Lord! O dearest one! O only friend of the universe! O Kṛṣṇa, O restless one, O only ocean of mercy! O My Lord, O My enjoyer, O beloved to My eyes! Alas, when will You again be visible to Me?’ ” (CC Madya lila 2.64-65)

Here I get to talk about something familiar to me – something that I have written about copiously – the grotesque. While Srimad Bhagavatam has its extremely odd and even risque moments, the Chaitanya Charitamrita has an earthiness to it due to its closeness to us in time and mood. In some ways, the Chaitanya movement parallels the devotio moderna and other popular religious movements developing in Europe during the same period. Indeed, all Gaudiya theology unfolds in a very baroque manner, with flourishes and complexities that seem to reveal another unexpected face of Vedantic religion.

Read the rest of this entry »




God’s tears

6 04 2021

The entire beautiful body of the Lord was covered with dust and dirt. In this way it became transcendentally beautiful. At times, when cleansing the temple, the Lord shed tears, and in some places He even cleansed with those tears.

CC, Madya 12.86

For the time being, I have resigned myself to practicing two religions, if purely out of social obligation. It can’t be helped, and I don’t mind it terribly. To this end, I was really busy with Holy Week services, especially learning the chants and order of services. However, on Maundy Thursday, I took a break for a few minutes to visit a church literally down the street. It seems like the local Roman Catholic traditionalists have taken up residence nearby, so dropping in on them is literally like running to the corner store to get a gallon of milk.

This time I decided to catch the last part of Maundy Thursday services, mainly the stripping of the altar. I always found this a deeply moving ceremony: God in the form of the Blessed Sacrament is removed from His home and put somewhere else. All of flowers and decorations that indicate His presence are then stripped, leaving the sanctuary barren. The high altar is thus left looking like an abandoned cave.

Read the rest of this entry »




Sancta sanctis

5 03 2021

In my Catholic brain, the sin of presumption loomed and looms ominously. This sin against the Holy Spirit is the dangerous one wherein one continues to commit sin with the intention of seeking forgiveness later. This sin was not always as tolerated as it is now, and among practicing Catholics of the modern Church, it barely exists. The indirect enabler of this sin is the Sacrament of Penance or Confession and easy (if not to say, automatic) absolution. The idea now is that one can commit any sin but if one goes to Confession, forgiveness is all but assured. To doubt this is to doubt the efficacy of the Sacraments; in Catholic theology, their working ex opere operato (by virtue of the work as worked). You don’t have to do anything but make a “good” confession to a priest (that is, not holding anything back and being accurate in your telling) and having a modicum of sorrow for your sin, as well as a “resolve” to not sin again. What the nature of the “sorrow” is, and the “resolve” for that matter, remains a disputed question. The modern “pastoral” solution, even amongst the strictest conservative, is to lean heavily toward being liberal and permissive. Otherwise, one has to exclude people somewhat interested in the Christian way of life but with little resolve to tackle their vices.

Read the rest of this entry »




On the reform of the reform

25 02 2021

I was listening to a podcast about Catholic liturgy, namely the idea of the “reform of the reform”. The podcast interested me because it recapitulated a phase of my life as a young Catholic man in the late 20th century. I grew up with very liberal, very free-wheeling liturgy as a Catholic in California. When I began to take my faith more seriously, I saw the problems with the ritual (or lack of it) at my local parish. I was not alone in this at the time. The podcast mentioned a book by Msgr. Klaus Gamber called Reform of the Roman Liturgy which I read in college. This podcast speaker claims that this book is among the first to call out the lack of continuity in the reform of Roman Catholic ritual in the late 20th century and thus advocate a reform of that reform towards a more traditional direction. This book was praised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict took many measures to make the reformed liturgy more traditional, at least when he celebrated it. He also allowed again the celebration of the old unreformed liturgy.

Read the rest of this entry »