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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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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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 »





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 »





Catholic guru-tattva

25 04 2020

Because the Supreme Personality of Godhead does not actually touch or mix with matter, there are three intersections of Krishna and the material manifestation that are the hardest nuts to crack theologically. The first is Siva-tattva: in Krishna consciousness, Lord Shiva is the Supreme Personality of Godhead as He touches and mixes with matter. Shiva presides over the mode of ignorance (tamas), He is God as He works in matter. That is why in the Puranas He is known as Mahadeva, the Great God. But He is not Krishna: if Krishna is milk, Shiva is yogurt which is milk altered in a process to make it “not-milk”. Nevertheless, Shiva is unique in the material manifestation: He stands on the border between the spiritual and material worlds. Read the rest of this entry »





Deus furens

21 04 2020

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As is the case with many people, my forced exile from the world due to a medieval plague has been far less intellectually fertile than initially expected. I thought I would write all those brilliant thoughts down that came to me in the middle of going here or there or doing this or that. At most, my quarantine has been devoted to endlessly surfing the news and social media, and perhaps creating the “dank meme” or two. It turns out that not being able to go anywhere but the “essential places” darkens the brain as much as being too busy. As I say professionally, “more” doesn’t often seem like more, it just seems a wasteland, as when I would look out over the Argentine pampa and know it goes on for hundreds of miles without anything of significance impeding it. Read the rest of this entry »





Service in separation

10 04 2020

Having been born into a Hispanic culture, bloody melodramatic imagery both draws and repulses me. Here I speak of the bloody crucifixes, the Virgin Mary with seven swords sticking out of her heart, and the intense emotions these images are meant to evoke. I had an odd formation, both official and informal, of living in Latin America and experiencing the role that this imagery plays in culture down there, both sacred and profane. Death and gore are to an extent revered, many an academic could write a series of well-cited papers about this. The only problem is that my own metaphysical inclinations have been consistently anti-corporeal.

The philosophical problems boil down to: Does suffering have redeeming power? Is pain therapeutic? Is blood sacred? Being in the midst of the Holy Triduum, I will never be able to shake these questions from my mind during these days, even if I have definitively come to my own conclusions. Added to all this is the rather intense Holy Week that Christians have to live through this year. Their churches are empty, the anticipation is muted, and the devout must experience the high holy days at home or on a screen. Many faithful used to regular access to the church and sacraments are acutely suffering during this time. I sympathize with them on many levels: though I am at best a lukewarm church-goer, I have a private prayer rule and I look forward to feasts breaking up the monotony of daily life. Most responsible mature adults understand that we can’t always be as outwardly observant as we would like, but still, this extraordinary circumstance is a difficult trial that the world must endure.

My focus here is the question: Is there such thing as spiritual pain? Or is the spiritual pure bliss? Can separation from God being something greater than His presence? The obvious answer from Catholic tradition would be to mention St. John of the Cross’s dark night of the soul. Though I haven’t really engaged with that concept in the last decade or so, I don’t think it touches on what I am talking about. I am speaking of separation as an inherently good thing, not as a means of purification to achieve deliverance from pain, spiritual, psychological or otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »





God has no enemies

5 04 2020

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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. Read the rest of this entry »